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Escape Plan 2: Neon Boogaloo
20 June 2018
Warning: Spoilers
You know how you always get those cheap, nasty knock-off DVD's in the "discount" bin at video rental stores? The ones that have a cover similar to the original movie upon which they are (usually very loosely) based? The ones often put out by the likes of Asylum? Yeah, well, that is what Escape Plan 2 is. Or rather, it isn't, seeing as how it is an actual sequel to a much better film, complete with some of the original stars. But that is exactly how it feels - like someone said "Hey! Let's do a knock off of Escape Plan! It'll be great!"

Except that EP2 is not great. It is, in fact, all kinds of not great. So many kinds of not great, in fact, that they could open a "Not great" store and sell the nonsense to other, less incompetent film-makers hoping to make a bad name for themselves in the rip-off business.

Little about the movie really works. Even the presence of actors such as Stallone and Bautista can't do more than highlight how bad everything around them is. And it is bad, trust me.

The sets for the titular prison "Hades" are garishly lit with neon lighting, like a bad Tron ripoff. And that prison is not any prison that could ever be made on Earth. It is something from the future. They have, in addition to the neon lighting, force-fields, robots, hi-tech electro shock things personal favourite... magic manacles that spring out of literally nowhere to shackle two prisoners together. No, I really mean that...out of nowhere!

This is the kind of movie I watched in the 80's with mates and a big old crate of beer. We'd sit, we'd drink and we'd mock the crap out of the awful movies we were watching. Well...I'm old now, my mates are far away and that crate of beer steadfastly refused to be a part of this watching, so I guess it sucks to be me. In fact, it sucks to be anyone that has to endure this movie. There is nothing here that you won't have seen in the original (except for the garish lighting and...oh! Did I mention the discordant, overly strident music? I didn't? Well now I have!) For extra bonus "bad" points, the music sometimes drowns out the character dialogue (which, in hindsigfht, is probably a mercy). Absolutely nothing here is worth your time. This isn't sequel bad. It's sequel to a sequel to a sequel bad.

Still not convinced? Take a gander at the crew credits. Now, I know it is fashionable to give a producer credit to all and sundry when making a movie, but thirty-three of them? Let that settle in for a moment. Thirty-three producers, executive producers and co-producers. In fact, very nearly as many producers as there are actors in this film (and yes, I am counting the random prisoners too). That's too many, people! Have you never heard of the saying about too many cooks, and broth?

Still, still not convinced? "Well," You say. "I like prison breakout movies. I'll find something to like!" won't. Because even if there was something to like...say... the fight scenes... they are utterly ruined by the over-reliance on "Shaky-Cam (tm)"! Yes, swoon as you have little idea of what is going on in a fight scene. Frown as you wonder why even non-fight scenes merit the scene-disrupting presence of the worst gimmick to be consistently overdone since the invention of 3D. Seriously, the shaky-cam...the ever-present neon lighting and some questionable cutting and editing, all make this an assault far worse than anything endured by the movie's characters.

Then there are the FX. Super-imposed explosions that look straight out of Southpark. A garage door bursting open as a car rams through it...before the car actually reaches it... you get the idea.

I don't know what else to say. It is bad. Badly made. Poorly scripted. Weakly acted and with a story/sets and premise that is just laughable.

SUMMARY: Awful, charmless assault on the senses. Bad story, sets and camerawork. Loud obnoxious music. Garish lighting. Like watching a bad film in a disco. A really bad disco. Do yourselves a favour...don't bother with this one.
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Future World (2018)
Bad Max. Really, Really Bad Max.
30 May 2018
Warning: Spoilers
As a fan of all things post-apocalyptic, I'm willing to give anything in the genre a try. So when I came across this movie which boldly proclaimed it starred James Franco, Lucy Liu, Milla Jovovich and even Snoop Dogg, my interest was piqued. Whilst watching it, however, my interest tanked and, after watching, said interest bid me a scowling farewell and went on a long vacation without telling me if, or even when, it would return.

To say this film is bad is an understatement. How it even got made, let alone attracted such stars to its roster, is mind-boggling. A little research reveals it to be some sort of passion project for Franco (whom I've always considered hugely overrated), made almost on a whim. Well, if this is an example of Franco when he's fired up enough to make a movie, I'd hate to see what he'd come up with in the throes of depression.

As for those stars... don't expect to see that much of them. Lucy Liu spends the first and last few minutes of the film in a bed, sickly, and is never seen in between. Jovovich gets more time towards the end and Franco rears his overacting head from time to time as "Generic Bad Guy Leader #672". Snoop Dogg has a middle slot in the film, for all of five minutes.

Other than that, the entire movie is hung on the shoulders of two young (and at times awfully bad) actors who go about their roles with all the enthusiasm of people who've just been informed they have a terminal illness. They are just woefully unable to carry the movie at all and the result is a dull, tedious slog that has you twitching towards the fast forward controls every other minute.

Their attempts aren't helped by the woefully inept story, irritating pseudo-techno music and awful dialogue. Characters have names like War Lord, Drug Lord and Love (can you guess?) Lord. The whole thing is just a mess from start to finish.

To make matters worse, as always when you have actors of varying capabilities in the same film, the good actors make the poor ones look worse by comparison. Lucy Liu effortlessly gives us a "sick mother" performance whilst her son (Wahlberg) doesn't even convince us he's awake, let alone concerned for her health.

Sets appear to be any old ruined building they could find, or some old junk thrown together to pretend to be a camp. None of it convinces at all and just looks like the cheap solution that it is.

If this was an attempt to mimic similar movies from the 80's then it failed dismally. You can't just throw any old crap into a desert setting, have people ride motorbikes around and call it an homage to Mad Max. There is nothing new in this film that you won't have seen done better in any film from that period (and trust me, there were some real stinkers back then, too!) All you will get is the feeling that everyone involved in this production were just going through the motions. No ingenuity. No creativity. Just a whole lot of "Are we done yet? Where's my paycheck?"

SUMMARY: Stillborn love child of Mad Max and Cherry 2000 that was buried, then exhumed thirty years later and connected to a car battery to make it twitch spasmodically as if it was alive. Just a boring, irritating mess of badness. Avoid at all costs!
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Detroit: Become Human (2018 Video Game)
Digital "Choose Your Own Adventure" story
28 May 2018
Warning: Spoilers
You remember those books. The Fighting Fantasy series and so on. Where you read page one and then, at the bottom, you were offered three or four choices of things to do. Each choice told you to turn to a different page, where the results of that choice were made clear by reading the page and then more choices etc., more page turning, more reading.

Detroit Become Human is the digital equivalent of this. In fact, there are already game versions of the Fighting Fantasy series books available to play. The difference with the latter from their book origin is that they altered the format slightly, bringing in more gameplay options, combat etc. DBH, by contrast gives you nothing but those original books, made into digital.

Oh, but it is very pretty. Very, very pretty. Plenty of mo-cap and gorgeous environments to look at. Actors that do their jobs very well and get you invested in the characters.

So what is the fly in this ointment?

Put simply, the story is a little stale, and handled here somewhat clunkily. It isn't anything you won't have seen before, and done better, in pretty much any scifi film or show involving androids finding their sentience. In fact, DBH borrows extensively from films like Blade Runner, I Robot, Johnny Mnemonic and shows like Almost Human. The rather blatant parallels to apartheid and slavery are not well managed here. Instead, the story chooses to bludgeon you about the head with the issues, rather then employ any guile or subtlety. Throw in a dash of domestic abuse and the omnipresent theme that "Humans Bad, Robots Good" and you have a recipe for a story that revels in its ineptitude.

But, you say, I play games for fun. Is it fun? Is it satisfying? What about the actual gameplay?

Well, there isn't any real gameplay to speak of. You get to pick dialogue choices during the scenes that lead to more choices and so on. Occasionally, you get to engage in what I'll call "Satan's QTE's" but that is it. Picking choices and QTE events. That is your gameplay.

Well...QTE isn't so bad, you might say. But you'd be wrong. I've yet to encounter anyone that truly enjoys this form of "gameplay", which came about purely to enable cinematic action sequences. Most people would rather play through such encounters with whatever game systems are available. The problem with DBH is that it doesn't have any game systems other than the choices and the cinematics.

