Film review POTC5 SR/DMTNT

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If you weren’t able to work it out from the title (or the image above) this is a review for Pirates of the Caribbean 5, otherwise known as Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge, also known as Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead men tell no tales. The reason for two equally forgettable subtitles is currently unknown but could possibly be connected to trademarks or cultural connotations. Whatever the reason it’s no less annoying when you search for a film online and face a barrage of confusion with titles.

The latter title seems like typical POTC and is about intriguing as a freshly warm present from a pet puppy. Dead men and walking corpses are not exactly original in this franchise and Dead Men Tell No Tales could practically have been the title of any of them. Salazar’s Revenge at the very least is a title you could hear and just about recall the plot (what there is of it) even if you’d struggle to differentiate this film from the rest of the series in a couple of film’s time. But then that’s not really the point with POTC. As with much longer running film series James Bond, this is a winning money-making formula where originality and memorability don’t matter on a film by film basis but meeting the expectations of the genre and the direction of the series as a whole wins fans. Even fans of James Bond films would struggle to match a plot with a title but they remember lines, they remember iconic characters and they remember weapons and gadgets.

POTC5 is a curious beast. It’s a bit of a jumble of other elements from previous films and in my opinion it is littered with many great moments and fantastic scenes that don’t join up to make a good movie. It’s difficult to explain why this is because so much of it is very enjoyable, the special effects are good, the moments that are supposed to be tense are tense and some of it is very very funny. It’s also very silly and nonsensical but then you don’t watch these films if you don’t like Johnny Depp goofing about and guffawing whilst his character experiences ever more bizarre danger. If you expect thought-provoking, high-quality comedy drama then you are going to be disappointed. To enjoy this film you must switch off and lighten up, sometimes a bit of escapism is ok…. although I would argue if you have to switch off your whole brain just to enjoy a film, it has failed completely.

POTC5 may not be completely switch off and don’t resuscitate for two hours but it is pretty close. As with other films in the series the character motivations never quite add up, the laws of the universe change constantly for the convenience of the plot and the story is completely stupid but the makers’ intention is clearly to provide beginning to end excitement in the form of comedy, outlandish stunts or dramatic story-telling. The trouble is that it misses this target. There are some genuinely boring moments because the film struggles to keep that pace for over two hours. There are even a few wtf moments that come out of nowhere and contribute nothing to the film. This would be one of the biggest issues with this addition and others in the series; the lack of bin feed littering the editing room floor, those editors should have been up to their knees in the absolute guff filmed if not for a few stars who would be a little displeased.

But there are some good things going for this film. I found much of it very funny and if you ignore the factual inaccuracies very entertaining. There is even some strong acting talent with Javier Bardem receiving most of the praise from other critics. Depp is undoubtedly a good actor but he spends the whole film doing his usual OTT silly camp pirate impression, which you either love or you hate. I think this is one of the better films in the series but I’m not going to remember watching it in a year from now. If you fancy a trip to the cinema and you have money to burn for the inflated ticket price you could do worse than watch this and get exactly what you expect. Or you could stay at home and stick something on the TV or Netflix.


Alien covenant: A new low for Alien

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Oh dear Ridley, what have you done? I’m a huge fan of Alien (1979) but this film was not just a huge disappointment but painfully bad even without comparison to the original film, even in the wake of the half-arsed Prometheus (2012). And yet I can see why some fans of Alien have loved this film. Billed as a return to Scotts vision of the franchise, closer in tone and style to the first outing of the Xenomorph, almost a reboot of yet another classic, it is understandable that some fans will eat this up. But I am here to explain (with spoilers) why this film is a new low for the Alien franchise.

The first Alien was more horror than sci-fi but with subsequent films in the franchise, the mantra that “in space no one can hear you scream” was sadly forgotten and the tone shifted. Covenant is a welcome return to deep-space horror but sadly in emulating horror it lacks all originality and relies on the tropes of the past. This feels like a standard haunted house affair with some impressive jumpy moments but a lot lacking in between. As with many typical horror films, the characters here are stupid enough to get themselves in ridiculously dangerous situations, the villains are implausibly indestructible, the heroes predictably die in the order that we are supposed to care about them and the whole plot is completely nonsensical.

Of course, with horror the plot is secondary to the atmosphere and feelings of dread but its really hard to care about the characters here or share that feeling of horror. Firstly, it’s obvious that as a prequel, all the crew must die and the alien species must be spread from this planet, so there is no anticipation or tension and I found all the twists blindingly obvious. Whenever you don’t see a character die onscreen but their death is important to the plot it becomes evident that they will return to affect the plot later. It takes a long time to get to the genuinely scary moments and the build up fails to get us to care about the characters. The fact that all the crew are made up of couples seems pointless when one member of the couple dies before we get to know them as a couple and there is a limit to how many times we can relate to a grieving partner whose name we barely remember. As crew they are utterly useless given that the ship can pilot itself and a robot can do their job better whilst they spend most of the journey asleep. They go on to fail their duty to the colonists in so many ways and show no signs of even basic scientific knowledge. They head to a planet with no idea of the atmosphere or ecology and seem barely surprised that there is Earth-like plant life but no animal life. The idea of infection or foreign bodies is completely ‘alien’ to them and the reaction to unexplained deaths for all the crew is to get them back on board the ship with thousands of people. This crew deserves to die.

