Movies: Diega Maradona Review

July 2, 2019

Men of a certain age will idolise Diego Maradona, and with good reason; not only was he a supremely talented footballer, but at a time where televised football wasn’t so oversaturated, his only occasional appearances on our screens will have meant he carried a certain mystique about him.

At 36 years old, I’m just that tiny bit too young to feel that way. I was only four during the ’86 World Cup and just discovering football when Italia ’90 aired . So for me, Maradona first came to my attention in 1994 when he was a high profile shadow of his former self, coked out of his nut at the World Cup in the USA.

With that in mind, I think that I’m just wide of the target audience here. Those that do love Maradona will more than likely find this documentary to be everything they expected and more, but without that childhood love to see me over the line, I was a little disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong, it was watchable, but its Senna-inspired style didn’t have enough depth to it. Unless my memory is cheating me, Senna required no narration and was replete with engaging behind the scenes footage that told a story most people didn’t know.

The Diego Maradona documentary contained a lot of footage but what we saw rarely told the story; it was just window dressing that carried the narration. And moreover, a lot of it – understandably – was pretty poor quality window dressing at that.

If this had been presented as an hour-long documentary complete with talking heads to go along with the imagery – much like Viceland’s superb Dark Side of the Ring series –  about how his star shone bright and then crashed at Napoli, I think it would have worked a lot better.

As it was, I found it just a little bit lacking, with the only thing I didn’t really know ahead of time – and remember I’m saying this as someone who is neither here nor there when it comes to Maradona – was how much of a turning point the Italia ’90 semi-final was.

So to sum it up in one word…meh.


Movies: Toy Story 4 Review (or ‘Thanks For The Memories, But Let’s Leave It There’)

June 30, 2019

When I heard that Toy Story 4 was in production, I was a little surprised; after all, Toy Story 3 seemed like the perfect, glorious ending to one of the finest movie trilogies of all time.

So where would they go with this one? And would it do the previous movies justice or would it end up being like that time they brought back Only Fools and Horses for one final, deeply disappointing run?

Movies – Toy Story 4 Review: What’s It About?

Well once again, a toy goes missing/gets separated from the rest of them and Woody has to save the day.

Only this time, he’s doing it because – to paraphrase him – there’s nothing else left for him to do.

Movies – Toy Story 4 Review: Who’s In It?

The gang are all back, sounding just that little bit older, which is no surprise considering the first movie was released 24 years ago and most of the cast are now anywhere between late 50s, early 90s, or in the case of Mr Potato Head, long since dead. This time they also joined by Tony Hale as Forky.

Movies – Toy Story 4 Review: Is It Any Good?

There are two routes to take when answering that question.

On its own merits, is it a good movie? Absolutely. Like all the Toy Stories, it’s a colourful, enjoyable ‘Home Is Just Over That Mountain’ style quest, with a lot of great humour that will appeal to adults and children alike. And similar to the other three, it has some emotional, and heartwarming moments too.

In particular, I thought the stuff with Ducky and Bunny was brilliant, while the Benson dolls – apparently a direct rip-off of Slappy the Dummy from Goosebumps – were suitably creepy to the point that I’m surprised they didn’t push the movie into the PG banding.

On the flipside, as a part of the Toy Story franchise, I kinda thought Toy Story 4 seemed a little unnecessary.

While it was a good movie, it felt like it went down a path already well-trodden and like it didn’t bring anything new to the table at all. There’s only so many times you can go to the well of ‘Woody and the gang have to save a toy before the owner realises’. And while it still had emotion, like I mentioned above, I don’t think it had it to the level of the others. especially not Toy Story 3.

There were a few little niggles worth mentioning too…

The idea has always been – within reason – that the toys only operate when no human can see them, and yet there were a couple of times when they almost outright interacted with them. It’s a little thing, but it didn’t sit well with me.

On the voice acting, I thought Tony Hale’s was off. I can get past his annoying ‘Buster Bluth in Tiny Town’ voice that he used for Forky, but unlike literally every other voice actor in the movie, his didn’t convincingly sound like it was coming from his character. Every line sounded like it had been badly dubbed in late on, and as if he didn’t record them while actually acting with the rest of the cast. And I know that when it comes to animation or audio plays, it’s common practice for some actors to record their parts separate from the rest of the cast, but it usually still feels like that they are there with the rest of them when you hear the final result. Here, it just sounded like Hale recorded forced soundbytes in a silly voice. Mr Potato Head sounded like he was there with the rest of the cast, and like I say, he’s dead.

