Film Review: Baywatch

I wasn’t happy to be going to see this yesterday because I really wanted to see Wonder Woman but MWF was in the mood for a comedy, and as she was paying she got the final say. Now, I love The Rock and have been impressed by Zac Efron over the years, but I didn’t like the look of this movie. It looked, well, dumb.

And it was. But in the best way.

Carrying a lot of the weight is Dwayne Johnson, taking over from the Hoff as Mitch Buchanan, head of the lifeguards. His easy, charming on screen presence anchors the film and he shows off some decent comedy chops, although this won’t surprise anyone who remembers his skill on the mic at the WWE.

In Efron he has a good partner, with Efron’s selfish, stupid jock clashing with no nonsense Mitch from the jump. Efron’s character, a disgraced Olympic swimmer is at times the audience’s perspective, wondering what a drug smuggling ring has to do with their role as lifeguards. This plot and it’s ridiculousness is played for laughs and this is a solid action comedy.

The action is overblown and well staged, with a particularly entertaining fight between Johnson and a goon taking place in a child’s bedroom, various toys being used as weapons.

There are a few pops at the old show, but it seems affectionate ribbing, highlighting the far fetched stories and stylistic choices. Pamela Anderson’s replacement as CJ Parker, Kelly Rohrbach is shot in slow mo repeatedly, which other characters comment on and it’s nice that when Pam shows up for her (disappointingly brief) cameo she appears in super slow mo.

The jokes come at a quick and steady pace, mixing slapstick, gross out and some decent one liners. It’s not a classic but entertaining enough and similar in tone to the Jump Street flicks.

Kudos should be paid to the supporting cast who all handle their roles well and get the tone right. A special stand out is Jon Bass who plays nerdy Ronnie, hopefully smitten with CJ. He steals a couple of scenes and is extremely funny.

It also means that David Hasselhoff has two entertaining movies under his belt this year, which is pretty surprising. And awesome. Although it does mean this has a confused relationship with the show. Two Mitch Buchanans? Two CJs? Huh?

Verdict: Johnson and Efron are charismatic leads and work well as a duo. Incredibly daft but amusing enough. Keeps the laughs coming. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Kong: Skull Island

I love the original King Kong, ever since I picked up a cheap VHS copy. While dated, it told a simple story  very effectively and movingly. I’ve always been a sucker for stop-motion effects. I’ve never seen the ’70s remake but I remember being psyched when Peter Jackson released his, although this was ollowed by crushing disappointment as a wealth of CGI and Jack Black couldn’t cover the fact that it was bloated and boring.

One of the things that I always loved was the mysterious Skull Island that Kong calls home until he’s stolen away to New York. The island is home to other monsters, and you always wonder where Kong came from. Was he part of a giant ape race? Or a singular freak of nature?

This movie focuses on the island and gives Kong a fresh backstory. It’s not a retread of the original, and a new approach to the character, which I think is the way to go.

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The movie kicks off in 1944 when two pilots crash on the same beach, one Japanese and one American. They try to kill each other and chase each other through the jungle, until their fight is interrupted by the arrival of a massive ape.

We then jump almost thirty years forward to 1973, and two representatives of an organisation called Monarch are trying to get support for a mission to an uncharted island. The senior official, Randa (John Goodman) is fearful for the organisation’s future and wants to get the mission set up before the Vietnam War ends. However, the senator dismisses his theories of “monsters” and only agrees when Randa’s assistant Brooks (Corey Hawkins) points out that as they know little of the island there is no telling what is there and that if they hesitate the Russians might beat them to it.

Randa requests a military escort and is provided with the Sky Devils, a helicopter squadron about to ship back from the war. Headed by Colonel Packard (Samuel L Jackson) they will fly the scientists to the island which is surrounded by a perpetual storm. Also recruited is James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) a former SAS Captain noted for his skill in jungle survival and expertise in uncharted territory.

Rounding off the group is photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) a photojournalist who clashes with Packard who blames the media for negatively effecting support for the war back home.

They arrive at the island where the scientists plan to use explosions to map the geologic nature of the island, which turns out to be hollow beneath the bedrock. Unfortunately the explosions anger Kong, a giant ape who attacks the choppers and brings all of them down, scattering the survivors across the island.

Conrad leads Weaver, Brooks and a handful of others through the jungle seeking the rendezvous point. Meanwhile, Packard leads the majority of his men and Randa towards one of the isolated pilots, Chapman (Toby Kebbell). Packard gets the full story from Randa, who holds to the “hollow earth” theory that there are pockets beneath the earth’s surface where monsters dwell.

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Packard wants some answers

Intent on revenge Packard aims to reach Chapman’s chopper and use the weapons and explosives to kill Kong.

Conrad’s group run into the local tribespeople and are introduced to Hank Marlow (John C Reilly), the American pilot who crashed there at the beginning. He has been taken in by the locals and explains that he befriended the Japanese pilot who was killed by another monster years earlier. Marlow explains that the native population worship Kong as a king or god, as he protects them from what he dubs Skull Crawlers, vicious beasts that try to eat them. Kong’s race have long held this role, but as the last of his kind the locals are fearful that when Kong dies the Skull Crawlers (henceforth known as SCs) will run wild, having nothing to fear. The explosives dropped by the group will have roused some of the beasts, although they suspect that “the big one” will remain underground.

Marlow shows the group his boat, made from debris of the fighter planes and other vehicles that have crashed at the island. They head for the rendezvous but find Packard, who insists they head on for Chapman. The group are attacked by a SC, and after suffering heavy losses manage to kill it. When Packard’s plan is revealed Marlow objects, supported by Weaver, who Packard draws his gun on. Conrad cools the situation and leads the civilians to the boat, however, he decides he needs to stop Packard and with Weaver and Marlow returns.

