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Nice little subversion of superhero tropes
Comic books have sometimes hypothesized what would happen if a supervillain actually won against their heroic nemesis. Often these stories are of rather dark variety. Not so much here, keeping in mind that this is still a Dreamworks film aimed primarily at children.
Still, the protagonist of the film is a supervillain and he does win, defeating his archrival, Metro Man, through sheer stroke of luck. And he takes over the city. And rules over it with an iron fist. And as you can imagine, he ends up being not quite as content with it as he might have imagined. So much so that he starts to yearn for the "bad old days".
The concept works, in my opinion. Will Ferrell has a lot of comedic chops and in his hands Megamind can be diabolically scheming, sympathetic, pathetic and even kind of a lovable goof. I also really like Minion, his main enforcer. Clever design, good voice acting from David Cross and some of the best lines. Tina Fey's Roxanne Ritchie (gotta love that comic book alliteration) is perhaps a bit too by the book damsel in distress, but she has a personality despite that, and could have been a lot worse.
The thing that rubbed me the wrong way is the character of Hal Stewart (Jonah Hill), initially a co-worker of Roxanne's. I get that he was supposed to come across as sleazy and to practically scream the concept of bad touch. I just think they took it a tad too far. This was an uncomfortable character in all the wrong ways and I think they could have gotten the character concept across without making the audience collectively pull their collars.
Then again, keeping in mind how many women still get needlessly harassed by men who just don't seem to get the concept of "No!", perhaps it's a good thing that the younger generation has such a bad example as Hal.
Megamind is a refreshing take on the superhero genre. Definitely worth a watch for all wanting another take on the usual clichés.
A laudable effort
I'd say this is more like it. Aladdin is merely the latest in the recent long line of Disney live-action remakes. So far all of them have been disappointments. At least to yours truly. All so far have had at least a few redeeming qualities, but they have all paled in comparison to the originals. It's hard to turn animation to live-action, it seems. There's energy and vibrancy to animation, which Disney has always been a master of utilizing. And that energy doesn't translate very well when you need to be more realistic.
Which is why I think it was exactly the right call to hand this film over to Guy Ritchie. The man has been directing live-action animation films his whole career, frankly speaking. If there's something that has never been missing in his films, it's energy.
And I can safely say I like what he has done with his source material. This Aladdin pays homage to the original Disney animated film, but is confident enough to move past it, to extrapolate, to change things, to even improve. And while I still vastly prefer the original, I think this will be the first Disney live-action remake, which I will return to.
So what works? Well, as I already said, the film is not afraid to mix things up a little bit. It's still mostly the same story, but it's not identical. Jasmine's role, for one, has been expanded by a whole lot, which I find to be a great thing. The original Jasmine was a feisty thing, but she didn't have that much to do in the film, aside from being the love interest. Sure, she distracted Jafar at that one point, but that's about it. This Jasmine has much more of her own voice, her own part to play. And I like it!
Will Smith's Genie is also pretty different, a lot grumpier for one, which I also like. It would have been hard to beat Robin Williams, so I'm glad they didn't even try. Most of the extra run-time of this film compared to the original is spent with either Jasmine or Genie and they're all good, funny scenes.
So what doesn't work? Well, Jafar for one. I like the small hints we get at his backstory, but aside from that he's a much more subdued version of the original. And it's such a disappointment. The original Jafar was a magnificent villain, one of Disney's best. I guess they were afraid to go too over the top, but that's unfortunately exactly what was needed here. Something more bombastic and menacing. This guy says his lines very placidly, very calmly, very methodically. And it's just not that scary.
And while I applaud the film for trying for something similar yet different, there are moments in the film that are pretty much identical to the original film. They're also the moments I found myself caring the least about, because I had already seen them.
The film also isn't quite as interesting visually as the animated version. It looks amazing, don't get me wrong, but the more realistic look means that they can't go as over the top crazy as they did in the original. And that loss is felt.
Still, even though most of this review was spent comparing the film to its animated predecessor, I truly do feel that this is the first Disney live-action remake that can stand on its own two feet. It has the energy and creativity to awe its audience without the crutch of nostalgia. Kudos, Disney. You finally did it.
Corpse Bride (2005)
Tim Burton indulges himself
Corpse Bride is about what I'd imagine goes around in Tim Burton's mind in any given moment. It is a sweet fairy tale painted in macabre colours. A children's colouring book if the only colour available was grey. And, if you've liked Mr. Burton's other creative efforts, this is pretty much more of the same and thus well worth a watch.
The story follows a young man named Victor (Johnny Depp) who is about to marry a woman named Victoria (Emily Watson). He's out in the woods, practicing his vows, but happens to be overheard by the spirit of a dead woman, played by Helena Bonham Carter, who promptly decides that he was saying his vows to her and that they're now married.