And yes, on that note, I wouldn’t say it was off-putting or something that they could really help, but the cast sounded old. It’s a bit like watching a newer episode of The Simpsons or listening to Tom Baker playing the fourth Doctor in a Big Finish audio; you know it’s the same guys but time has made you very aware that voices are not immortal. In particular, Jessie sounded like an old woman rather than the young cowgirl from Toy Story 2, and yet Joan Cusack is still one of the youngest cast members.

Movies – Toy Story 4 Review: Final Thoughts

On its own merits, Toy Story 4 is a solid movie; one that is comfortably better than most Disney/Pixar movies and streets ahead of the animations that other studios release.

As part of the Toy Story franchise though, while it’s still good, it seems more like one last encore before the curtain comes down, a nostalgic greatest hits tour or an epilogue at the end of a book. Or all three put together. As a viewer, I can accept that and applaud it, but any more and I think I’d lose interest.

Without spoiling it, the way Toy Story 4 ended would suggest that this will be the final outing for Woody and the gang, and I think that’s for the best. The format has been taken as far as it can go now, and any more would risk sullying the legacy of such a great series.

So thanks for the memories guys, but let’s leave it there.


Movies: Spider-Man Into The Spider-Verse Review (or ‘Just Because It’s A Cartoon, It Doesn’t Mean It’s Just For Kids’)

May 12, 2019

I didn’t review Captain Marvel or Avengers: Endgame on the blog because even though I enjoyed them, I didn’t think there was a fresh take or angle for it. Both movies were exactly what you would expect from the genre, and my enthusiasm to simply churn out reviews for the sake of it – especially when it would be almost identical to many of the other reviews of MCU movies – wasn’t there.

But I do have the enthusiasm for a review of Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, a Marvel movie – and yet not one that is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – that has just come out on Blu Ray/DVD after its cinematic release last year.

Why? Because it’s very good.

That’s hardly a take that goes against the grain though; it gets 97% on Rotten Tomatoes,  numerous five star reviews from the usual sites and scores that generally exceed any isolated MCU movie.

In fact, Into the Spider-Verse is actually rated on imdb as the 35th best film of all time with a score of 8.5.

Yet I am in no doubt that there will be a lot of people out there who haven’t seen it because it’s a cartoon, and therefore its tarred with the brush that it’s a kids film.

I won’t lie; that’s the reason I didn’t go.

The likelihood is that if it wasn’t for my brother buying the Blu Ray himself and pushing me to give it a try, I still wouldn’t have seen it.

But it’s not a kids film, it’s just a solid movie for people of all ages about a schoolboy who inherits the mantle of Spider-Man that just so happens to be presented in animated form.

And without spoiling the plot for anyone who hasn’t seen it, that animated form allows them to do some brilliantly clever and funny things that wouldn’t have worked in a live action movie. For those who have seen it and are keen to know what I mean by that, I have two words…Spider-Ham. Brilliant.

I won’t say it’s perfect – there were some aspects of the animation style in the first 20 minutes that made me concerned we’d got the 3D version of the movie by mistake, and it also looked like an advert for Sony with all the product placement – but if you do like superhero movies and specifically the character of Spider-Man then I would wholeheartedly recommend you put any anti-cartoon prejudices to the side and give this movie a go as soon as possible.

It’s well worth your time.


Movies: Fighting With My Family Review

March 16, 2019

When it comes to movies, one thing I’ve learned over the years is that biopics are rarely entirely accurate. Even in the last six months, popular releases like Bohemian Rhapsody and Stan & Ollie have come under varying degrees of fire for fictionalising events for the sake of telling a story.

And that’s fine; in both those examples because I wasn’t a big fan going in,  I didn’t know any better and enjoyed them for what they were.

At the same time though, I suppose I can understand why people who are knowledgeable about Queen or Laurel & Hardy might have had a wee grumble.

With that in mind, as someone who has watched wrestling for a number of years – even though now I’m down to watching maybe four shows per year – I definitely noticed a number of inaccuracies in WWE Studios’ new movie, Fighting With My Family.

