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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Wonder Woman

Is this the film to finally fix the heretofore atrocious DCEU (DC Comics Extended Universe)? Read on to find out - though if you've seen the rating, you can probably already guess the answer.

OK, that was my original intro. I had hoped to have gotten this review out before the film came out but paid work got slightly in the way. On the plus side, I have now seen the film twice and for all that I liked it the first time round, I loved it a whole lot more after seeing it again.

As it has been out for a while, I'm also going to get into a few spoilers towards the end of the review. Don't worry if you haven't seen it yet, though, all spoilers will be contained to the bit that's been marked as such.


Wonder Woman is a really, really terrific superhero film that not only course corrects the previously disastrous DC Extended Universe, but is a genuine standout in the overall superhero landscape. It is not, to be very clear about this, a film without its flaws but they're never enough to take away from all that works about the first major female-led superhero film and on my second viewing of the film, it's hard to think of most of them as anything but nitpicks. Yes, the film is overly long and it's slightly wonky in terms of pacing but that only means getting to spend more time with these terrific characters. Sure, its villains aren't massively memorable on the whole but it's hardly their film and - that's actually about all I can say without getting into spoiler territory. It also does have some surprisingly unconvincing CGI during some of the action scenes but, even here, they don't detract much from the general effectiveness of the film's action set pieces. Things only really become a genuine problem in the film's final twenty minutes where the CGI bombast gets totally out of hand - but even this doesn't overshadow the thematic and character-driven moments that really defines this final confrontation.

Enough about the film's relatively few shortcomings. They're mostly pretty minor and pale in comparison to all the many, many things that work about it.

First and, this really shouldn't be overlooked: the way that Wonder Woman has resonated with girls and women of all ages has been pretty wonderful to behold. Now, the idea that it is the first major movie or television property to star a character that young girls can really call their own is an insult to the likes of Ripley, Buffy Summers or Katniss Everdeen that presented powerful, strong, human and likable female characters that were front and centre of their respective franchises. Even in terms of live-action representations of DC Comics superheroines, only a fool would take away from the sterling work that Melissa Benoist has been doing on our TV screens for a couple of years now as Supergirl. And, of course, this is to say nothing of the female-led superhero comics that kicked off with the first appearance of Wonder Woman some seventy-five years ago.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Transformers: The Last Knight

It's like Deja Vu all over again.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

An ancient artefact holds the key to saving the world from a new Transformers threat.

What we thought

This being the fifth – fifth! - Transformers movie, it's hard to go in with anything but the worst expectations as every single one of the last four easily rank among the worst blockbusters released this century. Yes, even the first one – which some critics of the series like for some reason. And yet, director Michael Bay has surprised in the past. The Rock and the first Bad Boys were very solid action comedies and he even managed to pull out a surprisingly good black comedy in the form of Pain and Gain a few years back. Granted, I'm still convinced that the latter was good entirely by accident but the point still stands.

So, does Bay redeem himself? Is the latest Transformers movie even remotely worth watching? No. Of course, not. Even the most open of minds can't help but see Transformers: The Last Knight for what it is: an already terrible franchise running out of steam in the most obnoxious, terminally dull way possible. It is, it should be said, arguably the least morally objectionable of them all as the sexual objectification is kept to a minimum and the cultural clichés never quite take a downturn into the casual racism that past entries have been lambasted for but, lets be honest, the political iffiness of the Transformers movies was ever only, at worst, part of the problem.

The problem with the latest Transformers, like all of its predecessors, is that it is just woefully incompetent. It's a strange thing to say about a guy like Michael Bay, who is, at the very least, technically proficient at putting huge spectacle onto our screens and it's no less strange to call “incompetent” a movie with flawless visual effects, an often impressive supporting cast and enough money spent on it to make the whole thing appear, albeit superficially, really impressive. And yet, all of these elements never come even remotely close to gelling together into a cohesive whole.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Hunter's Prayer

This is too lame for me to even bother coming up with some sort of pithy pun on its title.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

After the rest of her family is murdered, Ella, a teenage girl attending boarding school in Switzerland, enlists the aid of the assassin sent to kill her to avenge her family.

What we thought

I'm getting slight tired of asking this, but how on earth did this movie get a cinematic release when so many better – and more cinematic - movies don't? Is it the pun-tastic title? The C-list action star at the centre? Or maybe it's the starring role for the up and coming, beautiful Israeli actress who is quite possibly only a film or three away from her big breakthrough - Wonder Girl, maybe? To be honest, the answer is probably all down to the distributor buying this film as part of a bundle of cheap flicks to go along with their bigger releases but that just makes the whole thing sound all the more crass doesn't it? Lets just go with the lovely Ms Rush and call it a day, then.

However this film magically got to our screens, it becomes very quickly apparent that it really has no business being there. As is typical of these sorts of c-grade genre pictures, there's nothing massively wrong with it but there's next to nothing that's particularly good about it either. It's perfect for a drunken/ hungover hangout with a bunch of friends on a boring, late winter's night as background noise or as an excuse for another tub of popcorn or bottle of beer. Though, even then, the crappier the TV, the better.

This Beautiful Fantastic

Fantastic might be a bit of a stretch but it's not far from beautiful and it is plenty charming.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

Bella Brown is an idiosyncratic young woman, trying to make ends meet, as she works on the children's book that she can never quite compete. When her cantankerous next door neighbour starts to pester her about the state of her garden, the two outsiders start to become increasingly involved in each other's lives.

