Thursday, 15 February 2018

OJ's Movie Review - Black Panther

You think you know the superhero genre; it's tropes, it's format, it's message. And we can enjoy that. It's what we go and see them for. But then directors like the Russo brothers, Taika Watiti, and now Ryan Coogler come along and say "Hey, let me have a go." 

  What did I like about Black Panther? I liked the fact that Coogler wanted to bring his own team on board, his writers, his editors, his sound mixers, his crew that he'd worked with on his other films because that really shows. You could tell they put effort into getting the African setting just right. The Wakandan culture they developed felt engaging and real by their use of music, costuming, and aesthetic inspired by real African tribes. So on a directing front, I really cannot fault this film for standing out.
   Story-wise, we're given a royal family drama that somehow takes us into a James Bond feel at times and then leaves us with interesting political commentary all inside a Marvel movie with special herbs and robot arms. All of this surprisingly works well together and it really didn't feel like a two-hour film. I was invested from beginning to end and that was certainly helped by the amazing cast.

   Chadwick Boseman stars as the main character T'Challa and his stoic portrayal of this intelligent new king really makes for a different sort of superhero. He was one of my highlights in Captain America: Civil War and to see him here continues that enjoyment and proves to be one of my new favorite heroes. I wish I could mention all the cast because each one really did great. Letitia Wright as his sister Shuri was really entertaining, Danai Gurira was both intimidating, powerful and also funny. Andy Serkis looked like he was having a blast returning as Klaue and is just a joy to watch. Even Sterling K. Brown from American Crime Story only had a small role but was really worth it.

Now, this film is getting a lot of praise, and deservedly so, but I will point out that it's not without problems for me personally. First I'd say that the villain, Erik Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan, while good and had a really strong argument for his motivations, I felt needed a little more fleshing out. He only really starts doing things half-way through the movie. We are told things about his life but never really shown. Don't get me wrong, he's one of the better Marvel villains and a lot of what he says becomes the commentary that you're left thinking about but he does join the list of Marvel villains who end up fighting in the same suit with the same skill-set as the hero. And then a final issue was that some of the CGI wasn't as good as it perhaps could've been, especially towards the end.

But as a conclusion. I think Black Panther is one of the best Marvel films to date. It means different things to different people, and Ryan Coogler and his team really put their own stamp on it. I look forward to seeing these characters again in the future and will be following whatever the only 32-year-old director will do next.


Monday, 5 February 2018

OJ's Movie Review - The Cloverfield Paradox

Time for J.J. Abram's unorthodox franchise to return for another curious outing.

So The Cloverfield Paradox is the third film in the anthological series, following 2008's Cloverfield, and 2016's 10 Cloverfield Lane. I have to say I've been keeping my eye on this film for a while and I knew that marketing would be unusual like the others but to release a 30-second teaser at the Superbowl and then drop the film on Netflix a few hours later was not quite what I expected.

   I'll start with what I enjoyed. The Cloverfield Paradox boasts a pretty good cast, I genuinely enjoy seeing a lot of the people here. After seeing Captain America: Civil War, I was really impressed with Daniel Brühl's performance and here in this film, I once again enjoyed seeing his acting, this time as physicist Schmidt. David Oyelowo I think is a great actor and have followed his work since I really noticed him in Jack Reacher. Elizabeth Debicki and Chris O'Dowd, again, I thought did really great in their roles; O'Dowd is usually the funny man character so I was worried how he was going to fit in this sci-fi thriller but he really worked, still being used as the comic relief but in a genuinely entertaining way and fitting in with the context of the events. Our main hero is played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and although I had to scan her filmography to realize I had seen some of her previous work, I really thought she did a good job here and enjoyed her performance.

  Now, it's fairly known that this film used to be a completely singular film called God Particle and that during production it was taken over and converted into a Cloverfield entry. Now I have problems with this concept in itself but as it seemed to work out for 10 Cloverfield Lane, I hoped the same would be true here. But no. What has ended up here is that a standard, but pretty good, sci-fi film has been injected with extremely forced Cloverfield connections. All the scenes and plot elements that occur on the space station I really enjoyed, there were genuine creepy moments, really tense action sequences and interesting concepts. But all throughout we kept cutting back to this guy on Earth whose whole role was to remind you that the movie was taking place at the same time as the 2008 film. These scenes and an exposition dump at the beginning just felt so forced that it really let it down. 

