Dunkirk (2017)

Christopher Nolan’s latest offering is an accurate representation of an event that occurred in 1940 during WWII. British, Belgian and French troops were cut off within Dunkirk, surrounded by advancing German troops. The allies were literally fish in a barrel to the German forces. They were stranded, being attacked from both land and air with the sea to their backs, nowhere to run.

Situated in Northern France, Dunkirk was the location of the massive evac operation which saw large numbers of British civilians man their own vessels in order to assist with the rescue. Up to 400 various manned craft were voluntarily used and braved the English Channel along with various military vessels. Despite the fact that German forces had halted their crushing advance on Dunkirk (giving the Allies some time to organise the evac), the Luftwaffe were still hitting the port and its beaches and enemy troops were still on the ground.

Nolan’s film tells the story of Dunkirk from separate angles, land sea and air. The first angle is from a young British private called Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) who has survived a recent German ambush and has made his way to the beaches. We follow Tommy as he tries to get on-board a couple ships only for them to be sunk by German attacks. Tommy eventually ends up back on the beaches with some Scottish soldiers and a French soldier. The second angle is from RAF pilot Farrier (Tom Hardy) and two other Spitfire pilots who are part of the British airborne resistance against the German bombers. And the third angle is from a Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance), his son Peter and his sons best friend George. All of whom have volunteered to help in the rescue with the aid of Mr. Dawson’s yacht.

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First off Nolan’s film is not like most traditional films. There is very little dialog throughout the entire runtime; instead Nolan relies on pure visuals and the musical score to convey the films atmosphere. That is where the film may be problematic for many people, this isn’t a war movie filled with blood, guts, gun battles and explosions. Obviously if you know about the actual historical event then you would know to expect this. The most dialog comes from the story surrounding Mr. Dawson and his son Peter, second to that would probably be Tommy’s story, then lastly and most obviously is Farrier’s story which is almost entirely conveyed through Tom Hardy’s facial expressions.

Now whilst I did fully appreciate Nolan’s vision here, I have to admit to finding it somewhat odd watching a movie like this with little dialog. Looking at Farrier’s story (the air section), it was indeed very impressive to watch these old Spitfires dogfight with German Messerschmitt’s. Naturally it wasn’t shot in the typical Hollywood action sequence type way. What you get are highly realistic air sequences which show the planes trying to manoeuvre into position to be able to attack each other. When the attacks come they are short bursts with very little fanfare. When a plane gets hit nothing much happens at first. The pilots communications are brief and not filled with silly quips. Basically overall it kinda feels like you’re watching some kind of airshow display or training video, the fact everything is shot in natural light kinda adds to that.

The story surrounding Tommy is probably the most Hollywood-esque part of the movie, but it still may not please some. Once again this is a highly realistic vision, there are no ‘Saving Private Ryan’ sequences on this beach. The plot is straight forward, Tommy and another soldier try to board ships by using an injured soldier as their ticket essentially. That seems almost wrong but in the grand scheme of things who wouldn’t do that? The fact that they try to get away twice and both times the ships are sunk did seem almost too unlucky to me. The fact that later on they reach another ship and yet again it gets sunk, kinda felt a bit overly dramatic perhaps. Did that many ships get sunk in the real event?

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Tommy’s tale certainly has the most cinematic visuals of the film, the numerous shots of the troops lined up on the beach are incredibly haunting, yet beautiful. Its easily the most intriguing of the three main plots but at the same time its also a bit too ‘Spielbergian’ methinks. When Tommy meets up with the Scottish soldiers things get a tad by the numbers and a little dull. I also felt the death of the French soldier (who was thought to be a Brit) was again a little touch of Hollywood which maybe wasn’t required. It was too predictable, the minute he is exposed as French you kinda knew his number was up. I should add that whilst all this is going on we get little snippets of Kenneth Branagh as a Commander overseeing the operation from the beach. Again like Hardy he tends to emote through facial expressions more than dialog.

For me the weakest of the stories was following Mr. Dawson and his son. Call me shallow but this was simply because it wasn’t really that interesting. I found myself yearning for the plot to get back to the beaches, or in the air with Farrier. Don’t get me wrong, Mark Rylance puts in a great performance as the calm and steadfast Dawson, and its important to see the civilian angle of this story. The thing is it just wasn’t really that intriguing watching this trio sale slowly towards Dunkirk.

The subplot of them rescuing a stranded officer (Cillian Murphy) from a shipwreck was also something of an odd addition. Murphy’s officer is shell-shocked, he argues about going to Dunkirk and tries to stop Dawson. This leads to George (Peter’s best friend) falling and badly injuring his head…which leads to his eventual death! I really didn’t see the point in all this because it goes nowhere. Dawson and Peter lie to the shell-shocked officer about it and that’s kinda that. Neither Dawson or Peter came across as upset when the incident occurred or when George dies. You’re left wondering what happens with that. Does the officer get done for murder upon return to England? Would he be let off because of the fact he was shell-shocked?

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Would I say this is one of the greatest war films ever made? In terms of realism yes. In terms of score, cinematography and craftsmanship yes. In terms of engagement (for me the viewer) I’d say its up there, but maybe not the best. I totally and utterly shower praise on Nolan and co for their vision and what they have achieved here, the authenticity being the number one factor of course (score not far behind). But I cannot deny the film is a little slow at times. I hate myself for saying this but I did find myself yearning for just a touch of romanticised heroism or emotion just to get those waterworks going.

