Guns Akimbo (2019)

guns akimbo poster

Internet troll Miles (Daniel Radcliffe) messes with the wrong organisation when he prods the beast that is Skizm, a ‘game’ that pits strangers against each other in on-street, very real combat, while online spectators cheer for their favourites. Deciding to take revenge in their own unique way, Miles is kidnapped and wakes with guns bolted through his hands and the instruction: kill the top player, Nix, or else.

I can only describe this movie as a cross between Saw and Nerve by way of Doom and the likes. It is relentless: in action, in violence, in ick factor. It’s not awful by any means, and I feel a bit bad downrating it when it pretty much does exactly what it says on the tin. However, the whole forced surgery thing was a huge no for me, and the tone is just nasty.

Half-watching, I stuck with it and actually enjoyed the middle section a lot more. It’s not that anything lightens, more that the pace gets so manic that everything becomes very cartoony. I generally don’t have too much issue with movie violence, but turns out this ‘unreal’, computer-game quality is what I expect. Alas, things get worse again by the end, notably a man taking a hammer to a woman’s face. Urm, nope!

Daniel Radcliffe does seem to be determined to distance himself as far as possible from the spectre of Harry Potter with roles like this. He’s actually pretty decent in it – a ‘normal’ guy thrown into a nightmare. I think the plot could have been stronger, but clearly that wasn’t the point. It’s all about the visuals (was this based on a comic? Feels like it) and the madcap pace.

So no, not really recommended, but saying that there are times when ultra-daft, super-violent nonsense – with a pretty great soundtrack – can kind of hit the spot. If that moment occurs for you, have at it.

Released: 28th February 2020
Viewed: 19th June 2020
Running time: 98 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 5/10

Artemis Fowl (2020)

artemis fowl poster

Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw) is a 12-year-old genius, who’s about to find out that his father (Colin Farrell) might not be all that he seems. Can he use his over-sized brain to rescue Fowl senior when he’s kidnapped? More to the point, can he do so when it turns out dad’s stories of fairy folk and magic aren’t exactly stories…

I’ve read a couple of the Artemis Fowl books by Eoin Colfer, and found them entertaining enough. That I’m not a huge fan of the books might have allowed me to enjoy this lacklustre adaptation a little more than I might otherwise, but it’s still got more flaws than not.

Where to begin? Production values were obviously high from the House of Mouse, so it does look pretty good – Fowl Manor is a house to drool after. The fairy world isn’t quite as impressive, and we spend so little time there that if you haven’t read any of the books it all might feel a bit baffling.

And yet, if you have read the books then I suspect you’re going to be either disappointed or just a bit perplexed at some of the translations on screen. We are pointedly told that Artemis is a genius, but very little of that comes through in his behaviour, and absolutely none of the ‘criminal mastermind’ that the books and movie poster led you to expect. Dom Butler doesn’t get enough backstory, but then again, neither do any of the other characters.

I’m not sure any of it quite hit the mark. Things are just so bland, poorly introduced, and never quite capturing a sense of why I should really care. None of the cast stood out well, but Dame Judi Dench has an awful ‘Oirish brogue’ and the huge misstep of actually, pointlessly, announcing “Tawp o tha murnin'” for absolute cringe value.

It’s not unwatchable, but it is a large amount of “couldn’t you have done any better with the material?” and overall felt largely pointless and oddly dull. Shame – and, advice is to swerve.

Released: 12th June 2020 (streaming)
Viewed: 12th June 2020
Running time: 95 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 4/10

Lockdown A-Z challenge part 1

Ah, lockdown! The biggest thing to have shaken up all our lives pretty much ever. Hope you’re all coping. I’m a huge introvert, so it’s not been too bad. But, like most, I’m looking for ways to keep myself entertained. A challenge, you say? What kind of a challenge? Why, a movie-viewing challenge!

Early on, I realised I’d managed to watch a movie a day for over a week and so decided to make (a) the decisions ‘easier’ and (b) sticking to it harder 😉 I’ve managed to get halfway through the alphabet, one movie per letter, and thought I’d give the update in an attempt to spur me to pick it all back up again.

