Thursday, 21 July 2016

OJ's TV Review - Stranger Things

Ah, it's been a while since I had a good binge watch.

Stranger Things seems to have come out of nowhere, I had never heard of it right up until they released the trailer last month. So if you didn't know, Stranger Things is a Netflix original series created by The Duffer Brothers and is set in 1983 Indiana where a young boy goes missing in a small town where strange things are happening and an unusual girl shows up. 
   So right away, this setting is genius. I never lived in the 80s but after this I really feel as though I was there, they didn't bang you over the head with it shoving pop culture references at you every minute but just how they dressed, their hair, the posters on a bedroom wall, it all seemed so natural and not gimmicky at all. The movie Super 8 did this to a certain degree and I enjoy that movie but Stranger Things seemed to make it more real to me. What added to it especially was the music, from the opening credits to the score itself, the use of synth music worked excellently to bring you this mysterious, fascinating and yet nostalgic atmosphere; so all-in-all they really did well with the setting and time-period and will definitely be checking out the soundtrack, all of which served as a brilliant backdrop to the plot.
   As I said, a kid goes missing; it's something we've seen many times in television and film but because it is such an urgent, fearful, disturbing event you are instantly following the case because you want to know what has happened and you want to see him back; so from the very first episode I was hooked and I was staying. Now the series is only eight episodes and I think that's a good thing; a lot of American shows have upwards of twenty and sometimes that can lose momentum and become very episodic, which works depending on the nature of the series, but I do enjoy a lot of British shows where they usually have between six and thirteen episodes negating the need for fillers and can concentrate on a good script. Here the Duffer Brothers have crafted a simple but very well written story that feels more like a movie; each episode follows on instantly from the previous with no recaps or 'Next Time' trailers so if you were to watch Stranger Things, a binge is required. The also know when to show things and when to not, they spent their budget wisely and paid wonderful homage to the Hollywood of that time giving you visuals reminding you of things like The Goonies and E.T. These callbacks also never detract from the plot and fit the story well; also despite the 80s adventure inspiration, Stranger Things isn't necessarily for the Spielberg audience with one or two darker moments scattered here and there.
  Now I can't do this review without mentioning the cast. Winona Ryder and David Harbour are really well cast as the adult leads, from the desperate mother who still holds out faith to the driven police chief taking on mysterious government agents. The rest of the cast are largely unknown including the main kids but they were so talented. Millie Bobby Brown and Finn Wolfhard being highlights having to display complex emotions and intelligent arcs. I wish I could mention all of the cast because they were so good, from Joe Keery as high school jock Steve to even the teacher Mr Clarke, each person had a life and character you were invested in.
   In the end Stranger Things is a really well made original series with some of the best cast, music and writing I've seen in awhile that also has some surprisingly good humour that made laugh out loud. I really hope the series gains traction because I can see the cast and crew going places, as well as a possible season 2.


Thursday, 7 July 2016

OJ's Movie Review - Now You See Me 2

They really missed the opportunity to call this "Now You Don't".

Despite the majority opinion I really enjoy 2013's Now You See Me; sure some of it doesn't make sense but for some reason I find it very entertaining. This year's sequel sees us eighteen months since the events of the first film and the Four Horsemen are tasked with performing a heist for Daniel Radcliffe.
   First off, you have to acknowledge the all-star cast here; I really enjoyed them in the first one so it was great to see the likes of Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Morgan Freeman and more back on board. They all do an excellent job of course and get straight back into these characters who's lives I was fully invested in. After the twist at the end of the original I was wondering how Ruffalo's character would change but I really enjoyed the majority of his arc in this and it builds on what we knew of his back-story already which was cool. We did have some new characters introduced to us and they were just OK; Isla Fisher did not return as the female Horseman so they bring in Lizzy Caplan as this new magician and despite a bit of a rushed introduction she was surprisingly tolerable; her character may be a little irritating to some as she is used as the comic relief a lot which was unnecessary and I do think Fisher's character was more interesting but as far as replacements go, she wasn't bad. Daniel Radcliffe also joins this cast as our antagonistic billionaire who wants something only the Horseman can get; so yeah it's a plot-point we've seen a lot of times in film but hey, it is a heist movie so I'll let it slide. He was absolutely fine in his character, not quite as threatening as sometimes I think he was meant to be but once you get used to this what this type of movie is, he's more than adequate.
   Just touching on the plot; it's a basic heist movie with the Now You See Me glitter all over it so plenty of illusions and visually interesting effects. I enjoyed it quite a lot, plenty of action, plenty of tricks, the locations were interesting as well, quite international which I enjoyed. There were a few twists here and there but some you could see coming and others I wasn't particularly keen on. I know they tried to top the big reveal of the last movie but it didn't really work here; it seemed to struggle explaining what it was they were surprising us with. But as a whole the main story worked for me.
   Something, or rather someone, I did not enjoy much was a particular character they introduced as a relative to one of the horseman; his purpose was a little unnecessary and what they made him into just brought the quality of this movie down. He was more suited for some sort of comedy which unfortunately this film tried to much of. The first film had funny moments and Harrelson was our comic relief but now they've introduced two more "funny" characters and it cheapened it at times.
  My last critique is that unless you enjoy the first film and have watched it recently I don't think you'll enjoy Now You See Me 2 as much. It requires you to remember a lot which was OK for me as I have seen the original a few times but for a casual viewer you are left asking a few questions.
So in the end, if you didn't like the first one, you won't like this. For me it wasn't quite as neat and shiny as the Now You See Me but entertaining enough.