Based on the story of how Saraya Knight made it to the WWE roster as Paige – and to a lesser extent how her brother didn’t – there were definitely a number of examples of creative license used to sell the story they wanted to sell.

For example, when Paige finally makes her main roster debut, it’s presented like she was dumbstruck, that the crowd didn’t know who she was and that it was essentially her first time wrestling in front of an audience. Now this simply isn’t true, especially considering the post-Wrestlemania crowd was full of British fans who knew exactly who she was. Plus, she was the champion of the WWE’s feeder organisation that had its on show.

Further to that, WWE – perhaps understandably – presented itself as this wonderful inspirational organisation where hard work makes dreams come true. And I think anyone with a working knowledge of the wrestling business knows that’s true.

Finally, the character Vince Vaughn played was entirely fictional.

But hey, whether or not it was painstakingly true to reality does not determine how enjoyable a movie it was, and I thought it was very good.

It was funny and engaging and sold the story it wanted to sell – a story that people who aren’t familiar with WWE wouldn’t doubt – in a neat way.

I think the best parts of it were what we saw of the Knight family in England and the huge difference between the glitz of American wrestling and the carny nature of the UK industry.

The actors were all good as well, with Florence Pugh a standout as Saraya/Paige and even though Nick Frost and Stephen Merchant just played the same parts they always do, they brought some light relief.

That the movie took the time to focus on Paige’s brother Zak and explored how low it made him feel to be rejected was smart, because it added an extra layer of depth, without which the whole thing would have felt too light.

So yeah, it might not be the most painstakingly accurate biopic I’ve ever seen, but then how many really are? If the idea is to sell a story that punters enjoy, then this did the job.

I’d recommend it.


Movies: Happy Death Day 2U Review

February 19, 2019

Well January finished with me going to see one single movie at the cinema, meaning that my Unlimited Card proved to be a waste of money for that month.

To be blunt, I don’t think there was anything else that was even on my radar, which is a pity.

And now with February almost come and gone, it looks like I won’t get value for money on it once again.

But there was one movie I wanted to see, and that was Happy Death Day 2U.

Why Did I Go To See It?: Because I loved the first one. The original Happy Death Day was hands down my favourite movie of 2017.

Was It Good?: Absolutely. Just like the first movie, I decided to go to the cinema not having any idea what it was about, or even how they could make a sequel out of it. But as it turned out, even though it used exactly the same cast, in exactly the same setting on exactly the same day, Happy Death Day 2U manages to work. By explaining why the events of the first movie happened and then setting it in a parallel universe where things are slightly different for Tree, it was both familiar and fresh.

And it was humorous too. Little things like the way the guy comes out of his room to tell the guy to shut up made me chuckle throughout.

It wasn’t flawless – the Dean of the university was absurd and there were some things that didn’t make much sense even if you allow for the daftness of the premise – but it was fun, and surely that’s what people want from a movie like this? The actors also looked like they were having a whale of a time, which always helps.

But Was It Worth Seeing At The Cinema?: Absolutely. Having enjoyed the first one as much as I did, I would happily have paid full price to go to see Happy Death Day 2U. And if I had, I wouldn’t have been short changed.

Put simply, I thought it was great and if you enjoyed the first one, you’ll enjoy this one as well.


Movies: Stan & Ollie Review

January 17, 2019

If you read my post the other day about the value – or lack thereof – of a Cineworld Unlimited card, you’ll know that I’m going to try to see more movies this year and then decide if it’s worth keeping it on.

To help structure that in my own mind – and hopefully to create a workable and easy to read format for you readers to digest – my movie reviews will ask a few basic questions, which will then help me decide on whether or not that trip had value, or indeed an opportunity cost.

First up is Stan & Ollie.

Why Did I Go To See It?: This is a movie I’ve been looking forward to since I first saw a trailer for it in about September last year. While I’ll hold my hands up and admit I’ve never seen a Laurel & Hardy movie, I do enjoy a biopic and have a fascination with the behind the scenes lifestyles of showbiz stars from ‘back in the day’, by which I mean before everything became so stage-managed in the 90s onwards.