The final sequence showing Farrier taking out one last German bomber before he is forced to land in enemy territory from lack of fuel, was so fecking awesome. Seeing the Spitfire land in one shot on the Dunkirk beach was fantastic, as was seeing a stoic Farrier stare into the camera as he is captured and led away. But dagnabbit Chris, I just needed a hint, a mere drop of glossy sentimentality. The film was so realistic that it didn’t really feel like a film at times (again I hate myself for saying this). But bottom line, this film is a tour de force that ignores manufactured heroics and stereotypical Hollywood-isms.

9/10

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Justice League (2017)

So this was it, the main event, the big one to rival Marvels ‘The Avengers’. Only five movies in and DC (along with Warner Bros.) felt it would be a shrewd decision to whack out their superhero team-up flick, hmmm.

This was always gonna be a hard sell with the performance of previous DC movies. Superman hadn’t really set the world alight and the Suicide Squad was a nice idea that was badly executed. Wonder Woman of course did well (boosted by a political agenda) but that now seems like a flute more than anything. We hadn’t had any stand alone movies for Flash, Cyborg or Aquaman up to this point, something that just felt totally wrong. So not only was this a sequel of sorts to the previous Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman offerings, it was also a slight origins kick off for Cyborg, Flash and Aquaman (despite previous cameos).

Alas the plot is anything but fresh (its a superhero flick). A long long long long time ago on Earth, the evil supervillain Steppenwolf (stupid name) tried to take over the planet using three gizmos called Mother Boxes. He was beaten back by a whole team of other superhero types and said Boxes were hidden on Earth (if you wanna protect Earth, why not hide them elsewhere? Like in the far flung reaches of the universe). Much later in the present day the Boxes are triggered by the death of Superman? Or the presence of Superman? Are these things sentient beings? I have no friggin’ clue but they activate and this gets Steppenwolf’s attention. So he comes back to find the Boxes and try to take over the Earth to please his master Darkseid. Why he didn’t just do this before I dunno, don’t delve too deeply into this plot.

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Enter our team of heroes, the Justice League. First up its good old Batman (Ben Affleck), the leader who’s super power is being very rich (his own words). Alas this comment really hits home because his presence is really kinda stupid. Why would you need a regular human dressed in bat armour in a fight with super powered aliens and metahumans? He provides them with some cool vehicles…which they don’t need, umm…he also lets them kip at his place? Unfortunately Affleck also seemed to not care about this movie seeing as he clearly didn’t wanna be there, and he looked tubby. When he takes off his batsuit the shirt he has on underneath also has a muscle structure built into it. Methinks they had to cover his actual physique.

Then we have Supes (Henry Cavill) who is basically the same as before. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) who essentially struts around making smartass comments all the time. Apparently the success of Gadot’s only movie has gone to her head because my God does she act smug for the whole time. The Flash (Erza Miller) is the obligatory comic relief which is enjoyable for what its worth but is at odds with the movies tone. Also where did he get that Nasa material to build his suit? Next up is Cyborg (Ray Fisher) who is another character that doesn’t really fit here. Like what does this guy do? He’s basically an agile Terminator, but it seems like he could be easily destroyed at any point. And lastly there is Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the final pointless character here unless you’re fighting underwater. But wait, Aquaman seems to have powers on land in this movie too because plot necessities.

One problem I had with this movie were the effects and general look of everything. Firstly its that same old drab, metallic, dark, shadowy atmosphere that DC (via Zack Snyder) has been pushing this whole time. The movie looks awful, the colour palette is terrible, and it all looks the same. Naturally there is abundance of CGI which is to be expected but again its poor and obvious looking, whilst having that strange DC/WB videogame-esque look to it. Did I mention the greenscreen? Oh my God it was horrendous and so very very obvious. The battle between Steppenwolf’s army and the Earth defenders at the start was horribly dated looking. Almost all underwater sequences looked bad plus you couldn’t really make much out. Steppenwolf himself looked like a character out of a Mortal Kombat movie. And Cyborg was quite jokey looking at times, he looked like he was made out of tinfoil with a bad face job.

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I think the epitome of dross in this movie came when Aquaman surfed on a parademon whilst falling from a great height. He then crashes into a high-rise building, smashes all the way through it from top to bottom, and comes out surfing at the bottom with a grin on his face. This was literally cringeworthy cartoon garbage that also looked shit.

The other main problem here was the entire movie simply being cheap. As in using dated tropes and cliches whilst being just plain stupid. Thing is this was somewhat expected with the characters you’re dealing with. Aquaman, he’s useless, he merely pops up to do stuff that involves water because he’s the water guy. Oh everyone’s about to be drowned by a huge tidal wave!! Enter Aquaman…hurray! Oh we need someone to hack into this computer control panel thingy and do some hi-tech computer type stuff? Enter Cyborg because he’s the robot guy. Oh we need someone to get somewhere really quickly or rescue some people in the nick of time? Enter Flash because he’s the fast guy. Batman turns up to every battle in some yuge mechanical battle vehicle (because otherwise he’s useless)…and it gets wrecked instantly. Batman loses a lot of gear in this flick. Wonder Woman strolls out of every battle without her lipstick even being smudged, ugh!

