Kursk/ The Command review

Normally I love watching submarine films. I mean the long lamented genre of siege films is my favorite and the idea of taking a siege mentality, putting it in a giant windowless cigar tube, with the knowledge that even a sneeze could sentence you and 100 other people to death from some unseen enemy is, to my mind a recipe to great movies. And U571.

Normally….

Because normally I’m not watching Kursk or The Command in the US or Kursk: The Last Mission in the UK. Normally I’m not watching a story which should not need to be told because there’s absolutely no reason for it to have happened.

Normally I’m not watching a film and getting Chernobyl flashbacks. You remember Chernobyl, right? Literally the greatest TV show ever made and, unlike Breaking Bad a TV show that you actually should put next on your to binge list. (I’m starting Breaking Bad next week, I swear! On my script guys life!)

Because all of the issues flagged up in that show are flagged up here, despite the Cold War allegedly being well and truly over by that point.  Over, according to the papers but not in the mindset of those high enough up the food chain to accept the offers of help that came in thick and fast, instead choosing to rely on outdated, inefficient machinery that didn’t have a hope in hell of doing what they needed it to do.

Then you have the people back at home, desperate for information who, instead are being fed useless out of date slogans and information that’s so irrelevant that the people delivering it might as well not have bothered.

However, unlike Chernobyl (which was so realistic that the only people who got a bit miffered were the Pro-Kremlin media which continues to deny the extent of the disaster at Chernobyl, saying it has been exaggerated, with state-run media scoffing at the “myths,” such as large numbers of leukemia. Segments of the Russian government were so unhappy with this program that state TV channel NTV is producing its own more “patriotic” account of the events, involving a wholly fictional storyline based on a conspiracy theory that a CIA agent was in Chernobyl to sabotage the plant.)- I can’t wait. But Kursk defiantly takes a more fictional route- the end results still the same but the way we get there is slightly different than what happened in reality.  Because otherwise it would be even more depressing.

Anyway, the plotline (in case you haven’t guessed 420 words in) is that during a Russian naval exercise in the Barents Sea two explosions severely damage the submarine. Twenty-three sailors survived the crash and desperately waited for help to arrive while their oxygen ran out minute-by-minute. It’s cold, it’s grey, it’s depressing and it’s one of the most affecting film I’ve seen in months.

I do have some issues with the film in the Colin Firth (whilst playing a smaller role than the ad campaign would have you believe) is somewhat distracting in the role because a story like this is strong enough that it doesn’t need star power, it’s simply distracting. It’s the same with Léa Seydoux who is a fine actor but I feel that casting an unknown would have lent the story more resonance. Also, toning down the melodrama might have helped somewhat, with the increased time being used to focus on the people trying to save those desperately trapped under the sea, as well as those trying to use their limited resources to get more time for the rescue that they know is coming if they can just hold out a little bit longer…

Kursk/ The Command/ Kursk: The Last Mission is a film that doesn’t pull it’s punches or attempt to quell it’s anger at the fact that every decision that was made was wrong, and (at time of writing) no-one has bee brought to justice. There’s no Hollywood style bombast or moments, just real people trying to make the most of a horrifying, nightmare, situation. I mean, the characters aren’t for the ages (the guys on the sub are pretty interchangeable) but I  liked them, I liked their sense of camaraderie, the way that they kept each other sane in the most terrifying circumstances imaginable. The effects were passable and, on the whole, this was a story that needed to be told, I just think that they needed to take out the star names, maybe stick closer to reality and treat this as an entry point to a fascinating story.

My Score- See It. 

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Anna (2019) Review

I get that after your lifelong passion project (Valerian and the city of a thousand Planets) turns into one of the biggest bombs in cinematic history you might want to return to your cinematic roots and make something low budget to calm your nerves, check you’ve still got ‘it’ and stop your company from collapsing under a mountain of debt.

But there is returning to your cinematic roots and there is reheating old leftovers and Luc, buddy, this is some serious reheating.