Was It Good?: Yes it was. Not only was it well acted by all concerned – especially the two stars, Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly – but the premise itself made for intriguing viewing. Imagine a situation today where a world-famous showbiz double act got back together 16 years after their pomp; it would be global news. And yet the two of them ended up going on an initially under-sold tour of small theatres in the UK. It was only after they got the word out and made people realise it was actually them on tour that business picked up.

The movie also touched upon the relationship between the pair and the inevitable end of their partnership thanks to Hardy’s failing health. All told, it was a nice, well told story.

But Was It Worth Seeing At The Cinema?: Ah, now that is the question. You’ve got to remember that a trip to the cinema costs money, whether that’s the purchase of a ticket on the day or the monthly cost of an unlimited card divided by the amount of movies you’ve seen in a month.

So on that note, was this movie worth the opportunity cost, relative to however else the money or time could have been used?

Stan & Ollie was good, but it was gentle. It wasn’t exciting and it didn’t leave me thinking that it was especially worth the trip. It also felt a bit padded out in spite of only being about 90 minutes long.

What’s key about it is that it’s a movie co-produced by the BBC and if I’m honest, I don’t think this felt like anything more than the sort of thing you’d expect to be shown on BBC1 on a Sunday evening.

Surely a trip to the cinema has to mean more than that?

I would say that I enjoyed it, but that it was by no means the sort of movie I couldn’t have waited to watch in a few months when it inevitably finds its way on to streaming services or TV.

As such, I’m not entirely convinced it was worth the trip.


Trial Of The Cineworld Card: After 2018 Was Such A Lousy Year At The Cinema, Is An Unlimited Card Worth It Anymore?

January 14, 2019

I’ve always had this belief that trips to the cinema cost me nothing, thanks to my Cineworld Unlimited card. I mean…they obviously cost me something but because the money has come out of my account through direct debit every month since October 2002, I’ve never really noticed it.

But when I sat down to consider what my top 5 movies of 2018 were, I realised three things.

  1. There was no stand out movie that I really enjoyed in 2018
  2. Probably the best ones I did see were on NetFlix
  3. I only used my unlimited card 14 times.

So not only did each trip to the cinema cost me an average of £15 – a regular ticket price is around £9 – I didn’t even see one movie that stood out as being worth the admission price.

What a waste of money.

It’s made me consider the value of keeping the card going.

The entertainment landscape has changed so much since I got the card in 2002, for a number of reasons including…

  1. The television industry has left Hollywood trailing in its wake, both in terms of the quality and freshness of what’s on offer and also the quality of acting and storytelling.
  2. Most movies are released to the home consumer far quicker than back then.
  3. Movies have become stuck in a rut of repeated franchises and re-imagined blockbusters
  4. The ability to watch a movie in the comfort of your own home with a big screen and high quality sound has improved massively
  5. The price of one trip to the cinema in Dundee – and in Dundee it’s a lot cheaper than London for example – is the same as the price of a NetFlix subscription for a month.

Then on top of that, there are other things to consider too, like the unavoidable fact of life that at the age of 36 I have less time available to do things like go to the cinema than I did at the age of 20, and the free time I do have is probably better spent doing other things more sociable.

Most of my mates stopped going to the cinema years ago for that very reason, while the friends and family members who do go now only go for special event movies like a new Star Wars. My dad considers that there are two tiers of movie; the sort you need to see now and the sort that you’d be happy to watch at home a few months later. I never used to agree with him, but I do now.

For me, 2016 was a renaissance year for the Cineworld card because I had just started going out with a girl who also had one, and it was an easy, cheap and obvious date.

But as we got to know each other more and found more shared interests and activities, the desire to spend as many dates at Cineworld watching movies that had no grabbing appeal diminished. Now in 2019 we live together and the prospect of us both going out to the cinema together when we’re either both too busy to do it or too tired to want to go out means that it’s diminished further.

So what’s the point? Why am I still paying for the card?

I really don’t know, so it’s definitely going on trial.

I’m only going to go to Cineworld for movies I genuinely want to see; the “I may as well since I’ve paid for it” mantra that cardholders often cite will no longer be a reason to go.

After each movie I do see, I’ll tally up how much it’s cost me and whether it was worth that money. If after six months I haven’t had value, then I’ll bin it.

And I have to say, it’s not looking good for it…