6 Underground: Michael Bay, Please Stop.

Over the past weekend Netflix released the Ryan Reynolds led action film 6 Underground. I am a fan of Reynolds, and in general him being in a film is enough to make it enjoyable and passable. I sat down this weekend to watch 6 Underground and I only made it 30 minutes in before I had to turn it off. 

The opening 20 minutes of the film is a ridiculous car chase where there is no context for anything happening. It’s cut to pieces by constant jumping between shots and angles and slow motion and explosions and skids and explosions and screeching tires and explosions. I was genuinely watching in disbelief that this is how they decided was best to start a film. Completely out of context action, time jumping around with the camera just ever so slightly zoomed into each character when they’re trying to deliver some of the garbage cheesy dialogue.

This is of course a Michael Bay film, and it appears he has just been let off any kind of leash and given carte blanche to make whatever he wanted. There might be an absolute masterpiece in the hour and a half I didn’t watch, but I will never find out because it’s borderline unwatchable. The explosions and cars being smashed into a shower of pieces and bodies being flung about like ragdolls is all stuff that can work if done well, and if the story has led to it being relevant.

I normally wouldn’t spoil anything but fuck it, this movie is trash. at the end of this obnoxiously long opening chase, the driver, or number 6, or whatever number he is called because even Names are a character trait Michael Bay doesn’t care for, is killed by a forklift spike through the chest. Everyone in the car reacts like their brother, who they have fought alongside in the trenches has died. Up to this point in the movie, they have all been acting as if this is the first job, in fact I think at one point, they even say it’s the first job. So, they have known this dude for days, and then they mention they are using numbers instead of names, so they don’t get attached. So why did we just have a 5-minute scene of everyone sad about the driver.

Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese wrote Deadpool, so I must believe they have some excellent writing skills. Either that, or the entire Deadpool film is improvised and their script was ignored. The dialogue, the logic, everything about the opening 30 minutes of this film, just defies belief. Netflix clearly gave these guys all a lot of money, and Ryan Reynolds is Ryan Reynoldsy, so he is still mildly entertaining, but everything around him is just nonsense. Visual Noise is a term I believe John Campea coined, and it fits this film perfectly.

When these writers were combined with a passionate film maker in Tim Miller and Ryan Reynolds, they produced a fantastic film. I like to think people always try their hardest, but I can’t buy that here. This feels like people happy to take the paycheque and run. That, or it must have been one hell of an off day when everyone put their heads together to produce this.

To be fair, the core idea does sound quite good, a group of people off the grid trying to do things that nobody can do whilst they’re a member of society. It’s a cool premise, lead with that, show us some characters, get the chemistry working and let us buy into the group and then kill off someone. That works, that has an effect, that is how you make us care and engage an audience. Twenty minutes of explosions and quips leading to a sudden death and immediate sadness for a character we don’t have any attachment to just doesn’t work.

Films can open with action scenes, in fact I love it when it’s well done, this is just not given any context because it’s frantic, shot at 100 miles an hour and the tone is that of an early 2000’s music video. Raiders of the Lost Ark opens with an action scene, but it’s done so well that we understand everything we need about Indiana Jones. It’s tense, it’s deliberate, nothing is done because it looks cool, it’s cool because of the character and the tension and the pay off.

To be fair, it’s outrageous to expect any film maker to be able to produce a start like Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s a target though, it’s something you can watch and learn from. I don’t believe Michael Bay has watched anyone else’s movies; he only seems to repeat his own stuff. Transformers was a franchise with limitless potential, and all he could get from it was a lot of slow motion and cool looking robots. The action scenes are a hurricane of metal everywhere. The story is an afterthought, below a supermodel like actress wearing hot pants in the checklist of how to make a movie.

He can produce good movies, Pain & Gain, Bad Boys, 13 Hours, The Rock, and Armageddon are all examples of fun films Bay has directed, but sometimes he just seems to get lost in the excitement of blowing stuff up. I’d love to see him work with another director, someone who is more character focused, and see what that produced.

For now, though, steer clear of 6 Underground, and watch Watchmen instead. I started it this weekend and episode one is a fantastic set up, I plan to finish it by the end of this week. There is also a small indie film coming out this week called “The Rise of Skywalker” and hopefully that’s something readers are interested in.

Until then, thanks for reading.

