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The Lion King (2019, d. Jon Favreau)

Ah, what a fantastic film.

Released in 1994, The Lion King was viewed by Disney higher-ups as a side project, while they pooled their efforts into the now woefully-aged Pocahontas. Instead, it was this smaller endeavour that took the world by storm. The zenith of Disney’s Renaissance period, it is a masterpiece that boasts gorgeous animation and many visually stunning sequences, as well as an incredible score by Hans Zimmer (not to mention a plethora of instantly recognisable songs by Elton John and Tim Rice, such as “Circle of Life” and “Hakuna Matata”).

Anyway, modern Disney decided the wonder and magic of the original was actually a bad thing, so they made this soulless waste of time. After all, poor old Disney only has, what, about a third of the box office market share right now? They are in desperate need of some cash.

On paper, Jon Favreau’s copy-and-paste job should have been as great as the animated classic. After all, all the elements are in place: the story – where Simba must learn what it means to be king and reclaim what’s rightfully his – is the same; all the beats are there, so you know what to expect; that beloved soundtrack is here; and the characters you know and love are also present. So what exactly differentiates 2019’s The Lion King from 1994’s The Lion King?

Visuals, primarily, is what helped made the classic stand out, and what helps to break this version. Whereas The Lion King is dishing out expressive, visually arresting animation at every opportunity, Favreau’s Lion King is utterly boring to look at. Indeed, the CGI is impressive, maybe even revolutionary. Props to this film’s talented animators in making the Pride Lands and its inhabitants look so real. However, the end result is a different story.

In Favreau’s bid to make everything about this film realistic, characters are robbed of their expressiveness, to a detrimental degree. Personality is never shown physically, so the movie is wholly dependent on the voice acting to provide that. Unfortunately, as solid as this cast is, it’s simply too much heavy lifting for them here. The contrast between voices and a lack of appropriate body language is often jarring. There are times when Simba is supposed to be sad or feeling guilty, but because he has a real lion cub’s face that adheres to the rules of a real lion cub’s face, it looks like he’s smiling or otherwise indifferent to the situation. Zazu, despite being a stiff, posh, John Oliver-voiced individual, is the most emotive character present, simply because he does things with his eyes. However, at the same time, his voice comes from a bird beak that behaves exactly like a real bird beak does, so you’re not entirely convinced it’s his voice. You also have issues where characters of the same species look so similar, that you regularly confuse them. The worst example is when adult Nala is on screen with Sarabi, or any of the other lionesses. It doesn’t help when Simba embraces both of them in the same manner.

It’s not just character animation that takes a hit; environments and cinematography are similarly lacklustre. Gone is that romanticised African landscape and its striking, rich colours. Instead, everything looks washed out, and overly bright (because that’s real life, I guess). No artistic licence is permitted to properly differentiate settings or establish mood, either. Adult Simba mourns the land’s decay under Scar’s rule, but unlike the original which uses cold, dark greys to depict how barren and lifeless Scar’s world is, the palettes barely change, so there is no distinct contrast between his and Mufasa’s kingdoms. The elephant graveyard is no longer this eerie, alien landscape, for it is lit and coloured as if part of the Pride Lands. There are even times when animals blend into the background, because their colour perfectly matches that of their environment.

Those lively musical numbers, with vibrant imagery to spare, are no more. All the major songs are visually represented by the exact same action. After all, why have something that’s fun to watch, when your characters can just walk (or maybe run!) and talk throughout them? The playfulness of “Just Can’t Wait To Be King”, symbolising Simba’s childish, naïve glee about being next in line to the throne? Forget it; let’s just have the two, sandy-coloured cubs run from one sandy-coloured spot to the next sandy-coloured spot. What about “Hakuna Matata”, as Timon and Pumbaa teach Simba to mellow out and forget his problems? Better have them just walk and talk, and not worry about anything that might actually show an obvious change in Simba’s character. And why have “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” actually take place at night? Why not during broad daylight? (Also they bond solely through walking, and looking at each other with their plain, real-life lion faces.) Even “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, now identical to the Tokens’ version, is plagued by this laziness. I feel bad for the digital artists that worked on this movie. The amount of work they must have put into bringing the Pride Lands to life is overshadowed by their director preventing it from feeling alive.

