Thursday, October 11, 2018

Review The Darkest Minds (2018)

The Darkest Minds is the latest in a long line of dystopian future film series based on a set of teen angsty books. A strange virus has killed 98% of children and gives the other 2% one of five unique powers, children who are then categorised by that power and segregated or killed accordingly. One such child, played by Amandla Stenberg (‘Everything, Everything’, ‘The Hunger Games’), manages to survive under false pretences, even though she harnesses one of the “dangerous” powers.

We know what you’re thinking straight away. It sounds a lot like a cross between ‘Divergent’ and ‘Maze Runner’. And you wouldn’t be too far away in thinking that. Of course, these films are all much of a muchness now particularly given that this is the third or fourth iteration of the same type of story, with a similar look and feel. What’s more, the dialogue isn’t particularly great either, although the main crop of characters do gel well as a group and have good chemistry.

Unfortunately, the film also suffers as a result of its place in a book series too. Just as it feels like the plot is really taking shape and picking up pace after all of the setup and groundwork laying, the film grinds to a halt and leaves us hanging ready for the next instalment. Whether anyone will really care what is to follow by the time the next instalment comes around remains to be seen. The book series may well deserve its place in the film industry on merit, but you can’t help but feel The Powers That Be are simply striking whilst the iron is hot, identifying another teen book series and milking it for all its worth. Shame.

Review Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom (2018)

Life has found a way, once again. We rejoin Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) three years after the calamitous events of ‘Jurassic World’ and the closing down of the park. The island’s volcano has reportedly become active and threatens to wipe out all remaining life, the moral question being; should the dinosaurs be protected like all other endangered species?

It seems common practise these days to give away the majority of the plot in the trailer, which really leaves little left to discover in terms of film direction, but despite that, Fallen Kingdom has all of ingredients to make a great ‘Jurassic Park’ film. The opening few minutes set the scene for what is to follow, with a nail-biting encounter with some unwelcome inhabitants of Isla Nublar as a shady team attempt to go back to the island in order to exploit dinosaur DNA. It feels more like the soft horror of the originals, which can be said about much of Fallen Kingdom. It’s a real edge-of-your-seat thriller.

Director J.A. Bayona, who masterfully captured the infamous tsunami disaster in ‘The Impossible’ with a grace and dignity, lays on another fantastic showcase of Mother Nature’s dominance here as the volcano erupts and panic ensues. The CGI is really on point. The film’s protagonist played by Brit Rafe Spall (‘The Ritual’, ‘I Give It A Year’) however is cheesy at best. In fact, many of the new characters are forgettable, including the token wisecracking-scared-geeky computer genius, played by Justice Smith (‘Paper Towns’, ‘The Get Down’), and Toby Jones’ throwaway auctioneer Gunnar Eversol.

The ending is certainly unexpected, and is a bold new direction for the franchise as we know it, but is no doubt a welcome change. Overall, Fallen Kingdom is a marginal improvement on 2015’s ‘Jurassic World’, has lots of nods to its predecessors, particularly 1993’s ‘Jurassic Park’, but still lacks the bite of the original.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Review ThePredator (2018)

Shane Black returns to the ‘Predator’ franchise, having appeared in a supporting role in the 1987 original, to co-write and direct The Predator. The film acts as a continuation of the film series set in the present day. It’s fair to say that The Predator is something of a mixed bag though; in fact, the film feels like a sporadic collection of sequences stitched together. As you’d probably expect from a Shane Black film, there is a lot of humour throughout also, perhaps a little too much.

The opening to the film does feel very Predator-like however, complete with the original score from 87’s ‘Predator’. Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) witnesses the crash-landing of an alien vessel whilst on a mission, even encountering the cloaked beast for the first time. It’s thrilling, it’s eerie. Slowly but surely though, Black cranks the comedy up to the max, making the film feel like more of an action comedy. Although portions of the humour are genuinely entertaining and funny, it does take some of the sting out of the plot, culminating in a final third that lacks real tension.

