Movies: The Cloverfield Paradox Review (or “Pish”)

February 6, 2018

This should have been a review of I, Tonya, but I’ve come to accept that I just can’t go to the cinema after 8pm anymore without falling asleep.

So instead, we decided to stay in and watch The Cloverfield Paradox; that way if I fell asleep on the couch at least I could rewind bits.

And that’s exactly what happened because despite taking a couple of caffeine pills to keep me going, I did fall asleep. The pills did nothing…nothing!!

The thing is though, part of the reason I fell asleep was because this movie was pish. If it had been exciting, it would have kept my attention, but alas it didn’t.

So what was wrong with it?

Well, think of it like this…

Imagine a really good episode of Doctor Who. No matter what way you swing it, part of what makes it a good episode is because of The Doctor. There are other things going on, but the writing and performance of the lead character will add something to it. Without him, it wouldn’t be as entertaining.

Now imagine a poor episode of Doctor Who. Even in this example at least you’d have the acting and performance of someone like David Tennant or Peter Capaldi to provide a little chink of light,

Finally, imagine a poor episode of Doctor Who without The Doctor, and then imagine that episode running for three times the length.

It gives you a cold shudder doesn’t it?

Well that’s what The Cloverfield Paradox was like. A poorly thought out, lazily written yawn fest on a space station that tried to be clever but failed to capture my imagination, and based on other reviews I just skimmed, everyone else’s too.

It took me about half an hour to even realise what was going on, and then once I did get up to speed, I just wasn’t impressed. It was dull ‘And Then There Were None’ stuff that seemed to exist solely to build to a ‘shocking’ twist that unnecessarily tied it in to the other Cloverfield films.

And that’s in spite of it having a stellar cast and what looked like a decent budget.

That all counts for nothing if the story doesn’t cut the mustard.

And this story did not.

You should avoid it, because like I say, it’s pish.

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Movies: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri Review (or “Not My Cup of Tea”)

January 30, 2018

When lots of people passionately recommend a film to me, and then I watch it and don’t particularly enjoy it, I wonder if it’s my issue or theirs.

Why is it I don’t like this critically acclaimed picture that so many people rave about?

Sometimes it’s a mystery, but other times it’s obvious and in this case I know exactly why I don’t see the attraction in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri.

I just don’t like this relentless churning out of movies and TV shows set in rural, backwater parts of the USA. The environment doesn’t appeal to me, I wouldn’t want to live there and I tire of seeing actors put on these exaggerated accents and pretend to be country bumpkin hicks.

If Three Billboards had a gripping, fast paced story then I might have enjoyed it more, but unsurprisingly given the setting, it was pretty slow and ponderous as it examined life in ‘Disenfranchised America’. It’s as if stories told in that neck of the woods are incapable of being presented in any other tone.

But don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t bad. The plot did have some merit – even though I thought it lacked any sort of proper conclusion – and I can understand why people like it, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

For purely aesthetic reasons I would consider this one to avoid, however in the likely event you don’t have that seem level of disdain for the setting as I do, and don’t mind your movies to be slow and ‘sleepy’ then you should give it a chance.


Movies: The Post Review (or “Interesting, But Not Exciting”)

January 29, 2018

When it comes to The Post, I reckon you’re going to be in one of two camps; either you’ll have found it interesting or utterly boring.

My girlfriend Mhairi certainly thought it was the latter.

To her, the trailer made it look like it would be an exciting watch, but all that stuff only happened in the last 15 minutes, by which time it was devoid of any drama.

It just wasn’t her cup of tea.

I enjoyed it though. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t exciting and if I’m honest it was more than a little bit worthy, but it provided an account – whether entirely accurate or not – of an important point in the history of the government vs the press that is often overlooked in favour of Watergate and other scandals.

And I also enjoyed it because of its strong cast of recognisable, high quality actors, not least Tom Hanks.

Could it have been better? Yes, of course it could. I don’t think it would be fair to expect it to be exciting, but if I was to have one major criticism, it would be that it’s about the Washington Post rather than the New York Times, who were the ones who actually released the Pentagon Papers in the first place. Would they not have been the better choice to focus on?

For me at least, this is a movie I would recommend going to see, but be aware that you could just as easily come away from it finding it as boring as Mhairi did.