That might still have been fine, but for the utterly boneheaded decision to use every conceivable controller button/stick and movement to design these QTE's. I'm serious. Enter one of these QTE sections and you'll be not just pressing square, triangle, circle and X. No, you'll be doing that, plus pressing triggers, wiggling the twin sticks around, swiping the touch pad and waving the entire controller about. It's just too much and, unlike normal QTE's, where if you screw it up, you just replay the QTE, here a failure can remove one of the characters from the game, or screw up the story you were hoping to see irreparably. It is just nonsense.

So...not good on gameplay, and not a stellar story. How come it has such a high rating?

It's down to the characters, which are simplistic, to be honest, but likeable and the graphics. That, plus there are numerous story branches that allow for a certain amount of replay value. You can miss great swathes of story if you make the wrong choices. In fact, if you want to get the most out of the thing, a second or even third playthrough is almost mandatory. However, the rather lacklustre story will likely have sapped your enthusiasm by the end of your first run. You can go back and just replay individual chapters, but this is likely to be about as much fun as watching all those deleted scenes on a bluray disc.

SUMMARY: Looks beautiful and is reasonably engaging, but is more interactive story, than game. Wide as an ocean, but shallow as a puddle. May suit those who love QTE and a lack of gameplay with their games. Watch a playthrough on Youtube. It's cheaper.
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The Clown Patrol Rides Again...
26 May 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Every time I watch one of these films I say to myself " can't be any more ludicrous than the last one!"

Every time, I am proved wrong.

Whatever the Fast and Furious was back in the beginning, it is not that anymore. The simplicity of street racing was lost to someone's bright idea to "spy up" the series into a poor man's version of James Bond.

The action is beyond ridiculous at this point, paying almost no attention to real world physics and reveling in that fact. I actually laughed out loud at one scene, involving the notion that a man alone on an frozen lake can be protected from an explosive fireball by simply parking cars all around him.

But the real tragedy of what the Fast and Furious franchise has become is not its ridiculous, could-never-happen stunts. Nor is it the fact that it has mutated from a simple racing drama to a nonsensical spy thriller.

No. The real tragedy is that everyone plays it so straight-faced and serious.

When you have such craziness on screen, and all the characters are being deadly serious about it all, the disconnect is palpable. At this point, the franchise should be focusing much more on the comedy aspect. Everything that it throws up on the screen is so laughable, yet everyone on screen is so po-faced and earnest. It just doesn't work.

In this episode, I watched with my usual sense of disbelief and the conviction that I was wasting two hours of my time. The movie hurtled along, with the characters reprising their usual roles. All very serious and trying (unsuccessfully) to convince the viewer that there was any real jeopardy or danger. I resigned myself to being disappointed again.

Then up pops Jason Statham's character. Lively, and clearly understanding how ridiculous the movie he was in was going to be. Now, I'll be the first to admit that he isn't the world's greatest actor, but he has charm and wit in spades. The moment he appeared, all the others, with perhaps the exception of Dwayne Johnson, looked like the shallow, going-through-the-motions-for-a-regular-paycheck actors that they were.

The scene where Statham fights his way through a plane of bad guys with one hand, whilst holding a baby in a cot in the other, all the while uttering one-liners that would make any 80's action hero nod approvingly, was the ONLY highlight of the film. It worked only because it was clear Statham was not taking it all too seriously and was having fun on set.

Yes, fun. You remember fun don't you, Vin Diesel? How about you, Ludacris Bridges? What about you, Tyrese... Oh yeah... we need to talk about Tyrese.

Remember the Star Wars prequels, people? Remember how annoying and insulting Jar Jar Binks was? How pointless his character was? Well, that is Tyrese Gibson's character. He is Jar Jar Binks. He's not so much the comedy sidekick, as the comedy side kick around. He never has anything to do other than be the butt of everyone else's humour and to constantly remind us, in deed and word, that he is totally stupid and useless.

What is worse, he isn't even funny. Just sad. Really, really sad. And in comparison to a genuinely funny character like Statham's, it only amplifies how bad he is.

So, then, in a nutshell, F&F8 is just another boring episode in a franchise that lost its way long ago. One can only hope that, with the announced spinoff starring Johnson and Statham (who do work well together on screen), those two actors will be spared the further embarrassment of being fixtures in this series. A series that takes itself far too seriously and has little to offer except more of the boring and ridiculous sameness that you saw in the last episode, or the one before that.

SUMMARY: First in the series that made me burst out laughing at the stupidness of it all. Takes itself far too seriously, with insulting characters and over-the-top action even a five year old would have difficulty swallowing. Not recommended.
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A Quiet Place (2018)
A Quite Unrealistic Place...
22 May 2018
Warning: Spoilers
So, I found the acting decent and I'm sure the movie was well-intentioned, but oh man... that attention to detail (or lack thereof).

It is a noticeable trend in some kinds of post-apocalyptic and especially dystopian fiction, that the setting does not need to make sense. All that matters is the setting and the premise that goes along with it. This is a fallacy that, whilst sometimes making a story that is, at first glance, entertaining and fun, does not hold up to any kind of scrutiny at all. The Total Recall remake, The Titan, Snowpiercer, The Divergent series... the list is endless of such movies that eschew common sense in favour of artificial worlds that have about as much chance of ever existing as dragons and unicorns.

A Quiet Place, though not quite so egregious a transgressor as the aforementioned titles, nonetheless follows this trend with a poorly thought out setting that fails the scrutiny test.

In this film, the world has been taken over (somehow) by creatures that hunt by sound and are noted as being armoured and near invincible. They are swift, relentless killers that seemingly are animalistic in nature and lack much in the way of cunning.

Our heroes are a single family, trying to live a silent existence so as not to draw the attention of the beasts, which will spell almost certain death. The film shows their attempts to do this.

Sounds fair enough, right? Yeah, but that execution, though...

There are many plot holes and things to scowl at in this movie. Here we go.

The family walks around with no shoes on to make less noise. A simple pair of slippers would have sufficed, but no...barefeet for all, despite the risk of stepping on something and getting a wound...then infection etc. In fact, that risk is probably the sole (foot joke unintended) reason that this made it into the story. The minute you see it, you know someone is going to step on something at some point. However, in the way that they do it, a pair of slippers would have also worked just as well as barefoot.

The family spreads sand around to provide a soft path to walk on and deaden footfalls but despite having lived at the farm they are occupying for a year or more, there is no source of that sand shown. Presumably it would have blown away/been washed away with the rain etc. but no sandpit is in evidence.

The family resorts to makeshift soundproofing in their home but has possibly the world's best equipped electronics workshop in the basement. They have radios, oscilloscopes, security cameras and all kinds of tech, despite seemingly living out in the middle of nowhere. Yet they have no actual soundproofing. If they could find all this tech, surely they could have found better soundproofing than egg boxes and newspaper glued to the walls.

Despite having all this electronic gear, the father (who is shown to be good at electronics) doesn't think to rig up any kind of remote decoys using his tech. In this way, when the monsters attack the home, the only way they have of distracting the beasts is to send a child off to light some fireworks (No...really!) The father has the skills to rig up security cameras and to try and fix his deaf daughter's hearing aid, yet he doesn't know how to rig a simple sounder away from the house that can be activated from inside the house? No...just no.

The creatures are also poorly realised. Hunting by sound, with hearing so sensitive that any inadvertant noise will bring them running, it should have been anyone's first thought to use that dependence against them. Use sound to lure them someplace, then destroy them. Oh but wait, I forgot, they are indestructible. Silly me. Nothing on Earth could prevent these things from rampaging the globe and destroying civilisation. Not tanks, or A10's or explosives... Oh but a shotgun to the face will do it... Huh? What's wrong with this picture! Did everyone involved with it just forget the rules they made at the beginning? Oh but it was a cool scene, so that trumps common sense and pre-established rules, I guess.

These same beasts later are shown to be incredibly strong, ripping through a grain silo easily, but then later having issues getting through the roof of a pickup truck.

Also, I know the family loses a kid right at the start of the film, but who in their right minds would get pregnant in this setting? That's one! Yet this family clearly is mental and decides to bring a newborn into this setting. Now, I don't know a lot about babies, but I do know one thing. They cry. A lot. Does this mother and father have so little regard to their other two children's safety that they would risk bringing a noisy baby into the world? Am I misreading the story? Or are the pair of them that self-centred that replacing the child they lost is more important than preserving the life of the two they still have?

Yeah, folks, this isn't a well-written tale. Plenty of drama and tension, plenty of CGI monster action, but not a lick of common sense to be found.

You know how, down the pub, you've had those discussions with your semi-inebriated mates about "What would you do in a zombie apocalypse?" And you know how they come up with some pretty good ideas sometimes? Yeah, well, nobody consulted their drunken mates on this one, and it shows.

