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Men in Black: International (2019)
Here come the Men In Black?
'Men In Black: International (2019)' doesn't have the charisma of Will Smith or pre-'Men In Black 3 (2012)' Tommy Lee Jones, the chemistry between those two stars or the charm of Barry Sonnenfeld's direction and world-building. Indeed, it's not so much 'MIB' as 'generic action sci-fi'. Still, it's not bad, by any means; if you divorce it of its franchise, it's probably even better. It's a competent, generally enjoyable film with solid performances and a solid story. There are some fun set-pieces, along with the occasional bit of inspired banter, and the central mystery is fairly well handled. Of course, the final 'reveal', if you will, is quite predictable, but that's primarily because it's quite cliché. In fact, the flick does a good job of keeping you on your toes throughout and could have, theoretically, unfolded in a number of ways - most of which would probably have been more interesting, to be fair. However, the villain's ultimate plan has a few 'holes', if you will, and lacks weight overall, feeling like it needs a bit of expansion to both make more sense (primarily in terms of motivation and time-scale) and have a greater impact. The humour also sometimes seems a little off-brand, pushing passed harmless innuendo and heading into darker territory; I mean, there's literally a gag involving what's, essentially, a rape. Typically, though, the piece plays as the buddy-comedy you'd expect. It doesn't do a lot to develop its world (it also seems to misunderstand the need for, or appropriate use of, the 'neuralyzer') and it's pretty much devoid of the prior titles' immigration allegories and imaginative imagery. Generally, it feels fairly generic. Still, it's quite enjoyable when it gets going. After a rushed first act, it moves at a decent pace and includes some interesting ideas. It manages to set itself apart from its predecessors with an intrigue-based plot and a distinct, if less interesting, style. Surely, that's better than a pale imitation or, worse, remake of 'Men In Black (1997)'? Like I said, it's entertaining enough. It's not quite 'MIB', but it's not bad. 6/10
Sometimes Always Never (2018)
Difficult to categorise but enjoyable enough.
'Sometimes Always Never (2019)' is a bit of an oddity, I suppose, because of its combination of mundanity and quirkiness. It tells a grounded - though, ever-so-slightly absurdist - story with a real emotional weight to it, often with genuine subtlety but more frequently with a strange sort of passivity, and tends to toe the line between comedy and drama to the point that a distinction between the two isn't really worth making. It's not like it's particularly unfocused or haphazard, however, as it certainly feels calculated. Yet, even in its almost articulated unwillingness to conform to convention, there's a sort of intangible sense that it doesn't quite know how odd it is. It's exactly what it wants, and needs, to be. As you can tell, it's a fairly difficult experience to categorise. All in all, though, it's an enjoyable one. It has a compelling central theme and a nice set of main characters, even if the former isn't fleshed out as much as you'd like thanks to a somewhat baggy mid-section. The tone of the thing also fluctuates a little. Usually, it balances the serious with the silly, making sure that both do a decent job of developing character, but there are some moments that make you wish the movie would make its mind up as to whether or not its world is actually 'heightened' (which could be pushed further, if that is the case). It sometimes sounds overly 'written', too; this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the sequences where you actually notice the writing pale in comparison to the ones where you don't. I'll also say that, while its well directed overall, there are some visual stylistic choices that I don't think paid off. Of course, these issues don't prevent the flick from being generally entertaining. It's somewhat endearing, with great performances and (from what came through in the final result) a good screenplay. It's not perfect, or indeed overly satisfying, and its odd tone - or general 'status', I guess - does make it a bit difficult to get a handle on. Still, it's a good effort that nicely tells a personal, rather unique story. 6/10
Bee Movie (2007)
Never mind the meme, this sucks.
'Bee Movie (2007)' is just so weird. Whether you're looking at it from the top-down, in terms it of being a viewing experience, or from the bottom-up, film analysis style, it's just downright bizarre. The conceit of the thing is, essentially, "but what if bees..?". That's it. That's, basically, all there is to it; there's no real plot, characters or theme. Of course, the feature famously started out as a joke from Seinfeld to Spielberg, a joke which didn't garner a laugh so much as an unexpected green light. This perhaps goes some way in explaining why the thing feels so incomplete: it was never a fully formed idea to begin with. There are moments where you think you know what the movie wants to be, which is a story that could revolve - quite cleanly, I'll add - around the idea of 'changing your society, not your dreams', but then it will shift gears entirely. There are several strange plot-lines seemingly plastered on top of the more natural initial one. These famously include a trial against humanity and a pseudo inter-species romance but the's also an oft-forgotten third act involving (ostensibly) the end of the world, a flower heist, a just off-screen murder (or severe crippling), a pilotless plane, the reveal that cows - and presumably every other animal species - are also sentient and articulate (which makes you wonder why the speaking bee thing was such a big - though, quickly quite little - deal) and the neat completion of Barry's pretty much unspoken, not-so-much-as-even-implied dreams of being both a high-flying 'jock' and a blood-sucking lawyer. Seriously, the thing is a mess. It didn't have to be, but it is. It's so peculiar that all you can do is just sort of sit back, almost slack-jawed, and watch the oddity play out in front of you. I will say that there are occasionally a couple of pulpy moments that come very close to working. The movie is never boring, particularly, but it's never entertaining, either. It's only engaging as a kind