Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Ghost In The Shell (2017) Movie Review

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Dear goodness…the amount of crap this film got while it was in production was staggering, and the amount of crap it’s getting now that its been released to the public hasn’t actually subsided.  “They’re whitewashing a Japanese story by casting an American in a Japanese role”  “It’s a hollywood movie – so of course they’re going to mess it up, since it’s something we love and they want to destroy it for profit!”  “How dare you… in general!”  But is it really as bad as they say? – lets find out.  Keeping in mind, I’m a Ghost In The Shell fan who enjoys the movies, TV show and Manga.  So here goes:

Set in the near future (around 2029, since the manga is a product of the late 1980s), our story revolves around Major Mira Killian (Major Motoko Kusanagi in the other stories and played by Scarlett Johansson), who awakens after what seems like the aftermath of a horrible accident involving a refugee boat.  She finds herself lying on a table.  Her body is that of completely augmented cybernetics – a robot body that resembles a human being is nearly every way.  The only ‘old’ thing about her, is her brain, hence her ghost.  Shortly after this, she is flung into working for the anti-terrorist organisation known as Section 9, which includes Chief Daisuke Aramaki (played by Takeshi Kitano from that kooky Japanese game show Takeshi’s Castle), ex-ranger Batou (played by Pilou Asbæk, aka Euron Greyloy in Game Of Thrones), full-human detective Togusa (Chin Han), behind-the-scenes guy and tech specialist Ishikawa (Lasarus Ratuere) and the sniper Saito (Yutaka Izumihara).  When a hacker is using other augmented cybernetic beings to kill off key figures at a Hanka Business Conference, it’s up to Section 9 to find out who this hacker is, and to stop him.

Now to talk about various factors:

First of all, the main 1s that people complained about – the casting, acting and characters.  They complained about whitewashing the film…even though it’s a multinational cast.  You have a Jewish American, American, Japanese, Danish, French, Chinese-Singaporean, British varieties, Fiji-Australian, Romanian and Canadian, among others.  To suggest any racism involved is complete madness!  Consider the possibility of them trying to please the culturally sensitive…and Ladriya?  Ladriya is new!  She’s played by a Kurdish-Pole from London named Danusia Samal, and why is she there?  Because in the source material the Major stands out by being the only female in Section 9.  You want a strong independent woman?  The Major in the anime and manga could beat up the rest of Section 9 with the possible exception of Batou.  They added a 2nd female to the team to avoid accusations of male-dominated workplaces in movies.  It also needs to be considered that there are justifications to such choices throughout the flick.  One of which would be a spoiler.  Another is to recognise a very subtle possibility, which is immigration.  The prospect of Non-Japanese people living and working in Japan.  It’s already happening.  What if some politician decides to open the borders, UK and US style, in Japan in the future?  It’s unlikely.  But consider everything.  It is a seemingly unwritten future doomed to repeat itself after all…then you take the narrative of Ghost In The Shell to thought – The Ghost In The Shell universe saw World War 3 from 2000 to 2015, the second Vietnam war from 2015 to 2024 and the second Korean war which takes place in 2024…That can merit immigration to some.  Was the acting world-class?  No.  But it worked fine and nobody was bad, even though Kaori Momoi would probably have been more comfortable speaking Japanese rather than english…but then again she isn’t speaking to a Japanese character.  They did their jobs pretty well.  Nothing stood out as amazing acting, but nothing fell into Tommy Wiseau territory either.  The characters, when compared to their anime and manga roles, were mostly moved a bit out of the way to focus on the Major and occasionally Batou.  We forget that this mostly happened in the 1995 anime movie as well, but we love that movie and don’t question it, so we continue poking at the flaws of this 1.  Did they tell a different story that isn’t in the source and is different to the 1995 version?  Yes!  How Batou got his eyes is different (in fact, it’s given an origins to those who haven’t seen any other material) and how the Major came to being is different…It is its own film borrowing from excellent sources, like samples for every rap song you ever loved.

The CGI and graphics can be a little hit and miss.  Where it works well, it’s fantastic, and where it doesn’t work as well, it’s pretty obvious…believe it or not, the presentation of traffic is pretty bad.  But the presentation of the Major’s building blocks and action scenes were really good.

The art style and decisions borrow a great deal from Cyberpunk and particularly from the legendary film Bladerunner.  People can argue that it “doesn’t cover much new ground”, but I say it’s a welcome return to some charismatic and likeable settings.  I miss good looking cyberpunk, and I’m happy to see it return in some way.  You’ll notice a lot of interesting choices, from ’90s haircuts to smoking to heroin chics to Hologram advertising to dark passages and night clubs…it has character.

The music is done by Clint Mansell, the english composer who has done every Darren Aronofsky film (and is famous for his composition Lux Aeterna) – he provides an excellent soundtrack that is pure cyberpunk and very 80s (in a good way).  At the same time, he manages to take Kenji Kawai’s score from the 1995 Ghost In The Shell and both faithfully and respectfully reintroduce it to the public with remixed elements.  The music helped make this film feel like a classic cyberpunk film…something I’ve hoped to see in a while.