Favreau’s placid reimagining completely falls apart thanks to how unadventurous it is, which only emphasises how lazy it is as a whole. Anything that is great – such as music and any genuinely decent imagery – is borrowed from the original, and any additions stand out like a sore thumb. This includes extra exposition through dialogue, to explain motives and backstory, which is not present in 1994’s Lion King. However, this is either because it’s clear through visuals and their actions what a character is all about, or because audiences do not need to be told why, for example, Scar has allied with the hyenas. But modern Disney demands these remakes are at least two hours long. Thus, every little detail is spoon fed to you, whether it actually adds anything or not.

I don’t think there’s been a Disney remake that so spectacularly misunderstands its source material, and what made it so special in the first place. I also don’t think there’s been a Disney remake that’s so unnecessary to watch. At least Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin, as bad as it is, has Will Smith’s Genie as a selling point. This? Not so much. At present, you have two choices:

a) You can travel to the cinema, spend £10 or so on a ticket (maybe £30-£40 if you’re a family), sit through thirty minutes of adverts and trailers, and then hope you’re not distracted by restless kids that aren’t ready to sit still for such a long time, or by their restless parents who need to check Facebook every 15 minutes.

OR

b) You can stay at home, and pop in the Lion King DVD that everyone owns by this point.

The difference is thirty minutes of runtime and no hit to your wallet. The original is also a joy to behold, unlike this one, which is both disappointing and frustrating. Clearly reliant on you being wooed by the music all over again, as if that was the only thing of note in the original, Jon Favreau’s The Lion King is like some schoolkid copying a cool story they read for their English assignment, while failing to grasp exactly why it was cool.

Rating: Simba’s paw in Mufasa’s pawprint.

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Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019, d. Jon Watts)

This review will touch upon spoilers for Far From Home. Any such elements are obscured from view, and are only viewable should you choose to view them.

Eight months have passed since Avengers: Endgame, and we find Peter Parker in Europe on a school trip, taking a much needed break from life as the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. It’s here on this vacation that he plans to reveal his love for fellow classmate, MJ. However, his holiday is thrown out the window when Nick Fury calls by. A new threat, Elementals, has emerged, and with many of the MCU’s big guns pre-occupied, only Peter can help the mysterious Quentin Beck defeat them and prevent a global catastrophe. Now the young webslinger has no choice but to take a step into the big league, while he struggles to deal with a world without Tony Stark. (Yes, the death of such a significant player in the MCU should really be treated as a spoiler, but Marvel Studios acts as if everyone has seen Endgame already, so here we are.)

After something as big and dramatic as Endgame (and Captain Marvel to a degree), it’s nice to come back to something down to earth like Far From Home. Everything I love about 2017’s Homecoming is back and expanded upon in FFH, while the new territory Spidey finds himself in provides a slight change to the dynamic. Tom Holland once again proves himself as the best on-screen Peter Parker. He continues to display that adorable awkwardness with ease, especially when it comes to his moments with MJ, and he does a great job of making you feel the stress his character is under, from being presumed by all to be Stark’s successor, and the frustration that clearly develops from such cosmic expectations. Zendaya also shines here as MJ, Peter’s new love interest. I’m often wary of paranoid characters that obsess over government conspiracies and whatnot, but there’s something oddly charming about the way she plays MJ and the manner in which she relays these dark titbits. This makes it easy to see what Peter sees in her, as well as explain her interest in him. Parker’s blossoming relationship with MJ – these two socially awkward nerds trying to figure out how to express their honest feelings about one another – is honestly such a joy to behold. It’s nice to see this kid catch a break with his home life after all that he’s been through, and genuinely brought a smile to my face when they finally share that first kiss.

