Friday, 30 September 2022

Anikulapo (Movie Review)

Kunle Afolayan is a name that carries a lot of weight in the Nigerian film industry. This is primarily because he is one of the few directors working to push the envelope for the quality of our films. And while his movies might be hit or miss depending on who you ask, you can at least bank on the fact that they will be well put together, at least on the production front. The same attention to detail doesn't always extend to his stories though, which is why I had approached Anikulapo with a healthy dose of skepticism.

The movie cold opens with a dead man being brought back to life by a magical bird, immediately setting the stage for its supernatural backdrop. That man is named Saro, an ambitious fabric maker from a far-off village. We spend much of the film going over the events that eventually led to his demise. But then we also learn that the encounter with the bird had left him with the ability to bring others back from the dead, and now he seeks to use those powers to make a name for himself.

I have had this long-held belief that our traditional Yoruba films, while often lacking in the production department, usually tell stories that tend to be far more compelling than their English counterparts. So I indeed had some measure of excitement at the prospect of a film like Anikulapo, which was being helmed by Kunle Afolayan of October 1 fame. My hope going into the movie was that we would finally get one that merges some of that great storytelling with the kind of budget and production that those stories deserve.

However, it doesn't take very long into his latest film before those expectations are brought back to reality by some questionable-looking special effects. The film does look good overall though, with some creative shot compositions and excellent cinematography across the board. But Hollywood-level visuals do not a great movie make, which brings us to the story itself.

Like most Nollywood productions, Anikulapo is of the leave-your-brain-at-the-door variety, requiring you to suspend your disbelief during several nearly implausible scenarios. It is not immediately clear who we are supposed to be rooting for, because even though the bulk of the story centers upon the plights of Saro, his actions are far from heroic. He gets swept from one questionable situation to another, with very little agency on his part, which makes the character come across as weak and almost spineless.

And while Kunle Remi was himself competent enough in the role, I still found it hard to believe that his character was as desirable as depicted, with multiple women shown throwing themselves at him in the early portions of the film. All that aside, it is the fact that I felt he lacked the redeeming qualities that would have at least made him an intriguing antihero that created the biggest disconnect between myself and his story.

The movie is also plagued by pacing issues. It takes forever before anything remotely interesting happens. And when things finally kick into gear, it glosses over details that would have helped enrichen the narrative. Instead, we get several drawn-out scenes that, while beautifully shot and generally pleasing to look at, do very little to move the actual story forward.

Then there was the ending of the film, which was nearly incomprehensible and filled with flashbacks to earlier scenes, some of which were never even shown before then, all in the name of lending needed context to emotional scenes that otherwise felt unearned. The fact that it ends with a scene that felt like it was tacked on during post-production only shows how cobbled together the entire third act was.

Such shortcomings are generally what keep our Nollywood films from achieving true greatness, and they appear particularly glaring here, especially coming in the wake of The Woman King, which I thought was excellent. I know it is unfair to compare both films considering one had a $50 million production budget but I still hold on to the belief that you don't need all the money in the world to tell a story competently.

Anikulapo is yet another Kunle Afolayan production that leaves a lot to be desired with its storytelling and characterization. The film leans heavily into melodrama, even becoming heavy-handed with the message and morals of its overarching narrative. All that should go without saying for anyone that enjoys watching these Nollywood movies of course, but I still expected more from this particular one. And while it could be considered an overall improvement over the likes of Citation, it still doesn't move the needle enough to earn a recommendation from me.

Friday, 16 September 2022

The Woman King (Movie Review)

Long before the Dora Milaje would grace the pages of fictional comic books, we had the real-life Agojie, an elite squad of women soldiers in the West African kingdom of Dahomey. And in The Woman King, those warriors are brought to life with all the flair one might expect from a summer blockbuster. But does the film actually deliver on the promise of the thrills seen in its trailers, or is it yet another example of Hollywood trying to cash in on an ongoing trend?

Set during the height of the rivalry between Dahomey and the Oyo Empire, the film follows Nawi (Thuso Mbedu), a new recruit of the Agojie undergoing training under the tutelage of their formidable leader, General Nanisca (Viola Davis). The women serve a young king named Ghezo (John Boyega), whose efforts to keep the peace with both the Oyo Empire and European slave traders grow increasingly strained. And when tensions go beyond his control, his loyal Agojie must prepare to face off against the forces of the Oyo Empire, led by the ruthless general, Oba Ade (Jimmy Odukoya).

It is clear that a lot of care must have gone into crafting a film like The Woman King. From its opening battle scene, you are immediately thrust into the harsh realities of its brutal world. Except it is one where there exists a lot of beauty as well, shown through the culture of the Dahomey. But none of that would mean anything if the film didn't also tell a compelling story, which, thankfully, it manages to do over the course of its 135-minute runtime. And while that story might take a lot of creative liberties and deviations from actual history, it never felt superficial or implausible.

The comparisons to Black Panther are inevitable of course, especially coming out just two months before its highly-anticipated sequel. But while the former had depicted its female warriors as nearly infallible killing machines, this one takes a far more realistic approach to its depiction by not shying away from showing its warriors take some painful licks and blows. That said, you can still expect plenty of action scenes that require some level of suspension of disbelief, none of which was enough to take me out of the movie.

This is because the film is anchored by truly great characters, and those characters were generally driven by solid performances across the board. Nawi serves as an appropriate surrogate for viewers to follow, allowing us to learn about the Agojie and their way of life. Despite her hotheaded ambition, I was quickly endeared to her desire to prove herself. Viola Davis was as well as captivating as ever, but it was actually John Boyega who garnered the most cheers in the theater where I saw the movie. I suspect that had a lot to do with his nigh-on perfect Nigerian accent and overall charm.
If I had any criticism to give about The Woman King, then it would be that its ending didn't quite resonate with me as strongly as I wanted it to. This is not to say that the film had ended on a downer, but just my way of expressing my disappointment at the fact that a certain plot thread hadn't been fleshed out more. I obviously can't get into what that was without also getting into spoilers, but I can at least say that it was a minor detail in the grand scheme of the movie, and chances are you might not even have the same problems that I had with it.

The Woman King is a historical epic that plays like a summer blockbuster. Its story and well-choreographed action scenes are sure to please moviegoers, but it is its excellent characters that work to elevate the movie above your typical popcorn fare. This is a movie that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible, irrespective of what you think about Hollywood trends or its so-called "woke agenda." Plus it is sure to scratch some of that Black Panther itch for those waiting for Wakanda Forever.

Friday, 19 August 2022

The Next 365 Days (Movie Review)

All good things come in threes. Or in the case of the 365 Days trilogy on Netflix, they at least come to an end. That is indeed the promise of The Next 365 Days, the third and hopefully final film in the series of erotic thrillers. Whether or not you've been eagerly anticipating this conclusion, you've got to admire the filmmakers for sticking with the same tired formula over the course of three movies. But does the new film manage to salvage what is left of its worn-out premise, or does it further succumb to the laws of diminishing returns?

Much like the previous films in the series, The Next 365 Days centers on the evolving relationship between our two leads, Massimo and Laura. For those keeping track, the latter had been shot at the end of the last film and the new film's opening moments lean heavily into that cliffhanger ending, with Massimo shown mourning the loss of someone at their graveside. The scene is juxtaposed against another showing a meeting between the two rival crime families established in the prior films, as Massimo promises bloody retribution should his rivals continue their push to encroach into his family's territory.