Wednesday, 29 June 2016

OJ's Movie Review - Independence Day: Resurgence

Fourth of July seems to be the best day for an alien invasion.

Following the trend of making sequels to blockbusters from decades gone, Independence Day: Resurgence takes place twenty years after the original and brings back one or two of the original cast to play alongside a bunch of newbies at this alien-busting lark. First off, I really enjoy 1996's Independence Day, it's a pure 90s summer movie and a Roland Emmerich classic so I was a little hesitant when hearing of a sequel. But now I've seen it let's go over some things.
   I'll start, as I always do, with what I liked. I always love an alien movie so I really enjoyed seeing them here. Although a bit underused at times the alien parts of the film were by far the most interesting; they also built on what we already knew about them which was cool to see what they did with that. On the human side of course we have Jeff Goldblum back and he is a welcome sight to any pop culture fan; he delivers one or two memorable lines and in general is just a highlight. Apart from that I unfortunately have to say there isn't really anything else enjoyable about this film.
   Independence Day: Resurgence is a complete and utter rush from beginning to end. Almost every line of dialogue in the first act was purely expositional. It would cut from one place to another giving you all this information about the world, all these new characters and various things that would go by so quick I didn't have time to get invested. There was no chance to breath, no sooner had it started we were getting huge action sequences and then it would go straight to another. This meant that quite a major piece of new information to this universe went by very abruptly; before I realised what this scene, which in hindsight should have been a bit more impacting, was trying to tell me, we had moved on to set up another action piece.
  Characters weren't developed at all so I didn't feel anything for them when things happened. There were these three new characters, including Liam Hemsworth and they had this backstory but trying to keep track of everything and not having time to be with these characters I couldn't care less what happened to them; it was like watching strangers from afar. Two other characters were introduced and they were put together as some sort of comedy relief I guess but they fit more into a Pacific Rim sort of film. Now I like Pacific Rim a lot but there is a huge difference between that tone and the tone of the first Independence Day, which is what I was expecting here.
   The first ID4 was exciting, it had likable characters, it had tense moments. We all remember the aliens being very imposing and threatening; that scene in the operation room showed us that just one could be very powerful but in this sequel they were relegated to mere CGI cannon fodder. Perhaps if this wasn't a sequel; if it was it's own thing, I would have enjoyed it more. But because it is such departure tonally and leaves behind any sort of practical effects for CGI it just felt really rushed and it ended very abruptly trying to get a third film going.
   In the end Independence Day: Resurgence had a few highlights here and there but this time the king of disaster movies, Roland Emmerich, a man whose work I enjoy (yes, even 2012), has brought just a meaningless, disappointing sequel.


Thursday, 2 June 2016

OJ's Movie Review - X-Men: Apocalypse

A superhero franchise that's lasted sixteen years without being cancelled or remade! Surely that's some kind of record.