But hey, I liked La Femme Nikita as well. Hell, I even stuck with the tv show for a couple of seasons but this… this is just copy paste. Just swap out the Centre for the KGB, and your pretty much good to go.

Now, for those of you who haven’t seen Nikita or even last year’s Red Sparrow (and on that one I can’t blame you) the plots simple. Set at some point during the cold war for no reason that I could work out, Anna is well, according to the blurb Beneath a woman’s striking beauty lies a secret that will unleash her indelible strength and skill to become one of the most feared assassins on the planet.

I’ll take that as a plot description because even though this film has a near 2 hour run-time (When a film this basic should be no more than 100 minutes at the longest) I genuinely have no idea what the plot is, why almost everyone did what they did or even who they were. I mean, how do you waste Dame Helen Mirren? I didn’t even think that was possible.

Now, as far as I could work out (and trust me, it wasn’t easy) the plot involves a beautiful Russian girl with no personality being forced into becoming one of the USSRs top assassins and then she enbarks on a cat and mouse game with CIA man (Cillian Murphy) whilst desperately trying to get out of the game without receiving a fatal dose of lead poisoning. Or Polonium. Or Cyanide. Or having a ‘boating accident’ since her cover is as one of the world’s top models. Because that makes sense.

In reality,it’s a mess. There’s only two real fight scenes (which weirdly enough featured pretty heavily in the trailer) , then everyone sits.around talking, some… people on set get shot but it never seems to cost our lead character anything. There’s one fairly major character, who, in the right hands could have acted as Anna’s conscience, a link back to her humanity but instead is just sort of… there. Remove them completely and the film wouldn’t suffer at all.

Also, I get that in spy films the odd flashback can be useful in helping us know how a trick was done, they are best used sparingly. Here? Their used so often that I was half wondering if the scriptwriter was on such a tight deadline that instead of rewriting some scenes, it was quicker and easier to just put in a flashback explaining how this was all part of some grand plan. It got do bad that you could make a drinking game out of them!

We never get a handle on our lead character and certainly not on any of the side characters. There’s two passable action scenes but scenes that should have been tense, weren’t. People that should have had depth, didn’t and its way, way too long.

I know a film of this type can work because it has in the past. But here? Even with the flashbacks it’s completely predictable and with a few rewrites it could have been so much better.

The best I can say is it’s made enough money to temporarily keep the creditors from Luc Beesons door.

My Score- Skip It.

Spider-Man: Far from Home Review

So, how does one follow up Avengers Endgame? A film which despite being re-released as an ‘extended edition’ whilst the original is STILL in cinemas featuring some half baked, unfinished irrelevant scene is still second behind a James Cameron film which nobody remembers let alone cares about in the global box office?

You reach for one of the most popular superheros in existence of course! Good old Arachnid boy who is pretty much single handily responsible for keeping the turkey factory known as Sony in operation.

Arachnid Boy – We Just Realized There’s A World Outside Our Windows, is the first film set after a bunch of CGI thugs undo Thanos heroic and noble actions to lower London’s house prices and help me get a seat on the central line in the morning.

And at first it looks like the film is going to tackle the issues raised by half the population suddenly coming back from the dead- schoolkids having to redo school years, people coming home to find that other people are living in their homes, family members having moved on, remarried and adjusted to what must have been a horrific experience.

Except within ten minutes the film drops all these ideas in favour of yet another Marvel film.

I mean, it is kind of cool that an American road trip film has realized that there’s more to Europe than London and Prague because well, insert your own Brexit joke here because I am so, so tired.

I am also slightly baffled by the interesting ideas that the film has and then throws away, Fury is depicted as being behind the curve but the film doesn’t really do anything with it. Parker is in so many European countries but they pass by so quickly that none of them make an impact beyond Marvel being pleased with the fact that it’s just bought a new atlas.

