Avengers: Infinity War


Viewed – 09 May 2018  Cinema

Do I suffer from comic-book movie fatigue?  To a degree yes.  I still enjoy some super-hero smack down action but have felt underwhelmed by recent fare both through over-familiarity with the concept and the desire for something different and a little deeper.  So we come to this epic instalment where it seems Marvel is throwing everything at the viewer for the ultimate battle against what appears to be the ultimate foe – Thanos.  Hinted at and foreshadowed in previous movies, the intergalactic megalomaniac, played by Josh Brolin is finally out to claim the fabled Infinity Stones, of which if he claims all six will give him ultimate power over life and death in the universe.

Avengers Infinity War

So the stakes are immensely high and it’s up to a disbanded Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk, Scarlet Witch, Black Widow etc) and any friends they can pull into their ranks (including Spider Man) to stop this powerhouse of a villain.  In a movie like this it would be easy to go lazy and just fill the run time with fight after fight, which we get in spectacular fashion … but what takes this to another level is the depth to the characterisation I wasn’t expecting and even though it’s crowded with ego’s butting heads, somehow many of the characters get time to have their moment and stand out individually.  Despite such a serious situation it also throws in moments of decent humour, especially with the inclusion of the Guardians of the Galaxy, with the scenes between Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Chris Pratt’s Star Lord proving particularly funny.

So we come to the central figure here, the long awaited and somewhat hyped appearance of Thanos, and Josh Brolin brings a surprising amount of pathos and grit to the character that makes him the closest Marvel has got to the level of Heath Ledger’s Joker.  He really is that good, and in a movie with many surprises and bold plot developments, he elevates the movie into the realm of classic status.  The fact the movie takes risks with a very familiar formula, especially in it’s closing moments just has to be applauded also.  This is the best Avengers movie yet and could possibly be the best Marvel movie.  So simply put, you have to see this one.

Verdict:  5 /5

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Kong: Skull Island


Viewed – 14 March 2017  Cinema

I can’t say I was all that hyped for this but some friends were wanting to see it so I thought I’d tag along.  This latest exploration of the legendary franchise about a massive, mythical ape follows a group of geologists and a band of fresh outta ‘Nam marines as they travel to a newly discovered, unexplored island.  John Goodman leads the scientists, whilst Samuel L. Jackson leads the marines and along the way they bring in Tom Hiddleston’s tracker.

kong-skull-island

This began promising … a dramatic prologue set the stage and when introduced to Goodman, Jackson etc but for a slightly larger-than-life aesthetic, it seemed I was in for a good time.  Sad then, that not long after the team arrive at the island did it dawn on this viewer that there was something worryingly cartoonish to the performances and action, and despite some epic monster smack downs once Kong gets screen time and is punching helicopters out of the air etc … what initial potential any of these characters had is rapidly replaced with cheesy, clichéd caricatures displaying over the top attempts at drama, melo-drama and awkward-comedy, most of which miss their target.  When it’s trying to be serious it comes off as amusing (sometimes hilarious) and when it’s trying to be exciting it comes off as slow-motion Michael Bay dialled up to ten.  This caused me to gradually zone out as any character moments or parts where you’re meant to route for anyone except Kong, fell flat.  Even seasoned veterans like Goodman and Jackson came off hammy, especially Jackson who has a silly amount of lingering stares, complete with that bulging left eye, and Hiddleston is woefully miss-cast, struggling as the rugged hero-type despite (fake)tanned good looks and perfect hair.  Add to this Brie Larson who initially appeared as a ballsy photographer, but half way through descended into just another objectified pair of boobs.  Sigh.

Thankfully we do get some reprieve from the mediocrity and cheese in a wonderfully dead-pan John C Reilly, and the effects and the locations are decent (bar some obvious green screen segments), which means it isn’t a total shot in the foot.  However like initial expectations, there’s very little to warrant this one existing in an industry that’s previously given us so much better.