Packard’s men attack Kong and while many of the men are killed, Kong is injured. Then the Big SC arrives. Kong battles it, but is weakened and the nasty chases the humans. Conrad, Weaver, Marlow and the surviving members of the Sky Devils make for the boat but following Conrad’s instructions Brooks has left at dawn. Attempting to escape on foot they use their meagre weapons on the BSC but their weapons don’t seem up to the task.

Does the battered Kong have the strength to bring it down? If he can’t what happens to the survivors and the monsters?

Okay, here’s the thing I really loved this movie which delivers pretty much from the jump. The 1944 prologue was a nice touch and the character of Marlow provides a neat way to provide exposition and Reilly’s performance as the slightly unhinged survivor is charming and entertaining, stealing most scenes he’s in. Reilly should be praised for balancing humour with genuine emotion, with the frazzled, lonely man talking about what might await for him at home being quite touching and tying into the film’s theme of whether soldiers can ever truly come back from war.

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Reilly in scene stealing form

This is touched on in Conrad, Hiddleston’s calm and collected action hero, who is recruited by Randa who observes that men go to war in search of something, and Conrad’s continuing presence in Vietnam suggests he is yet to find whatever that is.

It’s most evident in Jackson’s powerful performance as the vengeance seeking Packard. During his first meeting with Weaver where he blames the media for effecting support and moral for the war in Vietnam, she asks him incredulously if he is blaming them for losing the war. His response that the war wasn’t lost, instead “abandoned” shows an insight into his psyche and his dogged pursuit of a fight with Kong shows that he is not ready to come home yet.

Jackson is always watchable and here he is on fine form as the tightly wound soldier who slowly unravels and becomes obsessed. He’s mesmerising on screen.

Tom Hiddleston is pretty good as an action hero, even if he does look a little clean cut and smooth for an SAS officer who spends time alone in the jungle saving POWs. That being said, his quiet performance is well done and he has moments where he charms. He also handles the action sequences like a boss.

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Hiddleston and Larson in action

But it’s hard not to feel bad for Brie Larson who while capable enough has an underwritten role as the photojournalist accompanying the mission.

The period setting works wonders for me as it handily explains how Skull Island has remained undiscovered until the movie and means the humans have older, less sophisticated weapons for their fights. It also means that the movie has a belting soundtrack of ‘Nam era songs (Bowie, Black Sabbath and Creedence Clearwater Revival), and borrows heavily from the imagery of that war- fires engulfing jungle, helicopters flying low and the look of the soldiers. The film looks fantastic and the mash up of Nam movie iconography and giant monsters works for me, unsurprisingly.

The monsters here are fantastic, as is all of the island. The native tribe and their walled village is well done as is their temple to Kong, replacing the African style tribe of the original with a more Asian vibe fitting the Pacific setting. The island location is beautiful, with mountains, dense jungle and panoramic views of the landscape being worth the extra IMAX charge alone.

This is only the second movie I’ve seen in IMAX (the other being Doctor Strange) and it is proving to be worth the money, and vastly superior to normal 3D. This is the kind of epic movie that warrants the big screen and enhanced visuals, and it delivers throughout, both in the titanic smackdowns and in the scenes on the groud amongst the trees.

The movie succeeds where the Jackson movie stumbled by putting Skull Island front and centre and we get to see plenty of the island’s nature. Alongside Kong and the SCs we also get supersized versions of spiders and water buffalo, a reference to giant ants and some seriously vicious pterodactyl style critters. The island is set up as a dangerous place to be and the action sequence are uniformly well executed throughout.

It’s a relentless thrill ride and has some solid performances, and a sense of fun to proceedings, making it considerably more enjoyable than the most recent Godzilla movie, which this will apparently cross over with. Hopefully the monster mash will lean more towards this, which is more fun and has better human characters. The romance between Hiddleston and Larson’s characters might be underdeveloped, but aside from this the major players hold the attention and the director knows that this is secondary to letting Kong do his thing.

I’ve always preferred Kong to Godzilla because his ape features are more expressive and that in every incarnation he has moments of gentleness. The backstory here of him as the island’s top dog and protector is a nice touch and I felt it delivered.

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Hail to the king

A big, action packed blockbuster, this is gorgeous to look at, filled with nice moments and just plain fun. It might lack the emotional punch of the original, but it’s still kept me involved throughout.

Verdict: The ’70s setting is a nice touch, the cast do well with what they get and the movie knows that it’s main strength is Kong and lets him cut loose. Hugely entertaining. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Logan

The cinematic X-Men universe has been a mixed bag, with some of the movies doing quite well (see Deadpool and Days of Future Past), while others were plain awful (X-Men: Origins: Wolverine and X-Men: The Last Stand). The movies have struggled to get the tone right and have also created a convoluted and contradictory timeline, it’s time for a reboot and where better to end it than with the driving force and most consistent part of the series- Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine.

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Since the first X-movie only Jackman has popped the claws as the Canadian mutant and while he’s often been in lacklustre movies he’s managed to do the character justice. Now, he is finally given the kind of swansong the character, and his efforts, deserve.

Set in 2029 we find Logan in dark times, working as a chauffeur and living out in the Mexican desert looking after Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who has destructive seizures and seems to be in the early stages of dementia as he enters his nineties. Logan and Caliban (Stephen Merchant), an albino mutant who burns easily in sunlight, keep Xavier drugged to dampen his powers. Logan’s healing powers have slowed, meaning he limps and carries severals scars. He hopes to save money to buy a boat and sail away with Charles so that his seizures can’t hurt anyone.