Of course, Black is as loyal to the films as he can be, with nods to all three previous Predator films, complete with lines of dialogue feeling very familiar, and Gary Busey’s real life son playing his on-screen son. There are also plenty of inventive blood-splattered kills, more so as we reach the conclusion. Ultimately though, The Predator will be judged on its gutsy narrative directions, decisions that really had to be made for the good of the franchise and Predator story, which in truth has not really progressed in the last 30 years.

All in all, The Predator is a decent ‘Predator’ sequel and a fun popcorn film, not only staying true to its roots but also making bold moves for the future, bringing the franchise into the here and now; but that’s not to say it won’t split opinion or even insult hardcore fans of the Predator character and lore.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Review Slender Man (2018)

I had a friend named Paul Slindermen.  He was just the fucking worst.  He was the kinda dude to break bottles behind the Stop n Shop and when you asked him to knock it off he'd call you a pussy.  Then when the cops come by he'd clam up and we'd all get in trouble.

He was also a "one-upper". Every time anyone had a story no matter what the subject, he would then conveniently bring up a similar but "better" story about an experience that happened to him but was previously not shared until the moment after you gave your story.  You know he's full of shit but hey that's Paul.

Now this doesn't have anything to do with anything but I saw Slender Man a couple days ago and for the life of me I can't recall anything even remotely eventful in it to talk about for this review.  All I can think about is that asshole Paul Slindermen.
If a group of nobodies read the Wikipedia entry on Slender Man then they all made a checklist of things that would happen in a Slender Man story then that checklist was passed on to a bunch of old white-dudes-in-suits studio heads and they said, "now this is what the kids are into today" and then you filmed that and then ran it through 46 test screenings in the middle of bumblefuck Walmartville America and the film was reshaped to appease this audience then maybe you get an idea of what Slender Man is like.

I'm saying it's generic as fuck.  I'm not saying we need goddamn auteur theory here but it would be nice if a single person made one decision that deviated slightly from what you'd expect.  This film has no personality.  It's fucking mayonnaise on white bread.

It's not even bad really just low effort.  And it's a shame cuz the Slender Man story is creepy and if only someone cared maybe we could have gotten an equally creepy interpretation.  The film has it moments but it consistently fails to elevate beyond the generic teenage jump scare horror.

Go watch The Ring and see how this story can be done right.  Or if you want creepypasta adapted in an amazingly unique and nuanced way go watch the 3 seasons of Channel Zero.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Review Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Crazy Rich Asians is based on the novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan, and stars Constance Wu (‘Fresh Off The Boat’, ‘Sound Of My Voice’) as Rachel Chu, an Asian American who is invited to attend a family wedding with her boyfriend back in his native homeland of Singapore. Little does she know just how well off the family are and what it will take to be accepted by them, in particular her boyfriend’s strictly traditional mother, played by Michelle Yeoh (‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’).

The film is awash with picturesque locations, lavish parties, and worldie possessions; they’re a far cry from the average everyday life and standard of living, but whisk us away to a faraway paradise, a paradise and way of life we would all happily take tomorrow. The filming locations really are quite breathtakingly awesome.

The valuable lesson here though is that for all its feel-good factors, even this paradise is not without its problems. Chu, being an outsider, is accused of being a “gold digger” by some that could be considered rivals, whilst men not born into money are emasculated by the whole affair; Astrid, played by Gemma Chan (‘Humans’, ‘The Double’) feeling the effects of such a situation, and struggling to make things work with her disengaging husband.

The film does well to showcase both sides of the coin in equal measure. It is dramatic as it is funny, Peik Lin, played by Awkwafina (‘Ocean’s Eight’, ‘Bad Neighbours 2’) providing much of the comic relief, along with her reserved but peculiar brother. Each of the ensemble cast give a good account of themselves, which makes for a riveting two hours, a story that really draws you in and will resonate with viewers from a similar background, with an emotional payoff at the film’s conclusion.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Review A Simple Favor (2018)

Based on the novel of the same name by Darcey Bell, A Simple Favour follows single mum Stephanie (Kendrick), a stay-at-home vlogger, who forms an unlikely friendship with fellow school mum Emily (Lively), an enigma, who disappears unexpectedly without a trace, after requesting that Stephanie look after her young son Nicky.

