Justice League

justice_league1Superman is dead, the world is grieving, crime is on the rise and something is coming to conquer the world. Picking up shortly after the events in Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince are searching for people like them to form a team to fight back. Joining forces with Aquaman (the brash one), The Flash (the funny one) and Cyborg (the moody one) they will fight Steppenwolf (the CGI evil one) to save the world.

Before we start, full disclosure. As a comic fan I am firmly in the camp that DC is better than Marvel. As a film fan, the best comic book films are DC, think Nolan and Burton’s Batman and Donner’s Superman. I will even defend Man of Steel as a good Superman film, at least up until the final CGI fight at the end. But DC’s Cinematic Universe is running out of steam fast and I have run out of hope waiting for things to come together. After five films the franchise is struggling and this is just merely OK as long as you lower your expectations.

The opening credits sequence for Justice League is the peak of the film. Zack Snyder put together a bravura opening sequence for Watchmen and he does the same here. A cover of Everybody Knows by Leonard Cohen plays over a montage of the world as it has come to be since Superman’s death. The lyrics and the tone fit perfectly with his world. But from here things fall apart.

So what is wrong with the film?

The CGI and the Villains. Steppenwolf is an all CGI evil doer. A character that anyone not a DC comics fan will probably be completely unaware of. In a blink and you will miss it moment he mentions DC super villain Darkseid but otherwise he is completely devoid of all character. All of his henchmen are CGI as well. The issue here is that for a film so reliant on CGI it is unforgivable how poor it is.

The action sequences. Almost without exception our heroes are fighting CGI enemies in poorly staged forgettable sequences. It does not look good and you will be hard pitched to remember a single action scene within an hour of leaving the cinema.

The waste of talented actors drafted into the wider universe. New additions to the cast J.K. Simmons (Commissioner Gordon), Amber Heard (Mera) and Billy Crudup (Henry Allen) are probably in the film for less than 3 minutes each. Diane Lane (Martha Kent), Amy Adams (Lois Lane) and Connie Nielson (Queen Hippolyta) all return for brief stints, but none of whom make an impact.

The underwritten new additions to the Justice League. Jason Momoa as Aquaman has to convince us of a character nothing like the comics, but only gets to make brash comments and flick his hair. Ezra Miller as The Flash appears to have been told to be funny at every opportunity but it only works in an awkward manner and Ray Fisher as Cyborg just gets to be moody and control computers. It is a mess. I only have good will to these characters because I have seen them on the page so much, but heavens knows how they come across to people unfamiliar with the characters.

It is worth noting the difficult journey to the screen that the film has had. Director Zack Snyder was forced to abandon the film before the completion of principal photography due to the tragic suicide of his daughter. Joss Whedon (Writer/Director of The Avengers) was brought in to finish filming and rewrote enough of the script to be given a screenplay credit. It is assumed he has tried to lighten the tone and bring more humour to the film given the complaints about previous DC films. DC have also been scrambling constantly to try to pivot the tone of their films following the relative failure of Batman vs Superman and the positive response to Wonder Woman. Ultimately though it results in a film that feels half-baked.

Finally, as if admitting defeat to the current kings of comic book movies you need to stay to the very end as this has both a mid and post credit sting. Stay in your seat and contemplate how such a promising set of characters can be in such a disappointing film whilst you wait to find out how they are going to tease more films in the universe.

 

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Daddy’s Home 2

daddyshomeposterDusty (Mark Wahlberg) and Brad (Will Ferrell) return as co-dads and this time its Christmas and their dads are joining in the fun. Kurt (Mel Gibson) is Dusty’s alpha male father and Don (John Lithgow) is Brad’s sensitive dad.

Almost as if the producers of Bad Moms and Daddy’s Home got together to discuss ideas for sequels we have identical premises for films within weeks of each other. Unfortunately Daddy’s Home 2 manages to be even worse than A Bad Mom’s Christmas where I can think of only one scene that I found funny (dads and thermostats are legitimately funny).

Otherwise the plot and jokes wouldn’t even pass for a substandard episode of Modern Family.

Only the Brave

otb-poster-27x39-v4-copy2Only the Brave is a macho and overwrought story based on the real events of a fire fighting team in Arizona aspiring to achieve hotshot status and tackle forest fires.

