Self/Less (2015)

Self/Less is a sci-fi/drama starring Ryan Reynolds and Ben Kingsley as the same character doing the old body swap routine. Kingsley plays a billionaire on his death bed who signs up to have his consciousness transferred to a much younger body, but here’s the catch – the body belongs to a man who sold himself to pay for his daughter’s medical bills, and Ryan Reynolds is gradually getting his consciousness back.

It’s a fine sci-fi concept. This film feels like a decent rough draft for a Black Mirror episode, but as a major feature film it’s completely lacking in so many areas.

The performances are acceptable, like there’s nothing horrendously offensive going on here. There’s nothing laughably bad either. Everything is so just dull and unmemorable. The movie has some level of momentum for a while whilst our protagonist unravels the plot, but then the script crashes into a brick wall and continues on at a snails pace. It’s surprising though because there are so many twists. None of them are particularly good twists and there’s no “gotcha” moment where the movie catches you offguard with something completely unexpected. It’s just full of a lot of attempted twists and turns, and yet even with all of these obstacles thrown in the way, the story just feels like there’s nothing to it.

The main character is really not likeable and I never bought the idea that Kingsley and Reynolds were portraying the same character. Not just because they are two completely different actors but because I got a very different vibe from each actor. Because of this, I could never really get into the character. And Reynolds is supposed to be playing this guy who essentially has two characters in him fighting over his brain and it just doesn’t work. I like Ryan Reynolds and he does great in certain roles, but I felt like he was very much miscast here.

There are some nifty little action sequences, which are fine. But they are few and far between. The action almost feels obligatory. “Well it’s a Ryan Reynolds movie and there’s nothing else in the script really, let’s give Ryan a gun and blow up a car or something.”

The movie is shot well. But I was genuinely surprised to find that this is directed by Tarsem Singh. Someone who directed something so bright, creative and enjoyable as The Fall came out and directed this completely generic and bland sci-fi movie.

I’m stuck really for what else I can say about this movie without just reiterating myself. But Self/Less is just remarkably bland and without any substance whatsoever. I think that this is the worst kind of movie that you can make. It’s not bad, but it’s far from being remotely good. I would rather watch a terrible movie because at least there’s a fun factor with truly terrible movies and you remember them. You won’t remember Self/Less an hour after seeing it and you might even struggle to stay awake and conscious during the duration of the film. I know I did.

If you’re a massive sci-fi buff or you’re a mad Ryan Reynolds fan, then maybe Self/Less is a fine movie to fall asleep to on a lazy Sunday. But otherwise, forget about it.

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Justice League (2017)

Justice League is the latest offering from a studio desperately trying to tap into some of that sweet, sweet superhero cinematic universe pie. Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon deliver us a film about a group of superheroes who band together to take on a CGI enemy in a film with your run of the mill generic comic book plot.

The highest praise I could probably lump onto Justice League is that it’s not as big of a train wreck as Batman v Superman or Suicide Squad. It does some things okay. Some facets of it are enjoyable. And it didn’t drag to me as much as the other DCEU films have. But even so, the film is a mess and it feels exactly like what it is: not the vision of a filmmaker, but the product of a marketing team and a committee who are completely lost and don’t have any plan in place. DC/Warner have rushed so hard and fast to get here and it feels exactly that: rushed, even though Man of Steel came out back in 2013. The MCU always seemed to at least have a plan, some kind of outline. We got two Iron Man films, a Hulk, a Captain America and a Thor film before we got to the Avengers. And those movies also introduced side characters like Black Widow, Nick Fury, Hawkeye etc. and it all built towards the big climax of The Avengers “assembling” and taking on a major foe that they wouldn’t have been able to repel on their own. Not only that, but The Avengers helped launch “Phase II”, showing that there are people over at Marvel that seem to have some clue as to where they want to go. I just don’t get that vibe with any of the DC movies.

