Thursday 30 November 2017

The Killing Of A Sacred Deer (2017) - Movie Review

Mahan’s Media, at its core, is me spilling my post-film thoughts into writing. Sometimes, the film being discussed tries so little that thematic analysis is barely required, while other times, I go out of my way to bring up what I think is relevant to the conversation. The Human Centipede III led me to talking about the U.S. Constitution, Hotel Transylvania 2 got me thinking about the modern attitude to the classic Universal monsters, and Aaaaaaah! gave me an excuse to polish off my high school drama education; basically, I write about whatever I want to write about at that given moment.
However, while I do pride myself on being able to discuss media at this level, I will always admit that I am hardly a seasoned expert on any of this. Any grand statements I have made in the past concerning the human condition are mostly personal observations and whatever unifying theories I’ve expressed to explain certain films could very well be 100% incorrect. Every word I’ve ever written here and elsewhere is done with the possibility that I could be talking completely out of my arse on the subject; all I care about is being able to explain the reasons why I hold those opinions, not necessarily whether they are “correct”. I just say what I believe to be true, and if I’m wrong, so be it; I learn from it and move forward.
I bring all this up because, every time I get to a film of this nature, I get self-conscious that maybe I’m just too stupid to get it. I’m willing to bet that this is a common reaction to today’s subject, but I’ve never let that stop me before. Hope you’re ready to get both confused and depressed.

Wednesday 29 November 2017

Murder On The Orient Express (2017) - Movie Review

Kenneth Branagh, when all is said and done, is a filmmaker who operates best in the realm of adaptation. Starting out by bringing some of Shakespeare’s greatest stories to the big screen in roaring fashion, right down to what has become the definitive version of Hamlet (all four hours of it), he has since gone on to give the same treatment to operas, spy thriller novels, superheroes, even Disney princesses. The respective qualities of each of those examples definitely differs, but I would argue that the man always manages to leave an impression on whatever genre he decides to take on. Today marks yet another new avenue for the man, this time delving into a murder mystery adapted from legendary writer Agatha Christie. Do we see the little grey cells go off in Branagh’s head once again, or are they sitting this one out?

Tuesday 28 November 2017

Naked (2017) - Movie Review

With December fast approaching, I can already feel my brain preparing itself for the ensuing marathon of reviews. Of course, with the increase in aptitude to see films, there’s also an increased willingness to subject myself to... less-than-ideal releases. The kind of films that people would usually come across in passing and never think of again, either because they’re too dull, too stupid, or just too bad in general. It’s the same mindset that led me to reviewing Fifty Shades Of Black last year, a film as useless as it is a failure at what should be the easiest job in the world: Taking the piss out of the works of E. L. James. And now, it seems that Marlon Wayons and Michael Tiddes are back it again with a Netflix-exclusive release… and somehow, it has an even lower approval rating than Fifty Shades; either version. We’re dealing with another addition to The 0% Club today, so strap yourselves in for what will most likely be a complete disaster.

Friday 24 November 2017

Detroit (2017) - Movie Review

The plot: On July 23rd, 1967, a riot starts on the streets of Detroit in response to a police raid. A state of emergency was declared by Governor Romney, allowing the National Guard and military officers to step in and provide assistance. In the midst of all this, a seemingly mundane incident at the Algiers Motel soon turns into calamity as the police forcefully try and get to the bottom of the situation. Even if it means shedding blood and tears to do so.

Thursday 23 November 2017

Justice League (2017) - Movie Review

This is the film event of the year but for all the wrong reasons. After the far-from-impressive track record of the DC Extended Universe up to this point, we now have the big team-up feature to kick things into high gear. But then the production issues started to pop up: Avengers writer Joss Whedon was tapped by Zack Snyder to write scenes for reshoots, then Snyder left the project due to family medical issues so Whedon had to direct the reshoots himself... and then Snyder hit up the Internet after the film's release, practically begging the public to show interest in his original cut for the film, rather than the one in cinemas which was edited down.
Knowing how scattershot the production values of all the DCEU films have been so far, with the highly lauded exception of Wonder Woman, this kind of production background isn't making me hopeful that this will be the one to finally push DC out of the red. But, as I've said before, I've always had a soft spot for superhero and comic book-related films; hell, I still think that Suicide Squad is a decent, if flawed, feature. Maybe that will kick in again and I'll walk away from this happy. Maybe.