Hamstrung by two major issues the film is a turgid slog from start to finish. Firstly, it fails to explain what a hotshot crew is with any adequate detail. Secondly it does not have nearly enough fire fighting scenes and when it does it never explains their tactics. I would therefore suggest that prior to watching you investigate both of these points to try and get any enjoyment.

The film features an all star cast (Josh Brolin, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Connelly and Miles Teller all feature) of actors giving it their blustering all in most scenes but are never really successful in achieving any real drama as a result of these problems.

Clearly the men involved in such a job were brave, it’s just that the film meant to be honouring them is horribly dull.

Wonder

wonderBased on a best-selling novel, but not a true story, Wonder is the sort of life affirming tale to leave you with a warm heart and tears in the eye. Auggie was born with a “craniofacial difference” and has to face school for the first time. We get to see the impact and trials of this from his perspective and that of his family and friends.

Writer / Director Stephen Chbosky’s previous film The Perks of Being a Wallflower was able to perfectly encapsulate teenage coming of age, high school and emotional trauma. Here he manages to balance obvious sentimentality by not just focusing on Auggie (an unrecognisable Jacob Tremblay) but by giving equal time to his sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) and each of their best friends. It’s a welcome change to see that Auggie’s affliction didn’t impact just him and that it also results in some p behaviour on his part.

Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson are fine as the sort of aspirational parents who everyone would love to be, whilst Mandy Patinkin, Ali Liebert and Daveed Diggs are the perfect teachers at the expensive prep school Auggie attends. Ultimately the acting honours go to the younger generation though.

The film does lose its way near the end, having told everyone’s story it needs to get us to the end of the school year to provide a resolution and finds itself meandering to that close.

Overall though it does what it sets out to achieve and I suspect will leave not a dry eye in the house.

Murder on the Orient Express

sub-buzz-25780-1496336782-1Agatha Christie’s famous Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is en route to London on the Orient Express when one of the passengers is murdered. Derailed in the snow and waiting to be dug out Poirot must solve the crime.

Branagh’s Orient Express is as glorious to look at as his fabulous mustache. The film looks pristine from start to finish with some fantastic tracking shots and clever camera angles to break up the monotony of being trapped on a train. The all-star cast are also very good in their archetypes and it is a nice change to see Johnny Depp acting in a role without relying on a costume or make up to provide his character.

Interestingly I am completely fresh to the story, having never read the book or seen an earlier adaptation and I have to say I enjoyed it immensely. This is an old-fashioned murder mystery and it is great to watch the detective unravel it piece by piece as each suspect comes in and out of focus. My understanding is that Branagh is mostly faithful with the addition of scene at the beginning to set up Poirot’s character and the end to suggest possible sequels.

A journey worth taking.

Predator

predator2Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) takes his team of commandos into the jungle on a rescue mission and find themselves hunted by an alien.

Predator has to be the pinnacle of the 1980’s action movie. It is perfectly streamlined, humorous, macho and features one of the greatest creatures designed for a film. The opening scenes are exceptional at conveying our macho team, explaining the mission and getting us into the thick of it fast. The helicopter ride in gives us a brief but telling insight into every member of the squad and then drops us into the action.

The action is explosive and brutal and the tension is amped up by a staccato score and the thermal images of the Predator’s viewpoint. And of course Schwarzenegger is at his height, both in terms of his muscle mass and his memorable lines.

Having watched this as a 30th anniversary screening it is good to know that Shane Black who plays Hawkins and is known to have provided the humour to the film with uncredited additions to the script will be providing us with a sequel next year as writer/director for The Predator.

The Shining

f2419bf6591b9d1b685ef6301a865bc9Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson) gets the job as winter caretaker at the Overlook Hotel and settles in there with his wife Wendy (Shelly Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) for the season. Whilst snowed in Jack plans to write but the Hotel has other ideas.

Based on Stephen King’s book, this is firmly a Stanley Kubrick film. Tales from the set are legendary and this is a meticulous and precise film. Every shot feels symmetrical and smooth and the hotel feels vast. Jack’s descent into madness is played out brilliantly by Nicholson whilst Duvall’s fear is tangible. Danny Lloyd has a difficult job as a child actor to convey his “Shine” but does well. What this and the Hotel’s personality really mean is never fully explained, but that seems to add to the impending fear building.

