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Movie Reviews

(or another form of procrastination for me to indulge in when I should be writing novels.)

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Ghostbusters (2016)

OK, the knives were out for this film as soon as the first trailer came online, and to be fair I can see why. It did look more like one of those Scooby-Doo films than proper Ghostbusters, but we live in an era of CGI, so cartoon-like ghosts are inevitable. Sony responded to these haters by saying it was a misogynist issue. I don't think that was the case. Sci-fi nerds, and I know because I count myself among their number, love nothing more than seeing empowered women kicking ass - how many complaints do you remember about Rey being allowed to use a lightsaber in The Force Awakens?

So, to the film that many already hate before seeing it. It opens well, with a tour guide (Yes, it's Jared from Silicon Valley!) showing a bunch of people around a supposedly haunted house. This is a well-judged and measured scene that takes its time to get to... what it gets to. It's a very loose reworking of the opening scene of the original, with the old librarian woman now a young man - these gender reversals pop up a lot during the film and if you want to call that feminism, then good luck to you.

While we're on the subject, much has been made of Chris Hemsworth's comic turn as the Ghostbusters's 'himbo' secretary. Is the fact that they hire a complete idiot because they all, especially Kirsten Wiig, fancy him, also striking a blow for feminism? It didn't come across that way to me. So a man hiring a woman who's a moron but looks pretty is wrong, but when women do it, it's girl power? For all the crying Sony did about misogynists, I'm not sure they're setting a great example to 'all the little girls who need strong female role models'. I was more reminded of Arabella Weir's character from The Fast Show.

I think the main problem I have with this film is the casting. Don't get me wrong, I have loved Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy for a long time in various roles. Leslie Jones may not be playing the most original character, but she does it well and certainly delivers the laughs, and as for Kate McKinnon, well, it may be a case of love at first sight for me. I'm not disputing the acting abilities of these women, but they are all comedic actors.

This may be blasphemy to some, but I'm going to say it anyway: I don't think Ghost Busters (1984) is a comedy. I think it's a drama with some great jokes and one brilliantly wise-cracking character. The mix of Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray, who have both proved themselves in dramatic roles, mixed with the stellar SNL comics is what makes the first film work. It's a question of threat. When the third act starts in the original there are moments of genuine threat as the stakes are raised. This reboot is a straight-forward comedy, so you know no-one's going to die in the finale, and that equals no threat and no tension. Maybe if they had thrown some actresses into the mix who have strong track records in both comedy and drama - Sandra Bullock, Reese Witherspoon - we might have actually been worrying about the characters instead of watching an elaborate dance routine with ghosts and gags.

The cameos from the original cast are brief, not funny, and forgettable. The post credits bit is only about 30 seconds long, and you do have to sit through a fair bit of bad music to get to it, including that terrible cover version of Ray Parker Jr.'s classic song.

So I left feeling very ambiguous about this film. I did laugh on many occasions, many more than most of the cine-illiterate teens I was sharing the experience with, but I don't think I would care if I never saw this film again, and that's what really separates this from the '84 movie. It's not going to go down as a classic, but then I don't think many studios think in those terms nowadays. They're in it for the fast buck; so if it opens well and makes a lot of dosh using spectacle over substance, then that's what they're going to keep doing, and if this film ends up in the DVD bargain bin in Poundland in 12 months time, they won't care because they'll already have made their profit and (if the post credits gag is anything to go by) be well on the way to churning out another.

An average comedy, but a below-average remake.

Phil's Rating: 4/10

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Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

Itís sad that I only ever seem to write these reviews when a movie has really disappointed me. Iíd like to be able to write a positive one, so come on, Hollywood, make some decent movies!

