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

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Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Holy spandex we’re back with another Spider-Man movie. The Raimi movies came to a grinding halt after a well rounded start, and the Marc Webb movies (hehe Webb) never really got off the ground. So Marvel stepped in and secured a deal with Sony to gain back the rights of Spidey, sort of. We were then presented with yet another Spider-Man reboot but this time under the guidance of Marvel (along with Columbia, Amy Pascal and Sony).

The plot pretty much does exactly what anyone would expect it to do really. The only difference being this time they have skipped the whole origins part of the tale. We jump straight into the story with Parker already established as Spider-Man (something everyone knows because it follows on from ‘Captain America: Civil War’). We do get the origins of this films villain, Adrian Toomes/Vulture, and we do get a lot more of Parker amongst his young high school buddies. But bottom line, Toomes is trying to scavenge Chitauri technology (from ‘The Avengers’) so he can build and sell advanced weapons. Toomes is essentially an arms dealer and Parker must stop him, the end.

So initially we are introduced to Toomes (Michael Keaton) and his men as they salvage Chituari technology. They are stopped and ordered to cease their work at once by the Department of Damage Control (a partnership of Tony Stark and the US government). This pisses off Toomes and he asks his men to stay with him so he can build a powerful suit…and make weapons illegally. Firstly this entails a large operation which I’m not too sure how Toomes manages to keep under wraps. Secondly, why would his men stick by his side knowing they are doing illegal shit? OK they need work, but illegal work? And they help Toomes build his all powerful Vulture suit…why?? Surely alarm bells should be ringing with these blue collar guys by now.

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From here its back to school with Parker (Tom Holland) and his amazing bunch of diverse friends. Yep just like Star Trek this movie has taken the tokenistic route by literally representing every group of people with each character. Nothing wrong with that but it always tends to come across as a little too on the nose; a little bit too perfect looking. But anyway in this movie we have a young girl called Zendaya playing a spunky character called MJ who isn’t the classic MJ we all know of. Yes for some reason the powers that be thought it would be cool to play with everyone’s mind by making us think they race swapped MJ. But then they went and race swapped Flash Thompson for real so…hurray? Of course to blend in with present society this MJ is a kind of weird emo SJW type who refuses to go up the Washington Monument on a school field trip because she claims it was built by slaves…ugh!! Thing is no one actually knows for sure if said monument was constructed by slaves, so this line comes across sounding very smug and stupid.

The idea of updating Flash to a more nerdy looking, book smart, spoilt, wealthy rich kid was a nice idea but ultimately it just didn’t work. Flash needs to have a bigger frame than Parker for this confrontation to work, visually at least. Although Tony Revolori did a fine job he just didn’t come across as threatening in any way and the whole idea just fell flat. I realise they went for a more fun jokey angle but it just didn’t work, for me anyway. I mean they could of at least cast a bigger person surely. Then again we have another character with the same name as the original comicbook character (Ned) but we aren’t sure (yet) if its the same person. But seeing as this movies Ned is played by a rather large chap (Jacob Batalon), and in the comics Ned becomes the Hobgoblin, I’d say it isn’t the same guy. Liz Allan, Parker’s love interest has also been race swapped, oh and they also race swap Shocker within the movie for good measure.

As for Holland’s portrayal of Parker/Spidey, is it the best version thus far? Yes I’d say so, but mainly because he is just about the correct age, and looks it. This has been the issue with previous Spidey movies, the fact that Parker/Spidey just looked too damn old and was also too damn moody. This time they have successfully captured the light-hearted, youthful, bubbly, optimistic side of Spider-Man; heck you could almost see speech bubbles popping up over his head every time he spoke. So yes overall Holland has the youthful looks, he genuinely looks fit and athletic (not overloaded with muscles), and his acting chops fit the bill perfectly. My only issue would be his suit which was way too over the top with Stark technology. Drop all that gadgetry and we’re good.

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But lets cut to the chase here, there was only one stand out element in this movie and that was Michael Keaton as Toomes. I’m gonna be brutally frank here, most of this movie was a wash, rinse and repeat scenario in my opinion. Yes Holland is the perfect Spidey and yes the visual are of course good. But the main action sequences were the same shit we’ve all seen before. Hero saves his friends from disaster. Hero saves a load of people from a big disaster, in this case stopping a ferry from splitting in two which was basically ridiculous in so many ways. Hero faces off against guy in super suit. Hero saves the day with more carnage at the end…yet no emergency services turn up? Usual Marvel hero quips throughout and Happy Hogan was an annoying asshole.