The other X-Men are revealed to be dead and mutant kind has died out, with no new mutants having been born in decades. While on a job Logan is approached by a Mexican nurse Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez) who asks for his help as she is being chased by shady figures. Logan refuses to engage with her and leaves. One of these, the cybernetically enhanced bounty hunter Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) who works for the Transigen corporation. Logan denies all knowledge and Pierce tells him to call him if he hears anything.

Logan is called to another job but it turns out to be Gabriella who has arranged it, she offers him $50,000 to take her and her daughter, Laura (Dafne Keen) to North Dakota and a safe place known as Eden. The money will be enough for the boat and Logan reluctantly agrees, however when he returns he finds Gabriella murdered. Returning to Mexico he discovers that Laura has stowed away in the boot of his limo and Pierce arrives shortly after. Xavier claims to communicate with her and says they must keep her safe.

Logan is subdued by Pierce’s men, but Laura then reveals that she too has adamantium claws, similar to him and kills many of the men. Logan, Laura and Charles escape and head for North Dakota with Pierce in pursuit, using Caliban and his mutant tracking powers to continue the hunt.

A message left by Gabriella reveals that Transigen bred new mutants, using DNA they had on file in order to develop super soldiers, of which Laura is one of the X-23 programme. However, upon discovering that Transigen had decided to abandon the project due to the fact the kids were hard to control she and several other nurses helped the kids escape before they were “put down”.

Will the jaded Logan be able to form a bond with Laura? Can they make it to North Dakota, and if they do will the promised safety exist or merely be revealed as a dream? And what have Transigen created to replace Laura and her peers, and will Logan be able to defeat this new threat in his weakened state?

I have to say I really enjoyed this movie, which felt like a solid conclusion to the series and a good place to leave this version of Logan. However, I appreciate that it won’t be for everyone and the downbeat, bleak future wasn’t appreciated by MWF and the friend we saw it with. For me, it worked and I liked the way it slowly revealed the fate of the other mutants and the reasons for their extinction.

Rated 15 here in the UK this is by far the darkest and most brutal film in the series, and the first time that Wolverine’s berserker side has really been shown. Previous fights have always been rather bloodless and tame, but this kicks off with a brawl where Logan takes on a gang of criminals in a fast, vicious encounter. It’s good that after suggestions of his dark side we finally get to see it on show here. Otherwise it’s all just a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, as is the case in Doctor Who where they repeatedly tease that he was a badass during the Time War only to never deliver on this.

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Logan in action

It is hard work in places and Logan is a lot more bitter and jaded than his last outing which makes sense, we left him during the cheerful altered present of Days of Future Past, surrounded by friends at the Xavier School, so it stands to reason that years down the line, with his friends gone he would have reverted to his angry, cynical ways. There’s a suggestion that the X-Men didn’t go out in glory and there’s definite tension between Logan and Xavier, and when it’s finally revealed what happened it’s a gut punch of a twist.

The whole road trip is a tough journey, with tragedy and violence dogging the trio across the US, and the stakes feel higher than in any previous movie.

It’s here I have to give a lot of praise to Patrick Stewart, who does a sensational job as the ageing, shattered Xavier. His performance is genuinely moving, almost heart breaking as he captures the sense of a man long dependent on his mind who is now losing it slowly. His crankiness and vitriol is a world away from the dignified, compassionate leader of the past, but there are glimpses of this throughout, especially when Laura arrives and he sees the opportunity to aid her and do the right thing. It’s quite nice to see that the relationship between the two has changed and shifted, and that there’s some closure between then.

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Charles Xavier, a broken man

But this is Jackman’s movie and he excels again as Logan, capturing all the different aspects of the character- the brooding loner, the reluctant hero, the savage and even the man trying to do better. Coughing, limping and stiff it’s a shock to see the most robust of the X-Men in such a state, and yet it works.

The rest of the cast do their jobs extremely well, with props going to newcomer Keen who captures the almost feral detachment of Laura and who slowly gets the audience to feel for her while avoiding any child actor cliches or excesses. Her relationship with Logan develops slowly and at times unsentimentally, and it’s interesting to watch as she slowly tries to form a bond with someone for the first time while he tries to pull away due to the fact that he’s lost so many people.

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Laura and Logan, both put through the wringer

The villains are well done, especially Richard E. Grant as a slimy, manipulative scientist behind the experiments.

The bleak future world is wonderfully executed, with machines replacing human workers, a gigantic wall at the Mexican-US border and a sense that corporations are running the show now. The reason for the absence of mutants is revealed in quite a clever way, and the quest to safety is tense as throughout it’s never certain what awaits the group when I get there.

The final sequence, a mad dash for safety and Logan unleashing his berserker side against Pierce’s men and the latest Transigen experiment X-24 is bruising, vicious and intense. The ending is emotionally raw and well played, and a fitting finale for the series.

As a series the X-movies have often stumbled, but it’s good to see that they stride out on a high, a well executed and solid movie. It’s the most grown up of the series, and not just because of the blood and swearing, it feels like the story of a grown man still struggling with who he is and what his purpose in the world is. Jackman shows again why he was brilliantly cast as Wolverine and leaves big shoes to fill in the inevitable reboot.

Although it is a shame we won’t get to see Jackman’s Wolverine team up/fight Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool.

Verdict: Dark, brooding and bleak this is the most grown up and emotional of the franchise. Jackman and Stewart excel playing aging, failing versions of their characters dealing with loss and change. The plot is solid and moves along well with a few nice twists along the way. Finally a film that delivers after a series which often botched its potential. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (Includes spoilers)

WARNING! Here be spoilers!