Laura only manages to stay dead for all of five minutes though, before it is revealed that she is once again miraculously alive and well on her way to full recovery from her bullet wound. But the events of the last film had taken an emotional toll, and it is immediately clear that she is still harboring feelings for Nacho, aka Massimo 2.0, despite his allegiance to the rival crime family. So as you can imagine, this puts an even greater strain on her relationship with Massimo, thus setting the stage for the film's central conflict.

All of that is of course just set dressing, because the filmmakers clearly know what their target audience wants. So you can expect even more steamy sex scenes with very little bearing on the film's overall plot, all of which are set to generic pop music from artists no one has heard of. This is all familiar territory at this point, as we've pretty much all come to know what to expect with these lowbrow erotic movies. So anyone going into The Next 365 Days expecting anything other than what is given only has themself to blame.

That said, the fact that something has already established itself as being mediocre by design doesn't then excuse its further descent into mediocrity. And The Next 365 Days certainly feels like a new all-time low for the series with its poor dialogue, acting, story, and lack of direction. Its biggest crime in my opinion, however, is an overriding feeling of saminess. You can only watch so many sweeping slow-mo shots of lavish interiors and beautiful locales before the whole thing starts to blur together. At least the last film tried to shake things up with the introduction of a love triangle and some truly meme-worthy dialogue.

But this one can't help but feel lazy or like a downgrade by comparison, like the writers have simply run out of ideas and the cast and crew are merely going through the motions of churning out another film through mere obligation. The film meanders for most of its runtime, clumsily stumbling from one sex scene to another along the way. I realize that some of that might come directly from the source material itself but also believe it is the filmmaker's job to have a tighter script. And just like the larger film trilogy, this one stretches what little actual story it has to tell too thin and suffers as a result. 

I could think of a few choice words to try to convey just how bad The Next 365 Days is, but trust me when I say none of them will do the film justice. Its failure to respect the viewer's time makes it extremely difficult to recommend to anyone, except those that are already committed to finding out how the story ends. Even then, you'd be better served by waiting to read a plot summary on Wikipedia instead because there is very little satisfaction to be had here. The one silver lining I guess is the fact that they've finally run out of source material to adapt, this being based on the last one in the book trilogy. So hopefully this is the last we are going to see of Massimo and Laura and their questionable love for one another.

Friday, 12 August 2022

Day Shift (Movie Review)

The streaming wars appear to be waging on as another big-budget film makes its exclusive debut online. Having only just been blessed with the brilliant Prey on Hulu last week, we now turn to Netflix for Day Shift, an action comedy anchored by Jamie Foxx. His latest film carries a hefty $100 million production budget, a sum that is incidentally half that of last month's The Gray Man. And while many might rightfully question the continued viability of these films, the more important question is whether or not this particular one manages to put that budget to good use.

The film stars Jamie Foxx as Bud, a man who struggles to balance his time between his job as a vampire hunter and being there for his daughter. But when he is given only seven days by his ex-wife to raise the money he needs to pay her tuition, he is forced to turn to the Vampire Hunters Union for assistance. And there he gets saddled with a rookie named Seth (Dave Franco), who is to ensure that he works within the boundaries of the Union's rules, even as he is relegated to the less lucrative day shift.

On the surface, Day Shift is a buddy cop comedy with supernatural horror elements. So instead of drug dealers and street-level thugs, our duo must deal with the vampires that call the San Fernando Valley area home. And while that might sound like an interesting enough concept to carry an action film, it is actually the inherent charm of its two leads that serves as its crutch. 

Jamie Foxx is no stranger to starring in these high-profile Netflix films, having previously worked with the streamer on Project Power. But unlike that film centered on drugs that gave its users superpowers, no explanation is ever truly given for his ability to go toe-to-toe with multiple vampires in this one, other than a throwaway line about him once serving in the military. So needless to say, some suspension of disbelief would be required for you to truly get on board with the movie.

Thankfully, the film never takes itself too seriously, which is reflected in both the plot and its overall tone. Dave Franco provides most of the comic relief, even though he doesn't make an appearance until about 30 minutes into the film. Snoop Dogg also channels his inner OG as the film's resident badass, a seemingly infallible vampire hunter that seems capable of doing no wrong. 

Your enjoyment of these particular elements could very well hinge on your tolerance for its kind of humor, which is often of the gross-out variety. The film also wears its R rating like a badge of honor, so expect plenty of decapitations and copious amounts of blood. This is of course lightened by its comedic nature, and while not every one of its jokes land, the ones that don't are made up for by some genuinely thrilling action sequences.

Day Shift provides more than enough dumb fun for anyone craving a late summer action comedy with plenty of blood and guts. Just don't go into it expecting anything more than what was promised by its trailer. For better or worse, this is yet another overpriced Netflix film that skates by on the strength of its high-profile leads, and watching both Jamie Foxx and Dave Franco riff off of one another remains this one's biggest highlight.

Sunday, 7 August 2022

Prey (Movie Review)

Following an amazing feature film directorial debut with 10 Cloverfield Lane, Dan Trachtenberg returns to direct Prey. His latest film is set in the Predator universe, taking place nearly 300 years before the original film. And while that movie remains one of the most iconic sci-fi releases from the 1980s, its various sequels have struggled to match its thrills and overall inventiveness. So my hope going into this prequel was that we would finally get an entry that was worthy of the Predator name.

The film follows the exploits of a young Native American woman named Naru, as she prepares to undergo a rite of passage that involves hunting one of the indigenous predators in the forest near her home. But she feels both overshadowed and undermined by the men in her tribe, who believe she has no place on the hunting grounds. Determined to prove her worth as a skilled hunter, she sets off with her dog to investigate some strange tracks she had spotted during their last hunt. But little does she know that the predator she is tracking is of an alien origin.

To say that Prey is a marked improvement over all the other Predator movies that came before it is an understatement. From its opening frames, you can pretty much tell that this one is a class above the others. The film is at once beautiful to look at, with sweeping shots of the vast forest landscape that serves as its setting. And that setting is used to great effect throughout the film, to create a heightened sense of dread as the cloaked predator moves around unseen.

These are old tricks from the previous films and the wider sci-fi horror genre, to be sure, but never have they looked this good, or worked this well. And the same thing can be said about the special effects, which strike a nice balance between looking retro and modern. I particularly enjoy films where most of the effects are achieved through practical means, and it was nice to see the same reflected here.

The film is not just about the predator of course, which brings us to Amber Midthunder as our lead, Naru. I am not familiar with much of her prior work, so it was indeed a pleasant surprise to see her anchor the film with a strong, heartfelt performance. Dog lovers are bound to be instantly endeared to her through the depictions of her interactions with her canine partner. I had my reservations about the character when I first saw the trailers but I'm pleased to say she had won me over by the end of the film.

Speaking of reservations, it is worth noting that the film is a bit on the graphic side, with some cool-looking gore effects. Fans of the franchise shouldn't be surprised to hear this of course, but casual viewers or the more squeamish among us might find some of it a bit excessive. It also takes a while for things to really kick into gear, as the filmmakers take the requisite time needed to set the stage. But once they do, you'll be cheering along in what is one of the most satisfying showdowns I have seen all year.

