Saturday 29 June 2024

A Quiet Place: Day One (Movie Review)

From the moment that A Quiet Place had turned into the surprise hit of 2018, it was fated to become yet another horror franchise for studios to exploit. So you can imagine my surprise when its follow-up, A Quiet Place Part II, had somehow managed to replicate its winning formula without feeling like a mere rehash. But does the latest entry in the series, A Quiet Place: Day One, recapture the essence of those first two movies or has the franchise started to succumb to the laws of diminishing returns?

The new film functions as both a prequel and a spinoff, as it shifts its focus from the Abbott family in favor of a pair of new survivors, Sam and Eric (played by Lupita Nyong'o and Joseph Quinn respectively). And as the title alludes, it also focuses on the first days of the arrival of the creatures dubbed death angels by many. Both must navigate the many dangers and horrors that await them in the ravaged streets of an apocalyptic New York City, as they try to survive the onslaught of aliens lurking around every corner.

Prior to watching A Quiet Place: Day One, I must admit that I had developed a healthy dose of skepticism at the mere announcement of the project. Not only were we no longer following the story of the surviving members of the Abbott family, who we've grown to love and care about over the course of two brilliant films, but it was also covering old ground by depicting events that took place on Day 1 of the alien infestation. Then there were the trailers as well which made the film look like a considerable departure from the close-quarter thrills of the first two films.

I say all this to drive home the fact that I was already predisposed to being disappointed by the movie. But I had still done my best to keep an open mind, believing that the movie would at least manage to justify its own existence. And now that I have finally seen the film, I can say that I am equal parts relieved while still being somewhat let down by the story they'd chosen to tell. I was relieved that my concerns following the trailers had been mostly unfounded, as the movie delivered the kind of tense encounters that were worthy of the "A Quiet Place" name.

But my disappointment is due to the fact that the movie simply lacks the same emotional weight I had felt while watching the prior films, and most of that stems from its new leads being nowhere as endearing as those that came before. Lupita does an admirable job as Sam but her performance never quite rises to the same level of brilliance she had shown in a film like Us. The same can be said of Joseph Quinn, who shows none of the charisma and bravado he had shown in the brilliant fourth season of Stranger Things.

I acknowledge that none of these things are a fault of the actors I mentioned, as I'm sure they'd played their characters to perfection as written in the script. The problem is with the characters themselves and the film's inability to make me care about their plight. The first two films gave us protagonists we could immediately care about because of how relatable each member of the Abbott family seemed. The same cannot be said of Sam and Eric, who more often than not felt more like overused Hollywood archetypes rather than living, breathing human beings.

With most of the negative stuff out of the way, I must equally acknowledge all the things I felt the movie manages to get right. Chief among these are the various alien encounters. The death angels felt like an ever-present threat for the most part rather than the glob of CGI creatures the trailers had made them out to be. I was pleased to see most of the action the trailers were filled with take a back seat in favor of actual horror and some effective jump scares.

I also loved the look of the film's New York setting, with its fog-filled streets lending it an otherworldly feel that only helped to heighten the tension. And this is when the film works best, when it has us holding our breaths in anticipation of the next unexpected appearance by its true stars, the hideous aliens that retain their status as nightmare fuel. It's just a shame that that tension never gets dialed up to eleven like in the first two films, held back as it was by a lack of compelling leads and some rather questionable writing choices.

A Quiet Place: Day One is the kind of film a franchise produces once it has started to run out of steam. After all, there are only so many times you can reuse the same basic premise before it starts to feel kind of stale. Add in the fact that the film tends to get heavy-handed with its handling of some of the more sensitive aspects of its subject matter and you start to understand why it might not be for everyone. And while it offers its own share of close-quarter thrills and some very cool highlights, the overall movie lacks the emotional pull that helped elevate prior entries.

Saturday 25 May 2024

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (Movie Review)

The Mad Max franchise gets reignited once again as Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga races into cinemas this weekend. And as the title suggests, it is a film that centers upon the one-armed imperator from Mad Max: Fury Road, who many believed had effectively upstaged Max in his own movie. But now that she has a movie all to herself, does it give any additional insight into what makes the character tick or is it merely another excuse to have a bunch of road warriors battle it out across the beautiful desert backdrop of the Wasteland?

The film takes place several years before the events of Mad Max: Fury Road, in a post-apocalyptic future where warring factions battle for dwindling resources. It opens with a young Furiosa just before she gets abducted from her home in the Green Place, a place of abundance in an otherwise unforgiving land. But her mother doesn't give her up without a fight, even though it ultimately costs the older woman her life when they cross paths with the evil warlord, Dementus. Furiosa soon finds herself property of Immortan Joe of the Citadel and there she begins the process of working her way up the ranks of his War Boys, fueled by a quest for revenge and a desire to find her way back home.

