Men In Black: International


Viewed – 29 October 2019 online-rental

I wasn’t expecting much from this but as a casual fan of the other movies (although I never got around to seeing the second movie), I suppose a desire for easy watching fun and the usual reliability of Chris Hemswoeth grabbed my attention.

This follows the story of a woman (Thor Ragarok’s Tessa Thompson) who following an alien encounter as a child has always dreamed of joining the top secret organisation that turned up that fateful night but didn’t do the mind-zap thing on her like they did to her parents. As an adult she gets her chance and is quickly recruited and given a job to join the London division headed by Liam Neeson. There she is quickly partnered with Chris Hemsworth’s cocky, reckless agent ‘H’ and stumbles on a new threat to the planet.

The story is weak here, something involving a powerful weapon, and is mostly an excuse for a fun if very predictable caper with some entertaining banter between Hensworth & Thompson. Although the twist this time around to reverse the roles and offer up plenty of female empowerment, sadly leaves Hemsworth (and generally any male) as merely joke-fodder or targets of female chauvinism. Oh, hasn’t equality come a long way?

That being said, action set-pieces are decent, production values high and it’s still fun. It just lacks anything beyond the points made above to warrant its existence following a fairly complete and finished trilogy. The failure to even mention Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones’ characters also seems a strange oversight. For die-hard fans only.

Verdict: 2.5 /5

Pokémon Detective Pikachu


Viewed – 24 September 2019. Online rental

I only mildly got into Pokémon last Christmas when I had Pokémon Let’s Go for the Nintendo Switch. The world and all the creatures within certainly fascinated me and so a live action movie definitely appealed. This somewhat weirdly has Ryan Reynolds as the voice of Pikachu, and follows a story set in the fictional Rome City (clearly influenced by many of the worlds cities) where a twenty something guy investigates the mysterious disappearance of his father, aided by his father’s former Pokémon. However as a strange gas begins to send Pokémon crazy the guy teams up with a plucky wannabe reporter girl to discover what’s going on.

Yeah this wafer-thin, at times confused plot is mostly an excuse for Reynolds to deliver his brand of one-liner wise-crackery and also showcase the endless varieties of Pokémon. It fails to truly delve into what Pokémon is and its intricacies, so newcomers should instead take this as simply high fantasy science fiction. Justice Smith playing the main guy is only passable and next to Reynolds razor-sharp (if family friendly) line delivery … comes off poorly. Kathryn Newton as the sort-of love interest is pretty and reminiscent of the games and anime but generally not much better. Veteran actor Bill Nighy lends a bit of personality as the head of a corporation that may or may not be sinister, and the fact the movie only hints at the inclusion of Pokémon baddies Team Rocket feels like a missed opportunity.

The CGI for the creatures, the city and various sequences on the other hand, is top notch and brought everything to eye-catching life, and as a casual fan this still ticked many boxes for how I’d imagine this sort of movie to turn out. Good fun, but ultimately a bit forgettable.

Verdict: 3 /5

Wheels On Meals


Viewed – 15 September 2019 Blu-ray

I make no secret that I’m a big fan of martial arts icon Jackie Chan and over the years I have enjoyed many of his movies. There’s just something endlessly likeable about him that I feel not even names like Jet Li, Donnie Yen or even Bruce Lee come close. So sitting down to this 1984 kung fu caper, I had mixed emotions as I recalled not being its biggest fan back in the day. However at the time I was OD’ing on all things Hong Kong Cinema. Chan, teamed with frequent collaborator Yeun Biao play two mobile restaurant vendors who work out of a tricked-out hot dog van, who both fall for the same mysterious girl. At the same time a rookie private detective (another frequent collaborator Sammo Hung) has been given the case of tracking down said girl, whilst also a gang of bad guys are out to kidnap her. A bit of mystery then ensues bringing the three guys together to save the day.

This focuses heavily on interplay between the main characters with plenty of comical word-play that lends comparisons to The Marx Brothers or The Three Stooges, mixed with occasional action that throws in fights, a great car chase and a climactic series of encounters that make the long yet entertaining lead up well worth your patience. The inclusion of kick boxing champion Benny ‘the jet’ Urquidez is a particular highlight. Set unusually in what appears to be Spain the movie is filled with interesting locations and at times eye catching cinematography.

The overly-farcical nature of the plot, questionable depictions of mental patients and homeless people means it’s hard to get truly invested. Also Chan’s brand of stunt-work and Kung fu mostly takes a back seat … but its all done with such charm and sense of fun, I still had a great time.

