It – Movie Review

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

movie reviewI haven’t seen the 1990 TV Mini Series of IT for quite some time now but remember liking it. Watching it when I was younger definitely scared me. Even if they had to tone down the scary parts since it was made for TV. Especially the first part with the kids, I found nicely done. Audiences since then grew desensitized I think and therefor a new interpretation of Stephen King’s novel had to be more shocking and more scary. Did they succeed? Well, to a degree they did.

Instead of setting it in the 60s (like in the book) they updated it to the late 1980 (1989 if I remember right). Moving it there makes absolute sense and enables the second part of the story to play in 2017. If you haven’t seen the TV Mini Series or read the book, the story is pretty simple. A group of kids is forced to battle an shapeshifting entity in a small town. The preferred form of the entity is a clown so it is able to lure kids into a trap more easily. It seems that the creature feeds on fear for the most part. Every 27 years or so it comes out of the shadows and haunts that small town. Kids disappear left and right and no one seems to wonder about it. Our ‘Losers Club’ of kids wants to end it and find out what happened to newly missed kids. Among these missing kids is the younger brother of Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher). Along with his friends Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly (Sophia Lillis) and Mike (Chosen Jacobs) he wants to find his brother and find out what is going on in the town. All of them get a scary visit by IT/Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard), which makes them bond even tighter. In the end they all decide to muster up the courage to fight IT.

The film is trying to balance the more scary horror elements with the experience the kids have in the late 1980s. The film manages it to create a nice atmosphere and paints a nice picture of the time. We see how that group of friends comes together through their experiences with Pennywise. All of them have to go through some nightmarish things and they soon understand that there is more going on than just missing children. All of the kids are very good but the standout for me is Beverly played by Sophia Lillis. She did a fantastic job of portraying her character as (in my eyes) the toughest and, at the same time, most vulnerable character of the group. If I were part of that group I would have probably fallen in love with her. All of the kids get their moment to shine and they all use it. Some good direction by Andy Muschietti. All of them had my sympathy and I wanted the group of kids to succeed and beat Pennywise.

Talking about Pennywise! The iconic portrayal of Pennywise by Tim Curry in the 1990 Mini Series was outstanding. Even if he only had a couple of scenes throughout the 3h runtime… he managed to leave a strong impression. Bill Skarsgard had to fill these expectations. The direction, art design and presentation of Pennywise in this new film definitely helped to bring him close to Tim Curry’s performance. I would say they both are equally good. And both are slightly different takes on the character. All of the scenes with Pennywise worked and delivered some creepy moments. My favourite is a scene where our group of kids check out some dia pictures to learn more about the past of the town. Suddenly hell breaks loose.

The creepy and scare scenes are the ones a film like this is measured by and the film certainly delivers. In the beginning we see how Bill’s brother gets captured by Pennywise and immediately know that it’s a film for adults. It sets the right mood and what’s at stake right from the get go. Loved that decision! Throughout the film I admit I had some goosebumps here and there (which only very rarely happens!). But I cannot figure out why. I wasn’t exactly scared by these particular scenes. In the beginning I noticed that they installed a new Dolby Atmos soundsystem into the theater. Maybe it was indeed the sound design that made me react that way. The sound in this film was mixed very good and certainly added to the thick atmosphere in it. Although I must say that I would have wished for some more quiet sequences. Pretty much all horror scenes are accompanied by loud sound effects. Almost a little too much. Last but not least I must say that the film tried to avoid jumpscare moments. They are there but not used to a degree where it becomes annoying.

Almost a little too much was the rollercoaster ride between the friendship moments of the kids and the horror sequences. The film switched back and forth. It had to do that for the story to make sense and I understand that. All the kids individually needed a scene where they confront their fears. At the end of the film I was on the verge of being a little exhausted by it though. Both the friendship and horror sequences do work nicely. Although I must say that I enjoyed the friendship moments and interaction between the kids (when they’re not part of a horror sequence) a little more. They do have a great chemistry and it shows on screen.

So, will this film become a classic? I really am not sure. It certainly is an above average horror movie and I hope it will find a good audience. It actually did already, being one of the most successful movies this year. Now the task of the filmmakers is to find good personnel for the second chapter of the story, when we see the ‘Losers Club’ as adults. I hope they manage to keep the atmosphere and tone. And with the success of this film they should be able to get a neat cast too. Fingers crossed! However, tonally the second film has to be very different. It’s about adults and the (now so) hip nostalgia beats wouldn’t work and make the film cheap. So they have some work to do to make the two films work as a whole. If they succeed with the second film it could indeed elevate this first film into a ‘modern classic’ status.

It is a nice movie for the big screen. Go see it if you have the chance! Not sure if there is a 3d version but 2d is absolutely fine and enough for this one.

A 7.7/10 for me.

It on IMDb

War for the Planet of the Apes – Movie Review

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

movie reviewThis new Planet Of The Apes series is a phenomenon to me. With a movie landscape going, almost entirely, for heavy and loud vfx spectacles, it is refreshing to see a film that is quiet and almost introvert. A film using vfx only for storytelling and asking questions about what makes us human. And still the series managed to create a fanbase and have some solid success at the box office. Hats off to you Hollywood, you can still do it.

The film starts with a group of soldiers preparing an attack on an ape village. A battle breaks loose and after early successes the battle turns and the soldiers have to retreat. But the losses on both sides are high. We meet Cesar again, the leader of the ape colony and a well known character from the past movies. We immediately notice that he got older and a little more grumpy it seems. He is very unsatisfied about the situation and together with his leaders he plans to move his folks to another, more peaceful, place. Under heavy losses the apes manage to push back the attack of the humans. Unfortunately there are traitors in their ranks and a later suprise attack by the humans takes an unbearable toll on Cesar. He sends his people away and goes for a revenge mission. Soon we find out that his people were captured by the humans Cesar was looking for. Now Cesar has to find a way to free them. And that too takes a high toll on him while he fights demons of the past. He soon learns that co-existence between apes and humans seems to be impossible.

The second film (at least I feel so) did have more action sequences in it. This third film is rather quiet and delivers a rollercoaster ride on more of an emotional level. That goes for both sides, the apes and the humans. Of course our sympathies clearly lean towards the apes. Especially in the moments of loss and when they’re caged in. There still is room for understanding the human perspective though. And the film does a nice job of showing it. On the human side it’s mainly fear and hubris. And that can be nicely observed in the leader of the humans, played by Woody Harrelson. Beside a little girl, he is pretty much the only human we have real contact to. He represents the whole human aspect, their emotions, motivations, fears and he does well in that part. Everything else is more or less focussed on the apes and how they deal with the circumstances.

With that focus on the apes it’s again remarkable how good these creatures look. Now they’re really seamlessly integrated into the live action footage. Most of the time I couldn’t tell at all when they used a puppet and when not. This of course works for the immersive quality of the movie. You soon forget to think that they’re vfx. The emotional range these apes show can be heartbreaking. What Andy Serkis, Steve Zahn and the other actors along with the vfx team did with Cesar and the other apes should be considered for a ton of awards. But not only Cesar is amazing to watch. He’s got a group of friends with him when he embarks on his trip to the human base. All of them are fantastic, have an own character and almost try to out-act each other in certain scenes.

On a technical level I must say that there is not much to complain. I enjoyed the camera work and even the music (even though not really too memorable) has an own character and style. I also liked the editing very much. The film has a good sense of when to keep a shot going and when to cut. Especially in the more emotional scenes. Maybe the pacing could have been a little better organized. I don’t think this film needed to be 140min long. It is a tiny bit too slow here and there.

