Saturday, 28 May 2016

The Coffee Nebula: The Cloud (Voyager)

So, now that I’m not doing near constant preamble work for Meta Month, I have some more freedom to watch some of the shows I’ve been seriously hankering to check out properly. With that in mind, and the release of Star Trek Beyond looming on the horizon, I figure I’d go back and look at the Trek series in full for what is rather embarrassingly the first time. I’ve seen several episodes of each series here and there, with the possible exception of Enterprise as I don’t actively remember watching any full episodes of it, but I haven’t yet taken the time out to watch any of them to completion. As such, over the next very long while I’m assuming, I’m going to add a new feature to the blog called The Coffee Nebula, a look at the good, bad and just outright bizarre in the Star Trek canon as I make my way through the numerous series. It’s not going to be a complete rundown or anything; just highlighting the episodes that stick out enough in my own mind after watching them. With this in mind, I figure that we’d start with easy hunting grounds with a look at Star Trek: Voyager, otherwise known as my favourite series in the franchise. Now, don’t misunderstand my words here: I said favourite, not best. It’s far from the best, as this series as a whole has so many glaring issues as to perfectly encapsulate what the average person must hate about Star Trek. But with that said, for me at least, even when it’s pants-on-head stupid it is still oddly entertaining. It doesn’t feature any of the out-and-out hatefulness of early TNG, nor the sheer disappointment of Deep Space Nine’s less favourable episodes. To help illustrate this, we have what is easily one of the bigger highlights of idiocy from Voyager’s first season. This is The Cloud.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Movie Review: Bastille Day (2016)

If nothing else, Idris Elba exists to prove that having a rap career won’t kill off your acting career. Seriously, with how scrutinizing the media can get and how equally atrocious some actors can be when they attempt singing, let alone rapping, the fact that he still has a cinematic leg to stand on is kind of miraculous. Or at least it would be if his acting chops didn’t downright demand that his place in the green room be secure. I mean, him being cast as the whitest of the Norse gods in the MCU is reason enough for him to garner some respect, as if his badassery is so high as to destroy racial barriers in its wake, but then there’s Pacific Rim where he gave the mother of all inspirational speeches as well as Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom where he imbued one of the greatest political prisoners of all time with all the pathos that the role deserved. So, naturally, I was looking forward to seeing him step back into the cat-and-mouse action scene. Is it going to be worth seeing even with him in mind, or am I setting myself up for another fall? Dear God, I hope it’s the former. This is Bastille Day.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Movie Review: Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

Earlier this month, I went to an interactive screening of The Room at one of my locals. Again. I lost count a while ago, but I’ve definitely reached double digits in how many times I’ve done this already. Under normal circumstances, I don’t go and see movies at the cinema more than once; the only time I can remember doing it was with Spy Kids 3, and that was ultimately because I missed the first few minutes the first time round. I also don’t usually advocate for repeatedly giving money to what is undoubtedly a very, very bad filmmaker, especially not to this degree. However, this is why I have always shown leniency towards films that can be enjoyed by less than legitimate means, and The Room in particular because these are less screenings and more a form of communion. A mass of people getting together that all have the same approach to movie-going as I do is a rarity in today’s day and age, and it is kind of comforting to be able to connect with that many people about something. I bring all this up because the idea of ironic entertainment is hardly a new concept and has been around for a long time, with today’s film highlighting one of the earliest examples of it. I’m coming into this with a certain understanding of the phenomenon that would normally have me on some mental ward waiting list, but I wouldn’t have it any other way honestly. So, with all that said, let’s get started with today’s film. This is Florence Foster Jenkins.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Movie Review: The Huntsman: Winter's War (2016)

In today’s more prominently continuation-based film economy, there is one thing that everyone can be given credit for: We’ve learnt proper continuity. Say what you will about the wavering quality standards between sequels/reboots/reimaginings and what have you, but filmmakers and in particular screenwriters know what they’re doing when it comes to making one story feel like an actual follow-up to another. We’re past the days of going from Batman Returns to Batman Forever, where the tonal shift was enough to melt your spine at a moment’s notice. Or, at least, I thought we were. And then came the trailer of today’s film, and we all collectively went pulled the head tilt that is synonymous with reading a large number of Star Wars fanfiction: Where the fuck does this fit into the canon, if at all? Is it a prequel? Sequel? Mid-quel? Attempt to create a TV series that didn't get picked up? It’s kind of astonishing that a trailer for a film can come out that raises so many questions that they actively had to make another one just to answer them as best they could. I’d make a statement about not judging films entirely by their trailers, given some of the *ahem* controversies going on at the moment concerning a release that is fast approaching, but quite frankly this is a pretty bad first impression to get. But credit where it’s due, the film itself straightens the timeline out; it just finds whole new ways to be shit. This is The Huntsman: Winter’s War.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Movie Review: Snow White And The Huntsman (2012)

