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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Mama Mia: Here We Go Again

You've got to love how Mama Mia had the title of its own sequel right there in its originating song's lyrics for decades! We already knew that Benny, Bjorn and (sometimes) Stig were masters of the pop hook but who knew they were clairvoyant too! And, yes, this is exactly the sort of film that deserves to be reviewed with as many exclamation marks as possible! Though, to spare everyone's sanity, I'll do my best to refrain from doing just that...

Mama Mia: Here We Go Again is slightly better than its predecessor - which, much to my horror, apparently came out a decade ago! - but this being a Mama Mia film that also means it's slightly worse. As this hilarious, classic review from Mark Kermode proves, Mama Mia was always about totally shattering any preconceived notions of good taste and quality; where bad became good and dumb became brilliant. From Pierce Brosnan's laugh-out-loud bad but highly spirited singing of S.O.S to Meryl Streep over-dramatizing even the most innocuous Abba songs, Mama Mia was a cheese-encrusted, amped-up, sugary, wonderfully terrible delight, all based around some of the greatest pop songs ever written. The sequel largely recaptures all of that but with some of its excesses toned down (Pierce barely sings and Meryl is all but entirely absent!) and with an unironically wonderful lead performance by the gorgeous, vivacious and effortlessly charismatic Lily James - who can really sing, to boot - it's oddly not quite as much fun as its predecessor. Whatever, though, if you loved Mama Mia even a tenth as much as I did, you'd be nuts to skip its almost-as-good-bad sequel!

The plot, for those who care about such things, is largely fairly irrelevant but here goes... The film picks up some five years after the last film and it has been one year since - gasp! - the death of Streep's Donna and her beloved daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried still doing a wonderful, if slightly more sombre job as the relative straightwoman in all this madness and again boasting by far one of the best voices in the cast), is gearing up for the grand reopening of her mother's hotel. At the same time, we flash back to Donna's early days and how she landed up living on this idyllic Greek island with a baby sired by one of three men.       

That's right, even though the dual plots are largely just there to hang the beautiful scenery, great songs, laugh-out-loud jokes and apparently endless supply of camp lunacy, it's not so irrelevant as to escape notice that it is modeled, almost beat for beat, on the Godfather Part II! How audacious is that? Sure, the actual plot details are diametrically opposed but the way it parallels the journeys of mother and daughter here is almost exactly the same as the way Francis Ford Coppola tells the stories of Vito and Michael Corleone! You know, I take it back, this might just be even madder than the first film. And so much for easing up on the exclamation marks! 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Kings

Proving once again that importance, self-seriousness, and timeliness are not, in any way shape or form, enough to make a bad film good.

This review is also up on Channel 24

What it's about

In the weeks leading up to the infamous '90s LA Riots, sparked by the vicious beating of a black man, Rodney King, by a group of white police officers and the ultimate acquittal of the cops responsible, a woman and her large group of foster children are drawn further and further into the racially-motivated chaos that ensues.

What we thought

Ever since winning her best actress Oscar for her role in Monster's Ball, Halle Berry has ricocheted from one terrible movie to another. Starting with the truly abysmal Catwoman back when film studios didn't realize that faithfulness to their source material was a large part of what made comic book films work, it has become an unwritten rule that Berry's name in the credits all but guarantees a lousy film. I wish I could say that Kings, a gritty look at the life of a (reasonably) normal group of black Los Angeles residents in the lead up to the Riots, broke that trend but, alas, not so much. Not so much at all.

Turkish writer/director, Deniz Gamze Ergüven, was hailed as a truly remarkable new voice in world cinema with her 2015 début feature, Mustang, so we can only hope that Kings – a film that is clearly a very well-intentioned passion project – is little more than a case of a brief sophomore slump. It is a major slump, though, where its honourable intentions are absolutely not met by the end product itself, which is such a dire mess that all the goodwill in the world can't hide that damn near nothing about it works.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Other stuff worth checking out in South African cinemas right now

Rolling with the positivity of my American Animals review, here are some thoughts on a couple of other good to great films on circuit right now that I haven't covered yet.