OK, so the original isnít a 5 star movie, but Iíd say itís a solid 4/5. Itís big, silly popcorn fun, but the real reason it endures is because it has characters we care about (remember characters, Hollywood? Theyíre the bits that arenít CGI). ID4 (as we called it back in the day, young hipsters that we were) spent a lot of time setting up real people in real lives, with real problems. The people weíre supposed to identify with in Regurgence are children of heroes and presidents, and people who live on the moon! Do you see where Iím going here? The ĎWhat if this really happened?í angle is completely tossed out the window because weíre in a world we donít recognise, expected to care about people I would walk a mile to avoid.

What really annoys me about sequels like this is how they show complete disdain for the good movie that came before. In ID4 we see Jeff Goldblum, cable guy extraordinaire, not only save the Earth, but get his wife back after three years of separation. He never gave up hope. He still wore the wedding band. God, he must have REALLY loved her. So where is she? She doesnít even rank a mention in this film. You could have said she was dead, like Will Ďbust the budgetí Smith. You could have just said she was at home baking scones, but no, we need to insinuate that Jeffís a big virile male and that French bird will eventually fall into bed with him, thereby showing Jeff as not a forever-loyal husband, but some shallow guy who bangs hero-groupies.

There is an attempt to replicate the Ďkids in dangerí aspect of ID4 when a bunch of kids arrive from nowhere driving a car and cry a bit, but itís so clumsily handled we feel nothing for them, so then they up the ante and make it a busload of kids and kindly old Judd Hirsch decides to drive them to the epicentre of the battle so theyíll be safe. Letís all roll our eyes together.

The more I think about this film, the worse it gets, so I better stop soon, but I will just have a little rant about tossing fanboys a bone. Who spotted the Jurassic Park mirror shot when Jeffís driving the bus? Or the Citizen Kane shot at the end? Did the alien maybe say: ĎRosebudí as it died? :-) Look, Roland Emmerich and your army of writers, those little nods have to be earned. To put references to great films in one so below average doesnít impress us, it just reminds us that we could be home watching one of those classics instead of here watching the cinematic equivalent of root-canal surgery.

As I said at the start, Hollywood just isnít making very good movies at the moment. Sure, there are little indie gems out there if you look, but the big studio stuff just isnít cutting it, and whatís worse isÖ they donít care. They donít care if a movie is good or bad, all they care about is if it makes money, which is why they target these movies at six year-olds with Attention Deficit Disorder.

Sort yourselves out, Hollywood.

Phil's rating: 2/10

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Jupiter Ascending (2015)

OK, what the hell is going on in Hollywood? Is it something in the water? Why do talented film-makers go there and completely forget how to make movies? Yes, I said forget. Iím well aware there are many directors working in Hollywood who NEVER knew how to make movies and are still inexplicably allowed to continue working (Iím looking at you, McG), but Iím talking about people like M. Night Shyamalan and John Carpenter off the top of my head, who unquestionably DID know how to make movies at one time, and now donít. Is there something happening in Hollywood; a subversive, sci-fi conspiracy which somehow sucks the creativity out of anyone within the boundary of LA county? Itís a story so fantastic and implausible it just might be true. Whether itís true or not, it should be made into a movie, but who would direct it Ė ah, thereís the Catch 22.

Another name to add to this list is The Wachowskis. I donít keep up with tabloid gossip so I have only recently realised that they are no longer The Wachowski Brothers (Andy & Larry) because Larry is now Lana. Yes, heís had a sex change and though I doubt this alters their ability to direct films, I thought Iíd mention it because maybe there are others out there even more out of touch with celeb gossip than me.

So how is it that the visionaries who brought us The Matrix (and the under-rated Bound) are now incapable of telling a story on film? Of course The Matrix itself was a complicated story with a couple of big exposition dumps, while Reloaded had one of the longest and most tongue-tying, brain-frying explanations Iíve ever seen at the end of a major film, but they still sort of got away with it because we were willing to forgive a lot just as long as we got a Matrix sequel or two.