of increasingly perplexing train wreck. Sure, you'll probably keep watching, but you won't necessarily like what you see. The flick isn't funny, either. Often, you know that what's happening is supposed to be humourous - I mean, it must be - but it just isn't and it often lacks even the basic joke construction required to identify it as such. It doesn't help that most of the humour comes from bee puns, which are barely jokes to begin with. These are so over-abundant, especially in the first act, that I think the writers got stuck in 'pun mode'; I mean, the movie literally makes a point of having its characters say the word 'be' - as well as other, longer words containing that syllable - as often as it possibly can. This all culminates in what's possibly the worst scene in the picture: an interview between Barry and 'Bee Larry King' in which the former explains to the audience that there's a human with the same name as the latter, sans 'Bee', who looks, sounds and acts just like him, before he then goes on to name-drop 'Bee Ghandi' and 'Bee Jesus' (among others). What is that? The other humour comes from being as relatable as possible (like, almost a cringe-worthy amount) but insect-based or from being overly referential. There's also a lot of 'edgy' innuendo and generally darker, more inappropriate or 'tone-deaf' stuff (like a late-game gag, presented in apparent earnestness, about a suicide pact). In any case, the jokes aren't really jokes on most occasions. Having Ray Liotta turn up as himself on a pot of honey, then appear in court equipped with his Emmy for 'special guest appearance' on ER (a reference that was already two-years-old when this came out) is not a joke. Neither is that whole 'Bee Larry King' bit, which epitomises everything wrong with the humour in the piece. I don't mean to go on about it but it's just so bad. Also, Winnie the Pooh is in this. Yeah, they tranq him. Why's that funny? Because it's Winnie the Pooh? Oh, and if Winnie the Pooh is knocking about, why are the humans so worried about talking bees? I digress, I know, but that's what this thing does to me. It's just so utterly, utterly bizarre. It's not funny, it's not cohesive and it's just not good. 4/10
There's this quite disconcerting trend within Hollywood to present victims of abuse as villains, and having their tragic pasts be the specific reasons for their present misdeeds, which is made more troublesome since these films go to great lengths to make their characters properly 'evil' - if somewhat sympathetic - in order to allow for a response somewhere along the lines of "yeah, their childhood was messed up but it doesn't excuse this". In reality, victims of abuse are far more likely to be abused again then they are to turn into psychopathic killers, whether or not they suffer long-term damage. Obviously, there are some cases where people perform vile actions and attribute them to their prior suffering - an excuse which, ultimately, doesn't fly - but these are far rarer than our media would have you believe. This issue is, essentially, at the heart of 'Ma (2019)', as the flick itself doesn't quite know how to treat its eponymous antagonist. Ultimately, it does portray her as a villain, despite some attempts to make her sympathetic. However, it doesn't portray her as a villain particularly well as, even though you're always guessing what she's up to, that's only because it doesn't seem like she even knows. The picture itself flip-flops from presenting her as conflicted but possibly well-meaning to straight-up conniving, sometimes between consecutive scenes. Her character motivation is all over the place, ever in flux until it really escalates from zero to ten in a matter of minutes. This problem actually plagues a number of individuals on screen, even leading to a rather (unintentionally) humourous bar-set scene, and makes for a strange viewing experience. The majority of the movie consists of teens getting drunk in Ma's basement, with the occasional false jump scare or odd creepy moment tossed in to make sure the audience stays awake. There never really seems to be a sense of true escalation, until there suddenly is, and there isn't a proper feeling of causation, either. Of course, scenes tend to flow into one another and, broadly, the whole thing makes sense. It's just that certain plans feel a bit nonsensical and some characters are a tad superfluous, as well as oddly interacted with. The feature doesn't really have a grasp on its themes, either. I mean, they're there sort of under the surface but they don't really come to fruition - despite being obvious - and the final moment of, I suppose, catharsis feels unearned because it isn't built up to in any significant fashion. Generally, the movie isn't boring. It's never exactly entertaining, though, and it only engages in the most basic of ways. It's not terrible, just sort of average. 5/10
Late Night (2019)
Late is better than never.
'Late Night (2019)' is, essentially, a rom-com between platonic co-workers. While it's obviously not a romance, its framework basically mirrors that of the tried-and-tested genre, right down to its 'dual-protagonist' struggle, and the lead characters' arcs are both filtered through the central friendship. That friendship remains slightly more professional than it usually would, in any genre, but this is purposeful and it makes for a great catalyst for change. I don't mean to suggest that the film is generic. Taking the focus of the piece and placing it on two independently strong women is, sadly, unique enough. Of course, the flick has plenty of other merits. Its rom-com coding, if you will, is quite inspired and its handling of relevant social issues, which are prevalent in the industries that this both specifically targets and generally reflects (and thus can't be 'tacked on'), is refreshing and honest. It's also quite funny at times and, generally, charming at others. On the whole, its a solid entry into its wider genre. It feels like a natural step in the right direction, one that knows exactly how seriously to take itself at every single moment. The performances are great, too. Some of its emotional moments don't hit home as hard as they possibly could and it is, broadly, quite predictable. Still, it's enjoyable, heartfelt and fairly resonant, to boot. 7/10
Dark Phoenix (2019)
Doesn't stand out so much as blend in, but it's a solid entry in its series.