It’s catch-up time again as I take a look at the predecessor to an upcoming film… or an already-released film that I didn’t get to because I was too busy spending a month brown-nosing an entire industry. This time, it’s in preparation for The Huntsman: Winter’s War, a film that already looks incredibly uninteresting even without having seen the first film. So, let’s go back to 2012: Chris Hemsworth is riding high on that Marvel wave, Kristen Stewart is trying to break away from the series that would be tied to her forever, Charlize Theron was less than a month away from either disappointing or surprising audiences with Prometheus, and I was having constant mental breakdowns in the face of my final exams for school; it was a tough time for everyone. Oh, and the world apparently ended or something, I don’t know; I think a guy on the radio mentioned it once. This was also released in close proximity to another Snow White adaptation (or re-imagining or whatever buzz word the studios wanted to use) direct by Tarsem; you know, the guy who made this waste of a film. And yes, I will get to Mirror Mirror eventually, but in the meantime, we have today’s subject to contend with. This is Snow White And The Huntsman.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Movie Review: Eddie The Eagle (2016)

Even though buddy cop action films may hold the crown for the most widely recognized clich├ęs, they still don’t hold much of a candle to the oddity that is the inspirational sports movie. The wide-eyed innocent of the genre family, it walks this weird divide where it is often based on actual events and yet is easily one of the most fantastical forms of drama (or dramedy, as a lot of these turn out) out there. Don’t get me wrong, films like the Rocky series show that gritty realism is just as welcome in this sector of filmmaking… when they aren’t inserting helper robots and Russian super soldiers into the narrative, that is. We’ve even looked at a few of these before like Paper Planes and last year’s update of the Rocky canon with Creed; between them, we have a pretty decent spectrum of what could be expected from a film like this. Needless to say, this is very much in the former category this time, but maybe that need not be such a bad thing. This is Eddie The Eagle.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Movie Review: Mother's Day (2016)

I haven’t seen much of Garry Marshall’s work, and remember that I’m mostly familiar with more recent cinema so I have a lot of older films to get to including a few of his, but what I have seen in no way sets my hopes high for consumable product this time around. His brand of heavy pandering under the guise of empowerment with The Princess Diaries (BOTH of them) and the plain-old twisted sense of festivity of the last two holiday-centric releases makes him the kind of filmmaker who is quite poisonous to people like me. This should come as no surprise for those of you who have read my earlier gripings on chick flicks, but yeah; I really friggin’ hate these kinds of movies almost on principle by this point. Not that that is reason enough for me to hate anything though, just that it makes what I am sure is going to be pure bile come up a lot more smoothly. So, let’s get this gastric excavation of a film over and done with already. This is Mother’s Day.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Movie Review: The Jungle Book (2016)

In the canon of important modern directors, I’m honestly surprised that Jon Favreau doesn’t get brought up more often in conversation. Sure, his work is sometimes hit-and-miss with critics (sometimes for no good reason like with Cowboys & Aliens) but when you put him into context with the current state of superhero films, he played a crucial role in getting where we are right now. 2008’s Iron Man was a serious make-or-break situation for the Marvel Cinematic Universe; if they screwed up, we wouldn’t have gotten the proceeding 8 years of astoundingly consistent output from Marvel Studios. Hindsight does funny things to people, and sure Robert Downey Jr. set a precedent for pitch-perfect casting in Marvel films, but if it wasn’t for Favreau’s engagingly populist style, we’d be looking at a far different landscape right now. After the lukewarm response to Iron Man 2, which admittedly wasn’t amazing but still decent, he went on to Cowboys & Aliens… and then he made Chef, which was basically his own admission of how difficult it is to break out of the big leagues and just make his own products. Well, he seems to be working with Disney once again with today’s film, a re-telling of one of Disney’s perennial classics. Honestly, I’m more shocked that this trend of a Marvel-connected director working on a remake of a classic Disney story has already happened before. This is The Jungle Book.

The plot: Found as a baby by the protective Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), Mowgli (Neel Sethi) has been raised in the jungle as one of the wolf pack led by Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o). However, once the scorned tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) discovers the presence of a human in their midst, he immediately sets out to kill him before he destroys the jungle. To keep him safe, Mowgli is left in the care of laid-back bear Baloo (Bill Murray), where he begins to learn his place in the world.

