The Shallows Review

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May include spoilers

If you want a terrifying nautical monster for your movie, and you want one that actually exists, you’re bound to dive right towards the great white shark. They may not be as vicious as Jaws made some think, but with their dark, beady eyes, their razor-sharp teeth and their mysterious nature, they are as irresistible to horror-lovers as vampires and werewolves. Just like vampires and werewolves, sharks have their share of painfully dumb movies (see Deep Blue Sea and Shark Night) but they can be used to great effect to create tension and suspense, and The Shallows is a good example of the latter.

A young woman named Nancy (Blake Lively) decides to go surfing near a beach that she associates with her dead mother. Twenty yards from shore, she ends up stranded on a rock when she is attacked by a shark, and has to find a way to get back on land without the shark killing her. There are other characters in the film, but most of the film is akin to Locke and Buried in a way, focussing only on Nancy and her attempts to survive.

The Shallows actually does well in focussing on one actor. Nancy is a likeable character, given her story and an interaction she has with her family before going out for one last surf, and Lively’s acting really sells her situation. You really get a sense of her desperation and exasperation. Like Chuck Noland had Wilson the football, Nancy also has interactions with a seagull she names “Steven Seagull”. (Ha.) I would even say that Steven is the best actor in the film, really; when Nancy decides to eat a crab, he seems to give her a perplexed expression.

It’s not the best survival horror movie, but The Shallows still manages to be gripping and thrilling and is worth at least one watch.

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Suicide Squad Review

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This review may include spoilers

The villain is always a more interesting character than the hero. Loki was a more engaging figure than Thor, and, be he played by Romero, Nicholson or Ledger, the Joker has a history of upstaging Batman. Therefore, it makes a lot of sense for DC to make a film where its villains are the protagonists; their villains, especially those from Batman’s rogues gallery, have always been more fascinating than Marvel’s. Suicide Squad, however, doesn’t really live up to its potential.

The arrival and death of Superman has had a big impact on the DC Universe. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) has decided to assemble a task force in case “the next Superman” threatens humanity. Members of this task force include but are not limited to the world’s greatest hitman Deadshot (Will Smith, psychiatrist-turned-criminal-clown Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and the supernatural Enchantress (Cara Delevingne). When Enchantress turns rogue and threatens to plunge the world into darkness, the rest of the Squad must stop her plan from coming to fruition. While all this is happening, the Joker (Jared Leto) wants Harley to come back to him.

Suicide Squad attempts to inject some variety into the DC cinematic universe, which has been shown as rather lugubrious so far. Suicide Squad, however, boasts that it’s more fun and wacky, with taglines like “Worst Heroes Ever”. It reminds of the animated movie Megamind, which, starring a supervillain, promised “the superhero movie will never be the same”, and, let’s face it, Suicide Squad isn’t really that much more mature than that film.

Before the film came out, elements like the look for Leto’s Joker were criticized for trying too hard, and the final film doesn’t have as much personality as it thinks it does. It may have flashy colours when the character’s biographies are shown, and have a lot of licensed songs in the soundtrack, but it’s just another “rag-tag group foil a big evil baddie” with no real twists or additions. Half of the characters you’ll forget were even in the movie.

Out of all the Squad members, the ones that get the most screentime are Deadshot and Harley, and they, thankfully, are played well. Robbie especially seems to be having a lot of fun as Joker’s girlfriend, so the film is worth a watch for her alone. One of the more interesting elements of the film is the flashbacks between her and the Joker (and really, her story could have made a pretty good film on its own). Davis is another fine performance, fittingly commanding and tough-as-nails. Sadly, one of the best performances in this film comes from Affleck as Batman, and he only makes a couple of cameos (but in those cameos, he seemed more the traditional Batman than he did in Batman v Superman). Leto isn’t as bad as some dreaded he would be, but he doesn’t actually appear very often, and isn’t as good as either Romero, Nicholson or Ledger.

But that’s really the problem with the film. It’s about the supervillains of DC, yet the supervillains of DC have been done so much better before on cinema. If you’re expecting something as memorable as Hardy’s Bane or Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, you’re going to be disappointed.

Ghostbusters Review

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University teacher Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is called upon to investigate hauntings at a mansion due to a book she collaborated upon with scientist Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) – which was published without Erin’s permission. Erin, Abby and Abby’s new associate Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) investigate the house and see a real ghost, yet no-one takes them seriously. However, due to an evil plot masterminded by disgruntled janitor Rowan (Neil Casey), Manhattan is slowly overrun with ghosts, and Erin, Abby, Jillian, and subway worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones) have to take on the supernatural beasties.

The 2016 Ghostbusters is no masterpiece, but it’s hardly the worst film ever, so its trailer doesn’t really deserve the amount of dislikes it got. I wouldn’t say the original Ghostbusters film is sacred and is thus in no need to have a remake, and while the 2016 Ghostbusters has more or less the same plot as the 1984 original, it feels different enough that it doesn’t seem a rehash. It’s fun and entertaining, yet not really that memorable.

