Tag Archives: down wif da yoof

The Scorch Trials (2015)

Still running.
Still running.

“The Maze was Only the Beginning”

Directed by Wes Ball
Starring  Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Rose Salazar, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Jacob Lofland, Aiden Gillen and Giancarlo Esposito

Thomas (O’Brien) and the other Gladers are brought to a staging area in a desert known as ‘the Scorch’, where Theresa (Scodelario) is taken away an the rest are given food and bunks. Thomas is uneasy, however, and together with a boy named Aris (Lofland) from another Maze, uncovers the links between their benefactor Janson (Gillen) and WCKD, forcing the group to go on the run once more, rather than be ‘harvested’.

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Inside Out (2015)

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“A Major Emotion Picture”

Directed by Pete Docter
Starring Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Smith, Mindy Kaling, Richard Kind, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan

11 year old Riley (Dias) is uprooted from her home in Minnesota when her Mum (Lane) and Dad (MacLachlan) move with her to San Francisco.  The resulting turmoil is managed by Riley’s emotions, the five personifications – absurdly perky Joy (Poehler), neurotic Fear (Hader), splenetic Anger (Lewis Smith), discerning Disgust (Kaling) and morose Sadness (Phyllis Smith) – who live in her head and regulate her inner life.

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Insurgent (2015)

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“Defy Reality”

 

Directed by Robert Schwentke

Starring  Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Octavia Spencer, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoë Kravitz, Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort, Maggie Q, Naomi Watts, Kate Winslet

Insurgent is the much awaited sequel to young adult dystopian novel, Divergent (which I think I also reviewed for the Bad Movie Marathon), and set in the same future world in which all of mankind is allegedly dead and the only survivor’s live hidden behind a giant wall in a partly bombed out Chicago, divided into one of five factions; clever Erudite; kind and peaceful Amity; compulsively honest Candour; selfless Abnegation; fearless Dauntless. Each faction is dominated by one particular personality trait and teens are sorted into their factions at the age of 16. If you don’t have enough personality, you become factionless scum. If you have multiple personality traits and could be part of more than one faction, you are Divergent and are super scary and likely to be hunted down. You also get magic powers.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

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Directed by Jonathan Liebesman
Starring Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Johnny Knoxville and Tony Shalhoub

When reporter April O’Neil (Fox) investigates crimes being carried out by the sinister Foot Clan, she catches sight of a mysterious vigilante. Her colleagues at the news refuse to believe her, but with the aid of cameraman Vern (Arnett), she continues to follow the story. Eventually, the vigilante contacts April and is revealed to be not one but four crimefighters — the titular turtles. Hearing their names, April realises that Leonardo, Donatello, Michaelangelo (sic) and Raphael are the products of Project Renaissance, her late father’s experiment. She reaches out to dad’s former partner, Eric Sacks (Fichtner), but — surprise — he turns out to be the villain. April and the turtles race against time to foil the evil plot of Sacks and his evil ninja master, the Shredder. They succeed.

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Postman Pat (2014)

Seldom has a poster so utterly failed to encompass the true insanity of a motion picture project.
Seldom has a poster so utterly failed to encompass the true insanity of a motion picture project.

“He’s About to Deliver the Goods”

Directed by Mike Disa
Starring Stephen Mangan, Jim Broadbent, Rupert Grint, Ronan Keating, David Tennant

Pat Clifton (Mangan) is a dedicated postman, and a dedicated husband, father and cat owner. When Edwin Carbuncle (Peter Woodward), an executive from the Special Delivery Service head office, slashes the company bonuses because they spend too much time rescuing sheep, he enters a TV talent competition to win the holiday his wife Sarah (Susan Duerden) has always dreamed of.

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The Last Airbender (2010)

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“Four Nations, One Destiny”

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Starring Noah Ringer, Dev Patel, Nicola Peltz and Jackson Rathbone

In a world divided into four nations, where many have the power to ‘bend’ their nation’s element, generations of peace were ended when the Avatar, an individual capable of bending all four elements who acts as mediator between the nations, disappeared (and the Fire Nation set out to conquer the world, not that the prologue makes much of that. A century later, the Fire Nation are still searching for the one threat to their dominance; the reborn Avatar.

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The Maze Runner (2014)

At least one of the characters in this poster is never seen running the maze.
At least one of the characters in this poster image is never seen running the maze.

“Get Ready to Run”

Directed by Wes Ball
Starring  Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Aml Ameen, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Will Poulter and Blake Cooper

Waking in an elevator cage, Thomas (O’Brien) is propelled into the Glade, a community of boys imprisoned in the heart of a vast and shifting maze.