Monday 20 November 2017

Daddy's Home 2 (2017) - Movie Review

Well, I just covered another parental-aimed comedy follow-up a little while ago, so naturally I’m back with another one. One that I am far less happy to see return. The first Daddy’s Home, aside from securing a place as one of the worst films of 2015, is a film that still manages to piss me off just from remembering that it exists. Its ability to irritate is matched only by its complete wrongheadedness in trying to wring comedy out of parental figures spending more time bitching at each other than actually taking care of their kids. Not saying that it can’t be done but the first film flat-out failed to do so and this sequel probably isn’t going to do much better. Let’s get this the hell over with so I can go back to more uplifting holiday activities… like setting my house on fire.

Thursday 16 November 2017

My Little Pony: The Movie (2017) - Movie Review

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a serious connection to all things associated with Cartoon Network, in particular growing up on the legendary Cartoon Cartoons block. From the pre-pubescent spy antics of Codename: Kids Next Door, to the superpowered comedy of the Powerpuff Girls, to the mad science capering of Dexter’s Laboratory, even the surprisingly emotional and poignant messages of Whatever Happened To Robot Jones?; these shows and others helped shape a lot of how I approach and appreciate media, and likely explains why I still hold a lot of respect for what children-centric entertainment is capable of.
Where am I going with all this and what does it have to do with anything? Well, considering my own liking for cartoons, including several that aren’t exactly aiming for my demographic, I have never really understood the disdain for bronies. And this isn’t even with hindsight; even at the height of its backlash, the seeming hatred for these people never made sense to me. Hell, I even joined in out of sheer social necessity, but it was always me playing to the crowd; even as the words “screw you, bronies” came out of my mouth, I still didn’t get the rationale of that statement.

With all that in mind, when today’s film was announced, I knew that I’d have to give my two cents on this whole thing before stepping into the realms that traditional masculinity seems to hate with a passion. Sure, I’m not all that familiar with the My Little Pony franchise myself, but I’ve watched a couple episodes of Friendship Is Magic and it’s honestly pretty good. Let’s get into this thing and see if there is something to it beyond “it’s based on a girly show”.

Tuesday 14 November 2017

Ittefaq (2017) - Movie Review

The plot: A book publisher (Kimberly Louisa McBeath) and a lawyer (Samir Sharma) have turned up dead and the only two witnesses to the crimes are also the prime suspects: Author Vikram (Sidharth Malhotra) and homemaker Maya (Sonakshi Sinha). As officer Dev (Akshaye Khanna) interviews them both, and hears two different versions of the facts from each of them, he struggles to piece together what actually happened that night. However, as the investigation carries on, it seems that the 'truth' of the matter is going to be even tougher to discern than first thought.

Saturday 11 November 2017

The Son Of Bigfoot (2017) - Movie Review

The plot: Teenager Adam (Pappy Faulkner) misses his father (Christopher L. Parson), who was presumed dead after being chased down by scientists led by Wallace. However, when Adam by chance finds that his father is still alive, he’s more than just alive: He’s Bigfoot! As Adam reconnects with his father and his forest friends, Wallace is hot on their trail to capture Bigfoot and discover the cure for baldness.