These performances make the action sequences more thrilling, and the danger feel more real. Larger scale, city-spanning battles are a definite step-up for this younger Spider-Man, whose previous skirmishes in the backs of trucks and planes feel petty by comparison. While it’s obvious that he’ll pull through, a successful effort is nonetheless made to make these conflicts feel quite above his paygrade. Putting these grander set pieces aside, however, it’s certainly as much of a comedy, if not more so, than Homecoming. There was one occasion where a joke distracted from the atmosphere being established for one sequence, but otherwise it’s fitting for what Far From Home is going for. The gags are all appropriate for the characters as presented, and never feel forced: from Aunt May’s christening of Peter’s spidey-sense as the ‘Peter Tingle’; to Ned’s surprise romance; and to Happy’s attempts at being a big hero. If Homecoming managed to garner a fair few laughs from you, then Far From Home will be just as triumphant.

But outside of that, the one highlight here has to be Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio (played here by Jake Gyllenhaal). Beck proves a much needed ally and equal to Parker to begin with; someone who is more than capable, but has this immense, consuming challenge thrust upon him, and struggles not to be overwhelmed by his situation. For Gyllenhaal, this is not so much of a challenge, and through him it’s plain to see why Peter is so drawn to Quentin, with his level-headedness and ability to make solid quips on a dime.

Admittedly, it’s hard to properly discuss his character without going into spoiler territories. If you have even the most basic knowledge of Spider-Man’s library of characters, you’ve already deduced what eventually happens with him. But just to be on the safe side…

– SPOILERS BELOW – HIGHLIGHT TEXT TO READ –

Yes, as many of you deduced, some more accurately than others, Mysterio is not who he claims to be. Rather, he is an ex-employee of Stark’s, who plots to manipulate Peter and company into giving him control of an advanced security program. Exactly how they portray him and his use of illusions, not to mention where they go with this, is brilliant, and establishes him and his ethos as Spider-Man’s greatest threat to date. Much like Parker, it’s not the tech he possesses that makes Beck Mysterio. When you live in a world where people can be literally snapped out of, and back into, existence, it’s much easier to deceive them. Perhaps the pinnacle of his abilities during the story is his first fight against Spider-Man. The sequence is confusing, in a good way; a solid couple of minutes that mixes real-world environments with fantastical, dreamlike landscapes in rapid succession. The result is a mind-melting spectacle that leaves you questioning what is real as much as Parker does. This is a kid who has gone toe-to-toe with Thanos, and yet Mysterio ends up feeling more of a pain to deal with than the Mad Titan.

Making matters worse is a future threat entering the fray mid-credits; J Jonah Jameson*, clearly parodying real-life conspiracy nut Alex Jones and his fake news site InfoWars. Even with Beck out of the question, the idea of Mysterio will continue to plague Spider-Man, as he now fights an enemy that so willingly buys into his own lies. This is promising, as I was admittedly anxious as to how they’ll raise the stakes for him in his next outing. He’s gone from friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man to globe-trotting Avenger over the course of two major outings, so maybe scaling his world back down and providing him a more personal conflict next time will benefit this series.

– END OF SPOILERS –

As a standalone film, Far From Home might be a little reliant on you having watched the other films, but if you have, then this is most definitely a compelling continuation of Peter’s story.  In this film’s closing scenes, we witness MCU Spidey’s first epic swing through NYC, as has come to be expected in a Spider-Man movie. But here, it feels so more rewarding than in other films, as we have had two full Spider-Man outings, plus three Avengers-related escapades, worth of growth. When we were first introduced to Holland’s Parker, he was a kid wearing a onesie, catching muggers whilst being all too eager for Tony Stark’s approval. Now, as he approaches adulthood, and has a better grip on his powers and the Great Responsibility™ that comes with them, the moment where he effortlessly glides between the skyscrapers of Manhattan while texting feels genuinely earned.

After Endgame, the future of the MCU is unclear. After Far From Home, however, it’s clear this franchise has life in it yet. Another strong, reliable romp from the folks at Marvel Studios.

(… No, not Sony. They might own the rights, but they couldn’t make a decent live-action Spider-Man film if they tried. Look at Venom, for Pete’s sake.)