Since then their output has been spotty to say the least. Personally, I hated the Technicolor barf that was Speed Racer and although it seems interesting, I have yet to make it through Cloud Atlas without falling asleep. At three hours itís the sort of movie you have to be in the right frame of mind before you sit down to watch it, and here I think is the problem with The Wachowskis in one word: indulgence. Theyíve let the story get away from them. I think because The Matrix films earned a bajillion dollars it seems they get a blank cheque, both financially and creatively, to do what they want now. And like George Lucas, they donít seem to have anyone around them to slap them across their chops and say, "Get this down to 100 mins and have it make sense!"

So (finally) to the specifics of whatís wrong with Jupiter Ascending. Well, the short answer is LOTS. An incoherent plot is a good place to start. Seriously, I was totally baffled by what was going on most of the time and just ended up watching the CGI action scenes like a child might, enjoying the spectacle but not knowing what on Earth it has to do with anything.

The production design reminds me of those old sci-fi movies where everyone on the planet dresses the same, except the rulers, who wear extremely impractical clothes and are as camp as Christmas. Eddie Redmayne, what were you thinking? Maybe his terrible accent wasnít his choice, like the ridiculous po-faced dialogue it may have been The Wachowskis doing.

The thing I hate most about this film though is its complete mis-use of the lovely Mila Kunis. She does little more than fall and scream and wait to be saved by Channing Tatum and his flying roller-blades, and always just in the nick of time before she does something catastrophic to the galaxy. If you look at Milaís character-arc it seems the lesson she learns from this intergalactic adventure is to take joy in cleaning toilets. Far from ascending to display traits of her genetic noble birth, she seems more interested in getting a boyfriend with great pecs (if slightly dodgy ears) than she does with saving the Earth and stuff like that. I thought we were past female characters who just got tied to the train tracks and screamed until they were saved by some hunky beefcake, but even in this futuristic landscape it appears all women need to be rescued by a man. Given the fact that Larry is now Lana, itís even harder to see how they ever created a character like this and thought it was OK.

Some interesting action set-pieces and good CGI doesnít make up for the overall mess this film is. Maybe if you watched it half a dozen times or more, you might get an inkling of what the hell the storyís about, but when itís this bad, whoís going to bother?

Phil's rating: 2/10

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Carrie (2013)

I really should know by now not to get my hopes up about remakes, especially remakes of films that are pretty much damn near perfect to start with. So why does Hollywood keep churning out inferior retreads that (even they must know) are never going to surpass the original?

The simple fact is a lot of teens are way too cool to watch a movie that was made in 1976 and doesnít even have basic CGI in it!!!! Itís true these soulless, Readerís Digest remakes are made for the masses, most of whom will never know or care whether itís a good or bad movie; to them cinema is just a flickering light that will hypnotise them for an hour or two, like a rabbit in the headlights, and the experience will not extend beyond the sticky carpet and smell of stale popcorn.

For some of us, though, a movie is much more, and a good one stays with you for months, years, or even a lifetime.

OK, rant over. To specifics about whatís wrong with this particular remake.

For a start, Chloe Grace Moretz is much too pretty to be Carrie White. You could try to make the argument that her insane mother would still make her an outcast, but take it from someone who was once a teenage boy: if a girl is beautiful, guys will ignore a hell of a lot to be with her. Sissy Spacek was perfect casting in DePalmaís film; sheís not exactly ugly, which makes her prom transformation believable, but sheís a long way from being the school sexbomb. Sheís justÖ plain.

Julianne Moore is more uglied-up for her role as Carrieís religiously fanatical mother, but even she doesnít come across as half the nut-job that Piper Laurie was.

Since large sections of this remake are taken verbatim from DePalmaís movie, where does it all go wrong? Well, it drops certain key scenes that tell us exactly who everyone is. Chris and Billy in the car with her calling him stupid and him slapping her; that scene tells you a lot about both of them, but the remake assumes if they just stick someone in a leather jacket and a fast car it does the same job. It doesnít! Chris getting an almost sexual thrill from watching Billy kill the pig. Again the fudged attempt in the remake to have them be equally vicious ruins the dynamic of the relationship.