I wasn’t overly keen on going to see this, but MWF is a massive fan of the Harry Potter films. My scepticism was born out of the fact that I wasn’t overly fussed on the earlier series and that knowing they planned five films based on one slim book made me think I was in for lots of padding as a money making exercise.

Thankfully I was proven wrong.

Set in the New York of 1926 this deals with Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) a British wizard who has traveled the world collecting and studying magical creatures. Many of which he keeps in his charmed suitcase.

Arriving in America he encounters a magical society very different from that which exists in Britain. The major difference is that American wizards have no interaction with muggles, or No-Majs as their known in the States. While distracted by an anti-witchcraft preacher Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) his suitcase becomes mixed up with that of No-Maj Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), and one of the critters gets loose. Newt recaptures it but before he can wipe Kowalski’s memory the man flees and Newt is arrested by Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston). 
However it turns out that Kowalski still has the wrong case and Tina is a disgraced Auror (magic cop) and nobody listens to her. She and Newt go to find Kowalski, who has already met some of the other beasts, three of whom have escaped. Kowalski is injured and in an attempt to hide him from the authorities they take him to Tina’s flat which she shares with her more cheerful, mind-reading sister Queenie (Alison Sudol), who Kowalski takes a shine to.

Meanwhile, Barebone and her adopted children continue to spread anti-magic propaganda although her son Credence (Ezra Miller) is working with Graves (Colin Farrell) a high-ranking Auror who promises to rescue him from his abusive home if he helps him find a magical child who is in danger.

A magical beast kills a prominent No-Maj and Newt is blamed, despite him identifying the real killer as an Obscurus a rare energy formed when a witch or wizard represses their magic creating a dark, lethal force which they have no control over and eventually kills them. 

At this point it’s revealed that Graves is dodgy which comes as no real surprise as he’s played by Colin Farrell. 

I can’t believe he turned out to be a wrong ‘un, said nobody

He has been playing Credence and thinks the Obscurus is tied to his adopted sister, but it turns out it’s actually Credence and the Obscurus is stronger than any of them suspected.
Can Newt and friends save the boy? Or will he be lured to the dark side by Graves? What will become of Kowalski when it’s all over?

The plot is simple enough and well done, but the real strength here are the characters. In the Harry Potter films the problems for me were that in the early films the kid performers are weak (Grint would remain shaky throughout) and the characters annoying. Seriously at most points at least one of what Potterheads call “the Golden Trio” are being a bit of a twerp.

Here all four heroes are well performed and likeable enough, and special mention should go to Sudol and Fogler who make their characters immensely likeable and craft a downright adorable fledgling romance.

Adorable- Queenie and Kowalski hit it off

Having Kowalski at the centre for much of the film is a great touch as the wonder is seen through his eyes and his delight his infectious. It’s his wide eyed joy and acceptance of what he sees which wins you over to him, and shows that in some ways he’s already ahead of wizarding characters in terms of his attitude towards magical creatures.
He also forms a good duo with Newt, ably portrayed by Redmayne who manages to inject just the right amount of eccentricity into the role. Newt’s genuine attachment to his animal charges is affecting and his conservationist style outlook won me over pretty damn quick.

Also a big plus are strong female heroines, with Queenie starting out as a seemingly ditzy blonde who steps up when needed and Tina as a slightly neurotic but noble figure who wants to help others and who shows a flexibility that the wizarding government lacks.

The overall tone is nailed just right with some very funny moments and quite a bit of whimsy, but just enough peril to keep you gripped. Towards the end the film delivers an emotional knockout which I found genuinely moving and I left eagerly awaiting more in the series.

As expected the effects are great, and the magical creatures on display are glorious, with each given a personality of their own.

Some of the Fantastic Beasts

All in all I found this a very fun and entertaining film, with solid characters and a decent plot. The performances are great across the board (even Johnny Depp’s brief appearance is well done, lacking his usual OTT touches) and I was utterly charmed by this glorious movie. For my money it might actually surpass the Harry Potter movies.

Verdict: Incredibly well done this movie has enough warmth and charm to avoid seeming like a needless cash in. The main characters are all extremely engaging and the story, while predictable in places, is gripping enough. I went in sceptical and came out eager for more. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Finding Dory

I love the movie Finding Nemo which for me is right up there with The Incredibles and the Toy Story trilogy as the best work Pixar have done, so I was pretty stoked about a sequel, especially one that focused on Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), the upbeat fish with short term memory loss.

Picking up a year after the original Dory is still living with Marlin and Nemo (Albert Brooks and Hayden Rolence respectively). One day she remembers something about her childhood and parents, and decides to go find them, aided by an excited Nemo and reluctant Marlin. They cross the ocean where they find the Marine Life Institute. Unfortunately they are separated when Dory is captured by humans.

Inside the institute, Dory begins to remember some things and is marked for transfer. Enlisting the aid of cranky octopus Hank (Ed O’Neill) who doesn’t want to be released back in the wild and agrees to help if he can get Dory’s tag which will help him be transferred. They begin searching the institute looking for clues.

Dory and Hank

Meanwhile, Marlin and Nemo must try to get in and find their friend. Along the way both are aided by different marine residents including two lazy sea lions, a shortsighted whale shark and a lonely clam. 

Can Marlin and Nemo find Dory? Will Dory find her parents? And if she does which family will she live with?
I quite enjoyed this film which is fast paced and fun. The plot is simple but the Pixar team load it with some exciting sequences, colourful characters and plenty of emotion, but it falls short of the original. it lacks the scale of Marlin and Dory’s journey across the ocean or the heart of the Marlin and Nemo story.