I actually don't have too much to say about Ant-Man and the Wasp - but I actually mean that as a compliment. After the sheer hugeness of Avengers: Infinity War and its less than upbeat ending, this sequel to Marvel Studios' smallest film (in every sense of the word) is the perfect tonic. I loved the hell out of Infinity War and I can't wait for the still-untitled fourth Avengers film, but this is a nice reminder that Marvel's films don't have to be epic to be tons of fun. Ant-Man and the Wasp offers just more of the same as the first film but with a better semi-villain and more Morrissey (and solo Morrissey at that!) jokes, as well as a nicely expanded role for Evangeline Lilly, who proves, once again, that she really should be a much bigger star than she is. Michelle Pfeiffer, Lawrence Fishburn and, most especially, a scene-stealing Randall Park are terrific additions to an already top-notch cast and director Peyton Reed brings the same sense of zippy fun and tons of heart to a script that's written by far more people than you would expect considering the film's tightness. Unlike Infinity War, it doesn't matter how invested you are in the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe, if you're looking for a fun, funny and heartfelt Hollywood blockbuster, Ant-Man and the Wasp is easily worth your hard-earned cash. And if you are invested in the MCU, be sure not to miss the brilliant sting in the tale during the mid-credits scene. But then, if you're invested in the MCU, you knew that already.


Isle of Dogs is about what you might expect from a Wes Anderson film about a group of dogs caught up in a vast conspiracy perpetrated by Japan's leaders against all canine kind and the one boy whose search for his lost dog might change everything. That is to say, it's quirky, offbeat and put together with that typical Wes Anderson style and precision: all adding up to a film quite unlike anything else out there. Using beautiful but intentionally creaky stop-motion animation and an exceptional voice cast of old collaborators and Anderson-neophytes, Isle of Dogs once again proves that no one does deadpan comedy and subtle, sneaky emotion quite like Wes Anderson and even if it doesn't rank among the Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore or the Grand Budapest Hotel as his very best work, it is a solid step up from his previous stop-motion animated film, the Fantastic Mr. Fox. The latter suffered somewhat from a tone that fell uneasily between kids movie and something more mature but there's no such problem here. It may star a young hero and plenty of cute (in a messed up kind of way) dogs, but Isle of Dogs is aimed much more squarely at grownups with its rich political satire and often dystopian feel. Dog lovers will especially love this but even the most casual Wes Anderson fan will find plenty to chew on as well.


Much has been made of how important Love, Simon is as a cultural event in that it's a mainstream, romantic comedy-drama for teens (and anyone who has ever been a teen) that happens to feature a gay lead but, as notable as this undoubtedly is, the best thing about it is that it's good enough that you both quickly forget the socio-political aspects of the film in favour of just going along with the story and these terrific characters and end up glad that it was of high enough quality to do justice to such a milestone in the first place. And make no mistake, this is a super mainstream film that slots in easy with all the other coming-of-age teen comedies that have come out in the past few years. Its characters are smart, pop-culture-literate and easily likeable; its plot turns comfortable in their familiarity and all directed, by Greg Berlanti (the mastermind behind most of CW's roster of comic book shows like Supergirl, Riverdale and the Flash), efficiently but in a way that mostly just gets out of the way of the rock-solid storytelling. The cast is great from top to bottom (not least of all, including Tony Hale in top comedic form) but special mention must go to Nick Robinson who is so good as our hero, Simon; convincing both as an average teenager (well, average for these sorts of the films) and one dealing with the ups and downs of coming out to his friends and families. He offers a highly sympathetic take on a character that gay kids can easily identify with but his - if you'll pardon the cliche - journey of self-discovery should resonate with anyone who has ever had to muster up the courage to be themselves in a world that can so easily reject them. Yes, Love, Simon is predictable and on-the-nose but it's also funny, honest, heartfelt and, as is the case with most of the best teen comedy-dramas, smarter than it looks. That it's also important is only the cherry on top.

That's 8-stars apiece and, as a special, early review of something being released this coming Friday, here is my quick take on the latest Dwayne Johnson actioner, Skyscraper, straight from leaving the press preview. It falls somewhere in the six or seven-star range, for what it's worth. I haven't decided yet, but the more you like the Rock, the more you'll like it. And, really, who doesn't like the Rock?