The Story is easier to digest than its anime original and the manga, and for good reason, 1. It’s Hollywood, and 2. The Manga is chaotic with a lot of fine print about technology and engineering.  You’ll find the movie scattered here and there throughout the pages of what is a very episodic read.  Is it bad?  No, in fact it’s quite a tight film in its own right if you treat it as an interpretation of the series rather than a piece of the puzzle.  “The film was humourless” some people have said – well, the 1995 film was mostly humourless as well.  The manga and the Stand Alone Complex TV series are where you’ll find most of the humour injected into the characters.  Then there are the other films – 1 thing that wasn’t covered in this film that was in the 1995 version was sexuality and gender identity, as the Major’s body is designed as a mechanical replication of a woman, rather than 1 that has everything from before, including being capable of reproduction (If this is the future of the human race or man’s forced attempt at evolution, this factor is to be considered).  Here it was all about Major’s identity and questioning her own humanity, and sometimes that’s fine.

The Cinematography was done by Jess Hall, whose work includes Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz…And he did phenomenal work!  He stated that he wanted to pay homage to the anime through both his choice of camera (wide-angle with no lens distortion) and his choice of perspective.  While it’s a loose interpretation of the 1995 film with many differences, he managed to faithfully remake in live action some of the ’95 film’s most famous scenes, including the Major’s development, the shallow water fight scene, the rooftop scene and the boat scene, to name a few.  The lighting was well chosen, as was the colour grading.

Would I recommend Ghost In The Shell, the 2017 whitewashed hollywood-bastardised monstrosity that deserves to die 1000 deaths film?  Yes.  Yes because I know you’re a much more intelligent person than you’re letting on.  Yes because the madness of crowds is exactly what it is – a big pile of temporary fluff that comes and goes like fog.  Useless.  Boring.  Dying.  It is up to us to decide if we like this or not by seeing it.  While it’s not as good as the Anime film, or even other Ghost In The Shell related outlets…I see it to be a good starting point into the series (some even consider this an old persons series now…like Power Rangers, Transformers and Chips), and after that starting point you’re free to call it the worst of the bunch.  But in my opinion, it didn’t deserve all of the crap it got or the low ratings.  It is what it is, an easy-to-digest sci-fi movie that chose not to be overly complicated.  It’s also porn for a visual artist, especially in its photography, music and design.  I loved looking at it, so even during some of the different story elements, my eyes got a feast.

Graphics: ***3/4 (***** in places and **1/2 in others)

Art: *****

Acting: ***

Characters: *** (**** in ’95 and ***** in Stand Alone Complex and other movies)

Music: ****1/2

Story: ***1/4

Cinematography: *****

Overall: ****

Zootopia/Zootropolis (2016) Movie Review

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Last year, around the time this film was on in cinema, life was pretty busy.  So I had to choose between this and Captain America 3: Civil War.  Today I have no regrets on that decision (it was IMAX) – but it doesn’t mean I didn’t want to see this film.  Fast forward nearly a year, this film, which made over a billion dollars at the box office without my contribution, became available to yours truly…What can I say?

First of all…what is the story?  Well our film’s star is a little European Rabbit by the name of Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin, aka Snow White in ABC’s Once Upon A Time).  Judy comes from a family of Rabbits who run a farm in a land called Bunnyburrow, and ever since she was a kid, she wanted to be a Cop.  14 years (in Bunny years, which is about 2 years to us) after realising her dream, she packs up and leaves home for Zootropolis/Zootopia, where she trains to become the first ever Bunny Cop in a career field dominated by large predators and large herbivores.  Her early days on the job were anything but the dream, which included her being outsmarted by a Hustling Fox named Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman) and doing parking duty.  However her life completely changes, when she’s finally given the opportunity to look for a missing animal…an Otter, who was last seen by a Hustling Fox.

Now to discuss what they were feeding the zoo animals on screen:

The CGI and Graphics everything you expect from a big budget Disney film.  The animation was amazing, but oddly enough, it felt like a small step down…I have this feeling that I’ve seen it done better before, which is why I’m not suggesting perfection in this part.

The Art Style is very creative and beautiful to look at – taking the overall design style from recent 3D Disney movies (Tangled and Frozen) and applying them to animal character designs.  On top of this, there is much variety in the visuals, in particular the presentation of different City districts within Zootopia, ranging from the Rainforest district to the Arctic to the Desert and so on (as a way to show that animals are more comfortable in certain parts of the city.  Though they can go into other areas as well).  It’s all beautiful to look at, and in its own way, makes you want to travel more.

The Voice Acting has some great choices, with each one suiting their character designs brilliantly, while at the same time, being the occasional surprise.  Ginnifer Goodwin as Judy and Jason Bateman as Nick were perfect.  Idris Elba played Bogo the African Buffalo, aka the Police chief, Tommy Chong played Yax the domestic Yak (who, like Chong, is probably into herbal refreshments), J.K. Simmons as Mayor Lionheart the Lion, Alan Tudyk as Duke Weaselton the Weasel, pop star Shakira as Gazelle the singing Thomson’s Gazelle, and my favourite 1, Maurice LeMarche as Mr Big, the most fearsome crime boss in Tundratown (LeMarche also voiced a similar cartoon character in build, but not in voice…as The Brain from Pinky and The Brain…there was possibly an inside joker there).