ChAzJS

 

The Irishman Review

Martin Scorsese teams up with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci to make a film that for many old school cinema and gangster movie fans will be the most anticipated film in decades. It certainly has the cast, and the extreme run time, of a Godfather wannabe, but can it deliver on all that potential?

I found myself going into this film with some trepidation regarding a few points. Would the de-aging technology employed throughout work seamlessly or would it be a jarring factor in the film? Could Scorsese pull a good performance from De Niro, a man who has largely cashed cheques for turning up over the last few years. He has done his part in a lot of films but rarely with the commitment he had back in the day. Would Al Pacino become a caricature of himself as this larger than life character in Jimmy Hoffa? Could Joe Pesci possibly still deliver the goods after nearly 21 years of doing very little in Hollywood?

Well quite incredibly, the answer to those concerns were all emphatically positive. The biggest compliment any special effect can receive is that you simply don’t notice it is there. That is the case for the majority of this film, and although there are a few scenes where it’s a little odd, it never threw me out of the movie. At one point there is a scene that highlights that whilst you can de-age someone’s face, you can’t de-age their movement, and the scene outside a greengrocer highlights it clear as day. Other than the odd moment here and there though, the film’s exorbitant run time is unobstructed by the technology, and this film simply wouldn’t be possible without it.

Robert De Niro is an incredibly recognisable man, but he disappears into this role in a way I haven’t seen him do for a long time. He is completely committed and gives a lot in his performance, but the nature of his character means he comes across as a reluctant protagonist. Al Pacino’s character is the charismatic, larger than life figure who chews scenery left and right, owning the role. Again, he is completely in on the role and working with Scorsese seems to have lit a fire in these two actors and brought incredible performances from them both.

The third headline name is one less known to my generation because he’s barely done anything since the late nineties. Joe Pesci plays a hugely respected mob boss who is pulling strings and has a finger in every pie around. He doesn’t do it by being the over the top Pitbull type like Pacino does, but instead invokes memories of Marlon Brando in The Godfather. He is quiet, thoughtful and deliberate. You get the feeling he is friendly to everyone until it doesn’t suit him to be friendly, and even then, he will order you to your death whilst sipping a glass of red and smoking.

There is a cavalcade of other actors involved, and to list them all would take forever, but I think it’s pretty obvious at this point that Scorsese gets gold out of everyone he works with. Best of the rest for me was Stephen Graham, who steals most scenes he is in. He plays a character cut from the same cloth as Pacino’s, but with different motivations. The actors and performances all make this movie incredibly watchable from moment to moment, and they need to be at this level to carry a movie this long.

The plot is a complex one, but essentially it is the life story of De Niro’s character Frank Sheeran, who was a real-life gangster back in the day. It spans 60 years of his life, thanks to the de-aging tech, and to me the film is split into two distinct themes. Most of the film is a good, maybe even great mob film, but it treads on ground very similar to what we have seen from these actors and this director before. That doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s entertaining, but it does mean you kind of know who these people are and how they’re going to interact quickly if you’re familiar with this style of film.

There is a lot of talking, broken up by occasional bouts of violence. The character relationships are dived into, particularly the three main actors I mentioned above, and Frank’s relationship to them is the main element we are focused on. He is fiercely loyal and has learned to do things a certain way, and that extends to his time with his family.

The scenes with his family are spread throughout the film and at first I thought it was just there to humanise him, which it does but when the film starts to slowly wind down to the end, certain things come back and I found the more I remembered about the film and thought about it, the more effective the ending become. The Irishman is a story about a man who lived his life in service of other people, at the expense of his own life in many ways.

In the final moments of the film, it hits you that he is trying to make amends for the way he lived, and although I don’t believe he regrets all of it, you certainly feel like he wishes something was different. When the film ends, the final shot felt abrupt to me, but that’s because I was so in, I wanted to know what was happening next and then it ends. But this started to be less odd the more I thought about it.

This is a great film, but as I have hinted at, the run time is excessive. At 3 hours and 30 minutes long, it is an ordeal to sit through. You must plan around it; you can’t just chuck this on one evening. This is the main issue I had with the film, every scene when you’re in it felt important, but quite a lot of them could be removed and the film doesn’t lose anything. Speaking to people about the film and discussing certain plot points, I realised they went nowhere, which is disappointing because in the moment I was interested in seeing where things went.

