Friday, 30 June 2017

Best and Worst of June 2017

Just when I was starting to worry that 2017 would be a repeat of the monotonous summer of last year we get treated to the month of June, which despite having its fair share of duds brought us some truly brilliant movies. Whether it be new superhero icons, a musical heist movie or three decades worth of rock and roll, there were several films that shed light on brilliant stories in fantastic ways. This was the month in which I actually found myself liking a DCEU movie, proving miracles are capable. Even movies that I was highly anticipating still managed to surprise me with how exceptional they were and a few that I had no idea even existed left me completely floored.

Of course, as I said there were also a few misfires. Actually to say misfires would be implying I was looking forward to them at all. Universal learned too late why one should never trust Alex Kurtzman to head a major franchise but despite the terribleness of ‘The Mummy’ (sorry Tom Cruise) surprisingly it wasn’t the worst movie I saw this month, no prizes for guessing what was….But before that, here are the top three.

3: Wonder Woman

Patty Jenkins film may not be ground breaking in its narrative or style but in a way that is almost part of what makes it so brilliant. It harkens back to a more mythic age of superheroes, clearly being heavily influenced by Richard Donner’s ‘Superman’, possessing an almost timless quality to its heroism. The film endows its characters with genuine personality and empathy, allowing us as an audience to feel invested in their own battles, whether they be intimate of enormous. Against all expectations Gal Gadot managed to engrain herself into our minds as Wonder Woman, showing the distinct characteristics that make her a compelling person but demonstrating the emotional development that moulds her into a hero. A triumph for DC (finally!) as well as superhero movies in general.

2: Long Strange Trip

Even if you’ve never heard a single song by Grateful Dead, even if you despise their very existence I find it hard to believe that you would not find this documentary insightful, inspiring and engrossing from start to finish. It establishes a mood and atmosphere that places you within the era of the iconic band’s emergence and fame, creating an image of why their music resonated so deeply with the people of its time. It traces the lineage of a creation that spiralled out of control as it became more than the some of its parts could have even dreamed. It’s a character study of Jerry Garcia’s transition from a counter culture icon to a world weary rocker soldiering on. ‘Long Strange Trip’ is a brilliantly constructed piece of documentary filmmaking that has to be seen to be believed.

1: Baby Driver

Though Edgar Wright’s latest film is not without its flaws, from the underwritten characters to the somewhat basic narrative, its style and execution is so masterfully put together that I have to commend it as highly as I can. Not only does the style elevate it to a level of freshness and originality that I can guarantee very few films this summer will match, but ‘Baby Driver’ is justr so infectiously enjoyable from start to finish. It creates a world with real stakes and genuine consequences but is never afraid to have fun within said world. The characters are all wonderfully distinct and played brilliantly by the films supremely talented cast. But the real star was always going to be Wright, marking himself out as a distinguished modern director with a brilliantly unique take on every angle of filmmaking.  

And the worst….

Transformers: The Last Knight

I’m not surprised, I’m not even disappointed, I’m just sad. I’m sad that a studio holds their audience in such low regard to think that this is a movie that is acceptable to be shown to free thinking individuals. A redundant plot, idiotic characters with no development, blatant product placement, overt sexism and racial stereotypes galore. We have become used to Michael Bay’s regular laziness now but ‘The Last Knight’ takes it a step further by not even bothering to have a consistent aspect ratio for the movie’s runtime (Cineworld have actually put up a disclaimer ahead of the movie due to the amount of customer complaints they have received) as well as ideas that are stolen from a dozen more successful franchises. It may not be the worst of the ‘Transformers’ series but ‘The Last Knight’ still does a great job at representing the epitome of cynical and lazy filmmaking.

Thursday, 29 June 2017


"Our plan is to expose Mirando, rescue Okja, and bring her back to you."

It has been over a decade since Bong Joon-ho burst onto the international filmmaking scene with 2006’s ‘The Host’. In fact he was recognised as a major talent before that with the superb ‘Memories of Murder’, but I bring up ‘The Host’ due to the fact that his latest directorial effort, ‘Okja’ marks a return to a monster genre hybrid intended to make big social statements. However, ‘Okja’ is a very different kind of monster movie, but no less interesting.

The Mirando Corporation, headed by its CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) launch a project to breed a new species of “Superpigs” in an effort to combat world hunger. Young Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) lives one of the farms that has spent ten years raising one of these animals and forms an unbreakable bond with one of the pigs which she has named Okja. But when the corporation retruns to claim their product, Mija sets out on a rescue mission.

So the premise of ‘Okja’ alone signals that what awaits us in Bong Joon-ho’s next film is another mix of social statements and genre filmmaking as we saw in ‘The Host’ and ‘Snowpiercer’. Though there are a lot of ideals within ‘Okja’ the main commentary it wants to offer seems to centre on capitalism and its dual persona. On the one hand lies the public friendly face of the system that encourages success from those who can achieve it, whilst also addressing the darker side of corporate management that oppresses those who are not fortunate enough to lie at the top. Its satirical undertones and social undertones are obvious right from the start, but what is more surprising is how it blends this biting commentary with moments of genuine poignancy.

At least, it does for a good amount of its runtime that is. On the positive side of things ‘Okja’ most definitely makes an effort to convey a personal story as well as its broader social statements. While those two goals sometimes feel conflicted with one another the movie makes them each feel involved with one another rather than making one aspect feel like an obligation. Though it does lead to some tonal consistency in which the film feels as if it’s caught awkwardly between full blown slapstick satire and poignant character moments, it navigates them easily enough.

On a directorial level, ‘Okja’ is another example of how skilled Bong Joon-ho is behind the camera, his prowess for impeccable framing and perfect framing is obvious in every scene of this film, with each shot becoming a stunningly crafted portrait. It’s Joon-ho’s attention to detail and visual storytelling that makes the tonal shifts feel less prevalent and compensates for the films structural issues and pacing. Like the tonal shifts these are not huge problems but the film feels somewhat repetitive and slow as it ploughs on. Though it builds to a powerful conclusion the road to get there isn’t the most efficient, and even the finale is a little undermined by the fact that we have already witnessed the films central message.

That being said, what helps make the movie more engaging is its supremely talented cast. Tilda Swinton creates and eerily dethatched nature to the CEO of the Mirando Corporation, as well as a manufactured sweetness that you can tell is fake before her true self is even revealed, marking her as the personification of Joon-ho’s portrait of capitalist greed. What I loved about her character though is how the story allowed for her to have actual depth, instead of just being a vehicle to convey a message Swinton’s character is given a real motivation for her personality. Paul Dano and Steven Yuen are also very well cast in their roles, as is Ahn Seo-hyun who is burdened with a lot of the story’s emotional weight. While Jake Gyllenhaal does appear to be in a different movie to everyone else his character is immensely watchable, being another character that wears two faces for the sake of covering up a more self-interested motivation.