It’s gotten all the usual Marvel issues as well, the villain appears to have nothing but good points, the hero is basically an immortal, invulnerable God, the CGI is everywhere and obvious , even when it doesn’t need to be there, I’m still not convinced that the hero isn’t the biggest menace in the film and everyone’s just a quippy pain in the neck to such an extent that I wanted to go back in time and shove a book of Shakespearean soliloquies down Joss Wheedons throat and his Scooby Gang of helpers needs a lot less time in the third act as they frankly add a Gooniesh air to what could have been a very intense finale.

Aside from that, this films actually pretty good. Holland is amazing as Parker and is arguably the second best cast person in the film…. It’s great to see Jake Gyllenhaal back into blockbusters following 2008s frankly underrated Prince of Persia flick. More comedic lines hit than miss and there are some really cool ideas and visuals after what I guess is supposed to be a twist in the middle of the film but everyone who has even the slightest knowledge of the web-head would have seen coming a mile away.

There’s some good character moments but it just all get drowned beneath the inevitable CGI slurry hat accompanies all these films.

As a soft reboot after infinity war, this film works. As a fun distraction, it works. Marvel doesn’t make bad films. I mean, they will eventually but that day is not today. It’s got some interesting ideas but it doesn’t DO anything with them. All the characters are interesting flawed.and relatable. Or pathetically flat one dimensional bits of cardboard but that’s life these days.

Some of the action scenes are fun but all of them are different and inventive and to be honest, that’ll do film. That’ll do.

My Score- See It.

Child’s Play (2019) Review

“Why are you reviewing this film?”

Asked my very confused script guy.

“You’ve never seen any of the other films in this franchise, there’s no real buzz about this film, the marketing budget is zero as you’ve not seen a single trailer or even poster on even a single bus. Hell, even your local cinema couldn’t be bothered to advertise it”

True, conceded I, but you could make the same argument about Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich and that disgusting, sick little film is still riding high in my end of year top ten.

Besides, isn’t that the whole point of a reboot? To attract a new audience to a franchise? As well as ridding yourself of a sometimes suffocating amount of some frankly baffling continuity?

Besides, Aubrey Plaza is amazing in pretty much everything she does and legendary voice actor Mark Hamill (who I think also did some space wizard film back in the ’70’s- Battlestar Galactia I think it was called) is playing the role of Chucky and the child actor is pretty tolerable even if he does have to deal with supporting characters called Falyn and Pugg. For no discernible reason that I could work out.

The set-ups interesting as well- gone is the soul of a serial killer getting trapped in a doll and instead we get Skynet.

Which might sound like a bit of a course correction but in certain scenes it actually works. Given that the villain is AI instead of a trapped soul, he can control everything that’s connected to the internet of things- cameras, thermostats, driver-less cars and more which is an idea that’s really underused in modern horror.

But it all falls apart when, instead of being an evil and malevolent AI, we realize that our villain is a doll that sometimes has super-speed whenever the plot requires it and the rest of the time just sort of beams around the set.

I mean, when the death scenes to start to occur (far too late in the film for my liking I mean about an hour into a 90 minute film? Get a wiggle on). Their at their best when it’s just seemingly the technology malfunctioning. I mean, imagine it- some unseen, twisted hacker killing those who he feels have wronged him by manipulating their technology with humiliating, madness inducing and finally lethal consequences. I mean, imagine what you’ve said in front of or around your Alexa that you wouldn’t want broadcast…

In other words, the villain in this movie is scarier when he isn’t around. As when he is on set, he’s about as scary as cold pizza. And can be defeated with a good kick.

But this film has issues beyond the monster who could have been easily removed to the improvement of the film at only the cost of loosing all that lovely name recognition.

There were at least three major plot holes which would have brought about the utterly beautiful end credits even sooner and a scene at the end which just seemed to be gift wrapped for dozens of gory and inventive deaths but the film just wastes it completely in favor of a completely generic and utterly tedious ending as if the budget ran out just a smidge too soon.