To get the obvious out of the way: yes, Skyscraper is basically Die Hard with a bit more Towering Inferno thrown into the mix. It's super obvious and super predictable as the kind of film that takes Checkov's gun to almost ludicrous extremes as virtually every notable object introduced early in the film will come into play later on. Plus, if you can't spot the bad guys and traitors coming several million miles away, you're clearly in a deep coma. It's also massively silly, far-fetched beyond words and almost instantly disposable. It is, however, also loads and loads of fun that almost makes virtues out of all the above flaws. Unsurprisingly, this does, once again, come down almost entirely to the irrepressible charisma of one Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson whose greatest strength as an action star has always had less to do with his built-like-the-proverbial-shithouse physique than his uncanny ability to play every scene exactly right and to take himself and the film around him only as seriously as is strictly necessary. It's an incredible skill that is all too easy to overlook - that is until you compare any of his action flicks to 99.9999% of the competition out there. Still, even if Johnson does most of the heavy lifting here - in every sense of the phrase - he is well matched with a likable supporting cast (including Neve Campbell, who I'm pretty sure I haven't seen in anything in over a decade but who looks, quite remarkably, almost exactly the same) and writer/ director, Rawson Marshall Thawber, whose name suggests that he should be a veteran action filmmaker but who is known mostly for comedy, including working with the Rock in Central Intelligence, which is, in retrospect, something of a stepping stone for what he does here. He has a keen understanding of the genre and his action scenes are largely very nicely played: he clearly gets the Rock's strengths as a performer but his set pieces are well choreographed and punchy. Honestly, the only thing really keeping Skyscraper back from being a classic bit of trash cinema is its weak, uncharismatic villains - where's Hans Grueber (*sob*) when you need him?

Monday, July 9, 2018

American Animals

The other film to evoke animals in its title this week (wait, Ant-Man and the Wasp does too - and twice at that!) but American Animals is a rather different, um, beast to Show Dogs. And this is a rather different review.

Once again, this review is also up on Channel 24.

What it's about

A group of college students at Kentucky's Transylvania University fancy themselves the heroes of their own Hollywood-like story and attempt to steal a priceless art book from their college library. As things get increasingly complicated, they soon come to realize just how much life is not like the movies. Based on the amazing true story and featuring interviews with the real people involved.

What we thought

Even if you're getting a bit tired of heist films after the very recent Solo: A Star Wars Story and Ocean's 8, you're going to want to make sure you don't miss American Animals. It boasts all the snappy editing, plot twists and style that audiences have come to expect of the genre but where American Animals excels is in the surprising depths it manages to mine – both thematically and in terms of its characters.

The story itself is pretty wild when you consider that it's based closely on real-life events but put it up against the shenanigans of Ocean's 11, say, and it looks relatively tame. And the genius part is that the film itself – or, more specifically, its writer and director, Bart Layton – understands this. At its heart, American Animals is an exploration of how a bunch of kids raised on heist movies would react to the reality of actually pulling something like this off and what that says about certain values that are often placed at the heart of Western Civilization.

It's not exactly a critique of heist films so much as it is a look at the way that reality and art affect each other, in particular by looking at a genre that, in essence, glorifies a highly illegal and often dangerous activity. It's also not so boring as to simply play into the tired old trope of watching violent movies makes you a violent person but instead considers how art and life have a tendency to reflect back on each other in much the same way that two mirrors facing each other do.

Show Dogs

I think he just made a huge mistake.

This review is also up on Channel 24 but with a higher rating. Objectively, I do think kids may like it so I thought a 2-star rating was appropriate but this being my blog, upheld mostly for my own edification, I'm going to give the film a grade slightly more reflective of how I feel about it.

What it's about

With Frank, his reluctant human partner, in tow, Max, a tough-as-nails, loner of a police dog, goes undercover in a prestigious dog show to try and uncover a group of animal traffickers who are trying to capture some of the most perfectly groomed and rarest species around.

What we thought

Show Dogs is a rather difficult film for me to review. While I'm often able to enjoy kids films for what they are – films from Pixar and Laika quite easily at that, but I can also appreciate the juvenile fun of Diary of a Wimpy Kid even if I'm demonstrably not part of its target audience – there are times when I know that kids may well enjoy something I actively dislike. Such is the case with this singularly daft and, frankly, quite grating comedy adventure with its talking animals and abundance of fart jokes.