SUMMARY: Poorly executed setting. Family not too smart. Plot holes and a general lack of sense to the whole thing that spoils what could have been a great concept. Consult more drunks next time, their ideas will be better.
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The Rain (I) (2018– )
A Rough Diamond, dropped in the Mud occasionally...
15 May 2018
Warning: Spoilers
That's my honest appraisal of "The Rain". As a fan of all-things Post-Apocalyptic, I am prepared to forgive much if the aesthetic and feel of a show is good.

The Rain, I am happy to say, fulfills this criteria well, with moody visuals and more natural lighting than we are used to seeing in similar Western shows. A virus has escaped into the air and falls with the rain to immediately infect anyone it touches and bring them a swift and painful-looking death.

It's a twist on the usual "man creates virus, virus destroys man" motif that is prevalent in Post Apoc fiction. I'm not sure it is entirely believable, from a scientific stand-point, but it gets the job done and creates actual tension in a way that similar movies, like "The Happening" only wish they could emulate.

This is not to say that "The Rain" is perfect. Far from it. Acting is quite variable and the writing leaves something to be desired, especially in regard to character actions. Backstories for the characters are simplistic, but are delivered during the season's run at moments appropriate to you learning more about the character in order to inform on their actions. That doesn't mean that their actions seem any less odd at times, but at least they try to get across the motivations of that character.

Overall, the writing is decent enough, though some scenes invite greater scrutiny in the scheme of things and don't really hold up all that well. But, the overarching plot of the series is dealt with well enough to let it slide for the most part.

If it gets a second season, I hope they tighten up the writing and put a little more effort into the characters and making them more believable. I get it, it's a rag-tag group of survivors all with their issues, but I hope that they come together more as a group and not as individuals pursuing their own goals.

All in all, though, a decent enough show on a... ahem...rainy day.

SUMMARY: Decent enough, though writing and acting are a little weak. Interesting characters and dynamics, but could do with more polish in future seasons.
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Lorelei (2005)
Surprisingly emotional and heartwarming
6 May 2018
Warning: Spoilers
I wasn't sure what to expect from Lorelei. A sub movie, certainly, but not one with such warm characters and subtlety of script. I expected a simple wartime tale, but got so much more.

All of the cast give excellent performances (with perhaps the exception of the main villain, who is given to staring madly during emotional moments). But even he does his part justice for the majority of his screen time. The rest have no trouble conveying either their characters or the emotions they are going through. This is particularly important due to the often very much more subtle and under-emphasised nature of Asian facial expressions. Yet here there was no trouble for my poor old Western eyes to understand who was feeling what.

Also to be commended in a cinematic age where heroes never die is the concept of noble self-sacrifice, which is evident here. The notion that "Everyone lived happily ever after" is a seemingly uniquely Western one that has gotten out of hand in recent decades. There aren't many Western movies that are willing to kill off characters and those that do often handle it badly (I'm looking at Star Wars trilogy). So it is a pleasant change to be reminded that not everyone has forgotten this concept, or how to implement it.

The story also is worth commending. In an age where Hollywood churns out formulaic script after formulaic script, having something which doesn't follow those cookie-cutter writing conventions is like a breath of fresh air. It should be noted that the story is still rather simple, however, but realised in a way that makes you overlook that simplicity. That said, I admit I failed to see the main plot "twist" evne though, in retrospect, it was spammed hugely in the opening minutes. That's okay though. If I fail to spot something that obvious, it usually means I'm enjoying the movie so much that I'm not analysing it, which is rare these days.

As far as effects go, they are serviceable by today's standards. The movie was made in 2005, so they are actually pretty good for that time and, barring a few scenes, don't distract you or take you out of the movie. They do their job and you never have to try and figure out what is going on on screen.

All in all, there isn't anything I can point at and say was bad... except for maybe the climactic scenes weren't very convincing and could have done with a rethink. The very final scene was rather obvious and formulaic, but done well enough, because it washed the slight disappointment of the climactic action sequence.

You'll note I haven't spoiled any of the movie with specifics. That is deliberate. When a movie tries its hardest to be entertaining and makes me pleased I spent the time to watch it, the least I can do is not spoil it for others. So apologies if the rather non-specific comments here leave you scratching your head and wondering if it is worth your time.

Who is this movie for? Anyone that remembers the older generation of war movies where the heroes faced impossible odds yet somehow came through will find plenty to like here. Likewise those that are just tired of the tedious nature of much of American cinema and want something that isn't entirely hamstrung by those movie-making conventions, will also find this a refreshing change.

SUMMARY: Entertaining and surprisingly subtle and emotional. Well worth your time if you like old war movies.
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Black Panther (2018)
Formulaic and overhyped
3 May 2018
Warning: Spoilers
I know, I know... what was I expecting? A masterpiece of cinema from a story based upon comic books? Well, apparently that is what it is supposed to be judging by all the critical acclaim that it has garnered. However, I found it to be about as formula-driven and predictable as I have come to expect from Marvel movies. In short, it is just more of the same, wrapped up in a nice veneer of "Oh look! Not very many white people! How groundbreaking!"

Not that Black Panther is a bad movie. Far from it. But it is not the be-all and end-all of movie craft that some would have you believe.

The acting is fair and there is the ever-present Marvel sense of humour throughout. CGI is decent, though the titular character does have acrobatic moments which gave me PTSD-like flashbacks to Catwoman's unrealistic gymnastics. Overall, though, the movie is solid enough and a pleasing diversion. So what is my issue with it?

Well, its just more of the same. It may be Marvel fatigue setting in, but you'd think they'd at least try to do something different with the story. But no... it's the same "Costume-clad hero who doubts himself takes on cardboard evil villain in a fight to the death and ultimately emerges victorious and with a new appreciation for his place in the scheme of things"

At its most basic, this is every Marvel movie, of course, but given the hype surrounding this one, I had hoped for a little more. Apparently my hopes are not to be.

SUMMARY: A bit dull, honestly and with an over-reliance on the usual Marvel tropes to carry it through. Diverse cast, but not very diverse script. Formulaic, predictable and just more of the same.
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The Titan (2018)
Well meaning, but ultimately hollow
30 March 2018
Warning: Spoilers
The Titan is an exploration of what it is to be human and how far people are willing to change in order to further humanity's survival.

Or at least, that was the original premise. The result slews away from that lofty aim in a somewhat predictable manner, offering us "love will conquer all" by the end. But only if it is true love. Out of all the candidates, only one retains enough of his humanity despite the changes he goes through and it is heavily implied that true love is the reason. His fellow candidates without love fall by the wayside. Those that have what they believe is love, also fall, usually hurting those around them in the process, until only our hero is left, because of his true love.

I wouldn't normally decry this, but it is so heavy handed in its execution that it detracts from what otherwise was shaping up to be a good study of what makes us human.

That said, the movie does hold your interest for the most part, and does keep you thinking for much of its run time. Where it lets itself down badly is in the rather crazy ending, where we see our hero finally transported to Titan and being lauded as the saviour of humanity. The final scene has him leap from a tall precipice and swoop around on laughably tiny skin flaps like a wannabee Superman. I haven't been so disappointed in an ending in a long time.

Just what is one person, irrespective of his ability to survive on Titan naked, to do there? How is sending this miracle of science to Titan going to benefit mankind, whom the movie states early on have a limited time left to survive on Earth? What purpose does it solve?

Now that I think about it some more, the entire premise fails to make sense. Instead of engineering a human to survive on a barren moon (they never do go into details about what he eats to maintain his biological functions) why not instead engineer humans that can survive on a dying Earth? You know, that planet that people already live on and which contains all the infrastructure you need to continue to force evolve the species to survival.

When all is said and done, the movie decided at some point to throw away common sense and the exploration of humanity and focus on a human drama instead. For better or worse, it failed on all counts, though it remains a passable diversion on a rainy day. However, with a little more care, it could have been a really good movie. Sadly, we don't get to see that version.

SUMMARY: Human drama with overtones of body horror and transhumanism. Not done particularly well and with the glaringly awful conceit that it would be better to evolve to survive on a barren moon than on a dying Earth. Not really recommended unless you are very bored.
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Annihilation (2018)
Annihilation: Pacing Not Included
13 March 2018
Warning: Spoilers
So, when a trailer paints an action-horror adventure picture of a movie, you can be forgiven for expecting that when you go to see said movie. Annihilation is not an action-horror adventure.

