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Action-Packed Zombies - Heavy-Handed Storyline
There are good and bad things about "Train to Busan". It's a claustrophobic zombie movie that makes the most of having its protagonists trapped on a speeding train with a horde of ravenous zombies.
It doesn't milk that situation of being trapped quite as effectively as "REC" but the action sequences are spectacular and the zombie attacks are very well-staged.
Other reviewers have praised the social satire element of the film. Hmm... I found it might have worked better if it were not laid on with a trowel. The "douche" fund-manager, the evil executive who just NEVER MISSES an opportunity to screw someone over. I found it painfully sentimental at times and "Yes, I get it" obvious at others.
At this moment in history, when the rich and powerful are turning us against each other in order to further their own interests we do need films with messages like this. And on the whole I enjoyed "Train to Busan" more than I didn't. But if there is to be remake, I do hope the film-makers allow for a little more subtlety in there.
I suppose it's a question of taste, and some people may find the BBC adaptations more realistic than the ITV Poirot & Marple adaptations, but I'm afraid both this and last year's "And Then There Were None" just leave me thoroughly depressed.
While both have been well-acted and well-directed, there seems to be an insistence on making things as bleak, miserable and depressing as follows, from the coughing-fit sex scene to the muted colours with no really likable characters at all.
Perhaps it is wrong to expect stories of murder to be fun. And maybe shows like "Midsomer Murders" cater for the likes of me.
I just find it irritating that in order to gain critical respectability, the BBC feels a need to pour a thick layer of dismal over their Christie adaptations. As excellent an actor as Toby Jones is, I found myself longing for Charles Laughton's bombast and energy.
And yes, I must admit, I miss the flashy, cartoony ITV Marple series. What a shame the BBC now has the rights to those stories too.
Jurassic World (2015)
Great Fun - Don't Think About The Subtext...
I thoroughly enjoyed this sequel to Jurassic Park - which is practically a remake of the original in terms of storyline, but manages to re-energise the series by having likable leads and a genuinely scary monster.
The plot is by-the-numbers for a monster film. Tree-hugging animal lovers talk about animals, while evil corporate types talk about assets. As a bonus, we've also got an oily Vince D'Onofrio muttering about using the beasts for military purposes. I think we know who's going to make it and who's going to end up as dino-snax.
But I forgive it that, for the spectacle and the verve of the piece. I even forgive it for wasting Irrfan Khan, my favourite Bollywood actor.
What's harder to stomach is the not-so-subtle message that women who don't take care of kids aren't proper women. Dudes can get away with this sort of behaviour but Bryce Dallas Howard's character (and her assistant) clearly have something wrong with them for not going all dewey and matronly when kids show up. Even the mother (Judy Greer, who seems to be making a career as put-upon mom in films lately) is shown as letting down the side by working. Hey, where's dad in all this? Funnily enough, no-one mentions how he neglects his kids by daring to have a job.
It's a bit mid-1970's in terms of attitude is what I'm saying. But - sigh - I'll overlook that too. You can think too much about these things. Howard is actually pretty good in the movie, Chris Pratt is great and the raptors are just adorable.
The kids aren't too annoying. I'm not fond of kids in films. I suspect if I was in a Jurassic Park film I'd get eaten in the first 10 minutes for admitting that.
Rogue One (2016)
Disney Do What Lucas Could Not
There were so many negative comments about Disneyfication of the Star Wars universe - making it more child-friendly, more merchandise- driven, more bland, more blah, more nothing.
This film feels like a one-fingered salute to all of that criticism.
The fact is that "Rogue One" is a brave experiment and a film that really steps away from the tone - if not the setting - of Star Wars in a way no other film in the franchise has dared. It's the boldest move since "The Empire Strikes Back".
Feeling more like "Where Eagles Dare" or "The Dirty Dozen" in space, this film paints a more complex picture of the rebellion. Not a united group of like-minded, high-minded freedom fighters, but a group of zealots with mixed motivations, underhand methods and no lofty ambitions.
Felicity Jones makes an excellent heroine, without Jedi powers or especially strong with the Force, just with a desire to reunite with her father (Mads Mikkelson) whose existence manages to explain really neatly a major plot point in "A New Hope".
To save her father, Jones' character has to team up with a disparate group of rebels and from there it's an action-packed race against time to once again thwart the Evil Empire.
Is it entirely successful? I think so. I think it sets out what it intended to do, which is make a war movie in space, complete with "Battle of Britain" style dogfights and "The Dirty Dozen" style battles. I've read criticisms that the cast isn't as charismatic as the original trio of stars - that's probably fair. But they compare favourably to the new leads (Ridley, Boyega and Isaac) and they blow Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman out of the water.
But a note of warning - if the film fails it is because this is in no way a movie for kids. The characers and settings aren't so colourful. Parts of it look like footage from Beirut in the 80's. Plus, it strikes the bleakest end note since "Empire" and that may be unsatisfying for those expecting happy endings from Star Wars movies.
It's a brave move, a most un-Disney move, and I hope that Disney continues to make non-Star Wars films in the Star Wars universe.