When it comes to the roles that each animal is given, Zootopia is excellent, particularly in its presentation of both stereotypes and anti-stereotypes.  One thing that strikes me about Judy Hopps is how much of an inspiration they’ve made her – especially when it comes to how she approaches her dreams, as well as the work that’s given to her.  As the first rabbit to qualify as a Cop, she wants everyone to make sure they know she belongs there, and tries her best not to budge.  When her first job as a Cop is parking duty, she decides to use it as an opportunity to prove herself (“If I’m expected to do 100 parking tickets today – I’ll aim to do 200 by noon” is her attitude), and it’s oddly enough, setting a great real-life example.  Is she flawed?  Of course!  She had a childhood experience involving a Fox, which taints her view on Nick at the beginning.  At the same time, she’s a country girl in the big city and is bound to be more than a little naive about folk.  And as the film progresses, you begin to realise that looks and character don’t mean the same thing.

The Story is a ombination of different genres all working together in harmony.  The 2 main plots include a main character who is chasing after a dream by moving to the big city (basically Coyote Ugly if you’re old enough to remember that film…or Mulholland Drive if you’re a sick and twisted little puppy who drinks black coffee), and a Mystery story where animals are going missing and it’s up to Judy (and Nick) to find them, and find out who was behind their disappearances.  What Zootopia tries to do is tell its audience to not judge by appearances. As a Fox, Nick is often stereotyped as sneaky and selfish, when in reality, he became the stereotype when others told him he was born for the role and traumatised him for it.  Without going straight to the source, or saying their names, Zootopia also covers a lot of themes within social commentary.  It addresses the fact that Zootopia is made up of 90% Herbivores and 10% Predators.  Within the story it addresses that there was a time when Predators killed herbivores, but also that it’s something that isn’t practised anymore due to Predators evolving to only eat fish, bugs, cereal and fruit (seriously, this is all over the place).  Some could argue that this reflects the modern world, as technology becomes more widely available, healthcare gets better, the Internet makes even a TV show on a small Island have a worldwide audience, cultures and religions become both exposed to each other and either given their place or embraced or tolerated or all the above.  Others could argue that Zootopia is a metaphor for a major city with a large and highly diverse group of people, whether it be New York, Toronto, London or Paris to name a few.  That it’s about co-existence and working together, no matter the background.

The Music is excellent, and very suitable for the film.  It includes a song by Shakira called Try Everything, which is a genuinely lovely little pop song that suits the movie down to the ground in both tone and lyrical content.  Judy fails many times while on the job – but it’s still what she wants to do, and the song reflects that.  The rest of the soundtrack is an eclectic collection of scores (ranging from sad piano to exciting tampuras to upbeat african drums), reflecting each scenario while providing tunes that may be in 4/4, but give the illusion of different tune signatures.

Would I recommend Zootopia?  Yes.  It’s a very good, encouraging and uplifting film.  Perfect for any mood, whether you’re up or down.

CGI/Graphics: ****3/4

Art Style: *****

Voice Acting: *****

Characters: *****

Story: ****1/2

Music: ****1/2

Overall: ****3/4

Underworld: Blood Wars (2016) Movie Review

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It’s a new year, and its been 5 years since I saw Underworld Awakening in 3D back in January 2012.  Much has changed, but how much of that change can be said about “Underworld 5”?  Lets find out…also, if you haven’t seen Underworld, Underworld: Evolution, Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans and Underworld: Awakening, then I suggest going away and then coming back…It’s an unwritten rule that I’ve written here.  You can’t have 1 without the rest.

Set once again in the Underworld Universe were Vampires and Werewolves are virus-ridden humans who “evolve” by receiving the blood of someone more powerful, our story sees Kate Beckinsale return in the role of Selene, a Vampire Death-dealer who has since evolved into a Nordic-Enhanced, Vampire-Corvinus Strain Hybrid…in other words, a Vampire who can walk in the sun without dying, and is as immortal as a vampire elder.  She is being pursued by both Lycans and Vampires.  The Lycans, led by Marius (Tobias Menzies), seek her because they want to find her daughter, and use her blood to make them all evolve into more dangerous werewolves (and in the process, wipe out the Vampires).  The Vampires on the other hand, have a mixed seeking of Selene.  Some to put her to death as a traitor, while others want her to build a Vampire Army to defend themselves against the Lycans.  As the last true death-dealer who doesn’t know where her daughter is, Selene has a lot of decisions to make.

Now to break it down

The Acting department obviously sees Kate Beckinsale return, as well as the return of Theo James as David, and Charles Dance as David’s father, Thomas.  Among other cast members include Lara Pulver (Irene Adler in Sherlock), Daisy Head (Anthony Head, aka Giles from Buffy The Vampire Slayer’s daughter), James Faulkner (Pope Sixtus IV in Da Vinci’s Demons), Peter Andersson (Gustaf Boren from Jordskott) and Tobias Menzies (Edmure Tully in Game Of Thrones)..in fact, there are a number of Game Of Thrones actors in this, whether they’re in between seasons or doing this gig afterwards).  Much like the rest of the series, the acting isn’t ground-breaking.  The film series’ reputation as a profitable B-movie franchise could be seen as a reason.  Nobodies’ winning any awards for quality – but at the same time, few, if any, would be eligible for a Razzie Award.  That’s reserved for the next Adam Sandler comedy.  Once again, Kate Beckinsale is the reason you’re watching this.