Sethi does a decent job as Mowgli, and manages to show off that oh-so-human ingenuity without it seeming beyond his years, but he doesn’t leave that big an impact when all said and done. That’s probably because he’s surrounded by seasoned veterans whom have all brought their A-game for this one. Kingsley brings a very wisened and regal air to Bagheera and works really well alongside Sethi and Murray. Murray himself pulls off a sort-of modern slacker with his vocal mannerisms, and yet it doesn’t cross the line into anachronistic reaching at any point. Elba is all things intimidating and threatening as Shere Khan, letting each word hang in the air like a sharpened dagger above his prey’s head. Nyong’o doesn’t have as much screen time (or air time in this instance) as I would have liked, but her scenes with Sethi are heart-warming in that very motherly way. Scarlett Johansson brings that almost-alarmingly effective voice from Her, only she imbues it with a layer of menace that makes for just about the sexiest predator of the jungle. It strikes that balance that even most live-action femme fatales are losing their knack for. For the love of God, give this woman more voice-over work. And then there’s Christopher Walken as King Louie, in fairness the main reason I wanted to see this film in the first place. He gives a nice New York mobster touch to the delivery, and the character’s added size was probably just so it could contain the weight of Walken’s vocals.

I have been somewhat of a slacking critic, as I haven’t done my usual legwork for this film: I haven’t watched the original Disney version, nor have I looked back through the director’s filmography to get a better feel for their body of work. However, since Disney’s animated musical is hardly something I’ve missed my entire life so I remember a fair bit about it, and I’ve seen enough of Favreau’s work to know that he is a man to be respected when it comes to the craft. For those in the audience who wanted a strict re-telling of that original classic, you’ve come to the wrong party. Same goes for those who thought that this might adhere more strictly to the Rudyard Kipling stories it was based on. Favreau wanted to strike a line down the middle, appropriating elements from both while taking the story in its own direction. Hell, the ending (without getting into too heavy spoiler territory) almost seems designed to go against both of those crowds at the exact same time. In fact, this film is honestly at its weakest when it follows the animated film more closely, namely when it comes to the music. Don’t get me wrong, I like Bear Necessities and I Wan’na Be Like You but their relatively perky natures don’t fit into this darker-tinged version of the story. Well, not in their entirety at any rate: Composer John Debney used an orchestral alteration of Bear Necessities to help build a very powerful moment when Mowgli uses his “tricks” to help a herd of elephants. On the other hand, I Wan’na Be Like You manages to create a continuity hole with how it uses the word “fire” when that appears nowhere else in the film; it’s always referred to as the “red flower” in every other instance.

The original film’s main aspect was its soundtrack. They wanted to showcase the talents of their go-to musical duo the Sherman brothers, and they brought in jazz musicians to help deliver it along with some noteworthy names in radio acting. This film nearly had the Beatles as co-stars; I mean, c’mon. By contrast, this seems to have taken a similar route as Darren Aronofsky’s Noah in that it wants to tell a more mature, if a brush more fantastical, version of a story that many people are familiar with. Gone are the allegorical marching elephants, and instead we have these quasi-mystical creatures that treated like walking gods of the forest. It foregoes a lot of Kipling’s metaphorical strokes for a lot of face value story-telling, but damn it all if this isn’t really well executed face value story-telling. We get a scarred Shere Khan with a more personal grudge against man, a King Louie who operates a court of primates and who towers over anyone and everyone (making the inevitable destruction of the possible elephant-worshipping temple he resides make a lot more sense), a Baloo who is able to hold his own in a fight (the ending fight with Shere Khan is amazingly good) and a Mowgli who, in a world of talking animals (which is fairly inconsistent in terms of what animals actually get voices), uses humanity’s only inborn trait to survive in the jungle. Man’s ingenuity is a great thing, but it can lead to disaster if it isn’t monitored; it’s not the most original more environmentalist message I’ve seen on film, but it is delivered in a fantastic way and it’s bolstered by great character writing.