As a long time fan of the original series I spotted a lot of obvious and not so obvious references in this film. That was nice to see and gave the whole film an extra layer (at least for the die hard fans). I don’t think they will try to connect the old series to the new series (and it would be wrong to do so if you ask me) but I enjoyed these little references.

Is it a theater must see? Probably not. Except you want to marvel at the vfx quality and some really beautiful shots. If you’ve seen the first two films, definitely check it out when it’s on bluray. It’s a fantastic continuation of the story. Great characters, well written and smoothly directed by Matt Reeves.

Even though entirely unnecessary, the 3d felt pretty good in case of this film. Less exhausting in a quieter film and more room for the effect to unfold.

A 7.5/10 for me.

War for the Planet of the Apes on IMDb

Valerian – Movie Review

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

movie reviewHere we go with the most expensive european/independent movie project to date. A movie that did cost something like 200mio dollars (advertising not included) really needs to capture a good audience to make that kind of money back. You can rightfully say that Valerian did bomb at the US boxoffice. So its last chance are the other markets. Especially Europe and China. Of course this film will also be (or is) compared to Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. Which wasn’t exactly a boxoffice hit either. But at least has had a Bruce Willis or Gary Oldman to make people interested.

Valerian is (how could it be something else these days) made after a story from a comic – Valerian & Laureline by Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mézières that started in 1967. If you are familiar with sci-fi movies between 67 and now… you can see how the comic kind of influenced everything that came after it. Especially Star Wars, with its look and characters as one prominent example. Valerian is about two young special agents, Major Valerian (played by Dane DeHaan) and Sergeant Laureline (played by Cara Delevingne). Both are part of the military and have to take care of the more complicated missions that tend to come up every now and then. I haven’t read the comics but from what I gathered it’s a giant mix of everything. From western to hard scifi. The definition ‘Space Opera’ comes to mind. Valerian Director Luc Besson read these as a child and was immediately hooked. When he later decided to make The Fifth Element, we can clearly see that the comics did have some influence on him. Also because french comic artists worked on the concept art for it. He even got asked why he does that Fifth Element movie when he should do his version of Valerian. Valerian, as envisioned by Besson, just wasn’t technically possible at the time. So he waited for the computer technology to catch up.

The film starts with a wonderful and well done intro that explains how the ‘City Of A Thousand Planets’ came into existence. We go through hundreds of years and see the city grow from what can be described as the the ISS to a gigantic structure inhabiting 30 million people of all kinds of races and species. Everyone peacefully living side by side. The situation in this place can best be described as controlled chaos. And it seems to work. Which is cool and sends the right message. The city is now named Alpha.

Then we get another intro that makes us familiar with the planet Mül and its natives. This planet can best be described as paradise. I would love to visit that place… even though I know I would never be able to afford it. Still! Beautiful beaches and fantastic vistas. The folks living there could brothers and sisters from the NaVi species we know from Avatar. Not blue but skinny and tall. Kind of what I imagine humans look like at the end of the book The Forever War. We see them enjoy life and go by their business when suddenly explosions happen and things drop from the sky. Obviously there is a battle happening in orbit and debris is crashing on the planet. How these creatures don’t get wind of the battle going on above their heads is a little beyond me. You can see stars and planets on the horizon but not that giant battle? A huge ship gets hit and crashes onto the planet surface which starts a gigantic shockwave that kills everything. Among the victims is a princess of the natives. Except a couple of the people who were lucky to have found shelter in one of the previously crashed ships. When that princess dies she explodes into some kind of memory beam, traveling through space and looking for the right being to catch it up. That beam finds Valerian and deems him worthy to carry the memory of that planet, its native culture and what happened.

After these two intros we meet Valerian and Laureline fooling around on, what seems to be, a holodeck. Valerian gets up, looks a little confused. But I didn’t get the indication what, what we saw of Mül, was a vision he had. 5 minutes later we learn that he has had a weird dream. However, we immediately learn what these two are about and it never really stops throughout the film. We are constantly reminded that Valerian loves Laureline and wants convince her that he’s not the douchebag womanizer from the past anymore. He’s got only eyes for her. She of course doesn’t really buy it. Even though she does like him quite a bit. Now we have seen this kind of relationship before in (can you guess it?)… Star Wars. Han Solo and Leia Organa. I wouldn’t be surprised if George Lucas didn’t model his two characters after the Valerian comics. There is a big difference though. At least when it comes to the movies. The chemistry between Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher was spot on and worked from the get go. When looking at Empire Strikes Back, where the romance gets in full gear, we have the best example of how to work the romance into the film. It’s cute, funny and makes us care about Han and Leia even more. The way the romance plays out in the Valerian movie is very awkward. DeHaan and Delevingne to me have no chemistry at all. Although you can see that both of them try their best to make it work. However, by the end of the film I did not care more about these two than 120 minutes earlier. While I think Dane DeHaan did a better job, the other folks I saw the film with claimed that Cara Delevingne did a better job and found DeHaan weaker. It’s also save to say that both of them just looked too young. Almost like fresh out of high school. She more than him. And we have to take them as highly qualified space ranger soldier type people. It just didn’t really work. Both of them are sent on a mission to retrieve a creature from a gigantic (Virtual/Augmented Reality?) market place. Here we get a glimpse of the visual power of this film. And it’s fair to say that it’s amazing to look at. Creativity that is missing in so many other formulaic movies these days. They go all in and it pays off. When it comes to the story it’s the start of a “I save you and you save me” chain that we’ll see throughout the film. While it does drive the plot forward it becomes a little much after a while. The creativity saves the movie in these parts. They manage to ‘steal’ the creature and leave behind a frustrated bad gangster boss that surely was supposed to get back in a sequel (which we’ll probably never get). Now after a little more than 30 minutes we finally get to Alpha… or the City of a thousand Planets.

There is a lot of exposition talk in this movie. Of course there is a lot to explain about the world but it wouldn’t have hurt to just drop some of the stuff explained there. Most of it we don’t need for this film. But again, the movie wants to set up a whole universe and potential sequels. Once in the city we learn more about how the different species have organized and how the military works. We also learn that the creature we just captured plays a larger role in the upcoming plot. But before that we learn that the city has a problem. There is an area in its core that becomes increasingly radiated and a danger to the rest of the city. And that is where the movie leads us. An investigation of what is going on there. So the film transforms into some sort of detective story. In the end we get explained how everything we saw in the past two hours comes together and resolves the mystery. Just in case you missed the plot going on with all the eyecandy burning out your eye holes.

Now let’s talk the good stuff. As mentioned before the film (much like The Fifth Element) is a great source of inspiration. There is rarely a scifi movie that comes with more creativity in its look and design. The collection of creature designs alone is insane. And some of them we just see for a second. Still, they’re fully animated and detailed and there went some care into all of them. So visually this movie is amazing. The planet Mül is beautiful and its people/natives are really interesting. I would even go as far as saying that a movie about these people and their struggle to survive would have been a more interesting movie than the one we got. The glimpse we get from this world they created there really makes me want to like this film more. The direction of the action sequences also works pretty good. Just the right amount of kinetic energy without crossing the overkill line. A good balance in my opinion. Unfortunately it’s only the visuals and action sequences that really work. At least the main concept artists got a very early credit at the end. Well deserved and only fair. One of them even liked some of my own work in the past! Yay!