Prey infuses the Predator franchise with some much-needed class. But even more than that, it is a great standalone movie in its own right, making effective use of its limited scope and bag of old tricks. It is anybody's guess why, despite being solidly crafted, it has wound up on a streaming service instead of playing in theaters like it deserves. But here's hoping that it signals a fresh, new direction for subsequent films in the franchise to emulate or follow.

Saturday, 6 August 2022

Bullet Train (Movie Review)

As the summer movie season begins to wind down, one could be forgiven for thinking we've run out of worthwhile movies to go out and see on the big screen. But as astute moviegoers no doubt know, the back half of the season typically serves as fertile ground for smaller-scale genre films to shine, away from the shadow of the larger tentpoles. And Bullet Train definitely fits that category, the new action comedy by Deadpool 2 director, David Leitch. The question, however, is whether or not this particular train is worth catching in the first place.

The film stars Brad Pitt as Ladybug, an aging assassin whose latest job aboard the titular bullet train quickly goes awry. What was supposed to be a simple snatch and grab of a high-value briefcase descends further and further into chaos when it turns out that several other assassins, with varying ties to one another, were also there on conflicting assignments. Now he must not only struggle to piece together why they were all gathered there but also fight or outsmart the others long enough to make it off the train alive.

It doesn't take very long into Bullet Train to realize what type of movie it is, a stylish action comedy that seems derivative of other works. This is mainly because the film is not afraid to wear its influences on its sleeves, borrowing from the likes of Guy Ritchie and Edgar Wright with a visual style and nonlinear storytelling structure that immediately calls to mind movies like Snatch and Baby Driver. But what helps to set this one apart is its director's own background as a stunt coordinator.

Having worked on films like Atomic Blonde and John Wick, David Leitch continues to show his flair for stylized action and tightly-choreographed fight scenes. Most of it is thankfully easy to follow despite the high-octane nature of the narrative itself, which is a relief in a genre that is becoming increasingly reliant on fast cuts and shaky cameras. His latest film also makes the most of the confines of its single location setting, much like the similarly-set Snowpiercer, even though this one relies a bit more heavily on flashbacks to fill in the details of its back story. 

None of that would mean anything of course if the film didn't also give us characters worth caring about. And on that front the movie shines with one of the most stacked casts I have seen all year. Brad Pitt once again takes the place of the charismatic lead, but it is actually the duo of Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson that proved to be most endearing. They play a pair of ruthless fruit named assassins who provide most of the movie's gags and heart. There were also a number of surprise cameos sprinkled throughout the film, none of which I am going to spoil here. But it was nice seeing so many recognizable faces, even if quite a few of them felt criminally underutilized.

It is also worth noting that the film did take a considerable while before all the pieces of its overarching narrative fall into place. So less patient viewers might find all the earlier narrative hopping and character shifts a bit hard to follow. But at just over 2 hours in length, the whole thing never started to run out of steam or wear thin.

Bullet Train is another B-tier action flick that is sure to satisfy genre fans with its endless thrills and many twists and turns. The narrative does threaten to go off the rails atimes, as its overlapping subplots and implausible scenarios veer ever so close to teetering off the track. But everything is kept humming along thanks to a stellar ensemble and often clever script, as it builds to an explosive climax that is just as big as it is audacious.

Saturday, 23 July 2022

The Gray Man (Movie Review)

Netflix has been in the news a lot lately, as the company continues to struggle amidst an evolving streaming landscape. It hasn't all been bad news or lost subscribers though, with the streamer managing to score some major viewership wins through the most recent season of Stranger Things. And now it is once again making a play for theater quality thrills with its latest spy thriller, The Gray Man. But considering a price tag that ranks the film as one of its most expensive, the question becomes whether or not this new blockbuster even manages to justify its existence.

The film stars Ryan Gosling as Sierra Six, a black ops mercenary working for the CIA. He soon finds himself becoming the agency's latest target after he comes into possession of some incriminating evidence. In a bid to stop him, the agency resorts to enlisting the services of a former agent named Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans). But Lloyd proves to be a little more than they can handle, after he shows his willingness to go to any lengths to bring down his target, with no regard for collateral damage.

If it sounds like you've heard that synopsis before then it's probably because you have. Because for all its blockbuster ambitions, The Gray Man is yet another cookie-cutter spy thriller about the shady dealings of intelligence agencies. That is not to say that its derivativeness is an immediate death sentence to the film's prospects, but it surely won't be scoring any points for originality. Where it does attempt to set itself apart from those that came before it though is in its scope and execution.

Much like the novel it is based upon, the movie finds our lead embroiled in an adventure of international espionage. And Ryan Gosling slips into the role of Sierra Six like a glove, with a performance that strikes the right balance between stoic and self-aware. Ana De Armas is likewise very badass as his partner, Dani, although her turn in this film was nowhere as scene-stealing as the one she'd given in No Time to Die. But the biggest standout was of course Chris Evans, who fully embodies the unhinged nature of the film's main antagonist with a performance that could be considered mustache-twirling but comically so.

The movie also looks good for the most part, although I suspect that might depend on your tolerance for its overreliance on drone shots and shaky cam footage. It is also well-paced, never seeming to lose any steam during its two-hour runtime. The Russo brothers clearly know how to keep viewers engaged as they've proven time and time again in their MCU offerings, and they know just when to drop the big setpiece moments that have since grown to define their work.

Some of the action sequences in their latest film are genuinely thrilling to watch, especially if you like over-the-top stunts of the Michael Bay variety. There was one particular chase scene involving a train that is guaranteed to have action junkies at the edge of their seats, showcasing where most of the $200 million production budget went. But anyone expecting thrills of a more cerebral kind would be best off tempering those expectations beforehand.

The Gray Man is ultimately let down by an all-too-familiar story that is just serviceable enough to see it through to the finish line. Its three main stars help to pick up some of the slack, while its action scenes at least give viewers something bright and shiny to ogle at. But none of that is enough to save what essentially feels like another soulless action film being churned out by Netflix in a bid to pad out their growing library of on-demand movies.

Friday, 8 July 2022

Thor: Love and Thunder (Movie Review)

The fourth film to center upon the misadventures of the MCU's resident god of thunder has arrived. And its arrival marks the return of Taika Waititi who once again takes his place in the director's chair, looking to replicate some of the magic he had infused into Thor: Ragnarok. But does his latest film manage to surpass the lofty heights of the previous one or is this just another case of more of the same?

The story picks up right where Avengers: Endgame left off, with Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth) now a proud member of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Meanwhile, a new villain named Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) lives up to his name by wreaking havoc across several planets as he goes around slaying their gods. This would force Thor to set off on a quest to stop him before he rids the entire galaxy of all the gods. But Thor would need all the help he can get, even if it means looking for it in the most unexpected places.

The Thor movies haven't always been in the topmost tier of the MCU. All that had changed with Thor: Ragnarok of course, a movie that many considered a pleasant surprise with how well it balanced some of its heavier subject matters with moments of levity. But with that sense of surprise now gone, Thor: Love and Thunder can't help but feel like another attempt to capture lightning in a bottle. 