This movie was all about Keaton and his creepy yet grounded performance as the Vulture. Yeah OK the Vulture is essentially Doc Ock in this movie, its the same basic thing just replace tentacles with wings. But by Jove does Keaton nail this roll, its like he was born for comicbook roles. He goes from an average blue collar boss to a somewhat maniacal villain, and then to a loving father and family man, all in one fell swoop (no pun intended). The fact that Toomes own daughter starts dating Parker is obviously the highlight of the plot. The sequence where Toomes sniffs Parker out whilst driving him and Liz to their school prom was crackling. In fact this was probably the best sequence in the movie, although I found it odd that Toomes recognises that Parker saved his daughters life and vows to never forget that. Yet he then proceeds to threaten to kill Parker if he messes with his plans further. Errr…he saved your daughter remember? I guess he does Parker that favour by not revealing his identity later on.

So yeah, as I’ve already said. In general, overall, this movie didn’t really do much for me simply because I’ve seen it all before now a shitzillion times. Not only in other comicbook flicks but in other Spider-Man flicks! I genuinely can’t understand how so many people get so excited over a movie that is essentially the exact same thing as before, but with a different villain. You could literally swap Spider-Man and the Vulture out of this movie with any other comicbook characters and it would be the same spiel, the same beats. At this point wash, rinse and repeat is an understatement. Yet! The movie is saved by one man, and that man is Michael Keaton. Yes Holland is good but Keaton is better and without him this film would be completely forgettable. As it stands its not entirely forgettable, that is until the nex…oh too late.

6.5/10

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Logan (2017)

And so we reach the big finale, the final curtain for Huge Jackman and his run as the infamous X-Men character Wolverine. The tenth installment in the X-Men franchise, the third solo Wolverine movie and the first R rated movie. Taking much inspiration from the classic comicbook series ‘Old Man Logan’ the movie is technically a stand alone story clear of any previous events in early movies. But this seems to be unclear with some saying it is a sequel to ‘Apocalypse’ but not a direct sequel. Or its a sequel to the ‘Days of Future Past’ timeline. Myself I have no clue, the X-Men franchise is so convoluted and I can barely recall anything from the earlier films anyway.

Its the year 2029 and mutants seem to be slowly dying out as none have been born for the last 25 years. Logan is now an aging, grey haired, broken man whose special healing ability has weakened over time. He now spends his time working as a limo driver whilst caring for Professor X. The professor is now also very old and weak, suffering from a brain disease that causes violent seizures which has resulted in many X-Men being killed.

Logan reluctantly accepts a job to escort a woman and young girl to a refuge in North Dakota. Alas it seems the young girl (Laura) has the same powers as Logan and a shady outfit are after her. The shady outfit in question being Transigen, a company that uses children with mutant DNA to create weapons. Transigen created Laura and want her back. And so Logan must now help Laura reach the refuge in North Dakota.

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So the main hook with this movie seemed to be the fact it was an R/18 rating. This would be the first time we would see Wolverine really getting stuck into his enemies, swear and showcase a lot of claret. In all honesty that pretty much seemed like the entire reason for the hype to me. This time there would be no cuts, we’d see Wolverine stick his claws through someones head…and there would be blood, awesome. But was it? Was it really? I mean sure twas cool ‘n’ all but Jesus Christ I didn’t cum in my pants or anything. I guess for a teenager this might have been epic but for me I saw nothing special.

But that aside lets look at the story and acting. The plot isn’t anything amazing, its essentially a standard chase formula. Bad guys are trying to catch the good guys as both parties tear across the countryside. Wolverine is the typical reluctant hero, he doesn’t really wanna have to deal with it, he has his own problems, but he now finds himself in the thick of it. The girl he’s stumbled across was more of a pain at first, uncontrollable, a burden; but as time passes he becomes attached to her, he becomes her guardian. Its all relatively bog standard stuff we’ve all seen before.

Obviously the movie revolves around Jackman and his gritty performance as Logan. As I just said, at first he doesn’t really wanna get involved with Laura, he has his hands full with Xavier. So naturally he’s grumpy, rude, kinda selfish in a way, but ultimately tired and weary of his existence. He’s aging and slowing down, he’s not as agile or fit as he once was and his claws hurt him as they extend and retract. He doesn’t wanna get into any fisticuffs but still finds himself raging out and killing people, mostly scummy criminal types of course. But is this really anything new? I mean lets be honest here we’ve seen Jackman do this grumpy, gritty, no-nonsense persona before with Wolverine, its not really that new. Is he good at it? Yes, very much so, but this wasn’t an outright Oscar performance or anything, he didn’t blow me away whilst watching.