It's not a bad story and fits the usual grim Tim Burton imagery well. It's at the same time gothic, melancholy and just the right kind of naive. The characters are pretty one-note overall, especially the parents, but that also fits this kind of narrative well. It's supposed to be exaggerated and somewhat childlike.
That being said, the film has some problems when it comes to style. Like, for example, the colour palate is about as grey as a coal mine. Even for Tim Burton. The underworld is a bit better in this regard, but not by much. The aforementioned land of the dead is also tonally jarring. The film begins as this heavily gothic Victorian affair, but then they drop into the underworld and suddenly the film is a jazz musical of all things. These two don't mix very well at all.
Still, I can't say I minded seeing the film. Not the best effort any of the involved people have produced, but it has its moments and is well worth a watch if you have it in you to watch yet another Tim Burton extravaganza.
The Golden Compass (2007)
Two kilos of flour in a half kilo bag
The Golden Compass is a film adaptation of Philip Pullman's novel Northern Lights, which is the first part in his His Dark Materials trilogy. It is the story of Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards), a young girl living in Jordan College in Oxford. Her world is similar to ours, but its technology has grown along a different path and the souls of its inhabitants live alongside them as animal-like beings know as the daemons.
Northern Lights is a good book. Its tone leans toward dark and moody, while its world mixes elements of dark fantasy, science fiction and steampunk. I have to admit that the trilogy as a whole gets very weird and is not particular to my liking, but the first book was very good. It's an odd collection of tropes that really shouldn't work very well together - for example, a steampunk cowboy airship pilot from Texas is the friend of a dethroned armoured polar bear berserker - but somehow they come together and form a large, inhabited world where everything seems to be possible.
Unfortunately this diversity works against the story as a movie. There's too much to go over, too much to explain, which means that most of it goes unexplained or is just briefly glanced over. Which means that the film has many a moment where the uninitiated will no doubt let out a very big "Huh?", not getting the subtext or why that particular something meant anything.
For example, in the book it is explained that it is a very big social taboo to touch another person's daemon. In the movie this isn't brought up, until suddenly it is a plot point. Which means that the plot point doesn't really work.
The film also shuffles some events around, having them appear in different order than in the book. Most of the changes are bearable, but they don't really improve upon the source material so I don't see why they were necessary.
The ending is also different. Or more accurately it cuts off sooner than the book. I can see why they wanted to do it this way as the ending in the book is more than a downer, but it still feels like studio hijinks.
Still, the film is well-acted, has some nice CGI (especially for its time) and the world is interesting, even if it's not portrayed to its full potential. I can't really recommend it, but if you're a diehard His Dark Materials fan, the film might be worth a watch.
About dealing with the past
First of all, the silent opening of this film is one of the finest pieces of cinema I've ever seen. The initial meeting between Carl and Ellie, their life together and the loss at the end, is a story in and on itself. Pixar is often at its finest when there's no dialogue. And this is the crowning achievement in that. Sure, there is some dialogue at the initial meeting, but after that it's pure visual storytelling. And it is glorious!
If only the rest of the film could have been as good. And yes, I'm taking the mickey out of you. Kinda. It's still a really good film, suitable for all ages, while still retaining that core of values, depth and wisdom that marks all great Disney/Pixar films.
That being said, I'm not a huge fan of the storyline. Going to South America is fine and the fact that it is achieved with balloon is just one of those precious things that just works despite its innate insanity. Put then we get introduced to the dogs. And the birds. And Christopher Plummer's character. Which all put together leave me with mixed feelings. They're good on their own. The dogs are fun, especially Alpha and Dug. Plummer's character can be both charismatic as well as menacing. The bird is... well okay, the bird is just silly, frankly speaking. Put it's the mix of them that has the hiccups. This movie could have been this great pulp adventure. Especially if you just kept the Plummer character and got rid of the rest. Put it's not. It's simply... silly.
Not to say that the silliness doesn't work. It also helps a lot that both Carl and his junior woodchuck partner in crime Russell are both fantastic characters. Carl especially is one of my favourite Pixar characters of all time. Perfectly curmudgeon, but still extremely likable and sympathetic.
I honestly think that I might like this movie better as a whole if it didn't have that opening narration. But it has and it is so good that the rest of the film pales in comparison. Still, very much worth a watch and one of Pixar's better ones.
Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)
Self-serving pile of guano
It has been six years since the events of Wreck-It-Ralph. And things are pretty much like they were at the end of that film. Ralph and Vanellope are still friends, who like to hang out, riff on video games and occasionally get a drink together. Because that's what life is about. Nothing ever changes unless it's huge and dramatic. Imagine your life six years ago. Things were just as they are nowadays. Right?
Because this movie can't even get timeskips correct.