The acting was pretty dreadful across the board (except for Gal Gadot of course, because you can’t say anything negative about her now). As said Affleck was clearly uninterested, Fisher swaggered as much as he could but was still awful, Momoa had big muscles and lots of hair, whilst the character of Steppenwolf was basically a live action pantomime. Of course there were numerous other characters throughout offering other actors a crack but its all cameo stuff really. A too many cooks situation basically, heck whilst the big finale battle was going down humanity was represented by one small family, probably because they literally couldn’t fit anymore people in.

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All in all I really struggled to find anything positive in this movie. The small sequence where the team brings Supes back from the dead was quite enjoyable. It was fun watching Superman knock the team around; I especially liked the eerie moment Supes spies Flash whilst he’s zooming in his superhuman speed zone. Although, I’m not really sure why Supes would fight the team after his resurrection. OK he’s understandably disorientated but why does he see the others as threats? The opening Batman sequence was also nice and harked back to earlier Batman movies in tone and visuals. Twas also lovely to hear a very short burst of Danny Elfman’s Batman 89 score in one scene. It was literally a few seconds but even that was enough to really swell the scene in terms of awesomeness and nostalgia.

That’s virtually it! That’s pretty much the only bits in the movie that I genuinely liked. The rest of this effort felt very much like (ironically) a Joel Schumacher movie. Yes it is indeed that bad. The entire movie generally looks poor, the effects are very suspect at times (Cyborg), the greenscreen is some of the worst I’ve seen for some time, and the plot is generic as fuck. Add to that the even more generic villain Steppenwolf with his hordes of flying goggle wearing goblins, and a finale that was possibly the biggest anticlimax in years (considering the content we’re dealing with here). And even now I still can’t help but think Superman could of done this all on his own. Why is Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg and Aquaman even here?? Flash was probably the only other genuinely useful person. This really felt like bad a movie from the mid 90’s. The bottom line, its ugly, dull and unbelievably uninspired.

4/10

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Innocent Blood (1992)

So in some regions (dunno where) this movie is referred to as ‘A French Vampire in America’. Are we seeing the connection yet? Yes this is a horror comedy directed by John Landis, but no this is not a sequel or prequel to his classic ‘An American Werewolf in London’. But lets be honest here, that ‘French Vampire’ title is way better than ‘Innocent Blood’. That doesn’t really tell you anything, very bland. Personally I like ‘A Vampire in Pittsburgh’.

Marie (Anne Parillaud) is a vampire in the (then) present day of the early 90’s. We know little of her background, how she became a vampire, where she comes from etc…All we know is she only feeds on criminals. She is currently in Pittsburgh where there just so happens to be a very strong mafia presence, she’s in luck. Marie begins to feed on a random Italian American gangster which causes a stir. The aftermath of which results in undercover cop Joe Gennaro (Anthony LaPaglia) being put into the witness protection program. Eventually Marie feeds on mafioso boss Salvatore ‘Sal the Shark’ Macelli (Robert Loggia), but she is unable to kill him completely. This leads to bigger problems with Sal becoming a vampire himself and then starting to turn all his men. Marie must find and kill Sal but needs the assistance of Joe, apparently.

So the plot is thin on the ground, its pretty weak. Basically Marie fudges up whilst feeding and causes a shitstorm. Remarkable really considering she’s supposedly a very old and experienced vampire, you’d think she would be able to do this kind of thing blindfolded. But I guess everyone makes mistakes, even the undead. From there on out its simply about Sal trying to cope with being a vampire, and then realising he can turn all his men. In the meantime Marie must find Sal and stop this. But with all her supernatural powers you’d think that would be relatively easy. It begs the question, why do we need LaPaglia’s character? OK he’s a love interest, I get it, but she essentially doesn’t really need the guy. What can he offer her?

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Interestingly this movie isn’t set in New York, even though it clearly really really really wants to be. I mean lets be real here, this movie is so rammed full of cliched Italian American mafia themes its unreal. Almost every cliche in the stereotype book is used here from the black limo’s, the sharp suits, slick back hair, mullets, the chewing of toothpicks, the silly mafia names nicknames, the black leather coats, and the freezing cold looking city streets filled with plumes of smoke from the drain grates. Heck they even go as far as using Frank Sinatra tunes in initial scenes. Not only that, I think Landis cast almost every actor around at the time with either an Italian American last name, heritage or simply looks like a mobster (you know what I mean). Indeed many of these actors have gone on to become household names in mafia/gangster roles.

Worth noting, cameos for Sam Raimi, Dario Argento, Frank Oz, Angela Bassett, Chazz Palminteri, and Tom Savini. Although it also worth noting that Savini did not do the special effects here, that honour goes to Steve Johnson (‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘The Abyss’).

