Sonic the Hedgehog Review

Sonic was never too big of a deal to me. I remember playing a lot of whatever the Dreamcast game was back in the day (what an underrated console that was) but beyond that, I have no attachment to him. Somehow, the trailers for this film had me intrigued, and I went to a 4DX screening of it which made the experience a little more memorable. 

The 4DX thing is a normal cinema except it has moving chairs with fans and water spray and air shooting out of the seat beside your head and the back of the chair poking you occasionally. To be honest I knew nothing about it going into it, so when I was being flung around in my chair like a rag doll within seconds of the movie starting, I was a little taken aback. I tried to ignore it for the most part, but it added to the experience, and being a film that contains a lot of Sonic running around at high speed, it was a lot of fun.

The plot fits neatly into the “Don’t think about it too much” category and the coincidences that are required for the plot to happen are a touch too convenient but it works well enough to push the characters together and that’s when the sparks fly. Sonic himself keeps to the right side of annoying, which is a careful line they had to navigate. When you start to think he’s getting a bit annoying, he does something funny or cute and keeps you on his side.

James Marsden will forever be looked at a wasted Cyclops in the X-men films, but he fits well in this role. He’s goofy, fun, and plays well off Sonic, which is a compliment especially when you consider there was nothing for him to act off for the most part in the film. He has good chemistry with everyone in the film and plays well off Jim Carrey’s Dr Robotnik.

I never really expected this character to work. I fully expected a completely over the top Jim Carrey performance that would be fun but dumb. To my surprise he is a legitimately good villain and will entertain kids no end. There is one line he has in response to someone mentioning breastfeeding that I have found myself chuckling at in my own time since the film.

I was surprised how enjoyable the action was, it’s all simple stuff, but the little touches added a lot to it for me. It’s good nostalgic fun to see the moves I remember from the game, like Sonic curling up into a ball and launching himself at objects, happen on screen. There are probably tonnes more of this kind of Easter egg style secret that I missed because I am not that well versed in the lore, but I found myself having a good time.

Sonic the Hedgehog is a film that knows its place and doesn’t try to break the mould. For a film aimed primarily at kids, it’s surprisingly fun for adults. It’s a film that all the family can enjoy and that’s exactly what it’s trying to be. It’s not aiming to make you feel a deep emotional connection to something or provoke any moral questions. It’s fun though, and that won’t change regardless of the audience’s age.

Good: Surprisingly entertaining and I would be happy to watch a sequel. Probably as good a sonic movie you could make.

Bad: Too much convenience and forgotten plot threads. Some egregious product placement.

7/10 – Sonic 2 is a film I want to see

 

The Lighthouse Review

I was feeling very apprehensive about my viewing of The Lighthouse. I was unsure what genre the film fit into, and the Black and white filter with an odd aspect ratio felt like a useless gimmick. Would this critically acclaimed film surprise me? 

For those of you who haven’t heard of this film, it’s about these two men who are working together maintaining a Lighthouse in the 1890’s, and the film shows their relationship and their descent into madness. Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe star as the two men, and I have to say they both are one hundred percent committed and go all in for the roles.

The cinematography is a big part of the film. The black and white filter adds to the feel of this being set in the 1890’s and the aspect ratio does genuinely add a feeling of discomfort and claustrophobia while you’re watching. Some of the shorts are beautiful to look at, and the score does a great job accompanying the visual storytelling. I do feel like the aspect ratio is a distraction, and I wanted to see the full wide shot of the beautiful landscape shots.

The story they’re telling though, is very hard to put a finger on. The films not actually that slow, but so little happens for long periods of the film. We see them carrying out odd jobs, Pattinson gradually getting more disgruntled with Dafoe barking orders at him, and the environment they find themselves in is a grim one for the most part. The titular Lighthouse, and the actual light inside it, are reserved by Dafoe’s character, and Pattinson is now allowed up there.

Ordinarily, I’d find this intriguing, and in fact I did at first, but then I found myself waiting for something to happen. The intrigue around what is going on is then broken by something otherworldly happening. I think the more fantastical elements of this film are meant to be figments of Pattinson’s imagination, but you’re never sure. Perhaps this is intentional, to try and blur a line between the reality and fiction in the characters mind, but it just seems odd to me. There are tentacles about at times, but it’s just there because they’re an unsettling thing to look at. I don’t expect a film to try and creep me out the same way I get a little unsettled when I come across the tentacles in my Calamari at a restaurant.