The blu-ray from Eureka Classics has a pleasing, if generally soft image quality that although at its best during night time set sequences, is generally clean throughout… that bright yellow van especially pops. The soundtrack is presented in original mono and 5.1 Cantonese along with dubbed English in both mono and 5.1. Extras consist of outtakes, trailers and a few worthwhile interviews with key cast members. Not exhaustive but we do also get a detailed booklet with an essay by James Oliver. Solid treatment for what is for me a bit of a forgotten classic.

verdict:

(the movie) 3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray) 3.5 /5

Ralph Breaks the Internet


Viewed – 31 August 2019. DVD

I remember enjoying the first movie. Wreck It Ralph was a great idea, borrowing it must be said, from Pixar’s Monsters Inc yet not quite reaching the potential of its rather brilliant concept. However it delivered first-rate turns from John C Reilly as Donkey Kong inspired video game villain ‘Ralph’ and Sarah Silverman as cute kart racer girl ‘Venelope’. So yeah, I was keen to see what (mis)adventured this likeable duo would get up to next. This brings forth the arrival of wi-fi connectivity to the little arcade that’s home to Ralph, Venelope amongst others (including Pacman, various Street Fighter characters and several more recognisable faces), and after an over-zealous gamer breaks Venelope’s arcade machine steering wheel, a quest to get a new one (from eBay no doubt) is undertaken, with the world wide web ripe for exploration.

I found this built perfectly on the foundations set up in the first movie and delivered exactly what a sequel should … bigger and better. The animation is top-notch and I’ll go as far as to say its sone of the most lush, imaginative and personality-filled CGI I’ve ever witnessed. With the looming shadow of Pixar’s Toy Story 4, any hype for this seemed to get brushed under that carpet at time of release, which is a travesty as in many ways this is the superior movie. Ralph & Venelope are a great double-act and although the story is mostly focused on the plucky racer-girl’s journey of self discovery, Ralph still gets many of the best gags and a brilliant final act (hint…one Ralph is never enough!). The clever mickey-takes and references of the internet and especially of Disney themselves are also well-observed and often laugh out loud funny. The Disney Princesses scene is pure gold.

However the story isn’t exactly all that on paper, but its exploration of a developing friendship is poignantly observed none the less. Yet Disney’s obsession with forcing feminist propaganda into every movie these days raises its head again in the closing moments, but it’s at least more subtle than Avengers: Endgame. Tiny gripes aside though, this was great fun and one of the best animated movies of the year.

Verdict: 4 /5

Police Story 2


Viewed – 16 August 2019. Blu-ray

I don’t think you can really go wrong with a Jackie Chan movie. Over several decades the kung fu star has perfected his brand of slapstick action-comedy which is showcased well in the long running Police Story series. This 1987 sequel to the now legendary original picks up shortly after the events of that movie and has Chan relegated to traffic duty. However the mobster from the last movie is out of prison on compassionate grounds following a terminal illness diagnosis and goes about harassing Chan and his girlfriend May (the lovely Maggie Cheung). Yet when a bomb scare at a shopping centre brings about a new threat to the city, Chan’s superiors call on him to help out again.

This movie isn’t quite as talked about as the original and it’s fairly clear to see why. It once again gets bogged down in investigative police procedure, mixed with Chan’s often quaint style of comedy which I’ll admit did bring a few chuckles. However this occasionally feels even more long-winded, with the subplot of the mobster seeking revenge needing to be significantly trimmed. Thankfully then when the action comes it’s still superb, lightening-fast, expertly choreographed and amazing to witness – if a bit low key compared to the last movie. Yet the playground fight especially is a stand out. The climax also boasts some impressive stunt work and a great, if brief fight against Hapkido expert Benny Lai.

Chan’s direction overall is slick. The camerawork, especially for its time is stylish and well, he totally understands how to present action in a way Hollywood failed to grasp for years. Just a shame a wafer-thin plot and too much padding stops this just short of another Chan classic.

The recent Blu-ray from Eureka Classics has a decent if slightly soft image quality, but the soundtrack is at least delivered in several options including a dubbed, subtitled mono and and all new subtitled 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio. The movie also gets three cuts, the UK video version, the shorter and I’m guessing better-paced Hong Kong version as well as the full, uncut version I watched. I’d be interested in checking out these other versions I must admit. Extras consist of trailers, an episode of the ‘Son of the Incredibly Strange Film Show’ hosted by Jonathan Ross, outtakes, an interview with Benny Lai as well as a commentary by stuntmen Miles Wood and Jude Poyer. The Blu-ray, as part of a deluxe set that also includes Police Story 1, also comes with a detailed booklet. Very impressive treatment overall for a still fun entry in Jackie Chan’s career thats worth checking out.

Verdict:

(the movie). 3 /5

(the Blu-ray). 5 /5