But then the Internet appears! And of course Ralph and Vanellope head down there. Because reasons, and because otherwise we wouldn't have a plot. And it's just as bad as you can imagine. Remember that joke in Moana about tweeting. That joke that was immediately dated, and which will make no sense ten years into the future. Well, picture a whole movie like that. Modern social media references galore. Mentions about companies, most of which will not exists ten years from now, let alone fifty. Do you think Snow White would still be viewed as classic if it referenced Sloss Sheffield or Bethlehem Steel? Both big recession beaters, but virtually unknown nowadays.
And it's not like the actual plot is that bad. It's pretty basic and derivative of the original film, but I still like the dynamic between Ralph and Vanellope. I even kind of like the way they make fun of Disney Princesses with Vanellope meeting the actual members of Mouse Royalty. Sure, it's pandering, childish and makes a completely mockery of what these characters were like in their own movies, but at least it got a chuckle out of me. A dirty, awkward chuckle, but a chuckle nonetheless.
But, I simply can't get beyond the fact that this is Disney selling out. This is the greatest animation company on Earth saying that it would rather sell tickets than tell a good story. This is the Black Mouse claiming that it's better to be feared than loved. Because, this film is Disney's big middle finger to all other media outlets out there. It is Mickey stating that it owns us and that it's not even trying to claim otherwise.
And that's just sad.
Captivating, sweet and memorable
WALL·E still reigns as one of Pixar's finest films and a true testaments to the fact that you don't necessary need an overabundance of witty dialogue to tell your story. The first half of this film is practically silent, with perhaps a few lines of dialogue on the background to set the mood or to allude to the premise.
The Earth has become inhospitable to human life due to our own poor choices. Mountains of garbage have buried our once great cities and we have left our home planet behind to reach for the stars. But, we've left some robots behind to clean up this mess. And one of their last remaining members is the movie's titular character, WALL·E. He's quite happy pursuing his craft, until he meets another robot, a sleeker and deadlier specimen, named EVE.
What a fantastic premise and what a fantastic way to tell it. We learn everything we need to know about WALL·E without a single line of dialogue from him. Well, okay, he says his own name every now and then, and he definitely makes sounds, but they're more like bleeps and whistles. But that's all we need. His design is so amazingly expressive, so emotive, that we buy the soul behind his programming and code. His romantic spirit.
That being said, if the first half of this movie is an easy A+ of storytelling, with an honourable commendation thrown in for extra measure, the latter half floats around something like a B-. Still pretty good, but it loses something when it introduces humans back into the story. When it becomes a conflict. It's still quite good, but there was uniqueness to the story before that, which I found myself missing.
Still, WALL·E and EVE remain adorable throughout the entire film, it is extremely nicely animated and the message throughout the entire film is very good. It remains one of my favourite Pixar movies of all time and WALL·E himself just might be my favourite character out of the entire canon.
Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)
Looking forward to the future
Spider-Man: Far from Home, the first Marvel movie after the gigantic events of Endgame, but also something of an epilogue, an end to Phase Three. In it Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has to deal with all that he has lost in Endgame, while also navigating the treacherous waters of a high school field trip to Europe. Oh, and there are scary monsters to overcome and villains to outsmart. But that you already knew.
The villain of this film is interesting. In many ways he's very similar to Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) from Iron Man 3. A genius put down by the world, who now returns to prove his superiority over each and all. Only, this time I found this archetype to have more bite to it. The actor, for one, is better, which of course helps, but the role is also given more depth and it cleverly calls back to previous events in the MCU.
Mysterio is also a cool character. All the illusion scenes were fantastic. My only complaint is that they were so few in numbers.
Speaking of complaints, if I was to name my biggest gripe with this film it's the fact that Peter Parker hasn't really changed or evolved as a character. Think about it. This kid has now been named an Avenger, by Tony Stark himself no less. He's been to space. He fought against Thanos. He has experienced quite a lot between these two films. Yet he's practically the same awkward, insecure nerd we saw at the beginning of the first film. And that's disappointing.
Still, I can't say I didn't have fun while watching the film. The visuals were awesome, the villain was cool, Nick Fury was still a badass (with an asterisk), and it was an all-around good fun. Not the best Marvel film by any stretch, but it still worked.
Remember to stick around for those end-credit scenes. We get some doozies this time around.
The Mask (1994)
Jim Carrey is the man
In The Mask a demonic visage gets released upon the world and ends up in the hands of Stanley Ipkiss, a frumpy bank clerk with something of a bone to pick with the world. It transforms him into a living cartoon character, with the power of violent slapstick on his side. And in a moment of perfect casting they got Jim Carrey to play this role.
The idea is a fun one and Carrey is definitely enough of a rubber face to pull it off, even though the actual mask is mostly handled with CGI. It mostly captures the essence of Carrey, but I have to admit that something is lost in the translation. Carrey is very good when out of the mask, but I have to admit that part of his charm is the fact that he's so cartoon like in real life. When you make him an actual cartoon character, it loses something.