While there are times that ‘Okja’ risks being more of a message than a film it usually redeems itself by injecting a sense of emotional involvement into proceedings. As I said before Joon-ho’s own talents as a filmmaker continually shine through on a technical level, with his CGI creations feeling like fully realised and weighty presences within the world he creates. His intricate use of the camera allows us to see the titular animal in several different environments without breaking the illusion of it being a real creature with real properties. He directs the film with a sense of urgency when it requires it but also a sense of patience when he wants us to observe the little details that add emotional weight to the scenario. It’s ambitious in design but intimate in execution.

Though it’s tonal juggling act is sometimes hard to follow, ‘Okja’ tells a compelling story executed with skilled filmmaking prowess.

Result: 7/10

Baby Driver

"In this business, the moment you catch feelings is the moment you catch a bullet."

I can think of few other directors whose filmography is so limited but is so respected as Edgar Wright. Despite the fact that this is just his fifth feature film Wright has amassed a devoted fan base that has praised him as one of the finest comedic minds working in film today, a fan base I would very much consider myself to be a part of. ‘Baby Driver’ marks his solo outing as both writer and director so it should be interesting to see how this compares to his other efforts.

Talented getaway driver Baby (Ansel Elgort) relies on the beat of his personal soundtrack to be the best in the game. After meeting the woman (Lily James) of his dreams, he sees a chance to ditch his shady lifestyle and make a clean break. Coerced into working for a crime boss (Kevin Spacey), Baby must face the music as a doomed heist threatens his life, love and freedom.

Edgar Wright does have a tendency to take ideas that sound terrible on paper and turn them into great films. Be it a genre that we think is overdone or a premise that sounds too outlandish to work as a cohesive movie, he elevates all of his material with sharp writing and tightly stylish direction. His comedy movies are a staple of utilizing the full spectrum of visual comedy, rather than merely letting his actors improvise until they have cobbled together something funny, Wright puts his own craftsmanship to good use and creates something vastly more impressive. These erratic directorial touches are less prevalent in ‘Baby Driver’, but that is mainly because it’s less of a comedic film but fear not because it’s still hugely entertaining and infectiously charming.

Like Tarantino, Wright wears his influences and references on his sleeve, and also like Tarantino his more recent efforts have a tendency to value form over function. ‘Baby Driver’ may lack a sense of depth that Wright’s other movies have had, if anything I would say this is his most underwritten movie, but the method of which Wright goes about executing his somewhat basic narrative is terrific. There’s such a great sense of energy and vibrancy that goes right to the core of the movie, invigorating every scene whether it be a car chase or a simple conversation.

A lot of this is down to the music of the film. The sound design of the film is impeccable and the fact that it is all diegetic is a testament to Wright’s filmmaking coordination and imagination.  Half the scenes in the movie are set to music, synchronised with the rhythm and pace of the music Baby listens to from his headphones. It’s not only one of the best soundtracks in recent memory, but it is the best use of a soundtrack within a movie in recent memory. The music choices are not just one note either, they’re all unique and wildly varied, perhaps my favourite example was the decision to stage a gunfight to the tune of ‘Tequila’. The very first scene lets you know what you are in for with a truly spectacular car chase that kicks the film into high gear from where it never slows down.
The car chases in question have a weight and versatility to them that shows just how capable a filmmaker Wright is when given the freedom to move where he wants. The stunt work and practical effects are put to great use, with the films editing being clear enough for us to see them in all their glory but fast enough to evoke a sense of pace and excitement. In fact, as is the way with this director, all of the cuts feel motivated and evocative of exactly what he wants you to feel. Even when you put the editing aside you can find numerous shots that convey so much in regards to character dynamics and thought processes with so little.

As I said before, the plot is fairly straightforward, being reminiscent of several iconic action films from ‘The Driver’ to ‘The Transporter’. But Wright finds a way to make the movie’s standard narrative feel unique both through his style and how character driven it is. Wright populates his hyperactive world with hyperactive characters whom may not be complex (which is not for a lack of trying as a few small details shed some unexpected death on secondary characters) for the most part but they do have a distinct and memorable presence within the movie. They all have some kind of motivation and the way the dynamic of this cast plays out is unexpected as well as highly entertaining.

It helps that ‘Baby Driver’ has such a talented cast to bring these characters to life. Jamie Foxx emerged as a volatile and unhinged criminal, Kevin Spacey carries great authority with him as the mastermind of the numerous robberies, John Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez make for a great Bonnie-and-Clyde-like pairing and despite having just a few minutes of screen time Jon Bernthal gets a chance to shine as well. Even Lilly James who despite being somewhat flat as a character brings enough surface level charm to Baby’s love interest for us to feel invested. But the real star is Baby himself, as Ansel Elgort brings an almost indescribable detachment to the character that is both likable and mysterious. We understand his conflict of interest as well as his own struggles but we are also never left in doubt of his own ability and talent. Even amid an array of seasoned character actors Elgort steals the movie and marks himself as a star in the making.

Fresh and original but also pleasingly old fashioned in its method, Wright’s latest effort may lack a little depth but it’s stylish and hugely enjoyable.

Result: 8/10

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

All Eyez on Me

"You must stand for something, you must live for something and you must be willing to die for something."

So it seems that with the success of ‘Straight Outta Compton’ movie studios have assumed that rapper biopics must be a hot commodity now and have rushed to create another biopic of that nature. The problem is though that few things are worse than a studio controlled biopic, they’re not made because anyone involved has a genuine passion for the story at hand or to honour its own subject, and they are simply there to cash in on something. In this case it is hip hop artist Tupac Shakir who deserves so much better than this movie.

The film chronicles the life and legacy of hip hop artist Tupac Shakur (Demetrius Shipp Jr) and his tumultuous life and career that was tragically cut short, including his rise to superstardom, as well as his imprisonment and prolific, controversial time at Death Row Records.

So in a recent interview, the producer of ‘All Eyez on Me’ stated that he envisioned a possible cinematic universe assembled of rapper biopics. In this film for instance, James Woolard reprises his role as Notorious B.I.G from the 2009 film ‘Notorious’. To me that sounds like an atrocious idea. As I said before, biopics should reflect a filmmakers passion for their subject, or their interest in the compelling story said subject offers, to embody the essence of a person and illuminate the audience on their journey. A good biopic is not merely part of the puzzle in an ever expanding horde of sequels. If they made a Jimi Hendrix biopic that turned out to just be a prequel to an upcoming Janis Joplin biopic because they met at Woodstock, I’d be pretty annoyed.