This film’s CGI has been one of the most lauded aspects of the entire production, and it’s pretty clear to see why. Weta Digital was involved in the visual effect department but only with King Louie’s character animation, which kind of makes sense given how advanced that design was. Other than that, production house Moving Picture Company, who previously worked on films like The Martian and The Revenant, handled the computer effects. I bring this all up because the animal depictions in this film are so good that the last time I saw animation this precise was back with the recent Planet Of The Apes movies done by Weta. Getting the kind of film-acting emotions to show on an animal’s face without resorting to either the Uncanny Valley or peanut butter is a tall order, but the use of mo-cap here is staggering. No doubt, this is a film for the annals that prove the worth of CGI. Fantastic work was put into the scenery as well, creating probably one of the single best scene transitions I’ve come across in years from Kaa to a cave where Mowgli's father is residing. The jungle and its many twists and turns feel like they’re living onto themselves, imbued with an air of vibrancy that gives the mystical touches of the story more effect. Even in the scene comprised largely of humans, it contains this mysterious and dangerous tone with how the fire is depicted.

All in all, while I’m not exactly floored by the thing as a lot of other people are, this is another rather impressive notch in Favreau’s filmography. The voice acting is downright amazing, the effects work is probably some of the best we’ll see all year and the writing makes for a more mature but still family-friendly take on the original story, making this one of the few remakes that actually has a reason for its own existence. Trust me, that is so rare it’s unbelievable. It’s better than Concussion, as this was ultimately a lot more thoroughly engaging even with its undoubtedly simpler subject matter. However, despite being a real testament to the power of computers in filmmaking, it doesn’t have nearly as viscerally intense a vibe to it as The Revenant.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Movie Review: The Divergent Series: Allegiant (2016)

Looks like we have another addition to the series that never ceases to make no sense… except the battlefield has shifted this time around. While the previous films hadn’t gotten that hot a reception with critics, I would’ve considered those as an honorary critical disagreement as it seemed like I was the only one who could see these films as the absolute nonsense that they were. Everyone was going on about how derivative they were (and they most certainly are) and how they’re mediocre at best. And then along came this film and suddenly everyone felt the same growing feeling of confusion as me. Must be a way to balance out what happened with me and Melissa McCarthy. So, now when I endlessly bitch about continuity errors and exhibit the kind of ephemera retention that makes Trekkies blush, I won’t be the only guy doing it this time. It’s the hate that brings people together. So, without further ado, let’s get into this whopping 12%-er and see if my expectations were met from last time, in that this somehow makes everything even more confusing. This is The Divergent Series: Allegiant.

The plot: With the discovery of civilization outside of Chicago, Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and Peter (Miles Teller) make their way across the threshold to find the people responsible for the “experiment” that they had been born into. They soon encounter the Bureau of Genetic Welfare and the man in charge of the experiment, David (Jeff Daniels), who believes that Tris could be the key to their salvation. However, it quickly becomes apparent that the Bureau has other plans for the group, and it’s up to Tris and the others to save Chicago, and everyone in it, from destruction.

It’s a bad sign when one of the bad guys is the only likeable character in the film. No, I’m not talking about Dave, who is so thinly-veiled as the villain that he becomes a walking ticking clock with us just counting down the visible seconds. I’m not referring to Evelyn either, whose revelation that she is becoming as bad as Jeanine from the first two was yet another thud of a reveal. She wasn’t exactly saintly in the second film to begin with. Instead, I’m talking about Peter, who is hands-down the best actor in this thing. Sure, he’s just about as stupid and impulsive as everyone else, but his source of comedy is still intact and his character actions are consistent since he already operates on a “I’ll fight for whoever benefits me the most” basis. The acting has taken a definite fall, as it seems like everyone has all but clocked out of this franchise and are on auto-pilot. Tris is wasted and shows pretty much no emotion here, which is a serious disappointment coming from Shailene Woodley who is a more than capable actor, Four is the muscle and only hits that single note when the plot needs him to, Caleb thankfully grows a pair and makes for an uneasy second place in terms of characters to root for and Christina has completely faded into the background by this point.

We don’t have Akiva Goldsman to contend with this time, thankfully, instead we have Noah Oppenheim from the first Maze Runner film coming in as a co-writer. Unfortunately, I think we’re too far into the mire that is this series’ premise for him to be able to save it, not that he is trying all that to begin with from what I can tell. This manages to keep up with the saga’s track record of failing to make sense at every possible turn, only creating multitudes more questions than they are able to answer. So, by this point, the faction system in Chicago is gone in the fall of Erudite’s regime so everyone is just part of the civilization there. And yet, it has effectively managed to become even worse than before. Jeanine may have been rock stupid and assumed an ultimate weapon would be locked in a way that only the people the weapon is meant to destroy can unlock it, but she at least wanted and tried to keep order in the city. Under Evelyn, they’re essentially one chrome spray away from appearing as extras in the next Mad Max film. Hell, this might actually be trying to be a Mad Max film, given how Chicago and its surrounding foliage is separated by a straight line from the almost Martian landscape beyond it. At the very least, it’s once again ripping off the Maze Runner movies because it’s basically the Scorch with red rain.