I also have to admit that the humour is missing something here. I read that they had to scrub a lot of the visual gags for budget reasons, and it kind of shows. There are some good jokes here and there, but most of them are merely okay. The movie is at its best when it simply allows Carrey to sink into a comedy routine, but that's rarely the case.
Still, if you're a Jim Carrey fan, the film is definitely worth a watch. Not one of his best, but there's enough here to please.
Samurai purinsesu: Gedô-hime (2009)
Get a higher budget if you want to film something like this
Samurai Princess is your typical Japanese girl gore film. A young woman gets traumatized one way or another, gets superpowers and then goes on to hack her tormentors into pieces. Lots of blood, lots of body horror, lots of gore. It's a very niche genre, but it has its fans.
What keeps this particular film from reaching its supposed potential is the limited budget. The costumes are for the most part okay and it's clear that what little money they had went into prosthetics and monster make-ups. Which are fine. But that means that they had money or talent left for good shooting locations, other special effects or actors. All three of those are outright awful, which brings the whole movie down.
And don't get me wrong, a lot of these Japanese gore films are clearly made with a modest budget. But at least they haven't been shot in the local forest, like this clearly is. They go into great lengths to hide the fact, but it's still pretty visible. And distracting.
Then again, the gore is somewhat pleasing, the costumes have character and at least the tone is consistent with the genre. Nowhere near the best of its genre, but could be worth a watch if you're looking for something new.
The Lion King (2019)
I did not want to see this movie. I did not want the Mouse to think that I in any way support this new trend of simply remaking old Disney classics with wooden actors and sparkling CGI. But alas, I was dragged into the movie theatre anyway, and here I am, telling you that I'm deeply ashamed that the Great Black Mouse of Disney has my money. Yet again.
Because I was right in not wanting to see this film. Because this is the bottom of the barrel. The other movies have kind of been shot for shot remakes, but every single one of them has had at least something new. Some other angle, some twist, to make it interesting. This, one the other hand? Holy cow in heaven, is this bad. The beginning, for example. You know, The Circle of Life, one of the most recognizable and striking movie openings in history. The exact same. Shot for shot, camera angle for camera angle, the exact same. Except, you know, not as colourful, iconic or fetching. Because it's supposed to look real. Which in this case apparently means that everything looks either more wrinkled, dusty and/or dirty in general. Because that's Serengeti for you. According to the film makers.
Luckily they stopped with the exact shot for shot soon after that, thank heavens, but that was only a minor relief. Because you know what else happens, when you try to make everything look as real as possible? Aside from everything looking like it's going to give you fleas. It makes everything look emotionless! Lions are not exceptionally renowned for their wide range of facial expressions, you know. The reason you can make animated movies with animals as the main characters is because animation doesn't care that lions can't have facial expressions. You can go outside the realms of biology and what's strictly speaking possible. You can exaggerate, emote and play loose with the rules. You can use colours, shapes and perspectives to compensate, to make it look interesting. This film has none of that! It's a dull, emotionless, flat table reading of dialogues we all know and love, but which are given nothing to support them.
Not helping the matter is the fact that they hired celebrity voice actors. These people are talented entertainers, yes, and they look fetching on a poster, but none of them is exactly renowned for their voice acting capabilities. And boy does that show! Even James Earl Jones sounds like he's about to keel over and pass beyond the veil at any moment. There's very little of the majesty and gravitas of the original Mufasa left in his performance.
And I actually misspoke earlier. This thing has one new thing in it. A song. A song by Beyonce, named Spirit. Because apparently that was the price of getting her on board. Or perhaps Disney wants an Original Song Oscar nomination. I don't know, but the song is awful and feels exactly like what it is. A forced, jammed in last-minute addition.
Saints in heaven, was this a bad movie. It's a bit over a week after I saw it, but writing this review actively ruined my morning. I feel awful even thinking about this. About the fact that Disney has made incredible amounts of money with this. That they're going to keep making these.
And I contributed to it. I think I might be sick. Excuse me.
The Dark Tower (2017)
Lacks focus more anything else
The Dark Tower is based on a Stephen King book series of the same name. Technically speaking you could say it's a cinematic sequel to those books, but getting into the nitty gritty of that would be a massive spoiler. It's easier to think of it as an adaptation.
Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) has recently begun to have visions of another world. Of a dark tower and a man in black, who tries to destroy it. He's also dreamed of a gunslinger, chasing after the man in black. Things take a turn for the worse when the man in black learns of his existence and the power of his visions.
I'd consider myself a big fan of the original book series. It had its ups and downs, but its scope and style are still something I greatly admire. The way King uses this magnum opus of his to bridge to gaps between all his others works, the way it mixes science fiction, westerns and fantasy into a cohesive whole. And I really like the characters. Roland Deschain is one of my all time favourite literature characters.