I give that as an example because I’m not a huge fan of Tupac Shakir’s music on a personal level at least. I can however, admire it and recognise what a talented artist he was as well as how interesting, if not also very controversial, story his life would make in the hands of someone who actually seemed to care about it. Right from the start you can just sense that this biopic seems to have zero to no investment in Tupac’s actual life, especially because it’s rife with inaccuracies. By that I don’t just mean inaccuracies only fans of the late rapper would notice, I mean things like  showing an iPhone 7 in the shot despite the film supposedly being set in the 1990s.

But of course biopics don’t have to be 100% accurate (in fact, very few are), what is important is that they convey the essence and emotion of the story, informing us of what it felt like to experience it. ‘All Eyez on Me’ seems to think it can win fans of its subject over by siting numerous references to him without context or weight behind them, so it’s caught in an awkward middle ground in which it is too loaded with jargon for a newcomer to enjoy but also too unfaithful to the story for actual fans to appreciate it.

If anything the movie seems to want to dehumanise its subject because it robs Tupac of so much of his complexity. I understand my criticisms may seem like they’re coming more from a place of comparing the movie to reality and being disappointed that it doesn’t live up to reality. But as I said, I’m not inversed in this story, I know the basic elements of it and even I can tell it is worth telling better than this. By judging the character of Tupac solely from the way he is portrayed in this movie, he is flat and monotone, rarely rising above the most basic level of your generic musician from movies and failing to be compelling throughout. Shipp Jr does a serviceable job of portraying this version of Tupac and in all honesty I would be interested to see what he could do with a more complex script, but here it just feels unbelievably shallow and only occasionally inspired.

In fact, “flat and monotone” basically describes every aspect of this movie. It just all feels o painfully bland. The dialogue is as by the numbers as they come, the direction possesses no visual flair nor does it ever manage to compose a compelling shot. That lifeless direction weighs down the whole movie to a point where even when the script does feel as if it is touching upon something other than a pitifully generic rise and fall story the images on screen remain as basic as you can imagine. It feels like a soap opera, or a Lifetime original movie. Nothing pops, noting jumps out at you and nothing leaves a lasting impression.

For all the movie’s faults though, there is some hint of an emotional arc that runs throughout the movie, it isn’t expanded upon to a point where it might be compelling but it is recognizable. Its structure and pacing allow it to unfold in a decent way, if anything one could argue that the barebones construction of the story is a good place to start. What needed to happen from that point though, was some genuine humanity and a sense of purpose which the finished product simply did not possess.

Bland and uninspired, ‘All Eyez on Me’ is the exact opposite of its namesake.

Result: 2/10

Berlin Syndrome

"Berlin is full of these empty places."

Had I been more familiar with Cate Shortland’s work as a director I would have probably have been much more excited for her latest feature, ‘Berlin Syndrome’. Her 2004 debut ‘Somersault’ was an excellent and deeply intimate coming of age fable, and then her historical drama set at the start of WW2 called ‘Lore’ was even better. When looking at her career as a whole (despite the fact that it comprises of only three movies) it is clear she’s intent on exploring the same kinds of themes and characters but from differing angles and environments, which makes her latest film all the more interesting.

Clare (Teresa Palmer), a young Australian tourist, is backpacking around Germany, taking photographs of architecture and exploring shops. In Berlin, she meets a local man named Andi (Max Riemelt) and has a one-night stand with him. The next morning, however, she finds that he has locked her in his apartment and events only escalate from there.

Like her other films, ‘Berlin Syndrome’ certainly reflects Shortland’s fascination with isolation and finding one’s way into a much wider world. It will sure as hell put you off that gap year you had planned in which you’re supposed to find yourself and sing meaningful songs around a campfire only to get eaten by a shark….(I may have drifted into describing the opening of ‘Jaws’ now, where was I?). Like the victim of the crim it depicts the film slowly winds up to reveal its sinister nature, taking its methodical time in mapping out who these people are and what kind of situation they find themselves entrapped in. It is certainly patient it its method and as the film ploughs forward it’s surprising how big of an asset that becomes as even the quietist moments are drawn out enough to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat.

But for all this patience the film feels remarkably taut for the most part. I would criticise the movie for having one too many red herrings and occasionally losing the centre of its narrative, for the most part it keeps its focus right where it should be. In this case that focus is on the ever changing dynamic of its two main characters, as their roles become drastically altered so does their understanding of one another and it’s through this character drama that Shortland wrings a lot of her films tension from, the dread that accompanies the knowledge of never being able to predict what someone will do next.

As I said, the film relies heavily on the ever more complex relationship of its two main characters and therefore it helps that said characters are being portrayed by two highly capable actors. Teresa Palmer possesses a great sense of naivety that makes her vulnerability all the more prevalent at the start of the movie but also a determination that makes her constant strive to uncover what is going on just as believable. Meanwhile, Max Riemelt goes from being charming to unnervingly terrifying in the blink of an eye without ever making it feel jarring.

As a director, Shortman’s talent goes far beyond juts creating a sense of discomfort though. The ensuing nightmare only feels as effective as it does due to how well she captures the thrill of Clare being in an entirely new environment. The excitement and euphoria are all there with no obvious foreshadowing to take you out of the moment. It is only through the score of the movie that we get an sense of unease during the first section and even then it’s more ambiguous than anything, establishing that something is happening but leaving the viewer in some doubt over how specifically to feel about it.

What is even more amazing than this sense of atmosphere though is the way Shortman’s charaters evolve over the course of the movie as well as how she chooses to portray that. As time goes on the initial terror of Clare being trapped in this environment wears off and they enter a sort of unsettling domestic scene. There are rituals and regularities that underpin this situation, however strange it may be, with Shortman paying close attention to them as she knows how vital they will be in drawing out a reaction from the audience themselves. She manages to do almost all of this wordlessly as well, never relying on heavy exposition. The only problem is that despite coming in at under 2 hours, ‘Berlin Syndrome’ still feels like it goes on for too long. The pacing and structure may be perfect at the start but the longer the film goes on the more these elements start to crack under the pressure. The fact that it includes so many unnecessary detours that feel more like a dead weight more than anything else only increase this. But aside from that ‘Berlin Syndrome’ is a well-constructed thriller.

An imperfect but highly fascinating and deeply interesting thriller that boats superb direction and performances.

Result: 7/10

Saturday, 24 June 2017

The Bad Batch

"Here's the thing, being good or bad mostly depends on who you're standing next to."

As directorial debuts go, few of recent years were more impressive or distinct than Ana Lily Amirpour’s ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’, a neo-noir, vampire western set in Iran, it was a big of a genre hybrid to say the least. It was atmospheric, stylish and beautifully unique as well as breathtakingly bold. Not only that, but for a film as unique as it was, ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’ was surprisingly cohesive, working as a singular piece of storytelling rather well. Naturally then, I was looking forward to her next film.

Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is abandoned in a Texas wasteland that is fenced off from civilization. While trying to navigate the unforgiving landscape, Arlen is captured by a savage band of cannibals led by the mysterious Miami Man (Jason Mamoa). With her life on the line, she makes her way to a cult like leader called The Dream (Keanu Reeves) and must find a way to survive amid the chaos of this savage dystopia.

One thing in particular that I loved about ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’ was how its unique style never felt like it was substituting for a lack of substance. As opposed to just dressing her movie up in bizarre stylistics, Amirpour found the best way to enforce the substance that lay within. It was just half an hour into ‘The Bad Batch’ that I realised just how remarkable a feat that was because her second film does exactly what I feared her first would. As opposed to populating her story with a rich and dynamic substance, Amirpour has opted to go for flashy visuals and set pieces in favour of telling something that is actually cohesive.

It’s certainly pretty to look at, in fact a few of the visuals are strikingly hypnotic with the Texan backdrop serving as a stunningly rich stage. It seems like all the ingredients are there to create something brilliantly oddball once more, but none of these interesting elements meld together. It was as if Zack Snyder directed an indie film, there’s plenty of pretty images but not enough substance to connect it together. That being said, where the metaphor falls down is that Snyder’s films still have something going, it’s just mishandled, which is not the case here. ‘The Bad Batch’ has a few decent concepts but nothing to sustain a two hour movie and the result is that it runs out of steam less than an hour into its runtime and every extra minute from that point onwards only hurts the film further.

To say its narrative is stretched thin would be an understatement. The dystopian wasteland setting felt heavily reminiscent of ‘Mad Max’ and like the most recent instalment of that franchise, especially given that the main character is an independent women with a prosthetic arm protecting a being more vulnerable than her. But the similarities don’t stop there as ‘The Bad Batch’ begins with its protagonist getting captured and imprisoned by a cult who utilize her body to serve their own needs. But where George Miller’s dystopian masterpiece handled all of this in the space of about five minutes so that the main story could get underway, ‘The Bad Batch’ takes a good half an hour to get to the same point, and the subsequent story not only feels completely disconnected but also stretched thin to the same degree.

A simplistic story could work in this environment if the characters were interesting enough to empathise with. But sadly that is not the case, or at least with the main characters it is. We don’t really get any insight into what drives them or any sense of genuine development. The writing doesn’t give much for any of the actors to do so it’s little surprise that I don’t really have anything to say about their performances. I can only say that I’m disappointed how little physicality there was to each role but as I said they are not exactly given a lot to work.

Not only that, but whereas ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’ managed to blend its contrasting genres extremely well, ‘The Bad Batch’ only seems capable of conveying one genre per scene. Billed as a romance, dystopian horror with a dark comedic edge the movie never succeeds in expressing any more than one of those at a time. The result is that while any one scene, when taken on its own, feels strikingly bold, when strung together as a cohesive whole the film fails to gel and comes across as being tonally confused. It’s hard to latch onto any consisting theme or narrative when the movie itself is skipping around between moods and while I think the music choices are there to try and ease the viewer into this tonal gap the effect is that it only alienates the audience even further.

Impressive on a visual level but with little else to back it up, ‘The Bad Batch’ is a disappointing second feature from Ana Lily Amirpour.

Result: 4/10

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Transformers: The Last Knight

"The imminent destruction of everything we know and love has begun."

With the release of ‘The Last Knight’, all in all Michael Bay has stolen 761 minutes of my life over the course of the last ten years. Granted there’s the often used excuse of “the first ‘Transformers’ wasn’t that bad’ and indeed it was not but at the same time it is not good enough to warrant the truly abysmal nature of its subsequent sequels. A shred of me hoped that ‘The Last Knight’ might actually embrace the inherent ridiculous of the franchise given that there were talks of Arthurian legends and Nazis in this one. But alas, no, it’s the exact same goddamn movie again!

Humans are at war with the Transformers, and Optimus Prime is gone. The key to saving the future lies buried in the secrets of the past and the hidden history of Transformers on Earth. Now, it's up to the unlikely alliance of Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), Bumblebee, an English lord (Anthony Hopkins) and an Oxford professor (Laura Haddock) to save the world.

Right, screw a casual intro because there’s too much to talk about. ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’ is without question one of the most painful cinematic experiences I’ve sat through in some time. It may not objectively be the worst film I have seen this year or even the worst of this franchise but it’s still a hateful, diabolical abomination that stands as a testament to everything that is wrong with modern filmmaking. I know I just gave a plot summary in the paragraph above but in all honesty this movie has a plot which is beat by beat identical to its four predecessors. Autobots are looking for an ancient artefact that can turn the tide of the war, Deceptacons want to stop them, most humans are sceptical of the Transformers but one unlikely outcast human helps them, there’s a fuck-ton of product placement, racial stereotypes, sexist undertones veteran actors being humiliated, and a rare mix of being ridiculously convoluted as well as idiotically simplistic.

The characters are about as flat and unengaging as they come. Bay employs the cheapest tactics of trying to establish the characters and some of them almost don’t fail. But then later in the movie each character will do something unbelievably moronic or irrational. None have any discernible motivation, distinction or depth of any kind and before you say “no one goes to a Transformers movie to see the humans”, the description I just gave applies to the machines as well as the people. In regards to the Transformers specifically though, they have such little presence in the movie that even those simply wishing to see a movie about giant fighting robots will be disappointed. There are so many long stretches of the movie that just feature one expositional monologue after another that it becomes boring. Every now and then the movie attempts to deliver a moment that it has convinced itself is humorous, but these moments fall flat every single time.

It goes without saying of course that the story is completely nonsensical both due to the script and Bay’s unique visual language of never being able to convey a single discernible plot point to the audience. He places such an extreme emphasis on every single shot that it becomes impossible for the viewer to latch onto what is and isn’t important to the overall story, what will and won’t be recalled later as well as simply what is going on at that exact moment. The story amounts to a rough order of half-hearted plot points that are either ignored completely or picked up again randomly and much later into the movie, glued to a series of rapidly escalating action sequences that I don’t care about.

But for all its similarities to the previous instalments of the franchise, ‘The Last Knight’ manages to find new and distinct ways to be terrible, ways that I could never have even of anticipated and ways that I’m still struggling to fathom even now. The movie seems to have been shot in three different aspect ratios. Filmmakers like Chris Nolan and Wes Anderson have done that to evoke a specific mood from scene to scene or inject a unique cinematic quality to it, which is not what Bay is doing here. Anderson and Nolan make an effort to disguise those ratio changes through editing or scene transitions but Bay clearly doesn’t have time for that nonsense as he just slaps it haphazardly into the movie to a point where a shot/reverse shot within the same scene can have a completely different screen format to the image that proceeded it. Even if you are watching the film in a format that reduces this issue, the framing and composition of each opposing shot is so wildly off due to the erratic ratio changes that that it becomes impossible to ignore. I’m almost tempted to list it as a deliberate creative decision because I can’t comprehend the idea of someone overlooking that….but then I remembered that this is Michael Bay we are talking about.