Save Me From Fanboy Hate
Dear lord, there's nothing more furious than a disappointed fanboy.
Having read page after page after page of 1 star "Worst. Film. Ever." type reviews I had to redress the balance.
"The Force Awakens" is a good, enjoyable, sci-fi romp. There, I've said it.
Sadly, that's not what these chaps appear to have wanted. I think they were after a the sci-fi equivalent of a 5th gospel or something. Although I concede that the main criticism - that the film shamelessly steals plot-points from "A New Hope" are well- founded.
However, what a lot of these fanatics appear to have forgotten is that the "Remake! Not sequel!" criticism was equally applied to "Return of the Jedi" when it came out (I remember it well - and although it pre-dated the internet, print critics were particularly harsh about the "new" Death Star and the uber-cuteness of the Ewoks).
Thirty years on, "Return of the Jedi" is a film we all now apparently agree is another good, enjoyable, sci-fi romp. So "Star Wars" under the guidance of George Lucas, plagiarised itself. And now JJ Abrams has done the same - why the outrage?
A few of the reviews claim this film is worse than episodes 1 to 3 despite the fact that the leads in this film are actually pretty good (and not burdened with risible dialogue about medichloriens).
The plot is fast-moving, the return of the "veterans" is well- handled and Kylo Ren is a much more interesting villain than Darth Maul, Count Dooku and General Grievous combined. The bad guys aren't villainous pseudo-Japanese (instead you get a Scottish hard man) there isn't a horrid child actor and some of the dialogue is actually pretty funny.
Yes, I experienced deja vu during this movie. You have to bear in mind that the writers were clearly trying to make this "familiar" to audiences, given they were introducing 3 new unfamiliar leads. But the action sequels are breathless and enjoyable and the visuals are terrific.
People giving this film one star need to take a breath, step back and appreciate what the film makers have accomplished. They've brought excitement back to something that nearly sent me to sleep in the turgid "Attack of the Clones". Give these guys a break.
p.s. Also, no Jar-Jar. That in itself must be worth a 3 point bonus.
Suicide Squad (2016)
Why Do They Keep Dropping The Ball?
So look, it's not as bad as BvS. For two reasons:
a) No pointless pseudo-philosophical claptrap about gods and mortals that doesn't actually mean anything
b) No Jesse Eisenberg doing his Joker-Without-Makeup bit
And there are good things in this film. There are good actors in it. There are no awful actors (hi Jesse!) in it. The idea is unusual and interesting. There's quite a lot of action.
But yet... it falls short of expectations. It's frustrating. Just when you want it to fly, it flounders. The key issue is that I really didn't care about anyone but Deadshot. Harley is fun, but her romance with Mr. J is under-written and unconvincing. So she really only comes across as nutty and wanton which is hard to care about.
To put this in perspective, I cared a lot more and actually liked Harley in the animated series. It's not Margot Robbie's fault. She's actually terrific and almost pulls it off. But to get her over the line she needed a more fleshed out relationship with the Joker. And a better Joker.
I'm not sure Jared Leto or the people who wrote this movie got the Joker - or why Harley needs him. In this movie, he never comes across as anything but a sadistic psycho - which he is - but in other incarnations he also has a brilliantly manipulative and devious side - appearing vulnerable or in need of help to suck in his victims just before he slips in the knife. It's not hard - we've seen it in previous versions of this character. But not here. Harley just loves him because she does. End of. Keep up. It's not very satisfying.
The plot is pretty flimsy, but I can get over that. Marvel have done flimsier but get away with it because they seem to understand how to make audiences care about characters.
I'm not saying DC are incapable of this. I really hope they up their game and learn a few lessons from Feige. But based on the three DCEU movies thus far, they'd better start studying his playbook hard. I know "Suicide Squad" and "BvS" made a lot of money but so do "Transformers" movies and "Suicide Squad" is closer in spirit to those sorts of films than Marvel right now.
The "Kirsten, I'm Sorry" Review
I admit it; I was one of the haters.
Don't get me wrong. I didn't post sexist comments on YouTube because a) I'm not a sexist and b) I have a life. But I was one of the people who looked at the trailer and thought, "Wow. There's a dud."
In my defence, it was a lifeless, laugh-free trailer.
A delightful surprise then, to find that Ghostbusters 2016 is actually really good fun. It's not absolutely hilarious but then again (whisper it) neither was the original - and I saw that at a packed cinema in 1984, and remember it well. It was always a film as much about the effects and the adventure as about the comedy.
What both films have in common is that they are fun adventure tales with wacky gizmos, special effects and charming leads. I've always loved Melissa McCarthy - surprisingly (and generously) she seems to have the more laid-back role here, ceding the comedy ground to Wiig, Jones and McKinnon. I've never really "got" Wiig before, but she's quite charming here, Leslie Jones is very funny but for me it was Kate McKinnon who stole the show - acting like a young (and slightly psycho) Eileen Brennan, she really is terrific and steals every scene she's in.
Liam Hemsworth has fun as the dumb secretary (although truth be told, he's a bit too self-conscious for comedy) and it was good to see the originals turn up in cameos. The plot and effects are perfectly adequate and keep things ticking over. And I really enjoyed Andy Garcia, turning in a Alex Baldwin-esque performance as the mayor.