Movies: Darkest Hour Review (or ‘Good, But Nothing We Haven’t Seen Before’)

January 29, 2018

The reviews of Darkest Hour seem to focus on Gary Oldman’s performance as Winston Churchill, and on the surface, that’s fair enough because he is entertaining.

But here’s where I have an issue; why is it that playing Churchill in a manner that we might consider accurate – and how many of us have studied video of him enough to know if it truly is – so worthy of praise? It seems to me that everyone manages to do it well enough because his is a voice and manner that is ripe for impression.

So while Oldman plays Churchill as well as any of us might expect, I don’t really think he plays him any better or worse than any number of actors who have given it a go over the years. The only difference is that while John Lithgow just looked like John Lithgow doing a stoop and a funny voice, Oldman seemed to have transformed himself physically as well.

Anyway, that aside, The Darkest Hour was a decent enough effort that looked good and kept me entertained. It told an interesting story, but dare I say a story that we’ve been told about – one way or another – in multiple TV shows and movies over the last few years, and so it didn’t feel fresh or exciting.

The other issue I had with it was that it wasn’t quite sure what it wanted to achieve with Churchill’s secretary, played by Lily James. At first it looked as though the film was going to be played as being about Churchill from her perspective, but she very quickly faded into an incidental character.

It just seemed a bit pointless to me.


Movies: The Foreigner Review (or “Jackie Chan vs The IRA: What’s Not To Love?”)

January 5, 2018

The one recurring point made in reviews of The Foreigner – which is labelled a NetFlix Original movie in the UK even though it seems to have had a cinematic release elsewhere – is that because it’s based on a book written in 1992, the subject matter feels slightly dated.

That’s a fair observation; the idea of IRA bombs in the UK and Pierce Brosnan playing Gerry Adams does feel a little bit out of sync with modern society.

But I think we can forgive that.

The Foreigner – or Jackie Chan vs The IRA – comes across like the type of movie that someone who loves ‘worthy’ cinematic presentations would hate.

It’s a pretty basic story, it’s entirely predictable, there’s sometimes a bit too much talking and it’s a little bit silly even though it’s supposed to be played straight, but it’s entertaining, and that’s what counts.

The story of an unimposing Chinese restaurateur – who just so happens to be ex US special forces – exacting revenge on the IRA in the quest to find the man responsible for planting a bomb in London that killed his daughter is just Death Wish done in a different mould, but that’s exactly the sort of thing I love. There’s plenty of daft fight scenes in odd settings, there’s over the top accents, ridiculous policing and other stuff that will make you chuckle even though you’re not supposed to.

And it works.

Put it this way, it lasts just under two hours and it flew by, whereas a fair amount of movies that go that length or 20 minutes over, feel like they have taken an eternity to conclude.

Chan, despite being a bit older now, can still handle himself while Brosnan is hammy but enjoyable as the Adams impersonator.

I thought it was great fun, so if you like this sort of thing, it’s well worth a watch on NetFlix.


Movies: Molly’s Game Review (or “Poker Is Never Going To Be As Clever As The West Wing”)

January 4, 2018

Anyone familiar with Aaron Sorkin’s work as a writer will know that it’s usually razor-sharp but very wordy.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his first foray into directing on the big screen, Molly’s Game – a movie about an ex-skier who accidentally stumbles into the world of organising high stakes poker games – is no exception.

But due to the movie’s over-reliance on narration and directly explaining plot points and characterisation to the audience, it was too wordy.

And that was both a help and a hindrance to my enjoyment of it.

On the one hand, as I sat there in an overly hot cinema – really, it was like sitting inside an oven – I felt that Sorkin was trying too hard to make a story about poker as clever and snappy as The West Wing, and that was never going to happen.

On the other hand, afterwards it occurred to me that by telling the story like that, he saved it from being really boring. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the most exciting film in the world, but it wasn’t boring.

In fact, Molly’s Game turned out to be an entertaining watch, although like just about every movie to come out of Hollywood it overstayed its welcome by 20 minutes. Also, it had a weak ending, but that seemed inevitable based on how the story developed.

Should you see it? Well there are worse ways to spend an evening, but when you consider it’ll probably be on NetFlix or Amazon Prime by about May, a trip to the cinema is in no way essential.