Friday 10 November 2017

Three Summers (2017) - Movie Review

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve looked at an Aussie film, so let’s rectify that by looking at today’s film by that fabled Australian filmmaker… Ben Elton. Okay, to be fair, this is a primarily Aussie production, full of premier Aussie actors and it’s set in the outback; it’s just directed by a British guy. But not just any British guy but one of the UK’s foremost satirists. Behind such classics as The Young Ones and Blackadder, Elton’s bombastic and scathing approach to satire is genuinely impressive. Whether it was looking at 80’s punk culture with Young Ones or basically the whole of history with Blackadder, the man had a definite knack for the work, which considering how fiddly true satire can be is commendable. It also helps that he had a hand in the greenlighting of Red Dwarf, not only a strong force of sci-fi satire in its own right but an all-out classic piece of British pop culture.
With this kind of pedigree, and taking into account what Australian media is often best at (cultural examination), this should turn out pretty good… right?

Thursday 9 November 2017

Bad Moms 2 (2017) - Movie Review

For as much derision as the practice gets, I don’t have any major issue with the whole sequel/franchise/cinematic universe thing in Hollywood. I find it interesting to see what films hold up to the original, and I’m always surprised to see films that manage to exceed what came before it like John Wick: Chapter 2 and Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2. Today’s film, however, is of a brand that does make me tilt my head. It was a little over a year ago that I looked the first Bad Moms, a film that I still think people didn’t give enough credit to for the kind of film it was. Having this little amount of time between instalments is usually the sign of a cash-in “let’s just repeat what we did before” sequel. Combine that with this being a Christmas film released in November, because doing it in December would’ve made too much sense, and this has a high probability of being less-than-adequate.
Still, given how impressed I was with the first film and seeing how some equally impressive cinematic follow-ups this year, I’m holding onto some hope that this might be decent. For once, I will not be pleased if I’m proven wrong.

Sunday 5 November 2017

Thor: Ragnarok (2017) - Movie Review

I never thought I would get to this point but I think I’m starting to get burnt out on all these Marvel movies. I’ve mentioned before how much I love superhero and comic book inspired films, and I still stand by all of that, but as more time passes, I’m beginning to realize that my zeal to see these films in the cinema has severely diminished. Yeah, I’ve still seen all of the MCU to date, but I ended up getting to some of them like Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming far later than I would have expected. Whether it’s down to the sheer volume of releases per year, the fact that all of them are interconnected so that they all need to be seen to get the full experience, or just down to me discovering other sub-genres that interest me more, some part of my subconscious is hesitant to keep seeing these. Not that it should be; I mean, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 is still an astounding work, Homecoming gave us the first real Spider-Man movie and even Doctor Strange has some of the greatest effects work I’ve ever seen full stop.
So, yeah, maybe it’s less that I’m losing my love for these films and more that they are starting to feel more like work. No change there then, honestly. Anyway, enough waffle; time to get into this latest MCU offering that seems to be taking the franchise in a different direction. A very weird direction.

Saturday 4 November 2017

Jigsaw (2017) - Movie Review

Saw is my favourite film series. I really have no other way to put it; I friggin’ love these movies. Born right here in my homeland from director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell, the yearly Halloween release of these films was one of the few cinematic schedules I stuck to without a break. And it’s not even for ironic ‘guilty pleasure’ reasons, as there’s honestly a lot to genuinely like for the more strong-stomached audiences out there. The grungy visual texture, Charlie Clouser’s heart-racing soundtracks, the twisted ingenuity behind the series’ trademark traps, even down to the compelling and surprisingly complex characters; it’s a cult film series with the easily-overlooked positives and myopic detraction that a lot of these series end up getting.
When the series originally closed out with The Final Chapter, while disheartened that it ended on its worst note, I’ll admit to being more disheartened that the story was closing up shop. But then, the marketing for today’s film kicked in and… well, for reasons I’ll get into, I’m approaching this with an equal mixture of excitement and hesitance. Let the games begin again.