The Characters, much like in Awakening, are build around Selene for her journey and her development more so than their own.  While motives are mentioned throughout the film, few are actually felt.  David is developed further in this 1, thankfully, and even part of his backstory is explored.  The villains however don’t hold the same weight that Viktor, Markus and Lucian had on screen.  They’re okay – but they’re not in league with them.

The Story maintains a gothic Shakespearian-style narrative (Without actually using Shakespeare as a reference or declaring inspiration), and is once again an example of a jig-saw piece in need of the rest to complete itself. It’s not strong enough to stand on its own, as it relies on the exposition of its predessesors to cover up the potential plot holes or the jumped conclusion of plot holes.  Within context of its bigger picture, the story itself is quite tight.  It’s slower than some previous instalments, and at times may seem boring…hence it’s not a 5-star script.  One thing I do like about this script though?  It explores the film series’ lore even further, adding more to the story, and to Selene’s journey.

The Music was composed by Michael Wandmacher, whose work ranges from B-Movies to international versions of early ’90s Hong Kong flicks, to Madagascar 1 and 2…on the PS2 and Xbox, and the video games Twisted Metal, Singularity, and some of Bloodborne…His work on this film maintains the dark, gothic, techno (at times, Batman-eque) overtones of previous instalments, and stays in character with the series and has some scores that vaguely resemble some key pieces by Paul Haslinger.  This also marks the second time Paul Haslinger hasn’t done the music for an Underworld movie, as his trademark piano scores aren’t present in this instalment, nor were any, including Eternity By Day, recycled.

The Cinematography was by Karl Walter Lindenlaub, who at one point seemed to get some rather memorable movies to his name, including Stargate, Independence Day, The Princess Diaries, Maid In Manhattan, Black Book and The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian.  His work here was roughly on par with what you would expect from the franchise.  Full of nice panning shots mixed with some choppy editing in fights and chases.

The Locations are very nicely chosen, with many shots of Prague with some evident but very suitable use of green screen snowscapes and castles.

The CGI and Special Effects are more or less about the same as previous instalments.  It could be accused of not moving with the times and getting better – but that doesn’t mean it’s all bad.  Some of the “vampire dusting” looks particularly impressive in this 1.  The green screen effect, though not perfect, is enough to submerge you into itself.  One thing that can be said though – minus some pretty cool death scenes, the fighting scenes themselves were a 6 or 7 out of 10 at best (Within the context of Ong-Bak, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Avengers Assemble  being 10).

Would I recommend Underworld: Blood Wars?  Yes…but only if you’re a fan.  If you’re not a fan, and particularly if you haven’t followed the story and known all of the little details and expositions, chances are you will burn his film on a petrol-fuelled barbecue before putting the fire out with much of one’s bodily fluids.  You’ve been warned.

Acting: *** (***3/4 for Kate Beckinsale)

Characters: ***3/4

Story: ***1/2

Music: ***3/4

Cinematography: ****

Locations: ****1/4

CGI/Special Effects: ****1/4

Overall: ***3/4

Hunt For The Wilderpeople (2016) Movie Review

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The day before I watched this film I never even heard of it, until a friend recommended it on her Facebook, as it’s available on Netflix.  So here we are.  And a Happy Belated New Year this Friday the 13th.

Set in the New Zealand, primarily around the New Zealand Bush, our story revolves around a teenager named Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) and his foster father, “Uncle Hec” (Sam Neill, aka Dr. Alan Grant from Jurassic Park).  Ricky arrives at the home of Bella (Rima Te Wiata), a woman who lives with her husband, Hec, on a remote farm where they hunt for their dinner.  Ricky, a juvenile delinquent, is told by his Child Welfare Services Officer, Paula (Rachel House), that this is his last chance at having a home, otherwise he goes to a Youth Detention Centre.  Ricky is accepted with open arms by Bella, but not so much by Hec, and in time Ricky feels he finally has a home.  This all comes crashing down however.  And soon afterwards, Ricky is told that he will be collected by Paula.  To which, he attempts to fake his suicide and runs away into the Bush with his new dog, Tupac.  When Hec’s reluctant rescue doesn’t go according to plan, the 2 end up stuck in the Bush for several weeks, leading to an interesting father-son style bond, and an unorthodox Thelma-&-Louise/Terminator style chase story.

Now to cut back on how much I’ve written Bush, and talk details:

The Acting was very good with much of it coming across as natural, even from the most eccentric characters.  Within the context of the story, Julian Dennison proved to be an excellent choice for the role, while the likes of Rachel House as Paula bring a comic element that adds to the slight surrealism of the film’s direction.