The lacklustre trailers, the fact that it's - essentially - a remake of 'X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)', and the generally poor quality of 'X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)' had my expectations at an all time low. However, 'X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)' is a pleasant surprise as it's better than I thought it would be, even if it isn't exactly a stand-out entry in its series. There's perhaps less action than you'd anticipate but this leads to a film that's more focused on its characters and their relationships, even if neither of these aspects are particularly well rounded. Plus, when the action comes, it's as energetic and exciting as you'd hope, with a focus on tangible stunt-work over CGI 'beams in the sky' - though, the latter do come at certain points. Still, despite its decent ideas and nicely portrayed characters, it doesn't really get out of second - or maybe third - gear. As such, it's only ever so entertaining, even though it's doing - ostensibly - everything right. It falls victim to some of the more grating clichés of its genre, too. These aren't as bad as in some similar features, though, simply because they aren't as focused on. The flick also messes up the franchise's timeline, which was essentially 'fixed' - if confusing - prior to this. As an ending to the series, it doesn't do everything you might hope. It doesn't even nail its own ending, really: it leaves numerous threads unanswered in a way that feels unattended rather than ambiguous. In the end, however, this is a decently enjoyable superhero story. It feels single-minded (in a good way), if edited down, and is a solid send-off for the series, even if it's not a spectacular one. 6/10
As dumb as they come but twice as fun.
I guess this is what people mean when they say "so bad, it's good". In reality, the phrase simply means "dumb but fun" because if the film is good, then it, inherently, can't be bad. I suppose the phrase could also refer to a bad film that one enjoys regardless of its sub-par nature, but even this is slightly flawed logic: art is subjective and if you think a film is good, then it is good (there are no 'guilty pleasures'). In any case, John Woo's 'Face/Off (1997)' is an expertly-made piece of 'B-movie' entertainment, one with a well-written script that may be silly but is only smartly so. It's as 'schlocky' as it is precise. That is to say that it's as dumb as they come but it's twice as fun. Every moment feels hand-crafted to be just as over-the-top as it needs to, sublimely toeing the line between self-serious and almost satirical, and the overall result is undeniably a blast. From the extended, smoky set-pieces to the balls-to-the-wall but emotive performances to Woo's ostentatious auteur signatures, the picture just flies by and keeps you smiling, essentially, every step of the way. Travolta as Cage and Cage as Travolta is as iconic and complex a cinematic pairing as there has ever been and it is pulled off impeccably. I'd even go so far as to say this is Cage's best performance, as he excels in both of his roles. Travolta is fine, but he stands out far more when he's in his villainous position. Still, the characters, quite remarkably, always come before the actors (the protagonist always seems like the protagonist, no matter who is playing him and vice versa). Indeed, there are actually some pretty intelligent ideas at play here and the way in which the narrative undercuts itself at certain points really is inspired. At the same time, though, the plot itself doesn't necessarily hold up to all that much scrutiny outside of its basic beats and requires a considerable amount of suspension of disbelief even within its own world. At the end of the day, I wouldn't have it any other way. This is a surprisingly good feature that takes the best elements of its disparate aspects and mashes them together rather successfully. It's entertaining. 7/10
Shi mian mai fu (2004)
Looks the part but doesn't feel it.
Even though 'House Of Flying Daggers (2004)', essentially, has a female protagonist, it doesn't do a great job in terms of her representation. She's purported to be the baddest of the bad, the best of the best, a blind girl who can still kick butt and take names, but she's always being saved by men - despite handling herself fairly well in the moments leading up to her rescues - and never has any real agency. Both male leads attempt to rape her, too, which is made all the more disturbing once you realise that they're supposed to be genuine romantic interests. Even outside of these issues, the film isn't exactly riveting. It takes a number of detours simply to slot in superfluous, if well-choreographed, fight-scenes and doesn't really amount to much other than its final confrontation - which doesn't need as much build up as it gets. The plot is also overly complex, featuring an incredible number of late-game twists which pile up on each other and don't all stand up to scrutiny. Most people talk about the visuals when they praise the piece; it's colourful and feels almost mythic. However, these alone don't make for a compelling viewing experience. It isn't really engaging and you don't really care about the characters. It may look the part, but that's about it. 5/10
Loud but voiceless.
'Godzilla: King Of The Monsters (2019)' doesn't quite know what it wants to be, stuck somewhere between 'Godzilla (2014)' and 'Pacific Rim (2013)'. The tone is serious but there are several 'jokes' (which barely register as such), plot is nonsensical but played-straight, and the action is loud and silly but it's all shot at night and in the rain (so it can't really be seen). The end result is just a bit bland and forgettable. It's perfectly serviceable in, essentially, every way and is, therefore, utterly unremarkable. It's just safe and predictable blockbuster filmmaking; it hits every beat you expect it to. It does do something semi-interesting with a few of its human characters, which is manifested in a pseudo-twist that goes some way in making the piece more engaging. There's a decent underlying theme that drives the flick's core dynamic but it should have been focused on more; it feels firmly subtextual and the three players involved feel lost in a mire of expendable scientists, soldiers and plot-points. Still, it's appreciated and goes a long way in making the second act more engaging than it otherwise would have been. Indeed, it's the human stuff that keeps you watching. The monster fighting might be good spectacle when you can see it, but it isn't really done justice within the wider piece; it's, basically, a 'save the world from terrorists' story but with Godzilla and company replacing a bomb. While this could have been intriguing, it isn't done justice; it almost feels like 'Transformers (2007)' with flesh instead of steel. As I mentioned, most of the fights are difficult to see and they're also quite repetitive - most of them end with some sort of 'last minute save'. This makes them difficult to engage with, even if the odd shot shown from ground-level convincingly conveys their scale. I know that most people just want to see Godzilla fighting foes and taking names. So would I, if it were done properly. Here, however, it isn't. The flick isn't terrible, it's just fine. It's entertaining enough when it gets going but it does run out of steam long before it actually, and rather abruptly, ends. Some characters are compelling and have decent dynamics, the visual effects are great and there's a pretty fantastic scene set to the original Toho tune. However, the experience is about as forgettable as they come. It's no 'Pacific Rim (2013)', a film with serviceable characters but stand-out action. Annoyingly, it could have been. 6/10
Total Recall (2012)
We can remake it for you wholesale.