Thursday 2 November 2017

Suburbicon (2017) - Movie Review

I’ve been living in suburban neighbourhoods for pretty much my entire life. The mild isolation from living in a hidden-away culdesac, the golf course next door that insisted the family wore crash helmets when in the backyard, gossiping neighbours who go to prove that there are some high school patterns that some just don’t grow out of; I’ve seen my share of suburbia. Because of this, it’s little wonder to me that seemingly-innocent neighbourhoods are so often used not to show familial connection and comfort, but creeping dread. It all looks so nice and all the neighbours seem so nice… something’s wrong, isn’t there?
Cynical as it is, this mindset has led to a lot of good stories, from the nostalgic reality check of Pleasantville to the unnerving voyeurism of Rear Window to the popcorn horror of Goosebumps. Today’s film, co-written by the Coen brothers and George “Hard Left Hook” Clooney, is cut from the same cloth. But how good is it in that capacity? Or any capacity?

Alien: Covenant (2017) - Movie Review

Release Date: May 11, 2017 (AUS)
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action, Thriller
Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: John Logan, Dante Harper
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir


Wednesday 1 November 2017

Ghost In The Shell (2017) - Movie Review

Release Date: March 30th, 2017 (AUS)
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action
Director: Rupert Sanders
Writers: Jamie Moss, William Wheeler, Ehren Kruger
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbæk, Juliette Binoche, Takeshi Kitano

Plot: Major Mira is an officer of Section 9, an anti-cyberterrorism branch of the police force. She is also a cybernetically-enhanced soldier, having lost her human body in a terrorist attack a year prior. When Section 9 investigates a series of attacks that left the victims with their “ghosts” wiped clean by a mysterious hacker known as Kuze, Mira becomes embroiled in a mass conspiracy that will leave her questioning just how ‘human’ she is in the wake of her upgrade.

Acting: Scarlett Johansson is great as the Major, nailing personal strength with a dry sense of humour that makes for an engaging presence on screen. Probably helps that, between her work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Lucy, she can sell the action scenes like the best of them. Pilou Asbæk as Batou, putting aside that the version of the character from Stand Alone Complex is one of my all-time favourite anime characters, honestly lives up to the personable and caring personality that has stuck with through most iterations of the franchise. He also has remarkable chemistry next to Johansson, resulting in the kind of double-act that the next several months worth of cinematic team-ups will have to live up to. Michael Pitt as the initial antagonist Kuze hits menace and sympathy in appropriate proportions, and his scenes next to the Major make for the most emotionally powerful moments of the film. Then there’s Beat Takeshi, a man whose filmography is as prolific as the man himself, considering how he has managed to do pretty much everything within his lifetime. His turn as the leader of Section 9, even considering how little screen time he ultimately gets, is very effective and when he gets given moments of badassery, he pulls them off superbly.

Positives: Considering director Rupert Sanders’ only other film to his name was the utterly underwhelming Snow White And The Huntsman, he definitely nailed the cyberpunk aesthetic here with how immense and alienating Neo-Tokyo looks with its looming holographic advertisements and overshadowing buildings. The action scenes are very lively and very flashy while also showing where the Wachowskis got a lot of their tricks from, considering the original Ghost In The Shell film was one of their key influences for The Matrix. At the same time, while it doesn’t shy away from their mutual predecessor, it also doesn’t make it a point to look incredibly derivative in the process. To accompany this, we have composer Clint Mansell, better known for his work for Darren Aronofsky, who likewise pays tribute to the original series while keeping things fresh. Along with LEGO Batman Movie composer Lorne Balfe, they create an appropriately glitchy and eerily beautiful texture to the film.

Through the varying tonal approaches the franchise has gone through in its many incarnations, from the dead-serious 1995 film to the more upbeat series Stand Alone Complex and everything in-between, some thematic elements have stayed consistent throughout. And honestly, going by what I understand concerning Ghost In The Shell as a whole (no doubt, I will be heavily corrected on all this because God forbid someone have a different interpretation of a work of fiction, this feels right in relation to the core elements of the story of the Major and Section 9. Personal identity, the objectification of women, the line between man and machine and the implications of where that line may be, even the increasing ubiquity of technology itself in modern society; this film manages to weave its way through these notions and, while giving them suitable breathing room within the narrative, allow them to accompany the story rather than the force pushing the characters from scene to scene. This does result in a couple of moments where the philosophical undertones are spelled out a little too clearly for the audience, but overall, it checks out. Given how the imbalanced nature of the subtext as opposed to the actual text has always been an issue with GitS media, it’s quite remarkable how well this film does in that regard. Especially considering this was co-written by Ehren Kruger, the guy responsible for some of the absolute worst moments in the already woeful Transformers films.