What it is, is someone's (Alex Garland's, presumably) idea of a cerebral scifi horror, with allusions to exploring what it is to be human and body shock horror thrown in for "good" measure.

Now, firstly, I hate being misled by trailers. I've almost come to expect it by now, but it colours my view of the movie when I realise I have been duped. Secondly, I also hate pretentiousness in films and Annihilation has this in great supply. It wasn't enough to simply give us a good scifi horror movie, it had to pretend to be deeper than it was. It failed at that.

Any depth it might have had was thrown to the wall with the lamentable editing, which seemed designed to slow the movie's progress to a crawl to fill out the two hour runtime. There are, at best, only three or four important set-piece scenes in this movie but they are spaced out massively and the gaps inbetween filled with utterly redundant flashback scenes and filler content. This is, essentially, a short film padded out to feature length.

The effects are good, and the acting decent, but the story is full of holes and inconsistencies. Set decoration is variable, with some scenes looking truly amazing and others looking like the props manager raided the moth-eaten floats from some flower festival for lurid paper flowers to stick at random on trees and scenery.

The Shimmer has been on Earth for three years, we discover, yet in that time all that has happened is that people have been sent in and have not come out again. From the context of the film, this appears to be the only strategy that seems to be available to the investigators. We are also supposed to believe that all this has been kept secret for that length of time.

In the course of the movie, the comms gal tells us that her equipment is working, but that no signals get out of the Shimmer. Great, so technology works but not comms, so why haven't they sent in autonomous robotic machinery? Have it go in, record information, maybe even take samples, then come back out again. Machines can use dead-reckoning navigation far better than humans. No compass, or satnav required. There is no requirement within the story parameters as defined that they needed to send people in at all.

Nor is it explained, ultimately, what is going on. This is one of those "The audience should make their minds up about what is happeneing" kinds of deals. I always dislike these movies, simply because if you have something you want to say, then say it. Don't leave the audience to figure it out.

Alex Garland has gravitated to these sorts of pseudo-intellectual shams of late, what with this and Ex Machina. Needless to say they have received rgeat critical acclaim, but only middling success at the box office.

I don't have a problem with scifi being thought-provoking. In fact, I prefer it that way. But this is not thought-provoking, so much as head-scratching. An attempt at being clever without looking at your product and realising most people don't have your level of knowledge of it. I'm sure both the script and the book upon which it is based were much more satisfying than the film ended up being. As it stands, the movie is a disappointment and not a movie that most people will seek to re-watch in the future.

SUMMARY: Padded out short story that is not engaging and not at all as sold in the trailers. Some good scenes, but too much dull filler and a score that does little to draw you in to the tale. Not recommended.
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The Walking Dead: Honor (2018)
Season 8, Episode 9
The Walking Melodrama
3 March 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Yes folks, it continues. Melodrama disguised as an apocalyptic zombie survival show. Now with extra mournful piano music!

So what happened in this episode? Carl died (eventually), the rest escaped to Hilltop (probably) and Ezekiel was rescued (interminably).

To say this episode was padded out would be an understatement. Everything that happened could have been condensed down to maybe fifteen minutes of actual viewing time and would have been far more engaging, exciting and fulfilling. Carl's death scene was almost a parody of death scenes. I genuinely thought at one point that they were going to drag it out until the next episode.

Lots of handwringing, bombastic dialogue, Rick's pointless fantasies, close-ups of Rick looking like an Alzheimer's sufferer and the new and ever-present theme of seeing the good in your enemies and trying to convert them.

It's just very tiresome at this point and, sadly, it seems so utterly unaware of its own ineptitude that it is impossible to believe it will get any better.

Still, as I pointed out, at least we'll be spared another season of Carl wearing his grubby eyepatch, though apparently Rick's hat will be promoted to "magical paraphernalia" status going forward. I only wish I were joking.

All in all, possibly the most tedious episode to date and I skipped through the more sickly sweet parts (there is only so much saccharin one can take).

SUMMARY: More of the dull, padded-out same old. Who is this show even for anymore?
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Star Wars: The Last Straw
26 January 2018
Warning: Spoilers
So, I wasn't much pleased with the Force Awakens. It was too derivative and too much like a reboot to be considered "good". But, like many others, I told myself that the proof of the pudding would be in the next movie, and where that took the story.

Well folks, that pudding is truly one rancid piece of fruit cake. The Last Jedi looks fantastic. The score is great. The effects are generally awesome. However, story and character-wise, it is a mess. Someone poured week-old custard on that fruit cake, and it leaves a real bad taste in the mouth.

The main problem, which I wondered about in the previous movie, is that the writers have precisely no idea what to do with the original trilogy characters. In TFA, Han blunders along like a senior on a day outing, finally being despatched by his own son in just about as unheroic and unsatisfying way it was possible to imagine.

In TLJ, Luke is treated just as poorly, being essentially relegated to "old man complaining them young 'uns'll get hurt if they carry on". He does precisely nothing for the entirety of the film except issue warnings and doing nothing of any consequence. Finally, when he does appear to confront Darth Emo, the much hoped for display of force-prowess is reduced to "Hah ha! I'm not really here! Fooled you!"

Part of this problem is the reboot aspect I mentioned. Lucasfilm want the franchise to move on with new, younger actors. That is understandable, but the old hold-overs from the previous movies seem like almost an embarrassment to them now. Something to be gotten rid of as soon as possible and never mind if you do them a disservice in the process.

As I said, Luke has nothing to do in this movie. Leia, in fact, shows more Jedi skills than he does. It isn't hard to understand now what Mark Hamill was going on about when he said he disagreed with Johnson's take on Luke.

But if it was just the older characters being poorly served here, it might still have been a good film, right? Sadly, it isn't so. The story is full of inconsistencies and in hindsight makes little sense. Increasingly, the disconnect between the original trilogy and this new one makes no sense. In the original, the emperor was killed and the rebellion triumphed. All across the galaxy, as shown in the remastered versions, people celebrated the fall of the Empire.

In TFA, we are introduced to the First Order, who seem to be what is left of the Empire. They have ships etc, but nowhere is it made clear that they are anything but a subversive force trying to bring the Empire back. Effectively, they are the rebels.

In TLJ, now the rebels are rebels again, fighting to overthrow the First Order, who seem suddenly to be much more powerful. They have a new "emperor", in the form of Snoke, and seem to be in charge again.

There is no consistency to this timeline. Who is Snoke? He seems in this movie to know a lot about Vader and the Skywalkers, but no explanation for this knowledge, or who he is, is given. Not that it matters, because he is now dead, done away with as casually as any of the old guard. Likewise with Captain Phasma, who had potential as a nemesis figure - dead.

And Leia, or as she should be known... Skywalker Poppins. Blown into space and yet surviving with a display of force powers that makes Luke's old trench run seem like he drifted off to sleep.

That is the main problem with this new trilogy - not enough is explained that needs explaining. The entirety of this new trilogy so far is focused on whizzbang effects, pointless firefights, super-weapons, disposing of characters deemed pointless to the plot and glossing over details that leave people scratching their heads in confusion.

Oh, and Porgs. Let's not forget the truly ground-breaking, original and totally not merchandise-based cute lifeforms that play such an important part in the movie.

I have no idea what is going on with this franchise anymore. Other than an excuse to print money, Disney seem to be intent (and content) to just churn out garbage with the Star Wars tag on it. They are laughing all the way to the bank.

To think, we gave Lucas himself so much grief for the prequels that we were happy to see Disney buy him out. What a hollow victory that seems now and what masterpieces the prequels seem in comparison to this new trilogy.

So far, this trilogy has comprised the worst of the Star Wars films. The original trilogy is untouchable. The prequels at least had decent fights, and even Rogue One tried to look at the Star Wars universe differently. This trilogy seems to have no identity of its own. It has a shallow, repeat what has gone before, but do it worse mentality, that I can't see getting better with the final (God I hope it is the final!) movie, now to be made by rehash Abrams.

Now all let's wait with mock enthusiasm for the final part, probably to be titled Star Wars: The Re-Return of the Jedi, if I'm any judge.

SUMMARY: Fan-fiction by people who hated the original characters. No attention paid to details, no explanations, just more rehashing of older, better content. Dull and yawn-inducing, with new characters that are either annoying, or pointless, and for whom you feel nothing. Not worth your time or money.
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Aftermath (2016)
27 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
This series only came to my attention after it had been cancelled. Foolishly, I said to myself "How bad could it have been?" and proceeded to watch it.