All in all, this film is practically a remake of Alien but nowhere near as good. The retroactive rewrite of Alien and its sequels is more annoying and confusing rather than the satisfying retroactive plotting of Rogue One to the Star Wars franchise. The ideas of humanity, religion and creation, which dominate the prequel series aren’t as thought-provoking as the filmmakers think and they become clunky cliches that weigh down the plot and get in the way of the action. They don’t explain David’s actions or any of the crew’s motivation. Michael Fassbender may be excellent in this but I still struggle to understand his character even as a great villain.

Ultimately this series is an origin story that didn’t need telling and takes more away from the franchise than it adds. I would sooner see it written out of canon than the AVP additions but then Prometheus wasn’t supposed to be a direct prequel. All that now seems to be out the window and a new prequel-sequel is apparently on the way to join the films up. In surely what amounts to nothing more than a sickening alien-milking (ew) the franchise is being dragged down to its lowest level ever.

Lion – film review

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I accept that many people think this film is brilliant and deserved to win best picture at the oscars. It was recommended to me by a friend although I didn’t particularly fancy it. So I will admit that I’m not the best person to review it and that my opinion here is just that. However, I’m not a big fan of this film.

I’m not really a fan of true stories sexed up by the film industry just to play on emotional heart strings. Whilst cinema can bring worthy untold stories into general public knowledge just as Hidden Figures highlights a little known moment in black history and aerospace history, I’m not convinced the story of Lion is as sensational as everyone suggests. There is a brief caption at the end of the film detailing how many children sleep rough in India but I don’t see the film raising much profile for lost and homeless children (hopefully some of the $113 million taken at the box office will go to the cause) because the focus of the story seems to be how one child got lost on a train, adopted in Australia and miraculously found his home two decades later. That’s the story that everyone is shocked by, not that there are millions of Indian children living on the streets and millions living and working in poverty.

For me this story is the perfect three minute Google Earth ad (it actually was an ad for Google maps) but it isn’t a feature length film, which is why the film needs to be split into two stories. The better half of the film, the section retelling Saroo’s childhood experiences and his days living alone on the streets, has been rewritten for cinema and extended to transform an opening chapter into an opening half. The second half has Dev Patel moping about, being a moody student, not doing anything particularly interesting, until one day he happens to hit a breakthrough on Google Earth. There is a little bit of sentimentality about his adopted mother and most people would be moved by the reunion at the end of the film but I don’t really see the appeal in making an audience cry if there’s no deeper meaning or thought-provoking power.

If you haven’t seen this film and think I’ve just given you a spoiler, trust me I haven’t. It would be difficult to give spoilers for this film because there isn’t really a plot beyond the concept of the film. If you’ve seen the trailer you’ve seen the film. Apart from some good acting from the young protagonist in the first half, there isn’t much else going for this film unless you like a weepy, slow-moving drama. Clearly, I don’t.

Trainspotting/T2 double review

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After watching T2 Trainspotting last month I left the cinema in awe and wonder, having watched what I would describe as a masterpiece in tone, writing and beautiful cinema-making, and I made a resolution to revisit the 1996 original, both to re-experience the special quality of the first film, driven by the incredible nostalgia ignited by T2, and also to see whether retrospectively the film lives up to its reputation and matches the sequel in quality of filmmaking. Yes, you read that right. I wanted to see if Trainspotting was as good as the sequel.

Every review compares the new film to the predecessor. It’s impossible not to reference the Danny Boyle classic since this film is a nostalgia trip for fans of the original and a personal project for the director and the actors to return to the characters and the story that represent such a key point in their career. There is so much love for that film that it stands to reason that there would be enormous pressure on a sequel and that most critics would be pessimistically hoping the new film would meet expectations rather than entertaining the idea that it might be better. I wouldn’t want to say that either film is better but I would say that Danny Boyle has grown as a director getting better and better. I spent a good hour of T2 amazed at every single sequence, every shot was perfect and as I say the result was beautiful. That’s not an adjective I would use for Trainspotting.

At this point I should say that prior to watching T2 I only saw Trainspotting once and it was several years ago. It wasn’t quite 21 years ago though as I would have been 7 years old and probably not the right age to appreciate this dark, tragic and comic, hard-hitting drama. After watching the film a second time, I can tell you that the film still packs a punch and even on the second viewing it still manages to shock, but to say the film isn’t any less relevant would be a lie. The film is still brilliant but what made the film so culturally significant was how it became embedded in popular culture, how it shaped British cinema, how it summed up a culture at that time. It would be foolish to try and recreate that film today.

There are many moments in the film that are repulsive. The controversies are not just plain to see but are pounced upon and stretched as far as they can go, not for the sake of selling tickets but to aim for truth and a real sense of tragedy. But for all the horrible emotions this film stirs there is a real heart and likability to the cult classic, whether you’re from Leith and know first hand the world these characters inhibit, or you’re American, middle-class and privileged. I believe that everyone can relate to these characters and considering the dark circumstances they represent that is astonishing. Boyle’s superb use of music and the undercurrent of dark humour probably has something to do with it.