Snow Dogs is, by any criteria, not a good film in any way shape or form. Its jokes are limp, its characters annoying and its plot blandly uninspired; featuring a cast who should know better – or, in the case of Will Arnett, who is so brilliantly funny as Gob Bluth in Arrested Development but so hopelessly unfunny in so many of his other projects, clearly doesn't – and a director whose claim to fame is a bunch of other widely derided talking animal flicks like Scooby-Doo and, heaven help us, Beverly Hills Chihuahua.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Battle of the Rubbish Action Flicks: The Hurricane Heist vs Braven

I would like to say this was planned but, honestly, I just forgot to post my Braven review last week. This is one way to make Hurricane Heist look good, I guess but, eh, it can't really look too much worse.

Both, my Braven and Hurricane Heist reviews can also be found on Channel 24.

What it's about

When Joe Braven, the head of a logger company, finds a bag of drugs in his remote forest cabin while visiting there with his young son and dementia-riddled father, he and his family soon find themselves going head to head with a group of drug runners who will stop at nothing to get their drugs back.

What we thought

If there's one thing to be said in favour of Braven, it's that, though he doesn't quite have the charisma of John Cena, let alone Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jason Momoa once again proves himself to be a perfectly solid screen presence. Would that I could say that his character is even remotely interesting or that the film he's in is anything more than a boring rehash of thousands of other action movies with nothing whatsoever new to bring to the table but, alas, I can't. Braven – stupid title aside – isn't so much utterly awful as it is so mind-numbingly boring in its mediocrity that I could only wish it was more actively terrible to at least give it some semblance of life.

Sure, it is almost impressively stupid in the way that none of its characters does anything even remotely logical – the whole plot of the film could have been avoided, in fact, had the baddies just waited for our hero and his father and son to leave the cottage where they left the drugs – but it's not even stupid in a way that's remotely fun. The aforementioned Dwayne Johnson (and his British counterpart, Jason Statham, come to think of it) has made an art out of turning a film's stupidity into one of its most enduring qualities but the dumbness of Braven is just that: dumb.

It has dumb characters doing dumb things to other dumb characters in a dumb plot that just gets dumber as it goes on. That's a whole of dumbness but the film's resolute refusal to be anything other than head-bangingly idiotic is only the first of its many sins. Amazingly, it's not even its worst or greatest sin. Not by a long shot. Nor for that matter, is its worst failing that it plays out exactly as you would expect a mix of a generic home-invasion movie with First Blood (that's the first Rambo film for those of you too young to remember or too unbothered to work out how the bonkers titling of that particular series works) to play out or that it has nothing discernible to set it apart from any other straight-to-video, d-grade action movies of its ilk, except that those films at least had the decency not to stink up our cinemas.

Nope, the reason why Braven isn't simply bad but is, quite simply, beneath contempt is that it's just so unbearably dull. Its action scenes aren't unimaginative but are still weirdly monotonous and uninvolving; its characters make no impact whatsoever, and its plot doesn't take a single twist or turn that can be described as unpredictable – all of which adds up to almost nothing at all. It's a film whose whole is less than the sum of its parts where all of its parts are equal, almost exactly, to zero. That it is entirely without humour or a sense of style is almost a given at this point but that it can't even do anything memorable or eye-catching with its beautiful, snowy forest setting is almost impossible to believe. If everything about the film didn't smack so heavily of laziness, it would almost be impressive that stuntman-turned-director Lin Oeding managed to put together something this wholly unremarkable.

The film has, it has to be said, gotten some perfectly decent reviews overseas so perhaps the fault lies with me. Perhaps I just sat through so many action thrillers in my teenage years that something this nuts-and-bolts just feels particularly uninspiring. Perhaps, even, unless its mixed with outside elements like comedy, scifi/fantasy or a keen sense of its own absurdity, I've just outgrown the action genre. Maybe I really do need more from my movies than endless action scenes and am looking for silly things like story, characterization and a sense of actual personality.

But, come on, surely this sort of thing should be at least a little bit fun? In a week where we have the delightful quirkiness of Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs or the genuine fun frivolity of Ocean's 8 – though, yes, you have to be a certain kind of person to enjoy the unbearable British repression of On Chesil Beach – why on earth would you waste your time with something like this? Even if none of these appeal to you and you're looking for something more squarely in the action genre, there are countless films almost exactly like this that won't cost you the increasingly prohibitive price of a cinema ticket. Why, in short, does this film need to exist?