This is my way of saying your enjoyment of the film could very well hinge on how much you enjoyed the last one. Because for better or worse, the new film doubles down on a lot of the humor and overall lightheartedness that has since come to define the series. Taika Waititi once again proves that he knows how to handle these characters, bringing out yet another round of standout performances from the cast. Christian Bale was formidable as Gorr, while Russell Crowe provided some of the movie's biggest laughs.

The whole thing did tend to border a little too close to the edge of slapstick this time around though, and while not every single one of its jokes might land, there is bound to be at least one or two that will get even the most jaded or cynical of moviegoers chuckling out loud. I particularly found the two goats to be comically obnoxious, and there was a line about Gorr's teeth that had me in stitches.

Aside from getting its audience to laugh, the movie still needs to provide some decent action to be considered a true product of the MCU. And it certainly delivers on those fronts as well, with some of the most gloriously over-the-top action and heavily stylized blood and gore I've seen in a PG-13 movie. There is one particular scene that was shot in stunning black and white, using splashes of color to depict the interplay between light and shadow. It is such moments that helped elevate the film beyond being just another formulaic entry in the Thor series and larger MCU.

Thor: Love and Thunder employs a lot of the same tricks that helped define Thor: Ragnarok, particularly its reliance on humor to tell an otherwise dark and heartfelt story. Taika Waititi has already proven through prior films like Jojo Rabbit that he knows how to tug on people's heartstrings when he needs to, and he does that so effortlessly in this one. The film might not quite manage to reach or exceed the sheer brilliance of Thor: Ragnarok, but it still offers enough entertainment value to be considered a good time at the movies.

Saturday, 11 June 2022

Top Gun: Maverick (Movie Review)

Long before he became one of Hollywood's most recognizable leading men, Tom Cruise had starred in Top Gun, a film that would go on to become one of the biggest breakout movies of the 1980s. Not only would it gross several times its production budget during its original theatrical run, but it would also produce a successful soundtrack album that would earn it an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Despite all that success, it would take three and a half decades before we finally got a sequel in the form of Top Gun: Maverick. Now that the new film is out in theaters, I figured I would share my thoughts on whether or not it was worth the wait.

The film takes place 36 years after the original, with Captain Pete Mitchell, aka Maverick (Tom Cruise), still working as a naval pilot. Unlike most of his peers, he has refused to advance within the Navy's ranks, just so he can continue flying. But after a reckless maneuver during a test flight causes his superiors to ground him indefinitely, he is given a lifeline by an old friend (Val Kilmer). He is to return to TOPGUN, a school where the very best naval aviators get trained. But not as a student, but rather as an instructor for a new batch of hotshot pilots, as they prepare for the most dangerous mission of their collective careers.

On the surface, a movie like Top Gun: Maverick might look like yet another attempt by a Hollywood studio to revive an old intellectual property using nostalgia and star power. But to dismiss it as such would be doing a disservice to the amount of love and care that has gone into crafting the film. Director Joseph Kosinski has already shown that he has a keen eye for striking visuals through films like Tron: Legacy and Oblivion, and the same vision is on full display in his latest film. The whole thing was filmed in 6K IMAX with over 800 hours of aerial photography captured. The result is some of the most breathtaking visuals to be shown at the cinemas all year and a movie that simply begs to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

All those beautiful shots wouldn't mean anything if the film itself didn't have a decent enough story holding everything together, or if that story didn't center around a cast of relatable characters. Thankfully, the movie has both those areas covered with a solid script that hits all the required story beats as it builds up to an intense climax. Tom Cruise also gives one of his better performances while his co-stars all get to shine in their own ways. The fact that a lot of the film was filmed inside the cockpits of actual fighter jets thousands of feet in the air lends those performances a believability that can't be replicated on a green screen, and the film is better for it.

If there's one aspect of the movie that I could single out for criticism then that would have to be just how heavily it leans into the nostalgia factor. The film practically opens with a shot-for-shot reenactment of the first film's title sequence. It also has a number of callbacks sprinkled throughout its runtime. These include everything from Miles Teller's Rooster rocking the same mustache as Goose, as well as an overreliance on flashbacks to help fill in the gaps of its story. But it is hard to truly fault the movie for any of this, not when everything else is handled so well.

Top Gun: Maverick is another rare sequel that manages to improve upon its predecessor in every conceivable way. It joins the ranks of Blade Runner 2049 and Mad Max: Fury Road to serve as shining examples of how old franchises can be updated for a modern-day audience. While its success is only going to open the floodgates for even more 80s films to be revived or rebooted in the months and years to come, I am still glad that we got this one and that it turned out as well as it did.

Jurassic World Dominion (Movie Review)

The third movie in the Jurassic World trilogy has finally arrived following the surprising turn of events at the end of the last one. Billed as the final film in the larger Jurassic Park franchise, this entry serves as a union of old and new, bringing back beloved characters from the original movie. But does the new film give those characters a worthwhile adventure to embark on or is this merely another retread that relies too heavily on nostalgia?

Set four years after the events of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the film takes place in a world where dinosaurs run rampant and mankind has quickly adapted to their presence. And by adapted, I am referring to the fact that the nefarious among us have found creative ways to exploit the situation, be it through black market auctions or what have you. The new balance would soon be upset though when the greed and ambitions of yet another bioengineering company threatens to bring both species to extinction.

The Jurassic Park movies haven't really had to do too much to justify their existence over the years. Ever since the brilliant original,  all subsequent entries have adhered to the same basic template, for better or worse. They've all had serviceable stories interspersed with some tense dinosaur encounters and setpiece moments. And going by those standards, Jurassic World Dominion is up to snuff.

That said, I must first start by acknowledging that its well-worn formula has started to show its age. There are only so many times a T. Rex can show up at the last minute to save the day after all, before the whole thing starts to feel stale. So the new film certainly won't be scoring any points for inventiveness. Also, the sequels have never quite been able to replicate the awe and wonder we all felt the first time we saw dinosaurs milling about in Jurassic Park, and the same holds true for this one. The film tries hard to replicate shots and key moments from the first film, none of which ever manage to reach the same heights or capture the same thrills.

But all that should go without saying at this point, and Jurassic World Dominion isn't without its own share of thrills. It does take a while before the movie really kicks into gear but once it does, you'll be pretending to fear for the safety of our protagonists along with everyone else. It was nice seeing all three actors from the first film together again, though to call their inclusion in this movie anything other than nostalgia bait would be disingenuous. 

Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard likewise continue to prove themselves capable leads. But make no mistake, the dinosaurs are the true stars of the show, with old favorites like Blue the velociraptor and the T. Rex making a return, as well as a pair of new apex predators that look like the stuff of nightmares. The film has all the tense moments the franchise is known for, even if none of it looks quite as cutting edge as it once did.

My biggest issue with the movie, however, stems from how it manages to gloss over its intriguing premise. Given how the last film had ended, it is a bit disappointing to see how quickly the entire world has come to grips with dinosaurs walking among us. Granted, it's been four years since those dinosaurs broke out from their confines on Isla Nublar, but it would've still been nice if we had gotten to see at least some of that initial chaos hinted at in the prologue for the film that was released last year.

Jurassic World Dominion brings both the new trilogy and the overall franchise to a somewhat subdued close. It does more than enough to be considered an entertaining time at the movies, no doubt, but it does so without any of the flair and brilliance that started the whole thing in the first place. And even though the film has been heavily marketed as the final one in the series, we all know it is only a matter of time before we get another new entry or trilogy. Because much like those shady bioengineering companies, the one thing a Hollywood studio can't pass up on is an opportunity to make even more money.