The intro does certainly promise a lot of spooky fun: a tour guide’s little prank is contrasted with floating chairs and a room flooding with ectoplasm – though I must admit it was slightly ruined by later jokes about the guide defecating himself during the incident. The main draw of a Ghostbusters movie should be the ghosts, and this film does have a couple of good ones. There are evil parade balloons, anthropomorphised versions of Joker’s weapons from the 1989 Batman movie, where we get our obligatory cameo of Stay Puft. Ghostly armies are commanded by a gangly figure in circus garb – clown-like monsters are always the scariest ones. Rowan’s final form is the Ghostbusters logo ghost by way of The Nightmare Before Christmas (and yes, his defeat comes about due to a laser aimed between his legs). Those ghosts I liked – most of the others simply looked as if they had escaped from Disney’s Haunted Mansion movie.

The main actresses do fine in their roles, especially McCarthy and McKinnon, whose characters enjoy their work so much, some of their enjoyment rubs off on the audience. The funniest character in the movie, however, is definitely Chris Hemsworth as the Ghostbusters’ airheaded secretary Kevin – the rare type of comic character that’s stupid in an amusing way and not an obnoxious way. Most of the other jokes, however, are nothing to write home about, like a running gag about Abby being displeased with her takeout.

Ghostbusters is nowhere near as bad as comments made before its release made it out to be, but don’t expect anything you’ll really remember. It’s passable entertainment, no more no less.

Trumbo DVD Review

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Trumbo is a biopic of famed screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), who was blacklisted from Hollywood due to his membership in the Communist Party of the USA, and served an eleven-month prison sentence as a result. After his release, he continues to write screenplays  under a variety of pseudonyms, with his films even receiving academy awards that he cannot claim. He eventually writes the screenplays to Spartacus and Exodus with full credit given, but the road he travels is fraught with doubt and familial strife.

If a movie is going to be about screenwriting, then it very well ought to be written well itself. While obviously not to the level of some of Trumbo’s own work, Trumbo is fantastically written and kept me engaged throughout. It kept going through the major moments of Trumbo’s life, his rises and falls, without feeling slow or plodding. It was somber, it was heartwarming, and it was even humorous without taking away from the drama.

That humour and drama is delivered well thanks in no small part to Bryan Cranston, whose performance is definitely the main draw to this film. It takes a lot of talent to have a figure talk about a bug-headed alien’s motivations for falling in love with a farmgirl while keeping that figure sympathetic and engaging, but Cranston more than pulls that scene, and every other scene, off. He was absolutely fantastic as Walter White in Breaking Bad, and he is just as good here as he was in that programme. You feel sympathy for him when he is called a traitor, and when his films win awards, you’re just as happy as he is.

That is not to say that the other actors aren’t memorable too. We have Michael Stuhlbarg playing a fine Edward G Robinson, and John Goodman doing a memorable performance as King Brothers Productions founder Frank, getting in amusing interactions with Cranston.

While not entirely historically accurate, Trumbo is still an interesting and enjoyable movie, worth watching for Cranston’s performance alone.

Central Intelligence Review

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Spoilers may follow

In high school, Calvin Joyner was the most popular student, voted most likely to succeed, and the only person to ever show kindness to the school geek, Robbie Weirdicht. Twenty years later, Calvin (Kevin Hart) is dissatisfied with his life and his boring accountant job. One day, Robbie Weirdicht, now going by Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson), invites Calvin out for drinks, and Calvin is surprised to see how muscular and fearless Robbie has become. An even bigger surprise occurs when the CIA come knocking at Calvin’s door, telling him that Bob is a rogue agent who killed his partner and is planning to sell secret codes to terrorists. Bob, however, insists he was framed, and, as he needs Calvin’s accounting experience, takes him along for a wild ride.

Like The Nice Guys, Central Intelligence is a buddy movie that never takes itself seriously and offers big cartoony action setpieces and goofy jokes. However, I do feel like Hart and Johnson have better chemistry together than Crowe and Gosling, and what makes the movie worth watching is their conversations and teamwork. Johnson especially seems to be having fun with his role, balancing the roles of a jolly old friend from school and an action hero, favouring the former over the latter. He even makes a Twilight joke funny in this day and age.

The story is somewhat predictable though. You never really think for a minute that Bob may be a bad guy, and once you see who his old partner is played by, it isn’t too hard to figure out that there may be more to him than either Calvin or Bob know. The action sequences are still well-paced, the jokes are still chuckle-worthy, and the main characters are still likeable. Calvin has some of the elements of the typical comedy movie protagonist – he hates his job and has problems with his wife – but you still want him to pull through.