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Maleficent (2014)

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“Discover the story you never knew”

Directed by Robert Stromberg
Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley

The basic conceit of this film is that this is the true story of Maleficent, the notorious villainess of the Disney classic, Sleeping Beauty. Rather than just a wicked fairy, in this version Maleficent is the noble protector of a land of fairies who was betrayed and her wings ripped from her by her childhood sweetheart and ambitious young man on the rise, the future King Stefan, and so she turns to revenge, cursing his daughter Aurora in the well known way. Unsurprisingly, she then becomes fond of the girl as she watches over her from afar throughout her life and it all turns into a journey of redemption for Maleficent as she tries to save Aurora whilst also dealing with a vengeful King Stefan.

What’s wrong with it?

Maleficent is Disney’s attempt to remake ‘Wicked’, which retold the story of Oz from the perspective of the Wicked Witch of the West and did it with a great deal of success. It tries to do this by recasting Angelina Jolie as an Elphaba alike, adding in a lot of pretty scenery and CGI, making King Stefan a villain we can actually despise (he has fewer redeeming features than Maleficent had in the original) and giving Maleficent a tragic backstory, a fantastic wardrobe, a raven shapeshifter sidekick (the highlight of the film) some snarky dialogue and throwing in a ‘twist’ at the end whereby (SPOILER ALERT) it is Maleficent’s maternal true love’s kiss that saves Aurora and not Prince Philip.

The trouble with it is that it does absolutely nothing which hasn’t already been done before. It’s like the script writers sat down and said “what do we really like? Well, Wicked was awesome. And Frozen has made more money than god, so we really should work that into the mix. Oh, and what’s that Disney show that has a fan base more rabid that an extra from the Plague Dogs? ‘Once Upon A Time’? On it!

It takes all these elements, mixes them together, and then, painfully, fails to do anything new or original, or even that interesting with any of them. Furthermore, it’s so in love with its eponymous heroine that it absolutely and painfully fails to give any dignity, motivation or redeeming features to almost anyone who isn’t her. King Stefan is mindlessly evil and probably kicks kittens when he gets up in the morning. The three ‘good fairies’ who are trying to protect Aurora are petty squabbling imbeciles who would have let the baby die through sheer incompetence if Maleficent wasn’t around to save her. Aurora is a perky little dimwit with very wide eyes, who I personally had a soft spot for, but I think that was sheer perversity on my part. The dialogue is hackneyed, the plot predictable and Disney’s determination to make this a safe PG rating removes any kind of risk from the proceedings which makes the whole thing even less of a rollercoaster ride.

It’s like sitting on the teacup ride at Alton Towers. It’s OK, but it’s kind of dumb and it’s frustrating looking around you and knowing that two blocks over there is something that is just so much more.

What’s right with it?

Honestly, it’s a very very pretty film. The director, Robert Stromberg, was the art director on Avatar and Oz the Great and Powerful although this is his directorial debut and it really shows. He does beautiful things with the lighting and scenery and the fairy world is a delight to observe.

I also had a soft spot for the perky Princess Aurora, with Elle Fanning absolutely playing it straight as a classic wide eyed Disney Princess. However, my personal high point of the film and its major redeeming feature was definitely Sam Riley as Diaval – a raven shapeshifter and Maleficent’s confidant. Their snarky banter brightens up the film whenever they come in together, and their relationship feels like by far the most genuine, warm, complex and nuanced thing in the film.

How bad is it really?

It isn’t really bad, per se. It’s just an incredible waste of potential and it suffers hugely from having come out in the aftermath of a number of vastly better re-imaginings of fairytale villainesses. Angelina Jolie is alright, but she’s not Regina of Once Upon A Time, no Elphaba of Wicked, and definitely no Elsa of Frozen, who’s redemption through familial true love is a comparison which lies heavy on this movie.

Best bit (if such there is)?

Almost every single scene featuring Maleficent and Diaval, particularly the many scenes where she transforms him into something else, mostly because of the subtle visual touches that Robert Stromberg leaves to show his raven heritage – a wolf with a ruff with a feathery touch, for example. The combat at the end with Maleficent in full Angelina Jolie ass kicking form, and Diaval as a dragon is also pretty awesome, and I rather liked the early scenes with a young Maleficent and a young Stefan exploring the land of the fairies

What’s up with…?

  • Why does Angelina Jolie change costume halfway through the final scene? She walks in in long black robes (a la the traditional Maleficent look), gets cornered, and suddenly she’s in a leather catsuit.
  • Why does it take King Stefan so long to bring the cold iron out? He finds out as a small boy that cold iron is anathema to the fae, and then despite waging war against them for decades afterwards he doesn’t drag out the cold iron until the final scene where he’s going one on one with Maleficent.
  • How do Maleficent’s wings stay alive, flapping, and ready to reattach to her for sixteen years? Are her wings some kind of weird symbiot being? And if they are so self willed, how did King Stefan get them back to the castle and the old king to claim his throne (the old king promised his throne to whoever could defeat the winged fairy) in the first place? Why didn’t they fly back to her then?