What we thought

This Beautiful Fantastic is the sort of film that would be all to easy to pick apart if it weren't for just how likeable and charming the whole thing is. Put on a “critical hat” and the film's self-knowing quirkiness, its obvious character arcs and its obvious and oblivious sentimentality become all too clear and all too easy to damn the film for indulging in such “indie dramedy” pitfalls but it's so big-hearted and its characters so charming that, for all but the most churlish among us, that particular hat will spend the entire duration of the film in a dustbin outside the cinema.

Writer/ director Simon Aboud has, to date, made a career out of short films, a late-period Paul McCartney music video and a single feature called Comes a Bright Day that I'm reasonably sure never troubled cinemas in this country so it's not surprising that This Beautiful Fantastic has the feel of a debut feature of a filmmaker still trying to find their feet but doing so with plenty of that old charm and heart. It's undeniable that some of the writing is extremely wobbly (an incredibly silly “plot twist” towards the end is especially groan-worthy) and there isn't much in the way of a truly individualistic vision here but a bit of naivety and an utter lack of cynicism goes along way here to elevate the film way beyond any failings it may have. Well, okay, except for that “twist” towards the end there, which really is almost astoundingly daft – and the fact that I predicted it and, at the same time, really, really hoped the film wouldn't go there, certainly doesn't make it any more forgiveable.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Mummy

You know, people like to complain about the gamut of superhero movies but, is it just me, or have the only blockbusters to be any good at all this year have been adaptations of Marvel and DC Comics? That's rather troubling to sure but, really, who in their right mind would complain about Wonder Woman or Logan when the alternative is so often something like the Mummy. And that despite the fact that the Mummy clearly took a huge chunk out of the corporate superhero rulebook... 

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

Nick Morton is a career soldier and amateur thief who uses his tours in the Middle East to unearth valuable antiquities to sell on the black market but when he and his partner in crime come across an ancient Egyptian tomb in the middle of Iraq, he soon finds himself targeted by a powerful evil.

What we thought

Taking a cue from the “shared universes” of DC and Marvel, the Mummy – which actually has almost nothing to do with the 1990s blockbuster of the same name – is the inaugural film in Universal Picture's “Dark Universe” where a bunch of (public domain) movie monsters meet, team up and fight in a manner not too dissimilar from the Justice League or the Avengers. It's a fun idea but unlike Iron Man – though rather like Man of Steel – the Mummy does not exactly get things off to a flying start.

Things do begin promisingly, however, as we are introduced to the Egyptian princess whose quest for power sets her on the course towards becoming the titular monster via some nicely dotty cod-Ancient-Egyptian-mythology and a one-note but enjoyably pulpy performance from Sofia Boutella (wearing slightly less makeup than she did in Star Trek Beyond). This gives way to easily the most entertaining segment of the film where we meet a roguish but very Tom-Cruisy Tom Cruise and New Girl's reliably funny Jake Johnson doing a mischievous riff on Indiana Jones as they try and out race a bunch of faceless terrorists to some very valuable archaeological treasure.

These early section suffer from the same terribly lame dialogue as the rest of the film but there's a fun, swashbuckling feel that permeates the first act of the film that unfortunately comes crashing down along with the plane crash that brings both our heroes and the mummy princess to good old London in the film's most publicized sequence. Things don't go wrong immediately as there is still some fun to be had, especially between Cruise and Johnson, but the film's many fatal flaws start making themselves very apparent.

The Whole Truth

Yes, I know, I still haven't reviewed Wonder Woman. IT's rather pointless at this point but still, expect that soon. For now, here's my Channel 24 review of a movie that's rather less good.

The Whole Truth is the sort of film that would make for a very fine two-parter in your average network legal drama but seems completely out of place on the big screen. That is has a number of relatively big names, including the always bankable Keanu Reeves, does little to shake that feeling – especially in this new golden age of TV where shows like Big Little Lies, Twin Peaks or Fargo feature some serious A-list talent.

There's just nothing about what's on display here that's even remotely cinematic. The direction by Courtney Hunt is fine but it feels distinctly televisual, which is backed up by the fact that most of her directorial credits to date have been on small-scale TV projects. Screenwriter Nicholas Kazan has a rather more illustrious big-screen career, being part of the famous (and occasionally infamous) Kazan movie dynasty, but the fact that he is credited under the pseudonym Rafael Jackson probably says something about how he feels about the end product.

All that said, though, while there is nothing extraordinary about the end product, it is nonetheless a perfectly serviceable legal drama with solid supporting performances from once-big names like Renee Zellweger and Jim Belushi and up-and-comers like Gugu Mbatha-Raw, along with enough mystery and narrative twists and turns to keep things interesting, if not wildly compelling.

Admittedly, Reeves is somewhat miscast in the lead role (he's even less convincing as a hotshot lawyer here than he was in the still massively entertaining Devil's Advocate) and some of those twists – especially the big one at the end – do come across as more than a little silly but it's still a solidly enjoyable, if almost impressively unremarkable, little film.

Again, though, I have to ask: with so many critically lauded or at least interesting films never seeing the inside of a South African cinema, how on earth did this glorified episode of Law and Order earn a limited but still authentic cinematic release? It's perfectly fine but you will lose nothing by catching it on TV a little way down the while – indeed, its natural home will probably make it look a whole lot better than it does stretched across the big screen.