Rating: Four Lemonades

*(Yes, of course they cast that actor as the anti-Spidey propaganda machine – so perfect a casting choice that he truly cannot be replaced or bested.)

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Toy Story 4 (2019, d. Josh Cooley)

When we last saw Woody, Buzz, and company, they had been trusted to Bonnie, after their original owner, Andy, grew up and went to college. Since then, the status quo has been restored, although Woody finds himself relegated from his comfort zone; Bonnie regularly leaves him in the closet, and awards his sheriff’s badge to Jessie during playtime. He is no longer the leader of the pack, either, something he has a hard time adjusting to. On top of this, he must deal with a surprising new addition to the gang – Forky, a toy crafted from bits of trash. No-one knows exactly how or why he’s alive, only that he is now Bonnie’s favourite possession, and must be protected at all costs.

Forky is a hot mess, much like many of the people who grew up with Toy Story. He doesn’t understand why he’s here; all he knows is that he’d feel much more at home in the cosy depths of a bin. From here, I presumed this would be the bulk of the film: Woody looking out for everyone’s new favourite utensil, while helping him to understand what his presence means to Bonnie. However, this arc is over and done with by the end of the first act. From there, Forky takes a backseat while we are re-introduced to Bo Beep, who has spent the last several years without an owner.

Speaking of taking a back seat, one thing that Toy Story 4 accomplishes is proof that you can easily have a Toy Story movie without Buzz. Our beloved space ranger is here, though mostly due to contractual obligation, as if they weren’t permitted to write a script that didn’t include him. Buzz’s role is diminished to the point of feeling needless. His only function is to deliver a running gag about his inner voice that would have felt in character in, say, Toy Story 2, but not here, where his actions up to this point contradict what’s going on here. Other toys, particularly the other newcomers, have a better time. Duke Caboom is certainly the best of the expanded roster, a macho stuntman toy, haunted by the memory of his disappointed owner. And while it doesn’t feel like they have a real impact on the film, Ducky and Bunny provide a few good laughs with their ridiculous plans. The old gang barely makes an appearance, but then the tale here is not about them.

Toy Story 4 is most certainly Woody’s story above all else, as the world opens up to him, and he begins to wonder about his place in it. A large chunk of this expansion is thanks to a returning face, Bo Beep. Her character is greatly expanded upon here. No longer just a voice of reason and eye candy for Woody, she is now a free spirit, dedicating her time to helping lost toys find new owners at a travelling carnival. It’s a definite improvement, and justifies her return to the franchise, as the direction her life has taken raises new questions for Woody. Is a toy’s purpose simply to support a child, or is there more to it? Does he himself need an owner to feel fulfilled?

This direction makes sense. An increased focus on Woody helping out his fellow toys – whether they are figuratively or literally lost – is consistent with his adventures from previous films, and more fitting than this being simply about saving Forky and returning to Bonnie.  That said, it still feels as though Forky’s potential is squandered, and would love to have seen more of him. I think more questions could have been raised in TS4 about exactly what it means to exist as a toy. You have, for the first time, a toy that was not manufactured in a factory, but made out of scraps in a classroom. How do toys acquire sentience, and what qualifies cases like Forky for having a soul? We’re teased these questions much later on, though they’re brushed aside as soon as they’re asked.

Not that this is too big an issue. The real story is satisfying enough, and it is often easy to forget this little nit-pick when taking in the visuals. Certainly, this is one of Pixar’s prettiest films to date, and when compared to the original demonstrates how far 3D animation has come. All our characters have an appropriately weighty feel to them; from the way Forky flops about, to the way those creepy dolls from the antique shop walk. There is a sense of romanticism when we view the world from Woody’s perspective: such as how alluring the outside world is, with its luscious greens and the brightly coloured carnival attractions; to the way the entire background is out of focus whenever we see Bo from his point of view. It’s easy to see why Pixar is still considered as one of, if not the best, in this field.