Lets talk about those special effects, how do they compare to Landis’ classic lycanthrope movie. Well there is much less emphasis on the vampires and their fangs in this, but a lot of emphasis on the blood. There is a lot of claret on show in this movie, mainly gushing from victims necks as they get torn open. Indeed the effects on neck wounds are really quite grisly and wonderful. Nice big chunks missing with ripped flesh dangling. Often the victims clothes are drenched in wet blood, sodden and dirty. Loggia spends most of the movie virtually head to toe in wet and dried blood. In fact I’d go as far as to say Landis goes a tad overboard with the blood because it becomes less shocking the more you see.

As for the vampires, we never see any fangs believe it or not. The entire emphasis is on the eyes of these supernatural killers. Johnson used special highly reflective contact lenses that change colour. It really is a startling look that really grabs your attention. Some of the vampires have red eyes, yellow eyes, sky blue eyes; whilst Marie seems to have eyes that change colour, not sure why though. The only issue I had with this is the fact they are obviously contacts (clearly very thick) and on most of the actors the pupil was slightly off-centre in one eye. It kinda made all the vampires look a bit simple looking, or like they had strabismus.

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Other early effects were a point-of-view flyby effect where the camera simply moves around a space to simulate the vampire flying. Quite a bit of wire work to simulate the strength of the vampires, lifting people up high etc…The vampires roar or scream sounded very familiar to me, I’m sure its the same sound effect used for the werewolf howl in ‘American Werewolf in London’. Again its used very effectively, a quick cut to the vampires face with a loud blast of the howl, really makes you jump.

The best effects sequence in the movie has to be the death of recently bitten Manny Bergman (Don Rickles). Whilst in hospital this character is accidentally exposed to sunlight…and you all know what happens next. Well this is the money shot here folks. A slow painful looking death as Bergman’s body cracks and breaks up in front of the doctors. The medical staff try to help him but his body crumbles and deteriorates in their hands. One shot of a nurse accidentally pulling off his crispy smouldering arm, only to then drop it and watch it break apart into a mess of black glowing ash, is incredible (for the time).

To be utterly honest not a great deal of interest happens for the most part in this movie (effects aside). Once Joe realises what Marie is he goes after her (ignoring his boss of course). Marie has all manner of powers but somehow Joe is still able to find and catch her. But did she want to be caught huh? This eventually leads to the inevitable sex scene betwixt man and vampire. By this time you will have realised that Anne Parillaud is not shy about showing off her entire self (very European, very French). Although the sex scene shows us how Marie must control herself (something Joe is always concerned about), its of little importance really. A little spice for the movie, gratuitous nudity.

Landis goes for broke with this one, he loves to throw out old beloved conventions. Like I said no fangs here, but lots glowing eyes (although no explanation as to why different vampires have different colour eyes). Vampires do have reflections in this movie, but still garlic makes them sick. A bullet to the head is enough to kill a vampire, as is snapping its neck. No mention of stakes through the heart or crosses though. They can still climb up walls, fly and have incredible strength. Lastly and most interestingly no one actually uses the word vampire in the movie (I think).

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Loggia is clearly enjoying himself here as he chews up the scenery big time. He may not have the physique of a vampire but he certainly has the bark and snarl that’s for sure. Loggia makes Frank Langella in ‘Masters of the Universe’ look positively bland in comparison. In the scene where Sal had to rape and abuse Marie, he really fecking went for it! As for the other main leads, Parillaud is definitely very cute and adorable as Marie. Like I said she’s not shy about getting it all out for the camera and she’s very fit looking to boot. Bit of an issue trying to understand her accent at times but she does convey the shy quiet vampire nicely. You do truly believe she is a centuries old Gallic beauty; a siren that has been seducing immoral men over the ages. On the other hand LaPaglia is…fine. You could literally stick any guy with that Italian American look in that role, the character is kinda pointless.

Ultimately I do think Landis went too far with the blood factor in this one and loses a real sense of dread and spookiness. His werewolf movie had blood but nowhere near as much as this, plus ‘Werewolf in London’ was eerie as fuck; it was genuinely scary. This movie loses any real sense of scare factor with all these stereotypical mafia bozos running around shooting at everything. Yes there are some good shocks and thrills but the comedy spoils it, its too hammy, too dumb basically. The movie is a horror comedy and Landis does hit his targets well, it is a fun flick for horror fans to enjoy. I just feel this is too much of a homage to other things, too many cameos maybe, too many winks and nods, not gritty and dark enough. Its a hard one to call because the cast is great and the old school effects are superb .

I do heartily recommend this as I’m pretty sure many will not have even heard of it (it is a forgotten gem). Bottom line, it doesn’t quite satisfy your vampire needs/requirements, it ticks some boxes but misses others. But overall its still a top John Landis horror comedy and easily better than what you get these days. Shame about the end credits song, totally out of place methinks.

8/10

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

The fifteen movie in the Marvel cinematic universe, the Guardians travel all over the universe trying to unravel the mystery behind Peter Quill’s parentage. That’s the plot right there, that’s it.

So the start of this movie shows us the origins of Quill’s parents with a de-aged CGI Kurt Russell, something we’ve seen before and is becoming more popular. Gotta be honest, this looked very impressive. Twas impressive with Michael Douglas in ‘Ant-Man’ and its impressive here with Russell. From there we zip straight over to the opening credits which roll whilst the Guardians are fighting a big alien monster. Amidst the chaos Groot plays and jigs to ‘Mr Blue Sky’ by ELO via Star-Lord’s walkman. Its a quirky intro and certainly enjoyable…except for the choice of song, but that’s just me.