Which is why it saddens me to say that this film doesn't live up to its potential. Not that Idris Elba makes for a bad Roland. Quite the opposite in fact. He has the gravitas and the presence to be Roland. Likewise, Matthew McConaughey convinces as Walter, the man in black. Tom Taylor as Jake is a bit of a hit-n-miss, but that's honestly at least partly because Jake was never the strongest character in the books either. Why they decided to focus on him, I have no idea. Audience appeal, perhaps?
But no, what this movie lacks most of all is focus. It tries too hard to please both the newcomers and the book fans. And in doing so it loses them both. It's too jumbled, too full of reverences and callbacks, for any newcomer to know what's going on. And because it's only a feature film, and not even that long of a one, it just doesn't have the room to give us the characters we have grown to love in the books. You can't make a cohesive film out of seven long novels. Eight now, actually, come to think of it. You just can't, but by heavens this film is trying.
The film has its moments. There are some cool shots and the final meeting between Roland and Walter is a pleasing visual experience, if nothing else. The locations look nice, the action works and here and there it reaches that Dark Tower feeling. Not often, but here and there. I'm kind of glad I saw it, but I don't think I can recommend it to my fellow book fans.
Batman Ninja (2018)
In Batman Ninja our favourite mammalian superhero finds himself flung through the tapestry of time. He lands in feudal Japan and finds the ancient island nation overrun by his greatest foes, from Poison Ivy and Penguin to his arch nemesis, Joker. It's up to him and his few allies to restore peace and find a way back to the future.
And that summary really doesn't convey the tone of this film. Because this film is insane. Beginning with the animation style. Naturally these designs are heavily influenced by Japanese animation, but even by anime standards, these are some heavily over-designed costumes, poses and landscapes. But it works. The use of colours is fantastic, every single surface pops and the Japanese aesthetic comes through beautifully.
But it's really the story where this film earns its spurs. It just keeps escalating and escalating, leaving you staring with your mouth open. The very first fight of this film has Joker chopping down entire forests using battle fans. They're elegant, you know. And that's outlandish enough. But what if I were to tell you that that would seem outright pedestrian by the end. A slow, easy, calm start to our journey. Because this film doesn't hold back. It gleefully riffs all great anime tropes, turns the crank to eleven and just blasts us with noise, colour, action and amazing visuals.
I especially loved the army of monkeys and what the film did with them.
And sure, some might cry out that this is a Batman film and such nonsense has no place in our brooding, gothic mythos of a man dressed as a bat, fighting crime in tight leather. But, I would argue that the absurdity of all this happening in a Batman film is exactly the contrast that makes it so great.
Batman Ninja is not for everyone. It's quite insane and cares not a whit for what is acceptable, fitting or logical. Instead it's here to have fun, try new things and give you a story you're not likely to forget anytime soon.
Some neat effects, but the story and tone are all over the place
A fantasy, science fiction slash horror film from an Argentinian film maker Pablo Parés, where the forces of science fiction and the horrors of fantasy meet. The story, very loosely, going that a demon was unleashed upon the world by unscrupulous men in a bid for power. Now, years later, one of the men corrupted by that demon is looking to open a portal for its re-emergence and it's up to the original wizard, who opened the portal, to stop him. Plus there's a really big sideplot about a scorned lover turned BDSM themed assassin. Make of that what you will.
Daemonium is one of those so bad it's good films. A film you should definitely watch with some beers and a couple of good friends. Don't watch this alone and sober, I cannot stress that enough. It's nowhere good enough to hold up under any kind of critical scrutiny.
Granted, the effects are surprisingly nice. The costumes are elaborate, as are the various masks. The demon especially looks badass.
But, sometimes there is too much of a good thing. The film has some real problems focusing on what kind of a world it wants to build. Every single trope in modern media seems to be valid at the same time. We have wizards, cyberpunk assassins, demons, futuristic soldiers, post-apocalyptic gypsy courts, science gadgets, swords, armour, tarot cards, robots, and everything else under the sun, all happening at the same time. And that gets confusing, fast. In the hands of a more talented storyteller, this could be made to work, but here it just muddles the waters.
Still, there is passion in what the film is trying to pull off, and I can imagine the appeal that can have. Not a good movie by any stretch, but an interesting one, and I can see myself recommending this to certain friends of mine.
About greed, lust and plotting
They say that you have seen your favourite movie of all time before you turn 25. That still holds true for yours truly, but it still pleases me that my personal Top 50 can change even when I'm in my 30s.
The Handmaiden is the tale of a young con artist named Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), hired by a man to play the role of a handmaiden for an umarried, wealthy heiress named Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), who he wishes to seduce, marry and then get rid off. But things get complicated when Sook-hee starts to develop feelings for Hideko. Even more so when the tumultuous and horrid details of Hideko's life start to become known.