The Irishman doesn’t boldly go where man has not been before, but it goes back over the history of this genre and cherry picks the best actors, relights their passion for film and lets them go on a greatest hits tour of gangster movies. Goodfellas, Heat, Casino, The Godfather, Scarface, The Departed and more all give a little something to this film. It’s a film that’s made possible by the tech, and by the combined centuries of experience working together.

Whether Scorsese meant to or not, he has created the Avengers of gangster films, where all the previous films have contributed towards creating this one great, epic piece.

Good: The acting, seriously, these guys are masters in this genre, and they show why they’re the go to names. It sticks with you afterwards and for me personally, gave me a different perspective on some things.

Bad: Its offensively long, and a little bit of fat trimming here and there wouldn’t have hurt at all. It’s a little derivative but that’s not something that bothered me really.

9/10 – A love letter to a genre, written by the people who made it famous. 

 

El Camino Review

If you’re one of the few people who has not treated themselves to watching through Breaking Bad, I envy you more than most people in the world. The show is a stunning blend of excellent writing, great performances and twists that leave you desperate for more. Just over 6 years on from the end of the series, we are heading back to the moments after the series with Netflix’s El Camino.

It’s impossible to talk about this show without spoiling Breaking Bad massively, so please do yourself a favour and do not read on if you haven’t seen the show. Make the time for the 60 odd hours of Breaking Bad and enjoy the incredible ride before watching El Camino.

Onto El Camino itself, it’s a film that sneaked up on me and I am grateful for that. It was a nice treat to find it had dropped on Netflix over the weekend and I sat down to find out what exactly happened to Jesse after the events of the Breaking Bad Finale. The idea of dropping back into that world is tantalising, although I must confess, I was not sure we really needed any more to explain the aftermath.

El Camino picks up from the last time we saw Jesse in Breaking Bad, driving off from his captors and finally free. From there we see the events of the next day or so, interspersed with flashbacks to the previous times and the events of his captivity. It’s an interesting choice to go with for the film, but it fits very well with the style we grew to love with the original series. In fact, calling El Camino a film is a bit odd for me, as it does not feel like one.

This feels like its two bonus episodes of Breaking Bad showing what happened next. As such, I found it to be a bit of an odd experience watching along, as the first hour of the film crawls by at a snail’s pace. I know it’s a bad sign whenever I check a film run time, and when I saw I was only 45 minutes in, I was questioning whether it was worth me sticking with it.

I completely understand why Jesse is how he is, and what the motivations are for him. I just felt like this film was going to give me something a little bit new, whereas this feels very much like a couple of mid-season Breaking Bad episodes. The second half of the film was more enjoyable, and the outcome, even though it was telegraphed from the beginning of the film, feels like a satisfying place to end this story.

Perhaps this is a case of my expectations and what I wanted being too far from what we got, but by the end of El Camino I was very much done with the film. I love Aaron Paul in this role, and he is as great as he was in every episode of the show. Of course, seeing Jesse Pinkman and all the characters we see pop up through the film was fun, but one of the biggest feelings I had watching El Camino was that I now want to watch Breaking Bad again. Not because I loved El Camino, but because I of what I think it’s missing.

It’s not really a criticism, but the film falls apart when you analyse it as a standalone film. This is very much Breaking Bad season six condensed down to two hours, and for me that just didn’t work. At the same time as explaining what happened next, the film also goes into the past and shows Jesse’s time as a prisoner and his day out with his captor Todd. This extra leg work was all very breaking bad, and if this was an episode of the show, I would have eaten it up with no complaints. This isn’t supposed to be just another couple of episodes though, and that is where El Camino falls.

For all the good performances and the satisfaction of seeing where Jesse Pinkman ends up, El Camino just feels unnecessary. I am a huge Breaking Bad fan, but this just felt like filler episodes with a few fun scenes and a nice farewell. Watching this 6 years ago would have felt good, like a nice epilogue to the finale of the show. That epilogue has come 6 years too late for me, and whether that’s a fair criticism or not, that’s how I felt watching this film.

Good: Great performances, some incredible cinematography, trip back to the world of Breaking Bad.

Bad: Six years too late and it feels unnecessary because of it. Answers questions I didn’t care about anymore.