Then there’s the initial controversy that sprang up concerning the casting of Johansson in the lead role, resulting in a lot of decrying of whitewashing and other such uncomfortable issues. Just to be clear, my own stance on this issue is that of general apathy: The instances that usually get brought up nowadays concerning whitewash casting, nine times out of ten, are a result of kneejerk reaction and a general unwillingness to look beneath the surface to show that, no, regular whitewashing rules don’t apply. Now, with that said, I specify “nine times out of ten” because the practice is decried for a reason: White saviour narratives are unfortunately prevalent and, like with what happened with Pan back in 2015, it often shows how little real progression has been made when it comes to racial representation in Hollywood.
I bring all this up because, much like The Great Wall earlier this year, I genuinely feel like the outrage here is unwarranted and largely missing the point. Along with how culturally diverse the cast here is overall, up to having mostly Japanese actors depicting characters who haven’t gotten on the artificial enhancement bandwagon, whitewashing as a practice is actually part of the plot itself to a certain degree. What’s more, it’s depicted very much as a negative thing, playing into the questions of how much of our natural humanity could be lost in the face of technologising our lives to this extent. But the thing is that, even if the controversy held water when talking about the full-length production rather than just the marketing material, it inexorably brings up questions about personal and cultural identity. At its core, that’s what the series is all about so, whether you agree with its directions or not, it still leads to a rather integral part of the series’ mythos.

Conclusion: Continuing what I can only assume is the 2017 tradition of crushing preconceptions of art under foot, this is actually really damn good. Strong acting, incredible visuals, effective fight scenes and setpieces and an understanding of the source material and its main themes that even some of the Japanese iterations fumbled with. There’s also a certain joy I find in a film that it could be argued has failings… and yet, no matter what your stance on them, those failings end up building on the film’s own themes and adding to its strengths.

Rings (2017) - Movie Review

Release Date: February 23, 2017 (AUS)
Genre: Horror, Psychological Thriller
Director: F. Javier Gutiérrez
Writers: David Loucka, Jacob Aaron Estes, Akiva Goldsman
Cast: Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Vincent D’Onofrio, Aime Teegarden, Bonnie Morgan

Plot: Julia, while trying to discover where her boyfriend Holt has disappeared to, discovers a video on his computer. The infamous video that is the domain of Samara, now freed from her VHS confines and discovering new attention in the age of file-sharing. After receiving her courtesy phone call that she is a week from death, she sets out to discover the secrets behind the video and who exactly Samara is, leading to a discovery of a video-within-the-video that has never been seen before.

Acting: When it comes to less-than-satisfactory horror films, there are usually two modes of acting that most of them stick to: Loathsome characters that we are meant to be emotionally detached from so that we don’t feel bad when bad things happen to them, or cardboard cut-outs that achieve the same effect by making us fail to care if bad things happen to them. We’re very much in the latter category for the most part with this one. Lutz is rather plain and lifeless throughout, even once the creepy stuff starts happening, Roe matches her in most scenes while at least trying to give the film some drama, Galecki as the professor/leader of a cult surrounding Samara’s tape is okay if hideously underutilized, and Bonnie Morgan continues her stint as Samara from The Ring Two and is honestly still pretty scary. The only person here who consistently puts any effort in is D’Onofrio as a blind groundskeeper. His talent for character acting remains incredibly underrated and he imbues this largely expository role with quite a bit of unorthodox menace.