Recently declared the greatest horror film of all time by Empire magazine I was very glad to get to see this on the big screen for Halloween.

Suburbicon

88f4a7f360fbbbf7aee961542af5f224Suburbicon is a perfect town where there is no crime and everyone is happy. That is until the African-American Myers family move in and upset the residents who are all for integration, just not here. This outrage of indecency though is a distraction to the crimes being committed across the road in the home of Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon). Following a home invasion Lodge’s wife dies, but her twin sister (both Julianne Moore) quickly steps into her shoes and talk of insurance money comes to the fore.

The talent involved in Suburbicon is second to none, so it is a shame to report that it is a dire film. Directed by George Clooney from a script by him, his writing partner Grant Heslov and the Coen Brothers and starring Damon and Moore this should have been a guarantee of quality rather than the failure it is. Essentially there are two poorly realised films merged together here. The insurance con feels as though it should be a screwball comedy, but is not funny and never meets the quirky nature of the Coens. The racial drama, which feels incredibly prescient right now with the alt-right movement, is under-written and feels wasted.

The con aspect of the film is an old Coen script that they never used. Fargo is clearly where this idea eventually ended up. Where as the racial drama is Clooney and Heslov’s addition and is actually based on fact. It is a shame, because it feels like we have a film considered not of the right standard joined to a film that should have been given greater thought and gravitas. I understand the message Clooney is trying to convey, but it does not work.

The only point the film seems to click and raise a smile is a small cameo from Oscar Isaac. An insurance claim investigator with a glint in his eye and as with Clooney and Moore someone who has been in a Coen film.

 

A Bad Moms Christmas

a-bad-moms-christmas-red-band-trailer-and-character-posters-1The bad moms return for a sequel and this time it is Christmas and their own mothers are complicating proceedings.

Bad Moms was a very funny film that occasionally threw up relatable events in the world of parenting. The focus was on the competitiveness of some parents towards others and the relationship with schools that parents have. By no means was it a realistic portrayal of life, but it had a focused plot, a clear group of antagonists (evil mums) and some very funny moments. A Bad Moms Christmas has none of these things.

The plot this time is threadbare. Each of the Moms has their mother come to visit at Christmas and they are all slightly kooky. Christine Baranski is Mila Kunis’ mother and is an overbearing perfectionist. Cheryl Hines is Kristen Bell’s mother and she is obsessed with her daughter and gives her no space (obviously she was not in the first film despite the lack of space she gives her daughter). Susan Sarandon is Kathryn Hahn’s mother and she is even more of an absent parent than she is. All of these things are supposed to create stress between the group, but it isn’t really an issue, especially in the latter case.

There are some funny moments, the highlight probably being a visit to a trampoline centre. But these moments are few and far between, mostly because the original stars are kept separate for good chunks of the film. Rather than have Kunis, Bell and Hahn together creating laughs and chaos as they did in the original for the majority of the film each mother/daughter duo is having their own moments.

A disappointment.

Thor: Ragnarok

dibdrp1uwaatu6jHela the Goddess of Death has conquered Asgard and banished Thor to a planet where he is forced to fight in gladiatorial battle against his work colleague The Hulk. Can he save his people?

Ragnarok is a big change of pace for Thor, going full comedy thanks to its director Taika Waititi. What this means is more of Thor and Loki bickering (Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston seem to be having a lot of fun), a much more communicative and amusing Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), a gloriously bonkers Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster and the director reserving all the best lines for himself as the motion captured alien Korg. If you find yourself chuckling at Korg’s deadpan delivery I strongly suggest you check out Waititi’s most recent films, What we do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople which are absolute comedy gems.

When it’s being funny, it’s an absolute blast. Cate Blanchett almost seems to have been given the short end of the stick then as the antagonist Hela, as she has to drive the plot forward being the thoroughly evil, but admittedly cool looking gothic villain. Every time the story pivots to her everything seems to slow down. Tessa Thompson also doesn’t get much to work with as the other major newcomer Valkyrie, a character that hopefully will get to shine in future Marvel films.

Enjoyable then with minor reservations. As usual stay to the very end as this is a Marvel film and keep your eye open for some hilarious cameos.