Wednesday, 18 May 2022

Everything Everywhere All at Once (Movie Review)

The concept of alternate realities is one that has been explored in countless works of fiction. There is something deeply fascinating behind the idea that somewhere out there exists other versions of ourselves. In the span of just a few short months, we've gotten movies like The Matrix Resurrections and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness also taking a stab at this subject matter, both with varying levels of success. And now we have Everything Everywhere All at Once, a movie that is already poised to give all those other works a run for their money.

The film stars Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn Wang, an ordinary woman whose barely-together life is shaken even further after she starts receiving instructions from an alternate universe. Her reality is just one of several that make up the multiverse, all of which are now being threatened by a mysterious enemy seeking to destroy it all. And out of the multitude of Evelyns that exist in the multiverse, hers is the only one capable of unlocking the unique set of skills needed to prevent this from happening. 

If it sounds like you've heard that plot summary before, that's because you probably have. For all intents and purposes, this is the same basic premise from the 2001 sci-fi movie, The One. Except instead of Jet Li turning two motorcycles into lethal weapons, we have a just as capable Michelle Yeoh, and the craziness surrounding its high-concept premise has been dialed all the way up to 11. 
But to say that Everything Everywhere All at Once is nothing more than a rehash of older films would be very reductive and also not true at all. It is, simply put, a transcendent work that manages to outdo everything that came before it at every turn. The film itself almost defies classification, taking all its familiar concepts and using them as a springboard to craft something truly profound. 
Its narrative touches upon everything from existential crisis to the meaning of life itself, and it does so with a surprising level of heart you wouldn't expect from what is essentially a comedy with plenty of visual gags and some gross-out humor. But it is the way in which all its disparate genres have been stitched together that lends the film its uniqueness, resulting in one of the wildest cinematic rides that I've been on since Mad Max: Fury Road.

At the core of that experience is a career-best performance from Michelle Yeoh. She channels the full gamut of her skill set in order to bring Evelyn to life, from her nuanced dramatic acting and comedic timing to some of the most creative uses of martial arts seen outside of a Jackie Chan movie. Her role was actually originally intended for the seasoned actor and it is easy to see how the current iteration of the character pays homage to his earlier work.

Everything Everywhere All at Once lives up to its promise of a wild and wacky adventure that is unlike anything you've seen before. Its high-concept premise wouldn't feel out of place in a Rick and Morty episode and I mean that in the best way possible. Some aspects of its narrative might not appeal to everyone's tastes, but there is indeed something here for every type of movie fan. This is the true Multiverse of Madness and the fact that it is able to tell a compelling story while passing a heartfelt message is reason enough for why it is worthy of your time.

Friday, 13 May 2022

The Northman (Movie Review)

After making a stunning directorial debut with The Witch in 2015, Robert Eggers returns to helm The Northman, his most ambitious project yet. The historical epic is said to have cost somewhere north of $70 million to make, a huge jump from the shoestring budgets behind his two previous films. But does all that additional money translate into a better movie, or does his latest film get bogged down by the conventions of blockbuster filmmaking?

The film is loosely based upon the legend of Amleth, a Viking prince on a quest for vengeance. Having witnessed his father die at the hands of his uncle, he vows to save his mother from his evil clutches and to bring bloody retribution to the usurper. But it would appear that the gods have greater things in store for Amleth, and he'll be forced to choose between fulfilling that destiny or carrying out his revenge on those who have wronged him and anyone standing in his way. 

From the moment I first caught wind of The Northman, it looked like a film with heaps of potential. Not only was it being helmed by one of the freshest visionaries working in Hollywood today, but it also had him stepping outside of his comfort zone to tackle something that looked very grand in its ambitions. But don't let its big-budget aspirations fool you; The Northman is still an arthouse film at its core. This is not a knock on the film or its marketing by the way, just my way of attempting to help set realistic expectations. 
Its classic revenge tale is interspersed with plenty of surrealist imagery, and the action takes a back seat in favor of beautiful shot compositions. All these things work together to lend the film a visual identity that has Robert Eggers' fingerprints all over it. Even the dialogue and the actors' deliveries bring to mind his prior work on both The Witch and The Lighthouse. And much like those films, this latest one has a supernatural element that has you questioning what is real or make believe.

Speaking of actors, the film has a stellar ensemble that features past collaborators like Anya Taylor-Joy and Willem Dafoe, as well as Alexander SkarsgÄrd, Nicole Kidman, and Ethan Hawke. Each one goes above and beyond with their performances, helping elevate the material past the appeal of a typical revenge flick.

Gore hounds would also be pleased to know that the film wears its R-rating like a badge of honor. This is a movie about Vikings after all, doing Viking stuff and generally being loud and aggressive. There are more than a few decapitations and disembowelments sprinkled throughout the film but it never becomes needlessly excessive.

The Northman marks yet another win for Robert Eggers, proving that he can just as easily excel at big-budget productions. It is easy to see where all the money went with its high production values and mesmerizing visuals. Its violence and artful approach might not be to everyone's taste, but its brisk pacing and easy-to-follow story should ensure that it stays captivating enough for everyone else.

Friday, 6 May 2022

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Movie Review)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues its expansion into realms unknown in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Billed as the MCU's first true stab at horror, they'd picked what many felt was the perfect director to bring this darker side of the universe to the big screen. But does Sam Raimi manage to do justice to the material, or is this perhaps another misstep in the highly-beloved franchise.

The film picks up after the former Sorcerer Supreme's shenanigans in Spider-Man: No Way Home. But in terms of overall continuity, the movie has closer ties with the first Doctor Strange film and his involvement in Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, as well as WandaVision and certain story beats from Marvel's What If...? Because of this, the aforementioned stories seem like required viewing in order to fully grasp what is going on here.

In terms of the film's actual plot though, it is hard to discuss any of it without immediately falling into spoiler territory. I'm still shocked by how much of it was already revealed in the trailers. But believe me when I say that none of that is enough to prepare you for the true scope of the film, which goes beyond anything you could've imagined. There are plenty of twists along the way and the fact that they were able to condense all that storytelling into two hours is a feat in itself.

So I'll just jump right into my thoughts about the film, which I thought was amazing. Or to put it in another way, the film was every bit as wild and bonkers as its trailers promised, and then some. It delves into areas of Marvel lore that have seldom been explored outside of the comic books, showing once again that Kevin Feige and his writers still have a vast sea of material to craft stories from.

It also paints a bright picture for the future of the MCU, with crowd-pleasing cameos that hint at great things to come down the road ahead. And speaking of paint and pictures, Multiverse of Madness is easily the most visually-striking film in the MCU, managing to outdo the already mind-bending first Doctor Strange movie at every turn. 

Sam Raimi really goes all in with the otherworldly depictions of the various beings and creatures that call the darkest recesses of the multiverse home, lending the film his signature touch and never shying away from becoming too scary or graphic with its violence. It might not be a straight-up horror film but this is as close to horror as the MCU has ever managed to get, and I am here for it.