The Characters in this film are…absolutely hilarious.  A part of me wondered if the characters were written by an Irishman who had an ‘Idiot Abroad’ experience (How Martin McDonagh makes characters comes to mind) – but in reality, they were simply very funny and very charming characters with all of them having amusing and bizarre quirks.  Ricky is a Chav who is completely out of his comfort zone (in fact, I’m not sure he ever had 1 outside of his rapper aspirations), Bella reminds me of Marge from Fargo turned up to 11, Hec’s a grumpy old survivalist who has done too much to get in trouble again, Paula is like a mother bear chasing hunters, Andy the Policeman is laid back, like the rest of his force, the Minister (played by the movie’s director Taika Waititi) is delightfully terrible at his job, Kahu (Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne) and her Dad are complete wise-crackers, the 3 Hunters get all the wrong ideas, and of course, Psycho Sam (Rhys Darby).  It might be usual to say he steals the show – but he doesn’t.  There were no boring characters in this movie.

Based on the book “Wild Pork and Watercress” by Barry Crump, the Story is…wow.  Yes, the bare bones of the story have been done before.  But the film’s dressing is fantastic – reminding me at times of Wes Anderson or Martin McDonagh movies (without the really gritty vulgarity of the later).  The themes it covers, including acceptance, family, rebirth/reintroduction, coming-of-age, personal discovery, are all done with excellent show-don’t tell, while also demonstrating differences in sub-cultures within the country (Hec being a man of the land, Ricky being a boy of the City , Kahu and her Dad being Mãori who are nothing like the stereotypes, and the 3 hunters being somewhere in between it all).  Does the film have tragedy?  Yes.  It wouldn’t be called a Comedy Drama Adventure if it didn’t have low moments mixed in to balance the story and bring other key elements of humanity into the picture.  Death is also a featured theme as it’s paired up with rebirth/reintroduction without attempting a reincarnation message.  Overall it’s a multi-layered story that doesn’t come across as Oscar bait, which is a small part of the appeal.

The Music in Wilderpeople is 1 of the most eclectic that I’ve ever heard.  The original score is mostly done by Moniker, whose style is mostly ’80s synth, then there’s the folk song Makutekahu by Hamish McKeich at the beginning of the movie and Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne covering Bob Marley’s Turn The Lights Down Low.  The original soundtrack ranges from Nina Simone to Leonard Cohen, to the church song The Old Rugged Cross, to a unique version of Happy Birthday, to the Christmas song Carol Of The Bells (keeping in mind it snows in this film, and it’s summer time at Christmas time in New Zealand).  It’s all very memorable, at times used within the comedy, adding to the laughs, and in general, a fun, well used, but also meaningful selection that suits the different tones perfectly.

The Cinematography in this film is oddly underrated.  Some of the shots are brilliant!  In particular the movie’s intro along with its combination of Makutekahu, works really well, adding both an identity and a quirkiness at the same time.  Some of the hunting scenes, particularly the 1 involving Bella, was shot in such a way that she didn’t have to do anything.  It was effective storytelling, while at the same time, it came across as black humoured as well.  The Winter montage with Leonard Cohen playing in the background was also a very memorable part of the film that I had to rewind and watch again…okay, I do love that song.

The graphics and special effects, much like the cinematography, was strong enough to almost be overlooked, especially with its less-is-more approach.  The digital presentation of wild boars and certain birds in particular was very impressive.

The Location choices were all in the North Island, with the more urban areas being shot in Auckland and most of the film being shot throughout the various national parks.  It demonstrates the natural beauty of New Zealand that wasn’t as present in The Lord Of The Rings, and for this, I say it was a great idea to use them.  Beautiful country.

Would I recommend Hunt For The Wilderpeople?  Indeed I would.  I found it to be very, charming, very funny, but also very touching in its various subject matters.

Acting: ****3/4

Characters: *****

Story: ****3/4

Music: *****

Cinematography: ****3/4

Graphics/Special Effects: ****1/2

Locations: *****

Overall: ****3/4

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Movie Review

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Before we begin, lets consider what the general public might be aware of so far:  As of the beginning of Winter this year, this is hailed on IMDB as the 176th greatest film ever made (apparently better than Gone Girl, Stand By Me, Rocky and The Terminator). On Rotten Tomatoes, the only rotten review was from someone who accused it of using nostalgia as a weapon.  Die-Hard Star Wars fan and movie director Kevin Smith calls it the most fun movie he has seen in 2016.  And lastly, Facebook is loaded with comments that put this film on a high platform as something that did no wrong, and even acknowledging that its flaws don’t matter (Oh you better believe that’s a paddlin’!).  This information will change in time.  But now for the most important question in the world…what did I, a Browncoat and Movie Fan (notice I didn’t say Star Wars fan) think of this movie?  Well…

What’s our story?  It’s set in between Star Wars: Episodes 3 and 4 and revolves around a young woman named Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones).  Jyn is in an interesting predicament, as she is the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), the head engineer of a new weapon being designed by the Empire that has been dubbed “The Death Star”.  While being transported as a prisoner, she is rescued by the Rebel Alliance, who want her to go talk to a Clone Wars Veteran and former acquaintance named Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) – Saw reveals to Jyn a hologram her father sent him, saying that her Father had hidden a weakness within The Death Star that would destroy it completely.  After this, it’s up to Jyn, along with her new allies, Cassian Andor the intelligence officer (Diego Luna), Chirrut Îmwe (A blind warrior monk-figure played by Hong Kong Cinema Legend Donnie Yen), K2SO (A memory-wiped Imperial robot serving the Rebels, voiced by Alan “Wash From Firefly” Tudyk), Bodhi Rook (former Imperial Pilot played by actor and musician Riz Ahmed) and Baze Malbus (Rebel Warrior, heavy gunner, and friend of Chirrut, played by Jiang Wen) to retrieve the information and bring it to the Rebel Alliance.

