Raya and the Last Dragon


Viewed – 05 June 2021 Disney+

I’ve always enjoyed animation and few can argue that Disney (and Pixar) still lead the industry when it comes to animated movies. This latest offering tells the story of Raya, a young girl who grows up amidst fantastical tales of dragons who saved the world from an evil force that once turned people into stone. However their actions also lead to their mysterious disappearance, and when warring factions cause a sacred crystal to get damaged, the evil force returns to reclaim the land. Raya then takes it upon herself to seek out the fabled ‘last dragon’ in hope of banishing the evil for good.

You got a friend in me…

With a Far Eastern theme, similar to Mulan, this gorgeous looking, mystical fantasy adventure had it all. An engaging story, fun characters and some great action with a strong influence from Chinese cinema hits like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Raya (voiced by The Last Jedi’s Lisa Marie Tran), at first seems typical Disney Princess, yet develops into a fleshed-out and likeable lead, aided well by a bunch of quirky characters, including a mischievous baby, a lovable warrior from a rival clan … and especially Sifu as the Last Dragon, who proves this movies shining beacon.

It may not re-write the rule book when it comes to this kind of thing, and it’s themes of trusting / believing in one another are cliched … but done particularly well here, especially towards the end where I must admit it got me quite emotional. Another slam-dunk then for Disney, and possibly one of my favourites in a while from the house of mouse. A must watch.

Verdict: Essential

Zack Snyder’s Justice League


Viewed – 29 May 2021 Blu-ray

This doesn’t happen very often, does it? A movie getting pretty much re-released that isn’t simply a director’s cut but in fact almost an entirely different movie. I feel I was one of the few that enjoyed the original 2018 version of Justice League, and while I could see the flaws, overall it still did its job. So sitting down to this much expanded, 4 hour version was both exciting and a bit intimidating.

Avengers assem… oh, wait.

The story has a megalomaniac villain called Steppenwolf who is searching for three ancient cubes that once brought together will transform our world, destroying all life in the process. So on learning this Bruce Wayne / Batman rushes to form a team of super-powered heroes in hope of stopping Steppenwolf in his tracks.

Zack Snyder, for some reason delivers this version of JL in 4:3 aspect ratio, and despite black bars either side of the screen, after a while I stopped noticing them. His style is so striking here, and with a muted colour pallet compared to the garish tones of JL 2018, this immediately felt more serious and epic. Much of the humour has been toned down, although The Flash’s wise-cracks remain intact. Also, with so much more time there’s far more emphasis on character, especially that of Cyborg, and at times this can feel very much his story, given the most interesting character ark. Superman’s status of being dead and his eventual resurrection is also packed with emotion. The villain’s motives are also better explained, with the addition of one character this time around filling a Palpetine type role to Steppenwolf’s Vader.

The movie may be over 4 hours long but with how it is split into six parts, and spread over two Blu-rays (I watched it over two nights) it didn’t feel bloated or padded and in fact zipped along at a decent pace with several great action scenes. It never gets as powerful as say, Avengers: Endgame, its central plot feels cliched and Steppenwolf isn’t all that interesting. There’s also some unnecessary sequel-bating here and there, with scenes involving Martian Manhunter and even Jared Leto’s Joker needing to be left on the cutting room floor …. but overall this was still an improved, highly entertaining, visually stunning and satisfying experience.

Verdict: Recommended

The Mitchells Vs The Machines


Viewed – 15 May 2021 Netflix

A girl who dreams of making it in the film making industry, one day gets her wish when she is accepted to film school. However on the same day as she leaves to begin her new life, a megalomaniacal A.I. called ‘Pal’ decides to start a robot invasion after her creator chooses to discard her for a more advanced version. Think of it as if Apple’s Siri turned evil and suddenly wanted to rid the earth of mankind. Gulp.

“Mom, Dad … we’re mankind’s only hope!”

From the creative geniuses that brought us the acclaimed Spider-Man Into The Spider-Verse, this is an energetic and highly entertaining experience, that blends family drama with a robot apocalypse action movie. Katie, our lead is a plucky, technology-obsessed, typical modern teenager and is reflective of the world we find ourselves in, where anyone with a bit of imagination can create movies and animation, on their phones or laptops. The animation style, like Spider-Man is sort of 2D art brought to life in 3D, is jam packed with ideas and detail and looks gorgeous. Occasionally I think it gets a bit over the top, with things popping up on screen to emphasis and over-emphasis moments … but mostly it works.