Liked: Uh… yeah, I honestly got nothing for this one. I can’t even go with a facetious positive; that’s how underwhelming this is.

Disliked: The core notion of this film involving secrets that we haven’t seen before is quite laughable, considering how similar this is to the last two American Ring films. After all of the character background we’ve gotten about Samara in the past, you’d think that the filmmakers would focus more on her as a source of chills rather than as a source of pathos. But no, we just have to put another coat of paint onto her origin story to give the illusion that the story is moving forward as it keeps spinning its wheels in the mud. Hell, the tidbits we do learn this time around end up contradicting what we’ve already learnt about her. You’d think that, between this and the shameless recycling of plot beats (Woman watches video, spends most of the film haunted by Samara, goes to Samara’s hometown to discover who she was, etc.), the writers actively wanted us to forget that any other iteration of this story exists in the West. Of course, that’s a tall order considering how inferior it is as a basic horror film.

The scares are embarrassingly lame. Apart from re-using imagery and scares whole-cloth from the first two films (and likely the Japanese iterations), we have a gallery of jump scares put together in a vain attempt to startle the audience. Of course, whether you loath the advent of jump scares or not, it’s difficult to be really affected by them when they are this painfully telegraphed. The tension is razor-thin and blunt as a butter knife, likely as a result of the feeling of repetition that comes from how much of this film is taken from previous works. But that shouldn’t automatically be a bad thing: No matter the genre, every film is a combination of familiar elements; originality is not only rare but far less necessary than higher-brow filmgoers would have us believe. However, when dealing with a film that is so unsure of its own efficacy that it has to repeat history in order to seem relevant, you start to wonder why this film was made to begin with or, more importantly, why we’re watching it.

The idea of The Ring itself has only grown in relevancy in the Internet age. Sharing disturbing and weird videos to other people within a week of discovering it? Samara was basically the original creepypasta. This head-start for the series’ technophobic themes seems to have eluded the filmmakers because, quite frankly, this plot feels like it didn’t even need to be a Ring sequel. Even with the detours The Ring Two took with its possession premise, at least that still felt like it was a part of the same story. Despite all the plot and thematic retreading that is found here, the original notion of a videotape that kills you a week after watching it barely factors in.
Instead, it’s used as a flimsy excuse for what amounts to an American Gothic horror yarn that, even when removed from its ties with The Ring, is still underwhelming. What’s more, it’s underwhelming for the same reason as the scares: The plot twists are surprisingly obvious with this one. I say “surprisingly” because I’ve never seen a film so dependent on a single word to deliver its climactic shock… and yet, I was able to guess it as soon as it was alluded to, resulting in an absolute thud of an ending.

Of course, the film starts out with a couple of decent ideas, like the opening airplane crash and the sort of cult that has grown around the videotape and how it is meant to be part of some techno-pagan vision quest. However, neither of these ideas hold any weight, which kind of sucks because they are the only sparks of life in this entire production. The airplane crash is executed okay, even if it barely factors into the main story like most opening kills, and the cult is barely elaborated on. They had a sub-plot that, on its own, could have legitimized the fact that we’re getting a follow-up to a film that is rather ingrained in antiquated technology, and yet they seem to have no idea of how to use it properly. The film ends up throwing us around the narrative timeline with how suddenly time passes within the first third of the film, and yet it never gets into the genuinely promising ideas that such a group could offer the story. Then again, when you have the king of hack writers Akiva Goldsman batting clean-up for your script, this is the kind of half-cooked result you get.

Final Thoughts: The worst sin a horror movie can commit is being boring, and that isn’t even the worst of it where this film is concerned. This is a film that almost feels embarrassed that it even exists, between the frequent re-use of past ideas and a complete failure to flesh out its own. Add to this a very dull cast, save for Vincent D’Onofrio who at least seems to be trying, and a thoroughly underwhelming attempt at tension and chills and you have a film that shows why the Japanese remake trend died off during the 2000’s: Apparently, we’ve all just given up.