Justice League, in comparison, just feels incredibly forced. We got Man of Steel, which depicted a rather dramatic, dark and somewhat bland take on Superman, followed by an abortion of a film in Batman v Superman, and a Suicide Squad movie which had no impact on this plot. Wonder Woman is still the only shining gem in the DC film universe. Justice League is bringing us The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. Sure, we can sit here and say that most of these heroes need no introduction, I’ll be the first to say that origin stories are overdone. But in the context of the DCEU, it would have added far more weight to have followed at least The Flash and Aquaman into a movie before we came to the big team up movie. I don’t need a Cyborg movie though. The character did nothing for me in this film.

Ben Affleck, once again, is solid as Bruce Wayne. He was one of the best things about Batman v Superman. He plays the older, more experienced Batman very well and it’ll be a shame if he does hang up the cape and cowl prematurely before getting to do a solo Batman film. Gal Gadot, of course, is great as Wonder Woman. We know all this already. And the movie also knows you love Wonder Woman, which is why it inserts a random action scene with her at the start of the film that’s completely unrelated to the plot in any way. The people love Wonder Woman, let’s give them Wonder Woman.

Ezra Miller as The Flash is enjoyable. I can see him not being everyone’s cup of tea, but he fills the void of comedy relief very well. And maybe I liked him purely because this universe desperately needed some lighthearted humour here and there. They just need to be careful to not make him too quippy in the future and to give his character some kind of weight.

Jason Momoa plays a badass Aquaman. Although outside of one or two scenes underwater in Atlantis, there’s really nothing aqua about him. He’s just a dude with a trident. And the underwater Atlantis scenes felt very rushed and shallow. Like they hadn’t fleshed out any ideas for Atlantis or anything at all and so they avoided showing us much of anything. I am interested to see how James Wan handles the character and the setting. But they played it fairly close to the chest with him here.

Victor Stone, the Cyborg, just didn’t click for me. The character has a small, minor arc, so at least there’s a tiny amount of development. But he’s the most forgettable and dull of the Justice League. He’s a cyborg that can do whatever the script requires at the time.

And together, this band of superheroes will take on Steppenwolf, an underwritten, generic CGI villain that you will forget all about the second you leave the cinema. I was reminded a lot of Thor: The Dark World, actually. In that there was a villain who had a devious world conquering plan of some sort, but it was all very vague and rushed and unmemorable. I still can’t remember the name of the villain from Thor: The Dark World, and give me a few days and I won’t remember Steppenwolf either.

I’ll enter spoiler territory from here on in. But as this movie follows on from Batman v Superman, we’re constantly reminded that Superman is dead. Of course, this dramatic death lasts all of half the movie, as he is randomly brought back from the dead… for reasons. There are these three MacGuffins that the villain is trying to find, and the heroes use one of these MacGuffins, combined with the kryptonian technology that Lex Luthor used to creature Doomsday in the last movie to bring Superman back to life. It’s exactly as dumb as it sounds. The whole “death of Superman” thing is so heavy handed and carries no dramatic weight whatsoever. He died in his second movie, and it was a bad movie. And he’s brought back quite early on here. The thing is, no one ever bought that Superman was actually dead. If they killed him off say, five or six movies in, then maybe it would carry some weight. If Captain America dies in the next Avengers movie (I got money on him or Iron Man), then it will matter. We’ve been with the character for years now, we followed him on several fun, cinematic adventures, and a death this many phases in would feel more than likely permanent. Killing Superman in his second film has no dramatic weight. Nobody cares. They’ve followed a drab, sad Superman through two bad movies. At best, his death is a plot device to motivate Batman and Wonder Woman to start the Justice League. And I guess that had to be the idea. But surely there are less hamfisted ways to do that than to do the Death of Superman arc.

I admittedly did like the interactions between Superman and The Flash. But also, this suffers from the same stupid thing that the Marvel movies do, and that’s find stupid excuses to make the heroes fight.