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I feel the same way about Patrick Stewart’s performance as Xavier. Was this a good performance? Yes very much so, Stewart like Jackman have both perfected their performances as these characters and it would be hard to see another person in the roles. But did I see anything that blew me away or was any different to what he’s done before in previous movies with this character? No not really, it was a solid performance but nothing more than what I’ve come to expect from this franchise. There is a shit-tonne of emotion radiating throughout this movie and at times, namely the ending, its quite poignant. But at the end of the day I didn’t really see anything that I haven’t seen before in previous movies, it was just more heightened this time.

As for the kid actor, Dafne Keen (Laura), yes again she was good in her role, but she hardly had any dialog and merely acts like a feral child when the action kicks in (which always looked kinda cringeworthy in my opinion). Yes I understand she’s just a child actor and yes she did put in a solid performance for her age, but again it didn’t blow me away, it really didn’t. Seeing her growl and bounce around (mostly by a stunt double) like a lethal Gollum just didn’t wow me I’m afraid. Its only towards the end when she starts trusting and caring about Logan that she actually comes into her own.

I did also notice that all the other child characters in this movie were mostly minority actors. Because clearly director James Mangold and co needed to hammer home the political narrative of minorities/refugees and borders, striving for freedom, and the evil white man chasing and trying to enslave/kill them. Its kinda sad that almost every movie these days has these little, not so hidden, political angles to appease certain demographics and groups.

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For me I really couldn’t get past the fact it was just another samey superhero flick. Despite all the grit and emotion packed into it, at the end of the day it was the same old thing. The villains were the same corny bunch of faceless kill fodder they always are. There only seems to be a dozen or so hencemen throughout the movie, then come the finale there’s loads of them! Loads of bad guys for all the hero characters to merrily kill. I didn’t really understand the point of the bad guys either. They wanted this mutant kids back because they created them, OK sure. But they only wanted to exterminate them, so why go to all that trouble to try and capture them? And with all this future tech on display, you’re telling me that no one could have added some kind of device in these mutant test subjects that would shut them down, or kill them with the flick of a switch, if needs be? Surely by now these evil companies would have thought to do that because they all seem incapable of keeping their creations under lock and key.

I also really disliked the entire clone of Logan aspect, I realise that’s a major part of his characters backstory but seeing two Jackman’s (one looking kinda goofy with those muttonchops) fighting each other just looks stupid. The effects were handled well (inevitable CGI superhero stuff aside) but that kind of thing always looks daft to me. Also the clone of Logan (X-24) could have easily killed him at any point, just taken his head off, but no we gotta do the usual throwing thing. That’s the other thing about these X-Men.superhero movies, the action is very repetitive. In other words what else do you expect a bloke with claws to do all the time, exactly. Seeing Logan slice ‘n’ dice people isn’t awesome anymore folks, we’ve been there and done it. Simply adding blood and gore doesn’t really make it any more exciting or better.

I just get the impression this movie seems to have been blown way way outta proportion simply because it was Huge Jackaman’s last outing as Wolverine and everybody likes him in the role. Oh and of course it was an R rating so that makes it instantly cooler, apparently. Was this a bad movie? No. Was it a good X-Men movie? One of the best ones? Yes. Was it a stunning movie? No, it was a solid but completely unoriginal chase movie in a superhero wrapping. Don’t get me wrong I didn’t not like it, its certainly one of the better comicbook superhero (based) flicks, I just didn’t see what all the fuss was about. In no way does this movie deserve the hype it got, in my opinion.

7/10

Wonder Woman (2017)

The fourth movie in the current DC extended universe that has been exploding onto our screens with much aplomb. Well actually no it hasn’t but that was the idea wasn’t it. So far things have been a bit dodgy to say the least, could this movie turn the tide? Well according to just about everyone this movie did seem to do just that. So has the movies popularity, hype and praise swayed me in any way? Is it justified? Or do we have yet another Ghostbusters (2016) scenario?

The movie is basically a prequel to the 2016 movie ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’ whereby it shows the origins of Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), whilst at the same time connecting to the events that occur within BvS. The fact its this way around is of course due to WB’s lack of patience and coordination in their comicbook universe building (playing catch up with Marvel as fast as possible). The plot however pans out as you might expect, in the usual comicbook fashion. We learn about Diana’s homeland, her culture and people. We learn about a pending almighty evil that threatens everything. Outsider shows up and ends up helping Diana in her quest to find and eliminate evil. A bit of exposition, some minor alternate bad guys to deal with, a few key battles and then one big CGI finale.