Now to take the machine apart and discuss which pieces were from a Honda and which were part of a G-Wiz:

The Acting for the most part was good, and 1 thing you might notice is how international the cast was (only 2 out of 9 original characters are American, and the white 1 voices a black robot).  Among the cast you have some legends from throughout the acting (and nerdy) world, including Forest Whitaker, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen and Mads Mikkelsen (in his second major franchise movie this year, the other being Marvel’s Doctor Strange), mixed with actors who have had several indy films and 1 or 2 major films to their name and this is the next step up in their careers.  I had no problem with the veterans, in fact, I welcomed them.  The up and comers however were a mixed bag, with Felicity Jones as Jyn being the most confusing – I’m aware that this is a character who has “Seen things, Man”, but out of the all the actors in the film, she is the 1 whose performance screams “I’m acting!” – I’m aware that she has already made 3 other films this year besides this 1, and fair play, she got the role.  But when compared to Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker…there’s no comparison.  Also, Diego Luna as Cassian Andor is okay, but lacks…something…like, charisma…I’ll discuss Andor soon, but in terms of casting, I would have chosen Pedro Pascal for the role (Oberyn Martell in Game Of Thrones), because if you wanted someone who could play a Hans Solo role with a hint of South America, he would have been perfect.

The Characters in Rogue One are by far the weakest element of the film, and have about as much development as most of the dwarves in the Hobbit…not just the movies, but in general.  Reason?  Well compare them to the characters you love in Star Wars, particularly the original trilogy.  Jyn Erso is practically the female Jake Sully (main character in James Cameron’s Avatar, the most detestably boring hero I have ever experienced in Big-Budget-Action cinema), Cassian Andor is a much less funny Hans Solo, Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic (The Architect of The Death Star) provides no real feeling of threat on screen, and most other characters are just…bland, with the exception of 3; Donnie Yen as Chirrut, who created a unique and memorable character, Mads Mikkelsen as Gale Erso who created an evidently complicated but loving father figure.  And of course the 1 character who stole the show and stole it absolutely – Alan Tudyk as K-2SO.  He’s absolutely fabulous in this!  Easily the best and funniest character in the whole movie.  Good show!  The cameos in this are also great, and I’ll get to that soon.

The Story is unique for Star Wars.  The character goals are different with different agendas, and the decisions were rather surprising, all while maintaining the Bad News Bears element that is the Rebel Alliance taking on the Empire.  At the same time, the film chooses to be quite grey area, and even showing off a flawed and darker side to the Rebel Alliance.  I keep in mind that this story is set during a time when Jedi Knights became legends rather than a reality, and therefore it’s less about “The Light vs The Dark” and is simply a civil war, because all people have are a desire to Lord or a hope for freedom.

The Music is a combination of John Williams’ original score mixed with some new pieces by Michael Giacchino (Who this year has done the scores of a Star Trek movie, a Marvel movie, a Disney animated movie and a Star Wars movie – I don’t think that has ever happened before.)  The music itself is of great quality, but I do think it has blended into the background, as John Williams’ trademark score has overwhelmed its presence.  Williams’ score is a masterpiece, and to say the least, Giacchino has created a similar set that doesn’t sound alien to the franchise (see what I did there?).

Outside of K-2SO, the real star of the show is this film’s CGI and Special Effects.  In particular, this film’s ability to turn back the clock and even resurrect dead actors and place them back in their respective roles in the series!  My jaw literally dropped at some of these cameos, which are a truly pleasant surprise.  Excellent problem solving, excellent action scenes and explosions, and other fun and creative ways in which destruction can be presented within family viewing.  It’s proof that Star Wars is basically a slasher flick series if you’re rooting for the Stormtroopers.

The Cinematography by Greig Fraser is awesome.  It provides a wonderful display of the worlds within the Lucasverse, while maintaining strong visual storytelling that expands without dialogue, which it a very impressive skill.

The Art Style is pure Star Wars, which in itself was already really good and highly inspired. It manages to capture the visual essence of the franchise, so I can only say good things about it.

Would I recommend Rogue One: A Star Wars Story?…Sure.  If you’re a Star Wars fan, you probably already love this movie and have seen it 3 more times today, and I’m not going to take that away from you.  What it does well, it does amazingly, and where it should have done well, it’s disappointing.  I don’t believe the hype, and this is definitely not in league with A New Hope or The Empire Strikes Back (2 films I can say as a non-star wars fan are phenomenal), but what it does show us is the capability that CGI can now bring.  We can now bring back our favourite actors, not just the characters with different actors.  It’s a very exciting time as a movie fan, and the action scenes were very good fun in this film.  I prefer Episode 7, but this is still a good movie.