I love these characters, at least on paper. I have been reading Batman comics since I was a kid. And I love the Justice League as a whole. And I genuinely feel that Wonder Woman was a great film. But this whole DC movie franchise – Wonder Woman excluded – has been a disaster. They put their eggs in the wrong basket with Zack Snyder, and rather than plan a fun series of films that link together and form a coherent story, they’ve made a mess. Just a big old mess in a race to get that phat Marvel money. Their entire plan of attack has been “well, let’s do what Marvel did.” But when you’re being just a weaker,  less fun version of the MCU, why should the public spend money on the DCEU? I hold out hope that The Batman, Aquaman and the next Wonder Woman will all be good, but Warner’s track record doesn’t look good.

In closing, it’s not the bloated mess that Batman v Superman was by a decent margin. It doesn’t drag like BvS or Suicide Squad either. There’s some fun to be had here. And maybe, maybe, it’s laying the foundation for a good series of solo films. But again, it’s every over the top Zack Snyder CGI actionfest you’ve seen before, just with the occasional Joss Whedon-ism thrown in.

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Flatliners (2017)

Speaking as someone that hasn’t seen the original 1990 Flatliners with Kiefer Sutherland, I can only assume that this movie falls in the same category as Point Break when it comes to “films that didn’t need a remake”.

The key concept of the film is that a group of ambitious young med students become fascinated with stopping their hearts and temporarily dying before reviving each other to learn more about the afterlife, only “something” comes back with them.

 

It’s a fine, shlocky and dumb premise that would work well in a silly horror movie. Only Flatliners takes itself way too seriously. At the end of the day, I wasn’t quite sure who this movie was targeted at. It’s too dumb for the general movie going public looking for a good thriller, the scares are too few and far between (and really, more or less non-existent) to appeal to the horror movie crowd, and it’s not campy enough to appeal to people looking for a laugh. It’s a sterile movie that lacks any heart or sense of fun or tension.

The characters are all incredibly two dimensional and unlikeable, with the exception of Ray (played by Diego Luna). Ray is the more mature student who is a good 10-years older than everyone and doesn’t really approve of these dumb kids doing this stuff, but he goes along with it because he wants to bone down with one of the girls. But he at least has the sense not to go through with “flatlining” himself. I may go into spoiler territory here but it’s just easier to discuss this movie with spoilers than dance around it.

Every character has something in their past that they’re trying to hide (except Ray I guess). The rich kid jock knocked up a girl and abandoned her, the goody two-shoes once spread a nude pic of a class mate for laughs and the bland vanilla girl accidentally killed a patient and then covered it up to avoid repercussions. These reveals really just make you further dislike already unlikeable characters. Ellen Page killed her sister by texting whilst driving. And the big thing is that whatever you’re most guilty about comes back to haunt you for some reason. So she keeps seeing the ghost of her little sister. It’s dumb but checks out. But then it comes off the rails when the others start seeing the ghosts and people who aren’t even dead. The idea is that whatever has come back with them from flatlining is haunting them as whatever they’re afraid of or guilty about. It’s so stupid though because once they’ve “learned their lesson” and made good on whatever they were guilty about, My Name is Earl style, the hauntings stop and they’re all better and stronger people for it. SPOILERS except for Ellen Page who fucking dies half way through the movie. Her character was the least deserving of death. I mean sure, there should be penalties for texting and driving, but not death. And there was no way for her to redeem herself given that her sister was dead. She’s not like the snobby rich kid that can just go back to the girl he knocked up and apologise and start being a good dad and all is forgiven. And Ellen Page was really the core of the film as the only character keeping you remotely interested. She didn’t have much to work with character wise, but she did her best. And Diego Luna does perfectly fine. Everyone else is just going through the motions playing forgettable characters with no depth.

You could forgive the dumb plot and inane story decisions if they ramped up the horror element and made a genuinely scary movie. But this is so pedestrian. Every attempted scare is telegraphed five miles away, and even the handful of jump scares will just make you groan.

Flatliners certainly “flatlined” critically. This was dead on arrival. They shouldn’t have tried to resuscitate this film. I’ll stop there. But this is very much a skippable movie with virtually no redeemable qualities. The most positive thing I can say is that, for the material she’s given, Ellen Page does seem to be trying. And the movie isn’t embarrassingly bad and there are some pretty shots in there. But it’s just so boring and dull.