Ratings

Production values – I can’t fault it here. Maleficent is beautifully made and lights up the screen from start to finish. 2.
Dialogue and performances –  Hrm. Massively variable. Sharlto Copley and Elle Fanning give one tone performances, but I think they were asked to. Sam Riley and Angelina Jolie do a bit better, but they can’t quite carry the film and the dialogue they all have to work with never rises above ‘hackneyed’. 12.
Plot and execution – It’s a reasonable plot, because they nicked it from a number of far better films. The execution, however, is disappointing. 11
Randomness – It isn’t entirely nonsensical but some decent character motivation would have been nice. 8
Waste of potential – Now, this is where Maleficent makes all its points back. The original Disney film is a classic. The original Disney villainess was superb. The world is ready for fairy tale re-imaginings right now, and it had a fan base waiting to love it, and sadly, it threw it all away. 15.

Overall 48%

 

Captain America (1990)

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“The Original Avenger” (I imagine this one was added for the rerelease)

Directed by Albert Pyun
Starring Matt Sallinger, Scott Paulin and Ronnie Cox

Huge, but polio-crippled patriot Steve Rogers is enlisted for a special programme and injected with a special serum, developed by Dr Maria Vaselli, transforming him into Captain America. After Vaselli’s murder by Nazi agents, Cap is sent to take out a war rocket built by Nazi super soldier Red Skull, an Italian piano prodigy kidnapped and injected with an early version of the formula. Cap proceeds to get beaten like a red-headed stepchild and tied to the rocket, managing to deflect it into the arctic ocean and becoming frozen until the 1990s. Waking, he has to battle the Red Skull again, now working as an agent of the military-industrial complex to sabotage a major environmental treaty.

What’s wrong with it?

Captain America is a big hero, for big stories; like punching Hitler in the face. After a brief foray into his WWII adventures, in which we discover that Captain America went on one mission, which he royally screwed up, this film pits him against the Red Skull and… a bunch of hip Italian Mafia slackers led by his evil, but personality-free daughter, working for a group of industrial magnates who might as well be battling Captain Planet as Captain America.

Pitching towards the more family end of the market, it nonetheless opens with the brutal murder of a family, and the agonising transformation of a young boy into the Red Skull; pretty strong stuff, even if not shown in graphic detail. It’s also harder to hate the Red Skull when his evil is due to a flawed formula, and correspondingly harder to admire Cap when the implication is that his heroism likewise derives from the perfected serum, rather than his own courage.

As we go on, Steve’s ex-girlfriend and her husband are killed, as is President Ronnie Cox’s best friend, and just about anyone else that crosses Cap’s path without being the leader of the free world or the designated love interest. This would be bad enough if not for the fact that most of them die because Rogers can’t be arsed to stick around and protect them, wandering off to some plot dump while they get butchered.

Did I mention that Red Skull’s legion of doom is five hip young kids who seem to have escaped from a Madonna video?

What’s right with it?

Environmentalism was topical at the time, and it’s interesting to see a film at least in which America leads the way in that regard. The WWII section is actually a highlight as well, and its a shame they didn’t go all historical.

How bad is it really?

Man, this is bad, and all the worse for seeing what could be done with the material.

Best bit (if such there is)?

On seeing the Cap for the first time, Red Skull declares that he is delighted to have a chance to practice his English. He then proceeds to kick him around the room while reciting his language exercises: “Where is the pen of my aunt? The pen of my aunt is on the table!”

What’s up with…?

  • The Red Skull’s ineffectual mod squad goons? Who thought that would be threatening?
  • The environmental slant? I guess it was super topical at the time, but it’s an odd choice for Captain America.
  • The Red Skull being an eleven year old piano prodigy from Italy instead of a committed officer of the German Reich and HYDRA member?