I think, however, the biggest mistake is how the prom massacre is handled. Who can forget that vacant look in Sissy Spacekís eyes as she lets rip upon her classmates; itís like she goes into a trance and her primal urge for revenge takes over. You could almost argue sheís isnít there when everyone gets their comeuppance. But in this version, Carrie is in control of her powers as we have seen her develop them throughout the film. In short, she knows what sheís doing when she slaughters everyone, and this makes us lose all sympathy for her. Instead of a wounded kitten lashing out with its claws, she now becomes a ravenous tigress in a playground.

In the original movie the one thing I felt was worse than what happens to Carrie at the prom is what happens after. She has to go back to her psychotic mother and admit she was right. That broke my heart in the original, but in this retelling I had no such feelings.

Sissy Spacekís Carrie was a victim, and despite what she did at the prom, you got the feeling she would always be a victim. Her one act of rebellion against her mother ended in disaster (understatement!) and as she reluctantly trudges home with her prom dress ruined, you know she would probably never have the courage to stand up to her mother again. Chloe Grace Moretzís Carrie takes revenge on everyone with such relish (she takes her time with some of them) that itís impossible to believe sheíll ever let her mother lock her in her cupboard again. Itís impossible to believe sheíll take shit from anyone ever again, which may be all very PC and 21st-century-empowered-female-friendly, but it destroys the character and any empathy we have for her.

Oh, and just one more point. Brian DePalma practically invented the Ďlast scare when you think everythingís overí and anyone whoís seen the original Carrie knows that last scare is a doozy. The remake tries to do something similar. It fails. Miserably. The last Ė what do I call it? It isnít a scare Ė the last CGI pile of crap, is just confusing and stupid.

A fitting end to this film.

Phil's Rating: 2/10

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Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

OK, I liked this movie, not as much as the original, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but itís a solid movie. The only things that niggle me are the same as in JJís first Star Trek movie; too much lens flare and the bridge of the Enterprise looking like an Apple store.

Oh, and the score. I donít remember anything about the score to STID, which means it definitely isnít on a par with James Hornerís incredible soundtrack to The Wrath of Khan. This was Hornerís finest hour and, for me at least, is up there with Star Wars, ET, Superman, Indiana Jones and Close Encounters as one of the best movie scores ever.

There are enough nods to the original (and some nice line-swapping) to keep the die-hards happy, but it is also its own film. Benedict Cumberbatch is a more quietly menacing Khan than Ricardo Montalbanís unhinged villain and the sub-plot about war-mongering and divided loyalties is all down to JJ Abrams and his team, and itís all good. JJ should be given a firm pat on the back for coming up with some original shots and sequences in such a well-worn franchise.

ButÖ. The big talking point about this film is a two second shot of Alice Eve in her underwear, so Iíd like to weigh in with my thoughts on this. 

Firstly, why is this such a big deal? We had a shot of Uhura and that green alien chick in their underwear in JJís first movie and no one said anything about it, so why all of a sudden is this sexist?

I donít think it is. In fact, you could make the argument that Carol Marcus is initiating the sexual relationship that is to come, (in the original timeline they have a son, David, together so there must be some attraction) and why shouldnít she? Sheís an assertive, enlightened twenty-third century gal. By this stage in the movie she has got a pretty good handle on Kirk and she probably knows heís the sort of bloke whoís led around by hisÖ gut instinct, shall we say.

If that doesnít sway you, then spare a thought for the hardcore Trekkies, watching this in their basement while wearing their Starfleet uniform and surrounded by limited edition memorabilia; this may be the only chance they ever get to see a pretty girl in her underwear.

I think JJ and his writers were too eager to apologize for this and didnít really think it through. Remember weíre two centuries in the future, and maybe, just maybe, things have changed. Maybe in the twenty-third century women arenít ashamed to show a bit of skin to get a man to follow them and do whatever they say.

Phil's Rating: 8/10

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Man of Steel (2013)

Man of Steel was possibly the most anticipated movie of the year, but Zack Snyderís vision of our Kryptonian hero lacks the heart of Richard Donnerís classic and substitutes story for spectacle.