The characters are all cardboard, too many of them make it to the end credits and there’s just something so old fashioned about it. I called everything that was going to happen about five minutes before it did and called the ending about two minutes in.

This film needed to develop tit’s ideas more, use it’s ideas to create a sense of looming horror from which there is no escape- as there is a great idea for a horror movie in here, hell, they even have a guy who would have been a much better villain at least until Chucky bumps him off anyway.

As a film to throw on it’s slow until it goes mad in the last half an hour, as a horror film it’s monster is scarier when he  isn’t around and it’s just utterly predictable and old fashioned, squandering what could have been a really cool, scary, idea for the sake of a brand name. It’s not completely hopeless, there were some inventive death scenes and the actors are doing what they can with what they have- especially Hamill, but it just comes across as a pointless remake that could have been a cool idea for a brand new franchise in it’s own right.

My Score- If Nothing Else

Godzilla: King of the Monsters Review

First appearing in 1954, where he was a man in a concrete suit (the studio couldn’t afford rubber) menacing a bunch of matchbox toys in a bathtub  and some cardboard sets, Godzilla has been menacing Japan right up until the present day  meaning that it is recognized by Guinness World Records to be the longest continuously running movie franchise, having been in ongoing production from 1954 to the present day.

And yet, despite all that, Godzilla’s never really broken into the mainstream. I mean most people are aware of Godzilla but ask the average movie goer to describe his rogues gallery and I’m willing to bet 95% of people wouldn’t get more than two or three.

That’s probably because most peoples knowledge of Godzilla comes from the 1998 Roland Emerich version (myself included). I caught Shin Godzilla when it came out, wasn’t terribly impressed as the special effects would have been laughed out of town in the ’70’s but I went into Godzilla: God harder looking forward to the experience.

I mean, Pacific Rim is one of my favourite films, I love big monster movies (even if the genre is probably going to go into ‘hibernation’ for a few years) and this film seriously delivers on the whole skyscraper sized monsters going at in multiple environments.

Forget the 2014 versions bright idea of always having Godzilla slightly off-screen until the end (The director claims he was inspired by Jaws but the two films place people in VERY different mindsets which is why most people were miffed. It didn’t help that the human characters were flatter than if Godzilla had stepped on them)

But pretty much all of those flaws are fixed in this film because yes, the human  characters are still flatter than if Godzilla had stepped on them and they spend all their time searching for a McGuffin and staring at screens whilst all the military tech gets shown off to such an extent I had to check the Michael Bay wasn’t  involved.

But you forget about all that cardboard the second that the Titans come on screen and start going for it. Each titan unique and distinct from the other, each with it’s own color scheme so you can quickly identify who’s on screen.

And they look so… beautiful. There are so many frames of this film that would look amazing as posters and the soundtrack!

The traditional Godzilla theme has been turned up to eleven, hell, the whole soundtrack sounds like the composer was told that “This is a movie about skyscraper sized monsters beating the living snot out of each other. Go for it.” And a bonus to whoever put Go Go Godzilla over the end credits. I loved that song growing up and it’s so great to have been reminded of it.

Sadly though, for some reason, a film cannot be two hours of CGI monsters screaming at each other and whilst I like the way the camera panned from an awesome fight to the humans trying to get the hell out of there and then back again. Because that’s the part of the movie that your actually going to care about.

As, well, within about five minutes you’ll have worked out every single piece of cardboard’s complete story ark. I mean, don’t get me wrong, It’s great to see Charles Dance getting work on the silver screen and Millie Bobby Brown again proves that as long as she can stay on the rails she’s going to be one hell of an A-lister in about ten years. It’s just that it’s all wasted. Apart from Ken Watanabe, he’s slightly less wasted than everyone else as he gets, if you squint hard enough something that might resemble a character arc except that you’ll see it coming a mile away.