Much like the recent ‘Kong: Skull Island’ (2017) I had an initial problem with the fictional Amazonian homeland of Themyscira. This place appears to be a very large group of islands plopped in the middle of an ocean somewhere. The problem being it appears to be hidden by a perpetual weather system and some kind of invisibility force field. Obviously this is a fantasy movie so something like this shouldn’t really matter. But the entire notion that no one has ever stumbled across this rather large place, and reported it, just seems completely unbelievable. The other thing that bothered me was the fact that when German forces actually find this location (whilst chasing a downed Steve Trevor), they simply start to attack! Why would they do that?? Such an important discovery like that. Also what exactly happened to the German ship? Did the force field sink it?

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The story moves swiftly on as we follow Diana and Steve (Chris Pine) back to London (its 1918). The plan: Steve simply wants to hand back some important stolen information regarding Nazi gas weapon advancements (Steve was an undercover spy). Where as Diana wants to find the evil God Ares and kill him so she can stop WWI. Diana has basically been brainwashed all about Zeus and his dastardly son who wants to wipe out mankind (Zeus’ creation) because he thinks they are a destructive race. She believes Ares is the cause of WWI and she can stop it. The thing this narrative becomes extremely annoying truth be told because Diana never shuts up about it.

Diana is essentially very naive and genuinely curious about this new outside world. She clearly has no idea of gender, society rules and the fact that people might treat each other differently. She finds these human elements and more (such as not helping people in need or acting carelessly with other lives), completely reprehensible. She simply does not understand how people could act this way. The thing is, I found it quite grating after a time because Diana mentions it in almost every scene! I fully understood the need to show and express her emotions on these factors but Jesus, you can truly feel Steve’s frustration as he tries to help and explain to her. Good acting? Sure, still annoying to listen to over and over though.

This being a 2017 movie I also understand the requirements for diversity and whatnot. So when it came to Steve’s little band of merry men, naturally they were gonna be a diverse bunch. I had no problem with this except for a few tiny details. Firstly, the crazy Scot, surely they could of cast someone other than Ewen Bremner, such predictable and safe casting. Then my other gripe was the native American character. No problem including the guy, but did they have native Americans in the trenches in WWI? Hey I could be wrong but this kinda felt like they were going for a bit too much diversity there. Kinda reaching a bit methinks. Also would they really wear their native attire? In other words would Sameer from Morocco (I’m guessing) go around wearing a fez in a wartime situation? Would the Chief Napi go around dressed like a cowboy or hunter? Shouldn’t they be wearing protective clothing? Yeah I’m being picky I know.

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I have to admit the Wonder Woman theme tune is very catchy and it does work well here. The action scenes are very well executed and look terrific, but when that score kicks in it does get your adrenaline fired up a bit that’s for sure. The entire movie looks good in general but I put that down to the charming period setting of the early 1900’s and WWI. I’m sure I’m not the only person that has noticed that movies shot during either world wars always seem to look very authentic and adventurous. Indeed this movie like others (‘The Rocketeer’, ‘Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark/Last Crusade’, ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ etc…) looks authentic, adventurous and harrowing all at the same time. There is a fine balance between the horrors of war and a rollicking comicbook yarn, and its upheld nicely here. Dare I say a bit darker than the first Captain America movie.

I think its safe to say the best sequence is where we get our first glimpse of Wonder Woman in battle. She disrobes in front of the stunned allied troops and simply strolls out into no man’s land sword and shield at the ready. Other than that things tended to get a bit CGI obvious for me. In the first battle Diana is leaping around like a frog and merely throwing Germans all over the shop. I’m sure they would have been killed or badly injured but it felt like more of a cop out in the heat of the moment. I wanted to see her run troops through, slice n dice. The German soldiers also became obvious CGI ragdolls once launched.

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The finale was also a bit weak in my opinion. Firstly Diana kills off the main German baddie (Danny Huston) on a packed base, yet no one seemingly cares. Then she fights Ares who turns out to be the elderly David Thewlis! Now don’t get me wrong, it was quite refreshing to see a villain not played by some roided up meathead. But watching Thewlis become this electrical power wielding super God was a tad silly. Twas also a bit silly seeing these two superheroes slug it out on one side of this military base; then on the other side mortals are fighting their puny war. Oh and Diana lets the evil Doctor poison go in the end too? Like wut??!! Is that female privilege?