Aftermath is not good. Normally I love post-apocalyptic stuff. This, however, is a weak-sauce effort whose only criteria seemed to be "Throw anything at the screen and it will be good."

The apocalypse seems to consist of a crazed conspiracy theorist's dream mixed in with everything even remotely connected to end of the world scenarios. You have zombies, infected, meteorite impacts, geo-storms, mutant plants, singing banshees, flying zombies, demon possession, dragons and well... you get the idea. Anything you can think of, they decided to put in.

The result is a mess of Biblical proportions (oh yeah, I forgot to mention the God angle, which is spammed at many points). As a whole, it is impossible to take it seriously whilst literally any crazy nonsense can pop up at any moment.

You might be mistaken for thinking this unpredictability will maintain the interest, but it doesn't. It is all done so poorly as to make it a joke.

Then there is the acting. It is sub-par, with anne Heche's annoying "military" character top of the list. The rest of her family (yes, there is the usual annoying family dynamic in this one) are mostly unlikeable. They should all probably change their surname from Copeland to Copebadly, considering their actions. Given the awful dialogue and terrible actions that the characters are forced to perform you can only blame the actors so far. However, they do nothing to make their terrible characterisations more likeable. Even after several episodes, you really don't care about any of them.

As for the writing, well, it is weak. No one acts like normal people. They all do things which lead to more problems for themselves and then seem to shriek about not knowing what is going on. Rarely do these ludicrous actions even further the plot at all. All they do is make you hate the family for their dumbness.

As I mentioned the worst of the lot is Anne Heche's idiot military mother character. Her answer to every situation is to charge in, or threaten, or point a gun at someone. She is beyond a stereotype and seems to have no real regard for common sense, let alone military strategy. It is almost impossible to see how she and her bookish husband ever got together (even though the two actors are a couple in real life) as there seems to be almost no chemistry between them.

The rest of the family are equally steroetypical. The frat girl...the smart girl... the jock son... the loud, annoying aunt. They all scream and get pissy with each other. Character development seems limited to setting up romances for the girls and learning to shoot guns. It's all so terribly predictable and drab as if the writers aren't able to come up with a normal family group anymore. It's really sad.

All in all, this is not a good series and it insults your intelligence every chance it gets. They should have just picked an apocalyptic theme and stuck with it rather than the endless mix n match they went with. It is best ignored and allowed to drift into TV obscurity where it belongs.

SUMMARY: Tedious, crazy nonsense with a side order of dysfunctional family. Dumb characters doing dumb things in a dumb setting. Let this one pass you by.
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The Walking Dead: How It's Gotta Be (2017)
Season 8, Episode 8
The Walking Clown Show
11 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I've waited until the halfway mark to comment further on this season simply because I wanted to give it a chance and also because I wanted to comment on the first half overall. The truth is, it sucks. Whatever magic this show once had has well and truly gone. The dead aren't scary, the story is increasingly laughable, the characters act like they are idiots and the villains lack only a moustache to twirl to be completely over-the-top.

By hewing so close to comics, no doubt the writers are trying to keep fans happy. However, what works in one medium does not always translate to another. Don't believe me? Then tell me how many good game to movie adaptations there are? Or how many really shitty games have been "adapted" from movies that worked well.

The Walking Dead started off decently enough. A post-apocalyptic zombie tale with likable characters and a decent sense of menace and pacing. However, as time has gone by it has increasingly become a parody of such stories.

Rick no longer behaves like he has any sense at all. His plans always go wrong. Why do the rest of them still follow him? Let's go and see if the Garbage People want to be friends now! Apparently they don't! Who could have possibly guessed? They imprison our "hero", only to let him out to fight a zombie with his hands tied. Can you guess what happens? Yep, he not only defeats the zombie, but overpowers his guards and take Garbage Boss Lady prisoner! Seriously! Then they come to an "arrangement". Who writes this crap?

What the hell is the deal with the garbage people anyway? Are they all brain-damaged? Why would you trust them a second time (Rick) after they basically sold out your entire community? Are they like this in the comic? Does no one other than me think they are the most ridiculously badly written group of antagonists ever?

Jesus has become a moral ninja, ready to leap into action to save the lives of murderers like some kind of hippy-Ghandi. Suddenly he grows a conscience (and he's not the only one) and wants everyone to become more civilized.

Nearly all the characters are behaving in ways completely different to how they have acted historically. When a prisoner tries to snatch a gun (and is in general a troublemaker), they do little more than smack him and say "Naughty Boy!" In the past, they would have just shot him. But not now. Now they have all been sprinkled with magic My Little Pony dust and everyone has to be friends. Until the last episode, of course, when Maggie decides to make a tit-for-tat example of one of the captives. Does she pick the trouble-maker? No, of course not. That would make too much sense.

The writing on this show somehow continues to get worse with each episode. At first it was just the villains that were becoming increasingly bizarre. Then the story took a nose-dive into stupidity. Then they added bizarre characters and groups and now, with little else left, they are having those characters do ever dumber things to further the increasingly hackneyed plot. There is so much contrivance in the show's writing these days and none of it makes a lick of sense.

Watching each episode there are multiple scenes of nothingness scattered throughout. Scenes that are utterly irrelevant to the overall story. If they were character development, that'd be good, but they aren't. They are just nothing scenes. When I see one of these pop up, the tune to Michael Jackson's Thriller starts playing in my head, though with the word "thriller" replaced with "filler".

Despite an ongoing war with the saviours, no one of any consequence to the story has died. The only person who even came close to being important who has died is Token Gay Man's (tm) partner. I call him Token Gay Man not as any kind of slur, but because that is all the character he has been given in the show. He's gay...that is his character. Or was. Since he has far less plot armour than the regular cast members, his character is now dead. It's easy to imagine the other actors watching him leave on his last day of filming and think "Lucky bastard!"

Of course, Gabriel and Carl are dying. But that isn't the same thing. At least when Carl finally departs the show I'll be spared the constant question every time I see him as to why, after two seasons since he was injured, he still wears a grubby bandage instead of a decent eyepatch. Two seasons! How slow a healer is he? Or is it just that it became his schtick, foisted off on his character by bad writers.

Still, props to whoever writes the increasingly bizarre dialogue for Ezekiel, the Garbage People and Eugene. I'm assuming it is the same person who does all three, and I imagine whoever it is sitting at his writing desk, chuckling at his own cleverness at making Eugene use twenty long words to say "I haven't fixed your boom-box".

I think I'm done with it, save for perhaps a binge watch of the rest of this season once it is done. I know, however, that any such binge watch will involve me sitting with the remote control ready to fast forward through the dross, which I suspect will be most of each episode.

SUMMARY: More nonsense. More padding. More stupid people. Less zombies. At this point, it is hard not to want to congratulate the actors whose characters die off, because at least they'll get to go on to better things.
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Dunkirk (2017)
8 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Dunkirk is a movie that will not be for all tastes. Certainly I found it a bit of a slog at times and, having grown up with a diet of almost constant war movies, I found it lacking in a number of departments.

Firstly, though, what Dunkirk gets right. The visuals are well-done and the acting very decent from all concerned. There is no fault that you can point at in regards to cinematography or on-screen realism. Everything has been carefully shot to enhance the feeling of being there, at Dunkirk, during the evacuation.

Sadly, however, that is where the film's greatest strengths lie... in its mechanical execution of the film-maker's craft.

So what did I find wrong with this movie? Well, it has little in the way of heart and soul. For a film about one of the most memorable moments in World War 2, this lack of emotional core leaves you rather nonplussed. I have seen any number of docu-dramas of wartime events that had more life in them than Nolan's effort.

It was so marked, that I suspect that is what Nolan was aiming for all along. Namely, he removed the emotion from the movie in the hope that the events would carry more weight with the viewer.

If that was the case, then at least for me, he failed. For the most part, Dunkirk plods along with at first a rather boring and slow tempo, and then with a more urgent, but somehow equally dull, pace. At no time did I feel any kind of excitement or concern for any of the characters.

In part this is because there is almost zero character development. There is also little dialogue which leaves the viewer scrabbling for visual clues as to the characters motives and goals. You don't ever end up rooting for any of the people you see on screen. If they live, or die, it doesn't matter.

That, then, is Dunkirk's biggest failing. It has no soul. A moment in history where ordinary people stood up and "did their part" for the war effort is reduced to a dull, emotionless study of the event itself. For all the humanity on display, it might as well have been made by an alien with no understanding of our species.