So as I said the basic plot involves Quill finding his father who turns out to be a God-like celestial called Ego (Kurt Russell). Naturally Ego would like to rule the universe with his son at his side, and Quill is curious, but sharply declines after discovering Ego’s dark secrets (he killed Quill’s mum). Of course whilst all this is going on the other characters have their own little subplots. Gamora is fighting off her sister Nebula once again. Yondu has been hired to capture the Guardians by the Sovereign race because Rocket nicked some precious batteries from them. This causes Yondu internal conflict which results in a mutiny by some of his men. Groot is still slowly growing up, and Drax starts a slow burning romance with Ego’s assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Oh and Rocket is still a wise-ass.

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I think the main thing I noticed with this sequel was the increase in comedy…silly comedy. Its a little bit too obvious that Gunn is trying a little bit too hard with the gags, but anyway. In the first major space battle Quill and Rocket are arguing about who is the better pilot. Rocket remarks that later later on he will put a turd in Quill’s bed. But not one of his turds, one of Drax’s turds. Drax immediately laughs out loud and proclaims ‘I have famously large turds’. Its at this point that I asked myself, are they actually throwing out dialog about poo? Putting poo in each others beds…like school kids would say? By jove they are! I also noted a few other scenes that did make me smile such as Drax ripping on Quill’s secret crush on Gamora (unceremoniously revealed by Mantis who can read people’s feelings).

There is a great little sequence where Groot must find Yondu’s head fin so both he and Rocket can escape from his traitorous men. Groot takes about six attempts to find said item as he doesn’t really understand and keeps coming back with all manner of things. A tad predictable but nicely done. Quill calling Rocket a trash panda was a good one although the following dialog was a bit laboured. Rocket trying to explain to Groot about which button (the death button that needed to be covered with tape) to press on the bomb to kill Ego etc…OK lets just say that most of the good stuff comes from Rocket when he verbally clashes with the others.

As for the main crux of the story which was Peter and his father Ego, meh…it was fine but nothing special in my opinion. In all honesty I don’t really think they could of done anything drastically original here and what they did was perfectly fine. But the main problem simply was it was all completely predictable fluff that’s been done before. Each step of the way, each beat was wholly formulaic frankly. Peter and Ego get along fine at first as Peter wants to learn more out of curiosity. Ego teaches Peter the basics of his God-like powers. As the subplots all start to come together Ego finally reveals what he’s been up to (again its no real surprise) and Peter understands what he and the Guardians must do. Then after a long finale battle with the good guys on the brink of losing, unsurprisingly Peter suddenly conquers his own internal God-like powers and uses them to hold off Ego just long enough for the others to do their bit.

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That’s not to say there is anything wrong with all this per say, it works here, but I can’t not mention how utterly corny and conventional it all is. Again in all honesty I also thought the ending was so so very soppy that it almost spoilt the movie. Sure the Guardians have now become a proper family so to speak (ugh! the whole family thing again?) and all the various plots are tied together nicely, but boy do they pile on the schmaltz. I did also found it quite bizarre how the Sovereign are so obsessed with wanting to kill the Guardians because Rocket stole their batteries, Especially as it looks like we’ll be seeing more of the same in the next movie from these guys. Its also kinda funny how the makeup for this alien race consists entirely of gold body paint, literally just painting all the actors gold and that’s it. Just seems so…made for TV-ish. Odd for such a big blockbuster.

Anyway, despite this essentially being more of the same from the first movie, I did enjoy this. I personally found the entire movie to be much tighter with better dialog, better action and a better array of characters. Ego being a surprise decent villain…clearly helped along by casting Russell. Also the combination of Drax and Mantis being a decent surprise double act. Whilst both movies do still feel very cliched and unoriginal, borrowing many elements from many sci-fi movies, for me its the quirky roster of heroes that sells the flick. I can’t deny that Rocket is fast becoming a firm favourite of mine. Naturally everything looked slick and shiny, plenty of comicbook nods dotted around, and another retro soundtrack which I didn’t really like this time truth be told. I actually thought many of the songs were completely out of place with some of the scenes, but that’s just me (dunno what the kids think of these old tunes, do they even know what a walkman is?).

Yes I found this movie more enjoyable than the first (which I think was somewhat overhyped). Even though they are clearly trying a bit too hard with the goofy comedy and visual retro love letters to the 80’s (although I do appreciate the retro goodness), generally I think Gunn and co have perfected this particular team of space cowboys. What they must not do now is push it too far and spoil it. But I will finish by asking, why am I not seeing a (preferably adult) Howard the Duck reboot yet? Surely I can’t be the only one who thinks a Rocket and Howard team up needs to happen?

8.5/10

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Killing Gunther (2017)

So this movie came outta nowhere for me. Apparently it was released straight to video on demand, and later got a limited theatrical release. Heck even the films poster looks like a fan job. Little bit misleading too I think, seeing as the titular Schwarzenegger isn’t really in the film until the very end.