Ultimately, Toy Story 4 is indeed about Woody, and the conclusion to his arc results in a film that feels even more final than Toy Story 3 did.  Not that this particularly matters, anyway. Nine years ago we bid farewell to Woody and the gang, in what felt like the end of their story. Their original owner moved on and gave his toys to a new kid, seemingly wrapping up their story. What a touching ending, we all thought. Of course, by this point, Pixar was owned by Disney, and they were not intent on letting things be. You are already aware of this truth; this year alone they’re releasing four remakes of classic animations. (Oh, you didn’t know about the Disney+ exclusive Lady and the Tramp?) And let’s not forget at one stage they had plans for a Star Wars movie every year for the foreseeable future, alongside two TV shows. (But don’t worry, they’ve conceded to a three year gap before the onslaught recommences.) Disney was already talking to Pixar about a fourth Toy Story long before TS3 had even finished production. So here we are, nine years later, once again saying hello and goodbye to Woody and the gang, in what feels like the end of their… hm.

“This is all well and good,” muses the voice in my head, which I presume/hope is in fact a reader, “but is Toy Story 4 any good?” A question the answer for which is rather obvious, because of course Toy Story 4 is good. This is on par with the other three entries in the series. Everything you’d expect from Toy Story is here: the laughs, the tears, the scares. But as I said, it’s so obvious that you don’t really require an answer. In fact, you’ve already got tickets, and are now sat down in the theatre. So non-existent is your need for mine or anyone else’s verdict on this film, I could have comfortably rambled about the actual necessity for this film, or the futility of asking Disney, the monopolistic black hole that it is, which will not cease consuming properties until they literally have all the money in the world, to nip this movie franchise in the bud.

But I digress. Toy Story 4 manages the feat of excusing its existence, with a heartfelt story about purpose and belonging that’s just as joyful and emotional as the films that came before it.

Rating: Seriously, have you looked at the top five highest grossing films so far this year? Three of them are owned by Disney, and TS4 is guaranteed to make that four by the end of this month. And they’re not done yet! We’ve still got The Lion King, Frozen 2, and Rise of Skywalker on the horizon. That’s just off the top of my head! There is a very real chance that, come the end of this year, most if not all places on the top ten will go to Disney productions. But that’s not enough for them. They’re now re-releasing an extended cut of Avengers: Endgame just so they can claim the title of Highest Grossing Film Of All Time from Avatar… which they now own anyway! As the tagline for Alien vs Predator goes, “Whoever wins, we lose”. (By the way? AvP? Disney’s as well, along with the Alien and Predator franchises. At least we might get X-Men in the MCU, eh?)

Here’s My 25 (ish) Most Anticipated Indie Games of 2020

Here’s My 25 (ish) Most Anticipated Indie Games of 2020

LauraKBuzz.com

Hey everyone. It’s 2020, and that means we can forget about all those silly bad video games that came out last year, and look forward into the future, where a bunch of video games live that I have not yet played, and as such might be the best games I have ever experienced!

These games are not guaranteed to be the best games of the year, but a couple of weeks into 2020 these are the games that best caught my eye, and that I think are most worth keeping tabs on as they approach release. They’re not listed in any specific order, and they vary in release date from next week through to slightly into 2021, but I think all of these games seem really exciting, promising, and worth giving some of your attention.

Weird and Unfortunate Things are Happening – Unity

In Weird and Unfortunate Things are Happening

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The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018, d. Desiree Akhavan)

With summer out of the way, and things quietening down, I’ve had the opportunity to go a little further afield to Bristol’s Watershed, and catch Desiree Akhavan’s The Miseducation of Cameron Post. This drama stars Chloë Grace Moretz as the titular young girl who, after being caught with another girl, is sent off to God’s Promise, a “gay conversion” camp. While there she makes new friends, becomes more comfortable with herself, and tries to deal with an intolerant culture.

I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to go out and see this, for Akhavan has crafted a wonderful coming-of-age tale that also deals with some uncomfortable truths. Miseducation is surprisingly feel-good, despite the scary environment. Moments featuring Cameron bonding with the other camp residents flows through the malicious aura of God’s Promise. Anytime that they appear to be having fun, or simply allowed to be themselves, is accompanied by a sense of dread; the awful feeling that one of the camp counsellors might soon walk in on them and punish them.