In addition to this soul-less aspect, the scale of the movie is also rather limited. Perhaps this was due to budgetary constraints, but you never see more than a couple of aircraft at once. There is no artillery shelling of the beaches. Although there is some strafing of the beach, it is only by one plane at a time. You rarely see many of the little ships and, at the end, when one of the survivors reads a paper that reveals over 300,000 have been evacuated, you are left thinking "How?" At no point do you get the feeling this was possible given what you see on screen.

All in all, a rather disappointing movie that lacks any real emotional connection for the viewer to latch on to. Considering how loudly, and greatly, this movie has been praised, I expected more from it than it delivered.

SUMMARY: Emotionless and rather dull. No character development, little dialogue and little real sense of danger. Nolan should stick to sci-fi.
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It (I) (2017)
It sinks... It all sinks down here...
30 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
So, as far as adaptations go of Stephen King works, this is one of the better ones. I should qualify that by saying that, although decent, it is by no means a mirror of the book. In fact, the earlier mini-series starring Tim Curry was a more faithful adaptation in that respect. However, when we consider the usual butchery done to King's stories when translated to film, this isn't the worst offender by far.

With all that out of the way, you'll note I have given the film a middling five score. The main reason for that is simple. The movie relies entirely on jump scares and strident Inception-like horn blasts for its scares. It is, essentially, the horror movie equivalent of a laughter track, designed to prompt the audience to be afraid. However, once this formula becomes apparent to the viewer in a movie - any movie - its power to scare you actually diminishes almost to zero.

A lot of so-called horror movies rely on this audience prompting. It's sad in a way, because I'm old enough to remember when old horror movies of the 70's and 80's realised this mistake and tried at least to change it up so that not every jump scare (or setup for a jump scare) actually resulted in a "shock". Nowadays, it seems like modern film-makers have forgotten even that much guile when they make such movies. Or maybe they just don't care to make a movie that keeps you on your toes anymore. Or perhaps, they just don't care.

So, It isn't a very scary horror movie. It relies too much (entirely, really) on these jump scares and an amount of gore that, sadly, is all too present in these types of efforts.

As a movie it does its job reasonably well. I mentioned earlier that it isn't a bad adaptation of King's book. Certainly it is miles better than the recent Dark Tower mess. However, the story isn't fleshed out sufficiently to make you really care about the characters and, honestly, this Pennywise is far less creepy and disturbing than Tim Curry's version.

Once again, I am forced to conclude that King's books are better in a serialised format rather than a standalone movie (though this is set up to be a duology). Accordingly, things feel rushed and some of the editing is a bit abrupt. There's no steady build-up. Just a succession of jump scares and thinly dealt with backstories.

It's not terrible, but neither is it as good as you might be led to believe.

SUMMARY: Jump scares! Loud noises! Gore! Thin characterisations and rushed story. Tried to pack too much into too little. Typical horror tropes that drag it down into the sewer. It doesn't float, it sinks.
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The Walking Dead: Mercy (2017)
Season 8, Episode 1
And So the Turgid Writing Continues...
23 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
To its credit (the one and only moment of praise I can think of) this first episode of the new season gets on with the fighting and we finally get to see the "good" guys fight back against cardboard villain Negan.

However, that is its only good point. The rest is just more of the same interminable writing that has plagued the show for the past few seasons and especially last year.

Rick and his cohorts come up with an unnecessarily convoluted plot to bring the dead to Negan's compound - literally thousands of them - and all armed to the teeth, they confront him.

And nothing of any consequence happened.

Negan is not dead. His plot armour is thicker than the main glacis of an M1 Abrams. There is even a point where Negan and his top bad dudes come out to confront the Ricksurgency, and stand in plain sight of thirty or more people armed with modern assault rifles, not fifty feet away.

No one shoots him. A single bullet would be all it would take. But no, the clever writers think what we all want to see is a pissing contest between Rick and Negan. They talk... and talk... and talk.

Finally, when Rick deigns to start shooting, he misses. So does everyone else that takes his cue to start firing. Negan and his minions scuttle inside.

Now, although I said well done for getting on with the fighting, which was something I imagined they would defer until later in the season, given how padded and slow last season was, I am not impressed. A quick glance at the write-ups for future episodes suggests Negan is going to run, and run, and run. No quick end of the worst villain in the show's history, no siree. They are going to drag it out until the end of this season, I'm sure.

It's not just the lame plot that gets to me. The character writing is abysmal, in part because the cast is now so huge as to not allow sufficient time to develop them. I've been hoping for a cull of the numbers for some time, since the size of the cast has become ridiculously unwieldy, yet it hasn't happened. Even in this episode, where a death or two wouldn't be out of the question, no one of any consequence dies. Just faceless minions and zombies.

I don't really know what more to say about this show. Once good, now a turgid melodrama with characters that are less than one-dimensional.

Someone, somewhere, will perhaps take these episodes and edit them down to the thirty minute mark, cutting out all the padding and filler and make them into something enjoyable to watch. For now, though, they are just bloated exercises in excess, written by people who have no idea how to make an enjoyable TV drama.

SUMMARY: More of the same nonsense from last season. Beyond broken at this point.
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The Daft Tower
8 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
So, I tried to adjust my expectations going into this movie. I knew it would be nothing like the books - how could it be, at only 90 minutes? - but I hoped it would be more than the usual shallow adaptation that cherry picks names and places from epic novels and then tries to make a coherent film out of it.

Big surprise, that is exactly what it is. A movie that has the unmitigated gall to claim it is "based" on a novel, while doing nothing more than picking a couple of characters and locations and throwing a trivial screenplay together to con people out of their money.

The Dark Tower novels are a long, deeply involved set of books in which character arcs and dynamics are front and centre. It is, at its most basic, the well-trodden Hero's Journey motif. However, the deep plotting and fantastic locations, along with the aforementioned character development, make it a very worthwhile set of novels to read.

The Dark Tower movie, by contrast, does away with all but two of the main characters. Then it trivialises their backstories and turns the entire plot into an excuse for a truly lame final shootout. None of the subtlety or nuance has been retained. It is as if the screenwriters took the first and last pages of the novels and used that as the basis for the screenplay.

Gone is the racial dynamic between Roland and Detta (because Detta, the alter-ego of Susannah), and Susannah herself, are both left out of the movie. So too is Eddie Dean, Oy, Blaine and most of the interesting locations featured in the novels.

Look, I get that adapting such a monstrously huge work is hard. I really do. But to take something as complex and involved as the Dark Tower series and reduce it to a ninety minute shoot-fest is little short of insulting. Imagine if they remade Lord of the Rings and cut out all the characters except Aragorn and Frodo and you'll get the level of butchery done here.

So, is it any good as a stand-alone movie if you know nothing of the Dark Tower novels? Well, I suppose it is passable. But it is very trivial and light, even then. The very definition of a disposable movie that you will forget shortly after watching.

Acting is decent, with Elba doing a good turn as the stoic Roland. I even felt the young actor playing Jake did well. Matthew McConnaghy....not so much. There is a tendency in Hollywood to turn any villain character into a caricature and this performance was no exception. It was more understated than most such roles, but still came across as a bit laughable and over-the-top.

As for effects... plenty of gun-kata style shenanigans on display. A little too many, if I'm honest. In the books, Roland is a consummate shot, able to shoot and reload and rarely, if ever, miss. In the movie, he exhibits an almost supernatural ability with a gun (especially at the end) that is, like McConnaghy's villain performance, just a little too much to swallow.

The final gun battle is also plagued by a lack of imagination. There isn't anything like the imagination that went into say, the choreography of John Wick's combat or, if you remember it, even the precise motions of Equilibrium's gun kata. It's just poor old Idris running around, shooting people and never missing.

Nor do I like the rather obvious lack of continuity in regards to character knowledge. At one point, having travelled to New York, Roland has to have a soda can explained to him. That's fine...he's not from Earth, so he doesn't know much about our culture. What is not fine is when, in the final gun battle, he seems to know exactly what a propane cylinder is and that it will explode if shot. I don't recall Jake explaining that to him, yet somehow he knew.

Overall, the movie was a disappointment to me. They could have done so much more but, let's face it, cinema isn't the medium for such massive epics. A decent TV series could do it justice, but not a single movie. And yes, it will be a single movie, because I can't see people hammering on the studio doors demanding a sequel to this film.