The Handmaiden is told in three parts, from three different perspectives, each going through many of the same events as the previous ones, but each revealing more and more. They stick with the scene longer or start earlier, allowing us to see that not everything is at it seems. And that works beautifully. This is a layered story at its best. No matter how much you've guessed, no matter how much you already know, there's always just a bit more to figure out, a bit more to the story. And it just works.
Plus the film is just beautifully told and executed. The camera angels, the costuming, the sets, the dialogue, the acting. The director Chan-wook Park was already an international sensation thanks to his Vengeance trilogy, especially its middle film Oldboy, but this just might blow that film out of the park.
Fantastic film. Daring, inventive, inquisitive, secretive, revealing, sexy, sly and all around great. A must see film for all fans of cinema.
Cutthroat Island (1995)
Doesn't reach its potential
One of the biggest and most well-known movie bombs in history and the film that pretty much killed the career of its director, Renny Harlin. Or, at least, prevented it from going anywhere. At the very least it was the last nail in the coffin for the film studio Carolco.
The story centers around Morgan Adams (Geena Davis), the daughter of a notorious pirate, who ends up losing her father due to treachery conducted by her own uncle, Dawg (Frank Langella), who's after the pieces of a treasure map, each held by one of three brothers. Joined by the crew of her father's ship and by a roguish jack-of-all-trades, William Shaw (Matthew Modine), she must reach the eponymous Cutthroat Island and find the hidden treasure before her uncle can keep true to the island's name with her jugulars.
I actually think there's a good story here. With some relatively minor changes, mostly in tone and some characterizations, this could be a roaring good time. A truly excellent pirate adventure. I really like the character of William, the villains are suitably villainous, and even the character of Morgan looks great on paper. The locations look nice, the sets are frankly speaking stunning (which played a large part in the film not making its money back), and I fell in love with the score almost immediately.
So what went wrong? Well, everything else, really. Mostly the directing, though. As much I've liked some of Harlin's movies, he simply doesn't have the capacity to keep the film together. The tone is all over the place, the scenes don't flow from one to another, the colours are way too bright and the action scenes are a mess, with way too much going on at once.
And I really don't like Geena Davis in the lead. She just doesn't have the screen presence to pull off this swagging, confident, badass pirate lass. She seems uncertain in almost every scene, even when boasting or having the upper hand. Quite frankly even Keira Knightley in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise made for a much more believable pirate. And she was far from perfect.
I think the film is worth a watch if you're a fan of pirate movies. There's enough good stuff here to make it worth your while, even though some of the other stuff will leave you shaking your head.
The struggles, responsibilities and occasional victories of journalism
Spotlight centers around eponymous investigative journalism team working for The Boston Globe, which in the early 00s revealed an ongoing campaign of cover-ups by the Catholic Church, aimed to keep the scandal of sexual child abuse conducted by their priests hidden.
It is an important moment in history, but where this movie truly shines is in its portrayal of journalism and the role it plays in our society. The movie is told almost purely from the point of view of the journalists. You could exchange the scandal for something else entirely and the movie would play out pretty much unchanged. Its purpose is not to mock or downplay religion, but rather shine a light on the importance of journalism and its capacity to uncover truths. Even those that we've agreed as a society to keep hidden.
An important film and an important story, but also a really well-made film as a whole. The acting is topnotch, as is the script. Visually the film is the very opposite of flashy, but this does not in any way hinder the film. Quite the opposite. The subject matter in question demands a serious and solemn approach. It demands the clinical touch of realism. The discussions and the issues have to be on the forefront instead of creative camera movements and elaborate sets.
Go watch the film and then at least consider getting a newspaper subscription, so that the journalists of the future can keep doing the good work that they do.
Wastes its potential
Cleaner is about a man, played by Samuel L. Jackson, whose job it is to clean crime scenes. To come in after the police are done and clean up all the blood and gore that killing someone has produced. Until one day he figures out that his talents have been used for less than legal purposes.
I have to admit, that's a cool idea. It's outside the norm while still being something that's easy to grasp, offering a lot of possibilities. And the actors are rather talented too, from Jackson to Eva Mendes to Ed Harris.
Unfortunately the film falters on execution. This is very by the numbers murder mystery with clichéd dialogue, predictable characters and bland film making in general. The camera angels are not particularly inventive, the film looks drab and nothing of substance is never really said.
I also don't like Jackson's character. Especially in regards to his daughter. It's hard to get behind a man, who's so clearly unsuited to being a father. Makes all of his other good qualities taste like ash.
Not a good film. If the premise intrigues you, I guess it's not outright awful, but there are much better murder mysteries out there. Just saying.
Umi wa miteita (2002)
Worthy of its screenwriter
The Sea Is Watching is a film directed by Kei Kumai, based on a screenplay by Akira Kurosawa. It's the story of a geisha house set in the 19th century Japan, where the new world is slowly seeping in, but where the samurai still rule and old traditions and beliefs still hold firm.