   So X-Men: Apocalypse is either the third, sixth, or ninth film in the series depending on how you're counting and stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence returning for a third time while bringing in new cast such as Oscar Isaac, Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan. The basic plot is that an ancient, powerful mutant known as En Sabah Nur has awoken in the 80s and wants to "cleanse the earth" of the weak and so the X-Men must stop him.
    As a whole, I like the X-Men franchise; despite it's bumps I've always felt it's had it's own vibe and personality and is different enough from other comic book universes such as the MCU and the not-so-connected DC properties. X-Men: Apocalypse continues in this and although shares similarities with other movie plots still feels like an X-Men movie. The stories we witness in this film are some of the finest we've seen in the franchise. The two biggest characters we've been following for years of course are Professor X and Magneto and each of them are so well-developed and incredible characters you know exactly what they are feeling and why they are where they are. Magneto's arc in this film is a highlight and from one particular scene in a forest you are hooked on his story and understand why he's doing the things he is. Professor X is great as the leader and strong-minded force who keeps the X-Men together and he really has some great scenes, especially towards the end. Another story in this movie is of course the one of the titular character himself, Apocalypse; his backstory in Ancient Egypt alone was a thrilling and well executed event and when you really see what he can do in the 80s I found him to be the most powerful and best villain they've had in the franchise. Just his voice, and mannerisms are so dark and menacing you really feel like he is an unstoppable threat.
    Apart from those three, other character highlights were the young Jean Grey, Cyclops and Nightcrawler who fit well into the story and I really enjoyed seeing them, and then of course Quicksilver returning from Days of Future Past doing much more in the movie including one of the best scenes of any superhero movie, beating that of his previous. Everyone else did OK but weren't really used as much; Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique doesn't do quite as much as she has done and never has her own 'action piece' as it were and then three of the horsemen, Psylocke, Angel and Storm each had one particular shot that was cool but mostly stood around until the climax where they still didn't have too much screen time.
   Effects wise, all the powers and abilities looked fantastic. There was a lot of CGI and green-screen during the climactic battle and for me personally I thought that all looked just fine. There were one or two specific shots which weren't particularly good in my eyes but that was it.
   Some problems I had with the movie was that, as I said, some characters didn't really have much screen time and/or didn't really do anything at all (looking at you Jubilee) and then another thing isn't really a problem as it is the ninth X-Men-related movie but X-Men: Apocalypse requires you to know and remember quite a bit of the past films and this universe in general, so it makes it almost inaccessible completely to the general movie-going audience and unless you've seen at least five of the other films a lot will go over your head and seem out of place. And as a final negative point there were two scenes in particular that pushed the 12A (PG-13) rating to it's limits which will be fine for a lot of people but I think some will be quite surprised at how dark they went.
   Other than that X-Men: Apocalypse is a really powerful and thrilling superhero movie, and for me one of the best in the series, not quite beating First Class as my favorite.


Thursday, 5 May 2016

OJ's Movie Review - Captain America: Civil War

So here it finally is. Since its announcement back in 2014 we've all been eagerly awaiting this Marvel milestone, lapping up every bit of news until today. So, what did I think?

   Captain America: Civil War has been called "Avengers 3" by some people because of the amount of Avengers that star in the film and it's a valid observation...until you see the movie. Somehow the Russo Brothers, with this huge ensemble cast, dealing with the Avengers themselves, adapting an infamous comic book actually make it still feel like a Captain America movie - which is great! I mean don't get me wrong, you see a lot of other characters and I loved seeing a lot of other characters but it really worked well continuing Cap's story that was left off in The Winter Soldier, which I really enjoyed because Bucky Barnes was one of the most interesting things about that movie and I enjoyed seeing him progress here.
  And talking of characters, there were quite a few to juggle about but the Russo's once again did an excellent job of not making it confusing or crowded. I'll just go through a few of them real quick. Captain America and Iron Man were great as always, Iron Man was not always his one-liner quip guy in this, he has a lot of stuff to deal with so it was interesting to see him in that light; now I went into this movie on the side of a particular team but boy if you don't start questioning your loyalties during this movie then something's wrong; there were points being made that actually made me see the other guy's side so I was happy to see both sides presented equally, after all it is a Civil War. Black Panther gets his movie debut here and what an introduction it was, he is a fantastic character who I cannot wait to see again, his motives were solid and clear and his third-party angle to the war made it really intriguing to watch, definitely looking forward to seeing Chadwick Boseman in his own Black Panther film. The two sidekicks, as it were, Falcon and War Machine were great to see again and do a lot more plot-wise I think so it was nice to see everyone used really well. Vision and Wanda were fine in their roles again, I think I preferred them in Age of Ultron for some reason, they just seemed more interesting then whereas here, although they were great to see again, I didn't feel as invested in their characters as I was others. Ant-Man was fun to see too and boy do we see him, I'm obviously not going to spoil anything here but he was definitely one of my favorite parts of the movie. 
  Now during all this Civil Waring there is actually a villain in the movie and for me, he was one of the best villains Marvel have done in their Cinematic Universe; I felt his motives were valid, his intelligence was shown very well and his scenes were just really interesting to me.
Just before I get into what I wasn't such a fan of I'll mention Spider-Man. Tom Holland is a great actor and does a great job in this, it was really cool to see Spider-Man interact with the Avengers and see him do his stuff. That being said, this Spider-Man was not quite what I was expecting; I don't read the comics so from just a movie-going viewer with the past five Spidey movies to go on, this incarnation was quite different in the way of how they handled him. I've been told it was the most comic-accurate Spider-Man and the best version they've seen of him on screen so I have no place to complain but for me it was a little jarring to see such a change from what I was used too. But I did of course enjoy seeing him on screen and really look forward to seeing him again.
 Now some things I wasn't so struck on. The first action piece; a battle near the very start of the movie just seemed off for some reason. I don't know what it was but it just didn't flow for me, I didn't enjoy who they were fighting and although it does set up something important a lot of it felt unnecessary. The first quarter of the film I'd say was very much a going from set-up to set-up sort of thing and was a little shaky script wise but the plot eventually straightened and it was great. Another negative I have was that once or twice the CGI was quite noticeable, in some of the action scenes and particularly Vision sometimes it wasn't great. And then something that wasn't necessarily wrong with the film but those darn trailers again. We'd go to one location and I'd instantly recognise it from the trailer so I knew what was going to happen, and that occurred nearly every time they went somewhere else; not all the time mind you, but quite a lot I was already knowing what scene this was leading up to.
  In the end Marvel roll out another blockbuster with one of the best ensemble casts and an investing, emotional story. For me it wasn't the best film they've done but a real strong shot from the Russo Brothers and set's up a lot of cool characters for the future.