I really want to be onboard for the Cloverfield franchise and the first two films I thought were average and fantastic, respectively. And here I really liked everything to do with what remained of God Particle, but if Paramount keeps hijacking films during production and forcing them to be part of this, then it's just going to get even messier. In the end, I'll say I was ultimately disappointed but wasn't at all bored during the film and I was entertained for the most part so I'll give it...


Thursday, 21 December 2017

OJ's Movie Review - Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Episode VIII is upon us and it's time to find out if all our Snoke theories were right.

So Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a massive film back in 2015, became one of the highest grossing films of all time and was mainly well-received with the common criticism being that it was too similar to A New Hope. Here in The Last Jedi, that criticism is nowhere to be found. I admit, some moments were very similar to past films but as a whole this a very different sort of Star Wars.

Plot-wise, I can't say much because frankly I didn't know much going in and that's the best way to see it. It essentially takes place directly after the previous film so you know some of it will be set on that island with Rey and Luke. I have to say those scenes were some of my favorites in the entire film; I can't believe how perfectly Mark Hamill has become Luke Skywalker again, his acting was on top form and dare I say, this was one of his best performances. His arc was an interesting and controversial one but I enjoyed it a lot and am glad he returned to the franchise. Daisy Ridley's Rey was also a joy to watch again but despite being in a two-and-a-half hour film, I feel her character needs a little more development; I mean there is an arc for her in this and I was drawn in by it but I almost feel she was a little short-changed in the third act. Just some other comments on the cast, I'd say I thought Carrie Fisher did a much better job here than I felt she performed in The Force Awakens and was glad to see her do such a great performance in her last film. John Boyega and Oscar Isaac are back and although they did a fine job acting, I thought the Poe Dameron character became less likable to me for some reason. Laura Dern's Admiral Holdo was a surprisingly interesting character and lead to one of the most amazing scenes I've seen in a Star Wars film, no small part down to director Rian Johnson as well. And the final actor I will mention, and possibly becoming one of my favorite characters is Adam Driver as Kylo Ren; wow this guy can act. He stole some great scenes and I really want to look into more of his filmography.

As I said, Rian Johnson directed this film and you really can tell he's doing something different. Some of the camera work is beautiful and has reached a higher artistic level for the Star Wars franchise. He also wrote the film as well and I think that's where a lot of the fan divisiveness has come from. Rian makes some strong story decisions that affect some beloved characters as well as the greater Universe. I myself am onboard with most of his decisions but one or two did annoy me however I'll see if I feel the same way after Episode IX. The third act of the film though is by far the best part of the whole movie, I had no idea what to expect and it delivered some moments that are sure to become iconic.

I'll talk about some of the problems I had with the film now. One minor thing straight off the bat is that some of the humor was a little modern and not very Star Warsy; there is a joke almost right at the start and it did not work for me at all. Another problem I had was the Finn & Rose plot, not the plot itself, I enjoyed where they went and what they did, but the message and moral it tried to give, although good, was a little heavy-handed and not really what I expected in a Star Wars film. And finally, the main thing I did not enjoy was that some parts of the film were set on a particular ship with Poe, Leia, and Holdo and for me, those scenes really slowed down the movie and is a real drag on rewatch.

In the end, I'd say I enjoyed Star Wars: The Last Jedi a lot more than I was expecting but I completely understand those with a more negative opinion.


Friday, 1 December 2017

OJ's Movie Review - Justice League

So Justice League, DC's big superhero team-up movie. The franchise has had major ups and downs in only four years so where does this one fit in?

  I'll start with the overall tone of the movie. After the depressing darkness of Batman V Superman, this film took some cues from Wonder Woman and had a lighter tone to it; now I'm not saying it's gone all light & happy and copying Marvel but I mean they literally added colors to the screen and moments that made you smile and feel like justice was prevailing. So with that, I'll move onto the characters. who certainly added to my personal enjoyment of the film.

   I really enjoyed the League themselves. Bruce Wayne/Batman has remained largely the same since BvS but seeing him here just felt different somehow, one of my favorite moments of the entire film is with him on a rooftop near the beginning; it felt really comic-booky and how I perceive Batman as a character so I really enjoyed that. Wonder Woman again is a joy to watch and continues to be a highlight of all of the films she's in; her wise and mother-like attitude is really nice to see in this threatening universe. The new members I really did enjoy too. The Flash, while not always funny, was entertaining quite a bit in both his powers and story-arc. Cyborg I thought was going to be really broody and boring the whole time, and while he is a serious character, his struggle with his situation and the power-set that he has was really engaging and unexpected. Aquaman was a really fun-loving brawler kind of guy and although I enjoyed his presence I hope more of his character is fleshed out in his upcoming solo film.