Ratings

Production values – The historical costumes are not terrible, but the fight scenes suffer for their budget and the villains lack menace due to their hip, modern get-up. 15
Dialogue and performances –  The dialogue tops out at nothing special. Most of the performances are adequate, but Matt ‘son of JD’ Salinger in the central role is both a low point (although apparently he’s a shit-hot playwright; who knew?) and the bulk of the screen time. The love interest fails to be remotely memorable. 14
Plot and execution – Shambling, shambolic and inconsistent in tone, with a poor sense of purpose not helped by the tacked on environmental message, which could honestly be a pace-holder for any issue. Moreover, the film simply has no real stakes, the ultimate threat being that things stay much the same as they are already. 18
Randomness – The mod goons; the Italian piano prodigy; the string of deaths which Cap barely even seems bothered by. The fact that the President managed to snap a shot of Captain America flying past on a rocket on the camera he had in 1943, when he was eight16
Waste of potential – In spite of its limited budget, any comparison to the recent Captain America films show this to be inferior, not only in terms of special effects, but of plot, characterisation and fundamental grasp of what might make a superhero film interesting. 18

Overall 81%

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (2013)

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“Two Worlds Will Collide”

Directed by Harald Zwart
Starring Lily Collins and Jamie Campbell Bower

On her birthday, Clary Fray (Collins) sneaks out to a nightclub, where she is seemingly the only one able to witness a murder committed by three teenagers in mad goth threads. The next day her mother vanishes, a monster tries to eat her and she is drawn into the world of the three killers; the world of British People… I mean, Shadow Hunters, and the demons they police. Learning that her mother was English… I mean, a Shadowhunter, Clary is roped into a quest to find the Mortal Cup, an artefact of angelic power and the key to the ruthless Valentine’s dreams of a revitalised Shadowhunter line.

What’s wrong with it?

Made on the back of the success of Twilight – which I probably ought to review if ever I get around to seeing it – City of Bones is a tale of moody goth teenagers saving the world because no-one else can or will or, indeed, is there to do so. The vast and palatial Institute, a repository of power and major centre of organisation and mystical transportation for the Shadowhunters, is home to three teenagers and one adult, and no indication is ever given that they have any immediate back-up to call on. Given that Valentine’s forces number three highly experienced Shadowhunters, it’s a little unclear why he never just kicked in the doors.

The outfits are… well, I think they’re a little silly. I guess they might be cool these days; I wouldn’t know. If I were cool, I wouldn’t be writing internet movie reviews.

Very few of the characters are very sympathetic, or even truly memorable. Jace (Campbell Bower) is snarky and mean, but not detached or fragile enough to carry the supposed emotional vulnerability which offsets it, and Collins doesn’t convey the confusion which would be needed to truly hold the audience through the discovery of her superspecialsnowflakeness.

What’s right with it?

Although doubtless owing much to Twilight in terms of market creation, City of Bones – based on the first in a five-going-on-six volume series by Cassandra Clare – has a much meatier story, with stakes and consequences and everything.

Lena Headey (briefly) as Clary’s mother, Aidan Turner as her ‘special friend’ (adding werewolf to his resume alongside vampire and dwarf) and Jared Harris channeling his dad to play the dubious Dumbledore Hodge add a little class to the proceedings. Moreover, the fact that of the many, many European actors in the piece, only Lily Collins (who isAnglo-American anyway) uses an American accent prevents this film picking up a howdy-doody accent tag and an extra helping of scorn.

In terms of production values, the film is pretty slick.

How bad is it really?

I describe this section as defining the badness of the film on a visceral level, and the sin of City of Bones is actually that it lacks any kind of viscerality. It’s not terrible, but it lacks any real heart, which makes it hard to feel bad when bad things happen to people.

Best bit (if such there is)?

If I live to be a hundred, I will never tire of watching CCH Pounder kick the shit out of a group of kung-fu goth kids.

What’s up with…?

  • The total emptiness of the Institute? I know the Shadowhunters are supposed to be dying out, but with fully half of the Shadowhunters in the film on his side, why is Valentine still sneaking around and making pacts with demons?
  • The sexy goth combat look?
  • Clary swiping Isabelle’s glowy-writy thing (IIRC the book names it as a stylus) and apparently never giving it back?

Ratings

Production values – The fight scenes are slick, the effects well done. The demons are pretty icky, and in particular the burning-inside crow demons are really rather snazzy. 4
Dialogue and performances – The dialogue is as ridiculous as any urban fantasy exposition, but delivered with a straight face. The main problem with the performances is that they are understated where they need to be fiery. At one point, Jace explains that Bach played precisely and without interpretation is a demon-hunting weapon, while Clary argues that music should have passion. By that standard, much of the acting in this film must be painful to demons. 9
Plot and execution – The plot rattles along at a frightening pace, burning through several hundred pages of dense story and backstory at the expense of adequately establishing context and subtext. The combat choreography is slick and precise; the organisation of the expository plot is not. 12
Randomness – For the most part, the film keeps a lid on this and is internally consistent. In places you might get a little lost, but that’s the speed, not the cornering. 6
Waste of potential – The film captures approximately half of the essential good points of the book, missing out on the heartwrenching angst through the excessive control of the leads. I might surmise that they were trying to avoid going too far, but the result is that they rein in too much. 10

Overall 41%