Now the bad stuff. Beside our two main characters we have some more played by Clive Owen, Ethan Hawke and Rihanna. The only ‘name’ actors in this film. Although I wouldn’t categorize Rihanna as an ‘actress’. At least Owen and Hawke do not get much to do. Which is a shame! Talking about Rihanna. Adding her was an insane decision if you ask me. Not because she can’t act particularly well. But because the scene they implemented her for grinds the movie to a complete halt for 15 minutes! It ruins the whole pacing of the film for a strip/dance number of hers. Completely unnecessary. Her character is 90% a CG character and I understand that we need this character to move the plot along. But it really didn’t require that dance number just to show off that you got Rihanna in your film. Which, in all honesty, nobody cares about to begin with! The dance number is cool and well done… but for the film it’s completely counterproductive and useless. Throw her out and shorten that part. Next we have the dialogue. Some of it reminded me of scenes between Anakin and Padme in Star Wars Episode 2. So wooden! Along with the dialogue we have the humor. And there are a lot of ‘supposedly’ funny scenes in this film. I rarely heard anyone laugh when I saw the film. 80% of the jokes completely backfired. I felt bad for the film. So what it comes down to is a bad script and bad writing. Almost every scene of dialogue felt staged and artificial. But hey, it’s a film that is 80% CGI… of course it feels artificial. So yeah, why not making this film completely CGI to begin with? That’s what I wondered throughout the film. Especially since the live-action elements do not implement with the CGI stuff too seamlessly in some parts of the film. Room for improvements. An example of the bad writing is that I cannot remember who the humans fought in the beginning next to Mül. I don’t even know if they actually mention what this battle was about. And this battle is the reason for the plot in this film. We know nothing about it. Or I simply missed it. Which doesn’t speak for the film either.

It’s a giant space opera… so… “How is the music?” you ask? Well, I don’t know. I can’t remember a single piece of music from this film. Except David Bowie at the beginning intro. A space opera like this needs a striking musical soundtrack! But there’s nothing! Some argue that the only good musical soundtrack is the one that seamlessly melts with the film and you don’t hear while it plays out. But no, that’s stupid. A movie like this needs memorable musical themes. But there’s nothing in it. Again, a shame.

For me as a scifi artist I look at this film and say, “Yep, that’s it. We officially have crossed the line where there really isn’t anything new left to do. It’s all been done. Whatever idea I come up with… it’s probably been done by someone else before me already.”. Yes, this film is definitely a fantastic source of inspiration for people like me. But if you want a good story with likeable characters… nope. I must admit that I was not a big fan of Besson’s Fifth Element movie when it came out and over time I learned to respect it and even like it. I don’t see this happen with Valerian. Which makes me sad. There is a lot of good stuff in here. It’s not entirely wasted but it’s not used properly either.

A 6.5/10 for me.

Valerian on IMDb

Alien: Covenant – Movie Review

Friday, May 26th, 2017

movie reviewRidley Scott is one of the best filmmakers of our time. He has some modern classics under his belt and rightfully so. Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator or Kingdom Of Heaven (Yes, a completely underrated gem of a movie!). All these films deal with either historical aspects or try to explore the human condition. Always trying to find visual answers certain questions. In Alien it’s the fear of the unknown. In Blade Runner about humanity. In Gladiator it’s about corruption and how to overcome it. In Kingdom Of Heaven it’s about Religion, Faith and how to deal with it. That’s at least how I read these films. Even Prometheus, despite all its flaws, at least tries to ask interesting questions. Now we got Alien: Covenant from Ridley Scott and expect him to continue on his path of asking questions and maybe even deliver some answers. With this film being a direct sequel to Prometheus (which is a giant question without any answers) it’s the least to expect, right? This will be a long review.

We ‘board’ the Covenant. A colony ship with a little more than 2000 people on board and about 15 crewmembers. The movie throws us right into it. The crew drops out of hypersleep due to a random shockwave that hits the ship and damages it. So we’re there with these people and know nothing about them. At least if you haven’t seen any of the promo videos on Youtube. While the crew is trying to wake up and understand the situation, we see a hypersleep pod that is damaged. The Captain is in there and because the pod decides that there is no way of survival for him… it automatically cremates his body. And there goes James Franco. Not even a minute of screen time. You can see more of him in the promo video on Youtube. It’s a useless marketing stunt. There is no reason to have him in there. While you could argue that the reaction of the pod is stupid, I think it’s well thought out and a plausible mechanism to implement into these things. The next one in the chain of command is Oram (Billy Crudup). We get told (multiple times in this film) that he’s a religious guy, a man of faith. We never get to see him act out his beliefs though. The movie doesn’t even care to explore that ‘faith’ angle. And the movie starts to categorize or put its characters into boxes because it doesn’t even care about laying out a foundation for these people. Everyone is a cardboard cutout of some cliche of a character we have seen in so many other films. Especially in the horror genre. Our main woman (because it’s the vital ingredient of any Alien movie) is Daniels (Katherine Waterston). And she falls flat too. Because there is no foundation for her as well. No time to bond with her character. Although she seems to be one of the only people with something like a brain in her head. Then there is the android Walter (Michael Fassbender). Last but not least the only other character worth to mention is a pilot named Tennessee (Danny McBride). The rest of these characters is cannon fodder. Did I mention that all these crew people are either married or couples? Is that fact supposed to build some emotional connection to these cardboard characters? If so… it doesn work at all and makes the whole situation, they eventually stumble into, just even more stupid. So much for the introduction of the characters.

They suddenly pick up a message while repairing the Covenant. They find out where it comes from and that it’s not too far away. Plus the planet it comes from seems to be habitable and safe for humans. So they decide to cancel their original mission. A mission to colonize a certain planet it took them decades to investigate, prepare and map out. And their main argument is that they don’t want to go back into hypersleep. Their second argument is that it takes only a couple of weeks to get there instead of the 7-8 years to get to their original destination. We get a somewhat nice scene between Daniels and Oram. They discuss how useful it would be to cancel their original mission to investigate that signal. Daniels is against it. Rightfully so. Oram, who doesn’t have the best standing with the crew at this point, decides to go with most of the crew instead. Because… you know… hypersleep sucks. And so the Covenant changes course to that mysterious planet.

The reaction of the crew regarding this signal is weird. The movie doesn’t establish for how long mankind is doing this colony space stuff and how regularly they catch up signals sent out by ‘what could be’ an alien species. Not one of them is reacting really surprised and amazed. How can it be? How is this possible? Aliens, wtf? Are we making first contact? It becomes even weirder when they find out that it’s a signal sent out by a human! Which is even stranger than having a signal by aliens at this point. No one recognizes this as overly weird and asks how this is even possible. And, except for that short discussion between Daniels and Oram, they immediately set course to investigate. Wouldn’t it be more natural to wait 2 or 3 days to think about it first? These people act so irrational. Maybe the hypersleep did something to their brains. Maybe that technology isn’t developed enough and leaves people dumb. Maybe the technology needs a little more work until we’re in the Alien (1979) timeline (20 years after the happenings in Covenant) and they figured out how to avoid brain damage from traveling with hypersleep pods. Because in the 1979 movie everyone of these characters acts rational!