'The Last Knight’ also seems to blatantly plagiarise something from every successful blockbuster of the past few years as well. There are character dynamics and personalities that feel like a poor imitation of ones that can be found in ‘Star Wars’. I noticed a car chase that looked as if it had been lifted straight from a ‘Fast and Furious’ movie. I'm entirely convinced they stole the "Anthony Hopkins talks philosophically about robots" trick from 'Westworld'. They even ripped off the style of character intros from ‘Suicide Squad’. Why would anyone in their right mind want to steal something from ‘Suicide Squad’?

I will say that it’s not quite as terrible as ‘Age of Extinction’ for having a shorter runtime which eases it’s pacing and makes it feel like less of a torturous endeavour (it’s still an hour and a half too long though). It’s also better than ‘Revenge of the Fallen’ because unlike that film it isn’t shot entirely in close-up, though it is still just as mind numbingly bombastic. But these improvements are not deliberate, it just so happens that this disaster of filmmaking is slightly more bearable than those other disasters of filmmaking. Nothing within these films is done with a deliberate bearing on quality, it’s all just a marketing tool designed to rip cash from your pockets with as little effort as humanly possible. It’s the epitome of cynical and lazy filmmaking.

Loud noises, followed by more loud noises, concluding with other loud noises, forever; the sequel.

Result: 2/10

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Cars 3

"McQueen is fading, he's fading fast."

If you loved Pixar movies like ‘Inside Out’, ‘Ratatouilles’ and ‘Up’ then I’m afraid you also have to suffer through the movie that paid for them all. Yes I know that’s a joke from Honest Trailers but it’s so accurate that I had to paraphrase it here. ‘Cars’ may be an above average kid’s film but it’s a cut below the rest of Pixar’s oeuvre to say the least (their previous effort had been the masterpiece that was ‘The Incredibles’) but ‘Cars 2’ is simply awful and by a wide margin the worst film of the animation powerhouse’s history. So as expectations go ‘cars 3’ is tough to pin down.

Blindsided by a new generation of blazing-fast cars, the legendary Lighting McQueen (Owen Wilson) finds himself pushed out of the sport that he loves. Hoping to get back in the game, he turns to Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), an eager young technician who has her own plans for winning. With inspiration from the Fabulous Hudson Hornet (Paul Newman) and a few unexpected turns, No. 95 prepares to compete on Piston Cup Racing's biggest stage.

Unlike the previous two movies in this franchise, ‘Cars 3’ seems to have worked out that this is basically a sports movie, so they should just focus on that. So in that regard ‘Cars 3’ is perfectly fine, it’s not nearly as atrocious as the second but at the same time there is a distinct lack of originality from it that just feels so out of place when put next to the Pixar logo. It’s generic and aims to please kids, but never reaches the heights of what we are used to from Pixar or what that very first trailer for ‘Cars 3’ suggested this might be.

Once upon a time, Pixar felt like they were making films that were wholly unique and I don’t just mean that as just an original screenplay. I mean that they felt like a truly distinct concept and execution that felt important and meaningful, they were stories that feel unique to them medium of animation through which they are told. They have a reason to exist beyond just selling toys and ‘Cars 3’, like its predecessors doesn’t really do any of that. One could argue there is an unfair expectation attached to this movie which is why I’m going to say it caters to its fans perfectly well, anyone who enjoyed the first two movies of this franchise is almost certainly going to enjoy this one as well.

While the story is straightforward and predictable its execution is decent enough. While the world this takes place is the most shallow and least interesting one Pixar have come up with (though based on what they have neglected to explain it’s the most fascinating, what they’ve offered in the movies has been nothing special) the stakes are easier to grasp this time around. Rather than a convoluted redemption or spy plot this is the simple underdog story that plays out in a standard three act structure. Whilst the first act is almost tiresomely predictable and the third act is painfully slow, the cathartic third act is pleasing enough to make the rest of the film feel at least passable, or at least worth sitting through to get there.

One could criticise the movie’s story for being little more than a collection of tropes from other sporting movies, and I will. But at least Pixar uses the aesthetic of this weird world to put some kind of mildly interesting twist on it. At the very least it’s an angle that might occasionally wake up the board parents while the children were distracted by the bright colours and loud noises. The most annoying thing about that statement is that Pixar have proven time and time again that they take their child audiences seriously, but here it feels like they were almost frightened to travel too far into emotional territory and changes gear by including some wacky action scene, or have Larry the Cabel Guy do something “funny”.

There is a surprising amount of character depth to be found in ‘Cars 3’, not just from the main character that is McQueen but also his trainer Cruz whose backstory makes for a mildly compelling dynamic. The annoying characters of the franchise’s past are kept at a safe distance while the interesting ones are appropriately expanded upon. I can’t even fault the voice actors wither who give each character a distinct personality and are mostly likable enough to watch for 90 minutes or more. Admittedly it is hard to take the characters own personalities seriously when a series of questions concerning how this world works exactly were still boggling my mind. How is this computer science seen as an unwelcome and mechanical future if they’re all mechanical beings anyway? What constitutes the differences between the genders of the cars? What is aging to this world when everyone can have any body part interchanged at any point?

Predictable and formulaic, if not enjoyable for younger audiences, ‘Cars 2 is basically exactly what you were expecting it to be.

Result: 5/10

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Song to Song

"We thought we could just roll and tumble, living from song to song, from kiss to kiss."

It’s that time once again, time again to pay special intrigue to a Terrance Malick movie despite the fact that I have not liked a movie he has made for nearly twenty years. That being said I do admire ‘Tree of Life’ for its ambition, but none of his recent films have connected with me in the same way ‘Badlands’, ‘Days of Heaven’ and ‘Thin Red Line’ did (and admittedly I still don’t think ‘Thin Red Line’ is the masterpiece everyone else does). 2016’s ‘Knight of Cups’ wasn’t just bad, it fell like a parody of a Malick movie, but with an immensely promising cast can ‘Song to Song’ do any better?

In a love story set against the Austin, Texas music scene, two entangled couples, struggling lyricists Faye (Kate Mara) and BV (Ryan Gosling), and music mogul Cook ( Michael Fassbender) and the waitress whom he ensnares (Natalie Portman), chase success through a rock ‘n’ roll landscape of seduction and betrayal.