I do indeed need to also touch upon the stars of the whole thing. It is, after all, still a Doctor Strange movie. Both Elizabeth Olsen and Benedict Cumberbatch give what is perhaps their best performances as their respective characters since they'd set foot in the MCU, while Xochitl Gomez makes a memorable debut as America Chavez. It was also nice seeing both Rachel McAdams and Chiwetel Ejiofor reprise their roles from the first film, and Benedict Wong gets to shine like never before.

It is almost tempting for me to end the review here and declare that Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a perfect film. But if I'm to point out any perceived flaws in its storytelling, then it's the fact that the film often felt too overstuffed for its two-hour runtime. It is also worth mentioning that the horror elements might not be to everyone's taste, especially families with younger children who'd grown to love these characters over the course of the previous films. But if you're a fan of Sam Raimi and his work on past films like Evil Dead and Drag Me to Hell, then there's plenty to love about this one.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a treat for the eyes and senses. But even more than that, it is one of those rare sequels that manages to upstage its original. I haven't been this thoroughly entertained by a Sam Raimi film since Spider-Man 2. The director once again proves why his unique sensibilities work so well in the context of a comic book movie, and it is that vision that carries his latest film through in the end.

Wednesday, 27 April 2022

365 Days: This Day (Movie Review)

Netflix just keeps delivering the goods, beefing up its catalog of quality at-home entertainment with banger after banger. All jokes and puns aside though, the streaming giant has been in the news recently for losing subscribers despite the immense success of shows like Squid Game. But with movies like 365 Days on the opposite end of the spectrum, it is easy to imagine why. We are not here to discuss the company's financial woes alas, but rather their sequel to one of 2020's most notorious movies.

Following the cliffhanger ending seen in the last film, the new one opens with a dreamlike sequence that wastes no time in showing viewers what type of movie it is: a glorified telenovela filmed like a string of music videos masking as an erotic thriller. But if you somehow manage to make it past that opening without clicking off Netflix, then you'll discover that the story begins one day before the wedding between our two protagonists, Massimo and Laura.

The movie wastes no time in brushing aside all the loose threads from the last one. Not only is Laura alive and well, but she is also no longer pregnant. I guess a baby bump or motherly duties would have gotten in the way of all the steamy sex scenes they had planned for the film. That one detail aside, we finally get to see our two lovers legitimize their romance through holy matrimony. 

But the honeymoon phase doesn't last very long and Laura is soon forced to grapple with what it truly means to be the wife of a mafioso. In the midst of all that grappling walks in Massimo 2.0, a hired hand named Nacho whose textbook advances slowly begin to win Laura's affections. Now Laura must also grapple with her loyalty to Massimo as the very foundation of their ill-conceived love gets tested.

Let me just start by saying that I realize there is a target audience for these types of low-brow erotic films, and that I am clearly well outside that demographic. That said, every movie is still made up of the same fundamental elements like plot and characterization, regardless of genre. And while individual films might be shaped by genre conventions, those basics still act like the glue holding the whole thing together. So I figured I'd assess this one on those very grounds.

In terms of plot, the story in 365 Days: This Day is pretty much the same generic "trouble in paradise" tale we've seen a million times in better films. But here it is cobbled together so sloppily that the mere act of sitting through it feels like a chore. The characters are likewise one-dimensional with often questionable motives, spouting meme-worthy lines of dialogue while failing to show any meaningful growth or development. But I bet no one was heading into this film expecting any different.

In fact, I'm pretty certain the only reason this film was green-lit was to tap into the demand for female-skewing erotic entertainment ala 50 Shades of Grey, and on those grounds, its existence seems almost justified. Noticed I'd said almost because the sex scenes themselves are so heavily scripted and overproduced that they can't help but come across as stiff and comically so. But I suppose if that's what you're here for then at least there's enough of it to make enduring all the bad dialogue and sloppy writing seem worthwhile.

In case I haven't made it clear enough at this point, 365 Days: This Day is as bottom-of-the-barrel as it gets. It caters to the lowest common denominator in a way that even defenders of the original film (all two or three of them) are bound to feel insulted. There are, quite frankly, far better erotic films out there for those that care enough to seek them out, making it very hard to recommend this one to anyone but the laziest of Netflix subscribers.

Thursday, 31 March 2022

Morbius (Movie Review)

Coming fresh off of the success it had gotten with Spider-Man: No Way Home last Christmas, all eyes are on Sony and the third film in their villain-centric Spider-Man Universe, Morbius. This is after several delays that saw the film get moved out of its original 2020 release date, all the way to April 1st, 2022. And as trailers continued to sell us on the film's connections to Spider-Man and the other villains in his rogue's gallery, so also did our interest continue to grow. But like a cruel April Fool joke that nobody saw coming, the movie finally arrives to show us that things are not quite what they seem.

The film stars Jared Leto as Michael Morbius, a doctor who was born with a rare blood disorder. In his quest to find a cure for his illness, he begins to conduct experiments with a peculiar breed of bats he believes have the enzyme needed to reverse his condition. But the experiment ends up also giving him some of their other vampire-like qualities, including their insatiable thirst for human blood. Now Morbius must wrestle against becoming the monster people already see him as, before he ends up hurting those who are dearest to him.

On the surface, Morbius looks like a film with lots of potential. We have a fairly popular antihero from the Spider-Man comic books being played by a more-than-capable Jared Leto. We also have the promise of connections to the larger Sony Spider-Man Universe. Most importantly though, we have an origin story that looked like it would deliver both the heart and thrills we've all come to expect from these comic book movies.

And sure enough, the movie starts off with all of the aforementioned promises intact. But it doesn't take very long before the whole thing quickly loses its way with an incoherence that needs to be seen to be believed. Everything from the dialogue, to the one-dimensional characters reeks of a script that needed more than a few more passes in the writing room.

The one area where the film could have scored any kind of redemption points is in its action scenes and even those are marred with a CGI-heavy style that seems ripped straight out of the mid-2000s. It is difficult to tell what is happening at any given moment and most times you just want the whole thing to stop before you develop a headache trying to decipher any of it.

But the movie's biggest offense in my opinion is its utter failure to live up to expectations. The film was heavily marketed as a part of the larger Sony Spider-Man Universe. But any connection it has with the recent Spider-Man films is tenuous at best. In fact, many of the scenes and connections shown in the trailers are nowhere to be seen in the actual movie, in what is probably the most egregious case of false advertising I have seen in recent memory.

It is not all doom and gloom though, as the film did have one or two areas that managed to shine through the murk. First there is Jared Leto as Morbius, whose performance was heartfelt and restrained. Then there was the opening bit like I said, which looked like it should've led into a far better movie than the one we got. Except none of that is enough to save what is essentially another movie more concerned with building an interconnected universe than actually telling a coherent story.

To say that Morbius is a barely comprehensible mess would be putting it lightly. It is, quite simply, one of the worst comic book movies to grace cinema screens since Vin Diesel's Bloodshot. Anyone planning to catch the film on the big screen is advised to do so with heaps of garlic and holy water in tow. And even then, you'll be hard pressed to glean any kind of enjoyment out of its 1 hour and 44 minutes, other than perhaps chuckling at just how bad the whole thing ends up becoming.

