Spider-Man: Homecoming


Viewed – 05 December 2017  Online-rental

Of all the super-heroes, ol’ Spidy has had some trouble finding sure footing in recent years and for me, there hasn’t been a decent Spidy movie since the second Toby Maguire entry.  However after an enjoyable (if unnecessary) cameo in Captain America: Civil War, the web-slinger has returned in probably one his best received movies since the Sam Raimi directed original. 

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Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is under the watchful eye of billionaire Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) aka Iron-Man and so wants to be an official part of The Avengers, not just someone you call on when you’re in a bit of a fix.  So he’s out to prove himself after he witnesses some advanced, out of this world (literally) weapon technology being used by petty thugs.  Turns out there’s a ruthless arms dealer in town who dresses like a robotic vulture.

There’s several things that don’t sit right with me here.  Firstly the constant bumbling, representation of such a beloved character grates after a while, and then his characterisation, without an origin tale or any personal tragedy, is wafer-thin and not something to get all-that caught up in.  Same goes for Michael Keaton’s Vulture, a rather pathetic former salvage worker annoyed by being put out of work by Tony Stark’s bank-rolled clean-up crew following the events of the first Avengers movie, who decides to steal alien technology so to become an arms dealer.  There’s no personal tragedy other than the inconvenience of having to find work elsewhere, and therefore little reason behind what he’s doing other than greed and being a bit of a psychopath.  So what else do we get?  Holland is likeable and well cast as Parker/Spidy, and Keaton is also good despite limited material.  We also get some decent action, including a great sequence at the Washington Monument, and some support characters are fun.  Yet overall this greatly lacks depth and feels like a pilot for a TV show or the opening chapter of a bigger, better story.  I’m guessing that’s the idea … so bring on the inevitable, superior sequel!  After two reboots of ‘meh’ quality however, it’d take something special to get me back on-board.

Verdict:  2.5 /5

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The Thing


Viewed – 24 October 2017  Blu-ray

Growing up I must have seen this movie on TV several times, and always marvelled not only at the atmosphere and setting, but those incredible creature effects by makeup artist Rob Bottin.  Over the years CGI has taken over considerably, the recent ‘prequel’ being a noteworthy example of CGI not able to replace decent practical effects, and so despite this being over thirty years old, how does it hold up compared to today’s offerings?

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Kurt Russell leads a cast of characters which bare at least thematically a resemblance to the crew of Alien’s Nostromo.  These guys, working at a remote research facility in the Antarctic are not marines, but simple blue-collar workers, not unlike what you’d find of an oil rig … who are about to get an unexpected and unwelcome visitor.  Director John Carpenter took inspiration from 50s b-movie The Thing From Outer Space, but brings his own personality and considerable directing chops to deliver probably one of the stand out horror movies of the 80’s.  Colourful characters bring a realism to the movie that works well and the cast all do a fine job with Russell proving a great lead.  The setting is also claustrophobic and well filmed; combining a mix of traditional cinematography with hand-held camera work.  Once the ‘thing’ starts imitating various characters, tension ramps up and it became pretty disturbing and scary, especially with how the characters convey their paranoia and fear for those they once called friends.  However the star of the show is the creature itself and it’s transformations and gory appearances are stuff of cinematic legend by now – and all these years later still impress.  The scenes with tentacles, spiders legs and all sorts of other things still sent shivers my way.  Yet Carpenter sensibly chose to make this as much a character piece as a creature feature and for that reason it excels.Thing Arrow VideoArrow Video once again deliver a stunning package with the movie’s latest treatment on Blu-ray, improving immeasurably over the previous Universal release which suffered from lip-sync problems.  Here we get a 4K restoration boasting a clean, detailed image free of dust or damage and in fine shape, even if it’s not the most vibrant movie you’ll see.  All those gory details certainly get showcased however.  Add to this a choice of original 2.0 Stereo, 4.1 and also DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio, and along with Ennio Morricone’s ominous score and clear dialogue – this is impressive stuff.  Now as usual Arrow don’t shirk on the special features and here we get two audio commentaries; firstly an archive Kurt Russell & John Carpenter one which feels like two old time buddies watching a movie together, complete with laugh-out-loud reactions to certain scenes.  The other is a commentary by a trio of podcasters that’s well worth a listen for endless titbits and geeky knowledge.  We also get several featurettes, some archive, some new that are well worth dipping into if you’re a fan (and let’s admit it, if you’re reading this you already are).  The Blu-ray limited edition I picked up also comes with a fold out poster, art cards and a detailed booklet as well as fancy slip case packaging.  Which makes this edition essential.

Verdict:

(the movie)  5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  5 /5

Blade Runner 2049


Viewed – 25 Ocotber 2017  Cinema

I went into this fairly hyped.  It’s been well received for such a long awaited sequel that probably nobody was really waiting for, yet I also had slight apprehension due to the fact of not being the biggest fan of the original.  That movie whilst aesthetically impressive (more so for the time) and having some interesting moments and a solid turn from Harrison Ford, was ultimately rather empty and simple, lacking much of the depth or grit I’d been lead to believe.  So how does this sequel hold up?