Now, I don’t find anything wrong with directors indulging themselves in more experimental forms of filmmaking, with the likes of Ingmar Bergman and Andrei Tarkovsky achieving great success in the form of ‘Persona’ and ‘The Mirror’. But unlike Malick’s films, they have some underlying cohesion to them. The experimental choices feel motivated and meaningful, underpinned by a genuine emotional attachment. Given that ‘Knight of Cups’ completed a kind of pseudo trilogy about Malick’s life that chronicled his childhood in ‘Tree of Life’, his relationships in ‘To the Wonder’ and finally his career, I was hoping that he’s make a stylistic move away from this less engaging style. But sadly that is not the case.

If anything, ‘Song to Song, like his last three films, just feel like variations on the same movie. It baffles me that some people still proclaim Malick as the most unique filmmaker working today because while he may have once deserved that title, not he is weighed down by the same tiresome and repetitive tone that not only feels completely uninteresting but also highly uninspired. Once again his film is visually pretty but unlike past efforts I would credit this mainly to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki as there is nothing about Malick’s composition or framing that feels evocative as opposed to the work Lubezki did behind the camera instead.

Trailers for a Malick movie will always have me intrigued because I momentarily forget that anyone can take a minute’s worth of these striking images and distil them down to an interesting teaser. But sitting through two hours of them, accompanied by monotonous voiceovers that give infuriatingly vague and broad philosophical statements is a real chore to sit through. As I said earlier, I admired ‘Tree of Life’ for its ambition and central ideas more than anything, how Malick sought to connect those visually stunning images with memories of his own childhood to become something that was more than the sum of its parts. But ‘Song to Song’ contains nothing of the sorts, there’s no central thesis or message to it, no emotional centre, deeper meaning, no evocative atmosphere or even an interesting concept. By the way, if it sounds like I’m talking more about Malick’s career than this movie itself it’s because there’s virtually nothing to talk about.

At the very least I was hoping that we could get some good performances out of it (another benefit for ‘Tree of Life’ as Brad Pitt gives a terrific performance there) but the script gives such little characterisation to the people we are seeing on screen that it is hard to see them as anything other than the famous faces portraying them. I’m not seeing a bunch of struggling musicians, I’m seeing Ryan Gosling and Kate Mara being filmed from a distance, while we the audience are not allowed to hear what they are saying and instead treated to more voiceover. I have to ask why Malick did not just cast the film with unknown actors. Then I at least might have a chance to see them as something other than just a famous actor pretending to be someone else as I wouldn’t instantly recognise them.

I don’t even know why the movie makes the point of saying it’s in Austin, Texas because it has so little to do with the identity or atmosphere of that location, for a movie called ‘Song to Song’ there is a frustrating lack of music. Of course that in itself is not a detriment to the movie (there’s no elephant in Gus Van Sant’s ‘Elephant’ after all) but when there is so little else to be found in the movie I find myself getting annoyed at the most irreverent details. Other movies have made something out of nothing, as in they are unclear about their message and lack any conventional plot or structure, but even they have some kind of emotional core to them. I can understand Malick’s desire to capture a place beyond dramatic realism but there’s such little substance to be found that one can’t gravitate towards anything.

Empty and emotionless, once again Malick feels like he’s parodying himself with ‘Song to Song’.

Result: 3/10

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Transformers: The Trainwreck So Far....

We have now lived through ten years of Michael Bay’s ‘Transformers’ franchise. Think about that for a minute, a decade of this soulless juggernaut of a franchise that repeats the same plot points over and over again whilst blowing up every conceivable object on the screen until your eyes are bleeding and your ears are ringing. Inexplicably ‘The Last Knight’ is looking to be the most ludicrously terrible of them all so naturally we should catch up on the others, it’s going to be a long day.

To some degree I feel bad for the first ‘Transformers’ movie. When I look back on it today I just see the foundations of all the horrendous atrocities that would follow over the next ten years. The problem is that Michael Bay enjoys escalation almost as much as he likes barely legal girls (is that going too far?) so every element of that first movie, whilst being acceptable in that context is mutated in the subsequent sequels because in Michael Bay’s mind, bigger always equals better. Giant battles that go on for what feels like an eternity, some mystical artefact that the Transformers have to locate, Sam’s awkward interactions with his parents. We didn’t raise issue with them when they were first used here, so we only have ourselves to blame that Bay took this as a sign that people wanted all of the above but to an even greater degree in the sequels.

But putting that aside, how does the first movie hold up as a singular work of cinema? Well, its fine I guess. There’s nothing particularly memorable about the plot or characters but I think this is the only movie in the franchise that understood how in a film of this nature, the plot is just a framework to hang action sequences on and the characters are just vehicles to take us to those action sequences so it’s best not to put too much emphasis on either. Despite being bloated with CGI the action scenes hold up remarkably well, they are mostly cohesive and decently paced. There is also a nice variety to them as well, with each subsequent sequence escalating towards the finale so that the audience are not burned out at the halfway mark (you could learn from this ‘Man of Steel’).

It goes without saying that the acting is far from stellar, particularly from Megan Fox who struggles to convey any kind of genuine emotion throughout the movie. Shia LaBeouf may have become an internet joke now but one of the things that struck me about ‘Transformers’ today is how surprisingly decent he is here, again it’s nothing spectacular but as an entry point for the audience his bumbling and awkward encounters are serviceable. So, uncomfortable racial stereotypes and watching John Tuturo getting peed on aside, ‘Transformers’ is perfectly fine.

Oh how I wish I could say the same for the second instalment though. There are few things in the history of cinema that can match the terribleness of ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’. It truly is one of the most hateful, disgusting, crass, vulgar, nonsensical, insulting, poorly plotted, terrible directed, awfully paced, badly structured, vomit inducing piece of garbage anyone can have the misfortune to sit through. Unlike the first film, Bay chooses to film nearly all of his action sequences in intense close-ups, making his giant robot battles look more like two junkyards awkwardly having sex with each other. Mind you, it’s not as if I care given that you haven’t taken any time to actually distinguish any of these robots from one another, I’m watching an action scene with no idea who anyone is, why I should care or what they’re hoping to achieve.

Roger Ebert described ‘Revenge of the Fallen’ as “a horrible experience of unbearable length”, a quote that would go on to become the title of one of his books that features the legendary critics most scathing reviews. Ebert also said that if you want to save the price of a ticket then go into the kitchen, grab some pots and pans and slam them against your head for two and a half hours. The visual composition and sound design are beyond awful, creating this cacophony of head numbing nonsense. I could maybe tolerate 90 minutes of it, but ‘Revenge of the Fallen’ goes on for 150 painful minutes, a minute longer than it took Stanley Kubrick to span the whole of human existence in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, but I guess Bay’s story of robots punching each other requires more importance.

It truly is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen and when one looks at its production it’s not hard to see why. Hampered by writer’s strikes and on set injuries, the film basically made up its own plot as it went along. It feels like they wrote the script on each day of shooting and then cobbled the events together in some haphazard filming process. But the thing is, one would think I might be more lenient given these production issues but the sheer laziness of how Bay chooses to deal with them is outright insulting. Don’t bother to wait and actually give the audience something they would find satisfying, just shove out whatever terrible dumpster fire you can and know that the audience will still see it because they’re morons.