The tone created in that original film was fantastic so it is surprising that a completely different tone is established in the sequel. Actually it’s not that surprising given I already said it would be foolish to recreate Trainspotting today. T2 is nostalgic and self-referential, written for fans of the first film, made to revisit the 1990s fondly and bring back pleasant and not so pleasant memories, but it is also a very different beast, a film that has no intention of emulating its predecessor or copying the past. This is not like Jurassic World or The force awakens, both of which play on nostalgia and end up being remakes of their predecessors (very good remakes but still remakes). No, Danny Boyle has taken what would inevitably be a central focus in this film, the ideas of nostalgia and ageing, and made this the key themes in his new drama. This film doesn’t share the same hard-hitting subject of the earlier masterpiece but it is nonetheless a brilliant exploration of getting old and not growing wiser, of returning to face your demons and of struggling with change and no change.

I can easily understand why some critics feel that it doesn’t live up to the first film. But in truth, comparing the two films as I have done, is a little meaningless. If not for the continuous references to the earlier work, the two could be seen as entirely separate works. And I saw the film with people who hadn’t seen the first film who seemed to enjoy it enormously. I doubt in fact that they would have shown similar admiration for the other film, which is overall a much harder watch. T2 is still dark and comic but probably funnier in tone and slightly less controversial. Popular music is as ever with Danny Boyle put to excellent use but to my mind this film is far more polished and shows a wealth of experience that has amassed over the last two decades. But as I say it is churlish to compare the two.

La La Land review

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There has been so much love for this musical that it is difficult to criticise the film without resorting to ‘personal opinion’ or coming across as someone who the film was simply not made for. In discussing the film verbally, I have frequently heard the words ‘pretentious’, ‘slow’ and ‘tortuous’ but more often I’ve heard ‘I don’t like musicals’ and ‘it’s not my type of film’. For my part though, I consider my criticism as valid, since I love musicals and I was really looking forward to this film.

The main problem is the songs. They are just not good enough. No matter how beautiful the cinematography, no matter how good the dance numbers, no matter how good the plot, without good music the musical genre is unbearable. It’s a shame because the cinematography is so beautiful, but as for the dance numbers and plot, you can throw them in the banal category. The truth is the mid 20th century musicals that inspired this film were much more exciting, had much better musical numbers and more interesting plots.

This film revolves around a couple and their not particularly interesting life ambitions. Her dream is to become an actress, which I suppose is perfect for the self-indulgent Hollywood obsessed Oscars, but the story of a girl trying to make it in LA is not exactly original. His dream is to open a successful jazz club without giving in to any modernisation or ‘selling out’, as if jazz musicians are obsessed with the past when in fact jazz is about experimentation and breaking rules. He keeps telling us how great jazz music is, but the film doesn’t give us any outstanding jazz music.

What’s good about La La Land is the very modern approach to recreating that CinemaScope style of films. The film felt fresh and exciting in style and technique when most mainstream cinema is filmed the same way but despite this most of the film was boring and forgettable. There is a sequence near the very end, which sums up how the film could have been. This sequence by itself is a damn good short film. It has more action and plot than the entire first hour, it has better music (all instrumental so no poor singing) and fantastic cinematography. But the audience who would appreciate it most would probably be well asleep for the final part of the film.

Rogue One, a review

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As a Star Wars fan it was always going to be extremely difficult to review Rogue one (2016) without getting trapped by fanboy disappointment or fanboy enthusiasm. Still, I’m happy to report it was absolutely amazing and if anyone tells you different they’re wrong. I enjoyed it “much” more than last years Force Awakens, although it was safe to say the pressure was off slightly and I knew much more what to expect than with episode VII, which was essentially  starting a whole knew chapter in a story that had happily concluded.

It is still hard to explain why it’s such a good film. You could argue that without the context of the original trilogy, it wouldn’t be any better than any other $200 million dollar blockbuster, but that would be a silly argument. This film can only be judged in that context. In fact, the question is not whether Rogue is a good film or even whether this is a good Star Wars film, but whether this film improves the franchise or sticks out like an unnecessary note between the paycheques of Lucas’ catalogue.

One thing this film does particularly well is pay homage to those original films and play to the dreams of millions of fans. It answers the questions that you never knew that you wanted the answers to until the satisfying moment the new film reveals all. I’m not saying that there are not times when you may feel slightly cheated and experience that dreaded feeling that Disney may be about to rewrite the past, but all in all the film fits very snugly in Star Wars continuity and fills a gap in the story that genuinely existed. The Force Awakens on the other hand creates a huge gap and starts a whole new plot, which currently has more holes in it than the death star.

I really enjoyed The Force Awakens, but I enjoyed this more. It just felt more like a Star Wars film. The effects are of course incredible but it’s the plot that makes it. And in my mind, this film has improved not just the franchise but the original trilogy, though it won’t stop me being nervous when they release the next prequel.