   Story-wise, Justice League is not deep or complex, and not too surprising. I think after the tangled mess of BvS, they took a safe route and a bit of a breather with the simpleness of the plot. I didn't mind that at all and welcomed it but I know many will not enjoy the "nothingness" of the story. Part of that has to do with the villain and to be honest, he's not a deeply developed character; another big CGI guy with an army of faceless expendable drones makes for uninteresting stakes. One aspect of the film does involve Superman though, and that's not a spoiler as he's in the trailers and it's no secret. Now I thought his initial return in the film was quite unsatisfactory and it definitely felt like some things had been cut but as the film went on I started to really enjoy seeing him again, especially towards the end. I'd say as far as overall plot goes, it's fairly generic but Zack Snyder's directing does make some interesting visuals along the way.

Another negative I'll point out is the script. Now I know the unfortunate circumstances of why Joss Whedon was brought in to finish the movie and I'm glad he could, but some of the dialogue he injected just did not fit with the characters they were given to. Some of it worked, and I'm convinced Whedon did some good stuff in this but not all of it gelled for me.

In the end, I'd say I personally enjoyed Justice League a lot more than I was expecting but it is ultimately a fluff movie with not much depth and some terrible special effects during the reshoots.


Thursday, 2 November 2017

OJ's Movie Review - Thor: Ragnarok

The Thor films have been kind of average so far; can a quirky New Zealander change all that?

Thor: Ragnarok is the third film in its own series and Thor's fifth appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. This time it's directed by Taika Watiti and also features the Hulk as a main character. For starters I'd like to say I love Taikia's work; his film Hunt for the Wilderpeople is hilarious to me and any interview you watch of his is a joy to behold. He has a very unique style of film so I can see why Marvel chose him to inject some energy and humor into this series. And he does do that. Ragnarok is the most entertained I've been while watching a Thor movie but it's not without its problems.

  Story-wise, there is a very quick set-up. You can tell that Taika and producer Kevin Feige wanted to completely dismantle what had been built up in the previous Thor films. I can understand why they wanted to do that but just seeing mythology, characters, and arcs that have been established since 2011 be wiped away or brushed under the carpet was a little disheartening, and this was all during the first act. It was very quick and we were going from scene to scene and location to location very quickly mopping up old plot threads and setting up what this movie was going to be. Once that had happened, and Thor was on the planet Sakar, it became more enjoyable for me. The rest of the movie showcased Taika's style of humor perfectly and had me laughing out loud plenty of times. It did seem a bit like two films at times with one set on Sakar and the other on Asgard as the story kept flipping from one to the other but I was entertained enough with the characters.

  Chris Hemsworth has always played Thor brilliantly and we get to see a lot more of his comedic talent here. Mark Ruffalo is always a highlight of any film for me and seeing him here was great both as Banner and the Hulk experiencing this mad Universe. Tom Hiddleston's Loki, of course, appears again and although the character has perhaps lost some of his popularity since everybody loved him in The Avengers, I enjoyed seeing him because I like Tom Hiddleston as an actor. Two new characters I absolutely loved in this film though, were Jeff Goldblum's Grandmaster who is hilarious; Goldblum barely has to act, his own wacky charisma comes through perfectly. And Korg, voiced by Taika Watiti himself had some of the best lines. I'd definitely say the characters were the best part of this film for me.

In the end, I'd say I really enjoyed Thor: Ragnarok. The story is pretty basic and some of the green-screen wasn't great during the re-shoots but I loved the aesthetic and the characters. I laughed a lot too even though I felt some of the emotional beats were lost due to quick jokes. I still look forward to following Taika's work and I'm looking forward to seeing where the character of Thor himself is taken too.


Monday, 14 August 2017

OJ's Movie Review - Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Besson and the Cries of a Thousand Critics

So Valerian is the latest film from French director Luc Besson. It's set in one of those enormous science-fantasy worlds with many aliens, technology, and bright colors, similar to that of Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy, or even Besson's 90s cult hit, The Fifth Element. We follow two government agents, Valerian and Laureline, as they try to solve a mystery in the heart of an intergalactic space station inhabited by hundreds of species and cultures.

   As you've probably heard already, Valerian looks great. I wouldn't say stunning, I never saw a shot and thought wow, I could frame that; Besson gives us a cool aesthetic but as directing angles and cinematography goes, nothing stood out for me. When I say it looks good, I mean the literal things on screen, the bright colors, the alien designs, the City of Alpha itself, all visually interesting. I could pause the film at any moment and look around to see interesting details that are there, just having a small snippet of extensively-thought out cultures and worlds.