This brings us onto the third movie and in all honesty I’m running out of things to say about these movies since they’re all essentially the same so instead I want to briefly address the inherent problem behind Michael Bay’s filmmaking style. Despite having an idiotically simplistic plot, I repeatedly find myself struggling to tell what is happening when watching ‘Dark of the Moon’. One of the advantages of visual storytelling is that the director can decide which aspects of his film he wants to emphasise in order to gain the audience’s attention. Vital plot points, significant character moments and dramatically charged scenes can all be conveyed this way. But the given rule is that you don’t emphasise every single shot in this way because not only does the film feel exhausting and lacking in narrative coherence, but it confuses the audience over what they should be paying attention to and therefore creates a sense of complete chaos. It’s part of the basic filmmaking language that seems to escape Bay and it’s more prevalent in ‘Dark of the Moon’ than in any other movie of this franchise. You would be forgiven for thinking that Rosie Huntington Wheatley’s ass was a vital plot point because Bay’s camera lingers on it at every possible opportunity.

What struck me to even greater degree about ‘Dark of the Moon’ though, was just how boring most of it was. A plethora of job interviews, jealous boyfriends and government meetings weigh down the first half of the film, because how can we enjoy these movies about robots punching each other without being caught up in the delicate human drama of the films characters? It doesn’t matter anyway because none of them develop beyond the same tired and predictable clichés we have become used to at this point. The only thing the movie has going for it is the climatic action sequence which, while being impressive and fun for a certain amount of time, is drawn out, has no discernible stakes and abandons all laws of physics on the process.

But now we have reached the epitome of laziness, the pinnacle of what it means to have nothing but utter contempt for your audience, the disaster that is ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’. Despite having a new human cast the characters are as boring and bland as they come, as well as being utterly stupid in every way that fail to react even remotely similarly to an actual human being. Mark Wahlberg gives a laughably terrible performance as an inventor that constantly seeks to need to tell everyone that he is an inventor. They even cast the actress who plays Katara in ‘The Last Airbender’, so not only do I have to sit through a terrible performance but it’s one that reminds me of the single worst movie ever made (just typing its name made me throw up in my mouth a little), good job casting director.

Speaking of that hot girl character though (I feel like she has a name but I’m just referring to her in the same way I imagine the director did on set), the fact that Michael Bay chose to stop his movie dead in order to shoehorn in a scene explaining why it’s okay to be boning an underage girl still baffles me to this day.  That happened in a major motion picture, someone went out and wrote a scene justifying that and we were supposed to except it. I can tell you now that if I had a daughter and her boyfriend carried a laminated card with the necessary legal stature that allowed him to have sex with her in certain states, I’m going to go out on a limb and say I wouldn’t be best pleased. Why is this in a film? Why didn’t you just write it so that she is of age? Is Bay so obsessed with barely legal tail that he made one so barley legal that she can’t be banged in 49 states?

You can feel the sheer laziness of it screaming from every frame of the movie as well. From the fact that the Sears tower can be spotted in a set that’s supposed to be Hong Kong, to monitors being left green because no one could be bothered to composite footage over them and certain CGI effects not even being properly rendered. There is no way Michael Bay missed these mistakes, but left them in anyway because he simply doesn’t care. If you listen carefully in some scenes you can hear him yelling to his audience “Fuck you, you’re dumb, you’ll watch this anyway”. Of course like the others the plot makes no sense, the action scenes go on for what feels like an eternity, it’s full of racist and sexist overtones as well as the fact that it’s identical to the previous three. So yeah, not great.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Almost Famous: One Day You'll be Cool

If there’s any movie world I would want to live in, it would be that of ‘Almost Famous’. Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical film that adapts the time he spent as a journalist for Rolling Stone Magazine into the story of William Miller following the fictional band Stillwater is one of those rare films that balances its entertainment and emotional resonance with a deep thematic message that is frighteningly honest. On the surface it is about rock and roll, coming of age and is generally a good time. When Roger Ebert reviewed the film way back in 2000, the first thing he had to say was how joyous it was.

It’s not hard to see why. The mix of humour and nostalgia for an era of music gone by as well as then authenticity towards all of it. Crowe’s film comes from a place of honesty, genuine details that help forge the environment and everything within it that could only be crafted by someone who was actually there. It does not surprise me at all to learn that many people who watch the film for the first time believe Stillwater is in fact a real band. I think that is part of what makes the movie so endearing, this authentic feel to not just the environment but the characters and their very essence all feels so truthful.

An example that always stands out is the way William looks and reacts to Penny Lane throughout the movie. He never takes her attention lightly and never casually reacts to what she has to say to him. When you’re a teenage boy with a crush on a beautiful girl her affection isn’t something you nonchalantly accept. When he sneaks a kiss from her it’s not done in an instant, it’s a huge step that he has to psyche himself up for. During the films iconic Tiny Dancer sequence, Penny rests her head on his shoulder and rather than just ignoring it William glances over to her and seems to forget everything else around him. It’s such a brilliant dose of reality.

What makes that dose even more refreshing is the fact that the scene in question, as well as most of the film, is in a place free from reality. Only a select few of the characters have any grasp on what is real and genuine. They each try to project an artifice to the world around them, which is something everyone does but no one more than rock stars. Stillwater obsess over their image and identity, they strive to be connected to their fans so long as those fans see them as being above them. Their greatest fear is that William’s article will expose them as the flawed humans they are. They are worried about being uncool.

Therefore their strategy is to make William feel cool. As Lester Bangs warns him earlier in the film, the band make William feel like he belongs, as if he too is more at home in this world detached from reality. If I can recall that Tiny Dancer scene again (which I will because it’s awesome) William is told by Penny that he is home. Here, surrounded by hungover rock stars who solve their deep seated issues with one another via signing. To be cool in this world is to be dishonest, and the people who are honest are the ones considered uncool. In a movie where William is told by his older sister that “One day, you’ll be cool”, being cool suddenly seems so important.

Case in point, of all the characters that fit onto the spectrum of cool the movie makes it clear that the character furthest away from being cool is William’s mother. She’s the most honest character in the movie, stating exactly what is on her mind at all times, whether the person listening likes it or not. It’s easy to dismiss her as being an oppressive force when we first see her but in a lot of ways she becomes the movie’s most empathetic character. Thanks to Frances McDormand’s endearing performance we see what amounts to a mother coping with her son no longer being under her watch. She only wants what is best for him and yet she fears that in doing so she has pushed him away. That’s not to say I, nor the movie, thinks she is right in how she views the world but she should not be dismissed as being wrong straight away. As much as we like to marvel at the lyrical genius of this music, her claims that it’s fuelled by drugs and sex are not exactly wrong either.