The Covenant arrives at the planet that is the source of that strange signal they catched up and except for three crewmembers all of them decide to land on the planet. While a giant storm is going on. Please don’t wait for the storm to be over. Please make this endeavour as risky as possible! They manage to pass through the storm and find a spot to land. The fact that the air is breathable on this planet is enough for them to go out (into a completely unknown ecosystem) and start their investigation. They don’t even have breathing masks on. And again they don’t care about landing on an alien planet. They walk out of their landed ship onto the planet surface as if they walk out of a subway train. The most common thing ever. No one even states how crazy weird and amazing it is to (what seems to) be the first group of humans who set foot onto that planet. Again very irrational behaviour of our characters. Yes, you could argue that, with the signal seemingly originating from a human, they are not the first to set foot onto that planet. And yes, you could argue that, if that human being in the signal can survive on this planet, we don’t need precaution when it comes to breathing masks an all that. Still, it’s uncharted territory. An ecosystem they don’t know. There have to be precautions other than “let’s take some guns with us”.

With the crew setting foot onto the planet, we leave the first act of the movie. And the part I enjoyed most. From here it’s almost constantly down hill. Characters that can barely be described as 2 dimensional are constantly doing stupid things just to move the plot forward. We discover what happened to Dr. Elizabeth Shaw and David after Prometheus. We see how the original Alien came to be. Get very unsatisfying answers to formerly interesting questions. See an ending that completely disappoints but still made (at least) me want to know where it goes from there.

Now you ask, are there at least some parts of the film that were good? Yes. The design and VFX work is outstanding and pretty much seamless. Except for a couple of times that made me raise my eye brows… silently asking “wtf was that?”. There is enough stuff in this movie that would have made a far better film than what we ultimately got. We get some interesting scenes when Walter is confronted with David and his ideas. A lot of people complained about the casting of Danny Mcbride and I wasn’t one of them. I think he did the best job of all the characters in the film. Usually you cast him as a dirty comic relief but not in this film. He’s ‘space trucker’ deluxe in this film and probably the most believable character of the whole crew. Almost to a point where he doesn’t fit in anymore. Even though we don’t get the grand imagery we know from Prometheus, I would say the photography is mostly well done. When it comes to the music I have to say that the parts where they re-used the score from Prometheus and the original Alien film work really well. It was pretty neat to hear stuff from the original Alien re-used here and there. All the musical pieces that were new… I cannot even remember.

The problem of the Alien franchise is its diversity. Diversity is a cool thing. It allows to explore a topic with a different point of view. The original Alien (1979) is a straight horror film. Aliens (1986) is a straight action film. Alien 3 (1993) goes back to horror but changes the setting. Alien 4 (1997) is action again but also just for fun ridiculous. Prometheus (2012 – Not really an Alien movie but part of the franchise) tries to be a little more heady and asks interesting questions with its more philosophical approach. So we have quite a variety here, tackling the subject from different angles. But this also splits up the fans. Some like the slow burn original Alien because of its mystery and horror elements. Others tend to enjoy the second film more because of the action. Then you have a third group of fans that really liked what Prometheus tried to do, which is almost completely going its own, more philosophical route. So you end up with three groups of fans who all want their share. Mystery, action, horror and ‘what if’ philosophical stuff. You cannot put all these things into one film. It would be a mess. And that (unfortunately) is what we got with Covenant. A try in resetting the course Prometheus did set up and going back to the stuff we already know and (seemingly?) what people want.

For me this film was a disappointment. What I hated (yes, hate is a strong word but in this case it’s the only one I can use) most in this film is what they did with the character of Elizabeth Shaw. From my understanding she and David, at the end of Prometheus, had some sort of mutual respect going on. She repaired him. Which is a sign of compassion and (again) respect. After finding out what happened to her I felt betrayed. I haven’t felt this angry since Star Trek: Into Darkness. Or maybe Interstellar? Well, with Interstellar I was more confused than angry. However, I didn’t have too high expectations going into this film. Even though you can rightfully have higher expectations. It’s the Alien franchise and Ridley Scott. There will always be certain expectations. Scott started the whole thing! Under that presumption you could say that it’s his good right to run it into the ground as well.

If you read everything up to this point… hats off to you sir or madame. =) My rating for this film is a 6.2/10

Alien: Covenant on IMDb

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – Movie Review

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

movie reviewThe first movie was a surprise hit and a legit fun movie. With its far out ideas and presentation it managed to make a point in saying that it wants to distance itself a little from the rest of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). It was a neat ensamble movie that brought together characters that each are their own thing but still build a consistent and fun group. Now we meet that group of characters again for a new adventure and wonder… will it be as magical as the first time we had an adventure with them?

The strength of director James Gunn seems to be to play with expectations and trying to avoid them but still giving the audience what it wants. It’s quite the talent to be honest and it’s at display right at the beginning of the film. It starts with our group of (questionable) heroes trying to fight a monster. Now there is a fight but we don’t get to see much of it, since this opening sequence focusses on Groot, dancing around and enjoying himself along to some fun music. All that while the rest of the team is battling a giant beast with tentacles in the background. But don’t worry, we still get to see enough of the fight. Of course our heroes win and we get introduced to the Sovereign. A society striving for perfection in everything. They hired the Guardians to fight the monster. Everything goes well until Rocket manages to upset the queen or leader of the Sovereign. The Guardians flee the planet. Luckily some mystery ship appears and helps them get away just in time. Still, they end up with a highly damaged ship and crashland on another planet. With the Guardians stranded there and trying to figure out how to move on… that mentioned mysterious spacecraft shows up and lands next to their crashed ship. We meet Ego (Kurt Russell) and learn that he’s the father of Star Lord (Chris Pratt). In the meantime we have Yondu (Michael Rooker) looking for Star Lord and closing in on his location. The Guardians decide to split up with Star Lord, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax (Dave Bautista) following Ego to his planet. The rest of the gang stays behind trying to repair the ship. Soon Yondu shows up and captures the gang left behind with the ship. Yondu is facing some problems as well. Mutiny. Half his crew isn’t very happy with him and manage to push him aside. Suddenly he’s in the same boat with Rocket and Groot. They now have to work together to get away, which gives us some really nice and funny moments. At the same time we have Star Lord learning more about his father and what he’s up to. Of course not everything is what it seems. Gamora and Drax kind of try to deal with their past and work out things. Especially Gamora gets to deal with her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). And there is some stuff to work out for both of them. And in the end… it’s all about family.

So much for a brief, unspoiled, summary of the first half of the film. This movie is so stuffed with characters and I only mentioned the first tier so far. There also is Mantis (Pom Klementieff) who is a companion traveling and being on with Ego for a long time. Then there is Kraglin (Sean Gunn) who is Yondu’s loyal right hand. Or Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki), leader of the Sovereign. It is amazing how all of these characters get enough space to shine. There literally is no character that falls short and everyone of them gets something to do. And all of them do a great job with what they got. So it’s quite an achievement for writer/director James Gunn, making it work so well. While the characters are written very nicely, I do have some problems here and there. with other parts.

We have a good pacing in the beginning up until we crash on that planet. Then it slows down. Which is good because we need a break. Up to that point we have had almost entirely action scenes. So it’s good to get some breathing room and learn a little more about our characters. We can also see that there passed some time since the first film. Groot grew a little and can run around now. It appears that there has also been something more emotional between Star Lord and Gamora. They accepted the fact that they are a team now and they seem to like it. However. I’m not sure if splitting up the gang in the second act of the film helped. Star Lord deals with his father, Gamora with her sister and Drax with his past by befriending Mantis, with Rocket and Groot not even on the same planet. Sure, you can’t always have these characters together and expect to see individual development of each character. These individual moments still work nice but it’s also a fact that it’s most fun when the gang is together. So it’s a mild nitpick from my side.