My choices have been… eclectic? It started as an excuse to rewatch DVDs or finally get to those titles I’ve been meaning to get to for ages. And then I hit ‘problem’ letters and it gets a bit more random… fun, eh?!

With no further ado, then:

A – Alien (Director’s Cut) (1979)alien poster

It’s been ages since I last saw this, and I’d never seen the Director’s Cut, so here we are – might as well kick off the challenge with a classic! It still works: the performances are great and the atmosphere is amazing. I can see why there have been so many sequels, attempting to capture more… sadly, not too successfully as time went on, imo.

B – Bumblebee (2018)

bumblebee posterTo be honest, I don’t think I was wholly in the mood for a movie – it might have only been day 2 of the challenge, but my 9th or 10th movie on the trot. So, following the intensity of Alien, I decided to go lighthearted – and get this off my tivo, at any rate. To be fair, it wasn’t as awful as I’d half expected and about a million times better than  Transformers: Last Knight. Damned with faint praise, eh? It was only the following day I realised I could have rewatched Batman Begins, sigh.

C – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)crouching tiger movie poster

First of the DVDs I’d been meaning to rewatch for ages (in no small part to enable me to write up my review of the score, tbh!). I remembered so little of this movie! It’s gorgeous, and haunting, and so much more than just the fight scene in the bamboo that’s the only thing most people can recall. And my appreciation for the music increased, so success!

death of stalin movie posterD – Death of Stalin (2017)

This was about to leave Netflix and I’d meant to get around to watching it, so – timely! Armando Iannucci brings his darkly ridiculous sense of humour to the harsh times of Stalin’s dictatorship, and more to the point the chaos following his death. It’s almost inappropriately funny, but as with JoJo RabbitI approve of making figures of fun out of history’s most evil.

E – Equilibrium (2002)equilibrium poster

Another DVD rewatch. I occasionally hear people saying something dismissive about this, usually calling it a sub-class Matrix. I vaguely recollected enjoying it, though, so time to see if that was the case. Spoiler: it was. I don’t think the Matrix comparison is remotely fair, this stands on its own merit, albeit without the same kind of impact. I think of it as a sort of more sci-fi Fahrenheit 451.

fargo posterF – Fargo (1996)

Would you believe I’d never seen this? I knew all the ‘memes’ (predates that, doesn’t it?!), with heavily pregnant chief of police, Marge Gunderson, and those laid-back Minnesotan “Oh, yaa”s 🙂 It’s the blackest of comedies, with a man arranging his wife’s kidnapping to try to extort money from his rich father-in-law. So many now-famous faces, too. Glad I finally saw it!

G – Galaxy Quest (1999)galaxy quest poster

I’d meant to rewatch this last year for the 20th anniversary (!), but better late than never! It is just so much fun. As an aside, usually I’m very against the idea of remaking ‘classics’, but I do wonder (a) if this would benefit from a version without Tim Allen, and (b) if Sigourney Weaver is still available? Wouldn’t be the same without Alan Rickman, though, sigh.

hunt for the wilderpeople posterH – Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

My actual plan was to finally see Hateful 8 but apparently it left Netflix a few months ago… oops 😉 I’d been looking forward to this after Taika Waititi’s humour impressed me in Thor Ragnarok and Jojo Rabbit, and I know some people rave about this one. I… thought it was okay. Quite gentle humour, quite nice, but didn’t blow me away. Great performances, though.