6/10 – Its more Breaking Bad so it’s not terrible. That’s all it is though.  

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.

After Life Review

Ricky Gervais is a somewhat divisive figure in the entertainment industry. His stints hosting the Golden Globes are famous for his harsh put downs and dry humour that often goes past the line of politically correct. After Life is the new show from the mind of the comedian that has been released on Netflix.

The how follows a man whose wife has passed away and taken his main reason for living with her to the grave. Gervais is the writer, director and star of the show, and his sense of humour is stamped all over the show. You get the feeling the character of Tony is not very far from Gervais’ real thoughts. He puts himself in this position and it’s hard to say he is acting well, as it feels a lot like it’s just him and not much of a character.

Surrounding Gervais is a flock of talented actors and actresses who are all solid throughout the show, some comedians you’ll recognise from TV and some character actors who have popped up in a lot of British television. It’s clear immediately though that Gervais is the focus, and Afterlife is a vehicle for him to put his thoughts out into the world.

A lot of this is managed heavy handedly by Gervais, with all the subtlety of a brick through a window. The lack of a deft touch is noticeable, especially early in the six episode series. Some of the jokes fell flat to me, and this is evidence that it really is all about how a joke is delivered. The jokes are similar in topic and at times even similar in structure to his stand up jokes, but for me Gervais’ stand up is a lot funnier than this show is.

That’s not to say its not got it’s moments, it just never peaks above the funny clips I saw before release. Three or four times through the series I found myself laughing out loud at the show which is lower than I expected for this season going in. Those expectations I found myself changing as the show went on and I realised what Afterlife is; Afterlife is Gervais trying to tell a story with his comedic style sprinkled in, and I expected a more comically focused series.

The story we follow is interesting, relatable to people, and has a good message at its core. The heavy-handedness with the comedy is also present with the storytelling here though, and at times the script is blunt and repeats its point. The main character’s arc is satisfying if obvious, and didn’t really hit me how it could have if it was better handled.

After Life is an odd series of TV, it’s a lot of good ideas that just didn’t hit the mark for me. Gervais is a good comedy writer, and his sense of humour works for me as it did brilliantly in his stand up show, but something didn’t quite hit right for me here. It is a series with the potential to be a thoughtful introspective on loss, loneliness and the emotions people deal with in tough times. The heavy-handed execution mean it lands as a decent series with unfulfilled potential.

Good: Gervais delivers some good laughs, themes and story are fantastic.

Bad: Poor execution and lack of a light touch took away from the series for me.

5/10 – High potential but didn’t hit for me.

Velvet Buzzsaw Review

Last week I watched Nightcrawler, the first time director Dan Gilroy and star Jake Gyllenhaal combined, and I really enjoyed it. It gave me a lot of hope for Velvet Buzzsaw which is their second time teaming up. Could it live up to the excellent Nightcrawler?

I went into Velvet Buzzsaw knowing very little about the film. I knew it was a satire of the art world, and that something odd goes on, but beyond that I had no idea. The film starts out towards being a satire on the art world and the pretentious nature of some of the people the world contains. I have met some people in the art world who I could see in parts of the characters in this film.

Those characters are all played by some really talented actors, led by the enigmatic Gyllenhaal. Rene Russo, Zawe Ashton (from Fresh Meat), Toni Collette and Natalia Dyer (Stranger Things) are all really solid. I am happy for Ashton and Dyer as they both have shown some talent before, and this feels like a good next step for them. John Malkovich is John Malkovich, and he’s always entertaining but does seem a bit underused in a film I think he was perfect for.

These solid performers inhabiting quite interest characters sets up a thoroughly intriguing film. For the first half I was very in, and was interested in seeing where the plot went. What happens from around halfway into the movie I have to say really did not work for me. The attempt at satirising the culture of the art world is nearly brilliant, but the script largely disregards this and steadily falls into an odd, nonsensical slasher film. It’s not a spoiler, but the final third of this film is basically a horror movie with no real explanation to what is happening. Things just go wrong, people die, and the way everyone dies is just put down to “It’s a curse”.

I did think the film was going to reveal something in the third act that would have really been an interesting twist and I think this needed that kind of momentum shift towards the end. Things ramp up in a way, but for me it’s all just gore porn and the characters introduced in the first act melt away and become generic victims. This really detracted from the movie for me.