That’s not to say this isn’t emotionally involving as they take the comical Dory and add depth, exploring the isolation and sadness that comes with her condition. It also shows us her family life which is incredibly sweet and features an unbelievably cute baby Dory.

Baby Dory

This is the heart of the film, as is the theme of family, with Marlin and Nemo being driven to find the adopted Dory as she seeks out her biological family. The question of whether Dory will leave them is a major question and one we see the characters have to face with some reluctance.

The flashbacks are warm and sweet, and Dory’s fears and frustration about her loss and getting back are well done and moving. DeGeneres manages to make Dory engaging and likeable through her voice work and adds just the right wobble of uncertainty to the formerly cheery and charming character. It’s the same Dory audiences fell in love with, but with a slightly deeper insight.

The story moves along briskly and the action sequences have a chaotic, humourous tone which keeps the audience hooked and the laughs coming, as do a selection of new characters.

I laughed numerous times and it continues Pixar’s knack of layering jokes for adults into their family films. There are some nice running gags and Hank’s camouflage skills are used well throughout, and an OTT car chase is wonderful.

It’s gorgeous to look at and quite good fun but MWF and I both left with the feeling that this is a lesser Pixar work, good but with their ridiculous high standards a slight disappointment.

Verdict: Full of fun and with likeable characters, a simple, engaging plot. But it can never match the original and feels slightly lightweight in places. Good but not great. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.



Film Review: Pete’s Dragon

I went to see this with MWF and a friend today, and MWF was super excited as she loves the original movie and it has a special place in her heart as her nana loved it too. Personally, I have no real connection to the original having seen it as a kid but not really taking it to heart. 

The film’s plot follows Pete (Oakes Fegley) a young boy who is left stranded in a dense wood after a car crash kills his parents. Wandering alone in the woods he is found and taken in by a gentle dragon who he names Elliot after a character in his picture book.

In the nearby town of Millhaven there is a local legend of dragons and Meacham (Robert Redford) entertains local children with his own tale of seeing the beast several years earlier. His daughter, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), a forest ranger dismisses these as tall tales although her father suggests that just because she hasn’t seen something doesn’t mean it’s not real.

After six years living with Elliot, Pete sees Grace walking in the woods, the first human he has seen since the accident. Grace’s boyfriend Gary (Wes Bentley) is the head of the local lumber company which is working closer to Pete and Elliot’s home.

While visiting him Gary’s daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence) spots Pete and sneaks off after him. While they play Natalie hurts her knee and on finding her Grace sees Pete who attempts to flee but is knocked out. Grace takes him to hospital.

Elliot awakes and searches for Pete but is seen by Gavin (Karl Urban) who is Gary’s brother and who sets out to trap him. Pete meanwhile begins to feel at home with Grace and Gary, and tells Grace about Elliot. She takes Pete into the woods accompanied by Natalie and her father and they meet Elliot.

Grace (Howard), Meacham (Redford) and Natalie (Laurence) awed by Elliot

Gavin and his men pounce and trap Elliot, drugging and roping him despite Meacham and Grace trying to say the dragon poses no threat and Pete attacking Gavin.
Can they free Elliot? Will Pete and Elliot be able to return to their life in the woods, or does a home with Grace and her family beckon? And where is Elliot’s family?

I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, which moves along at a decent pace and is well done throughout. The story is simple but it’s carried off in a charming and warm-hearted manner which MWF described as “fuzzy”. It’s sweet without being sickening and gripping without being distressing for younger viewers, although the scenes of Elliot’s capture might upset some (including MWF).

There are a few factors that play into this chief amongst them being a simple style, a solid cast and the character of Elliot who is designed brilliantly. The filmmakers have chosen to make him furry as opposed to traditionally scaly and his mannerisms are like those of a dog, making him incredibly cuddly and likeable.

Elliot meets Pete

They also fill the film with little moments like him trying to carry a tree through the woods which are rather amusing and sweet.

The cast is solid with Howard and Bentley doing well as the couple who take Pete in, although Bentley’s part is incredibly under written. Redford, who delivers an opening and closing narration, brings his easy charm to the grandfather role and captures a sense of wonder and happiness which is the film’s overall tone.

As the primary antagonist the ever reliable Karl Urban does a good job, making his character human and hinting at a slightly bitter streak towards his brother. It’s nice for a kids’ movie to give their villain a bit if grey and humanity and to give them a chance for redemption later in the story.

Gavin (Urban) hears something in the woods

But the real praise should go to the two young stars Fegley and Laurence. Having children as main characters can be risky as child actors can often be quite weak on screen but here both give good performances. Fegley in particular impresses as he has several mannerisms that feel natural for a child who has lived by himself for so long. 

All in all this is a well made and fun family movie which warms the heart.

Verdict: Good performances, a simple plot and a well realised CG character mean that this is a charming kids’ film and works for adults too. A warm, pleasant treat. 8.5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out ofthe Shadows

Having been pleasantly surprised by 2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, MWF and I decided to check out this sequel.

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It’s been a couple of years since the heroes in a half shell saved New York from Shredder (Brian Tee). However, to maintain their secret the credit has gone to Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett), who has become a celebrity, which irks them slightly.

Their reporter friend April O’Neill (Megan Fox) finds a link between a scientist, Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) and the Foot Clan and that there is a plan afoot to break Shredder out while he is being transported. The Turtles try to stop the ambush, but Shredder is teleported out.

Prisons officer Casey Jones (Stephen Amell) is knocked out by the other escapees Bebop and Rocksteady (Gary Anthony Williams and Sheamus respectively). Later, his version of events is not believed and he sets out to bring them to justice.