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Ryan Gosling plays a Blade Runner who from the off you’re aware is also a replicant (an artificially engineered imitation-human), hunting and putting out of commission rogue replicants who have gone off the radar.  Yet on one such mission he stumbles upon a grave of a female replicant who seems to have died in child birth – something nobody imagined a replicant was even capable of doing; conceiving a child.  So the hunt for the missing child and answers to Golsing’s own past is set in motion.

Like the 1982 Ridley Scott original, this has a foreboding, dystopian future that is partly awe-inspiring and depressing.  It’s a dark, moody vision of Los Angeles full of clouds, smoke, neon billboards and miserable people.  Unlike Scott’s vision however this seems intentionally filmed with no real wow-factor, and with admittedly gargantuan set design and vast cityscapes appearing rather bland looking.  This look is raised up a notch by some iconic looking, sci-fi imagery not out of place on a book cover or in the pages of a graphic novel, even if much of said imagery seems put there for the sake of it.  Gosling is good and his journey of self-discovery is interesting (aided by a hologram girlfriend).  Also where the movie eventually goes is clever, with how it ties into the original really well done.  Add to this a late-to-the-party Harrison Ford pretty much stealing the show in a surprisingly layered performance, and on paper the ingredients are here to make a great movie.  Sad then that the pace is so damn plodding, with almost every scene stretched out for maximum run time with long pauses between portions of dialogue, lingering looks between characters etc.  Keeping myself entertained with this was a massive struggle.  If some scenes had just been tightened up we’d have a 2hr movie rather than one approaching 3hrs, and somewhat underwhelming visuals aside, such a languishing pace is ultimately what lets the movie down.

If you’re a big fan of the original, you may still get something out of this.  However if you want a movie that will keep you gripped throughout, this isn’t for you.

Verdict:  3 /5

Alien Covenant


Viewed – 03 October 2017  Online-rental

I was optimistic about this one.  I was initially a little hyped when it hit theatres considering that director Ridley Scott not only created the Alien franchise, but also helmed last year’s (for me) ‘movie of the year’ Martian.  So I was thinking, he’s back and bringing Alien back.  Oh was I wrong…

Alien Covenant

The crew of the Covenant are transporting a colony of thousands in hyper sleep, in search of a new planet to call their home.  After receiving a distress call from a near by planet, they choose to, albeit reluctantly investigate.  Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.  Sort of a direct sequel to the much hyped yet bewildering Prometheus, a film I came away disappointed by, this has returning character David, a synthetic android marooned on said planet who the crew of the space ship meet up with.  Amongst their crew is also an identical synthetic called Walter (both are played by Michael Fassbender), who soon finds himself bonding with his look-a-like by way of a drawn out flute lesson (yes you read that right…a flute lesson).

This is a movie in search of an identity.  It wants to be a survival horror typical Alien movie, and then like Prometheus it wants to be a philosophical origin story on both the creation of the Aliens and some mumbo-jumbo mythology involving mankind and bio-engineering.  The problem is it’s very hard to get invested in much of any of it, what with tedious characterisation and a plodding pace.  Fassbender tries his best but is let down by a poor script that is both over-complicated and boring.  Unconvincing CGI for the Aliens doesn’t help either and when crew members start dying off and you’re not even entirely sure which ones they were – the movie has problems.

Alien never needed a deep mythology.  It didn’t need a back story.  The mystery, the foreboding eeriness of H R Giger’s designs was enough – once a director attempts to explain it all, it ultimately kills it … which Scott is very much going to do if he insists on making the franchise something it never needed to be.

Verdict:  2 /5

Life


Viewed – 15 August 2017  online rental

Science-fiction has become one of my favourite genres, with such gems as The Martian and Interstellar impressing me.  There seems to have been a bit of a resurgence in such movies, albeit stepping away from the flights of fantasy we’ve seen and instead focusing on a more semi-realistic tone.  The same can be said for this latest space-set thriller starring amongst others, Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds.

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A team of astronauts orbiting the earth reprieve a probe that has been on it’s way back from Mars, and discover a life form within it’s gathered soil samples.  Nurturing said life form in an incubator, the astronauts try to figure out how it responds and whether it’s harmless or deadly.  I’m guessing you probably know the answer to that one, huh?

I got a serious Alien vibe from this but stripped down to actual realistic space travel and science rather than H R Giger inspired horror aesthetics.   The creature, nicknamed Calvin is initially cute but eventually shudder creepy-crawly, and as the scientists attempt to contain it, this set into action some seriously well done thrills.  It’s not a subject that breathes new life into a tired genre but it’s done well, has some genuinely heart-in-mouth moments and is topped off by decent effects work (but for the occasional obvious CGI monster) and great set design that transported me right there … and I didn’t want to be there.  Gyllenhaal, considering his usual brilliance is a little side-lined and the star of this turns out to be Rebecca Ferguson who is very good.  Ryan Reynolds seems like he’s just playing Ryan Reynolds, but the rest of the cast do a decent job.  It’s also a movie, despite it’s familiarity that still managed to keep me gripped and wondering how it might end, and in this day and age that has to be commended.

Verdict:  4 /5