I – Independence Day Resurgence (2016)independence day resurgence poster

First real problem letter. Oh, there are loads of very good ‘I’ movies: Interstellar, Inception, Iron Man, Indiana Jones – all of which I’ve seen relatively recently. Oh well – here’s another chance to clear some Tivo space, as I’d recorded this for some unknown reason. It was … well, it was on in the background, mainly. It wasn’t awful, it probably wasn’t that much worse than the original, but meh.

josie and the pussycats posterJ – Josie and the Pussycats (2001)

I saw this years back and rather loved it: it’s daft, it’s got those knowing nods, and oh it is so poppy and fun. A full 15 years or so before Riverdale gave me any real context, I first met Josie and the Pussycats and had several songs wedged happily into my brain. Add in scenery-chewing performances by Alan Cumming and Posie Parker, and quite frankly I still love this. Was just the dose of happy I wanted 🙂

K – Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)kiss kiss bang bang poster

Another DVD rewatch, and another movie I just think is perfect fun. I believe Robert Downey Jr got the Iron Man gig off the back of this performance, and it’s the last time I remember the once-wonderful Val Kilmer having so much fun with a role. Had it in my head that this might be my (other) favourite Christmas movie, and this viewing didn’t prove me wrong.

lost boys posterL – Lost Boys (1987)

Ended up a bit stuck with L, oddly enough – wasn’t in the mood for anything too heavy. Thank my trigger-happy Tivo record finger, as found this in the stacks. Time for a hefty dose of nostalgia! What a fab soundtrack. What awful hair and fashion! Possibly still one of my favourite vampire movies, despite (because of?) the hefty dose of cheese (wait, no – it’s grated garlic, argh! ;))

M – Moon (2009)moon poster

I think when I set up this challenge for myself this was one of the movies I was making an excuse to rewatch. Sam Rockwell is brilliant. The set up is so simple; I love this ‘low budget’ sci-fi stuff. And oh, kind of appropriate for the times, given he’s going a little stir crazy after 3 years in isolation?! It didn’t have quite the impact as first viewing, but it’s still creepily atmospheric.

 

So… 13 down, 13 to go – what will tonight’s movie be as I (finally!) continue? And I already have second (third and fourth) choices for most letters, should I choose to do it all over! Care to join me? What would you watch in an A-Z movie challenge?!

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

sonic the hedgehog poster

Adaptations of video games rarely go well, and even less so when the game itself didn’t really have a plot to speak of. Still, I have fond memories of my Sonic-playing days, and if nothing else, the disastrous first attempt at a look for the blue speedster piqued my interest.

So, in need of something fun and lighthearted as lockdown (and everything else) started to get to me a bit this weekend, it seemed like just the moment for this kind of fluff. Fluff that begins by telling the story of a young hedgehog who for some reason is under attack (I might have blinked a bit at the beginning) and escapes via magical portal rings to Earth, where he is living a life of painful isolation and solitude. Ah, nuts!

It gets more fun, as a Sonic-induced power outage attracts the attention of the government and psychotic scientist Doctor Robotnik. This is the main reason to watch this movie: Jim Carrey having an absolute, scenery-chewing blast. It’s been a while since we got to see the man on screen and it almost – almost – makes the movie worth watching.

Elsewhere, I didn’t mind the new CGI for the blue hedgehog, and James Marsden tries his best, poor sod. The other characters are totally flat and purely there to fill in scenery, really.

Plot-wise, it’s just a standard chase movie, with Robotnik willing to destroy anything to get his hands on Sonic. There are some ‘nice’ nods to the games, I think especially the ‘boss fight’ being unexpectedly close to what I remember and didn’t think they’d be able to actually make work. Not sure the big to-do on ‘how Sonic gets his red sneakers’ added much, right enough.

So… yeah, not so much. It wasn’t awful, I don’t regret choosing to see it, but it offers next to nothing on any level.