Shredder it turns out was transported to another dimension where he meets an alien named Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett) who enlists his help in gathering pieces of a device that will enable his warship to teleport to Earth and they will rule the world together (cue evil laugh). To aid Shredder against the Turtles Krang gives him a substance which can make supersoldiers, unleashing the animal within.

This is used to make Bepop and Rocksteady into animal-human mutants. April, witnessing their transformation, steals the substance and flees, pursued by ninjas. Casey Jones, who has tracked the criminal duo via their phone rescues her and meets the Turtles, and realising they have similar goals they unite.

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April in trouble

Donatello discovers that the substance could turn them human, enabling them to live normal lives which causes tension among the brothers. Can they get over their difficulties and stop Shredder before Krang’s ship arrives?

Here’s the thing, I remember Krang from the kids show back in the day, and he kinda worked there but he is the weak spot here. While his voice is done well and his ship impressive, there are a few missteps. Firstly, Shredder just blindly agrees to team up far too quickly and in order to get cheap gross gags they have Krang leave his robot body a lot, which kinda makes having it pointless.

Aside from this the movie works, being quite dumb but very entertaining. This is because of some crazy OTT action sequences, plenty of visual gags and a constant stream of quips, particularly from Noel Fisher’s Michelangelo, who is comedy gold the most likeable of the foursome his goofball antics are bound to be popular with kids.

His desire for a normal life and to go above ground is quite well handled, especially when he reacts to a negative response from people they encounter. The argument over whether they should stay as they are or transform is an interesting touch, even if the outcome is obvious early on (Don’t hold your breath for Teenage Ninja Humans, folks).

Personally my favourite is Raphael, the group’s hulking badass and the conflict between him and Leonardo is handled well, with fault in both sides and the group’s leader losing his way, even if the theme of teamwork and embracing all the members’ differences feels a bit tired.

The human performances are simple, underwritten stuff and largely dull, with the exception being Will Arnett who is reliably funny as Fenwick, playing the vain, cowardly character with real humour.

Amell does well as Casey Jones and is likeable, even if the role is rather simple- a dumb, but well meaning, jock.

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Megan Fox is never stretched and is subject to a lingering, voyeuristic shot which is a little sleazy for what is a kid’s film.

The weakest is Tyler Perry as Stockman, who just plays every nerdy stereotype he can think of.

I liked the introduction of Bepop and Rocksteady as the two meatheads. They look kinda good and are entertaining and provide the Turtles with a fair fight (the Foot clan ninjas are rather easily dispatched) so this at least changes things up.

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And a sequence aboard a plane is capped by a hilarious miscalculation by the villains, which the others respond to brilliantly.

While it has flaws and treads a lot of the same ground as the first, it somehow works because the pace never lets up and it embraces it’s goofy, cheesy roots. The action sequences are well handled and I found myself laughing a lot, and while it’s dumb and clichéd, you don’t really expect more from the Turtles and this is a genuinely entertaining movie.

But perhaps this is where we should leave it? A third might be a bridge too far.

Verdict: Loud and dumb, but very fun, carried off well by the speed at which it develops and the central characters. The new villains introduced are a mixed bag, but on the whole the movie works as a goofy blockbuster. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice

Warning! Spoilers ahead!

I finally got around to seeing this with MWF today and I’m kinda glad I did, having allowed the fanboy hype and critical mauling fade into the background. So, does the big screen meeting of the World’s Finest work or not?

The answer is partially.

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The plot works decently, even if it does feel like a whole lot is going on. It uses the destruction of the Zod vs Superman (Henry Cavill) smackdown of Man of Steel as a jumping off point for much of the drama, this is good as the smashing of Metropolis was distinctly unlike Superman, so it’s good it had some kind of point.

Debate rages over what Superman should and shouldn’t do and whether he is helping or a threat. He rescues Lois Lane (Amy Adams) from African rebels, but the hired guards kill many and he takes the fall for this and the reprisals, leading the US government to question how he acts.

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Superman's motives and actions are questioned

While some embrace him as a saviour others are skeptical especially Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) who talks to the government about using Kryptonite as a “silver bullet” in case they need to put the Man of Steel down.

Meanwhile, in Gotham Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who witnessed the destruction and saw many if his employees die, returns to his life as Batman after a break and starts his war on crime. He is highly suspicious of Superman, and plagued by a nightmarish dream of a desolate world where Superman reigns.

For his part, Clark is not keen on the violent justice the Bat is dishing out. He wants to write about it in the Planet, but Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) kills the story.

Wayne’s investigations lead him to Luthor, who is shipping in Kryptonite which Batman wants. Also looking into Luthor is a mysterious woman, who wants a file that Lex has on her. She is unable to crack it and gives it to Bruce, who finds out she is Wonder Woman, another superhuman who fought in WWI.

It turns out Luthor has used his government connections to access Zod’s body and ship and is breeding something there, and is also aware of Batman’s identity and orchestrates a showdown. Who will triumph or will they be able to realise what’s going on and unite?

First the good. The questioning of Superman’s role on earth is handled well with fake news broadcasts and rival factions. Given the sheer havoc that rained down in the last movie it makes sense that not everyone is too keen on the Last Son of Krypton, and the way Luthor conspires to smear him is well done and paints Luthor as a genuine threat.

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Good start, poor ending: Eisenberg as Luthor

The problem is that this ball is dropped as despite Eisenberg’s early success as the slick, egotistical billionaire he lapses into raving look territory halfway through, which is a shame as it would be nice to have a Luthor who manages to be evil while remaining clean on the surface.