'Total Recall (2012)' is just a humourless, heavily watered down version of Verhoeven's classic. In terms of its construction, it's perfectly competent - aside from its use of lens flares, the absolutely insane amount of which would make even J.J. Abrams cringe. It's just characterless, though. It really is as bland as it could possibly be. It hits all the beats you'd expect but changes a couple of them just enough to remove them of their impact, while also unnecessarily gutting the piece of its most interesting visual aspect: mars. Perhaps it's trying to be closer to the book, but it is clearly influenced heavily by 'Total Recall (1990)' and includes a number of film-specific references. It also glosses over some things, seemingly in the assumption that its audience is already familiar with them. Therefore, its changes feel especially pointless because they make the experience worse; it's different just for the sake of being different. Of course, if it were exactly the same as the original it would be superfluous, too, but - in theory - it would have a chance of being close in quality to it. Look, the flick isn't absolutely terrible. There's some decent action and the acting is, generally, alright. It also moves quite quickly - though, not quite as quickly as you'd perhaps like. Overall, however, the picture doesn't do enough to make you care, goes overboard in expressing its themes (which aren't captured as concisely or as comprehensively as they could have been) and is, generally, just dull. It's not particularly enjoyable and it isn't doing anything new. 4/10
Total Recall (1990)
See you at the party.
'Total Recall (1990)' is both an interesting, layered, concept-driven science-fiction film and a squishy, one-liner-filled, Arnold Schwarzenegger action romp, essentially, in equal measure. It's concerned just as much with its special effects and filled-to-the-brim squibs as it is with its twisty narrative and heady ideas. This contrast is, in practice, cohesion. It's what sets the piece apart from almost all others in its genre. It's enjoyable on all levels. It provides breathless, balls-to-the-wall action and an intriguing, ultimately fulfilling narrative filled with well-rounded characters and genuinely clever concepts. The world is incredibly creative and the tone is spot on, in typical Verhoeven fashion. The characters are also great, though, and the way they interact with the central conceit is brilliant. I won't spoil the main twist of the piece but it really is fantastic, something that you'll still be pondering - as a concept - long after the credits have rolled. On the whole, this is a really great film. It's tangible, exciting, inventive and, generally, just entertaining. 8/10
They'll fix you. They always do.
Much ado is made about the movie's 'PG-13' status and, indeed, it does impact the piece. However, it isn't just the original's violence - and, I suppose, accompanying sadism - that this remake misses out on. It's the charm, characters, world and tone. What was once a broadly satirical, grimy retro-future is now a blandly sleek, big-budget metropolis. Of course, 'RoboCop (2014)' tries to include some satire but it's all, pretty much exclusively, relegated to the over-done 'Novak Element' segments, which attempt to modernise the first's brief and advert-interrupted news segments. The most interesting - and, indeed, entertaining - ideas are found here, however, as the piece attempts to update its target by making Jackson's right-wing TV-personality hilariously biased and by focusing not on the corporate but on the political, with emphasis placed on legislation and the fact that RoboCop is a political ploy. Still, the tone in every scene outside of the studio is as straightforward as they come and is, honestly, quite dull. The bones of the thing are basically the same as Verhoeven's but the skin is much baggier; it hits the same beats but takes a lot longer to do it, muddying the water with unnecessary elements that are interesting but, ultimately, relatively unexplored. The action also feels weightless, is often difficult to see and generally just lacks impact. The feature just feels generic. I don't think it has anything to distinguish itself from other, similar fare - despite, of course, its name and brand recognition. Take that away and you have a serviceable sci-fi but not much more. It isn't awful but it isn't particularly good, either. It's rather forgettable, to be honest. Plus, and I know this goes without saying, remaking 'RoboCop (1987)' is about as necessary as saving Alex Murphy's fleshy right hand. 5/10
Dead or alive, you're going with him.
'RoboCop (1987)' feels quite unique, mainly because it puts a decent twist on the tried-and-tested 'revenge' genre, while also burying it beneath a bunch of wider sci-fi conceits and a broadly satirical tone. Indeed, solving ones own murder is an interesting idea. Though the flick doesn't focus wholly on that concept, it's certainly one of its best aspects. It manages to juggle its contrasting elements, which include a somewhat fluctuating - or, at least, unconventional - tone, remarkably well, ultimately feeling like a cohesive product. It stands out from the crowd primarily thanks to its style. It's not overly serious but it doesn't write itself off as a joke, either. There are some moments of pointed satire that are actually pretty funny - as is the somewhat meta idea that, in the future, even our movies are broken up with commercials - and some of the violence is so over the top that it borders on silly. Only some of it, though, because there are segments, such as Murphy's initial murder, which appropriately convey a real sense of sadism. Many people only talk about the violence when they talk about this flick, which does it a disservice. The retro-future world is interesting, the action is satisfying, the story is well paced (for the most part) and the characters are, pretty much, fully realised. The arc that RoboCop goes through is a small one, but it's tangible and satisfying nonetheless. The piece does a great job of smoothly transitioning from Murphy to RoboCop - who are, essentially, two separate but intrinsically linked entities - and getting us to care about the latter by allowing us time with the former. Plus, it makes sure to establish its rules early on, allowing for some revelations later that feel wholly natural. The focus on, essentially, corporate espionage alongside mechanical police work might seem strange, but it works wonders; the way the two stories intersect gets increasingly satisfying. In the end, this is a great piece of sci-fi film-making that knows exactly what it is. 7/10
Gets an A, even if it doesn't give an F.