So, New Ghostbusters, I'm sorry. Your trailer really did suck, but this film is good fun and a worthy remake. I'm a hater no more.
Get Angry. We Deserve Better.
I'm sick of reading apologetic reviews for this film of the "If you can just get through the bad stuff, the rest of it is AMAZING" ilk.
We shouldn't have to endure dialogue this bad, acting this awful and plotting this lazy to get to the good stuff. Let's take a few examples:
- Cavill has zero chemistry with Adams. None. The scene where he leaps into the bath with her is so awkward it's embarrassing.
- And why is Amy Adams in the bath anyway? It's hardly a playful scene - she's talking about death and responsibility. I can only think it's played that way for "Phwoar! Amy Adams in the bath!" reasons.
- People in this film don't "do" motivation. Superman turns on Batman for being a vigilante above the law. Which he is too. The public turns on Superman because of crimes they KNOW were committed by other people. Lex turns on Superman because... well, I'm still not sure about that.
- Batman, the World's Greatest Detective - acts like an idiot for most of the film. Despite all evidence pointing at Lex, he allows himself to be manipulated into fighting Superman. Why didn't he use his detection skills on "Who sent those notes?" and "Who blew up the Senator?" and "Hey, why does Lex want all that Kryptonite anyway?"
- Batman is also kind of a sadist. No, I'm not complaining about the Bat-brand, I can live with that. But he takes his time toying with Superman. I'm not sure why. Again, motivation issues.
- I don't actually have a massive problem with Superman & Batman killing people. Although you have to admit, it makes you wonder how Lex & The Joker are still alive. But this movie doesn't care about plot holes. I believe there's actually a plot "black hole" at the centre of this film, sucking in all logic.
- Mmm! I'm not sure I can entirely blame - mmm! - Jesse Eisenberg for Lex. I mean how can you deliver lines as embarrassingly bad as these without sounding like a complete idiot? Yet no character in the film ever comments on the fact that he acts like the guy on the bus you see muttering to himself. It can't be his wealth. I know Lex is a billionaire, but then again so is Donald Drumpf and people call him crazy all the time.
- Plus "crazy" isn't the same as "scary". There's no menace, no sense of malevolent power in Lex. He's just an irritant. Someone to move the plot forward for no good reason other than to fulfil the promise in the title. Again, not Eisenberg's fault but why did they write him this way, instead of the power-obsessed, morally bankrupt businessman we've seen in Lex before? We didn't need Less-Interesting-Joker-Lex.
- The arrogance of the film reminds me a little of "Prometheus" - another film that attempted to address big issues, but had no idea what to do with them. There's no philosophy here, no intelligence - having characters rant and rave about gods and mortals doesn't give them a coherent philosophy or moral outlook. In "The Dark Knight" The Joker had an actual philosophy - a corrupted viewpoint that ran counter to Batman's. Here, I can't tell what anyone stands for. What does Lex even want?
How much of this mess can be blamed on Snyder is debatable - I think the bulk of the blame should be placed on Goyer & Terrio who should never be allowed to write anything ever again, including greetings on birthday cards. However, I will say that if Snyder were a half- competent director surely he should have binned this script and brought in someone else.
As for the film, I know it's made a lot of money which is actually a terrible shame. It means all of those responsible will feel it's acceptable to produce something this bad, so long as it has a big budget and impressive CGI (see also: Transformers).
For me, it just isn't good enough, with this budget and these actors we deserved something better. With these iconic characters to finally show together on the big screen, we deserved something astonishing. The film-makers should be embarrassed.
What We Do in the Shadows (2014)
An Exceptional Surprise
I'm not a huge fan of mockumentaries. They've been so overdone. Ditto vampire films. I've also not really into "Flight of the Conchords" so when this went on, I was only half paying it any attention.
I'm telling you all this so you'll understand when I say I loved this. I wasn't expecting to, but I found myself recommending it to everyone who would listen. Now it's your turn.
If you enjoy Eddie Izzard monologues, then imagine one come to life. In this film you'll get to see how vampires do the vacuuming, how vampires eat chips and why vampires put newspaper down when entertaining a guest.
All the cast look like they are having great fun, and I loved Rhys Darby as a very responsible werewolf, making sure all the members of his pack are wearing stretchy pants on the night of the full moon.
Deducting one point for lack of originality, but other than that I can't fault this. Terrific fun.
Those feeling bereft after Jon Stewart left The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert toned it down for The Late Show may find some solace in this (sadly only) weekly show from Samantha Bee.
Her filmed pieces are still the strongest (she was always my favourite Daily Show correspondent) but she turns in a fiery performance as host of the show too. She rivals Jon Stewart in ferocity against political stupidity, but she's less nuanced and jokey than Stewart was. As the title of her show suggests, she's full-on angry and there's venom in her jibes. This may turns some viewers off, but I applaud her bravery.
The show this reminded me of most was "Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell". I hope it sticks around for longer, it's a real breath of fresh air and great to see a woman in amongst the dude-dominated TV schedules.