Friday, 11 March 2022

Turning Red (Movie Review)

Pixar Animation Studio continues to deliver the goods with Turning Red, their latest coming-of-age adventure film. The movie is helmed by Domee Shi in her feature film directorial debut, whose work on the 2018 short film, Bao, had earned her an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. So anticipation for her latest project was always going to be high, which has only been further heightened by its intriguing premise and good-looking trailers. But does the film itself live up to those expectations, or does it manage to exceed them?

In Turning Red, 13-year-old Mei Lee seems to have everything figured out. She's a straight-As scoring student that balances her free time between helping out her mum at their family-run Temple and hanging out with her close-knit friends, Miriam, Abby, and Priya (not to mention the bond they've forged over their shared obsession with the terribly misnamed boy band, 4*Town).

But beneath her cool exterior lies a girl still struggling to accept the changes that come with adolescence, least of which includes her sudden attraction to members of the opposite sex. And things become even more complicated when she also starts transforming into a giant red panda whenever she experiences an emotional outburst. Now she must learn to keep things under control or risk having her once-straightforward life come crashing down around her.

When it was first announced that Turning Red was going to be skipping theaters in favor of a Disney+ debut, I'd initially felt a jolt of disappointment. This was after all one of the films I was looking forward to the most in 2022, and the third straight Pixar film being sent to the streaming service following both Soul and Luca. But much like those other films had done in 2020 and 2021 respectively, this one also manages to shine despite being relegated to the small screen in key territories.

This has a lot to do with the movie's overall charm and its strong message about the value of friendship. Even though that message would appear geared towards teenage girls, much of what is depicted should be instantly recognizable for anyone who grow up in the late 90s or early 2000s, especially during the height of boy band mania. And while Mei Lee's hijinx are often played for laughs, watching her and her friends navigate adolescence and its inherent messiness is something we can all relate to on some level.

On the production front, Turning Red is completely gorgeous to look at. But I'm pretty sure you already knew that, given Pixar's past work and their tendency for producing top-of-the-line animation. A talented voice cast helps to bring that animation to life, including Sandra Oh as Mei Lee's mother, Ming. Brother and sister duo Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell also populate its soundtrack with some period-accurate pop songs, while Ludwig Goransson rounds out the score.

Turning Red captures enough of the old Pixar magic to make it a worthwhile watch for the entire family. It serves as a great metaphor for the various changes that accompany a young girl's transition to womanhood, while still resonating with young and older audiences alike with some of the funniest gags to make it into an animated film under the Disney umbrella. Above all, it is a film about accepting one's self, even if that might not fit into the broader expectations of others or the ones we care about the most.

Saturday, 5 March 2022

The Batman (Movie Review)

It is no secret that The Batman was my most anticipated movie heading into 2022. Following in the footsteps of the 2019 film, Joker, this latest iteration of the Caped Crusader was intended as another standalone DC project, existing outside of the DCEU and divorced from everything that came before it. And from the time that the very first trailers dropped, it was clear that director Matt Reeves had a vision for the film that was steeped in film noir sensibilities. But does all that style translate into a worthwhile movie or is this yet another case of style over substance?

The movie finds a world-weary Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattison) in his second year as the masked vigilante known as Batman. But this is Batman as we've never seen him before on film, a hard-boiled detective that isn't afraid to crack skulls to get answers. He has formed an uneasy alliance with the Gotham PD, through police commissioner, James Gordon (Geoffrey Wright). Their relationship becomes even more strained though when a serial killer known as the Riddler (Paul Dano) starts adorning his victims with personal messages addressed to Batman. But as they race against time to catch the criminal mastermind before he claims more victims, they uncover a trail of corruption threatening to shake the very foundations of the crime-ridden city.

My expectations were always going to be sky-high going into a movie like The Batman. After all, we've had to endure a more than 5-month delay following production troubles during the height of the coronavirus outbreak. And in all that additional time, my anticipation had only continued to grow, spurred on by solid trailer after solid trailer. So the movie certainly felt like it had a lot to live up to. This was not only promising to be a fresh take on a truly beloved DC icon, it was also coming in the wake of the high bar already set by the excellent Dark Knight trilogy. Even the DCEU had already shown us what a world-weary Batman would look like. So it was always going to be a question of whether or not this new film will be able to hit that bar, or at the very least, justify its existence.

Well, I'm pleased to say that the movie definitely didn't disappoint, at least going by the experience I had during my initial viewing. Notice I'd said initial viewing because quite frankly, this is one of those films that simply demands to be seen more than once to fully appreciate. At almost 3 hours in length, the movie is packed with so much detail and interconnected story threads that it often teetered on the edge of becoming overwhelming. That said, I did appreciate that all of it was well-paced and the movie never started to lose any steam or feel like a slog. Most of that is due to Matt Reeve's deft handling of the script, which remained captivating from the opening monologue up until the credits started to roll.

Speaking of monologue, we do indeed have to touch on Robert Pattison's portrayal of both Bruce Wayne and Batman. The seasoned actor continues to prove his acting chops beyond his early Harry Potter and Twilight days, giving us what is easily one of the most grounded versions of Bruce Wayne and Batman we've gotten in live-action. It was impressive the amount of emotion he was able to convey with very little dialogue, as we could still feel all the pain and conflict he was going through in every single scene. All that emotion and overall broodiness might come across as excessive for some though, but I felt it worked in the context of the story the movie was trying to tell.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't say something about Michael Giacchino's score for the film, which was every bit as rousing as one would expect from a film of this scope. But I think where the film shines the brightest is in its visuals. And no, I don't mean that ironically, as the decision to set most of the film at nighttime certainly plays a role in how the city of Gotham was perceived. Its griminess is almost palpable, like a cesspool that is on the very edge of imploding. The actors are also constantly draped in shadows, with plenty of silhouettes and shots that looked like they could have been ripped straight off the pages of a graphic novel. The film is definitely a looker and one that deserves to be seen on the biggest (and hopefully brightest) screen available.

The Batman might not be the DC hero's best cinematic outing to date, but it certainly ranks as one of his most ambitious. It captures a side of the "World's Greatest Detective" that is often neglected in film while peeling back layers of his character that offer more insight into his dual personas and the toll one takes on the other. Most importantly, the film makes yet another case for why comic book movies that exist outside of established cinematic universes need to be greenlit more often. Because that is where true creativity has the freedom to blossom. And yes, I realize that another shared universe is already being planned around this new film. But it was still refreshing to see Matt Reeves take a clean break from everything that came before to craft something truly visionary.

Friday, 11 February 2022

Uncharted (Movie Review)

In recent years, video games have grown to be more and more cinematic in their scope and ambitions. And nowhere is that push for filmic thrills as evident as in the games in the Uncharted series. At once a riff on Indiana Jones and the various action blockbusters we've gotten since then, those games have perfected the art of delivering jaw-dropping setpiece moments. So one would think that the intellectual property is just prime for adapting into film. But how well does it actually translate into the very medium that served as inspiration for its source material?

The movie cold opens with a scene that seems to offer a glimpse of the many thrills that await within its relatively short runtime. But before long, we find ourselves in flashback territory, as a young Nathan Drake does mischievous deeds with his older brother, Sam. Flash forward to present day and an older Nathan is approached by a man named Victor Sullivan, with an offer to help him find some long lost pirate treasure along with the promise of reuniting him with his estranged brother. Throw in a generic villain by way of Antonio Banderas' Moncada, who is also trying to get to the treasure, and you get the general gist of the movie.
If ever there was a film that illustrates the vast gulf that exists between the movie and video game mediums, then that film is Uncharted. The movie simply lacks much of the spark that made the video games special, instead delivering a run-of-the-mill adventure we've seen done better in other films. I concede that each medium has its own idiosyncrasies, and what works in one doesn't necessarily work in the other. For example, while a game has the benefit of telling its story over the course of as many hours as it has exciting gameplay to sustain its player, its film adaptation has to condense all that storytelling into two hours or less.