After getting blown away by the sheer brilliance of Mad Max: Fury Road in 2015, I was pleased to learn that the franchise was going to receive another entry. So you can imagine my disappointment when I also learnt that this next entry would be taking the form of a prequel. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with prequels if done right. But I would have preferred something that moved the overall story forward, and that same sentiment encapsulates my feelings coming out of Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga.

The first thing that caught me off guard while watching the film was its pacing and overall length. The film doesn't remotely match the kinetic pace and energy that made Fury Road so great, nor does it attempt to as it instead focuses on fleshing out the backstory of its title character, as well as the world and lore that her story take place within. In addition to revisiting the Citadel, we actually get to see the other strongholds of Gastown and the Bullet Farm this time around. But in its attempt to show us more of the world the films take place in, the movie loses some of the mystic that made these places and the characters that inhabit them so memorable.

And speaking of characters, we get quite a number of new and returning faces, as well as one specific cameo I won't spoil here. Despite receiving top billing, I was surprised to see that Anya Taylor-Joy didn't actually make an appearance until nearly an hour into the film. And while I was initially skeptical that they had opted to recast the role of Furiosa with someone younger, she effectively channels the same stoic determination and overall badassery that Charlize Theron had brought to the role in Fury Road.

Chris Hemsworth likewise joins the pantheon of great Mad Max villains as Dementus, a man that more than lives up to his name over the course of the film. He was equal parts terrifying and charismatic, and always a joy to see whenever he was on screen. It was also nice seeing characters like Rictus Erectus, the Bullet Farmer, the People Eater, and of course Immortan Joe and his party of War Boys all make a return, although the knowledge of their ultimate fates in Fury Road make the reunion all the more bittersweet.

But I think where Furiosa truly succeeds is in its action sequences. George Miller had already outdone himself with Mad Max: Fury Road, a film that was shot largely using practical stunts with a sprinking of VFX, and a lot of that remains the same here. Just when I thought I'd seen all the cool ways that people could get thrown off motorcycles or chewed up by cars, the film doles out even more vehicular madness to show I ain't seen nothing yet. All of it was beautifully shot and appropriately epic, even if it doesn't quite outshine what came before.

Furiosa can be considered yet another benchmark for post-apocalyptic action movies. But while Fury Road had put nearly all action films before and after its release to shame, this one merely serves as a reminder of why George Miller, at 79 years old, is one of the very best directors still working within that specific subgenre. And even though the film takes a while to get going, and it sometimes struggles to justify its own existence, it ultimately satisfied my hunger for more Mad Max movies, at least until we get that proper sequel that's hopefully still in the works.

Friday 29 March 2024

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (Movie Review)

Between last year's Godzilla Minus One and the Apple TV+ show, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, it sure feels like a great time to be a Godzilla fan. And while I am still yet to watch the former and I wasn't particularly keen on the latter, I was very much eager to see what new tricks the titular kaiju had up its monstrous sleeves in Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire. But does the latest entry in Legendary's MonsterVerse bring anything new to the table or is it simply more of the same?

The film serves as a direct sequel to Godzilla vs. Kong, so those who never got around to watching Monarch can rest easy as that show has no real bearing on the film's events. Much of the movie takes place in the Hollow Earth, where Kong now resides with hopes of making a new home for himself. But he soon stumbles across an entire tribe of giant apes and their tyrannical leader, the Scar King, who is hellbent on spreading his tyranny to the surface world. 

Meanwhile, Godzilla has slipped back into his role of sole alpha and protector of mankind as he continues to keep the different categories of kaiju at bay. But when he suddenly starts seeking out sources of radiation to draw power from, it becomes clear that he is preparing for his most powerful adversary yet. Now, the two titular titans must once again set aside their differences and band together in the ultimate monster tag team. 

The MonsterVerse films have never really taken themselves too seriously. And with each subsequent entry, the filmmakers have leaned increasingly harder into each one's inherent campiness. So anyone going into Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire expecting high art only has themselves to blame at this point. That said, I still found myself taken aback by just how nonsensical this new MonsterVerse entry manages to get in its two-hour runtime.

To call the story in the movie convoluted and dumb would be putting it lightly. It often approaches Transformers levels of ridiculousness with just how logic-defying and reliant on plot contrivances it becomes. It is almost as though Adam Wingard and his writers had taken a bet to cram in as much ridiculous action and farfetched storytelling as humanly possible. But depending on who you ask, that could either be considered a good thing or a bad thing. 