With a fast paced actiony start of the film and a more quiet part in the second act, we close the film with a huge action sequence that closes the circle and brings all characters back together again. And having all the gang back together certainly helps the film. Nonetheless the sequence is far too long. This ‘neverending action scene overkill syndrome’ in these kind of filmes really fatigues you at some point. It’s visually amazing and well done. I won’t argue about that. But it’s always too long. Unfortunately in this film too. Even if, again, every single character gets a moment to shine and take a valuable part in the final battle. It’s just too long. There is a reason why fireworks should never be longer than 15 minutes. By making it too long it will lose its magic.

Even though the script is really well written I felt that the dialogue was a little weird here and there. I rewatched the first film and felt the same with that one. But in this second film it stood out a little more. There are a couple of scenes that spell out too much stuff we (as an attentive audience) suspect anyway. There is no need to tell us everything that might go on in this film. The actions of the characters tell us enough. It’s also more fun to suspect where the plot might go instead of having it spelled out and directly know. So yeah, there are a couple of scenes where the dialogue by certain characters hammers it down the audience’s throat. That, to me, felt very unnecessary and too much like “let me take you by the hand so you understand EVERYTHING”. Unnecessary. Trust in your audience and actors a little more.

Like I said before the visuals in this movie are fantastic. I really enjoy the colour palette they work with and (in my point of view) it elevates this movie from the more ‘earthbound’ installments in the MCU. The fact that it’s in space, which allows the material to go off into a more fantasy kind of direction, works to its benefit. Something Marvel struggled with when it comes to the two first Thor films. After seeing the trailer for the third Thor movie it seems they are embracing the more fantastical elements with a little more freedom. They ‘figured out the formula’ so to say. Taking a path away from the sort of more gritty realism we usually get from an Ironman or Cpt. America movie. It’s great and a lot fun to see how much inspiration and imagination is going on there. So a big ‘well done guys’ to the concept and vfx crews that worked on this film. The creative freedom pays off.

As a final verdict I must say that I liked the first movie a tiny bit more. But that, by no stretch, means I did not like this second movie. I enjoyed it a lot and I love the universe they created there. I rarely go back to rewatch other marvel movies but the Guardians movies… I can see myself go back to watch these a couple more times in the future. I like to revisit that world.

Visually the film is a treat so try to catch it on the big screen!

7.9/10

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 on IMDb

Ghost In The Shell – Movie Review

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

movie reviewBefore watching the film I checked out some of the concept art various artists did for the film. It did have a very unique feel and look and so I decided to see this one on the big screen. Although I did not expect too much from the story. Some movies are just there for the eye candy. I saw the original animated film a couple of years ago and found its themes and look rather interesting. Another reason to give this live action version a shot.

The story is quickly told and unfortunately not too complex. We mainly follow Major (Scarlett Johansson) on her quest to learn more about her past. She is a cyborg with only her brain being organic. She was part of an experiment that’s supposed to bring cybernetic enhancements to a new level. The world she lives in is completely absorbed by media. You can’t look anywhere without being bombarded by ads and information. Cybernetic enhancements are a norm and nothing unusual. Major is part of a special police unit and through her and her colleagues we are introduced to how these technological enhancements work and what they can do. Throughout the film we follow Major down a rabbit hole of discoveries that clear up her past and how she became what she is. Together with her team she tries to track down a hacker who can become a real danger to the technology that almost completely consumed mankind at this point.

While asking interesting questions about where mankind might be headed, it only asks these questions on a shallow level. Instead they focus on a plot we have seen in similar shape or form many times before. Which is disappointing to a degree. While watching the film I was not really able to connect to the character of Major. Instead I connected more to her partner Batou (Pilou Asbaek). He was interesting in the fact that he looks like a bulldozer but they never used him that way. He was restrained and pretty tame compared to what other films would have done with a character like him. Beside him we have the wonderful Juliette Binoche playing Dr. Ouelet. She is sort of a mother figure for Major and oversees her medical treatment and the experiment Major was part of.

I feel all the folks we see on screen did their best to get the most out of their parts but to me it mostly felt flat. The film has a runtime of 107 minutes and in an age where most big productions go for 2 hours and more… it’s rather short. To me it felt longer than its 107 minutes. Which makes me feel weird since a film like this should be completely in my wheelhouse. Visually it certainly is. The world is fascinating and I would love to make a trip there for a week. More than a week though… no, I guess the constant bombardment with information would drive me crazy. The film’s problem is the storytelling and its characters. Like mentioned earlier, we have already seen this story so many times. In the beginning of the film is a cut that jumps 1 year ahead. Which brings me to the characters and the fact that, if I had seen what Major had to go through in that one year, I may have been able to connect better with her. The characters in general could have been deeper. They missed a big chance there. Especially with Juliette Binoche but also Takeshi Kitano. It’s so weird how they handle his character Aramaki. He just appears on screen without any big introduction or back story. Even at the end of the film we don’t know much more about him. Yet Kitano plays Aramaki as if he’s having the best story to tell from all the characters in the film. I want to know more about him and his role/part in this world. More character moments again would have extended the runtime. So who knows, maybe the film would have slipped into ‘completely boring’ territory.

Director Rupert Sanders doesn’t have too many things on his resume and maybe it wasn’t the smartest move to hand out a quite heady scifi piece to someone without proper experience. On the other hand you simply cannot expect Blade Runner like quality here. While visually it does come close to a benchmark look, much like Blade Runner in 1982. But it lacks spiritual depth and glosses over the actually interesting philosophical topics. To handle the heady stuff it would have really required a very experienced director though.

As for the whitewashing controversy… I don’t care. It would not have changed or influenced the quality of the film in any way shape or form. It’s a Hollywood production, do you really expect them to go for actors that match the ethnicity of the original characters? Not gonna happen.

So is this film worth a recommendation? It’s not the usual two hours of loud explosions and action setpieces which is definitely a positive. It is visually inspiring and very interesting. You can literally get lost in all the stuff that’s going on in that futuristic version of Hong Kong. Storywise it’s unfortunately nothing new and misses chances with its characters.

If I recommend it then solely for the visuals.

6.4/10

Ghost In The Shell on IMDb

Kong: Skull Island – Movie Review

Thursday, March 30th, 2017

movie reviewI’m tempted to start this one with “this ain’t your daddy’s King Kong” but I won’t. Even though indirectly I did. Which immediately brings up the problem with this film. It just wants to do too many different things. But first things first! What is it about?

The movie is a continuation of what the 2014 Godzilla (directed by Garath Edwards) began. Skull Island (directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts) can be seen as a prequel to the 2014 movie. At least in certain parts. We learn a little bit more about the Monarch project and what it does. The movie starts with Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Corey Hawkins (Houston Brooks) meeting with a higher up politician in Washington. They want to ask for funds to finance an expedition to a newly discovered island in the Pacific. We learn that Monarch is on the verge of shutting down because the government wants to cut their funds. But they get that one last shot with the expedition. The year is 1973 and the movie uses every chance to slam it down your throat that the film plays in the 70s. We get some nice 60s and 70s music… even though you hear some of these songs in every damn 70s film. Especially war related films. Next we meet Lt. Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) who is in charge of a helicopter squadron stationed in Vietnam. The US troops are preparing to leave the country and everyone is happy to go home. Packard gets called to take this one more mission escorting scientists to an unknown island and he gladly agrees. We learn, right from the get-go, that he’s a military man. But we also learn that there is mutual respect and love between him and his soldiers. In the mean time Randa and Hawkins track down former british agent James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston). He’s an survival expert and knows his ways how to behave in a potential dangerous jungle environment. Last but not least Photojournalist (or “Anti-War Photographer” – probably the stupidest line in the film) Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) gets wind of the expedition and manages to go along with them.