Eisenberg’s casting drew some heat, and it’s a flawed portrayal that justifies some of the doubts. Doubts about Ben Affleck’s ability to be the Bat are blown away thanks to a fantastic performance which portrays a darker, more morally ambiguous Batman than we’ve seen before. It owes a debt to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns in particular but this is a Batman who doesn’t shy from killing and is coldly ruthless.

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Star of the show: Affleck as Batman

There’s a sense if an older, jaded man behind the cowl and a scene where Batman and Alfred (played with a long suffering, dry charm by Jeremy Irons) talk about how all the good guys are gone, and many didn’t stay good. It teases more to come and a murky past, some of which we’ll probably see in Suicide Squad, and Affleck carries it well.

His fear is understandable and his rage utterly human, and he’s a total badass in the role, both as the Bat and Wayne. Those who criticised him will be feeling rather embarrassed now as he owns the film.

That’s not to do Cavill a disservice, he continues to impress as Superman but the character isn’t developed much and others steal the focus. That being said he captures a human side to the Man of Steel and works well with Adams again. The contrast between the two heroes is good and Cavill succeeds with what he’s given.

The third hero involved, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is given a great introduction as she’s shown to be smart, resourceful and strong and her bantering with Affleck is well handled. MWF liked that she was shown in a costume that looked badass without being too slutty. I always worried that Wonder Woman, like Thor, wouldn’t translate to the big screen but Gadot is solid and I’m looking forward to seeing more of her in action.

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I like that they introduced her but there are a couple of things that make you aware that this movie made in the shadow of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, particularly The Avengers, and clearly DC and Warner Bros. Want their own franchise, but it feels that this is a bit of a rush to get there. Marvel built up over a few movies, this is the second for DC.

Cameos from other Justice League members are fan pleasers, but this feels in places like a stepping stone to get to a bigger movie.

The other thing that’s rushed is Doomsday, a major villain in the comics, who rocks up here. While he’s a real threat here, he’s dispatched with relative ease and it’s a shame they couldn’t have done The Death of Superman as the second or third Justice League movie. It’s a major villain used against three of the team, which is a shame although there are hints of a bigger villain on the way.

Another misstep is the visions Batman has. They’re never explained, apart from a brief glimpse of the future Flash talking to him and it’s not clear if this is a dream or meant to be real. It’s messy and feels needless, why is he having them?

It feels in places like it would have been improved by being stripped back and with Luthor having a better ending.

So while it’s far from perfect it’s not an utter failure, it just feels like they’re trying to fit way too much into one movie and there are lots of gaps and questions left. But for the most part it works as a superhero epic and there are some good performances and it sets up further movies well.

Verdict: A little messy and with a few mistakes, this just about works and is helped by Ben Affleck’s sensational work as Batman and some good action sequences. The conflict is set up well and the conclusion satisfying, but in places it feels less like it’s own film, and more like a means to set up other movies. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: The Revenant

Suffering has never looked as good as it does in this movie from Alejandro G. Inarritu. It’s a tale of survival and revenge in the frozen American wilderness of the early nineteenth century, and the locations in Canada are starkly beautiful.

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A party of fur trappers are attacked by Native Americans from the Akikara tribe, with many killed and the survivors fleeing down river. Their guide Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) advises that they stash their pelts, ditch the boat and evade them on land. This does not go down well with Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) one of the trappers who given past dealings with Native Americans distrusts Glass and his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), as Glass’ wife was a native.

They follow Glass’ plan but he is attacked and mauled by a bear. They carry him onwards but he slows them down. Expedition leader Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) can’t bring himself to kill Glass as Fitzgerald urges and so offers a bonus to three men who will stay behind and wait until Glass dies and ensure he is “buried properly”. Hawk is first to volunteer along with youngster Bridger (Will Poulter), and Fitzgerald, with an eye on the cash, agrees as well.

Fitzgerald attempts to kill Glass but is caught by Hawk and stabs him, hiding the body. The severely injured Glass witnesses this but is unable to stop it or tell Bridger later. Fitzgerald tricks Bridger into thinking the Akikara are near, and after Bridger’s objections tosses Glass into a shallow grave and the pair flee.

Glass crawls from the grave and begins to crawl and stumble for home, intent on avenging his son. Can he survive the wilderness? Will he get his revenge or be denied?

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, which is a tense, gripping affair with gorgeous visuals and strong performances. The plot, based (very) loosely on true events, is simple enough but the kind of story which is engaging and involving, an old fashioned story of revenge.

In the lead DiCaprio gives a performance which is both intense and minimalistic. Alone for much of the running time, he endures the harsh surroundings surviving as best he can. His past is revealed through disjointed dream sequences as he dips in and out of consciousness, piecing together what happened to his wife.

DiCaprio looks like he’s suffering throughout and later on adopts a raspy, quiet voice caused by his injuries. It’s a strong performance in many ways as you buy into it totally, and I rooted for him throughout. It’s an intimate performance, and with nobody to spark off it’s to his credit that he holds the attention.

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The suffering is intense and wince inducingly real, but Inarritu avoids glamourising or overplaying it, it’s a low level, gritty portrayal which makes it all the more involving. At times it made me and MWF flinch, but it’s not lingered on and we kept watching raptly.

Inarritu’s direction is pretty flawless, with his framing wonderful and sense of pacing on point, the film moves along well enough, neither dawdling or rushing to the finale. The only misstep for me were some of the dream sequences, especially a moment where Glass’ dead wife hovers above him, which I found almost laughable. But this is one of very few mistakes during the film.

