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.

Movies: Happy Death Day Review (or ‘Comfortably My Favourite Movie Of The Year’)

October 29, 2017

There’s something joyous about having your own expectations surpassed.

Much like with Geostorm, I went to see Happy Death Day without any preconceptions of what it was about or how highly it was rated; I just thought I was going to see a generic horror movie at the suggestion of my girlfriend.

And for the first 15 minutes, I sat through it thinking “Hmm, is this going to be some daft torture porn Halloween slasher?”.

But suddenly the main character was murdered by a masked villain, only for her to wake up again at the start of the day.

It was then I realised I was watching a movie with a Groundhog Day gimmick, and a big smile spread across my face.

Turns out – and you’ll probably know this – Happy Death Day is about a bitchy sorority girl stuck in a loop of being murdered on her birthday. The day replays itself again and again until she is able to work out who the killer is and prevent it from happening.

That sort of thing is right up my alley.

Though it was reusing the Groundhog Day gimmick – and they are smart enough to reference this – it’s a fresh take on it, and it’s written well enough so that it doesn’t feel stale.

And it’s not really a horror movie either. There’s very little gore, but plenty of laughs, a touch of drama and some neat twists too. It kept me thoroughly entertained throughout.

I’m not even going to look at how other critics have rated this movie, because it doesn’t really matter. I recall they panned The Butterfly Effect, but that was right up my street too.

So I’m just going to come out and say it; for its combination of gimmick, setting, writing and ideal length, Happy Death Day is comfortably the best movie I’ve seen all year.

It won’t win any Oscars and I’m sure there are lots of humourless critics out there who will fail to find the truth in it or whatever, but honestly, I loved it.

If you enjoy that type of thing yourself, I’m sure you’ll love it too.

Movies: Geostorm Review (or “Incredibly Bad, And Yet Good”)

October 22, 2017

Yesterday I took the unusual step of going to a movie that I had never heard of and therefore had no clue as to its quality.

The reason I went to see Geostorm was that my original pick for a Saturday movie – The Snowman – was so badly panned by critics in spite of a decent looking trailer, that I couldn’t bring myself to potentially waste the time.

And yet this morning, when I googled Geostorm – a Gerard Butler-starring disaster movie about global weather control gone wrong – its reviews are arguably worse. The first review that comes up asks if its the worst movie of the year, while others score it at 1.5/4, 2/5, 1 Star etc.

Now I find this quite interesting. Instead of going to see The Snowman with the prejudiced view that it was known to be terrible, I’ve blindly seen a movie considered equally bad but with no preconceived notions.

So how does my viewpoint compare with the critics?

Well last night I was asked on Twitter how it was and my brief summation was that it was “Incredibly bad and yet good”. I think that’s pretty fair.

On the one hand, it is just absolutely terrible.

The acting is just unbelievably bad on almost all fronts. The New York accents from Brits Gerard Butler and Jim Sturgess have to be heard to be believed, while Irish actor Robert Sheehan’s take on an English accent seems to slip from one region to the next depending upon the scene.

The writing is atrocious, filled with Hollywood cliches and exposition up the wazoo. Put it this way, when Butler speaks to Sturgess’s character for the first time, the first thing he says is “How are you doing Little Brother”, so we instantly know they are related. Nobody talks like that in real life. That type of info dump dialogue continues all the way through the film; it’s so, so bad.

The plot is also entirely predictable, and I doubt anyone in that screening I went to last night would have been unable to spot the bad guy(s) from the moment they came on screen.

Honestly, dear reader, you’d be hard pressed to find a film this year that is quite so awful on almost every critical level.

And yet in spite of that, or perhaps even because of that, it’s enjoyable.

Maybe I found the shonky accents and the one dimensional, wooden characters perversely entertaining or perhaps the way I was able to guess what was about to happen next every time gave me a sense of smug self satisfaction, but all the way through, I sat there with a smile on my face.

But it could be that I take the view that it is what it is. This is a disaster movie; you expect the cliches, the bad acting and the predictable plots and you trade them off for seeing people dying or escaping from some kind of catastrophic event.

And if you get enjoyment out of that sort of thing then you’ll enjoy Geostorm.

I did.

Movies: American Assassin Review

September 18, 2017

Considering it starts off really well, American Assassin ended up being a bit of a disappointment for me.

The frantic nature of the opening scenes on the beach and main character Rapp’s vigilante mission into Libya are great, but they soon make way for what is a by-the-numbers race against time spy thriller.

Which is not to say that it turns into a bad movie, but rather than it goes from being something that could have been a bit special to a plot that we’ve all seen dozens of times before.

The characters become uninspiring, the plot hangs on the sort of twist that Terry Nation was writing for Doctor Who 55 years ago (the old ‘The only way you could know that is if you’re the villain, because I never told you’ trope) and it all ends exactly how you’d imagine it would.

Put simply, if you like that sort of thing, you’ll enjoy American Assassin, but don’t go in expecting any sort of fresh take on the genre. Like I say; it’s not that it’s bad – indeed it’s perfectly acceptable – but rather it just doesn’t live up to its early potential.

Oh, and for those of you keeping score, it ran for less than two hours and therefore didn’t overstay its welcome.


Movies: It Review

September 17, 2017

Most people my age will be aware of It, the Stephen King novel-turned-TV miniseries that was responsible for scaring the shit of children in the 1990s.

But awareness is just about all many will have. I remember seeing the first few minutes of it when I was probably about 9 or 10 years old and it terrified me. But I never actually watched the rest of it at any point.

Now it’s 2017, I’m a man in my 30s and it’s been remade as a proper Hollywood movie.

So what did I think?

Well I’ll preface this by saying that I don’t find horror movies scary as an adult. Long term readers of the blog will know that. I take the view that nothing can hurt me and I don’t get spooked by sudden loud noises, Some may get a thrill from it, but I’m not one of them.

So I wasn’t scared and I didn’t expect to be.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy a good movie. And It…well it wasn’t a bad movie, but it certainly wasn’t without its flaws.

To give it the appropriate credit, the story on a general level was enjoyable, the clown was initially creepy, the setting was good and the mostly child actors did their jobs well. In many ways it was like a dark version of The Goonies or Stranger Things.

But then there were elements that let it down.

For one thing, as someone who hasn’t read the book, I never really understood what Pennywise was. Was he real? Was he an alien? Did he really kill the children? Why were they floating in the air? Did they all come back to life when they came back down? Where did he come from? Absolutely none of this was explained.

Then certain parts – like the stuff with the school bully or the back stories of most of the kids – never went anywhere.

But perhaps most frustrating was that to spin the movie out for as long as it was – and again, it was another movie that went on for too long – Pennywise appeared so many times without claiming any sort of victim that he ended up looking proverbially toothless. And that was compounded by this fearsome creature eventually being beaten up and vanquished by a group of young teenagers.

Not exactly fearsome…

Overall, I did enjoy it enough to consider it a good use of a Saturday evening, but came away frustrated that it wasn’t as good as it could have been.

Oh, and apparently we’re getting a sequel. Great…cos Hollywood doesn’t have enough of them.

I’d rather they remade The Langoliers.