'Booksmart (2019)' is a coming-of-age comedy that, essentially, tells us not to judge a book by its cover, that no-one is better than anyone else and that you should try to enjoy life while you can. Like so many in the genre, it also focuses on a strong central friendship. The difference is that, here, it's a sisterhood - something sadly not seen too often in cinema, let alone comedy. That sisterhood is palpably rendered by its two leads, who are both incredibly likeable - and nuanced - in their roles. When it comes down to it, the film feels like the sort of 'R-rated' teen-comedy they don't really make any more pushed firmly into modern day; it's progressive in pretty much every aspect. It's also consistently entertaining. There's never a dull moment, as it somehow crams everything it wants to achieve into its slim frame. Indeed, the jokes come fast and they come funny. It's laugh-out-loud, at times, and should keep you chuckling throughout. Even when you're not, you'll probably be smiling. That's because it's just charming. The characters and world feel rounded and realistic but also ever-so-slightly heightened and absurdist. Practically everyone on-screen seems like a 'real' person - or, at least, one fully grounded within the feature. It's relatable, honest and, even, heartfelt. It's trying to say several things and it ends up saying most of them rather well. It's always enjoyable, too. It's probably one of the best examples of its genre. 7/10
A decent entry in an underserved genre.
'Rocketman (2019)' initially seems like a refreshing step in the right direction for the most consistently restrictive genre there is: the music biopic. Its fairly unique presentation as an actual musical leads to some entertaining sequences and the fact that it's frank about its protagonist's troubles is certainly welcome - especially coming off the back of its recent unavoidable comparison, 'Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)'. However, this is soon all revealed to, essentially, be nothing more than a veneer. The foundations of the feature are as rigid as ever, forcing the whole thing to follow the predictable beats of its predictable genre practically to the letter. It's actually quite remarkable how similar the lives of most music biopics' subjects are. Still, this isn't an excuse. The formulaic plot that this follows isn't just sub-par because we've seen it before, either. It spends too much time on John's childhood without really saying anything significant - at least, anything that couldn't be conveyed in a single scene or, even, line later on - and it seriously rushes the third act, placing a lot of seemingly important stuff in an annoying 'text ending'. It's frustrating because the style is quite appealing, it just far outweighs the substance and it didn't have to. The musical moments are entertaining and it doesn't feel like John was interfering with the narrative in any way - in fact, it seems as though it would be quite painful for him to watch. However, the musical segments don't do anything significant for the plot, either just harmlessly slotting into scenes or replacing montages where they'd usually be found anyway, and the honesty - which isn't typically absent from good biopics - doesn't do anything, really, other than make the movie feel a little downbeat. This is, again, thanks to the rushed ending; the majority of the film is dedicated to John's substance abuse and self-love troubles but these are all resolved incredibly quickly, if somewhat satisfyingly. I think the main reason that the flick gets away with as much as it does is the performances. Everyone on screen is great, especially Egerton (which is, incidentally, another cliché of the genre). It's also fantastic that he did his own singing. Generally, the experience is quite entertaining, too. It does wear a little thin, though, especially when you realise how closely it conforms to the tropes of its genre. It's just frustrating, really, because there are flashes of a much better film in here; the first few moments set up something quite counter-intuitive and potentially great. It's not great, though. Of course, it's not bad, either. It's a decent entry in an underserved genre. 6/10
I wish I could say it was better but... wait, I'm not going to waste a wish on that.
'Aladdin (2019)' is the first of Disney's live-action remakes I've seen. While it isn't bad, I will admit that it does seem a little pointless. It makes a few changes to the original story, mostly surrounding the character of Jasmine, and obviously reinterprets things through its own lens, but the foundation remains the same. Its superficial switch-ups seem just that: superficial. The stuff surrounding Jasmine is a nice touch, though. The film itself starts off pretty slow. It's not terrible, but it stumbles a bit and doesn't pick itself back up until the Genie is introduced. Of course, you do have to adjust to Smith's larger-than-life interpretation of the character - an issue that the 1992 feature also suffered with, albeit with a different actor. You have to adjust to the CGI, too, which slips into the Uncanny valley every now and then. When you've done this, however, the flick becomes rather entertaining, dipping into pseudo rom-com territory to pleasing effect. This portion of the piece is good enough that the somewhat lesser third act doesn't dampen the experience. I think this is primarily because it sees the successful completion of several previously established character arcs. Most of these are believable and rather fulfilling, though a couple seem to be somewhat artificial in the wider context of their characters. In the end, though, the movie is fairly fun. To be honest, the best thing about it is the music, which sticks in your head long after the credits have rolled. Most of the songs aren't new, though, which does further compound the fact that the whole thing is rather unnecessary. Also, some of the musical sequences are ripped straight out of the first 'Aladdin (1992)', almost shot for shot. Still, an entertaining time isn't to be balked at. I wish I could say it was better but... wait, I'm not going to waste a wish on that. 6/10
Enter the Dragon (1973)
The seminal martial arts movie.