SUMMARY: Very weak sauce effort. Ninety percent of the story and characters missing. Not much like the books. In short, a typical Stephen King adaptation. Best avoided.
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The Orville (2017– )
It's fun, and reminds us what Star Trek used to be about.
6 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I was, I admit, deeply suspicious of The Orville when I heard about it. Created by Seth McFarlane (he of the endless crass humour) it seemed doomed to be a lame, intelligence-insulting mess. In fact, I wasn't planning on watching it at all. I was literally going to skip it.

Then I watched Star Trek Discovery's pitiful pilot. After being bored and irritated by that, I decided things couldn't get much worse and I might as well go ahead and watch the pilot of The Orville.

I expected to be further annoyed and prepared to pour scorn on it in this review. I even got a little notepad and a pen to jot down all the things that I felt were sure to get on my nerves and make me grit my teeth.

So when I finished the pilot episode of Orville and found to my dismay that not only had I made not a single disparaging comment on my notepad, but that I had in fact forgotten about it entirely, I knew something utterly unexpected had occurred. I had liked what I had seen.

I had enjoyed the first episode of a show by a man I generally consider to be not worth my time immensely. It was quite the shock, let me tell you.

The Orville isn't Star Trek. However, it is as close to Star Trek as we are likely to get these days when the "real" Trek is reduced to being little more than an episodic clone of the Abrams' movies.

I won't pretend it has the same production values as Discovery. It doesn't. But what it does have is a very big heart and a clear affection for the source material it draws heavily from. McFarlane has crafted something here that shows his love for Trek quite openly and loudly, and the series is all the better for it.

That isn't to say there isn't humour. Sometimes that humour is a little crass. But it isn't the greatly expected toilet humour or Man-Child nonsense that you might expect.

Granted, the pilot had more of that than the later episodes, but it still wasn't as commonplace as I expected, and that is a good thing.

All in all, The Orville is a decent replacement for Star Trek until the powers-that-be get their collected heads out of their fundaments and remember that Star Trek isn't (nor was it ever meant to be) about flashy explosions and "Pew-pew! Die, Alien! Die!"

SUMMARY: A very decent light-hearted take on Star Trek that is more Trek than the current actual Trek. Some lame humour, but done with a lot of heart that makes it worth watching week on week. Recommended for Trek fans who miss the "good old days". Well done Seth McFarlane! Well done!
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Day 5 (2016– )
A little gem of a show
30 September 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Day 5 is a post-apocalyptic TV series with the simple premise that if you fall asleep, you die. Hence the title which is a reference to the time people can stay awake without dying.

The characters in the show resort to all kinds of ways to keep themselves awake including drug abuse, self-harm and so on. That, in itself, may put some people off, but the increasingly desperate nature of the characters makes the show as interesting and dynamic as it is.

It isn't, of course, a big budget show. However, that works in its favour in so much as a lack of effects and big stars means the focus is more on the story and the characters, which is something that is often lacking from TV shows these days.

The characters are diverse not so much in gender or ethnicity, but in morals and behaviour. What is more is that these characters are forced together by the circumstances they find themselves in, leading to some interesting dynamics and some great character moments.

Of course, it isn't just about the characters trying to stay awake. There is a meta-plot hanging over the show involving the cause of the sleep epidemic and the characters eventually search for a cure (or at least just somewhere they can sleep safely).

Given the title, I wondered how long it would be before the show introduced a macguffin to allow the characters to sleep and I wasn't disappointed. However, it was done in a far better way than most such plot devices and didn't in any way lessen the threat of falling asleep inadvertently.

All in all, I'm favourably impressed with the show. Now, at the end of season 2, we have seen quite a bit of the characters backstories and the plot has moved along rather nicely - not too slow, not too fast. It has had its humorous moments as well as its grimmer, darker times. For those interested, it is no where near as grim as The Walking Dead, for example, but it is far more enjoyable than that show has recently become and much better paced.

I would recommend it to fans of the post-apocalyptic, survivor genre. The mix of darker and lighter moments, along with the character development make it a breath of fresh air compared to some of the stale old crap we get thrown at us.

SUMMARY: Enjoyable, off-the-wall post-apocalyse tale. Good character writing and a focus on the characters rather than the plot make it a worthwhile watch for fans of this genre.
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Star Wreck: The Next Degeneration...
25 September 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I really wanted to like this show. I really did. It's been ages since Enterprise and I felt the time was ripe for a new iteration of the series. But "Oh my!" (as George Takei might say) was I in for a rather rude awakening.

Discovery is not Star Trek, It has all the trappings of Star Trek - the Federation, the Klingons, phasers, uniforms et al. But somewhere along the way, the core of what makes Star Trek, Star Trek, was tossed to the curb.

Now, people complained about Enterprise, because the crew weren't all happy campers and there was a certain amount of friction between them. Archer's single-minded pursuit of the Xindi arc draw a lot of fire. But in that show, the core values of Star Trek were always lurking, ready to remind you that there was a better way of doing things. In the end, even Archer came to that realisation.

In Discovery, however, they seem to have done away with the notion that, in the future, things will be generally better. I don't expect to sit down to watch a Star Trek show and have the main character mutiny in the first episode. Not only that, but physically assault a superior officer and, effectively start a war.

CBS, what were you thinking? That we would root for this demented character? That we would take her side in the argument and agree with her actions? Actions that, I might add, were based in just about the most flawed logic you could imagine.

The writing in this first episode was just so awful. Dialogue was in a number of places awkward and inappropriate, even anachronistic at times. Acting was reasonable, but Michelle Yeoh, usually reliable, seemed to find some of her scenes difficult and the dialogue was often stilted.

Martin-Green's main character (oddly called Michael) seemed to vary wildly in her emotional responses. Sometimes cold and Vulcan-like, as per her upbringing, and at others cracking wise and smiling broadly. Spock, she ain't. It was a much more Jekyll and Hyde performance.

Then we have the physics-schmysics writing. The Klingons trigger a massive light pulse to call in their far flung colleagues to battle. A light pulse, really? Does no one understand the limitations of the speed of light? It would take decades, if not centuries, for all the Klingons to have seen the pulse. Oh, but wait, you say, they mentioned something about subspace as well, so maybe that is what they used to summon the reserves. If so, why the light at all. But it isn't so, because when magic Sarek telepathically connects to his psychotic ward later on, he mentions a "new star" in the heaven's, directly referencing the light pulse. Where was he? Not just a few light-minutes away, that is for sure. Utter nonsense.

Discovery is a feeble attempt at a Star Trek series. I had grave doubts when I heard Alex Kurtzman was involved in the project and now I can safely say those doubts were not unfounded. The same brush with which he, Orci and Lindeloff slavered the movie franchise has been duly applied to this show. Overly bright colours, lens flares, lack of a coherent story or dialogue, characterisations which are beyond unsubtle and a general thought in the back of your head repeatedly going "This is supposed to be Star Trek, right?"

I guess I should also mention the fact that, despite being set before the original 60's Trek, the technology looks way more advanced than anything Kirk had. For that matter, it looks better than what dear old Picard had available. The ships also look like they are some hellish hybrid of TNG and Abrams-verse. They all look out of place.

I shall persevere for a few more episodes, but the lack of engaging characters along with the total lack of anything like attention to the source material is making it a very difficult show to like.

EDIT: So I watched the following episode and it is better. So much so, in fact, that I think the pilot would have been better utilised as flashback material and this episode should have served as the pilot. Martin-Green's character is much more approachable in this episode and it feels more like Star Trek. Let's hope this trend continues.

SUMMARY: It's not your dad's Star Trek, or your Grandad's either. In fact, it isn't anyone's Star Trek. It's more like a bad rip-off of those shows. Pilot episode is bad, but it gets better.
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Mother! (2017)
A movie of Biblical pretentiousness...
20 September 2017
Warning: Spoilers
So, I'm not a fan of Aronofsky. He is clearly a man who thinks he is far cleverer than he actually is. Mother shows this faux genius for the hack that he is.

Mother is an allegorical Bible class from a man who seems to have cherry-picked a few Bible characters and stories, put them into his scriptwriting software, and danced with glee at the resulting mess.

Mother is possibly one of the most ham-fisted, "my audience is dumb, so I must not be subtle" movies I have ever seen. There is no subtlety here. Aronofsky bludgeons you about the head with his allegory (more on that later) with all the zeal of Conan the Barbarian going about a murder spree.

In fact, the movie is essentially nothing but allegory. The story is nothing but allegory. There is no real plot. Nothing that resembles reality. In fact, it resembles more of an art-house movie than an actual film for the masses. And that brings me to my current, most-hated, aspect of the movie industry.... misrepresentation.