So was this as good as all the hype? Yes and no for me. Its certainly a solid superhero flick, its better than virtually all the DC offerings, and it gives some Marvel efforts a good run for their money too. The main problem for me is simple, superhero fatigue. There have been so many of these movies now, and most are generally the same spiel. Its really hard to watch a single superhero movie now and not think I’ve seen it all before. But that’s because I have, you could essentially swap out Wonder Woman here for any other superhero character, and it would still work the same. So yes its a good solid movie, but its nothing special, it does nothing overly original.

7/10

Monkeybone (2001)

This movie was originally supposed to based on the graphic novel Dark Town which you can see from the basic plot setup. But for whatever reasons this notion slowly ebbed away and the project morphed into what we have here.

The plot focuses on cartoonist Stu Miley (Brendan Fraser) who gets involved in a car crash which puts him into a coma. Whilst in his coma Stu’s spirit (soul?) is sent to ‘Down Town’, a realm located in limbo populated by odd creatures, imaginary characters and other spirits. A kind of waiting room for people in transit, not yet dead. In Down Town the bizarre inhabitants are entertained by nightmares and Hypnos, the God of sleep, craves more to give himself more power (for some reason). In order to do this, Hypnos tricks Stu into stealing an exit pass from Death. He then sends Monkeybone (a now real infamous cartoon character created by Stu) back to the land of the living and into Stu’s body. There Monkeybone will steal and release a chemical substance that gives people (and animals) nightmares, to fuel Hypnos’ power.

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The plot isn’t really anything we haven’t seen before with strong nods towards Tim Burton classic ‘Beetlejuice’. Of course that isn’t too much of a surprise seeing as Henry ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ Selick is the director. And of course being a Henry Selick movie you know to expect a visual feast. For those not in the know, Henry Selick is a stop motion director. A slow process usually involving small handmade puppets/models that are moved an inch at a time. This movie being live action with a heavy dose of stop motion animation and practical effects.

The effects themselves were quite impressive back in the day, as I recall, obviously these days things don’t quite look as slick. Down Town seems to be a carnival themed shanty town with various odd rides, stalls and bars. The whole town is a shadowy place highlighted by fairground lighting and strewn with typically exaggerated buildings. Its certainly very cool to look at but the entire thing is clearly one big set, a bit too obviously so. Other locations such as Death’s realm didn’t really look as unique or cool as Down Town, and again couldn’t help but look totally set-like. But I did like the massive creepy roller coaster and kooky little trains we see controlled by Reapers. Still can’t help but feel Tim Burton already did this though.

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The various creatures characters we see appear to be a mix of mythical, religious and animalistic creations that are rendered in both live action with full bodysuits or stop motion. Obviously being based on a graphic novel and clearly a surreal fantasy nothing is supposed to be realistic looking. Many of these characters do look deliberately tacky (to me) as if based around real mascot type outfits. But there is also a neat little blend of stop motion spliced with some characters, their mouths or legs being stop motion for example. Some characters such as the annoying Monkeybone himself are fully stop motion animated, in this case a monkey voiced by John Turturro. In most cases the fully animated stop motion characters are well crafted and animated, but fail to blend in well with live action characters. Alas the nasty bluescreen monster rears its ugly head a lot throughout (especially in the finale, yikes!).

As mentioned above Monkeybone the character is annoying, which is a problem seeing as he is one of the main protagonists, sort of. It just feels far too predictable that Monkeybone would be this rude, obnoxious, sexist, pervert with an annoying high pitch voice. The character just feels like a combination of a South Park character and Jim Carrey in ‘The Mask’ (going by what was hot in that era). The character just comes across as an obligatory lazy rip-off from other material. Lets make him edgy, we’ll make him a loud, motormouth pervert…ugh! Originality please.

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Whilst the movies special effects are lovely showcasing great skill, the same cannot be said for the casting. I still cannot fathom why Selick would cast Brendan Fraser in this picture. Nothing against Fraser but his childish comedic antics are terrible. I know the man can act but for some reason he’s just terrible here, cringeworthy, much like his other family friendly flicks. Fraser is badly miscast in this dark fantasy and watching him pretend to be a monkey in a human body is simply embarrassing. Then you have the even more bizarre choice of Whoopi Goldberg for Death, really?? This casting literally pulls you out of the movie its so bad. There are so many people who could play a fantastic eerie Death…and they chose Whoopi Goldberg?! I don’t even have to explain myself here, its fecking obvious.