'Enter The Dragon (1973)' is essentially, the seminal martial arts movie. It was the first of its kind produced by an American studio, which actually makes its quality even more impressive. It kicked off the 'Kung fu craze' of the seventies and its influence is unmissable still to this day. It's easy to see why it's so fondly remembered. The final third, marked by a famously fantastic sequence in which Lee takes on around fifty foes in quick succession, is incredibly entertaining. It's also home to some iconic imagery and quotes. This is where the martial arts really shine through, even though they've been on display periodically throughout the piece. The choreography is slower than some later fare but it's just as, if not more, impactful; it focuses on technique, timing and, in some cases, brutality. It often uses the unique, perhaps seemingly counter-intuitive technique of consistently keeping Lee in frame. This means his opponents, essentially, all come from off screen, rushing in for a brief (attempt at an) attack before being put down just as swiftly. However, the incredibly long takes, stylish long-lens zooms and easy-to-read choreography make for a clarity of action seldom seen since and a sense of isolation for our powerful but out-numbered hero. When it ends, this final movement is what you remember most. It leaves you feeling energised, with a smile on your face. The flick isn't perfect, though. It's actually rather slow, setting up its premise pretty promptly but spending too much time with secondary characters to feel properly pacy. It's never exactly boring but almost seems as though it could have been tightened up a bit. The story, at large, isn't the most compelling either, being rather vague and clearly just an 'excuse' - if you will - for the picture's fight-sequences (and, to an extent, philosophy). Having said that, the characters are all interesting enough, if a little undefined, and the setting is fairly enigmatic. It's not like the first half dampens the feature's overall effect, either. It's enjoyable, well-crafted and iconic. The fight scenes really are terrific. 7/10
Jonah Hex (2010)
Seventy minutes too long.
'Jonah Hex (2010)' is a bit of an odd one: it's barely even a film. I mean, it's just so haphazardly slapped together that it honestly doesn't feel like a narrative experience, even though it obviously has a narrative and is, like everything else in life, an experience. Thankfully, it's mercifully short. It comes in at around seventy minutes, without credits. However, it's still seventy minutes too long. It bizarrely rushes over its initially interesting set-up - in an animated, video-game cut-scene fashion, no less - and removes any possible central character arc in the process, putting us slap-bang in the least interesting portion of its protagonist's life and starting up a clichéd 'save the world' plot seemingly just so that he has something to do. That something is little more than shoot people who make remarks about his slightly scarred face, which doesn't really make for an interesting journey. Of course, there is an element of belated revenge here, but you just don't care enough about any of the characters to care about any of the vengeance being carried out. Megan Fox's character is literally only in the flick to be kidnapped in the third act. She has no discernible side-plot, character arc or personality; her only scenes are those which set up her brief connection with Hex, which is strong enough that he doesn't want to see her die, and those which set her up as a 'damsel in distress'. Sure, she gets a couple of shots in during the finale but, generally, her representation is not good and she's the only real female character (aside from Hex's fleetingly seen, immediately 'fridged' wife who has no dialogue). The film is choppily edited throughout. Individual scenes are difficult to follow and the overall 'story' seems more like a collection of these scenes than anything else. There's no sense of escalation or, even, pacing. Plus, there are also a few sequences that straight-up just don't make sense, lacking even the most basic information required for suspension of disbelief. This is probably because the world is never properly defined. Neither is the tone. If they were trying for 'tongue in cheek' as some lines suggest, then they failed. Everything seems so serious but is so shoddy that it can never be taken so. It lacks logic, it lacks effort and it lacks charm. It's not long enough to be truly, bone-achingly boring and its not coherent enough to be annoying but it's barely even a movie. It can't be engaged with on any real level. 2/10
The Scarecrow (1920)
'The Scarecrow (1920)' is just a ton of fun. It's charming, whimsical and entertaining. The story is simple: Keaton and his on-screen brother vie for the attention of their neighbour, running afoul of an angry dog, an angry dad and each other in the process. However, this simple set-up really is just that: a set-up. Of course, it's this that provides the narrative pay-off, which is actually quite satisfying, but it certainly feels secondary to the flick's energetic skits. For me, this works, primarily because the narrative is still strong enough that you care about what's happening. The skits themselves are really great, too, and sort of feel unique among Keaton's work, in a way. The first segment of the piece focuses on the wacky contraptions the central brothers have built into their single-room home, with some impressive choreography showing off each element's dual purpose. The second is dedicated to a chase with perhaps the most talented dog I've ever seen on screen, one who can climb ladders and generally keep up with Keaton every step of the way. I hope that he was treated well on set, though (I see no compelling evidence - at least, in the film itself - to the contrary). The final segment is where the eponymous scarecrow finally comes into play, which takes things in an ever-so-slightly slower and more traditionally slapstick direction. Generally, I feel as though this is probably Keaton's best short, even if it doesn't have the wildest stunts or most complex choreography. It's energetic, enjoyable and fun. Its title-cards are quite funny, too. 8/10
Let's be cops.