The story is told in two distinct parts, both of them focusing on one particular geisha, Oshin (Nagiko Tono), and two of her customers, one of them a samurai seeking a hiding place, the other a man down on his luck in need of a sympathetic ear. There is some bleed-over from one story to the other, but years could easily have passed within the story.
What I like the most about this film is its vibrancy. The culture on display with colourful kimonos, richly furnished geisha houses, the streets brimming with life. I would enjoy this film even if I watched it on mute or without subtitles.
And the two stories told are also enjoyable. All the different characters have distinct personalities, from the different geisha to the customers, some of them genteel, others leaning towards monstrous. There were some side plots that I didn't think got enough attention - Oshin's remaining family for example - but it felt true to life.
Not quite as good as it probably would have been had it also been directed by Kurosawa, but I think Kumai honoured his work with his direction. Definitely worth a watch.
Go in with an open mind
Apparently Zatôichi is a long-running TV and movie character in Japan. With most of his media having been produced in the 60s, 70s and 80s. This film is a 2003 continuation of those stories.
The main character is a wandering masseur slash swordsman, who usually wanders into a town, solves some problems, gets to know people and walks out at the end of the film. Which is pretty much this film in a nutshell. The tone is not overly serious and the whole character of Zatôichi is laughably overblown. He's a throwback to earlier decades when heroes could be unbeatable and flawless. And that's kind of refreshing even now.
Unfortunately the rest of the film is painted with the same brush, and it didn't really connect with me. Even before I knew that this was an older character given a modern interpretation, I sort of guessed it. Or, to be more honest, I thought that this guy was a character from Japanese samurai tales. I felt like I wasn't getting the references displayed and that there was always something that I was missing.
The goofy tone also didn't connect with me this time. Too many random jokes too often. Like this mentally ill village boy that kept running around in samurai gear, constantly screaming. It was baffling the first time it happened, but then it started to move towards cringy when it just kept happening again and again.
Plus the final scene, which is just... what?
If you've liked samurai period pieces and want something with a more humorous tone, then this just might be right up your alley. It is beautifully filmed, if nothing else.
Seven Psychopaths (2012)
Off-beat crime comedy
Seven Psychopaths does not in fact contain seven psychopaths. Well, it does, but not really and it depends heavily on how you count them. Some of the characters are without a doubt psychopaths, while some are... just a bit morally flexible. It's a catchy title for a movie, don't get me wrong, which is why it was chosen, but I can still picture in my head that movie where all seven of the main characters are certified nutsos. Now that movie would have been glorious.
Instead we get movie where they're trying to write a movie titled Seven Psychopaths. And if doesn't scream meta to you, I don't know what will. And while we're following this writer, played by Colin Farrell, we get introduced to the so called psychopaths. Some of whom are exactly that, some of whom are just a bit strange and one of whom is in fact Christopher Walken. Which is a whole different story.
The style is fast and loose with the rules. There is a narrative, but because the story itself is so meta, it wanders around quite liberally. There are stories within stories, little sideplots that don't really go anywhere - except when they do - and all the characters seem to be in on the joke. Very Guy Ritchie, now that I think about it, especially his earlier films, but not quite as snappy.
And while I had fun watching it, I really didn't think I got my money's worth. It's a bit too loose, a bit too scatterbrained. Some of the characters are also annoying and not in a fun way. Farrell is fine and I really liked both Walken and Woody Harrelson, but I also cringed whenever Sam Rockwell's character had a bigger scene. And I have no problem with Rockwell in general. It's just that his character didn't click with me.
Not a great experience for me, but I can definitely see how most people would enjoy this particular brand of madness and laughs. I can safely say that if you've liked Guy Ritchie, you should at least give this film a chance.
Green Book (2018)
Decent period drama
Green Book, the Best Picture Academy Award Winner of 2018, is the story of Tony "Lip" Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) and Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali). The latter being a celebrated African-American pianist and the former being the man hired to drive him around Southern USA. In the 60s, when racial separation was still very much enforced in those states.
It is a good movie. A bit of a slow one, with a clear, easy to understand structure. But it's very much an actor's film, with most of the heavy lifting resting on its two main leads. Luckily, both of them are powerhouse actors, easily able to sell the complex emotions, frustrations and joys required to sell you, the viewer, this emerging friendship. Both were also nominated for an Academy Award for their performances, with Ali winning for Best Supporting Actor. Earned, I'd say.
I call it an actor's film, but it's not like all the other aspects of a film were in any way lackluster. It's a well-shot, well-paced film with good dialogues, good music and good locations. Not a flashy movie by any means, but the craft is definitely there.
All that being said, I don't think this was the best film of 2018. It's a good film, but quite honestly I found myself thinking that I had already seen many movies just like it as I walked out of the theatre. It's a feel-good movie about two people finding common ground despite their differences. With a healthy dose of race being thrown in. Does this lessen the movie's value? No, no at all. But I'd like to expect something extra from a Best Picture winner.