Yet on the flip side of the coin we have Chris Kattan, a promising star at one point. Gotta give the man kudos here, he plays a dead corpse (possessed by Stu) with a broken neck brilliantly. Sounds easy enough right? Well think again, watch Kattan do his thing and then try to copy it. I was really impressed with his performance in essentially a cameo role. Quirky, amusing, great physical acting and heartfelt. I will overlook the odd subplot where doctors are chasing him down for his organs. This body comes back to life whilst they are cutting out the innards and runs off; yet all they are concerned about is getting their organs. Obviously its a running gag (no pun intended), but its stupid. Then there’s the part where Stu (still possessing this cadaver) kisses his wife-to-be! Like did she forget it was a dead body??

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For the casual viewer I fear this will not go down too well and I understand why. The plot is weak and unoriginal. Why exactly does Hypnos want more power? What is the actual point of Monkeybone in the movie? The movie is all about the titular monkey but you could easily remove him from the movie. Fraser’s character is the typical loner comicbook creator who doesn’t want any fame or fortune and loathes the attention from his creation (why???). There are lots of other characters that feel pointless such as Miss Kitty (Rose McGowan). Stu’s girlfriend (Bridget Fonda) works for a sleep institute which has developed a chemical to induce nightmares, why exactly??? Also at times the movie does swing from Pee-wee Herman-esque moments to hellish nightmare scenarios.

Clearly there are a tonne of influences going on in this movie, some obvious, some not as much. Various sequences in the movie are based on, or homaged to specific artists whom I’ve never heard of or seen their work, so I therefore cannot comment. I also do not know anything about the original source material so again I cannot comment on that. All I can say is for anyone who enjoys a dreamlike fantasy that’s off the wall with abstract visuals, you may well like this. Anyone who is a fan of Tim Burton’s visual style, you may well enjoy this for the surreal sequences. Anyone who appreciates solid stop motion animation, this is for you. Overall though its a bit of a misfire, its not sure what it wants to be.

5/10

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

I have seen very few Japanese animated movies in my time on this small blue planet, in fact I can count on one hand how little I’ve seen. ‘Akira’ and ‘Monster City’ aka ‘Demon City Shinjuku’ are two of the only films I’ve seen. I have seen the original 1995 ‘Ghost in the Shell’ movie (based on an original manga by Masamune Shirow) once, but it was so long ago I cannot remember anything about it other than some iconic imagery. So I entered into this new 2017 US adaptation pretty much as a fresh faced newbie. Could this new vision wow me?

The plot: In the future humans are enhanced by augmentation with cybernetic body parts. Hanka Robotics headed by Cutter develops this augmentative technology. A female survivor of an apparent terrorist attack (Mira Killian) has her brain placed within a robotic body and is used as a special counter-terrorism operative under Section 9; where She eventually gains the rank of Major. Section 9’s main target is cyber-terrorist Kuze who wants to take down Hanka. Kuze has personal reasons for his actions, Cutter has secrets the Major is unaware of.

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Lets talk visuals, with today’s standards in special effects there is no way this could go wrong, right? Correct! the visuals in the movie are fabulous. The Japanese semi-dystopian cyberpunk world set in a not too distant future, is pretty much ‘Blade Runner’ tenfold, but brighter. I love the attention to detail we see in and around the faceless city as we follow the protagonists. The citizens and their individual styles, their attire, the technology they are using in their everyday lives etc…Every street or alley is bustling with life from neon advertisements to small food vendors or quirky robotics buzzing around. I liked how things just happened in the background, just routine stuff…but clearly had a lot of thought put into it. Although I think they went a tad over the top with the holograms, did they really need holographic arrows in the road?

Whilst its not dark and gritty overall, once you get away from the large colourful holographic images within the gleaming skyscrapers, we find a more typical Japanese/Asian city with huge Lego-esque blocks of concrete living quarters. These areas are grey, cold and somewhat depressing to look at, but definitely not as bleak as the animated movie from what I can remember. The shift in tone from the city to the suburban areas was well handled and showcased an elaborately designed Asian metropolis. I only wish they had toned down the westernisation of the city.

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But that’s not all, I found myself loving much more with the visuals. The car that is used by the Major (Scarlett Johansson) and Batou (Pilou Asæk) is friggin’ awesome! It looked like a classic Lotus Esprit with futuristic mods including some natty alloys and an incredible neon turquoise interior. I loved the weaponry we see being used, it all looked über cool. I loved the costume designs throughout, the various robots we see such as the eerie geishas, and of course the various shots that homage the source material.