Although these kind of movies are not meant to be realistic, sometimes the action gets so crazy any hint of plausibility is thrown out of the window. Thankfully, a genuinely touching father and daughter sub-plot gives this its emotional crutch to rest all of the chaos upon. I get a feeling, being delivered as a Netflix original this could be over-looked, which is a shame because this has plenty of great moments, looks stunning, has real meaning and above all else is a ton of fun. Check it out.

Verdict: Recommended

Wonder Woman 1984


Viewed – 26 March 2021 online-rental

Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman, working as an archaeologist in 1984, stumbles upon a magical crystal that can grant wishes, and inadvertently brings back her dead former lover, just as the crystal falls into the hands of a power hungry oil tycoon and a nerdy colleague.

A lot of the negativity surrounding this has been a bit much. Granted, the writing can seem rushed, at least initially, forcing plot threads to develop rather lazily and convenient (Kristen Wiig’s Barbara / The Cheetah at first discovers she’s developing powers – because she can suddenly walk in heels?!). There’s also forced wokeness (because, of course), supposedly pointing out ‘toxic masculinity’ in two blatant scenes involving a woman walking alone and getting approached by leering men. Yet when the movie steps away from such elements, it’s actually a lot of fun. Gal Gadot is great, and continues to be a wonderful find as Wonder Woman – she just exudes charisma and presence every second she’s on screen. Pedro Pascal is also enjoyably nutty as villain Maxwell Lord. I’m also a fan of Kristen Wiig who again proves very watchable, even if her character takes a little too long to get going.

Patty Jenkins’ sequel struggles to live up to the first movie and the story is rather silly and not exactly grounded, but still entertained me and as wishes are granted and the world started to fall into anarchy … I was glued. Gal Gadot and Chris Pine again have good chemistry, and the action is decent, even if for my liking there was too much swinging around and flying (similar to the first movie). Yet it was exciting in places (with a stand out White House sequence) and with a message about being careful what you wish for – the closing moments had a lot of heart. Yeah it’s a bit cheesy at times and a touch over the top – but I still had a good time. Worth a watch.

Verdict: Good

Bill and Ted Face the Music


Viewed – 05 February 2021 online rental

This wasn’t a movie I thought we’d ever see. More or less 30 years since the last one, actor Keanu Reeves has certainly separated himself from that late eighties ‘dude’ persona. This has best buds Bill (Alex Winter) & Ted (Reeves) now middle aged and having not made the big time like they were destined, and haven’t made the ‘song to unite the world’. So when Kelly, the daughter of old time traveling friend Rufus, turns up to tell them that things haven’t turned out well in the future, Bill & Ted learn they have to come up with that song in 72hrs before the fabric of reality tares itself apart. At the same time, daughters, Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Theordora (Samara Weaving) decide to help by travelling back in time to bring together the ultimate band, using notable figures from history.

Dude, we grew old…

It’s a ridiculous story that borrows the plots from both Excellent Adventure and Bogus Journey, which means its kind of chaotic. Thankfully, Reeves & Winter jump back into their roles with ease and their dude banter will always be funny. Considering they have a time-travelling phone booth, the ticking clock plot device makes no sense whatsoever, yet as the dudes bump into different versions of themselves … there’s still fun to be had. As for the daughters of Bill & Ted – their adventure of recruiting music figures is a missed opportunity, with the choice of grabbing Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong and Mozart, followed up with grabbing some cave woman drummer, a no name rapper and a flute playing Japanese woman (??) … surely there’s far more notable figures they could have chosen? Also Lundy-Pain is doing the most cringe-worthy bad-impression of a young Keanu Reeves it’s painful.

On paper this must have looked like a great idea, and at times it is entertaining, mostly down to Reeves & Winter, but the writing is weak and the plot lacks anything even remotely new or clever. As a ‘can they still do these characters?’ experiment it kind of works, but as a worthwhile sequel, not so much.

Verdict: Poor