'Cops (1922)' is one of Keaton's weaker shorts primarily because it isn't as charming or as funny. As such, it isn't as entertaining. It doesn't rely on 'skits' as much as his other work, even those with a relatively strong narrative, and just sort of feels like an extended chase, in a way, even when no-one is being chased. The main character makes several odd choices that don't allow him to be all that likeable. He's also a straight-up thief, as well as an inadvertent one. Don't get me wrong, though, there are several stand-out moments and the piece is generally rather enjoyable. It's ending is rushed and a little downbeat - as is the whole thing, in a way - but there's enough technical achievement and acrobatic wonder throughout to put a smile on your face. I mean, the number of people involved in its crowd sequences is staggering. I kind of wish the overall effect was a little better because there are some really strong moments here. It isn't bad but, as I said, it didn't grip me as much as Keaton's other work. 6/10
Stahelski, Reeves and company continue to escalate their excellence of craft, delivering the goods - and more - when it comes to all-out, breathtaking, wince-inducing action. Of course, 'John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (2019)' gets a little indulgent. Its action scenes, which are almost exclusively fights, seem to go on for ages, which can be a little exhausting. They're all brilliantly crafted, that's for sure, but some of them come incredibly close to outstaying their welcome, often repeating similar gags one too many times. A couple are hampered, quite significantly, by seeming sort of arbitrary in the grand scheme of things, with tenuous ties to the overarching narrative. That narrative, too, is easily the weakest of the trilogy. It doesn't necessarily feel like a 'story', as such, and isn't even resolved, really. However, it has just as much charm as its predecessors. Plus, it aptly serves as a way to get Wick from extended set-piece to extended set-piece. These are as entertaining as ever and, perhaps, even more inventive. Each sequence has a specific 'gimmick', if you will, that keeps things feeling fresh. Whether its 'gun fu', the much talked about 'dog fu' or good old-fashioned 'Kung fu' (but not 'car fu', sadly), every action scene is wonderfully unique, excellently executed and effortlessly engaging. It's all just so exciting. The highlights, for me, are an early knife-throwing sequence and a late-game two-on-one face-off. The world-building, which might not feel as natural as before but still leads to several 'cool' moments, is also a big part of what makes the flick so charming. Even if the narrative isn't hugely satisfying, the characters, lore and action certainly are. There is, of course, storytelling through action, too. The piece just puts a smile on your face, despite often being quite grisly (more so than its predecessors in some select shots). Its action is pretty much perfect and it's a ton of fun. It really is great, one of the highlights of 2019. 9/10
Something to rave about.
Comparisons to 'Trainspotting (1996)' may be easy, but they're also perhaps the fastest way of describing what this flick feels like. Make no mistake, that's a compliment. However, while 'Beats (2019)' seems steeped in the same nostalgic, alternate-coming-of-age 'fight against the system', it certainly isn't a copy of what's come before and the comparison only goes so far. That's because this deep, ironically vibrant piece takes its own cues and follows its own conceit straight to the very core, using rave culture to explore the unexpressed, somewhat inexpressible desires of its 'boxed-in' youth. In this way, its theming almost feels closer to that of 'T2: Trainspotting (2017)', as it tries to capture a forcibly failing friendship and the realisation that things will never be the same as they once were. This comparison also allows my earlier use of the term 'nostalgia' to hold a little more weight; Boyle's most recent entry looks back on the nineties in the same, albeit more overt, way that this inherently does. That's because, for all the flick's intentions of being an in-the-moment experience, it's still unavoidably a period piece and, as such, has to look back by its very nature. It does this remarkably well though, with its slight rose-tint seeming purposeful. It feels, in a way, almost like a memory. If it were to have actually released in the nineties, it would have been a different beast altogether. Perhaps then it wouldn't have seemed similar to 'Trainspotting (1996)' at all (that's the last time I'll compare the two, I promise). The piece sets itself up sort of as a slice-of-life drama, except there's immediately a driving force in the form of its central relationship. It also doesn't waste time teasing us with its focal rave. Its mix of drama and comedy becomes clear even faster. By propelling the narrative forward with a pretty fast pace, it keeps things incredibly engaging. It feels focused and full of life. It's really entertaining, to boot. It also features quite a bit of political commentary throughout, even before its premise really gets underway. This usually takes the form of televised Tony Blair speeches or protest marches taking aim at the 'Criminal Justice and Public Order Act' (essentially a 'rave ban') and it sets the scene wonderfully, both in terms of the general setting and the central conflict. The whole piece makes good use of juxtaposition and irony to really sell the reasoning behind the protest rave, putting you firmly on the side of the would-be ravers - even if they're only really going to have a good time (because, why shouldn't that be allowed?) It's not your typical 'teenage angst'-type stuff and is a good backdrop for the feature's confident but familiar friendship dynamic. This is compelling stuff, even if it hits every single beat you'd expect, which ends on a suitably bittersweet note. It's refreshingly portrayed with an unembarrassed closeness all too often balked at, as well. The feature, as a whole, is really enjoyable. It does, however, slow down considerably in its final act. When the protest rave finally starts, it just keeps going and is hampered, significantly, by an industrial-inspired, MDMA-mimicking visual sequence that's far too long and far too flashy (in the sense that it really should have come with a photo-sensitive warning). It breaks immersion, is hard to watch and, ultimately, feels pointless, an avant-garde attempt at conveying the joy of the rave that pales in comparison to the more straight-forward stuff we've just seen. After this, the film never really recovers - at least, not fully. It doesn't manage to get back to the genuine heights it had previously reached, even though it does finish off its story in an effective, almost wistful way. Generally, though, this is a great movie. If its third-act were just a little tighter, it would be nearly perfect. Still, it's fun, realistic and rather charming. It's also a little under-seen at the moment. I'd certainly recommend it. 7/10
The 'High Sign' (1921)
That's some job.