Verdict:  2 /5

Jackie Brown


Viewed – 14 May 2016  Blu-ray

This is probably the one movie in Quentin Tarantino’s career that divides audiences most.  There are critics and fans who love it for it’s laid back, character-driven approach and then there’s the ones who really don’t like it for it’s lack of energy or that Tarantino pop-culture referencing, larger-than-life aesthetic.  I sit somewhere in the middle and even watching this now, I’m still unsure exactly how I feel.

Pam Grier

70s Blaxploitation star Pam Grier plays airline stewardess Jackie Brown who gets caught by a couple of Feds bringing back $50,000 in cash in her luggage.  Turns out she’s carrying it for local mobster Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson) and finds herself in a bit of a pickle when the feds want her to inform on her ‘business’ partner.  Lucky for Jackie a kind natured bail bondsman Max Cherry (Robert Forster) is on hand to help.

Now firstly my issue with this is usually what attracts me to a Tarantino flick – the dialogue.  This time around occasional lines that I’m sure are meant to sound cool, come off more cringy when delivered by actors not best suited to Tarantino’s style.  Pam Grier especially seems awkward or just out of practice, but thankfully fairs much better in her intimate exchanges with Robert Forster than attempts at sass with other characters.  However Jackson of course is right at home and doesn’t put a foot wrong despite a rather bizarre ‘look’.  Robert DeNiro is also here as Ordell’s buddy straight out of lock up, but seems to be (intentionally) sleeping his way through his performance, yet comes alive in the final act.  Additionally Bridget Fonda plays stoner surf girl Melanie and looks gorgeous and makes for a fun character, but is mostly forgettable.  So the show is left up to veteran actor Forster, who is easily the most likable and well rounded character and the viewer’s anchor to weigh all the other stuff down with.

Deniro & Jackson

Quentin’s direction though is clearly a love letter to Blaxploitation and 70s TV cop shows, and with this he captures a perfect tone, decorated with various memorable Motown and bluesy tunes that really bring the movie to life and capture certain moments beautifully.  Yet in the grand scheme of things, for me this is still his least engaging picture – it desperately needs a sharper knife in the editing room as it languishes in all but the final act – which at least proves dazzling, classic Tarantino.  Following on from Pulp Fiction was no mean feat, and as with Hateful Eight following Django, this was a different beast entirely … but not without it’s merits.

The Blu-ray is pretty decent with a very detailed and impressive image to the movie that although a little fuzzy and rough-looking in places, perfectly captures a 70s look.  The DTS HD Master Audio is very clear and brings the various tunes to life.  Adding to this are a wealth of extras with plenty of featurettes and documentaries both looking back at the movie and showing some behind the scenes stuff as well as deleted scenes.  Jackie Brown is a peculiar beast as overall there is much to love but it doesn’t entirely come together as well as it should.  Yet the Blu-ray does a decent job of disguising this and is still worth a look if you’re a fan of Tarantino.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5

The Hateful Eight


Viewed – 07 May 2016  Blu-ray

(updated: 06/08/2016) I approached this with expectations seriously dialled back after hearing a few mixed and negative reactions to Quentin Tarantino’s eighth directorial effort.  Following up arguably one of his best movies, Django Unchained was no easy prospect but as expected with a director that single-handily seemed to shake up a tired industry in the 90s with his brand of pop-culture referencing, sharply written scripts, this doesn’t even try.  Instead what we get is a slow burning but thoroughly gripping character-piece that harks back to Tarantino’s bold, iconic début Reservoir Dogs more than anything else he’s made.