Unfortunately I have to address the controversy that surrounded the movie with its casting. fuck it! The casting was brilliant all round which I admit I found surprising. I too am slightly fed up with seeing the same actors in big movies, but gosh darn it if Johnasson didn’t look perfect as the Major. Did she act the part well? Well I guess that could be argued either way, she wasn’t bad put it that way. But Johansson certainly looked the part that’s for sure…even up against both the 95 movie and the original manga, she was perfect. I thought Asæk looked great and did a good job with the battle-hardened Batou. Juliette Binoche added some gravitas as Dr. Quelet. And Takeshi Kitano also added much Japanese gravitas as Chief Daisuke Aramaki (although it was weird that only he spoke Japanese).

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What I found completely ludicrous about the controversy was the fact this story essentially focuses on artificial robotic bodies. How humans modify themselves to such an extent that they are able to insert a human brain into a completely artificial robotic body. Surely this practically erases any notion of political correctness surrounding race and gender. An artificial body can be made to look like anyone of any race or gender, with any brain inserted, a complete hodgepodge. So complaints about ‘whitewashing’ are completely unwarranted. The fact they had to tack on an actual explanation to appease this so called controversy was ridiculous; all because a minority of people didn’t like a white female in the lead role?? A perfect example of when to simply ignore the hyperbolic outrage machine and just create your art.

As a movie that I’m essentially treating as a new entry (because I can’t recall too much of the original) I did find myself enjoying what I saw. Sure there were still a few quibbles that I questioned, even though some of it did feature in the original 95 movie . But at the start of the movie we see the Major leaping off the top of a skyscraper to infiltrate a section of the building in order to stop a terrorist attack. Next scene she’s leaping in through the window. How did that happen exactly?? How do you go from free falling off a skyscraper to leaping through the side of the building? The sequence where Kuze (the apparent villain) programs some garbage truck drivers to kill Dr. Quelet, but where did the garbage truck drivers get their guns from? Garbage truck drivers always carry guns? A cliched double cross scenario over the eventual death of Dr. Quelet. Shooting at a gigantic steel tank with a regular gun? This clearly becomes pointless very quickly. In fact the entire plot surrounding Kuze’s background and eventual team up with the Major is pretty darn cliched bog standard stuff (although I liked the irony of anti-augmentation protesters being used as the first test subjects for cybernetic augmentation).

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The plot itself seems to have been somewhat dumbed-down from what I can recall (and swatted up on). Yes I enjoyed the sequences that are directly lifted from the original source material, but at the same time I know they are mere window dressing and lack real depth. The 95 movie questioned the uneasy relationship between humanity and an ever advancing man-made technology. It was cold, bleak and included body horror. Dare I say identity politics (self-identity) also featured strongly, gender, sexuality and feminism.

This Major is still feminine and at the same time clearly not female, we can see that, but that seems to be as far as it goes. Heck this movie doesn’t even really touch on the problems with cybernetic augmentation. We are basically shown that it works wonders and can give humans a new lease of life (Batou and his eyes for instance). But at the same time there has been great cost to reach that point in technological advancement. Bottom line, sure shitty things happened in the past, but the technology is still sweet so no biggie. You don’t really get the impression that there is a negative side to cybernetic augmentation here, there’s no real clash of ethics.

This new movie does away with much of that, presumably out of fear that the general cinema going audience either won’t understand or simply won’t like the heavy themes. This new vision barely touches on some of these elements and unfortunately seems more concerned with simply looking pretty. I can’t deny that the movie really lacks emotional punch, I really felt that the ending should have been much more dramatic and emotional. Didn’t get that, instead it just felt like any other jacked-up superhero-esque finale we see these days. So yes this adaptation has been somewhat neutered, there’s no hiding from that sad fact. But superb cinematography, production design and solid performances do help in easing the pain. I still found myself enjoying the movie. If you enjoy science fiction I heartily recommend giving it a chance.

6.5/10

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The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

What am I gonna do, get a bunch of criminals together to fight the criminals? That’s a stupid idea

So in the Lego universe, an unknown distance (at this point) away from what we witnessed in the first Lego movie, the city of Gotham exists. Within this city Batman and his allies battle the forces of evil on a regular basis, except on Sundays maybe. The forces of good have gotta have a day off right?

Well as usual it looks like the Joker is at it again with his criminal cohorts and their naughty antics. Whilst trying to detonate a bomb under Gotham City, Batman and Joker face-off. Unwittingly Batman appears to destroy the Joker’s delicate feelings when he starkly informs the Joker he isn’t his arch nemesis. In fact he doesn’t even need the Joker, the criminal isn’t as important in Batman’s life as he thinks. This hurts the Joker more than anything that has come before and causes him to review his strategies. The Joker plans to show how important he is to Batman, how vital he is in Batman’s life, and this will require a cunning plan of deception.