All members of the crew collected, the film finally moves towards the island. Once the mission starts and they approach the island with their squad of helicopters, they have to cross or dive into a dense cloud formation that surrounds the island like a shield. A nice sequence that reminded me of the dust/sandstorm sequence in Mad Max: Fury Road. Although not nearly as competently shot and very chaotic. They pass the clouds and approach the island. The Monarch guys immediately start to map the island and use special bombs with seismic charges to measure out the consistency of the island’s surface. Kong shows up and goes “ape shit”. He picks the helicopters from the sky like flies and a battle sequence starts. Clearly our team has no chance but they still decide to go for it and open fire at Kong. While Kong does get hurt a little it definitely does not end well for our team. A lot of soldiers die and the rest is scattered in the area. Lt. Col. Packard immediately wants revenge. Of course. And I thought the film turns into Moby Dick now and it kinda does. Packard wants to bring his soldiers back together and wants to find everyone missing. Conrad wants to cross the island to reach a rendesvous point where within 3 days they’re supposed to refuel the helicopters. Their only chance to get off the island since all of their helicopters are destroyed. So Packard and Conrad split up with Packard going on with his soldiers and Conrad with the scientists and civilians.

Leaving the story description there, we are right at the point in the film where it becomes problematic. Like stated in my intro, the film doesn’t find a clear voice. From my description it sounds very action and drama loaded. The problem is that there are so many desperate attempts sprinkling in some humour into this film. A kind of humour that feels tonally completely off. It must be one of the most inconsistent films I’ve ever seen. It is very apparent that they desperately wanted to wipe out the criticisms the 2014 Godzilla got. Which means: lighter tone, more action, more monster battles. The reason why I liked the 2014 Godzilla so much is because they had a consistent ‘less is more’ thing running in it. That made the big moments work. There was a buildup to those big moments that lets you appreciate the big moments when they happen. All that is thrown out the window for Skull Island. The only buildup we have is the beginning of the film when we meet our main cast. And even then there doesn’t really is that certain kind of atmosphere and suspense Godzilla created in the opening sequence with the nuclear plant. Later we meet Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), a fighter pilot from WW2 who crashed on the island and stranded there. That character is another one with unnecessary comedy elements. I admit that I had to smile at some of the movie’s comedic elements. But at the same time it’s the wrong film for stuff like that. It entirely throws off the mood.

This film also has a weird relationship with death. There are so many people dying in this film and some of the deaths are so beyond meaningless that I wonder if there’s a message. Maybe about the Vietnam war and how useless it was and had so many young men die there for nothing? If that’s what they want to say then bravo… your film has some of the most useless character deaths I’ve seen so far. Which brings me to wasted talent. Looking at who is in the cast here it must be a good film! It must have at least some deeper moments that provoke thought! Jackson, Goodman, Hiddleston, Reilly! Great actors! But no, this film manages to give none of them real weight. It’s quite an achievement to be honest.

From what I said so far you could get the impression that it’s a through and through bad film. But no, it’s not. For what it wants to be it has enough to enjoy in it. For everyone who wants big monsters fight… it delivers. The sequences are, as usual, too long for my taste but they are well done. The CG work in these battle sequences is pretty much flawless and I wouldn’t know how to improve them in terms of quality. I also enjoyed the camera work quite a bit. They had some neat creative shots and angles they worked with and it paid off. Storywise we also don’t get too much stuff we already know from previous King Kong movies. Here and there are some strains that remind you of the original but it’s not played out entirely. Skull Island wants to be its own thing and for the most part it succeeds in doing so. Something I would also count as a positive for this film.

I saw the film in 3d and have to say the 3d worked nicely and was used in a fun way. The creature design and look also worked great and I’m sure we’ll see more of that in upcoming films. Throughout the film they threw around that infamous ‘hollow earth’ idea and I’m sure that will come up in the future. And sure, I like that idea and would like to see where they go from there.

I don’t know if the problems Godzilla and this film have stem from the directors. Edwards in 2014 was pretty much a newcomer and Vogt-Roberts is new in the game too. While I do think it’s good to get fresh ideas and voices into it… it could be one reason why the films ended up a little inconsistent. Even though I think Gareth Edwards did a much better job with Godzilla. Maybe it’s not even the directors and it’s more the screenplay that is to be blamed. Imdb has 3 writers for Skull Island. That’s 2 too many.

So ultimately it’s a high budget B-Movie with tons of weak points but some well done, fun moments as well. If you are, like me, a fan of the 2014 Godzilla don’t expect the suspense and buildup we had there. We see Kong pretty much right away along with the action.

6.9/10

Kong: Skull Island on IMDb

Logan – Movie Review

Thursday, March 16th, 2017

movie reviewSo, there is this X-Men franchise that started in 2000 and has like 10 movies or so now? 17 years! It took them 17 years to do a movie that makes a clear point on why mutants in the X-Men universe are so hated in all the other films. While they present enough reasons in previous films, it always felt way too over the top to be taken serious. Now this movie though, feels grounded enough to really bring that point across.

Logan (Hugh Jackman) is the third movie in the, what now can be called, ‘Wolverine Trilogy’. The movie makes quite the jump and plays out its story in a not too distant future. Logan got old, the X-Men don’t exist anymore and mutants in general are in hiding. Instead of being a new step in the evolution of mankind, mutants are pretty much extinct and outlawed. Logan trying to get by with doing a limousine service to collect some money. That money he needs to take care of Professor X (Patrick Stewart) who is in hiding with another friendly mutant. While thinking that there are no more mutants born, Professor X makes telekinetic contact with Laura (Dafne Keen). Laura is a mexican kid on the run from a mysterious company hunting her. Logan, as reluctant as ever, doesn’t have much interest in being the hero and helping Laura. Company goons discover their hideout. Logan, Professor X and Laura have to flee and try to resolve the situation. Laura has coordinates that point to a location that is supposed to be a safe haven for young mutants. While Professor X is willing to give it a shot, Logan isn’t so sure about it. So much for a rather sparse summary of the plot without giving too much away.

This movie takes some risks (as well as some social commentary here and there) and I’m so glad it did! After Deadpool’s success I guess studios woke up and decided to do comic movies for adults now. And man, it feels so good! X-Men in 2000 started the whole comic movie trend. It’s so good to see an adult, more violent and realistic approach to the material. Especially with the Wolverine character. He was always rooted in anger, violence and more an anti-hero. It’s good to see that anger really play out in Logan’s violent outbursts and the aftermath of it. It’s good to see the movie not playing it safe and instead going into its gritty feel right from the start. After the first five minutes we know that this really is a film that shows the brutality that can be ‘Wolverine’. Suddenly you understand that blood adds weight to certain decisions our characters make. All the violence helps to give everything gravity. Even though it’s rather violent it certainly is not a splatter movie. The movie uses violence in well timed doses and doesn’t overplay it. At least for my sensibilities. It’s a serious movie for grown ups! Finally!