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Baby Driver (2017)

Baby Driver follows Baby, a skilled getaway driver who uses music to drown out his tinnitus, who gets involved too deep with a manipulative crime lord and has to pay off his debt. Basically that’s the gist of it anyway. Baby Driver goes to the Guardians of the Galaxy school of giving us an organic reason to have a banging soundtrack. And of course being an Edgar Wright film, it’s super stylish.

Baby, as a character, is somewhat of a blank slate. He’s naive but not really dumb. He doesn’t have a ton of personality. He’s not really likeable but he’s not really dislikeable either. He’s just kind of there and the movie follows him and keeps you engaged by showing you the world around him. Kevin Spacey plays the big crime lord that gives Baby his work while also forcing him to pay off a debt to him. And you know, it’s Kevin Spacey, you know you’re going to get a good performance at least. Although I watched this initially before all the big allegations about him came out and his career imploded. This may actually be Spacey’s last major role, at least for a very long time. But anyway, I’ll try and focus on the movie. His character really threw me off tonally. At one stage he feels like the big bad villain that you don’t want to cross, almost on a Walter White level. It seems like he’s the main antagonist. But then suddenly the movie changes direction and he comes across as kind of a paternal and protective figure. I couldn’t figure him out and his character just comes off the rails for me at the end of the movie to the point that it sort of hurts the plot for me and makes you question the characters motivations. His decisions and actions towards the end of the movie don’t really line up with the character was see earlier in the film.

Your other players in the film consist of Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm and Jon Bernthal, who are varying degrees of crazy criminals. None of them really do anything overly engaging or memorable though and Jon Hamm almost feels like a horror movie villain by the end. He just keeps on coming back when logic says he shouldn’t.

Lily James plays the love interest in the movie and it’s a very classic, traditional boy-meets-girl kind of romance. She’s fine and dare I say likeable in the role although the romance subplot does take precedence over the film’s action. And in most cases, that’s fine, having a good story is fine. But I feel like the story is just a little bit weak and flimsy and the thing that’s doing the real heavy lifting in this movie is the style and action. Part of me wished that they went to the Mad Max: Fury Road school of making everything action and minimizing everything else. Because really that’s all Baby Driver’s got going outside of some neat performances and a few funny gags – style.

An Edgar Wright movie will always be entertaining to watch. This story in the hands of a more pedestrian director I think would’ve come out very boring and dull, but it’s Edgar Wright so it’s a fun and easy watch and the action scenes are insanely well done and choreographed. I like this movie, I think it’s a solid film but even so I feel in the minority as all I’ve really seen is endless praise lumped on the movie. It’s pretty good, but not great. It’s got great style, some decent performances, but the substance isn’t there for me.

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The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017)

I’m hard pressed to think of a more middle-of-the-road sort of movie. The Hitman’s Bodyguard is exactly what you would expect it to be based off the trailers and plot. It’s Ryan Reynolds, playing an elite prestigious bodyguard who has to ironically protect an infamous hitman (Samuel L Jackson) that he’s had an intense rivalry with for years, in order to bring down an evil Belarus dictator (Gary Oldman). Whacky hijinx ensue.

It’s generic, bloated and completely formulaic. But isn’t that what you expect though? Can you really trash a movie when it is exactly, 100%, perfectly what you expect it to be? It is Ryan Reynolds playing every character Ryan Reynolds has ever played in an Odd Couple situation with Samuel L Jackson playing every character Samuel L Jackson has ever played almost to the point that it feels like a parody. Like this could have been a 2 hour SNL sketch.

There are laughs though, and as the movie progresses it does start to work more as everything starts to find its niche. Salma Hayek is hilarious in her role and there are some funny recurring gags but the movie knows when enough is enough. Gary Oldman’s performance as the villain is fine but I found myself sitting there like “why’d they get Gary Oldman to do this?” They could have gotten any older actor that can put on a Russian accent to fill the role. It’s such a generic movie bad guy role and it’s so not memorable.