So what we have here is essentially an action comedy but with a mockumentary twist. A group of assassins led by Blake (Taran Killam) wants to eliminate the top assassin in the business, Gunther (Schwarzenegger). Each assassin has their own reasons for this but Blake simply wants to be the top assassin in the biz. Because Blake is somewhat eccentric and narcissistic he hires a documentary team to follow and document his team in their mission to kill Gunther. Put plainly, in my humble view, this is ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ but with assassins instead of vampires, concept wise. Although there is a musical score playing throughout, which makes no sense but whatever.

Admittedly at first I was getting a bit sceptical about the whole idea mainly because it instantly comes across like a clone of said New Zealand horror comedy. But the introduction of the over the top, stereotypical characters won me over. Firstly the leader Blake is the Bond-esque/Kingsman-esque gentleman type who dresses in a suit with a dapper hairstyle. Next is Donnie (Bobby Moynihan), an over enthusiastic, overweight, bumbling all-American trying his best to showcase himself as a good assassin. He often mugs to the camera. Next we have the token sexy femme fatale of the group, Sanaa (Hannah Simone). The daughter of a legendary Muslim assassin who is possibly the most skilled team member, but can’t shake off her overprotective father.

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Yong (Aaron Yoo) is a Chinese (I think) assassin with a penchant for poisons, but not guns or blood. Gabe (Paul Brittain) is the youngest on the team, merely a teenager by the looks of it. He is the tech expert, anything computers, or so he says. Izzat (Amir Talai) used to be an Islamic extremist but has since moved away from that and is now wanting to earn a reputation as an assassin. His other specialty is the fact he has a robotic arm that can crush pretty much anything. He lost it helping another extremist with his suicide bomb. And lastly Mia and Barold (Allison Tolman and Ryan Gaul), Russian siblings and thugs.

Now despite the mockumentary premise being old hat these days, it never fails to raise a smile (I think). If you think of all mockumentaries, in general they’re all pretty good, if not classics. So essentially you kinda know what to expect comedy wise from the outset, but its still admittedly funny. Obviously with this movie its all gonna be send-ups of the espionage/action genre. I’m sure you know what movies I’m referring to.

Whilst all the humour isn’t brilliant there are some nuggets of goodness to be found. After an encounter with Gunther the team review the footage that was captured by Blake’s documentary team (yes the documentary team are also involved in this). Gabe the tech guy hooks it all up and they scan the footage. They find a shot of Gunther and pause it, Blake orders Gabe to enhance the image. Gabe looks at Blake puzzled and says he can’t do that, computers don’t do that. What follows is an argument about how everyone has seen that done on TV and in films so it must be a thing.

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When the team goes to collect weapons from a secret arms dealer, the guy turns out to be this really nice, almost camp chap who just happens to look like a butch biker. Cliched and unoriginal but the whole scene works nicely. Then there are lots of little moments such as watching Donnie trying to slide over the top of a cars bonnet only to fall on his face. ‘Just erase that’ he says to the camera after climbing off the car. Donnie is probably the funniest guy in the film for me with his physique and mannerisms. He’s always trying to be cool, like a character from an action movie. When he’s gonna flick the switch to blow some dynamite he looks into the camera and says ‘boom goes the dynamite’ with a smug wink and grin. Of course the bomb fails to go off. Then you’ve also got Yong who carries tiny bottles of poison around with him…and throws them at people…in gun fights.

This actually felt more like I was watching an action packed episode of ‘The Office’ more than anything. The movie has all those exact beats, tropes and cliches. The movie does have a nice twist of sorts in the latter half as we find out that Gunther is doing exactly the same thing as Blake (with a documentary team); but he’s doing it to expose how inept Blake and his team are. Everything that happened during the movie was all setup by Gunther; although much suspension of disbelief is required for that. Nothing is genuinely explained properly, its all very tongue and cheek. Just run with it, type of thing.

I think the movies biggest issue is the fact that there are too many characters and not all get enough time to shine. You could of easily left out a few of them, like the Russian siblings. The other issue is none of them grow as characters, they all remain the same stereotypical doofuses as they started out. Although I thought Donnie having to convert to Islam in order to marry Sanaa (under threat of death from her overprotective father) was quite funny. But by the end the plot gets more contrived and stupid as they quickly try to wrap things up neatly. The fact that Gunther apparently doesn’t die is also something of an ugh! moment.

I liked the found footage style of the movie, I think its works surprisingly well here. Its not the best mockumentary there is but I thought it was a solid comedy with much to offer. Certainly a much appreciated slightly new angle for the now overcrowded espionage genre. Yes its all very dumb, not very sophisticated, hardly subtle, and very meta. But after a slow and uncertain start, I got into this.

7/10

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Baby Driver (2017)

Stupid name for a heist movie, unless that movie is a kids comedy all about a bloke having to drive babies around during a heist. Or maybe an adult who drives like a baby or some shit like that. Why hasn’t anyone made a comedy about learner drivers yet? You could call it ‘Learner Driver’, hey that’s not a bad idea (copyrighted).

So this is a heist movie. In this movie a mysterious kingpin (?) called Doc (Kevin Spacey) uses various people to pull off various daring jobs, but he always uses the same driver. This driver is a young man called Baby or Miles (Ansel Elgort). Apparently Doc caught Baby breaking into his car many years prior and was so impressed with his skills that he decided to use him for his heists. Naturally Baby had to comply or face the obvious consequences. Now for a long time every heist has gone well for Doc, but clearly that doesn’t last and that’s the main crux here.