This energy is made worse by the naivety of the adults running the place; they are utterly convinced they are doing good, and oblivious to the damage they are causing the children in their care. In this regard, the character of Dr Marsh, played by Jennifer Ehle, is particularly chilling. With her permanent smile and restrained composure, you feel as though there’s something off about her, as though she harbours more resentment towards “Same Sex Attraction” than she is letting on. In her eyes, any negative experiences or feelings the kids have are what’s causing their homosexuality, while any positive emotions they’ve felt from being in a same-sex relationship are perceived as having a toxic effect on them.

But this is certainly not the only notable acts on show. Chloë Grace Moretz has found one of her best roles to date in Cameron Post.  Conflicted by wanting to be herself, and her desire to live without being made to feel disgusted by who she is, Moretz is convincing in both her initial indifference towards the camp and her growing grievances with its methods. Another excellent performance can be found in John Gallagher Jr’s Rick Marsh, a man who has supposedly been “converted” from homosexuality. However, as the film progresses, it becomes evident this may not be the case, and Gallagher Jr does a great job portraying his struggles.

This also goes hand in hand with some great scene compositions. An example being a later scene between the main trio and Rick, that is expertly paced to draw as much awkwardness and tension from the situation as is humanly possible, and in a way that perfectly articulates what each character is currently going through. And this is only one of the many moments which perfectly utilise long, single shots, peppered throughout Cameron Post. No such instance feels drawn out, or that it overstays their welcome.

If you can find a cinema nearby that is playing Cameron Post, I’d highly recommend catching it as soon as possible. What you’ll find is a poignant and (unfortunately) relevant story, with a hearty sense of wit.

Rating: A warm smile, followed by a grimace, as you realise that, though this film is fictional and set 25 years ago, its premise is based on an on-going phenomenon in the US. (It was only five years ago that “ex-gay” advocate organisation Exodus International was dissolved, while groups such as Restored Hope Network are still operating to this day.)

Mile 22 (2018, d. Peter Berg)

There was a point during Mile 22 where I removed my glasses to clean them, and didn’t put them back on for a good few minutes. I couldn’t see properly, but the movie was so incomprehensible that it didn’t matter.

The latest collaberation between Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg sees an elite US squad tasked with getting a high-value asset out of Indonesia within a tight time limit. Well, to be honest, I’m not sure if we were meant to see this. This operation is so top secret, the filmmakers do everything they can to prevent you making anything out. And whatever you can see, is simply unbearable, kudos to Wahlberg.

Editing and cinematography here is an utter mess. The utilisation of ultra-quick cuts, and cameras so shaky you’d think there was an magnitude 10 earthquake going on, is explained by two factors: first is that Mark Wahlberg’s James Silva is hyperactive (allegedly), and second is that they only have so much time to escape the country. However, these are merely reasons. They do not excuse poor editing, such as cutting to someone literally as they begin talking, rather than before or after. It also doesn’t excuse jumping through a dozen different shots in mere seconds, making it impossible to decipher where people are or even whom they are. Many fight scenes made it a challenge to figure out who was dominating who, simultaneously highlighting how they wasted Iko Uwaits’ martial arts expertise in this movie.

Such bone-headed creative choices are only made worse by the lighting and sound design. A number of confrontations take place in poorly lit environments, and any flashes of light are painfully white. Paired with incredibly sharp sound effects for explosions and gunshots piercing your eardrums on a regular basis, it is genuinely unbearable at times.

On top of all of this, you have characters like James Silva, delivering lines so fast they may very well have broken the land speed record. Which is merely one of the problems with Mark Wahlberg’s performance here, as he’s insufferable, even obnoxious, as the lead. It seems he equates being hyperactive as being as over the top as possible. One scene has him shouting at the top of his lungs, coming of as hysterical rather than aggressive. (The person whom this cringe worthy tirade was directed at, the wonderful Emily Skeggs (recently in The Miseducation of Cameron Post), was able to out-act Wahlberg by simply tolerating his presence.) Silva’s also supposed to be quite gifted, but there’s absolutely nothing that suggests this. He only ends up doing a better job than everyone else because everyone else either dies or is severely wounded. There’s nothing skilful about being lucky.