The Council created the test because they wanted to find someone “pure” in a population of “damaged” people, which officially takes the clique-y vibe of the faction system, drives a nail through it and then slams it repeatedly into the audience’s head. So, when they finally find that pure one, Tris, they decide to (*SPOILERS*) erase the memories of everyone in the city and basically reset the experiment because the faction system works. Nevermind the Divergents that came with her, and the many others in the city, just restart because you actually… succeeded? This is also supposedly tied into a scheme involving kidnapping children from the desert, erasing their memories and bringing them into their society because apparently they don’t need to be tested as Divergents for the Council to know that they are pure and worthy to live with them. And yet, they willingly brought in Tris, someone who stood out from everyone else because she defied authority, and are surprised when she defies them as well? I’ve seen more sense in a NAMBLA tipping jar.

This is yet another YA adaptation that decided to split its final book into two films to milk the audience for twice the money… err, I mean to properly the story contained in the source material. Now, going by current efforts, all of one series that I’ve seen try this has been able to make it work. Spoiler alert: It’s not this one. Deathly Hallows Part 1 just felt like a prelude to the actual story, Breaking Dawn Part 1 served to do little more than stretch things out to tedious levels, and Mockingjay Part 1 had enough good story potential and approach to make it work in its own right. This is just build-up, build-up, build-up with a tacked-on finale stapled onto it to give it some oomph for the climax. Really tedious and boring build-up as well, since unless it involves Peter in some way, everyone else is just spinning their wheels and never do much more than be Lego bricks. The continuation of the series plot is bad enough with all its bass-ackwards decisions, but this film’s individual plot is slow doesn’t do much to change anything. All that seems to be different is that there is now a way through the wall between Chicago and the Council, and Dave has been outed as evil. That’s literally it; it’s like chess piece story-telling. However, I will give credit for one thing concerning this film’s universe. I at least know believe that it exists as a fictional universe; it is amazingly dumb but it is still a cohesive whole. It took until the near-finale for them to do it, but I’m willing to find anything to be positive about with this thing.

Since this has officially submerged itself in a particular stupid concept, and it seems like this is only going to get worse once Ascendant comes out, might as well put the stake through the heart of this film’s main theme and why it only serves to prove how dumb the writers are. They started out on a notion of separating people by 5 very distinct personality traits, because apparently we’re that basic that 5 is all we need to map out our brains, and even for the high school social group allegory it may have been attempting, this was a dumb idea from the start. But now that we have the context of the experiment’s intention, it evolves from there into fundamentally dumb and shows a pretty hefty misunderstanding of human psychology that, if you’re going to even attempt this kind of story, you should have some familiarity with.

Based on the Council’s reasons for doing so, and the actions taken by people even inside of the city, this film seems to be under the impression that genetic predisposition is the reason for all of our personality make-up. All of it. Environment barely seems to factor in, since the Council is so perfectly willing to think that erasing people’s memories will just reset them all and that’s all that’s needed. I don’t need a Bachelor’s in anything to be able to correct this film on that one. Genetics, or nature in this case, does play a part of it but nurturing is still a vital part of the equation. There are varying degrees of both, but it is never just one or the other that affects a person’s mentality. This film took its already broken thematic device, that being the existence of the faction system, and turned into the kind of pseudo-science that I would honestly have been expecting from God’s Not Dead 2.

All in all, for the love of God, won’t these films just die already?! I can’t believe there’s still one more movie to go; I feel like I’m about to torch a disfigured puppy orphanage. While the extreme logic gaps only widen the longer they linger on-screen as always, what makes this film so bad is that it’s not just the writing that sucks oysters this time around. The acting is stilted to the point of looking like they’re being told to act at gunpoint while on Valium; except for Miles Teller, who pretty much carries the film on his assholish shoulders, the fight scenes are painfully skippable, and the set design that I took time out to praise last year has now devolved into straight-up stealing from other films. If they suddenly announced a God’s Not Dead 3 release date, I would be looking forward to that more than Ascendant. At least I know that the public opinion does have power, as this film’s poor reception and ticket sales have resulted in the studios slashing the final film’s budget… which means that not only is there a chance of this whole shebang getting even worse, but it’s almost guaranteed at this point. It’s worse than Point Break as, even with how annoying it is, it doesn’t actively cause me pain when I remember like this film already does. However, purely because of the presence of Miles Teller doing his best to save this turd, it scores higher than Dirty Grandpa which had no such saviour.