hateful_8_sam_jackson

Kurt Russell is a bounty hunter transporting a woman accused of murder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) via stage coach to Red Rock, when he comes across fellow Bounty Hunter and former Major Samuel L. Jackson who also needs to get to Red Rock to claim his own bounty.  Yet along the way a blizzard hits and the men are forced to hold up in a local tavern, where they come across several other colourful characters.  Like Tarantino at his best, the key to enjoying this is the snappy dialogue, the fleshed out characterisation and the tension that gradually builds.  Some have said this movie is slow, that nothing happens … and considering it’s on for over 160 minutes, I understand the restlessness, but awaiting a gunfight or some violence or a chase etc. is to miss the point – it’s not about action, the dialogue is the action and it’s about learning about all these characters, figuring out their motives and watching it all play out, not unlike a game of chess.  With this in mind, Tarantino is on solid form – his writing skills, if a tad self-indulgent throw in humour, red herrings and surprises and still has that edge that made his name.  On a pure dialogue-basis I’d even go as far to say it’s some of his best writing in years.

Hateful EightSamuel L. Jackson is the star here and does a stellar job and is ice-cool and decidedly him, no bad thing if like me you’re a fan.  It was also great to see Kurt Russell commanding and tough-talking, and a flamboyant Tim Roth was also a lot of fun.  There isn’t really a bad turn here, and even lesser characters like The Mexican stand out.  A turn of events in the final act was a tad hard to swallow however and the ending was a little over the top and perhaps overly brutal.  Yet that’s to be expected I guess, and along with Ennio Morricone’s classy score and simply gorgeous cinematography, obviously echoing the great westerns of yesteryear like Once Upon A Time In The West or The Good The Bad and the Ugly … this love letter to the genre, and to cinema itself just worked for me on many levels.

Verdict:  4 /5

Unbreakable


Viewed – 04 May 2016  Blu-ray

I’m on a bit of a M Night Shyamalan binge of late and so we come to his acclaimed thriller blending comic book myths with mystery.  Starring Bruce Willis as the soul survivor of a train crash who comes under the watchful eye of comic book aficionado Samuel L Jackson who believes Willis may have super powers.  This one’s a strange beast and has a pretty weird vibe through out, with performances not unlike a David Lynch film.  Everyone here apart from the principle leads talks to each other like they are under some hypnotic spell or in a dream.

unbreakable willis

Slow burning and certainly intriguing, with some imaginative camera work … yet this was more ‘er…what is going on?’ than ‘ooh…what’s going to happen?’, and what seems like a low budget lets this down when actually getting to see said train crash would have given this viewer something to latch on to.  One scene especially felt off, with Willis’ son pointing a gun at his father in the belief he’s indestructible; it’s both over-acted and comes out of nowhere and makes the kid look a complete nutter.  Add to this sleepy support from Robin Wright as Willis’ estranged wife and it’s left up to Jackson’s complex ‘Mister Glass’ to save the day.  Here at least Jackson makes for a foreboding and fascinating presence with a tragic back-story, but comes off as a bit of a wack-job from the off with a series of crazy theories.  Willis does manage to carry the film well and is emotional and for the most part convincing, but at times goes along with things a bit too easily.

M Night Shyamalan’s movie can’t escape the shadow of The Sixth Sense with a similar but less understandable weird atmosphere, and a twist towards the end that whilst a shock, also comes off as ‘why?’.  With a bit more ambition this could have been a real gem as the idea has plenty of potential but fails to make the most of it, concluding with a solid final act that’s all too little too late.

The Blu-ray suffers from some smudgy black levels and a loss of detail to distant shots.  Close up detail fairs better however and the blue-tinged colour palette still looks very effective.   James Newton Howard’s eerie score is brought to life in Dolby Digital 5.1 as well as uncompressed PCM 5.1 and dialogue is sharp and there’s decent ambient effects to the soundtrack, if a little subdued.  Extras however make up for any shortcomings on the movie with two in-depth docs ‘behind the scenes’ and ‘comic books and superheroes’ as well as some shorter featurettes and a gimmicky multi-angle section.  Again, like Sixth Sense no commentary from Shyamalan which would have been welcome.  Overall, not a bad all-round package for a fun if rather overrated experience.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3 /5