'The 'High Sign' (1921)' is one of the pieces, along with 'One Week (1920)' and 'The Scarecrow (1920)', that prove Keaton works better in short form. Essentially, it's a delight. It moves through a few different set-pieces and, most pertinently, places Keaton in the position of both bodyguard and assassin. Of course, our hero can't actually kill in cold-blood. Self-defence is a different matter, though. The finale sees him scurry about a trap-laden house as he's chased by a bunch of bad-guys, performing all number of slapstick acrobatics in the process. It also sees him, accidentally or otherwise, kill a number of his assailants - most graphically by trapping one of their heads in a door, leaving his aghast expression motionless for the duration of the piece. It's heavier stuff than usual - even when compared to earlier in the same short - but it lends to a feeling of proper consequence. The sequence is also really entertaining, featuring frenetic choreography within an impressively constructed cross-section of the booby-trapped home. The entire thing is just entertaining, really. The fast-paced gags are usually funny and, even when they're not, they're always enjoyable. The set-up is unique and the set-pieces are splendid. Plus, it isn't about Keaton trying to impress a girl again. 7/10
This time, there's no Evanescence.
'Elektra (2005)' isn't as bad as most people say. Still, it's not exactly good, either. After a slow-paced, flashback-based first act, the flick takes a pretty sharp turn into straight-up silly territory. It's relatively realistic prior to this - and its world is still somewhat grounded after - which makes the transition pretty jarring. However, it's this that really kicks things into (admittedly limited) gear, since it leads to most of the movie's ironic enjoyment. Everything is presented with a straight-face and almost everything verges on being utterly stupid - with a few late-game aspects actually tipping the scales - but there's just something oddly compelling about it all. It's entertaining to see it tick off every trope it can while pretending that it isn't exactly what everyone else knows it is. It's also harmless enough. For a mid-2000s female-led superhero film, it's actually remarkably good. Of course, there are a few of dodgy camera angles to highlight the tightest parts of the tight outfit and a couple of unnecessary on-screen kisses (including a girl-on-girl kiss that's lingered on for just a little too long, especially considering its deadly plot purpose). Still, Elektra herself tends to take charge of the situation and never even comes close to being saved by a man. Plus, there isn't actually a conventional romance - in fact, it leans more towards mother-daughter relationships. However, the overall plot is both too simple and too messy, making just enough sense that you don't question it but requiring too much thought - and too many hand-waves - to piece together properly (especially when it comes to everybody's motives). Even then, some things don't quite fit together. The action isn't terrible but it's generally uninspired, even if there are some unintentionally amusing moments. Still, there's just something sort of strangely endearing about it all. It leans heavily into its supernatural side, which is far goofier than they (presumably) expected but does set this apart from the others, of a similar age, in its genre. It also has a decent pace to it - at least, when it gets going - and isn't devoid of character, even if they're all a little flat. Look, it's far from a masterpiece. In fact, it's slightly below average, if we're being honest. It's forgettable but it's not awful. It's much better than 'Daredevil (2003)'. 4/10
The Corrupted (2019)
Worth a watch if you're into the genre.
'The Corrupted (2019)' was slipped into cinemas on the sly, released without so much as an advert, let alone any real fanfare. It's difficult to see why, really, considering that it isn't exactly the sort of thing that jumps out and grabs you - not from its title, its premise nor its poster. What I mean is that it's not like there was any real chance of it being a smash-hit if no-one even knew it was coming out. The other answer, of course, is that the studio was embarrassed of it and wanted to get it out as quietly as possible. That doesn't quite ring true, however, as there's nothing embarrassing - at all, really - about the flick. Sure, it seems like the sort of thing you'd walk in on your dad watching on Channel 4 but it's by no means a bad film. It's shot nicely, has a great cast and, when it gets going, is rather entertaining. The story, essentially, centres around a recently released convict as he attempts to reintegrate with society and reunite with the family he left behind. In practice, though, it actually spends an equal amount of time on its varying bit-players and their attempts to expose, or perpetuate, the corruption surrounding property development escalated by 2012's Olympic games. It probably has one too many focal characters and, especially in the first act, it doesn't seem to know who to settle on, often bouncing from person to person in frenetic and frustrating fashion. This issue even ricochets into individual scenes, as some early ensembles are jarringly cut seemingly so the characters get equal screen-time regardless of if they (eventually) have equal narrative value. There are also some odd focus pulls that aren't quite pulled off properly and breaks in the '180 rule' which make certain sequences seem a little amateur - as does the far too frequent audio clipping that sees the end of sentences end abruptly after an optical cut. It's a good thing, then, that the cinematography is usually spot-on, from the nicely-framed composition to the contrast-heavy lighting, and actually elevates the overall visual 'feel' of the flick. The same can be said for the acting, which is good across the board and is well above 'soap opera'-level, even when the central players get into overly-serious shouting matches. Tim Spall, especially, entertainingly chews the scenery every time he's on-screen, in contrast to Hugh Bonneville's usually more subtle - yet still menacing - demeanour. As I mentioned, it gets quite enjoyable when everything settles into place. The action is quite shaky and isn't really all that satisfying but the piece isn't focused on it so much as its consequences, which are suitably brutal and fit right in with its generally grim tone. Everyone's betraying everyone else and no-one can be trusted; it's not surprising, necessarily, but it is bleak and I think that's what the film-makers were going for. Generally, once the set-up is out of the way and the pace kicks in, it just keeps getting better. This happens later than you might expect, though. The ending is a little rushed and, perhaps, misses a step or two in terms of its internal logic but the actual climax is rather compelling, even if the whole thing is ever-so-slightly downbeat. The movie is never fantastic - in fact, it's usually just alright. However, it's fun enough, for what it is, when it finally gets going that I reckon it's worth a watch, especially if you're into the genre. 6/10