Right from the beginning I feared that this film was going to lack originality; the ships flying around Krypton bore a striking resemblance to those at the end of Attack of the Clones, but getting spacecraft from a George Lucas yard sale is least of its problems. Instead of playing this sequence for emotion, itís reduced to an unnecessary action set piece that sets the tone for the entire film.

We are robbed of what happens once little Kal-El gets to Earth and this is a huge mistake. The Kents finding the crashed spacecraft, and then discovering he has superhuman strength are key moments for both the characters and the audience, but Snyder decides to skip them completely and starts the story when all the wonder of those discoveries has passed. Instead, we first meet Clark as a young man working on a fishing boat and we see him rescue some oil rig workers without a care for concealing his identity.

Half the fun of Superman was seeing how he balanced his secret identity with a normal life, but he has revealed his powers so often it seems everyone in Smallville knows about him, which makes his failure to save Jonathan Kent really stupid. In Donnerís version, his dad dies of a heart-attack and Clark says: ďAll these things I can do, all these powers I have and I couldnít even save him.Ē This not only makes you emotionally connect with the character, but it also gives Superman his reason to try to save others from the hurt that he has experienced. In Man of Steel he could have saved his dad from the ridiculously contrived twister, but doesnít because a couple of dozen people, who probably already know about him anyway, might see him.

All these people who have seen him do amazing things leads nicely on to how easily Lois finds him. The Lois and Clark love story is never given time to grow, instead they have two conversations Ė neither of them is even vaguely flirtatious or show any signs of mutual attraction Ė and then at the end they smooch like teenagers. Letís forget for a second that Superman is way too moral to lead on some woman heís just met, but where are the seeds of this romance? Nowhere!

Mark Kermode, before seeing Man of Steel, said he hoped the makers had the courage to make Superman vulnerable, because a hero who is unable to be hurt isnít interesting. I agree with this to a point, but IĎve always considered Supermanís greatest vulnerability to be that he cares for people, his emotional vulnerability has always been more interesting to me. In Donnerís first movie he is only able to be hurt because of Kryptonite, but the real pain comes from not being able to save Lois. In Superman II where he gives up his powers and gets beat up by the truck driver in the diner we see him physically hurt, but even then the emotional choice of choosing between the love of his life and rest of humanity is where we really feel him hurting.

I felt Man of Steel went too far the other way, with Superman getting knocked on his ass by machine gun fire and bombs, stuff that wouldnít have caused previous incarnations to blink.

Apart from the ending going on too long, the other main failing was that Superman needed help dispatching the baddies. Again, this just made the character look weak. The ĎLetís give everyone something to do in the finaleí approach reminded me of the JJ Abrams Star Trek movies, but it works in them because theyíre supposed to operate as a team. We want to see Superman defeat the baddies, not Amy Adams and some army guys. Otherwise, it kind of defeats the purpose of him being there, doesnít it?

Henry Cavill is a brilliant Superman, but he deserved a better debut than this. Amy Adams, Laurence Fishburne, Diane Lane and Kevin Costner all do fine with the limited lines they have. Fishburneís Perry White is particularly pointless and underwritten. The scenes with Costner are some of the most interesting, but the flashback nature of the film means you donít get to spend enough consecutive time with him to care when he dies. Michael Shannon stays on the right side of crazed baddie and is a totally credible General Zod, though I did feel having more lackeys around him does dilute his power rather than increase it.

The incessant drums of Zimmerís score certainly amp up the adrenaline in the fight scenes, but itís forgettable. I challenge you to hum the melody to Man of Steel after seeing it. They should have stuck with John Williamsís score, which is now as much a part of Superman mythology as the red cape.

Snyder has tried to put The Dark Knightís brooding tone on a franchise it doesnít suit and failed miserably. Itís a film which avoids emotion at all costs and has banished any humour to the phantom zone.

Phil's Rating: 3/10

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