Acting:***1/2

Characters: ** (but ****1/2 for K-2SO and the cameos)

Story: ***1/2

Music: ****1/2

CGI/Special Effects: ***** (I would give it a 6 if I could!)

Cinematography: *****

Art Style: *****

Overall: ****

A Street Cat Named Bob (2016) Movie Review

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Homeward Bound, Beethoven, Lassie, Old Yeller, Alaska, Air Bud, Free Willy, Wishbone, MVP: Most Valuable Primate, Dunston Checks In…these are among the many films and shows we can point out when it comes to Animals being lead or supporting actors in films.  Whether they are remembered fondly, or renowned for derailing acting careers and making parents question the night they had too much to drink – I don’t recall very many of these sorts of films being aimed at adults…Until I saw this…and Jaws…forgot about Jaws…whoops.

Set in London in the late 2000s, our story revolves around James Bowen (played by SKY Atlantic’s ‘Solitude’ actor Luke Treadaway, the twin brother of Harry Treadaway, who played Dr Frankenstein in Penny Dreadful), a Homeless Busker and recovering heroin addict who was rejected by his family and had trouble making enough money to feed himself.  After Overdosing in a car with a fellow addict, he wakes up in Hospital, where he is given 1 last chance from his support worker, Val (Joanne Frogatt), to turn his life around.  He is given his own flat – and in return, he has to attend meetings with Val and take Methadone frequently.  One night in his flat – he hears what sounds like a burglar in his kitchen.  He enters, and it is here he meets a ginger cat eating corn flakes.  After trying to find the cat’s owner the next day, and then finding the cat later with a leg injury, it became clear that the two lives would be very, very important to each other.

Now to go down the usual street of these reviews, and with the exception of Bob’s wound, there are little or no special effects or CGI in this film.  It’s just a straightforward film design:

The acting is very good.  It’s not the usual oscar bait that is possibly suggested by some on the surface, but it does more than enough to tell a story without looking like they’re trying too hard to impress us.  It features some excellent “animal direction”, and probably providing a clear indication that Bob is in fact “Smarter than your average Cat, Boo Boo”.  In general, it was well done.

The characters, though tight-knit, were well put together but not overly detailed.  By far the most likeable character is Bob (for good reason, he’s adorable), and seeing James Bowen’s transformation and struggle to stay clean and feed both himself and Bob is clear throughout the narrative.  As for the villains…there aren’t any.  Yes, plenty of people are rude to James (and it is London – not exactly the rest of England), but sometimes it is expected – Although, the scene in the Indian Takeaway…I don’t know why the cashier/chef didn’t ask for the £3 from James before he made the meal for him (then throwing the meal in the dirty sink and telling James to get lost because he was 9p short and trying to busk for it inside the takeaway itself).  Maybe the business is struggling?  Maybe this was 1 reason for it?  I know it was designed to show how much people shunned James, but that in itself was…not a good business decision for a takeaway…Unless it’s common in some parts were there is a communal trust.  James’ Father, though cold towards his son, does want the best for him…But he feels that James is too far out of reach, and that he needs to get on with his life, keep James’ Step-mother happy, and give his daughters a decent childhood without a druggy near them.  I mentioned there aren’t any villains…but that’s because the villains aren’t really people.  Yes, there are some scumbags here and there…but “hurt people hurt people” as they say.  Poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, rejection, a lack of compassion, “the rules”…these are the real villains of the film.

The music is a combination of film score and Luke Treadaway actually busking (The fact that he can play guitar and sing is 1 of the main reasons he got the role) – the songs themselves are very good, and though they might not cater to everybody’s tastes, I do think there is an appeal to having a cat present at a live performance.

Even though the end result of the story is very apparent – the Story is not a child-friendly journey, as it tackles a lot of issues that would be touched upon in Primary School, but not fully realised, unless you experience these things in your own home.  At the same time, it sends out various messages.  “Don’t do drugs” is a main 1, because as the real James Bowen remarked “Having Bob is like raising a baby, so I had to sort myself out”, having a cat might help turn one’s life around, but it doesn’t make the journey easier.  Then we have the theme of homelessness and its horrors.  The rejection, name-calling and labelling from others are far from the nicest things to happen to anybody.  It either shows us that people can change or show us a reflection of ourselves, whether it be in James or those who don’t want him or those who want him to fall, fail or suffer.  At the same time, there is a wonderful light-heartedness in the mix of the horror and grit, because while the scenes were James and Bob are happy together only make up a small (but important) amount of the film, they made the darker times a lot more bearable.  Is there any humour in this film?  Yes – but it’s more associated with cat humour than people humour – if you love cats, and see elements of your own cat in Bob, you’ll get a wee laugh out of it.

The cinematography is very good, and even provides us with Bob’s point of view from time to time.  Though Bob himself appears in the film frequently, he did have some extras (5-6 other red tabby cats) helping out, and the choice of cinematography helped cover any differences up.