Released: 14th February 2020
Viewed: 16th May 2020
Running time: 99 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 5/10 – it’s not awful, but…

Trolls World Tour (2020)

trolls world tour poster

Following on from the surprise success of the even more surprisingly watchable and upbeat Trolls (2016), Poppy, Branch and the gang are back for more adventures. They’re joined by a new host of voice cameos, a paper thin plot, and the unenviable feat of making the headlines for all the wrong reasons. For, in these unprecedented days of COVID-19 and lockdown orders, TWT became one of the first movies to be released straight to streaming – which is fine, given the circumstances, but now has the distributor claiming it as such a huge success they plan to continue the practise, even when cinemas reopen. War may ensue…! o.O

All of which is a bit off topic, but also the most interesting thing about the movie – sorry! 😉

If you enjoyed the first one – and hey, no judgement: it was upbeat and happy and I did too – then there’s still a lot to like here. In fact, I hugely appreciated the lack of annoying Bergens, the whiny baddies from the first movie, in the cast list. Instead we discover along with Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick) that her band of trolls are only one sub-species: Pop Trolls. Spread across the lands are the likes of Rock Trolls, Classical Trolls, Jazz Trolls – you get the drift. Once all were one big happy family, but then musical differences got in the way and the tribes were split. But now the Queen of the Hard Rock Trolls (because heavy metal is always ‘evil’, sigh) wants to bring everyone back together – and not in a good way.

The stereotypes for the different tribes were kind of fun, particularly the Country Trolls, and Poppy and Branch’s journey across the kingdoms does give rise to more lovely ‘patchwork’ scenery which I loved in the first movie. The quest mcguffin is daft, but the music is still the highlight, now in a few different flavours.

There’s not much more to say. It goes exactly where you think it’s going to go. Kids will love it, parents will not love the price gouging going on. They might, however, enjoy the voice cameos by the likes of Ozzy Osborne, Mary J Blige, Kelly Clarkson, and Sam Rockwell. Overall, though, it’s a slightly bland remake that while offering much of the lightheartedness of the first movie, doesn’t really do anything worth raving about.

And still, it kind of fit the mood – happy and pointless was exactly what the current (inter)national stress levels probably need!

Released: 6th April 2020 (online)
Viewed: 17th April 2020
Running time: 90 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 6/10

Misbehaviour (2020)

misbehaviour poster

Looks like I managed one last cinema trip before the COVID-19 lock down o.O Oh well. Here’s my review, in case you want to watch out for the movie on streaming…!

The 1970 Miss World Competition, held in London, was controversial for several reasons. The main one examined in the movie is how the parade of young women being judged ‘like cattle at market’ sat so poorly with the rising Women’s Liberation movement. Sally (Keira Knightly) doesn’t really want to join the politics of it, but every turn of her life shows her how much she needs what is being fought for. It’s hugely frustrating watching this intelligent woman being talked over by men, dismissed as lesser, and even having her own mother judge her harshly for living what we today would see as a fairly normal life: divorced, living with a partner who does the cooking while she studies. How radical!!

When she falls in with Jo’s (Jessie Buckley) group, the plan is hatched to protest at the symbol that is Miss World 1970. Interwoven with this plot is an inside look at the contest. Some contestants aren’t too happy with the media frenzy. Others see it as a way out of a harsh life. And for a few, they are making history: the first black South African to take part, in this time of Apartheid, for example.

The contrast of the two stories is perhaps what makes this so interesting: the clash between wanting to make a statement about women’s rights, and the ‘lucky’ few who needed the hope that winning the contest would bring them. The question is raised: should you fight so hard for women’s rights, when minority rights are still so far behind? There’s a hugely poignant moment when Miss Grenada (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is told “you don’t think people like us can win, do you?” – ouch, but rings so true.

Still, something didn’t entirely click for me. It’s a nice movie, and I’m not sure that was the right tone – too much is left hinted at, or stated and not really examined. Which doesn’t make it a bad movie by any stretch, and indeed it was enjoyable and watchable, but given the anger I felt at how women were treated not that long before I was born and hell that some of it hasn’t changed now (I get spoken over *so* much, still; one of my colleagues has noted that if I answer a tech Q I get challenged far more often than one of the more junior boys), it just felt a little ‘lite’.

The subplot with Bob Hope (a great impression by Greg Kinnear) felt a bit flip on top of everything, but in hindsight it fits the themes perfectly. The relationship between Miss World organiser Eric Morley (Rhys Ifans) and his wife, Julia (Keeley Hawes), could have done with more development to make a similar message stick, but maybe that’s the problem: too many issues, too many viewpoints, nothing that hammers home.