It never felt at all unsettling to me, it just seemed out of place. The lighthouse, the tasks, everything about the work they’re doing is so mundane and real that these unusual fantasy elements don’t sit right for me. The film does a good job of setting up this harsh, unforgiving place, that introducing these supposedly creepy elements just felt silly to me.

There are points when the characters go off on what are supposed to be Shakespearean monologues that just didn’t make any sense. They are full of big words and fun sounding syllables, but they come off as just rambling nonsense. I think that might’ve been the point, but it just did not work. There is this running thing with a seagull in the film, which is somehow trolling Robert Pattinson, but I never saw it as anything but a bird standing there.

The Lighthouse is a film that is trying to be clever, and for me it came across as artsy nonsense. The idea of watching two men driven mad is appealing to me. The lack of freedom, the longing for human interaction other than that of the person you work with all day the monotonous, horrible work and harsh conditions. They are all things that would contribute to it, but they aren’t what the film shows. It shows two men driven mad seemingly by some other force, and that just isn’t interesting to me.

I know a lot of people really enjoyed this film, and I am glad for them. To me this is a waste of two terrifically committed actors and will be my example going forward of amazing performances in a poor film.

Good: Performances and Cinematography at times.

Bad: Lack of a coherent story, weird scenes that don’t fit, Aspect ratio is needlessly distracting.

3/10 – Whatever this film is trying to do, it did not work on me. 

 

 

Queen & Slim Review

Now and then a movie comes out of nowhere and surprises you, and that’s sort of exactly what I thought Queen & Slim was positioned to do. Technically a 2019 film, just released over here in the UK in 2020 for the Oscar season, Queen & Slim is a stylish, modern take on the Bonnie and Clyde story on the surface. 

There is a lot of caveats to that. For example, the first scene of this film is the very first date that our two main characters meet. Played by the excellent Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith, the two leads are sort of chalk and cheese, but find themselves pushed together as the events of the film unfold. We are never given their names, but they are the titular Queen & Slim.

Their awkward conversation follows them into the car and on their way home, when they are pulled over by a white cop. An altercation ensues, and things turn out badly with Slim shooting the cop in self-defence when the policeman decides to ramp things up by introducing his gun into affairs. To me this scene played out a bit odd, because I just struggle to believe this is how a police officer would act.

I am then reminded of the harrowing number of cases of black people being threatened and much worse by white cops in the US, and it really makes you lose a little faith in humanity. Something that on the surface to me seems completely unrealistic and against human nature, is just a fact of life for some people.

From that incident, Queen & Slim are on the run, and initially things are intense. The first act flies by, and then we reach the middle section of the film that seemed to drag a lot for me. Once their plan is laid out, we kind of have a good idea of where things are heading and for me, they just kind of slowly make their way through things. In this part of the film shows a bit more of Queens character, her previously icy demeanour starting to melt as she begins to get closer to Slim.

Their romance never quite felt genuine for me. There were cute moments sprinkled in but not enough for me to think that these two characters are in love to the degree the film tries to sell you. It felt too convenient for these characters to reach the point they do in their relationship in the 6 days over which this film takes place.

The side story, or rather side effect of the main story, is this cult following that Queen & Slim attain. As they travel south from Ohio, they encounter people who have heard of their exploits and for some parts of the black community they have inspired a sort of rebellion in them. This element of the film, while I think is coming from a good place, felt a little off to me. There is a scene that we see which is shocking, but as much because it doesn’t fit into the rest of the film as anything. Police Brutality is a real issue, and one that needs to be addressed. I just don’t know if the way this film portrays “Fighting” police brutality is a good message to be spreading.

Queen & Slim is a very interesting movie to watch, but I don’t know if it will stay with me the way I thought it might. There are scenes that threaten to make you cry or make you jump. The script has some odd moments, ones that I literally found myself scratching my chin whilst watching and wondering what was going on. The characters would be talking in a scene, and then suddenly they would stop talking, but the conversation would carry on seemingly in their heads. It isn’t addressed, but it happened, and I found myself thrown off by the characters on screen with their mouths closed but still hearing their conversations.

This is a film that is nearly very good, but just didn’t quite hit me for six like I thought it was going to at the start. It’s a good film that consistently shows signs of being great, but never makes it there. It feels like Queen & Slim was being positioned as an Oscar winner, and the lack of nominations it’s received tells you it never quite fulfilled it’s potential.