Would I recommend A Street Cat Named Bob?  Yes…but maybe not so much for kids on Christmas day (Yes, there are Christmas scenes in this film), unless you see something there that might scare them into taking a better path.  But at the same time, to encourage compassion when there isn’t any.  James Bowen and his cat Bob now have their legacy in Pop Culture, which helped get them both out of their worst case scenario and brought them to a place were they could help others, and to say the least, the product itself is pretty good.

Acting: ****

Characters ***3/4 (*****) for Bob)

Music: ****

Story:****1/4

Cinematography: ****1/4

Overall: ****

Doctor Strange (2016) Movie Review

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Riddle Me This – what happens when a horror movie director (Scott Derrickson), a writer of both Prometheus and Passengers (Jon Spaihts) and a film critic-turned script writer (C. Robert Cargill),  take 2 well received Christopher Nolan projects and The Matrix, fill it with Brits, Canadians, Europeans, 2 Americans and a Buddhist and Big City coat of paint, and then slam it all together like an end-of-the-world prediction?

Set within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, our story revolves around Stephen Strange – a highly acclaimed Surgeon who would give the manga character Black Jack (The Surgeon with the hands of God) a run for his money.  He’s highly successful to the point of riches, and much like Tony Stark, he drives a nice car, has a nice home, and thinks very highly of himself…Then the car accident happened.  Stephen survives, but is left with intense nerve damage in his hands and effectively ending the career of a man who put everything into his job.  Desperate, Stephen goes by a hearsay to Nepal after hearing of a man who should be in a wheelchair is walking about like nothing happened.  Here he meets The Ancient One (played by Tilda Swinton), a Celtic mystic who teaches Stephen that there is more to the world around him, and himself, than meets the eye.

Now for the strange things about this film:

The Acting is great throughout the film, despite accusations of its casting.  The Ancient One, who in the comics is an old Tibetian Monk, is played by a tall, middle-aged (and very young looking) white woman (Tilda Swindon), and this led to accusations that the film was being white-washed…Even though a Transylvanian character is played by a Nigerian-englishman (Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo), a blonde-haired-blue-eyed doctor is played by a Jewish American (Michael Stuhlberg as Doctor Nicodemus West), the former paraplegic is played by an American or Peruvian and European descent (Benjamin Bratt as Jonathan Panghorn) and Chinese-British actor Benedict Wong plays Master Wong (Unsure if pun was intended).  It’s hardly fair to call it a whitewashed cast.  Everyone played their roles very well, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange is…perfect.  Much like Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark, Cumberbatch has slotted himself perfectly into the role (and it makes me look forward to Stark and Strange meeting for the first time in Avengers 3).  And of course you can’t forget the performances by Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer (Strange’s former lover, fellow surgeon and good friend), and the TV Doctor Hannibal Lecter himself, Mads Mikkelsen, plays antagonist and former student to The Ancient One, Kaecillus.

The Characters are very good, in particular Doctor Strange himself in the role of Neo and The Ancient One effectively in the role of Morpheus. Doctor Strange is a likeable but evidently flawed hero, both physically (his nerve-damaged hands) and mentally (his over-inflated ego), who realises what he is capable of, and goes after those trying to destroy the world through their own interpretation of a piece of script that The Ancient One had forbidden from them.  What I also like most about Strange is the new dimension he will add to The Avengers by bringing Magic into what has been more or less associated with the sci-fi genre.  An interesting twist.

The Story, much like Ant Man, Iron Man 1 and Guardians Of The Galaxy, is an origin story, and in itself can stand alone from the universe (But it’s more fun with the universe included).  On its simplest form, it’s a very well made “Overcoming The Monster” story, and eventually it leads to what can be best described as the most original, awe-inspiring, and downright hilarious final battles in recent memory.  No spoilers – just see it!

The Art Style evidently shows some influences and ideas from the likes of The Matrix and Inception, along with the Marvel Cinematic Universe presentation.  The chosen locations were brilliantly presented and incorporated, and proves they either chose great locations to shoot or had excellent green screen effects.

The Music is by Michael Giacchino (New Star Trek Trilogy and numerous Pixar Films) and he does an awesome job for this.  What makes this score stand out from the other Marvel movies is its use of the delightful instrument known as the Harpsichord (and early version of the piano).  A lovely touch.  While at the same time, providing very effective music for every high and low in the film.  Subtle and memorable when it needs to be.

The CGI and Special Effects were…no pun intended – out of this world!  It feels like the CGI in the MCU is getting better, and this is a definitive example of the trend.

The Cinematography, much like the special effects, are also a bit insane and ingenious at the same time.

Would I recommend Doctor Strange?  Absolutely!  It was great fun with a lot of humour, great action scenes and a very solid story with plenty to add upon.  If you were hoping for a return in presenting The Matrix in some shape or form, whether it be in presentation or parallel narrative, you’ll find something to like here.

Acting: ****1/2

Characters: ****1/2

Story: ****1/2

Art/Design: *****

Music: ****3/4

CGI/Special Effects: *****

Cinematography: *****

Overall: ****3/4