The movie does have a shaky start though as I feel like we’re almost working off of assumed knowledge. You know that scene in the trailer where Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L Jackson meet and immediate break out into a fist fight because they know each other? That sort of thing is explained well after the fact. We’re not really shown how well the two characters know each other until much later. There’s also a pretty fabricated romance sideplot (I did say it was generic and formulaic) and the movie wants you to care about it from early on, but it’s hard to care about characters that have largely been assholes, especially from the start of the movie. Give the characters a chance to become endearing first before telling us “these two have gotta get together and you want it to happen!”

The movie is directed by Patrick Hughes, who’s biggest claim to fame so far is directing The Expendables 3. So you kind of get much the same here. Perfectly competent and acceptable directing. The action sequences are fine, and I appreciate that they didn’t go full Jason Bourne and have everything shaky cam with your usual rapid jump cuts.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard is a fine enough premise built entirely around two actors riffing off each other. I do wonder if there were parts of the script that just said “Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L Jackson improv some jokes and maybe sing. Samuel L Jackson calls someone a motherfucker.” It’s funny, but it’s not memorable. Completely forgettable action shlock that’s like fast food. Cheap, easy and forgettable. You don’t need to go out of your way to get it, but if it’s there and there’s nothing else, then eh, it’ll do.

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Silence (2016)

Martin Scorsese’s Silence is a difficult film. It somehow manages to be fascinating and interesting, while also being dull and plodding. Silence tells a story of 17th century Portuguese priests who travel to Japan to find their mentor and spread the gospel to the people there, despite Japan quite aggressively rejecting Christianity.

Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver play the parts of Rodrigues and Garupe, on the search for Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson). The performances are all rock solid. I’ve really only seen Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man, so it’s nice to know that he can act, despite putting on just a woeful Portuguese accent. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t do any better, but his accent was almost comical at times. Adam Driver, for me though, stole most of the scenes he was in even though the main focus is on Garfield. I loved seeing the actors change throughout the movie as they become more haggard and start to break down. It’s also neat to see Liam Neeson acting again and not just shooting terrorists for a change.

Technically the film looks and sounds great. Everything about it is epic in scope, despite being done on a pretty modest budget (at least for a Scorsese film).  The cinematography is beautiful and obviously it’s directed great. I appreciated how the film could shock you when you needed to be shocked, but it never felt exploitative. It’s never really too gruesome either, but it does become hard to watch almost to the point that it’s exhausting.

Historically it’s intriguing because, personally this is an era and a period I wasn’t familiar with so I almost viewed it as a documentary. Which is absurdly dumb, because at the end of the day, it’s still a Hollywood movie loaded with drama. But it did spark an interest from me. The thing was, the movie never really moved me or quite clicked with me. I can appreciate it greatly from a technical standpoint and the fact they could produce such a great looking and deep, multilayered film on a $50 million budget (which does sound like a lot but consider most of Scorsese’s films are over $100 million to make it’s kind of impressive in context). But the story and themes never hit home for me. I think this could be a very personal movie and it your beliefs will likely determine your appreciation for the movie. I don’t mean to get too religious, although I am talking about a movie based entirely around religion. But I’m not a religious nor spiritual person, and all I could find myself thinking was “maybe you shouldn’t be spreading your religion in a country where it isn’t welcome?” At times Rodrigues would come off as stubborn and frustrating as his flock suffers because of his beliefs whereas a more logical person wouldn’t have been in that situation to begin with. But it’s not really a movie about logic, it’s a movie about challenging beliefs and faith. So for some people (like me), it’s just not a film for you. For people who do have strong beliefs, you might love and adore this movie.

This is a near three hour long movie, and at times it just feels like a bit much. They could certainly have shaved time off of it. It’s not one of those films where they have so much to pack into it they can’t stand to lose anything. There are some long, long, long drawn out scenes and there are large stretches of time where it feels like absolutely nothing is happening. At one point I felt like we were just going around in a loop. And I’m not trying to bash this movie too hard because overall, I more like and appreciate it than I do dislike it. It’s just one of those challenging films to watch.