So straight away there are various questions here. Firstly, who is Doc exactly? What is this guys deal? Where does he come from? How is he so powerful? What does he do? Nothing is explained about this character and its kinda frustrating because he simply doesn’t come across like a bad guy (especially with Spacey’s performance). The fact he also makes such glaring mistakes with his decisions also raises questions about how he’s managed to gain so much power. Doc uses Baby as a getaway driver despite the fact he’s literally only a teenager, or at least in his early 20’s. Yeah OK Baby is a good driver, but is that still a good decision? To use such a young person as your heist getaway driver?? I can think of many problems that might arise with that.

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Doc also claims to never use the same people for each heist, but he does! He also uses Baby for every heist so what is he talking about. Then at one point when the gang suspects Baby of being an informant, and the fact he’s being telling his foster father all about their deeds; Doc and co still allow him to carry on being their getaway driver! These are what you call eye rolling movie decisions.

Now lets look at Baby, why is he called Baby? Dunno. This young man has tinnitus from an accident as a child (which killed his parents). Since then he’s been raised by a black man who is deaf. Is it me or does that sound both unnecessarily pc and kinda counter productive? Would a deaf (apparently single?) man be the right choice to raise a child with tinnitus? I honesty don’t know, it just seems like an odd decision, but hey what do I know. So Baby is a good driver, again we don’t know how this is, it just is. He’s a good driver don’t question it. Baby is also very much into his music, mainly because of the tinnitus. He listens to music virtually all the time and uses it to help him concentrate, even on heist jobs. The weird part is he often records people (without consent) and uses snippets of their speech to make mix tapes. Its a very odd part of his character and really doesn’t make any sense, or it didn’t to me.

So things all go wrong for Doc when he uses a team consisting of a couple of crooks who are in love, Buddy and Darling (Jon Hamm and Eiza González), and the violent Bats (Jamie Foxx). Of course the highly predictable outcomes are all a result of the highly predictable out of control character Bats. Because a trigger-happy, tattooed, ghetto lunatic is what you need in your specialised heist team, what could go wrong? The other two don’t really do much other than smooch, although Buddy does stick up for Baby at times leading you to think he’s a good guy. All the while Doc is supposed to be intimidating…but really isn’t.

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What follows is a bog standard turn of events that see the plot holes get bigger and bigger. At one point after discovering one of Baby’s mix tapes Bats and Buddy decide to go back to his place to get the rest of his stash, and question his foster father. Bats proceeds to knock Baby out…but how did they then manage to find Baby’s place?? When the heist goes wrong and the police react, I don’t believe any of the cops actually saw Baby involved in any way. Yet Baby runs off, and continues running even when in the clear, which would obviously cause the police to follow out of suspicion (as they would in reality, if you run you’ve got something to hide). Baby continues to escape by then carjacking and driving like a lunatic…which again will always make you stick out like a sore thumb. Why do characters in movies never get this?? You wanna blend into a crowd of people or traffic, act or drive normally, don’t run or drive like a nut.

Anywho the movie is formulaic right down to the last moment where Buddy keeps popping up despite Baby shooting him point blank (in the shoulder?? How did he fuck that up??). The only thing that got me was the fact Baby didn’t go down in a blaze of glory, or escape fully. But then we get this dreadful soppy ending which is even worse so…I find myself baffled by the reaction to this movie, once again I just don’t get it. It didn’t offer anything much in terms of originality, except for the main protagonist having hearing issues; and everything action wise was terribly average. I think the thing that disappointed me the most was the trailer giving me the impression that Baby drove a Subaru Impreza for the whole movie, which he didn’t.

5/10

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (FR, 2017)

Awesome name right, flippin’ awesome. This attractively titled movie is based on the French comicbook series Valérian and Laureline. I’ve never heard of this comicbook series but apparently its one of the biggest Franco-Belgian titles around. There is also an animated series of this comic too, who’d of thought it.

I really liked the basic setup for this movie. Via flashbacks in the opening credits we are told the story of the International Space Station (ISS). It starts off historically accurate showcasing the station being placed into Earth’s orbit, and then slowly over the years sections being added and different countries joining the crew. But as we progress further into the future things obviously become more fictional with the station growing larger and larger and eventually alien creatures greeting humans on-board in diplomatic, historical events. It gets to a point where ISS is so big it becomes a danger to Earth, so its moved off into deep space and renamed ‘Alpha’. And thus we have the massive space city of a thousand planets (referring to all the alien species that live within the city).

This one concept is fantastic, love it. The rest of the films plot not so much. Essentially what we have is yet another Avatar-esque story surrounding a primitive race of aliens that have their home planet unceremoniously wiped out by nasty humans. It wasn’t an intentional act mind you but whatever. These aliens infiltrate the massive Alpha city to assimilate human knowledge in order to build a new ship that can recreate their home world (I didn’t understand this part). This also involved finding a couple mcguffins and some kidnapping hijinks, which in turn brings in our human protagonists, Major Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne) to solve the case.