Good: Great performances and a well-made film, shines a light on important issues.

Bad: Unfulfilled potential, and the message feels a little heavy handed to me.

7/10 – A good film, and I am interested to see what the people involved do next. 

 

Booksmart Review

I missed Booksmart when it released in early 2019, and I shamefully have waited until now when it appeared on Amazon Prime to watch it. I’d heard nothing but positive things about this coming of age story so seeing it pop up on the streaming service was a nice surprise just before the Academy Awards this weekend.

Staring a cast of relative unknowns, and being director Olivia Wilde’s first feature length project, Booksmart has no right to be as genuinely brilliant as it is. Coming on the heels of me watching the second season of Sex Education, review of that here, Booksmart feels like it’s set in a very similar world. The 80’s fashion is toned down, but everything still feels a little stylised, everyone’s outfits are a little bit cooler than in the real world.

Amy and Molly are the two girls we follow through the film, played by Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein, and they have really believable “best friend” chemistry. You immediately believe they have been friends for years and have the relationship that kind of time builds between people. They have been the bookworms, studying and forgoing the partying their peers are indulging in that we all associated with our college (High School) years. It struck a note with me because it reminded me of my college years, going around to a mate’s house and drinking alcopops and pretending to enjoy beer.

I also once woke up in the middle of the night feeling very unwell, so I staggered out of the room to find a toilet, only to discover a drum kit where I thought the toilet should be. In my head I then returned to bed and slept it off. In reality, as my friend discovered the next day, I had decided to return to the room, move aside the dressing gown hung on the door, and proceeded to throw up all over the door. I then replaced the dressing gown and went back to bed.

Allegedly, it’s never been proven.

Anyway, back to the film! Booksmart took me back to those days of being carefree and having no responsibilities. The characters of course don’t realise that, to them the graduation they’re about to have and the crush they have on their classmate are as big an issue as anything life will ever throw at them. When our lead characters decide that they’re going to let their hair down for a night and party for the first time, I found myself hopeful that they would have a good time.

Ridiculous situation’s come thick and fast for the girls, and the laughs follow each one of them. I found myself chuckling a lot throughout Booksmart, and a few times I was howling with laughter, quite a rarity nowadays in films. Sometimes they’re a little juvenile, but that’s my kind of silliness, and I think there is a scene somewhere in there that will make most people laugh at some point in the film.

Much like Sex Education, it isn’t all about the laughs. Booksmart explores the challenges of growing up in your teens with all the anxiety and uncomfortable conversations about sex and sexuality. The awkwardness of the romance is painfully real, and without really being able to judge, I think it does a great job with LGBTQ+ representation without drawing any overt attention to it. Early on there is a conversation about Amy’s crush, and it’s a girl, and that’s just how it is. Her sexuality isn’t a plot point, she has feelings for someone are, and that’s the important part of it, not their gender.

Booksmart is a… smart film about coming of age, and it approaches it from a different angle to most films I have seen in this genre. Combining this with Sex Education, this new wave of media about growing up that is directly addressing the most uncomfortable parts of that part of life is really refreshing. I loved this film, and I can’t see why most people wouldn’t.

Good: Funny, Heart-warming, relatable, great performances, surprisingly well shot movie and a great soundtrack.

Bad: A bit of a slow start had me checking my watch and staring at Instagram, but that’s all that stopped this being a ten for me.

9/10 – Near perfect coming of age film.

Zombieland Double Tap Review

The first Zombieland was great fun and came out of nowhere. I remember seeing it and being completely surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did. It was quirky, funny, and had the 4 main characters had great chemistry. It was also 2009, and by 2014 I had just naturally assumed there wasn’t going to be a sequel. However, 10 years later, we have the next part of the story and once again I am going in with absolutely no idea of what to expect. 

The core cast are all back, with Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, who has noticeably grown up over the last 10 years while the other 3 look remarkably like how they did in the first one. It’s like they haven’t aged a day, but then Woody Harrelson has looked like he does now for as long as I have known of him, so I guess it makes sense. He’s one of those ageless people like Keanu Reeves.