So, what I’ve said 632 words trying to say is that this film about giant monsters fighting features of lot of giant monsters fighting. It’s tense at times, exciting at others and all the best characters can only communicate in screaming roars.

Sadly though, whilst the giant monster battles are amazing on the big screen, when it comes on the TV, your going to notice that the humans speak only in exposition, their either staring at screens or having some of the worst choreographed gun battles I’ve ever seen.

Yes, gun battles, in a Godzilla movie.

No, me either.

Also, what is it with seemingly every villain in blockbusters wanting to be Thanos? Look, I get it, I’ve worked in retail and try to live in London so I approve of a decrease of the surplus population, but it’s just getting a bit tired as a motivation and doesn’t really make sense here. Debating whether to try to work with or destroy Godzilla, reconsidering our place in the the food chain and desperately trying to work out how to survive against beings that are so far beyond us that they might as well be Gods seems to me to be enough issues for one film.

Except with dialog that most of the time sounds like were in a video game cut-scene just before the player gets handed their objective, maybe it’s best that the villains have such a simplistic motivation.

So, see this on the biggest screen that you can, buy either The Art of Godzilla: King of the Monsters so that you can see those mind-blowing images again and again because on the small screen a lot of the flaws that have been covered up by the sugar rush of the fights are going to become really, really obvious.

Great sugar rush though.

My Score- See It 

 

Detective Pikachu Review

For those who didn’t grow up in the 90’s, the pokemon universe is a dark, twisted place where schooling is held in such contempt that parents would rather their children roamed the land attacking each other with wild animals before heading to the gym.

But enough about daily life in South London, I want to talk about detective merchandise sales because I was actually quite surprised.

Not because it’s being described as ‘the best video game movie ever because that bars so low it could be reached by each screening burning down the auditorium.

No, I was surprised because, well, this is a good film. Not a great one, but a good film in and of itself which stands alone. No setting up 15 other films or being constrained by 15 previous films but an actual good standalone film. I mean I thought they’d all gone extinct.

Its not perfect- it’s hero played by Justice Smith ( not one of Will Smiths, I checked.) Is called Tim for one, which is possibly the least heroic name ever and as such will be called Clint Thrust from this point on. Clint teams up with… erm… a female reporter who wants to prove that even though she’s really, truly, insanely badly written, she has a purpose in this film beyond pleasing creepy fanboys.

It’s not to give Clint someone to share action sequences with as that goes to the person who steals the show- Ryan Reynolds as an amnesiac, coffee addicted pikachu  who promptly steals the show along with every other walking toy.

I mean pokemon.

Because the big success story of this film isn’t Clints attempts to find out what happened to his dad. It certainly isn’t trying to spot the villain (unless you’ve never seen a film before). It’s not even really the fact that this film sort of confirms that Home Alone exists in the pokemon universe.

It’s firstly the fact that this feels like a world. With a history and stories different to ours that seems to actually exist rather than being a collection of set pieces and dialogue scenes.

Secondly, despite the fact that the CGI varies from the amazing too the clearly running out of budget, the pokemon themselves are amazing, unique and colourful. Also their not so overdone as to send anyone over the age of 12 into the nearest bar for… help, which was a serious weakness of the original film. Seriously, if.your parents took you to that in the cinema, then firstly you need to call them more and secondly, you have no idea how truly, deeply loved you are because that thing is almost unwatchable.

It’s got good pacing, a few fun twists and it was a fun place to spend 100 minutes reliving my childhood.

It’s not perfect though. Not by a long shot, the first two minutes need to go. Not tinkered with or altered, they just need to go. Along with 20% of the dialogue. Giving Clint and all his friends more depth than a jelly baby that’s recently had an argument with a steamroller would be amazing. As would just one practical effect. Is that really too much to ask in a 150 million dollar film? Also, making the script seem slightly less like it had been sitting on a shelf since 1995 and then made as was wouldn’t have hurt.

Is this the best video game.movie ever? Until that doom movie comes out, yes.