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Right lets look at the best part of this movie, in fact its the only good thing in this movie. So Valerian and Laureline have been tasked with finding the ‘Mül converter’, a creature that can clone anything it eats, and it can apparently eat anything? This meant going to a vast open desert which is the location of an extra-dimensional market place, and tourist attraction. Within the extra-dimensional marketplace they must infiltrate an alien gangsters lair to steal said converter.

So basically what this means is, somewhere else in the universe (and in another dimension) there is this huge Tatooine-esque town and market. But the only way to reach or visit it is via special attire that allows the user to cross space and time in an instant. The user is basically a projected hologram in the distant extra-dimensional market place; whilst back in the desert the user walks around almost like they’re using a virtual reality headset.

At the same time Valerian is able to use smaller versions of this technology in the form of a simple cube device. This allows him to simply put his hand into the cube which contains a portal of sorts. So on one side of the cube his hand is in the extra-dimensional market place, like a dismembered floating hand; whilst the rest of him is still in the desert in relative safety. It all sounds quite complex and its hard to explain in writing, but trust me its a fantastic bit of futuristic visual fantasy.

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In short what we get for the first half of this movie (after a rather soppy beginning involving the primitive alien race) is a superb slice of science fiction that encapsulates amazing imagination, mind boggling futuristic technology, wonderfully designed alien beings, an atmospheric setting, and a thrilling rollercoaster of a ride. Admittedly its not all perfectly original as we’ve all seen sandy alien marketplaces before…ahem, but that’s being picky.

But here lies the problem with this movie. After this mesmerising sequence of innovative action the entire movie literally falls to pieces, its crumbles under its own weight. For a start it won’t have escaped your attention that the two protagonists are utterly terrible and miscast. Both DeHaan and Delevingne come across like emotionless robots with glazed over eyes. The duo don’t gel together romantically or when the action kicks in. Its actually quite remarkable really, both come across like CGI characters devoid of any real human characteristics, its like they were both grown in a lab by Hollywood. DeHaan looks like a younger DiCaprio but with none of the talent; whilst Delevingne has one default facial expression she obviously learnt from her fashion modelling days.

These main character issues obviously affect other parts of the movie. Naturally you as the viewer don’t care about either of them; you know neither will die anyway but you couldn’t care a less because they’re so robotic. When we are first introduced to both Valerian and Laureline, Valerian proposes to Laureline, but she says no. This is supposed to make us feel emotion for Valerian, but because they are both so zombie-like in performance and we know nothing about them, its falls completely flat. In the fantastic marketplace action sequence the duo actually infiltrate said marketplace with a team of other elite police officers. All these guys get killed…but who cares? Well clearly Valerian and Laureline don’t, just another day at the office.

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On space station Alpha during an important summit meeting to discuss the mysterious toxic zone at the centre of the station, the primitive aliens break in and kidnap Commander Arün Filitt (Clive Owen). This really made no sense because we are led to believe that technology is so advanced in this age that the sheer notion of anyone being able to sneak into an important area in the station and actually take out all the security…would be nigh on impossible. Yet the so called primitive race manage just this and kidnap the commander. They also managed to land their craft nearby, and no one detected this? The fact these primitive aliens also seem to be so very environmentally friendly, passive and perfect makes this political move even more unbelievable really. We’re talking about half naked aliens covered in seashell jewellery here people.

This leads to a large chase sequence where Valerian suits up in some other super hi-tech suit thing which enables him to smash through any and all walls. This gives us a brilliant sequence showcasing all the various environments within Alpha. Problem is these different environments include underwater sections and areas which are clearly finely balanced for their alien inhabitants. But none of that matters because Valerian smashes through walls, seemingly obliterating balanced environments yet not causing any major catastrophes such as huge leaks from the underwater areas.

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Things go from bad to worse as we are introduced to the three exposition aliens that try to simplify the plot for us when things get too ridiculous. There’s an entire underwater sequence with a Captain Nemo type character that is completely pointless. There’s the casting of Rihanna as a shapeshifting alien dancer called Bubble (pretty awful CGI effects). Much like the Captain Nemo character Bubble is also pretty pointless and could have quite easily been removed. Obviously Besson wanted Rihanna in for the star power. Speaking of wanting star power, there’s also Ethan Hawke as Bubble’s pimp, again pointless. There are jellyfish type creatures that can read your brain and show you pretty much everything that’s ever popped in there, including dreams and visions. Huge sea creatures live in sections of Alpha apparently. And there are also entire undiscovered civilisations within Alpha, that’s how big it is.

There is so much I could write about this movie both good and bad. The reason being there is so much in-depth detail and world building in this movie, its quite an achievement really. Luc Besson has outdone himself here and easily bettered his other famous sci-fi ‘The Fifth Element’ in my opinion. Although I have no idea how accurate this is to the original source material. But the one huge sticky problem is…the movie just can’t sustain itself and just collapses. It goes from being a reasonably intelligent, exciting and unique space opera into a formulaic, messy, incoherent, unoriginal snooze fest. Don’t get me wrong, the movie looks incredible with its lavish other-worldly designs and vivid aliens, but talk about an anti-climax. So kudos for nearly everything, but maybe they should have focused the movie around that first marketplace location. Really wanted to love this but in the end I can’t help but feel disappointed.

6.5/10