What it's about

Will and Breeze Rutledge are brothers who saw their father killed by a hurricane when they were both young boys. Now, twenty years later, another hurricane of equal size threatens their hometown but before they can get out of town they are roped into working with a Treasury agent, Casey Corbyn, to stop a group of thieves who are using the storm as cover while they rob the US treasury.

What we thought

Director Rob Cohen is probably best known for launching the Fast and Furious franchise with a film that had none of the madcap OTT fun of the later Dwayne-Johnson-starring instalments and had to rely purely on, heaven help us, the “charisma” of Vin Diesel to carry it through. His filmography is significantly longer than that particular film, to be sure, but it is perhaps most endemic of a career made up almost entirely of directing adequate but not particularly great action movies. At his best, you get solid stuff like Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story; at his worst, well, I think The Boy Next Door speaks for itself.

The good news is that The Hurricane Heist is much, much better than the truly execrable Boy Next Door, which happens to be his previous film. The bad news is that it isn't anywhere as good as much of the rest of his canon – and when you consider that the very height of his powers only ever gave us OK-ish stuff like Dragonheart and Alex Cross, that's more than a little worrying.

The very best things you could say about The Hurricane Heist is that the actual hurricane looks pretty cool – if a bit too beholden to obvious CGI – for a very modestly budgeted film and that it is, at times, so unbelievably stupid that it manages to be (very) intermittently entertaining. Plus, for something that must surely just be another paycheck for perfectly decent actors like Maggie Grace and Toby Kebbell (the latter actually playing a hero and leading man for once), they half-ass their performances slightly less than you might expect.

That's kind of it for the good stuff, though. Ralph Ineson, a generally reliable British character-actor is very, very bad here as the film's main baddie whose entire schtick seems to be playing the nice guy until he gets (rather unconvincingly) angry where he gets all up close and shouty. It's embarrassing stuff, especially when compared to the film's secondary villain (name withheld for nominal spoiler purposes) who may not have much in the way of personality but does at least boast a threatening presence.

Of course, the human villains really aren't the focus here, fortunately, and the hurricane itself is a much more convincing antagonist for our heroes to deal with. At its best, it doesn't just throw a spanner into the works but entirely overshadows any conflicts between the heroes and villains; making the most of the film's on-the-nose title. Unfortunately, the Hurricane Heist does far too often forget this and the hurricane just becomes background noise for a bunch of very unimaginative gunfights that grow very boring, very quickly. More Hurricane, less heist would have gone a long way, in other words.

The resulting film is ultimately all over the place, quality wise. Not that it's ever actually good but the way that it occasionally throws in “so bad it's funny” moments into what it is largely a very dull action flick that constantly threatens to lull you to sleep is... interesting, if a bit obnoxious. I mean, I should thank the filmmakers for throwing in a laugh every half hour or so but it really gets in the way of what the film would really be best suited for: an excuse to take a nap.

It's probably lazy to just write the Hurricane Heist off as Fast and Furious meets Twister but it's pretty unavoidable. That's almost exactly what it is. A pity, then, that it's nowhere near as fun as the former franchise at its demented best or as, frankly, notable as the latter (Twister was a huge deal back in the '90s, lets not forget) but, hey, at least it deserves to be on the big screen just a bit more than some of the real sub-straight-to-DVD trash that so often clogs up our cinemas.



Monday, June 18, 2018

The Incredibles 2

For once Pixar's recent sequel trend doesn't just feel like a cash-grab to sell more toys. Here's hoping Toy Story 4 can continue the trend...

The superhero film landscape is now rather different to what it was when the first Incredibles came out - unbelievably, some fourteen years ago. We had a couple of good Spider-man and X-Men films back in 2004 but Batman Begins was still a year away and the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe wasn't even a pipedream. More than just a fabulous entry into Pixar's ever-expanding canon, the Incredibles was a major step forward for superheroes on the big screen.

Not that there weren't great superhero films before it - there had been plenty of damn fine superhero films since Christopher Reeve first brought Superman to vivid, cinematic life way back in 1978 - but more even than Spider-Man 2, which came out earlier that same year, the Incredibles captured comic book superheroics in a way that no film before it had. Indeed, even now, with Marvel Studios pumping out a still-endless stream of superhero films that may annoy superhero-skeptics but are almost always brilliantly received by audiences and critics alike, the Incredibles is still a high point of the genre; mixing family dynamics, humour and wonderfully kinetic superhero action to wonderful effect. And, three failed attempts to brings Marvel's "First Family" to the big screen later, the Incredibles is still, by several million lightyears, the best Fantastic Four film ever made. 