Finally, as if all of this wasn’t enough, Mile 22 attempts a cliff-hanger. Problem being is that it isn’t immediately obvious. What happened? How long ago was this? Did that guy survive? Was this person killed? What’s the actual status of their squad? Much like the mess that comprises Mile 22, all of these questions are accidental. Honestly, I do not care if they bother to answer them or not. What a mess.

Rating: White noise.

The Predator (2018, d. Shane Black)

Despite being brutally murdered in the 1987 original, Rick Hawkins, aka Shane Black, has come back present to us The Predator, a film in which the titular alien hunter is the one being hunted. When an evolved Predator comes to Earth in search of a Mysterious Object™, a disorderly band of soldiers must take it out before it destroys the sequel bait. Surprisingly, an average movie ensues.

What helps The Predator is its sense of humour. The main group share a fairly solid chemistry between them, and, while no particular performance stands out, this allows a surprising amount of jokes and one-liners to stick their landing. It’s never too distracting from the action scenes either, though seeing how unmemorable said moments generally were, perhaps that isn’t too great a thing. Given that the original Predator showed us skinned corpses and head explosions, The Predator’s gore and violence is unfortunately tame.  Even when it depicts beheadings, it’s rather underwhelming. CGI was not this film’s friend.

Also, can we please cut it out with obnoxious sequel-baiting? When they finally reveal what the Mysterious Object™ is, it’s only there long enough to tease the next instalment. It could have easily been utilised in the climax, which would have deeply appreciated what this item’s cool-factor could have brought to it. Let’s hope this film makes a decent profit, otherwise what was the point?

Rating: A couple of sub-standard spines.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018, d. Jon M. Chu)

From Jon M. Chu, comes perhaps the only rom-com in recent years that I enjoyed. Crazy Rich Asians is based on the book by author Kevin Kwan, and sees New York University professor Rachel Chu travel to Singapore to finally meet her boyfriend’s parents. Soon after arriving, she is shocked to learn that Nick is from one of the wealthiest families on the island.

Crazy Rich Asians can be best described as being… cozy.  It does share a similar narrative with many other rom-coms, such as Meet the Parents, in that our protagonist has to find a way to earn the respect of their partner’s resenting, backwards parents/family. If you’re familiar with such movies, you’ll know where this one will go. However, the actors brought on board do a pretty decent job of distracting from the predictability of the plot.

Though the whole cast shines brightly throughout, the stand-out performances for me would have to be Awkwafina as Rachel’s college friend Piek Lin, and Michelle Yeoh as Nick’s mum, Eleanor Young. Awkwafina really seems to be making a name for herself between this and her role in Ocean’s 8, and takes command of any scene she’s in with her loud and excitable personality. Michelle Yeoh is likewise capable of stealing a scene as Eleanor, more so for how cold and hard-ass she is.  I honestly felt I was turning to stone whenever she was plotting to do away with Rachel. Meanwhile, our male lead, Henry Golding, for whom Crazy Rich Asians is his first ever film, is showing a promising future. His chemistry with Constance Wu (as Rachel Chu) is fine, the pair feel rather adorable together, and he certainly the charming smile and butter-melting voice that has served the likes of Tom Hiddleston so well in the past.

Despite this, there are some rough patches, such as the subplot concerning Astrid (played by Gemma Chan) and her husband. Apparently, there is a strong focus on this in the book, so a shame to find it feeling rather irrelevant to the main plot. Why could they not have focused more on the background of Eleanor, or on the other members of Nick’s family?  You get enough to suss that they’re insufferable, and should not be trusted with the family’s business, but that’s it.

Not that this is hugely detrimental to the film, in the grand scheme of things, as it’s still a charming and humouring affair nonetheless. If you’re looking for a snug, feel-good movie involving people with more money than sense, you can’t really go wrong with Crazy Rich Asians.