But all that said, it is still quite baffling how a property like Uncharted could feel like it was merely ticking off boxes while running on autopilot. The decision to adapt bits and pieces of the various games into one movie doesn't work, as we don't have any of the emotional weight that carried those scenes in the games, due to an overall lack of adequate character development. 
Victor Sullivan doesn't come across as anything more than a jerk for huge swaths of the film, and even Tom Holland's boyish charisma isn't enough to elevate his version of Nathan Drake past the appeal of yet another generic action hero. So when both characters are thrust into increasingly perilous situations over the course of the film, it is hard to truly care. To its credit, the film did have one or two surprises along the way, but none of that really worked to shine a new light on the characters involved. 
But poor character development and average writing aside, how about those setpiece moments the games are known for? Sadly, even those are marred by the same overall blandness that seems to permeate much of the film. Add in the fact that some of the special effects on display were of a questionable quality and one starts to wonder what went wrong. Any fans of the games planning to go into the movie solely to see their favorite setpiece moments recreated would be better off just replaying those moments in the games instead.

The video game movie curse rears its ugly head once again in Uncharted, a middle-of-the-road adventure film that barely does enough to entertain. Anyone coming into the film with the games as a frame of reference would be sorely disappointed with just how bland and generic the entire affair has turned out. This is not to say that the film is without its thrills, as it certainly has some setpiece moments as already disclosed in its trailers. But when those thrills feel so tame and watered-down compared to the source material's, it is hard to come out of the movie feeling any kind of satisfaction. 

Monday, 3 January 2022

My Top 10 Most Anticipated Movies for 2022

As the 2021 holiday season slows to an end, the time has come to set our sights on what we can expect in 2022. I am of course talking about the many movies that will serve as escapism over the course of the next 12 months, be that at the cinema or on the various streaming platforms like Netflix. Thankfully, we don't have that many carryovers from the previous year this time around, as the film industry continues to adapt to the new climate, even in the face of the latest variant of concern.

I've tried as much as possible to limit my selection of 2022 movies to those ones that currently have concrete release dates, as well as some form of teaser, trailer or promotional material shared detailing what the film is about. That said, I might still sneak in one or two pie-in-the-sky movies simply because my anticipation for it cannot be contained, even in the absence of said details. So with all that out of the way, here are my Top 10 Most Anticipated Movies of 2022.

10. Morbius

One of the few films to get bumped into 2022, Morbius is an upcoming superhero movie wherein Jared Leto plays the eponymous scientist turned vampire. Sony Pictures Entertainment is currently busy building its own shared cinematic universe to rival Disney's, with their Spider-Man movies serving as its foundation. And so far, it would appear that they've scored nothing but hits with both Venom movies and all their Spider-Man films managing to resonate with fans. This is why all eyes are currently set on Morbius to keep that winning streak going.

9. Jurassic World: Dominion

The highly-anticipated third film in the current Jurassic World trilogy (itself a spin-off of the prior Jurassic Park trilogy) should be hitting cinemas just in time for summer. And if the 5-minute prologue that was shown on IMAX screens last year is anything to go by, the film looks primed to follow in the footsteps of both Jurassic World and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Colin Trevorrow returns to direct, after stepping away for the prior installment, and his latest film is set 4 years after the last one, following that film's surprise ending.

8. Lightyear

Pixar once again returns to the property that helped make them a household name in the realm of animation, but not in the form of another Toy Story sequel. Lightyear is rather a prequel of sorts, going over the exploits of the astronaut that served as inspiration for the Buzz Lightyear line of action figures from those other films. Little is known about the project beyond that premise, but if the studio's body of work is anything to go by, then moviegoers are in for a treat.

7. Black Adam

The Rock steps into the realm of superhero fiction in Black Adam, an upcoming film in the DCEU. The long-in-development project is being positioned as a spin-off of the 2019 film, Shazam!, which is itself set to receive a sequel in 2023 (keep an eye out for it on my 2023 most anticipated films list). Fans got their first real look at the movie in last year's DC FanDome, with a short clip that shows plenty of potential for what would hopefully be another win for the DCEU.

6. The Flash

Speaking of DC FanDome, one of the films that had the most buzz heading into the event was the forthcoming Flash movie. Simply titled The Flash, the film finds Ezra Miller reprising his role as the DC speedster from Justice League. But what had fans most excited was the news that both Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck would be reprising their roles as Bruce Wayne/Batman in a story that involves time travel and multiple timelines. And those fans finally got their first glimpse of the former in the short clip that was shown during the event.

5. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Following the incredible success of the first Black Panther film in 2018, as well as the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman in 2020, a lot of speculation has been had regarding what direction the next film in the series would be forced to take. The first film remains one of the most widely beloved films in the MCU, and a lot of that has to do with the man at the center of the film. And while the new film's production is still very much influx at the moment, it is currently slated for a November 11th release date. Here's hoping that it not only honors and carries on Chadwick Boseman's legacy, but also meets and exceeds expectations in other ways.

4. Turning Red

We return to Pixar yet again on my list of most anticipated films for 2022 with Turning Red, an animated film about a young girl with an uncanny tendency to turn into a giant red panda whenever she gets anxious. The premise alone is reason enough to get excited for the film, but when you couple that with some truly gorgeous animation and the studio's pedigree, then it quickly becomes one of 2022's most promising titles.

3. Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse (Part One)

As though the highs of the recent Spider-Man: No Way Home were not enough to tide Spidey fans over until his next MCU appearance, Sony upped and dropped a trailer for the sequel to their Academy Award-winning animated film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. This time around, it appears that Miles Morales and friends would be going "Across the Spider-Verse" as its title alludes. The film is just the first part in what is currently being billed as an overall trilogy, so buckle up for what is sure to be another wild ride.

2. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

And while we are still on the topic of Spider-Man, or Spider-Man: No Way Home specifically, the next movie in the MCU looks set to address the ramifications of the events of that film. In Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Stephen Strange would have to join forces with Wanda Maximoff as he attempts to deal with the consequences of his actions. The film also appears to tie into his appearance in the animated What If...? series, so there's plenty riding on it as things currently stand.

1. The Batman

After suffering a delay that saw it get bumped from October into March 2022, Matt Reeves' The Batman is presently slated to do gangbusters at the box office. The film will have Robert Pattison putting on the caped crusader's cowl in the masked vigilante's latest attempts to clean up the streets of Gotham. And if the trailers are any kind of indication, then this version of Batman might just be the most brutal we've gotten thus far.

Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan have left a rather high-water mark for all subsequent Batman films to follow. But as we saw from Ben Aflleck's take on both Bruce Wayne and Batman, there are still several shades of his character yet to be explored on the big screen. The Batman appears to be the latest one of those, a gritty look at crime fighting that has more in common with films like Se7en than the likes of Batman v Superman and Justice League. And I am all for it.