It’s not for everyone and may not be for you, you may hate Silence and you may find it dull and boring and maybe a tad indulgent. But if you’re the right person, you might love Silence, you might be moved by it and you might spend the next several days thinking about it and reflecting on it. It has the potential to be a very powerful film but only for the right sort of person.

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Mother! (2017)

Darren Aronofsky’s Mother! is… an interesting film. It’s hard to talk about or discuss as I’m still collecting thoughts on it. It’s hard to really say, “it’s a good movie” or “it’s a bad movie” in the same way that you can’t look at a piece of art and say “that sucks” as long as it accomplishes what it sets out to achieve. I guess the issue with Mother! is if it’s goal is worthwhile or not.

Jennifer Lawrence plays “Mother”, the young wife of “Him” played by Javier Bardem. They live a cozy, isolated life in a beautiful home she’s just repainted for “Him”, but things begin taking a turn for the bizarre and tense when two strangers show up on their doorstep.

It’s billed as I guess a psychological thriller, but really it’s very much an indie/arthouse type film with very heavy religious themes and metaphors on nature. Nothing is really subtle in Mother! At least by the end anyway. I really did find myself pulled in by thee first half hour or so of the movie where everything is a mystery. Who are these strange people who have showed up uninvited? Why does “Him” seem to know everything but Mother doesn’t? Why do the strangers look up on Him with respect but treat Mother with indifference. It’s because everything is an allegory. Jennifer Lawrence is mother nature and Javier Bardem is god. Their visitors (Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer) are Adam and Eve and everything goes on from there. This isn’t a spoiler really, either. The movie beats you over the head with it. And it’s a neat idea and the initial execution is interesting, but this works as maybe a work of art. You look at it, you get what it’s going for, you nod and contemplate it for a moment, then you move on. I think my big issue with Mother! is that it just doesn’t work in the format of a movie. You get the idea of what the film is going for. You get the metaphors and the connections its trying to drill into you, and you appreciate it, but then you lose any real investment in the movie.

There’s a certain part where the film comes off the rails and just goes off the edge of a cliff in trying to make its point, but it doesn’t really matter anymore. Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem had ceased to be characters you could relate to or connect with because they aren’t really “characters” any more. And everything that happens towards the end is so surreal and I guess “arthouse” is the best word for it, that it’s either going to drag you completely in and you’ll love it, or you’ll roll your eyes and start looking at your watch. Unfortunately for me, it was the latter.

I appreciate what Aronofsky was attempting, and I’m sure that this was probably a very difficult movie to map out and film. And the performances are all great. Especially impressed by Michelle Pfeiffer (why don’t I see her in things much these days?). And Jennifer Lawrence, while she is something of a one note character (if you can call her a character), she does a fine job at portraying confusion and vulnerability whilst also being the avatar for the audience to view the film through.

I really liked everything up until it becomes clear what this movie is all about. I liked the mystery and the ever building tension. But then when it devolves into a bad acid trip it goes from being a coherent movie to an underwhelming spectacle.

That being said, I’m not sure how to go about recommending or not recommending this film to others. If you’ve watched Mother! and you loved it and think it’s great, then I’m not going to disagree and tell you that you were wrong. If you hated Mother! and thought it was absolute trash, I also wouldn’t tell you that you were wrong. It’s one of those movies that will elicit a different reaction from everyone. I still don’t think I would suggest it to anyone, particularly anyone who’s more comfortable with your typical mainstream movies. If you’re looking for a suspenseful, psychological thriller featuring Jennifer Lawrence, you’ll probably be disappointed by her outing here.

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It (2017)

Stephen King’s had a pretty good year. It, The Dark Tower, Gerald’s Game and 1922 all seeing film adaptions this year (the latter two on Netflix) and The Mist receiving a television adaption, it seems like King’s seeing something of a resurgence. But that implies that he’s somehow not always relevant. King’s influence can be felt all throughout the horror genre whether it’s in literature, on TV or the big screen. It is one of his most enduring and influential works, and a large part of that is thanks to the 1990 miniseries starring Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown. I went back and rewatched the old miniseries for the hell of it and yes, Tim Curry’s performance is still a highlight and no, the rest of the film does not hold up at all. It reeks of cheap 90s TV production values complete with some embarrassingly bad acting. That said, the new modern adaption of It could have gone horribly wrong. It’s a somewhat bizarre movie that depends almost entirely on the performances of children. And it completely works.