The question, then, is less whether there is still a demand for a sequel to a film that is now older than much of its target audience but whether the Incredibles 2 can come remotely close to capturing the magic of Brad Bird's masterpiece. The answer, inevitably, is no, of course it can't - but that doesn't mean it doesn't make one hell of a go at it.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Hereditary

We may just be looking at the best horror film of the 21st century - of course, I wasn't going to let it go by without talking about it.

And, as always, no spoilers here - I barely even discuss the general plot for fear of giving anything away - but it's never a bad idea to go into films like this with no real expectations so feel free to come back to this review after seeing the film...


With some rather good horror films having come out over the last couple of years (including, but not limited to, IT and a Quiet Place), calling Hereditary a strong contender for the best horror film of the century so far is no longer to damn it with faint praise, as it would have been back when most of its competition was so-called "torture porn" and found-footage Blair-Witch-knockoffs. Even without having yet seen such acclaimed 21st-century horror flicks like the Witch and the Babbadook - neither of which hit South African cinemas, for reasons that utterly escape me - it's clear that after some quite barren years at the turn of the century, the horror genre (or at least the mainstream Hollywood version of it) has made some significant strides recently in returning to its '70s and '80s glory days. And yet, even with all that said, Hereditary stands alone.     

If its success can be boiled down to a single element - and I'm not sure it can - what makes Hereditary such a spectacular piece of horror cinema is the way it manages to be both a very different kind of horror film and one that is so comfortable with the genre's very building blocks that it knows how to use them to maximum effect, while slyly subverting them at the same time. It's a wickedly smart film that displays a level of craft that can easily pit it against the most accomplished "serious-awards-worthy" films out there but - crucially for a horror film - it is also, genuinely and in no uncertain terms, fucking terrifying.

That it was made by a first-time feature-film writer/ director, Ari Aster, is almost unbelievable and more than a little unfair to both other filmmakers and his own future filmmaking career.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Based On a True Story

It's not just the mega-expensive Hollywood blockbusters that let the side down this week...

This review is also up on Channel 24

What it's about

Delphine Deyrieux is a highly successful novelist but after the major success of her more recent work, she finds herself suffering from writer's block and unable to come up with a new idea for her next novel. Enter Elle or “Her”, a young fan of Delphine's work who quickly befriends the older woman and convinces her to start writing something more autobiographical. Who is Elle, though? Is she just a passionate fan or something more sinister?

What we thought

Adapting the acclaimed French novel by Delphine de Vigan, Roman Polanski and his co-writer, Olivier Assayas, have crafted a film that is, at very best, an interesting misfire and, at worst, something that had no business leaving the page in the first place.

Films about writing are quite common and Polanski draws on many of them here – from Mercy to Adaptation to his own Ghost Writer – with a bit of Single White Female thrown in for good measure but Based On a True Story ultimately ends up being a fairly damning case study for just why these sorts of films are so hard to get right. At least, that's if it is actually about writing. The film may be in French but the main thing that gets lost in translation here is just what the hell Based On a True Story is trying to say and what it's, even generally, actually about.

Falling squarely between art film and a somewhat trashy thriller, it's far too staid and laborious to work as a thriller and too silly to work as an art film. No, silly isn't quite the right word. “Ridiculous” is more like it but what's really frustrating is I have no idea if its, shall we say, heightened sense of reality is intentional or not – or, for that matter, if Polanski has really done nothing but film an excruciating long two-hour piss-take or if we're supposed to take this nonsense seriously.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Hey, we're getting this a full two weeks before the US! Too bad it's such a dud...

As always, I will try my best to avoid spoilers, especially as the trailer actually didn't give very much away, but there is a section in this review that deals lightly with what happens from the beginning of the second act on that you may want to skip until you've seen the film. It is clearly indicated, though, and, fairly vague but proceed with some caution for that paragraph. 

Plot: Two years after the Jurassic World theme park was destroyed by dinosaurs, the island on which it resides, Isla Nublar, faces total annihilation as its volcano roars to deadly life. In a last-ditch effort to save the dinosaurs, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) once again joins forces with former dinosaur-trainer and current ex-boyfriend, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), to return to the Island at the behest of the co-creator of the original Jurassic Park and John Hammond's former partner, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) who alerts them to the existence of another, uninhabited island where the dinosaurs can thrive; only this time without human interference. Things, inevitably, don't go quite as planned. 