I was a big fan of director/writer Dan Gilroy’s work in Nightcrawler, and whilst the direction in this film is really good, the script starts so high, and deteriorates into a generic horror film. Fans of that genre may find it works well, but as excellently shot and executed as the death scenes are, they just aren’t what I look for in a film. They aren’t predictable deaths, as in the way people go out is very different. One in particular, the “Paint” death is probably the best way to describe it, is very artistic and really beautiful to look at from a cinematic standpoint.

The way the films shot is truly great, and the cinematography, particularly a couple of the landscape shots at night, are up there with the hyperspace crash scene from Star Wars in that they are like pieces of art on their own. However, the fact that my favourite part of the 2nd and 3rd acts is a couple of landscape shots really shows my level of enjoyment for this film.

Velvet Buzzsaw flirts with being a really engaging, intelligent film, then wastes its solid start on an unexplained phenomenon that takes over. I really hope slasher fans find this film entertaining, as I really struggled to past about the 60 minute mark.

Good: Excellent cinematography,  solid performances and next steps for some young actresses, Gyllenhaal does his best.

Bad: Satire morphing into slasher could be done very well, it isn’t here, and it ruined the film for me.

4/10 – Promising start wasted.

 

Sex Education Review

Netflix’s original series’ have been going from strength to strength, and the latest one I sat down to binge through is Sex Education, the Asa Butterfield led series about a 16-year-old boy who has grown up with a sex therapist as his mother. The mysterious cool girl at school convinces him to share the knowledge he has picked up over the years with the rest of his school peers, and make a bit of cash at the same time. 

This odd premise is used as a brilliant framing mechanism for the show which delves into a plethora of topics that teenagers have to deal with in their formative years. Exploring their sexuality and all the uncomfortable moments that brings with it. Handling such important topics in what is first and foremost a comedic show is a very tough task, but one that Sex Educations writers get absolutely perfect.

I don’t recall any show I have ever watched successfully bringing real questions the are directly relatable to the real world in the same way this show does. The show is set in 2019, in the real world and every character we spend any meaningful time with has a story and feels real. Again, the writing for these characters and their arcs through the series is tremendous, and somehow the tone stays consistent throughout the whole show regardless of whether the topic is a picture being spread around the campus or characters losing their virginity.

The great writing goes hand in hand with some great break-out performances, particularly from the main 3 characters. Asa Butterfield as Otis is equal parts socially awkward and quirkily charm. Ncuti Gatwa plays fabulously camp Eric, and I found his characters journey was really interesting as it’s a journey I know nothing of, but I am sure a lot of people my age struggled with the same problems he encounters. For me the star of the show is Emma Mackey as Maeve Wiley. Maeve is an odd entity in school, maligned by the cool kids, but too cool for the rest of her peers, the story her character goes on is entertaining, heartbreaking and very real.

That element of the show, how real every situation feels, is what I think Sex Educations special ingredient is. I did not experience all of the shows events in my time as a teenager, but I experienced a few of them, and I think it will be the same for anyone in my generation. For the generation below me, who are currently going through this time in their life, this show brings to light the fact that everyone is in the same boat and dealing with their own problems.

There are not many shows I have watched where I have repeatedly thought “This is brilliant”, but Sex Education is one of them. I have written a lot about the messages and societal issues the show addresses, but it would be remiss of me not to touch on just how funny the show is. It finds the funny side of most situations, and more often than not it times the punchline right, so as not to ruin the moment. Occasionally a few of the jokes fall a little flat, but its got a high success rate compared to jokes in most Netflix shows I have watched.

The one real negative I have on Sex Education is the first episodes placement in the season, the “big issue” (pardon the pun) is a bit too on the nose for the first episode and perhaps could have been swapped out to a later episode, even episode two. The show moves through topics and issues that teens struggle with but are perhaps feel are too taboo to ask the questions that sex educations poses, and it often answers them as well. This is one of the cleverest shows I have seen, and I would recommend it to pretty much everyone over the age of thirteen.

Good: Incredible handling of sensitive topics, brilliant acting, 80s wardrobe, Awesome soundtrack (Old Time Rock and Roll being the highlight for me).

Bad: Some of the first episode is a bit silly.

10/10 – One of the best shows that will come out in 2019.