Feig is renowned for his comedy works in film, such as ‘Bridesmaids’ and ‘Spy’, and etches some comedy into this otherwise suspenseful thriller. It’s a neo-noir that it is absolutely bonkers from start to finish, but in a good way. Feig also makes use of a largely French soundtrack which gives the film style and swagger.

Blake Lively (‘Gossip Girl’, ‘The Age Of Adaline’) and Anna Kendrick (‘Twilight’, ‘Pitch Perfect’) give impressive performances, both really pushing their own character traits and really let their hair down. Lively entertains with her brilliant fanatical behaviour and blasé parenting, whilst Kendrick really goes on a journey as Stephanie, beginning as more of an innocent type before really coming out of her shell. There are also a host of amusing supporting performances in the form of school dad Darren, played by Andrew Rannells (‘The Intern’), and a detective handling the case, played by Bashir Salahuddin (‘GLOW’).

Feig has fun with the dark and ferocious humour, and startling twist and turns throughout the film that have us on the edge of our seat and keep us guessing. Much like ‘Searching’, we are fed the occasional breadcrumb as the mystery of Emily’s disappearance slowly unravels. All in all, an enthralling and unpredictable film, with some great black humour.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Review Breathless (1960)

A deconstruction of classic filmmaking into the artistic expression that we know today.

Before the 1960s, films from the golden age of Hollywood follows a set of rules, a guidance of some sort that has existed since the early contemporaries. Long takes and cohesive editing are the primary language of the audio visual deliverance in cinema. And although the format has been the basis of some of the most regarded films ever made such as Welles’ “Citizen Kane” or Curtiz’ “Casablanca”, the young wave of filmmakers started to dream for more. From the birthplace of cinema itself, three young French filmmakers : Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and Claude Chabrol, forever changed the course of film history with the film titled “Á bout de souffle” or “Breathless” in english. Now, why did I spend a whole paragraph explaining that you may ask? Well, it’s because that’s all I really can praise the film for doing.

“Breathless” is influencial, no doubt about that. More than influencial, it is as much as a milestone for film history as did Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” back in 1915. And with that reputation hanging on its shoulders, it’s only natural for me and many people to expect a flawless masterpiece, something that “Breathless” clearly isn’t, or at least in my own personal opinion. It is game changing, yet it really boils down as this prototype for the movement that the film is kickstarting. It is a newborn child still at its infancy, jagged and confused while trying to comprehend its own existence. Yet it never felt as a genuine accidental masterpiece, but rather more of a gimmick. Its as if Godard and his peers are trying to be different just for the sake of it. It also never felt really personal, because of its very technical driven direction, a shame considering how much potential the plot and writing was. So, let’s talk about that.

While it is quite hard to comprehend, what I took from “Breathless” is a story of knowing one self and not be blinded by the mythical persona we or others gave given to us.

This is reflected in the two characters’ odd relationship that is full of denial and ignorance. With Belmondo’s character manifesting the false stardom bravado men often give to themselves, basing ther persona with that of the tough as nails movie stars, in his case Humphrey Bogart, while Seberg represents the passive and innocent little girl stereotype, pushed around by the world’s and Belmondo’s character’s misogynistic behavior. If it’s not obvious by now, these characters are clear commentaries on the state of post-war France cinema and culture, with the western influence ever growing stronger in the lives of the French people. This is Godard’s call to arms, an effort to restore French’s glory in the world of art and culture. That, I can really appreciate from him, as everyone should.

Yet, where does that put the film for me. Do I hate it for its incohesive and flawed filmmaking? Or is that a product of my overwhelming expectation? Does that mean I love it for its genuine criticism of French culture and self identity? Or is that not enough to make up for its delivery?

To be honest, I don’t really know. My feelings towards “Breathless” is one that constantly changes as time passes. It is a film I truly respect, yet couldn’t fully adore. So due ignore the number I slapped on the scoreboard for it is irrelevant. And go ahead, start a riot, cut my head off with an axe for not liking this more, for I may as well deserve that punishment.