Much like prior entries, the new film suffers from a slew of issues that range from inconsistent pacing to human characters that are just nowhere as compelling as their kaiju counterparts. However, the decision to trim the roster of human characters down and to give the kaiju more screen time ultimately helped to keep the film moving along before it turned into a slog. But I still felt we could have gotten to the meat of the action much sooner.

Because Godzilla x Kong shines brightest when it simply lets its two titans loose to cause all manner of chaos and destruction. It never gets old watching entire cities get wrecked in the wake of these monsters and the film delivers plenty of that, especially in its explosive third act. The visual effects bringing all that chaos and destruction to life were adequate for the most part, although I don't see it winning any awards at next year's Oscars.

Godzilla x Kong doesn't quite match the sheer thrills of the last MonsterVerse movie, but it certainly packs enough of a punch that it is sure to satisfy Kaiju fans. The movie lives up to its title by offering the kind of monster mayhem most of us could only ever dream of as kids. And while it does require leaving your brain firmly checked at the door to overlook some of its more egregious shortcomings, the overall package is still worthy enough to earn another recommendation from me.

Saturday 2 March 2024

Dune: Part Two (Movie Review)

The 2024 moviegoing season begins in earnest with the release of Dune: Part Two, the second half of Denis Villeneuve's adaptation of Frank Herbert's seminal sci-fi epic. Originally slated for an October 2023 release, the film was unceremoniously bumped amidst last year's writers and actors strikes. And now that it is finally here for all to see in all its glory, you can bet that many will be doing just that over the course of the next couple of weeks. But does the film itself warrant all the hype surrounding its release or is it merely another tease for greater things to come?

The film picks up exactly where the first part left off, with Paul Atreides and his mother forced to seek sanctuary with the Fremen on the desert planet of Arrakis. Meanwhile, the Harkonnens have regained control of its immensely profitable spice production business. But Paul would soon learn the ways of the Fremen, and prove to be a thorn in the Harkonnen's side through coordinated attacks on their spice harvesters. Except he is also haunted by visions of a holy war that could very well claim the lives of billions across the galaxy. And so he must decide whether or not to accept his fate as the messiah some already see him as.

My biggest complaint coming out of Dune: Part One was that it felt incomplete by design. Having chosen to adapt just one-half of the source material, this meant that director Denis Villeneuve had ended up with a movie that left a good chunk of its story untold, and all the dangling plot threads that came with that decision. But even in its incomplete state, the film had proven itself to be a class above your typical book-to-film adaptation.

Its impressive production design, stellar visual effects, incredible worldbuilding, and excellent characterization were all testaments to both the strengths of its source material and Denis Villeneuve's deft handling of it. And all of that remains true in Dune: Part Two, a film that manages to match the brilliance of the first one's execution while building upon all its groundwork and achievements to create something even grander in its scope and ambition.

To put it in another way, the first film crawled then walked so that this one could take to the skies and soar. For a movie that boasts a runtime of nearly three hours long, I never once felt its length as I was fully engaged from start to finish. Every second of those nearly three hours felt earned and accounted for, mainly due to its excellent pacing. It would have been too easy for a film of this scope to get bogged down in details but it never loses sight of the big picture of its overarching narrative.

That said, if you are the type of moviegoer who didn't care for all the rich lore, worldbuilding, and character development that made up the better part of the first film, then you might also not do so in this one. Because even though there is more action and overall spectacle this time around, none of that is a real focus and you run the risk of finding it just as slow or boring. Although how anyone could find these movies boring remains a mystery to me, but to each their own I suppose.

But if, like me, you thought the first film was brilliant, then you're surely in for a treat because this one is clearly the better half. Everything from the cinematography to the score and visuals has been taken to the next level. And even though it has taken nearly three years for it to get here, it was definitely worth the wait. So taken as a whole, and as a fan of the books themselves, I have to say that this is as perfect an adaptation of the first book as I could've ever hoped for.

I also need to confess that I had my doubts when it was first announced that Timothee Chalamet would be playing Muad'Dib/Paul Atreides, simply because I felt he'd lack the imposing force of the former. But I'm pleased to report that those doubts were unfounded as the actor imbues the character with all the depth I remembered him having in the book while showing an acting range that is simply unrivaled. The new additions to the cast were also great, especially Austin Bulter who gave a stunning villainous turn as Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen.

If you're only going to see one film in 2024, then it needs to be Dune: Part Two, a cinematic feast for the eyes and senses that easily surpasses the first film's brilliance, resulting in one of the greatest book-to-film adaptations since The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Yep. It's that effing epic. And while it remains to be seen if it could ever hope to stand the test of time like that other film, something tells me that it is a movie that will continue to get talked about, among film fans and critics alike, for many years to come.