Review: The worst thing I can say about Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is that it gave me an inkling about what that particular group of Star Wars fanboys (I was in the other group of Star Wars fanboys who loved it) felt after watching the Last Jedi. I don't hate it as much as the anti-Last-Jedi lobby hated that polarizing (second-to) latest Star Wars film but as Fallen Kingdom played out I progressed from cautious optimism to increasing disappointment to a sense of genuine irritation at just how far the series had fallen since the original film. And that's despite the fact that none of the sequels have been a patch on the classic original and that, at the very least, Jurassic Park III is still objectively worse.

Perhaps the biggest problem with this second instalment in the Jurassic World trilogy is that it's not a bad film - indeed, it has a number of really very good moments sprinkled throughout and plenty of real talent both behind and in front of the camera - so much as it's a tired and dull film that seems to exist only to set up what may well be a very interesting final installment. Worse, the stuff that is good about it only drives home just how much the final product flat-out fails to work as anything but 130 minutes of connective tissue between the first Jurassic World film (which was itself a flawed quasi-remake of Jurassic Park) and the third film in the trilogy.     

Monday, June 4, 2018

Chappaquiddick

Something like a year after the pretty great Jackie, we have this look into a crucial period in the life of another Kennedy that is... less great.

This review is also up on Channel 24

What it's about

Based on a true story, it is July 1969 and Ted Kennedy finds himself in the shadow of his two more famous, murdered brothers, John and Robert, but just as his own political career is about to take off and the road the White House is finally in view, tragedy strikes that threatens to undermine everything he worked for. Driving drunk after a party in the family's summer home on Chappaquiddick Island with Mary Jo Kapechne, one of the Kennedy clan's “Boiler Room Girls”, he drives his car off a bridge into a deep pond: he gets out alive, she does not. With an overbearing father on one side and his cousin and voice of moral conscience, Joe Gargan, on the other, Kennedy is stuck between doing the right thing and confessing to his crime or saving his burgeoning political career by covering it up.

What we thought

With the circus that is current American politics, Chappaquiddick is a reminder of sorts that, regardless of the side of the aisle or the time and place, politics can be a very dirty business indeed. Or, more precisely politicians all too often allow their quest for power to get in the way of doing right by those they're supposedly supposed to be serving. The dark beauty of the story being told here is that it's very small and very self-contained but the personal, intimate nature of these events gives this age-old morality tale a more personal and intimate flavour than the sort we usually find in politically-driven dramas.

What might be most interesting about the film, though, is the peek into the Kennedy clan themselves. Here is an American family that has often been called the closest thing the United States has to a Royal Family but while that's usually meant as a compliment, Chappaquiddick shows a much uglier side to that comparison. Like royalty, the Kennedys were all about keeping as much power as possible within their single aristocratic family and like royalty, this family had their own internal strife, full of backstabbing and simmering jealousy.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Finding Your Feet

A light, fluffy middle-to-late-age romcom that's far more enjoyable than it should be.

This review is also on Channel 24

What it's about

Sandra is a snobbish, upper-middle-class woman whose life is upturned when she discovers her husband having an affair with her best friend at his retirement party. Storming out of her old, privileged life, she moves in with her estranged older sister, Bif, whose bohemian, free-spirited life couldn't be more different.

What we thought

Finding Your Feet – a title, incidentally, that I find astonishingly difficult to remember – is a big-hearted, quaintly British romantic-comedy-drama about an older woman finding a new lease on life by embracing the small joys of life after reconnecting with her quirky, joie-de-vivre-living sister who teaches her that all the money in the world can't replace a life well lived and true love comes from those who respect and love who you are, not for what they want you to be. As this setup might suggest, it's a film that isn't so much unafraid of cliché as it is one that chases after and warmly embraces every last cliché it can get its mitts on.

How much of a problem this is, though, largely depends on what you bring to the film and what you want out of it. More cynical viewers would do well to bring a sick bag in with them, while the more romantic and sentimental among us would probably do better with a box of tissues. The latter will certainly have a better night out with it than their more curmudgeonly counterparts. Me, I'm somewhere in the middle.