It also stands in stark contrast to the performance of Billy Crudup, who is so far detached from reality that he can’t even face up to the prospect of an interview with William. It is only at the end when all has been resolved that he can sit down and be brutally honest. Even though we don’t hear anything of what he has to say in that final interview it doesn’t matter, the mere fact that the interview is happening at all says everything we need to know. He has gone from the point of only being able to talk honestly with his bandmates when they think they are all about to die on the private plane. It’s a brilliant scene in of itself as each bandmate reveals their own deep seated issues with one another and because it is the only time in the movie that they do so, they never actually resolve these issues. They go unspoken and unnoticed despite being the driving force behind so much of their temperamental behaviour. The manipulation, betrayal and resentment does not go away, the only difference is that they are now all aware of it.

But then just when you think the scene can’t get any better, William interjects. Going back to his relationship with Penny, I think part of what makes it work so well is how their entire personas stand in such stark contrast to another. Penny’s entire life consists of pretending to be someone else. She lies about her real name, her age and her life goal is to move to Morocco where she hopes to adopt an entirely different personality once more. She commits to this façade so much that when that illusion is shattered and she realises that to Russel and the band she is little more than another groupie that they can use for sex, she breaks down. William’s whole role within the band is to convey the truth, Penny’s is to make them forget to the truth. With William at a crossroads between reality and rock, she represents the idea of completely rejecting the former.

Which leads me back to the plane, in which William expresses his own resentment with the band and their treatment of Penny. We already know that he loves her but to see him stand up to the people he once idolised, to see him fully accept that their world is an illusion that they can barely maintain themselves, it feels so cathartic. I do sometimes speculate on if William and Penny would have a future together after the film ends. They certainly shared an intimate connection that ran deeper than anyone else in the movie, shown in that William was the only person to know her real name. But are they too different to see eye to eye?

Why did she confide in William though? Probably because, like Crowe himself, he is an observer. Crowe was favoured by the bands he worked with during his time at Rolling Stone, he praised the bands while also seeing them for what they were, he covered the bands that hated Rolling Stone Magazine. Not only is his protagonist eerily similar (which only adds further to how personal the film feels) but his whole filmmaking sensibility takes on a similar guise. Crowe’s camera is intent on observing the small moments that define each character, observing their nuances and allowing his actors to convey them brilliantly. It’s not just an approach that understands the story it’s telling but one that also utilises the talent he has on offer.

More than anything else ‘Almost Famous’ is about the way we hide the truth from those around us, we seek to impress people and show them the version of ourselves that we think they will like the most. William’s first draft of his story is rejected because it “sounds like the band wrote it”. Lester Bangs (played brilliantly by Philip Seymour Hoffman might I add) reminds William and us that those who express the truth will struggle to belong simply because people don’t like to see themselves for what they really are. William wonders if he’ll ever be cool like his sister said, but by the end he’s more interested in being what he wants to be……which is a response that will get laughed at in high school I can tell you now.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

The Mummy

"She will not stop, until she has remade this world in her image."

It is always risky to state your intentions to make an enormous shared universe franchise before you have even released your latest movie. It is a literal case of not getting too far ahead of yourself, but studios seem intent on doing it time and time again. A prime example would be Sony who had ambitious plans for a whole franchise but burned it to the ground with ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’, co-written and produced by one Alex Kurtzman. What is Kurtzman doing now you may ask? Well he’s writing and directing Universal’s ‘The Mummy’.

Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) is a soldier of fortune who plunders ancient sites for timeless artefacts and sells them to the highest bidder. When Nick and his partner come under attack in the Middle East, the ensuing battle accidentally unearths Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), a betrayed Egyptian princess who was entombed under the desert for thousands of years. With her powers constantly evolving, Morton must now stop the resurrected monster as she embarks on a furious rampage through the streets of London.

So as I was saying, Alex Kurtzman has already laid the founding of one franchise that never happened. But unlike Sony, Universal seem even more confident and sure of their future in this territory. When I saw ‘The Mummy’ the classic Universal logo lead straight into their ambitiously titled ‘Dark Universe’ title card. I must admit while I did not have any interest in a Mummy remake, I was happy to see a Tom Cruise action movie that the trailers suggested ‘The Mummy’ would be. However, this brings me back to Kurtzman who seems to have made the exact same mistakes here as he did with ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’.

Not only does ‘The Mummy’ feel like a movie that panders towards sequel baiting in the worst possible way, but before it even gets to the point of franchise building it simply wasn’t that interesting to begin with anyway. It succumbs to the generic supernatural tropes that have made the genre loose favour with popular audiences while also lacking any sense of fun or charm that might have made it more enjoyable. Apolgies in advance if I use the words “generic” or “vague” throughout this review because there really is no better way to describe every aspect of ‘The Mummy’.

Even the characters fit into that description perfectly from their motivations to their personality and even their basic function. Having sat through the whole movie I still don’t actually know what Tom Cruise’s job is. Was he a soldier, treasure hunter, fugitive, archaeologist? His understanding of ancient Egypt wildly fluctuates from apparently being able to instantly recognise the era of a lost tomb he’s just stumbled into to not knowing what Hieroglyphs are. It’s frankly baffling. But not nearly as baffling as the titular Mummy’s vaguely defined supernatural powers. I can’t stress how frustrating it is when you have an antagonist whose strengths and weaknesses go completely undefined for the entire length of the movie.

All of this is a shame because Cruise and Boutella are two engaging screen presence, particularly Boutella whose physical performance feels like it belongs in a much better movie. But in a movie with such a flat and uninteresting protagonist, coupled with an antagonist completely lacking in a clear motivation or defined stakes, neither of them can redeem this. The rest of the cast are fine, but once again none of the characters are engaging enough to make me feel invested in the scenario of this movie, much less a whole franchise load of sequels and crossovers.

Speaking of which, what drags the movie down even further is that halfway through it is no longer a Mummy movie. It suddenly turns into Chapter 1 of this ‘Dark Universe’ and now we’re left to deal with one expositional scene after another that attempts to flesh out this universe only for the conclusion to suddenly remember that the first movie is still going on so we’d better have some rushed action scene. Worse still, nothing makes any of it stand out at all. There’s no flashy dialogue, smart direction or engaging moments. It just all blends together into an endless cycle of nothingness that reminded me of two things. Firstly, I was reminded of how the MCU’s first movie set the groundwork for a whole universe via a few Easter Eggs and one Samuel L Jackson cameo which seems like an even more remarkable feat in light of this. Secondly, I un-ironically miss Brendan Frasier.  

Pandering to sequels that may never happen, uninterested in its own mythology and too generic to be even remotely interesting.

Result: 3/10