Monday 1 January 2024

My Top 10 Most Anticipated Movies for 2024

As the dust slowly settles on 2023, we can begin to look forward to what the new year has in store for us in terms of new movies to watch. But expect to see at least one movie from my most anticipated movies list for last year make an appearance on this one. This is of course due to delays brought on by the combined weight of the prolonged WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, the effects of which are surely going to be felt this year and well into the next, possibly beyond. So with that in mind, here are my most anticipated movies for 2024.

10. Rebel Moon - Part Two: The Scargiver

Leave it to Netflix to milk every potential new subscriber out of their expensive Zack Snyder sci-fi epic, Rebel Moon, with their decision to split the movie into two halves. There's even already talk about a potential director's cut being in the cards. But even though Part One had turned out to be as messy and derivative as many feared it would be, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to Part Two. So here's hoping that it ties the story together in a meaningful, less convoluted way.

9. Kraven the Hunter

2024 marks the arrival of three new Sony's Spider-Man Universe films. And while my expectations for Madame Web and the third Venom movie are practically at rock bottom, I'm still harboring some measure of hope for Kraven the Hunter. The trailer looks like it could be the kind of bonkers fun the cinemas are great for but Sony's track record with these Spider-Man adjacent movies hasn't been all that great, so it remains to be seen if we have another Morbius on our hands.

8. Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

Even though it feels like we only just got a fantastic trilogy of films in the Planet of the Apes series, it's actually been more than half a decade since it concluded. And with all things that manage to turn a profit for Hollywood producers, it was only a matter of time before they went back to that particular well. The new movie takes the story forward about 300 years after Caesar and friends, so expect to see a fresh cast of CGI simians we can all root for or hate on.

7. The Fall Guy

I'm a very huge Ryan Gosling fan so of course I was excited the first time I heard he was going to star in the new action comedy, The Fall Guy. Not to be confused with the 2016 film, The Nice Guys, this one has him taking on the role of a movie stuntman who gets wrapped up in a mystery surrounding the disappearance of the man he is stunt doubling for. It is actually based on an 80s TV show that I never saw but I'm definitely going to be keeping a close eye on this one.

6. A Quiet Place: Day One

The first two movies in the A Quiet Place series were both my favorite movies in the respective years they were released. So even though I am not the biggest fan of prequels in general, I'm very much down for this one. It stars Lupita Nyong'o and Djimon Hounsou, the latter of whom will be reprising his role from the second film in the series. And going by the title, it appears it would be set at the onset of the arrival of the creatures responsible for decimating the human population.

5. Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire

Godzilla fans have been eating good this past few weeks, between the Apple TV+ show, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, and the Japanese feature film, Godzilla Minus One. Well, they can add Godzilla x Kong to the menu, the latest entry in the MonsterVerse series and sequel to 2021's Godzilla vs. Kong. The titular titans have been forced to team up once again, as they face off against a new threat that could very well do more damage than both monsters combined.

4. Joker: Folie à Deux

Despite previously stating that the film was a one-off, the executives at Warner Bros. are following up the tremendous success of 2019's Joker with an inevitable sequel dubbed Joker: Folie à Deux. Joaquin Phoenix reprises his role as the Joker, but this time around, he'll be joined by Lady Gaga as Harley Quinn. The movie has been described as a musical thriller although it remains to be seen just how that would translate to the film we'll be getting at the end of the day.

3. Deadpool 3

After clearing out most of their film slate for 2024 amidst the Hollywood strikes, everyone now has their eyes set on the MCU's sole remaining tentpole for the year, Deadpool 3. The film would mark the Merc with a Mouth's first MCU appearance, as well as the return of Hugh Jackman's Wolverine, so there's plenty enough reason to get excited. But I'm just curious to see just how much of its R-rated edge the film will be allowed to keep under Disney.

2. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Following a show-stealing appearance in the phenomenal Mad Max: Fury Road, the character of the Imperator Furiosa gets her own solo outing in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga. But rather than have Charlize Theron reprise the role, Anya Taylor-Joy will be stepping in instead to play a younger version of her. I know I said I'm not keen on prequels but this is Mad Max we're talking about. Fury Road was my favorite movie for 2015 and I have no doubt that this one could be a top contender for 2024 as well.

1. Dune: Part Two

And here we are again, with Dune: Part Two once again topping my list of most anticipated movies for another year. We can blame a delay brought about by the SAG-AFTRA strike for that but better late than never I suppose. And from everything I've seen in the trailers, it looks like it is going to be worth the wait. My primary criticism of the first film was that it felt incomplete since it was only adapting one half of the book, and this one looks like it is poised to fix that, with more of the epic battles and rich lore the book was known for.