   Another thing that was great to see was some original sci-fi concepts I had never seen before. I haven't read the comic so obviously, I don't know how much was taken but there were ideas brought out in Valerian that I thought were really cool and engaging. One particular one that comes to mind is in the first act where our characters must visit a market, and the way they go about this fascinated me and the sorts of things they were doing I really loved watching.

   Valerian is played by Dane DeHaan and Laureline is played by Cara Delevingene. I have to say that Cara's performance was the strongest out of the two, she seemed like a real person in this world and I enjoyed her onscreen. Now Dane Dehaan, who's acting I really like and have enjoyed his weird, villainess characters in both Chronicle and The Amazing Spider-Man 2; but here, he tries to be some sort of charismatic, best-agent-in-the-company, womanizer and it really doesn't work. It's like getting Michael Cera as James Bond; so as much as I love DeHaan, I feel he was incredibly miss-cast in this. He and Cara had pretty much no chemistry what-so-ever. The rest of the cast were fine and serviceable but nothing outstanding on an acting front. Rihanna was in it however and she did just fine, I've never had complaints about Rihanna's acting and her character itself was really interesting in terms of her abilities but the personality bordered on annoying sometimes for me.

   Now as for the story itself, unfortunately, Valerian's narrative is all over the place. I mean, there is a story, you can follow the basic plot I mentioned at the beginning but there are so many tangents and entire scenes and sequences where I'm just thinking, why is this here? Lines of dialogue that make no sense and in the end when you really think about the end result, it was hardly anything major for the Universe or the City of Alpha itself. The premise had us believe our two agents would stop a world-destroying threat and they would have to save the Galaxy but it turns out it was like watching an unused script for a Star Trek episode; you know, entertaining enough, but nothing consequential.

  In the end, for me, the high-concept visuals don't quite make up for the all-over-the-place narrative and uninspiring plot.


Thursday, 27 July 2017

OJ's Movie Review - Dunkirk

In Nolan we trust?

So Dunkirk is the great Christopher Nolan's first film based on a true story, the evacuation of Dunkirk in World War II. No dreams, no memories, no sci-fi; and yet completely Nolan. 
   The first thing I have to mention is, of course, the directing. If you've seen Nolan's films and enjoy his aesthetic, his style and direction then Dunkirk hits all the right beats in that regard and more. I really felt like I was in this film. I felt like I was on the windy overcast beach, I felt like I was aboard the little English boat, I felt like I was clinging to the wing of a Spitfire. There was no Hollywood fluff, research had been done; things looked and sounded like it is. So like what I said about Interstellar, this film was more like an experience than a movie. Helping this, of course, is yet another amazing score by Hans Zimmer, using a constant ticking throughout and tense musical tones build up a perfect atmosphere.

   Acting wise, Dunkirk has a stellar cast with Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh and Tom Hardy, alongside newcomers like Barry Keoghan,  Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles of all people. But one of the interesting choices Christopher Nolan has made with Dunkirk is that there isn't a great deal of dialogue; there are conversations and lines obviously but mostly you have to engage with the film through visuals alone and that's where the actors do really well with their literal acting in expressions, how they carry themselves and reactions to things; all hard to do but I felt they all did a really great job.

  Now, something I have to say about Dunkirk is that it has a very unorthodox narrative. There isn't really a beginning, middle, and end; neither is there really a main character. I felt that this sometimes worked but other times I felt a little lost into where and when we were in the film. So although the film looked and sounded great, the experimental style choices Nolan makes with the story didn't always work for me. I admit I wasn't particularly riveted during a lot of what is a true-story WWII battle. The two best parts for me was the opening, which I really loved; you're straight into the situation and I just really liked first act in general. Then my attention was refocused during the last act which I enjoyed and the very last few scenes were really well done. Don't get me wrong, there were moments and scenes during the main bulk which I enjoyed a lot but as a whole, the unusual nature of the plot and restrained dialogue didn't grab me.

  In the end, I'm very glad I've seen Dunkirk because it is a very unique film. It doesn't feel like a move, it feels like an experience, like a segment of life, literally an event, which this was. I've thought a lot about a rating and to be honest I feel like you can't fit this sort of film into any sort of rating system really but for the sake of habit, I will give it one. Anway, if you're a fan of Christopher Nolan or World War II, or cinema then you'll get a lot out of Dunkirk; if not, then I'd be really interested in what you think of the film as it proves to be quite controversial.