Still, the movie is good, don't get me wrong. Definitely worth a watch if you're a fan of its genre.
The monsters were cool, I'll give it that
Godzilla II: King of the Monsters is a huge step up from the previous 2014 film. Then again, that's not exactly a high bar to cross. Still, this film does have a lot of really cool monster scenes. There's plenty of Godzilla, but also plenty of other monsters, rendered to the screen with some pretty impressive CGI. I almost believed they were there, which is more than I can say about a lot of these recent monster films.
Unfortunately, yet again it's the human element that ruins the film. And I get it, these monsters have no personalities, they cannot speak, they can barely even emote. As such the film has to have humans in it in order for it to be a cohesive story. I just wish the human characters could be more interesting. Now they're very basic cardboard cutouts. There are some good twists, here and there, but for the most part I was not invested at all in their eventual fate.
The film is also in a bit of a rush. They clearly wanted more movies under the belt before bringing them all together. A Monsters Cinematic Universe, if you will. Unfortunately the original Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island didn't sell as well as they would have hoped, so the studio clearly wanted to cut their losses and go out with a bang. Can't really blame them, but it does mean that most of the monsters in this film don't really connect with us. They're cool and all, but that's about it.
That being said, if you've ever wanted to watch enormous kaiju monsters duking it out, then this is definitely a movie for you. Well, if you've already seen Pacific Rim, that is. Whenever two monsters fight in this film, it's indeed the stuff a twelve-year-old boy's dreams are made out of, and then some.
Not a perfect film by any means, but it has its definite upsides. A perfectly serviceable popcorn film and almost a must-see for all monster fans.
Sometimes less is more
John Wick 3 picks ups straight after the events of Chapter 2. Wick (Keanu Reeves) has broken the rules and is now hunted by the whole underground world of assassins. To earn back his right to exist, he must resort to drastic measures.
John Wick 3 is once again a really good action film. All the fight scenes and shootouts are filmed with very little shakycam, most often as a wide shot, allowing you to see the movement and choreography of the fight evolve in front of your eyes. It's suitably brutal to please even the most hardcore fans, yet there's almost poetry to it as a whole.
That being said, I didn't find the fight scenes to be quite on par with the previous films. There was simply something missing, something tiny and hard to measure. Perhaps it's the fact that John was almost always getting beaten up. Which makes sense, the two previous films would pound anyone into dirt, but the fact still remains that it's not quite as pleasing to watch when your protagonist is constantly at the end of his rope. Sometimes that's exactly what the scene needs, but if the whole film is like that, it quickly becomes exhausting.
I also really didn't like the world building in this one. Too much too quickly, without any clear purpose or direction. The two previous films hinted and alluded to this world of assassins, where even the most bloodthirsty killer had to operate by the rules. It was suave, it was slick and it was undoubtedly cool. But, it was never completely explained. This movie sets out to hammer out those rules and the underlying structure of the world. And it's not as cool as I imagined it to be. In this case I would have preferred to imagine my own rules.
It's also not internally consistent. For example, there's this phrase that's said out loud quite often in the film. "I have served. I will be of service." It's a pretty cool line, but the problem is that there are numerous moments in the previous films where it could have been said, and in fact should have been said. But this film is the first time we ever hear it, which makes it clear that they only came up with it when writing this third film in the franchise. And that breaks the illusion, it shatters your suspension of disbelief.
Chapter 3 is not a bad film by any means. It has great locations, great action, great acting (especially from Reeves) and it's still one of the best action franchises out there. But it also isn't the masterpiece its predecessors undoubtedly were.
We are forever trapped within our own lives
Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an unassuming history teacher that lives a monotonous life with few expectations. But then his calm life is shattered into pieces when he spots his exact lookalike in a rented feature film. He makes the effort to find this man and in the process throws his life into turmoil.
Denis Villeneuve has always been very much a hit-or-miss director film for me. I've loved his forays into science fiction genre with Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, but I've also actively hated his drama films, such as Prisoners or Sicario. There's a very distinct difference between them, at least in my mind. As such it was something of a shock for me to watch this film, because it was so good. While still being very much a drama. Sure, it has some surrealist elements to it, but I still wouldn't classify it as science fiction.
And it's not like the film is all that different from Villeneuve's other drama films. The colour palate is still very muted, very washed, while still being amazingly expressive and striking. The camera work is still top notch, from framing to angles.
The story is also pretty bleak, but there is one key difference to his other drama films. Enemy doesn't seem to actively hate humanity. It's not a happy film, but neither is it a nihilistic one.
I also really like the surrealist elements of the film. It's a film about identities, about boundaries that we build to keep the different aspects of our life separate. And it handles it all with aplomb and guile. Very much a film where a second viewing will only help.
Worth a watch if you're a Villeneuve fan, but also if you've not liked his other features. This just might convince you.