The trailers for this film paint a horror story in which poor Jennifer Lawrence and her writer husband are assailed by strangers and things get increasingly weird and dangerous. It is not a horror movie (well, it is horrible) but you get what I mean. People going into this expecting to see a by-the-numbers scare flick will have no idea what they are getting into. They will feel cheated. They will feel misled. They will be right.

Accordingly, the scorn poured by these people on to this film cannot, in good conscience, be felt to be unfair. When you open your tub of Hagen-Dasz and find a dead rat inside, it is hard not to be outraged by the deception.

The only reason I can fathom for why Hollywood does this kind of "Bait-and-Switch" trailer/film routine is because they just want more butts on seats. They really don't care about their audience if they try to mislead them in such a way. Money is the bottom-line here.

So, misrepresentation and ham-fistedness aside, is it any good? At best, it is.... meh! You can't really judge this as you would any other film because it doesn't conform to typical film standards. There is no plot, because it isn't based in reality. There is only allegory. Oh yeah, about that...

Wikipedia defines allegory as a metaphor whose vehicle may be a character, place or event, representing real-world issues and occurrences...largely because it can readily illustrate or convey complex ideas and concepts in ways that are comprehensible or striking to its viewers, readers, or listeners.

I would put it to you that an additional footnote should be added to this description, to wit: Allegory: A literary device often employed by those who like to think themselves smarter than the rest of us but which is usually so poorly implemented as to highlight their ineptitude.

So, Darren Aronofsky, you can take you terrible allegorical Biblical nonsense with a side order of Mother Nature and the death of religion and give me my money back. If I want to see a two hour "Look at what I made!" I'll visit my sister's house and let her small children show me the delights of fingerpainting. Truth is, that'd be a lot more fun, and probably way more "artistic" than this movie.

SUMMARY: Misrepresented nonsense. Brings a new meaning to the term "Bible Thumping". More pretentiously thin gruel served up as a main course of a film. Really not worth your time, or money.
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Transformers: Lame-Ass Money Grab in Disguise...
17 September 2017
Warning: Spoilers
However, it is only a very thin disguise.

No attempt has been made in this movie to give it even the flimsiest of coherent story lines. Knights, Nazis and some serious butchery of the Transformers nature all combine to make a movie that is nothing more than noise and light.

Of course, no one really expects there to be much of a story. The Transformers movies have always been about Michael Bay's over-indulgence of his own fantasies rather than making a decent movie. Action is the best you can expect from these, but here, there isn't even the feeblest of pretences of trying to make anything more.

Bay's trademarks of mindless action, combined with the truly bizarre (and downright borderline racist) ethnicity foisted on the Transformers combine to make a thoroughly disagreeable viewing experience. Remember when George Lucas was roundly (and rightly) condemned for Jar Jar Binks thinly veiled Uncle Tom routine? Yet somehow Bay gets away with almost the same sort of crap with every Transformers movie.

You can't really expect much of a supposed grown man who names his favourite camera the "Bayhem", I suppose.

More so than the previous franchise movies, this one tries for a considerable amount of comic levity. However (I'm using that word a lot here) the humour is extremely forced and lame and falls flat most of the time. It is as if the only exposure to comedy that the writer had was watching Three stooges re-runs and listening to the playground jokes of small, immature, children. There are a LOT of Transformer pratfalls, racially suspect humour and sexual innuendo that leave you in no doubt that Bay is involved.

Perhaps most insulting, though, is the attempt about an hour or so in to convince the viewer that the Transformers have been on Earth throughout human history since the times of King Arthur. It is a lamentable choice that seems as shoehorned in as it sounds. A feeble pretext that serves as an excuse for more Bay action nonsense that is never referenced at all before in the franchise. Bay retconning his own nonsense.

All in all, the movie is an exercise in endurance that never rewards its viewer's time investment. It is beyond shallow, with a tonal dissonance that makes you constantly frown at what you are seeing. It paints a scene of the world at peril that it constantly undermines with its clownish buffoonery. In short, it is all over the place.

Speaking of all over the place...Mark Wahlberg here looks almost as befuddled as he did in The Happening. Since it seems that this franchise is the highlight of his career, you can't blame him for continuing to do these movies.

As for what Anthony Hopkins is doing in this turkey, I have no idea. I hope he was recompensed adequately for his time. Perhaps Bay hoped his presence would add a measure of gravitas to the film. If so, then Bay sure went out of his way to ruin that with everything else.

SUMMARY: Complete nonsense. A story that Looney Tunes wouldn't even entertain. Humour straight from Bay's inner eight-year old. Essentially Michael Bay discovering his "excess" knob went up to 11. A big pile of nothing that is embarrassing to watch. Avoid.
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Pirates of the Caribbean 5: Dead Inside
12 September 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Oh boy! Where to start...

It comes to something when you realise that the best and most lively (and therefore worthwhile watching) acting comes from the people portraying the dead in this movie.

Without exception, everyone else (and especially Depp) just give low effort that makes you wonder if they really wanted to be there. Whether that is the actors or the director's fault is not readily apparent, but what is apparent is that it is lacking. Severely.

Dead Men Tell No Tales is shell of a movie, put together from parts that the writers think will be great, but without taking any time to think if they should be there at all. Thus, we get bloated action sequences that attempt to one-up the previous Pirates movies, but which suffer from the same deplorable "Too much of a good thing" that now plagues the Fast and Furious franchise.

It isn't as bad as the previous outing but it shows that it is struggling. Javier Bardem tries his best as the villain of the piece and, as I mentioned, being one of the "dead" characters in the movie, stands out from the rest by virtue of that fact. But the others...

I'm also unsure if Orlando Bloom just didn't want to be in this movie. Was he strong-armed contractually into what is little more than a cameo role along with Keira Knightley, or did the writers think that leaving those two characters out and bringing in two almost identical replacements would be a good idea? Will the new pair replace them in future outings? Are Bloom and Knightley just done with the franchise? Is this the Pirates equivalent of Star Trek The Next Generation?

If so, then swapping out two of the old characters for near identical replacements and making up some hokum to tie them into the story is a real slap in the face to the franchise's fans. Hey everyone! We heard you like a young couple in your Pirates film, so we put a young couple in to replace the young couple we used to have that grew old and demanded too much money/couldn't be bothered anymore/saw how bad the movies were becoming. Enjoy!

It is all rather cynical and obvious. They should have stopped after the third film and just left it as it was. But no, they churned out a fourth (awful) movie, and now a fifth. But don't despair! The end credits not-so subtly promise a sixth outing, so maybe that will be good...right? Right?

Okay, enough disappointment! I'm off to watch The Dark Tower next! That'll be a big improvement, right? Right?

SUMMARY: Tired rehash that has tired actors tiredly rehashing their tired characters. Tired plot. Tired story and tired action. Just tired everything, really. Only watch if you are really, desperately, tired.
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The Return of Xander Cringe...
17 August 2017
Warning: Spoilers
So, there are many and varied problems with this movie. Firstly, it doesn't know if it should take itself seriously, or just ham everything up. The result of this indecision is a movie that can sometimes be funny, but at others just cringe-inducingly bad.

Vin Diesel seems to have a love-affair with movies that horny teenage boys will like and, honestly, it is becoming increasingly embarrassing to watch. We all remember the "action heroes" of 80's movies that just refuse to acknowledge they can't cut it anymore and continue to pump out straight-to-video crap. Diesel isn't there yet and won't be for a long time, but it isn't hard to imagine him one day falling into the same trap as the likes of Steven Seagal.

The Return of Xander Cage (TRoXC) is a movie that would feel right at home alongside the movies such as Half Past Dead and Out for a Kill. It's trivial, it's dumb and very clearly aimed at audiences for whom quality is not a consideration. The movie exists entirely to showcase its star and little else.

The characterisations are bad, the acting is definitely non-Kosher, and the action beyond ludicrous at times. It is not even enough to simply switch your brain off for this one. You have to have it surgically removed if you want to get anything out of this movie.

No, really! Because without a brain, you can totally believe that a motorcycle will continue to run under water and behave just like a jetski. With a brain, it just looks like what it is...stupid.

In conclusion, I hate movies that are aggressively dumb and this makes even Diesel's later Fast and Furious outings look smart by comparison.

SUMMARY: Dumber than a bag of hammers. Cringe-inducing acting and dialogue. A Vin Diesel vehicle that crashed and burned in the worst possible way. Well worth avoiding!
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