Central Intelligence doesn’t bring that much new to the table, but it is enjoyable for what it is. It’s worth a rental for an afternoon’s entertainment.

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows Review

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Spoilers may follow

I saw the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie and actually didn’t mind it that much. It was no cinematic masterpiece, and there were plenty of eye-rolling moments and jokes, but it was still an alright, entertaining popcorn movie. The same can be said for this year’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows as well.

In fact, I daresay Out of the Shadows is a little better than its predecessor, if only because it revels more in the ridiculousness expected out of something with “Ninja Turtles” in its title. The main villain in this movie is even a giant alien brain monster attached to a robot, the malicious Krang (Brad Garrett). Taking a page from Avengers Assemble, Krang wants to open a portal between Earth and his world and calls upon Shredder (Brian Tee) to collect pieces of a machine that will accomplish this goal. The turtles, Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) and Raphael (Alan Ritchson), along with April O’Neil (Megan Fox) and Casey Jones (Stephen Amell), have to save the day, as they are expected to do.

We get Shredder’s henchmen from the cartoon, Bebop and Rocksteady (Gary Anthony Williams and WWE’s Sheamus), we get the cartoon’s theme song over the credits, and we get a giant garbage truck that shoots out manhole covers, exactly the sort of toy children would beg their parents for. It’s even more of a big-screen live-action cartoon than The Nice Guys was, with all the depth expected from a Saturday-morning animation (little). The Turtles debate amongst themselves about a concoction that could turn them human, yet don’t expect their characters to be fleshed out much. The jokes are mostly nothing to remember, but that are some that work alright, like when the aforementioned truck gains giant robot arms, then quickly loses them.

It is a dumb film, but one can’t really hate it. The presence of the alien brain monster, and the fact that he even talks, is, once again, a sign that the film is wearing its stupidity on its sleeve, and I would have even liked to see more of Krang than we got. It’s a big, dumb movie, and you’ll likely forget it right after you’ve watched it, but it kept me entertained, and that was all that it was supposed to do.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is not a bad film, yet I can’t really recommend it. If you want something to kill a couple of hours that you don’t really have to think about, it’s good for that and little else.

Alice Through the Looking Glass Review

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Spoilers may follow

In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, during the famous Mad Tea Party scene, the Hatter explains that Time is a person, and is responsible for him being in a never-ending tea party. When the Hatter sung for the Queen of Hearts, he “murdered the time”, so Time punished the Hatter by making it always six o’clock. Disney’s 2016 film Alice Through the Looking Glass is built almost entirely on that small moment, making Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) one of the main characters and the main catalyst for the plot, but that is really the only thing interesting about it.

Don’t let the title fool you. The only thing Alice Through the Looking Glass really has in common with its namesake is a scene near the beginning, where we get an impressive-looking reproduction of the book’s looking-glass living room, complete with smiling clock. There Alicee meets the chessmen, who were integral to the plot of the original book, and Humpty Dumpty, who gave one of the book’s most memorable scenes, and after she leaves the room, the chess pieces and Humpty are never seen or mentioned again. It doesn’t really matter, though, that Alice Through the Looking Glass isn’t a very faithful adaptation, because it isn’t a good film on its own.

Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returns to Wonderland, where her old friend The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) has found the first hat he ever made – which he thinks is a sign that his family, thought killed by the Jabberwock, are still alive. The Hatter falls unwell when Alice doesn’t believe him, so Alice decides to go to the castle of Time and seize a device (which resembles a smaller version of that structure Dr. Manhattan created in Watchmen) that will allow her to travel through time to hopefully save the Hatter’s family.

As Alice goes through the oceans of time (the same ones Gary Oldman’s Dracula travelled through?), she happens upon the origins of her enemy the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). As it turns out, her turn to the dark side begun when her sister stole a tart and blamed her for it, and continues when, as an adult, she throws a wobbly when the Hatter laughs at her big head. The Wicked Witch’s origin in Oz: The Great and Powerful was cloying and badly-done, and it is even more so here. Lewis Carroll making a trial scene based around a nursery rhyme was novel; having the Red Queen begin her path to being a murderous overlord over tarts is eye-rolling.

Still, Carter, along with Cohen, seem to be the only two performances that show any interest. Wasikowska and Depp don’t make their characters all that memorable, and you are unlikely to care about their problems. The whole adventure is to save the Hatter, and yet one never really feels he should be saved, especially if the only way to save him could potentially destroy the universe.

At least the visuals are pretty good, though a downgrade from the previous instalment. The Hatter gets a cute little top hat house to live in, and areas like Time’s castle and the Red Queen’s new lair reminded me of Alice: Madness Returns (as did a very brief scene where Alice was committed to an institution, which ended up pointless in the bigger picture).

So Alice Through the Looking Glass is mediocre even by the low standards set by the original. Some of the visuals look rather nice but you’d be better off just rereading the film’s namesake.