Movies: Star Wars – The Last Jedi Review

December 17, 2017

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

I hold the rather unpopular viewpoint that Revenge of the Sith is the best Star Wars film.

I know, I know, some of you have probably already closed this review down in disgust, but the reason I like it the most is that it’s the one where most happens. Everything we’ve seen set up in Episodes One and Two has to be resolved to tie in with the start of A New Hope, and so what we get is death, character development, excitement and a plot that has a certain amount of pace to it. Yes, there’s some poor acting and yes, the decision to kill of Padmé with a broken heart was daft, but those negatives are far outweighed by the positives.

So if you take those reasons as an indicator of what I like in a movie – Star Wars or otherwise – then it won’t come as a huge shock that I was quite disappointed by Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

It wasn’t that it was a bad movie, nor that it dragged – indeed for a not inconsiderable 152 minutes it went by quite quickly – but rather that I came away from it feeling like the story hadn’t moved on.

And it’s funny, because if you read other people’s opinions on it, some appear to be saying the exact opposite.

To me though it felt like a movie that safely knew its place in a series that will go on and on, and so didn’t want to make any drastic changes. It finished like it started, with the rebels on the run having managed to escape from their pursuers yet again. It’s almost like an episode of something like Blake’s Seven. By the end of an episode of that, the Federation are still chasing them, but Blake’s group have managed to survive another week. In The Last Jedi, the gang go off to find a lockpick, fail and it doesn’t matter. Meanwhile, some people get killed but no-one that would have a significant impact on the story.

And yes, you can say to me “But Stuart, they killed off Luke Skywalker and Snoke; surely those are significant developments?”, but I would disagree. There’s no way Luke Skywalker won’t appear in Episode IX, so whether he’s a ghost or alive it makes no difference. Snoke meanwhile was an empty character who – by design or not – was abandoned without the viewer understanding his back story, motivation or purpose, so he’s hardly a loss.

Beyond the lack of development, there were other aspects that I felt let it down.

The comedy for example…

Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. In Thor Ragnarok it worked but in The Last Jedi it really didn’t.

If you’re going to do comedy then either play the whole thing in a light-hearted way, or employ an actor who is able to bring out the comedy in a serious situation.

Star Wars films are pretty serious in their design, but Harrison Ford was able to bring out some humour with a combination of his own ability as an actor and the way Han Solo was written. I don’t think there’s anyone in The Last Jedi who has that charm that Ford brought and I’m afraid the writing just wasn’t good enough to make the comedy seem anything other than forced. Put it this way; nobody laughed in the screening I was at.

Meanwhile, the acting wasn’t great. Yes fine, heap all the criticism in the world on Hayden Christiensen; he wasn’t the best actor and you presumably don’t have any kind of emotional attachment to him, but I’m sorry; whether you are fond of her or not, and whether you feel duty bound not to say anything harsh against her because she sadly passed away in real life, Carrie Fisher was awful. I’m not going to mock her for fear of fan boy retribution, but it is safe to say that had this been the first Star Wars movie she’d appeared in, she’d have been panned by all.

Mark Hammil wasn’t really much better either, if we’re honest.

And not to heap more criticism on the movie than I already have but there was a little bit too much in the way of convenience. What are the chances of Finn and Rose being locked in a cell with a guy with the very skills they were looking for? Or for only them and Captain Phasma to survive when the rebel ship ploughed into the destroyer? Or even for the escape vessel with all the main characters on it to be one of the tiny few not to have been shot down on the way to the rebel planet?

It’s stuff like that – as well as Kylo Ren’s weird about-turn after killing Snoke or the rather shameless addition of Porgs for the sole purpose of selling merchandise – that are worth questioning when you are reviewing a movie like this.

And lastly, I also felt like The Last Jedi failed to explore the usually vast and rich universe it’s set in – beyond the trip to the casino planet – and stayed with the rather dull space environment.

But it’s not like I hated it, it’s just that it disappointed me.

Hopefully the next movie will be slightly better, and that Nein Nunb will get some lines of dialogue.

And you can bet Luke Skywalker will be in it.

And much like this movie, so will Yoda (and by the way, his inclusion was pretty cool, as was the way he was brought back as a puppet rather than as CGI).

But the late Admiral Akbar won’t be, and that’s the most upsetting travesty of them all.