For those who aren’t aware of IT – the story revolves around the town of Derry, which has long been haunted by a malevolent entity which the kids of the town collectively refer to as “It”. “It” can present itself in any form, often something that its victim is most afraid of, but more often than not it appears in the form of a terrifying clown called Pennywise. A group of kids known as “The Loser’s Club” bands together to battle the clown monster while it torments them one by one.

The cast of kids are actually great. There isn’t really a weak link among them, although some stand out moreso than the others. Most of the kids will be new to your screens but Jaeden Lieberher leads the pack with experience from Midnight Special, and Finn Wolfhard is probably best known as Mike from Netflix’s Stranger Things. On that note it’s actually really cool seeing that he has some range at such a young age as he plays the role of Richie Tozier – the class clown – a very different role to what we’ve seen him in before. And as I said before, this movie seems built on the performances of its young cast, and each cast member delivers.

I was surprised by the humour in the movie, which sometimes came out of left field. But for the most part these were welcome moments of lightheartedness. The film rarely strays too far from its horror roots though. At one point of another, Pennywise comes for each child individually, and the suspense in these moments is great as well as the creativity. It would have been easy to just have a clown jump out at them at every turn, but each character has their own fear and phobia which translates into some kind of horrific scene. Sometimes it’s as something as terrifying as a deformed abstract art painting come to life, or sometimes it’s something gross as a diseased leper chasing after the hypochondriac kid. But each child has their own personality and depth and you really feel afraid for each of them.

Bill Skarsgard owns his role as Pennywise. I was glad to see him take the character in a different and more dark direction than what Curry had previously done. And really, he needed to, otherwise he would have come off as a second rate Pennywise knock off.

I was also surprised at how this movie isn’t really pulling its punches. Kids are often victims or plot elements in horror movies, but when it comes to violence and actually attacking kids, we rarely actually see anything bad happen to them. Director Andy Muschietti makes sure that we see everything though. There’s no turning away from the violence or clever camerawork to avoid anything too confronting. Everything is right there on the screen for better or worse.

It’s not a perfect film though, by any means. It suffers from some of your usual Hollywood horror tropes; for example: jump scares! But the rest of the film is well made enough for these moments to be forgivable and it doesn’t rely so heavily on these jump scares. They almost compliment the atmosphere and tension, but sometimes they can be a bit eyerolling.

Further to that, the character of Pennywise/IT is somewhat confusing. He seems to torment and terrorize his victims, but not actually kill them. I believe in the book this is explained in that he wants them to be afraid first, like it’s his way of “marinating” them before feeding on them. But at other times he’s just like, “screw it” and outright kills a kid. This is likely another case of the monster and everything about him being better explained and written in the book and the film leaving things vague, but it’d be neat to get some more depth and answers here.

But really, these are minor gripes. IT is a triumph as far as mainstream horror movies go. And of course, just like the miniseries, there will be a second chapter. I just hope this time the adult actors aren’t completely outclassed by their child counterparts just like in 1990.

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Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)

With The Last Jedi making the rounds and now in the rear view mirror for me (although I’ll probably see it again very soon), I figured it was a solid enough time to revisit JJ Abrams’ Episode VII.

The Force Awakens finds us some 30-years or so in the future. The Galactic Empire is no more, with the Republic back in power, however the First Order (who totally isn’t just the Imperials) have risen to threaten the galaxy. A Resistance (definitely not a Rebellion) has formed led by General (not Princess) Leia. Meanwhile the villainous Kylo Ren relentlessly hunts for Luke Skywalker, the last remaining Jedi.