Anyway, those four returns and seem to have not missed a beat. Their chemistry is once again the engine that keeps this film going. The banter back and forth between them all really does feel like a group that has been together for a long time so I would guess these four are friends outside of the camera as well. The newcomers to the cast add some new dimensions, and top of that list is Zoey Deutch who plays a ditzy, oblivious girl who has somehow survived this long. At first, I thought the character would become annoying very fast, but she does develop a little and is not just the idiot she first seems.

Rosario Dawson is the other newcomer and as always, she is great. She is immediately on the same wavelength as the rest of the group and her chemistry with Woody Harrelson adds a new dynamic to his character. I’ve talked about the cast so much because really, they’re the best thing about Zombieland Double Tap. Beyond them and some funny “Zombie Kill of the Year” bits, there isn’t much else here beyond some zombie killing.

The plot is fine, the action scenes are fine, and the special effects are great. That could kind of sum up this film unfortunately. There is no clever plot here, it’s basic and it serves its purpose of giving the characters a reason to go somewhere. Beyond that there is no intrigue or “what’s going to happen”. There is rarely a moment when you worry about any characters and when you do, it’s never for too long. The new Zombie types are fun, and the cleverly named T-800 (Zombieland’s main box office competition is the new Terminator) is an interesting idea, but they quickly become just another part of the horde.

The action scenes do have some fun moments, but there are only so many times a zombie being shot in the head is that entertaining. The film sets up a more interesting fight at the end, but then the finale happens a bit too quickly and there is no time for any cool action scenes. The last fight is practical, rather than entertaining, and even if there are some fun visuals a couple of times, my highlight of the films action was a cutaway skit to a guy murdering zombie in Italy.

What is odd about Zombieland Double Tap is that it doesn’t bring much new to the table, but still feels fun, fresh and enjoyable. It’s a movie we have had before, but the 10-year gap makes the reunion feel like more fun than if we had a sequel a couple of years later. It’s rare that comedy sequels made 10 years later work (see Zoolander 2) but somehow the formula of the first film still holds up in 2019. As much as I enjoyed watching this film, I can’t say I need another Zombieland anytime soon, so perhaps revisiting in another 10 years wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

It’s one of those films where your expectations need to be in the right place when you go in. Don’t expect a stunning sequel that surpasses the first, it doesn’t even try to be that. It’s an update on what’s happened to the characters you enjoyed first time. Like a postcard from someone you lost contact with, you will probably smile, laugh a little, and then forget about it all over again.

Good: Great chemistry between the cast with some laughs. Some laugh out loud moments that got me good.

Bad: Unambitious, very little original content, and unadventurous action scenes.

7/10 – Zombieland is Fine, and I think that’s what they were aiming for. 

 

Rocketman Review

Last year we got Queen, this year we get Elton John. Taron Egerton takes on the role, allegedly handpicked by Elton John himself. Could he follow in the footsteps of Remi Malek and smash this out of the park. Dexter Fletcher, the uncredited director of parts of Bohemian Rhapsody, and after what he did with that film, I was excited to see what he could do with this story. 

That is the end of the Bo-Rap comparisons for now, as I don’t want to discredit the film by just comparing it to another movie. Elton John’s story is one I knew of vaguely, but none of the details were clear to me. The film shows the pure talent of the musician, but also dives in deep to the core of the man. We see the highs and the lows, and it doesn’t pull any punches.

Getting the right actor to be Elton was always going to be the element that would make or break this film, and I have to say that Taron Egerton absolutely smashes this role. He becomes Elton for the duration of the film, and he shows he can carry a film and deliver on the emotional moments that are scattered through the film. On top of that, he has the voice and physical ability to carry off all the singing and dancing this film throws at him.

That brings me to the most fun element of Rocketman, the music. I went in expecting some of the biggest hits and a few concert recreations, but that is not what Rocketman delivers. This is a full-on musical, just with world famous songs that are positioned at the perfect times to fit the story. If you watched the film with no idea of Elton John or his music, you could easily think the music was created originally for this film. “Saturday Night Alright for Fighting” to “Your Song”, a big handful of Elton’s best-known music is served up.

The music punctuates key scenes, and for me worked at its best when it functioned as the exclamation point on key scenes. The other interesting use that may not work for everyone, is the use of his songs to stop the audience dwelling on any of the lower moments. We see Elton hit rock bottom, the lowest he could go, and it leads into a rendition of the title song. The way the song is filmed and performed, it worked perfectly for me and kept the movie from feeling too heavy at any time.