Still. If it went too far into ‘radical feminist’ territory, it would probably be less watchable. Like over half the human race, we just can’t win 😉

Recommended, although didn’t require the big screen per se (probably a good thing in this testing time!). The performances are great, the music and fashion is wonderful, and there are threads of several very decent stories going on. And the ending, with some of the real people involved and updates on their lives – well, that was the uplifting message that we needed!

Released: 13th March 2020
Viewed: 13th March 2020
Running time: 106 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

Birds of Prey (2020)

birds of prey poster

Being the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn 🙂

Following the events of Suicide Squad (2016), ‘Mr J’ (Joker, but not the Joaquin Phoenix one!) and Harley Quinn have split up. She’s taking it well (!): time to adopt a new pet (hyena) and blow some stuff up. But, her party days of doing whatever she wants to whomever she wants are over – without the Joker’s protection, she’s fair game to everyone with a grudge. And there are more than a few of those…

I swithered so hard on this: DC haven’t captured my heart with their movies, and the reviews were mixed. It seems to me that audiences are split on this one more or less down gender lines. Every review I’ve seen that says, “meh, it’s not great” was written by a bloke. And every one that goes “wheee that was fun!” was by a woman. Oversimplification, perhaps, but it kind of makes sense. The women in the movie are having fun; the men are cannon fodder, idiots, or just deranged. Are male audiences just failing to find anything to identify with here? Possibly. Probably, even. Well, welcome to the flip side of the coin!

I’ve described this to a friend as a sort of all-girl version of some daft action movie, like The Expendables or Hobbs and Shaw it’s not deep, it’s not meaningful, it’s just a glorious riot of kicking ass. And there is nothing wrong with that. I say, if there’s room for a dozen mindless action movies for/with the boys in any given year, there is more than enough room for this!

That said, it’s maybe a little mean calling on such daft comparisons. Because while it is largely loud and colourful daft fun, it’s well made, decently acted, and there are a few clever little bits. For instance (tiny, non-important) spoiler: someone pointed out that the ‘fridging’ of the egg sandwich Harley is making goo-goo eyes over is exactly the kind of inciting incident the random female love interest is so often used for in these kinds of movies. Hah!!

The storytelling is also done quite cleverly, dashing back and forward on the narrative as we get the plot through Harley’s not entirely sane mind. She’s ditsy, but not dumb: the odd moment of her using her psychology degree are a nice reminder that she’s damaged, not stupid.

There are going to be those who say that if a case can’t really be made for men enjoying this more, then it’s not a great movie. Well, no it’s not ‘great’. It is a LOT of fun, though, and for once it’s more relatable to a different audience. Getting dumped and getting revenge, hitting back – literally – at catcallers and the like. Being a girl and doing whatever the F you feel like – hells, yeah!!

So. Not a masterpiece, but for the female audience, at least, a huge dollop of fun and exactly the kind of OTT wish fulfilment that the boys have had for more than long enough!

Released: 7th February 2020
Viewed: 4th March 2020
Running time: 109 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10

Onward (2020)

onward poster

Once upon a time, there was magic in the world, a world populated by elves and pixies, mantacores and unicorns. But magic was hard, and folk found a way to make things easier – things like electricity, and the combustion engine.

On Ian’s (Tom Holland) 16th birthday, his mother (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) gives him and his older brother, Barley (Chris Pratt), a gift from their late father: a genuine magic staff. Knowing he was ill and dying, he wrote a spell that would allow him one last day with his sons, to see what kind of young men they’d grow into. When the spell goes a little awry, Ian and Barley set out on a quest that will test them both…

A Pixar movie is still an event worth seeing, and the added world building here really appealed to me – feral unicorns! Angry sprites! The whole fantasy-meets-reality element worked really well for me throughout, and allows for a gorgeous colour palette and plenty of whimsy.