Abrams and Disney certainly had a lot on their plate with this film. They had the lofty goal of creating a great Star Wars film that would appeal to both old fans and new fans, whilst staying true the original source material and being able to launch a new trilogy of films. They had to breathe new life into a franchise that, while certainly wasn’t dead (thanks to expanded universe books and video games and TV etc.) but was perhaps on life support. At least as far as the film releases go. I’m sure they very carefully examined the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy to consider what worked and what didn’t work (especially so with the prequels). And remarkably clear just how close to the chest Abrams plays this one. After all, there was a lot riding on The Force Awakens and I can’t imagine the amount of pressure that was on him, Michael Arndt and Lawrence Kasdan to produce the right script.

When it comes to playing it close to the chest, a lot of The Force Awakens is just A New Hope. From the young Force sensitive protagonist stuck on a desert planet to finding an older mentor to look up to, down to the enemy having a planet killing death base space station. While it’s fine to sit back and enjoy the nostalgia of seeing Harrison Ford as Han Solo again hanging out with Chewbacca on the Millennium Falcon – the movie shines when it focuses on its new characters. Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren (Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Adam Driver respectively) are excellent additions that stand on their own. The older “nostalgia” acts help out and assist in bridging the gap if it were, but the movie has a strong focus on building these new characters first. You don’t get your first hint of Han Solo until a solid 40-minutes into the film. Everything up until then is setting the stage and introducing us to Rey and Finn.

Rey’s story has a little bit of deja vu. She’s a young pilot living on Jakku – a very Tatooine like planet, just missing the double sunset. There’s mystery involving her origins and her parents. The difference between her and Luke perhaps is that while Luke Skywalker longed to leave Tatooine and explore the galaxy and fight the Empire, Rey has an attachment to Jakku, anxiously awaiting the return of her family. Finn is a different character altogether though. I liked that they took a Stormtrooper and gave him some character and motivations. It’s a new and fun way of doing a character and there’s still some mystery to his origin. And mystery is great! It creates more intrigue with the character and mystery adds depth. I still hope that they flesh his character out a little bit more in Episode IX though.

Adam Driver is one of the best things about the new movies. On first look, he does not fit the bill of an evil, sinister Sith Lord. He looks like a dork that gets beaten up for lunch money. But that’s the point. He’s a naive, conflicted kid for the most part still. They put a helmet on him when they want you to forget about how he looks and just focus on his actions and demeanor. I am loving seeing his journey through the dark side. Throughout all the movies we’ve seen so far, it’s always been the positive, faithful Jedi who is allured by the power of the Dark Side. But this time we see the wannabe-evil, angry Sith kid conflicted and being pulled towards the light. It’s a great, fresh new take in a movie that otherwise spends maybe a little too much time retreading old ground.

The negatives really for me just comes down to fan service. So much of this movie is marketing and nostalgia. Remember hologram chess? Remember X-wings? Remember blue milk? Remember Star Wars? An incredibly amount of this is openly trying to appeal to your nostalgia for Star Wars and a little bit is forgiveable but too much of it is… well… too much.

Of course, the other major criticism is the “been there; done that” element of the plot. When the Resistance are looking at plans for the Starkiller Base, Han quips “How do we blow it up? There’s always a way to do that.” Do we really need another Death Star? Also the antagonist pulling all the strings, Snoke, very much comes off as just another Emperor to Kylo Ren’s Darth Vader. But where Kylo Ren goes in a completely different direction, Snoke just seems like your generic everyday evil power hungry villain.

Diehard fans will also probably find issue with Rey and the way The Force seems to work through her, and she can be called a Mary Sue. I guess I get those criticisms, but don’t necessarily agree with them. Especially after The Last Jedi where the character is further developed.

There’s a lot of little gripes and nitpicks here, but really the job of The Force Awakens was to lay a solid foundation for the new generation of Star Wars movies. And that’s exactly what it’s done. The action is great, the cinematography is gorgeous, the performances are top notch, and the direction is great. I always figured Abrams would be a great Star Wars director considering the nu-Trek movies are basically Star Wars movies in a Star Trek disguise. The Force Awakens still holds up two years later as an awesome reintroduction to Star Wars.

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