So far, it’s all been about Elton in this review, but whilst he is of course the main character, we do get some really good work from the supporting cast. His mum played by Bryce Dallas Howard is excellent as is his co-writer and best friend Bernie, played by Jamie Bell. Both have key roles in the film and share the stage with Egerton without ever outshining him, although I am not sure that would have been possible in this film.

The other major character in the film is John Reid, Elton’s manager and lover. He is played by Richard Madden, who does well in the role but the character itself is the main flaw in the film for me. Whilst the music numbers are fantastical and dreamlike, all the character moments between them felt real. As the film progresses John Reid goes from slightly manipulative to being full on moustache twirling evil. I felt he became a bit too cartoonish by the end of the film and that is a real shame as that is pretty much the only element of this film I didn’t enjoy.

Rocketman delivers on the potential the story has and is an incredibly fun time in the cinema. A brilliant performance by Egerton, that for me outdoes even Remi Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody, is one of many reasons to go and see this film. Unless you hate Elton John’s music, you will have a great time watching this.

Good:  Taron Egerton’s performance may be the best in 2019, Musical numbers that will have your feet tapping and a smile on your face and will leave you with a new appreciation for Elton John.

Bad: I found one character a bit too over the top evil, and that is the only real knock I can have. Oh and no Circle of Life. Come on.

9.5/10 – Leaves you feeling like a little kid. 

 

 

Triple Frontier Review

Netflix have been putting more and more money into the production of its own content. They’ve found a lot of success with the series they have produced, but their own movies have struggled to be consistent. They tend to be predictable stories with A list talent, and the net results has to date have been inconsistent. Triple Frontier brings Oscar Isaac, Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam and Pedro Pascal. 

They are all very talents actors, capable of carrying the movie on their own shoulders. The film does a good job is a good sense of camaraderie between the entire group when they’re together and the character moments between them are what the filmmakers attempt to use to take Triple Frontier to another level. The group face a lot of challenges through the film, and each actor has a moment to deliver something great. Oscar Isaac is top of the bill for me, but Affleck and Hunnam come to play as well. Pedro Pascal and Garrett Hedlund are given less to do, kind of playing “the other guys” for me but the group all knit together well.

They are all playing ex military servicemen, with different skills and a past we get a hint of without any real details. What you can tell is that they have a bond, and when it comes to it they would lay their lives on the line to save one another. That isn’t often required though, as we learn throughout that these are all very capable soldiers, to the point where they seem almost invincible at some points in the film. They aren’t and the way the tension builds through the film is excellent. Credit has to go to the director for putting together these intense, slow, methodical action scenes that burst into life with gunfire then return to the quiet tension that preceded the moment of explosive action.

One of the reasons this tension is created is by excellent use of the camera. Long tracking shot, slow sweeping one shot sequences, and only cutting when necessary. No action scene is hidden behind chopping between 15 camera angles, something I hate in films. Everything that happens is clear, well shot and feels real. The sound design is excellent, every gunshot pops, and the slow speed of the engagements makes for some of the best military style action I’ve seen in a while.

If the action and the group dynamic are what makes Triple Frontier worth watching, the plot is what might make it a little less enjoyable. The plot is generic, which is fine in itself, but the payoff at the end of the film feels very light and fluffy for what is an intense ride for the majority of the 2 hour 5 minute run time. That run time does feel a little heavy, which I judge based on whether I have looked at the time or checked how long is left during the film. I checked in this film and nearly groaned that there was 45 minutes left. The lack of an engaging premise is what makes the film feel long, and although the third act does pick up the pace a little, it kind of loses its way a little. The finale of the film was a bit odd, and the storytelling choices the make didn’t really make sense with me, given everything that happens in the film.

Triple Frontier has an excellent cast, playing an intriguing group of characters. At times its like the film can’t decide if they are good or bad people, and the meandering between the two leads to a bit of an unsatisfying ending. The action delivers in a big way, just like the cast, but I can’t help but feel this film delivers less than the sum of its parts in a weird way. The potential with a cast this strong and action put together this well is sky-high, and although it’s a good film, it didn’t quite reach greatness.

Good: Great cast and performances all round, and it has some of the most intense and realistic action scenes of the year so far.

Bad:  Generic and unengaging plot doesn’t give the audience the hook to keep engaged for the entire run time, unfulfilling ending.

6/10 – Much like Affleck’s Batman, this is good, but it could have been great.