The main strength, however, is the brotherly relationship between Ian and Barley (or, Spider-Man and Starlord…!). As the pair race to complete the spell in time to talk to their father, the emotion that both bring to the bond is hugely touching.

It’s a bit less ‘ta da!’ than say, Toy Story or Wall-e, all in all a rather more gentle kind of tale. But it has a great deal of heart, looks just lovely, and I’d say is well worth a look for children and grown ups alike.

Released: 6th March 2020
Viewed: 29th February 2020 (special previews)
Running time: 102 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 8/10

The Call of the Wild (2020)

call of the wild poster

Based on the classic novel (which I’ve not read – yet!) by Jack London, The Call of the Wild tells the story of Buck, a pampered pooch who is kidnapped and sold into a sled team in the frozen wilds of the Yukon in the late 1800s. The book gives us Buck’s voice and viewpoint, but the film merely follows this intrepid pup through several adventures, instead giving us a voiceover from human co-star, Harrison Ford.

This is another movie that wasn’t really on my radar to go and see, but this time I ended up pleasantly surprised. I was quite worried about the CGI dog – how was that going to not be awful?! But animating the dogs allows for a great deal more facial expression, as well as danger and nuance. Yes, the former is ever so slightly cartoonish, but kudos to the animators, it never strays into the ‘uncanny valley’. Buck is never ‘humanised’, he remains very dog-like, and thus it all seems to work.

I wasn’t familiar with the story, but I can see why it’s a classic boys-own kind of adventure. The wilderness of gold rush Canada is exquisite, wild and empty and free, and the perfect setting for the twin stories of Buck and John, the human he forms a bond with, seeking his own very different kind of freedom.

I was impressed with the human cast, acting against presumably nothing or at least nothing completely dog-like. Harrison Ford is Harrison Ford, but I might be alone in quite enjoying Dan Stevens’ pantomime baddy, and got a bit of an ‘oh’ when I finally recognised Karen Gillan (she was neither blue nor Scottish, so I think I can be forgiven ;)). Omar Sy’s character was a nice ray of positivity in Buck’s otherwise tough life.

Overall, it’s an adventure tale that has stood the test of time, and made for a lovely evening’s viewing.

Released: 19th February 2020
Viewed: 21st February 2020
Running time: 100 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 7.5/10

Dolittle (2020)

dolittle poster

Following the death of his beloved wife, Dr John Dolittle has no heart left in him to continue treating the animals to which he can speak. Locked away in his home-come-nature reserve, surrounded by animal friends, what will it take to bring Dolittle back into the world?

I had very little interest in seeing this movie, to be honest, but it was a bit of a group compromise. And hey, Robert Downey Jr. And some excellent special effects with talking animals, all voiced very well by a starry cast that includes Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, Octavia Spencer, and Tom Holland. And, urm… yeah, no, it did nothing for me.

Where to begin? Most of all, I just didn’t really care – not for the lead, nor the youthful hangers on, or even much for the animals (!) somehow (the squirrel lost me as soon as it opened its mouth). I most identified with the ostrich (Kumail Nanjiani), stroppy and not wanting to be part of things.

Visually it all looks pretty great, sure. And yet I never had a real ‘wow’ moment. Tonally, throwing in something utterly fantastical kind of felt for the sake of it, than part of the plot. And don’t get me started on the ‘exotic’ island ruled by pirates.

The voice actors and RDJ – although not his ‘hmm’ Welsh accent, that to my ears wasn’t just off (and frequently slipping) but sapped a lot of performance oomph – can probably walk away okay, but I’d suggest the rest of the human cast, including Jessie Buckley, Antonio Banderas, and Michael Sheen hamming it up to heaven, possibly just omit this one from their CVs.

I dunno. Maybe the kids will love it. Personally, while it wasn’t (as half-expected, utterly) awful – in fact, after a tough day, I did sort of appreciate the sweetness and a few of the attempts at humour – I can only suggest that you don’t bother. Overall: meh.

Released: 7th February 2020
Viewed: 14th February 2020
Running time: 101 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 5/10