What I really loved about this movie was the raw exposure of Batman’s life, his true existence. And by that I mean the fact he’s essentially a bit of a loser, a loner, clearly narcissistic, a manic depressive, has maybe a touch of OCD and is quite possibly a bit unhinged. Bottom line we see right away that Batman does indeed need his enemies to survive, he does indeed need the Joker to give his life purpose. This is highlighted fantastically with the sequences in the Batcave where we see vast open spaces filled with technology and gadgets that could be used by a team of superheroes. Then again in Wayne Manor where we see Batman rattling around in large echo filled rooms all by his lonesome, except for the aging Alfred.

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I loved the small bits where we see Batman preparing his lobster dinner, then eating it on his own. He then proceeds to his own personal cinema to watch his favourite Tom Cruise movie (‘Jerry Maguire’) on his own. His laughter again echoes around the empty room exposing his self-imposed solitary confinement. Its also during these sequences we start to see some of the sweet references to all the previous Batman movies. Admittedly they did kinda look the same (unavoidable) but I simply couldn’t help but smile as I saw the brief visual flashbacks from every Batman movie in Lego form (except the 1966 movie which was live action).

Its these references to other movies, TV shows, modern pop culture and the humour that, for me, made this movie so enjoyable. Essentially the plot wasn’t important, it didn’t really need to be, and besides, it was always gonna be the same spiel anyway. This movie was basically a chance to look for easter eggs and have a laugh, and with that I wasn’t disappointed. This movie is loaded with obvious and not so obvious nods to so many things. I liked how in between some scenes we saw the classic spinning Batman logo from the 1966-68 Batman TV series.

The legendary shark repellent makes an appearance (again from the 66 Batman movie). There are naturally many recognisable Batman suits to be seen in the background at various stages. At one point we see the Burton Batmobile and Nolan Tumbler. The classic John Williams 1978 ‘Superman’ score is used very very briefly and we also get visual nods to Jor-El (in Brando form) and Zod (in Terence Stamp form). There are many lines of dialog from previous Batman movies used here such as ‘where does he get all those wonderful toys?’. There are also many many tiny nods with names being used, visual appearances, links to comics and the animated series etc…I could go on.

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Another thing that I really loved was the inclusion of so many supervillain characters. Something that could normally be seen as a bad sign and set off alarm bells, works just fine here. Why? because the plot is daft and meaningless and its all about the comedy and visual recognition. Yes we see a shit load of villains who have literally nothing to do but be seen in the background or say one line or complete one task. Who cares! in this movie it just doesn’t matter because its literally like watching a child play with his toys (ala the first Lego movie). The fun part is firstly just seeing all these wacky characters in Lego form, secondly then Googling their Wiki to find out more about them. Zebra-Man? Kite Man? Clock King? Condiment King? Calendar Man?? Seriously??? I love it!!

One little niggle though, something I didn’t really get or like. All the villains in the Phantom Zone were villains/baddies (dinosaurs?) from other movies such as ‘Jurassic Park’, ‘Gremlins’, ‘Harry Potter’ and the old Universal monster movies of the 20’s – 50’s. Why? I don’t get why they used these characters because it kinda took me out of the whole superhero vibe of it all. Of course I know its because Lego covers virtually everything and if they can use the license they will, but I just didn’t like that idea. Why couldn’t they just use more from the huge catalog of DC characters? And why wasn’t Zod, Ursa or Non used as main villains? They show Zod but don’t utilise him which was an odd choice frankly. I’d much rather see him used than Dracula for heavens sake. Also, why does the Joker look more like a demon? He has pointed teeth and again an odd choice in hairstyle.

This did all lead me to ask myself one thing though, seeing as the first Lego movie established this Lego universe as merely a young boys imagination (I believe that’s how it went if I remember correctly). Does this mean that everything in this movie is also merely a young child’s imagination? Would it be the same child? Seeing as this is a spin-off and linked to said original movie, I must assume its all a child’s imagination at playtime.

Anyway that aside, I did enjoy this movie, more so than the first Lego movie methinks. The voice work from the multitude of actors was again spot on (just like the first movie). Obviously Will Arnett as Batman wins hands down because its just so damn amusing to hear Batman talk about regular everyday stuff in that gravelly macho voice. It all looks sharp, colourful and gorgeous. That Lego stop motion animation is so endearing although a tad frenetic at times, and the comedy overall is pretty much pitch perfect. There’s stuff for the kids, stuff for the adults and plenty of stuff for the fanboys and nerds. Normally I’m not the greatest fan of modern pop culture references and trendy in-film songs, especially on overload. But this movie shows how it can be done well without being annoying.

8/10

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