Overall I would say it’s a quiet movie. Some parts are even pretty much a roadmovie. Most parts actually. The action scenes are well timed and well placed throughout the film. They are not mind numbingly long like in so many other movies of its kind. A pleasant and welcome surprise in that case. It’s also not a CGI overload and feels very natural and grounded. The future they envision there isn’t over the top and drawn rather realistically. No flying cars or anything. you could almost call it dystopian. It’s not really hopeful, that’s for sure. It kind of reflects our times.

Hugh Jackman started this part in 2000 and played this character since then. It’s safe to say that his interpretation of the character helped comic book movies become what they are now. We can’t thank him enough for that! Logan is probably his final role in this character and I’m so glad they gave him this fantastic material to work with. It seems like it’s the first time we really get to see the pain and struggle this character goes through. All hope gone and his worst fears have come true. Fears and doubts he has since the first movie where he has questioned everything and most importantly Professor X, his plans and his school. Logan is a broken man. He was right from the get go. And knowing that and not being able to have changed that… slowly kills him. The year just started but… Hugh Jackman should get nominated for this performance. It’s fantastic.

Having young actors in your film is always tricky. You need someone with charisma and a slight understanding what the character needs. Dafne Keen, who plays Laura, is a perfect mixture. She’s adorable and charismatic at the same time. She has a great look and you immediately know when shit is about to get real by just looking into her eyes. There is this one scene where she comes out of Professor X’s hideout, with a platoon of bad guys waiting outside… almost shaking in fear, while she calmly walks out of the building. It’s a great, tense and powerful moment. She doesn’t have a lot of text during the film and does a lot with her body language and face. Hats off, she did really well!

Is there some bad stuff in the film? Well, I’m constantly thinking “It’s a little long!” but I also immediately think that it needs that time to tell the story right and give every character the needed room. The movie is also well shot and the action parts look very competent. Even though I must say that there’s rarely a shot that made me go ‘wow’. Marco Beltrami did the music for the film but there is hardly any tune I would’ve been able to remember after making the first step out of the theater. But that goes for pretty much every movie nowadays. Almost no memorable music in these films anymore. That really frustrates me to a degree. It all sounds the same. Especially in comic movies. Then we have the theme of ‘family’ that goes sort of kind of through the franchise. It’s still there but not to the degree we have in the other films. It’s a very depressing story and hope is very sparse. It may not be the movie we would need right now (in terms of inspiration)… but it’s nonetheless a nice reflection of our times and mirrors our society really well. The audience should take a closer look and decide for itself how to make the world better instead of letting it decay to the degree we see in the film. It’s not easy, even for people with superpowers… but it’s possible.

So overall I really liked the toned down presentation of the film. When you’re a kid you want the big stuff, large action and themes. The older I become the more I want the more intimate or personal themes. The big stuff becomes more and more numbing. It’s good to see they are still able to do films that are well balanced and maybe even more character studies instead of big action spectacles. Quiet moments have weight and action sequences pay off. That combination works well for the film itself but also the box-office. It was well received and made good money, which gives me hope.

When the film ends it feels like a big and sad goodbye. That very last shot though… heartbreaking and cool at the same time.

7.9/10

Logan on IMDb

Star Wars: Rogue One – Movie Review

Thursday, December 22nd, 2016

movie reviewFor the next couple of years, this time of the year will be Star Wars time. Rogue One is the first, of a series of films, that explore the Star Wars universe that exists outside the family saga that we know so far. The goal is to expand the universe and show more variety in locations and characters. In this first spin-off movie we finally learn how the plans, that lead to the destruction of the Deathstar in Episode 4, get into the hands of the Rebels. A mild spoiler warning for this review.

The film starts without the usual text scroll, which immediately sets a different feel right from the beginning. We see a planet and what seems to be an imperial transporter, landing close to some kind of farm. We meet Imperial Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). We learn that Galen once worked on a secret project of the Empire and that Krennic wants him back. Of course things spiral out of control when Krennic confronts Galen. Galen’s wife gets killed and his young daughter Jyn manages to hide. Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), a friend of Galen, picks her up. We don’t get to see anything about the relationship between Saw Gerrera and Jyn. How it develops and what difficulties they faced in the years to come. Next thing we know is that Jyn is in her early 20s. She winds up in the hands of the Rebels due to the investigation work of Cassian Andor (Diego Luna). He’s with the Rebels for a long time and when we see him in action for the first time, there is no doubt that the means of the Rebel Alliance aren’t the pure good either. Whatever it takes! They know they have to use questionable tactics to be able to compete with the Empire. The Rebels know that Jyn’s father is a key player in building a new super weapon for the Empire. So they recruit her to find him. Their first step is to visit a planet called Jedha where an independent source claims to have captured Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), an Imperial freighter pilot, that carries critical infos about that super weapon and Galen Erso’s involvement. On Jedha they find Saw Gerrera who captured the pilot. Saw Gerrera once was a key player in the Rebellion but somehow departed and went his own ways. Not much backstory there as well. Before Jyn and Cassian find Saw Gerrera they meet two folks in Jedha City, the blind Cirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), who both decide to join the cause. We learn that Jedha City is unter control of the Empire for a while now. Our two new heroes once protected the Jedi temple on that planet and since the Empire arrived there, are pretty much out of work. Together they wind up in Saw Gerrera’s hands and the fact that Jyn has a connection to Saw opens opportunities. Unfortunately the Death Star arrives at Jedha and the Imperial Command decides to do a weapon test before these opportunities can be used by our heroes. Apocalyptic destruction is happening while our team of questionable heroes manages to escape. The former Imperial pilot provides them with a location of Jyn’s father and the hunt for the ultimate truth begins.

This movie has had a ton of reshoots. So many, that lots of material we got to see in the Trailers, where not even in the finished film. I don’t think that was planned. There was talk that Disney wasn’t too happy with the dark material they saw in an earlier cut of the film. So they decided to add more uplifting and alternative material to the film. They fact that there were production problems was kind of noticable in the film. At least to me. Most of the sprinkled in humour fell flat and felt awkwardly timed. In the first 40 minutes of the film we visit tons of locations and meet even more characters. The film is jumping from location to location and back and forth. It’s very irritating. It slows down once we’re on Jedha. But up to that point the editing feels very odd, jumpy and not really organic. However, it is commendable how they ended the film.

Characters moments are what I really missed in this film. And by that I don’t mean action scenes involving a character. I mean stuff that tells us more about the character’s past and how they became who they are. For me to make them work I need more. We get a nice 2 minute (or so) moment from Caspian that worked rather good. But for our main hero Jyn… there is nothing. It felt like there was more material with her and Saw Gerrera. It’s not there. So there is no emotional response when she meets Saw and confronts him about their past. Felicity Jones does a good job in that scene but it’s completely wasted because we have no foundation for her emotions. In the same scene she learns that her father is still alive. And again… yes we saw how the Empire took away her father and killed her mother. But that’s all. Jyn and Saw tell us that the times were difficult but we’re watching a film here. Show it! So again, this nice emotional scene, when Jyn sees her father’s hologram… it just didn’t work and triggered no emotional response from me. But it should! I should feel something for her. But all I got was a mechanic reaction like “oh look at that, she learned her father is alive!”. Maybe… and just maybe… better writing would have kept it a secret from the audience too. Don’t tell us in the first scene of the film what’s exactly happening to him. Let the audience find out along with Jyn. Maybe… then there would have been a stronger reaction from me. It’s stuff like this that is driving me nuts in this film. I’m no screenwriter at all but damn… it can’t be so hard, right? Maybe it is.