Rating: A traditional dumpling.

King of Thieves (2018, d. James Marsh)

James Marsh’s King of Thieves follows the story of the 2015 Hatton Garden heist, in which a group of old thieves (led by Michael Caine’s Brian Reader) stole millions of pounds worth of jewels, gold, and cash, and is regarded as the largest burglary in English legal history. From there, it focuses on the men themselves, and how their trust in each other deteriorated in the aftermath.

This aspect of the film is where most of the entertainment is drawn from. Michael Caine and company do a decent job of showing why they have been regarded as some of the UK’s top acting talent. Highlights amongst them include Jim Broadbent’s portrayal of Terry Perkins, which is provocative and menacing, often feeling like he’s one step away from smashing your head in, and Tom Courtenay, who is wonderfully dopey and two-faced as Johny “Kenny” Collins. The group on a whole have a decent chemistry, giving the film a bit of a boost with their senior crooks’ natural-feeling banter and quips, and there are even a couple of laugh-out-loud moments thrown in for good measure, such as Brian Reader’s first meeting with Bill “The Fish” Lincoln (played by the ever-delightful Michael Gambon).

Which is perhaps the film’s sole saving grace, because as a heist film, King of Thieves doesn’t particularly stand out. Even if, like me, you’re unfamiliar with the actual robbery, the movie is rather predictable in where it’s going.  As a consequence, there’s no tension throughout; at no point during the heist, or when their relationships begin to break down, did a single hair on my body stand up on end. What doesn’t help matter is that King of Thieves is also “flavoured” with a fairly generic jazzy score that will probably better serve a playlist somewhere on Spotify. The intercut archive footage of the main cast’s previous crime films don’t add much to the film either, only there to serve people who know which film the clips are from.

Still, it was nice to see these older stars all together on screen, doing what they seem to do best. I’d prefer it if they didn’t tease us with their better films while doing so, though.

Rating: A flawed diamond.

Wonder Woman (2017)

Diana (Gal Gadot) is an Amazonian princess, living on an island safe from the evils of mankind.  But when Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crashes off shore and speaks of the horrors of the Great War, she is compelled to leave home and fight in the war to end all wars.

 

For the last five years, the superhero offerings by Warner Bros. have been fairly disappointing.  The films have ranged from being simply mediocre (Man of Steel) to being boring messes (Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad).  Thank Zeus, then, that Patty Jenkins has come along to bring us the latest entry in the DCEU, Wonder Woman, and in doing so demonstrating why she and her team should be in charge of the whole operation.

What particularly makes this stand out from WB’s other attempts is that the story is coherent.  Here we follow Diana on her seemingly naïve quest to free mankind from the corruption of Ares, the God of war.  Through her, the movie explores the complexities of war: how brutal it can be; that the good guys in one war may have been the bad guys in another; and also why people fight them in the first place. In this regard, it has a surprising amount of depth to it, despite the entry-level feel it sometimes has.

And because of how this theme is explored, Diana becomes a more engaging character.  Gal Gadot gets it spot on, as a warrior with a fierce passion for justice.  A great deal of my enjoyment stemmed from seeing her principles tested throughout, and a memorable scene where she leads a charge across No Man’s Land proved this depiction to be the symbol of hope and optimism that these heroes are meant to be.  (DCEU Superman, take some goddamned notes.)

Wonder Woman does suffer from the usual grievances of superhero movies, one of which being its villain.  Ludendorff is your typically bitter, one-dimensional German military officer, shooting officers for complaining and laughing at the suffering of others.  While, admittedly, you get the feeling this is in fact deliberate, especially during the third act, he still is an otherwise forgettable villain.  Meanwhile, the aforementioned final act suffers from the same thing that plagued other DC films such as Batman v Superman; it climaxes with a detrimental – and weightless – fight with a CGI big bad.

This is, however, the only notable misstep in a film that’s otherwise fit to serve as a how to guide for future DC endeavours.  A round of applause for Jenkins and her team, then, for reigniting some hope for the DCEU.

Rating: A tasty ice cream in an ugly city.