Is it a masterpiece? God no. It’s a good fun diversion and an interesting , fresh look into an old property that i have no intention of ever watching again.

My Score-. If Nothing Else

Missing Link Review

So there I am looking to see which film’s to throw my eye over and my eye catches the poster for ‘Missing Link.’ Weird, thought I. I didn’t know that Dreamworks had a new film out this week. Oh well, yet another pile of 3* mediocrity that will make back more money then it should through toy sales and kids buying tickets for this and then sneaking into Pet Semetary. Assuming kids still do that. Or has yet another childhood thrill been lost to the internet?

Anyway, I looked, saw the star studded cast ( Wolverine, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Fry, Timothy Olyphant and Zach Galifianakis among others.) which seemed to confirm my suspicions. But I checked out the trailer anyway and was surprised to see that this isn’t from Dreamworks but from a studio called Laika (named after a stray mongrel from the streets of Moscow, who became one of the first animals in space, and the first animal to orbit the Earth. Sadly, Laika died within hours from overheating, possibly caused by a failure of the central R-7 sustainer to separate from the payload. The true cause and time of her death were not made public until 2002; instead, it was widely reported that she died when her oxygen ran out on day six.)

Ok, thought I. This is clearly some low budget Russian film which has somehow gotten a UK release. The CGI looks weird though, so I looked a little deeper and discovered that the reason the CGI looked weird is that it wasn’t CGI it was Stop-motion. Actual, wonderful, almost extinct Stop-motion.

And the studio isn’t Russian, it’s from the colonies and made Kubo and the Two Strings. One of my favorite films of all time and a masterpiece which failed to make a profit and was cruelly robbed of an Oscar by Zootopia. Actually I should probably watch it again… for… research… purposes…

102 minutes later.

Roger Moores eyebrow that films amazing. And missing link doesn’t really let the side down. It feels like a smaller story but that’s not really a bad thing. Think less fighting giant skeletons and more fighting on a boat in the middle of a storm which makes the entire set spin around like that scene from Inception (BWAMMMM).

I’ll point out that a Stopmotion film on a great day creates about 3 seconds of footage as it consists of getting your models together, photographing them, moving them slightly and then photographing them again. It’s agonizing, slow, painful work that looks about a million times better than even the best CGI. Ages a lot better as well.

Anyway, Missing Link is a very simple story of someone wanting to find their family. That they are the last Bigfoot and they believe that their cousins are the yeti simply means that we have an excuse to go around the world in 80 days. Backed up by Wolverines incredibly English Sir Lionel Frost who’s trying to prove himself as an adventurer and Zoe Saldana’s Adelina Fortnight who appears to be on loan from Team America World Police and looks slightly creepy as a result.

The Link itself (voiced by Galifianakis) needs half it’s lines removed. This film has the weird American thing where they thing that comedy is simply speaking every thought that comes into their head or observing every little thing that’s happening around them. I don’t get it, I don’t like it and I’ve yet to meet anyone who does.

Thar aside, this film looks gorgeous, I mean these guys are truly pushing the boundaries of what can be done with the medium. A medium I adore and sadly is so rare in this modern CGI infested age but then something like this comes out and just blows everything else away.

Because the models are physically there, they avoid the uncanny valley completely. The lighting looks incredible because it’s actually reflecting off of things. Also, it allows for different textures which is something that CGI really struggles with.

Each of the locations is distinct, each of the characters (even those that only get a few lines) are fun and memorable. I mean you’ll have worked out the plot within the first ten minutes but a 95 minute children’s film isn’t going to be making you question the meaning of life, is it?

Missing Link is a visually incredible, funny, fast moving, well written story with very little fat on the bones. It’s moral is timely, it’s action incredible, it’s a smaller, more intimate story than the studios last film which I do understand and I’ll be very, very sad when this sinks without trace in a fortnight to be rediscovered on Netflix in about six months or so.

My Score- See It Now