I did not expect to see Grand Moff Tarkin in this film. His stand-in is the British actor Guy Henry. He has similar body proportions like Peter Cushing, who played Tarkin in 1977. For Rogue One they created a CGI face of Peter Cushing. This looked amazing! I sat there and couldn’t believe how good that looked. I watched and read some reviews that pointed out that CGI Tarkin did not work for them at all. And it is really weird. While I wouldn’t say it’s flawlessly done, it definitely is very very good. And the same can be said about the rest of the VFX work in this film. There is not a single scene that looked off and everything CGI integrated very well. The (again too long) battle scene in the end had some fantastic moments as well. And the CGI work definitely helped the movie and franchise to expand the universe we know from Star Wars so far. We get to see a number of different planets and locations. A ton of alien creatures (that were fantastic practical effects most of the time). Visually this film is a total eye catcher. No doubt or complaints about that.

Fan service. It’s always an issue with big popular franchises. People complained about it when The Force Awakens came out. Surprise surprise… no one seems to complain now. And it’s amped to 11 in this film. I won’t spoil it but we meet two bad guys on the streets of Jedha City for a glimpse moment. That’s when it was too much for me. I have no problem if they bring back characters if they’re vital to the story. But some of the stuff they included was pure fan service and felt out of place. In the final space battle they even included unused footage from A New Hope. Really? I’m not saying it wouldn’t make sense. When I saw these images I was taken out of the movie within split seconds and was shaking my head. It felt cheap and totally unnecessary. It was the complete opposite end of what they did with Darth Vader.

Darth Vader was great in this movie! Mainly because he was not used to such a gratuitous amount like these fanservice moments. Vader had a great presence and it felt fantastic seeing this iconic villain in action again, without being a reference to a joke. He kicked some ass and I can say I enjoyed every second with him. Even though I had doubts when I first saw him on screen. They did right with the character. And that is because he, to a degree, was vital to the story of the film. That worked really well.

I can see this film becoming a love/hate thing for me. It’s full of flaws, forgettable characters and draggy action sequences. Its strength is the fact that we finally get so see a world that is not included into the main series of movies. The job the ‘expanded universe’ books had in the past, will now be taken over by films. I have no problem with that in all honesty. For the future I just wish they take more care of the characters they include in the films. Otherwise it really makes no sense casting strong actors like Whitaker, Mikkelsen or Felicity Jones. Actors like these are capable. Give them depth!

7.6/10

Star Wars: Rogue One on IMDb

Arrival – Movie Review

Saturday, December 10th, 2016

movie reviewSmart Scifi is quite a rare thing nowadays. In times where Visual FX can do pretty much anything a creative mind can come up with, we tend to get movies that blow things out of proportion with gratuitous and bombastic thunderstorms of action setpieces. In the past years we have had a ton of movies that left us pretty much numb due to the bombardment of visual noise on screen. So it is remarkable to get a quiet film with seamlessly integrated VFX. VFX that are just there to complement the story and not the other way around. Plus… one of the smartest movies we have gotten in a very long time. It’s a type of movie I always wanted to see and waited a long time for it.

Arrival tells the story of expert linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams). When one morning Mankind discovers that we are not alone in the universe anymore. 12 mysterious ships appear. These ships are positioned around the globe, in places that do not seem to have a connection. Louise meets Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) who is recruiting her for a very special job. He wants her to find a way to communicate with the beings in one of the ships, positioned in Montana. Along with theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) she is tasked to find out why the Aliens are there and what they want. In the meanwhile we get glimpses of how the world reacts. In the time we watch Louise and Ian trying to talk to the Alien beings, we see and learn how differently other nations try to establish communication. A month of research goes by and tension all over the world is rising. Our team makes little breakthroughs and suddenly gets an answer to their question of what the Aliens want. Another team is also getting an answer to that question and it freaks people out. Louise and Ian try their best to explain that the answers they got could be interpreted a lot of different ways. Throughout the experience we see Louise having personal visions, dreams or memories. Of course we immediately think about flashbacks. But there is something else going on with these visions or dreams.

The movie is successfully playing with so many different ideas and concepts about time, space, communication. It’s hard to talk about it without entering spoiler territory. Let’s just say the film offers some nice twists and that said twists even work on multiple levels. But it’s not the kind of movie that ends and leaves you completely wondering what just happened. At least it wasn’t that way for me. I saw multiple clear hints throughout the film that made complete sense at the end of the film.

The story is told from the very personal perspective of Louise. We don’t get to see too much stuff from anywhere else than her immediate surroundings. So it is not a movie that goes for Independence Day kind of eye candy and different locations from all over the world. And that is what works in favour of this film. We keep things in one place and the audience wants to solve the mysteries along with the characters on screen. The film is also shot very personal and intimate. We get a lot of close ups that completely focus on reactions of the characters. I was constantly asking myself how I would react in the situations we face along with the characters in the film. We still get a lot of gorgeous wide open camera shots. The scene when we arrive on location and the camera captures the scene with the Alien ship, right then and there when Louise is seeing it the first time. It’s so well timed and gave me goosebumps. Same thing when they enter the ship for the first time. A lot of credit goes to the musical score in these moments as well. It’s the best original score I’ve heard in a movie in a very long time. A lot of films completely sound the same nowadays. Not this one. It got its own character in pretty much everything. And most importantly… it’s memorable.

Now let’s talk about the Elephant in the room. After I saw the film, I immediately drew similarities to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. And this general consensus that Nolan is the “thinking man’s Blockbuster director”. Don’t get me wrong, I like Nolan’s films just fine. However! Both films are hardcore Scifi. Interstellar is also a very scientific movie much like Arrival is. In their central core both films are about love and time. When Interstellar was released I heard some folks say stuff like “this film will be remembered!”. I was honestly shaking my head when I heard that. While Interstellar certainly is no bad movie, I felt the love component was so hamfisted and cheesy that it really hurted the overall experience and message. This, on the other hand, is where Arrival shines. Every plot element is so well integrated whithout ever going into cheesy, tearjerking territory. And yes, there surely are emotional scenes in Arrival. Their execution and relationship with what’s going on in the film (storywise and scientifically) is much more sound though. So it all made sense in the end! Something I can’t say about Interstellar. Another thing I can’t say about Interstellar but will do about Arrival is… Arrival will be remembered! It’s a film that asks important questions and manages to give answers to these questions! Answers are another thing I missed getting from Interstellar.

When picking out negative things it is not easy to find some. That, of course, depends on your taste in movies and how you watch them. But there are a couple of things I wished would have gotten a little more attention. While the scientific part does have its place in the film, I wished they would have given it a little more breathing room. It would have been fascinating to see a little more of the process, Louise and Ian have to go through, finding and establishing a way of communication with the Aliens. The audience doesn’t have to wait very long before getting a look at the Aliens (or at least how they generally look like). Maybe it would have been a little more exciting to hide them a tiny bit longer. The Alien design is not amazingly spectacular either. Which, from my perspective is fine. For the job the Aliens have to do, they look completely okay. And that’s all the negative stuff (if you can call it that) I can find about the film.

In the end the title ‘Arrival’ has a number of meanings. Which you will discover when you watch the film close enough. There are many ways you can watch this film. Either as a straight forward first contact film or a very well written character study or a parable about the times we live in… the movie lets the audience decide and is not forcing the audience into a certain direction. That’s quite remarkable and I am very excited to see what the director Denis Villeneuve will do in the future. His next stop… Blade Runner 2049.

A 9/10 for me.

Arrival on IMDb