What works best is the brutal, harsh tone which highlights the fragility of life and the façade of civilisation on the edge if the world. The opening attack on the trappers is fast paced and savage, an oddity in the post- Dances With Wolves world, with the Native Americans shown as violent. Yet it avoids simple “savage” cliché as the white man is just as violent and ruthless, and the chief’s (Duane Howard) obsessive pursuit mirrors Glass’.

Hardy’s Fitzgerald is the best illustration of this, with a “what needs to be done” attitude that places survival above all else. While clearly the villain of the piece the film avoids utterly condemning the man and Hardy plays him with his normal strength.

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Hardy does good work making the man distasteful and his actions vile while still making him human and at times sympathetic. This is a man who struggles to get by, who fears and carries the scars, physical and emotional, of his past. Out on the edge of the wild, he has begun to shed his humanity and become more beastlike in his single mindedness to survive.

The other performances are just as solid, if less showy than the leads, and this is DiCaprio’s movie. Oscar worthy? Well, it would take a lot to beat him.

Inarritu should also get a little gold fella as his direction is sublime and he makes a film which easily moves from the brutal to the beautiful, and shows an ease and confidence which allows him to let the film unfold at it’s own pace. In the vast landscapes he still manages to find small, delicate human moments and he keeps the audience glued.

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Verdict: A strong, involving movie about survival, rage and men at the fringes of civilisation. DiCaprio gives a solid, mesmerising performance and carries the film single handedly for much of the run time. Inarritu directs superbly and the film is great to look at, even while some of the violence is hard to watch. Thoroughly captivating. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: The Hateful Eight

This is an OK movie that could have been great if the director’s excesses had been curtailed. The problem is that Quentin Tarantino is such a superstar director now that he has too much free rein, and here he hangs himself with it.

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For a director who started with the lean, tense Reservoir Dogs it’s sad to see that QT has reached this bloated excess. At around three hours long it’s in need if some pruning and despite the lengthy run time few of the characters truly engage.

The movie opens with Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a bounty hunter, stranded in snowy Wyoming with three dead bounties. Warren is a former Union officer, still dressed in his coat. His horse dead he flags down a passing stage carrying fellow bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell), who has a live prisoner Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Ruth takes him aboard but despite liking each other he insists Warren cuff himself.

The cuffs come off when Ruth reluctantly decides to partner with Warren when they pick up another passenger Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) a former rebel marauder and racist. Mannix claims to be the newly appointed sheriff of Red Rock, the town they are going to, but Ruth doesn’t believe him.

They arrive at Minnie’s Haberdashery, where the oncoming blizzard forces them to hunker down for a few days. Warren is suspicious as to where Minnie is and any she’s left a stranger, Mexican Bob (Demian Bichir) in charge. Ruth is suspicious of the others at the store, who include an English hangman (Tim Roth), a cowboy heading home (Michael Madsen) and an ageing Confederate general (Bruce Dern).

The general and Warren clash, and Ruth is convinced at least one other person there is planning to spring Daisy, who he is chained to. Is everyone who they say they are? Who can Ruth trust? And will they make it through the storm.

The idea is a good one and to his credit QT does make the Haberdashery a tense, claustrophobic setting and ramps up the unease and distrust. But as I stated it’s a little long winded.

The violence when it arrives is the typical OTT stuff of the director’s work since Kill Bill and is laughably hyperbolic in places. This excess doesn’t quite work as well as before- this isn’t genre parody/homage like Kill Bill, or daft overblown fare like Inglorious Basterds and you can’t even make the argument used for Django Unchained where the gun fight excess was almost a contrast to the nastier, more realistic violence dished out to the slaves.

It’s these lashings of gore that make it more QT and less a western. That and the dialogue which is the usual profanity laden stuff. There’s a couple of lines that really work and the plot works, but some feels unnecessary. And I worked out what kind of ending we were gonna get and a few plot points throughout.

The biggest disappointment is the character work, with many being rather under developed. Kurt Russell is exceptional as Ruth, a tough if not overly bright man with an odd code of honour. I’m admittedly a Russell fan but he’s watchable here and makes Ruth the most likeable character.

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Russell still has it

The other stand outs are Goggins as Mannix, as he is a capable performer with comedic skill and who manages to do a good job with the only character who appears to develop over the movie. Jennifer Jason Leigh is also entertaining as the prisoner Ruth describes as “peppery”.

The lead is probably SLJ’s Warren, and the actor is mesmerising as ever. He also gets the film’s major monologue, where he goads the general with a shocking story. No spoilers here, but it’s unlike anything QT or anyone else has done before and it’s sure to split audiences. I think it worked, if was overplayed and deliberately trying to shock.

Warren is an interesting character but far from likeable as the film progresses, SLJ is endlessly watchable and he is here, and it’s nice that they give him some Agatha Christie style sleuthing during the movie. But as for likeable or someone you warm to? He falls flat.

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Jackson in the lead

Dern, Madsen and Roth do well, but all are rather simply drawn and some of the twists fall flat.

This could have been a great movie, tense, claustrophobic and filled with colourful characters but it feels like a missed opportunity and the climax is rather unsatisfying. There are nice touches, but for me it’s one of the director’s weaker efforts, languishing in the bottom three with Death Proof and Inglorious.

A few interesting ideas and moments aren’t enough for the movie to work as a whole, although I was involved for most of it, even if aware if the time passing.

He clearly has ideas left in him, but it would be nice to see a restraining hand make him hold back on his excesses. A horror movie is apparently next up, and no genre is better served by brevity, so hopefully that will remind QT that you can tell a story in under 2 hours.

Verdict: Glimmers of QT’s greatness are in there and a few of the leads are very watchable, but it’s far too long, the gore is overdone and most of the characters are shallow. Generally a disappointing movie. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.