Wednesday, 20 April 2016

OJ's Movie Review - The Jungle Book

Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book is about the seventh film adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's book and we already know it certainly isn't the last. So how does this one fare?

As with most people, I grew up watching the 1967 animation and fell in love with it, so I was a little irked when I learnt they were going to make, what I thought, would be a frame-for-frame remake, but thankfully I was wrong! 2016's The Jungle Book, although takes a number of ques from Disney's famous classic, is certainly not tied to it; this is it's own thing and does well for it. I enjoyed the fact that I didn't quite know what was going to happen next, and seeing where Mowgli's adventure took him kept my interest; so on a plot standpoint it is familiar on a basic level but with new elements and expanded storylines it felt new and original with a bit of nostalgia sprinkled in places.
   I do of course have to mention the cast; they were all wonderful in their roles and superb to listen to but I do want to highlight three. Bill Murray is a fantastic Baloo which shouldn't surprise anyone, he delivers some great lines and he's such a likeable character, I really enjoyed his performance. Idris Elba plays a very menacing villain as Shere Khan and certainly gives this version of the character a very unlikable bully-type personality which worked well, although it took me a while to stop picturing Elba himself as I watch a lot of his live-action work. And then for me one of the most fascinating and unnerving characters was Christopher Walken as King Loui, he was so well suited to the role I always wanted to see more of him, the character had a huge powerful presence onscreen and I enjoyed that a lot. On a side note, Neel Sethi did a top-notch job as Mowgli with a few moments where you could see he wasn't sure where to look for these CGI animals but for the majority he did exceptionally well for his first film and especially one of this sort with very little to act with.
  I just want to quickly mention the music now; the score is absolutely fantastic, from the very opening scenes giving you a rush of familiarity to the wonderful new sounds John Debney scores over the jungle, it was really a pleasure to listen to. Now the music also segways into some problems I had with the movie...
  I don't think it's a spoiler to say that a few songs from Disney's animated classic make it into this movie, but I'd like to say I enjoyed the first one they did as it was more of a bantering back-and-forth type of singing without going full musical which I think works better in this live-action setting; the second song they did though I didn't feel flowed as well, almost jarring to a point as it seemed a little off, but that's just me personally. And the third one was my favorite but that wasn't present during the film itself, so sit back and enjoy some of the credits when you watch.
  Another negative for me personally was some of the portrayal of this world. They had super-realistic animals doing sometimes very animal behaviours and and they cleverly combined that with some of the script and humour but once or twice the cartoony sequences I felt didn't quite gel with the visual realism I was seeing.
  In the end, The Jungle Book was a fun movie with great story, character and music but had one or two moments of iffy CGI and creative choices. I think it will definitely be the definitive 'Jungle Book' for a lot of kids and look forward to seeing the announced sequel and Andy Serkis' take on the book in a few years.


Thursday, 31 March 2016

OJ's Movie Review - Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

After three years we finally have the Justice League prequel that we didn't really ask for but went along with anyway.

It seems like we've been waiting for this movie for ages; 2016 seemed like the distant future but now it's here and we're finally seeing Batman and Superman on the live-action big screen for the first time ever. So was it worth the wait? Is DC now pointing and laughing at Marvel? Well...
  I'll start with what I liked. The beginning of Batman v Superman was great. The opening scenes were shot extremely well, Zack Snyder knows how to make something look good this movie looks great. And then we get Bruce Wayne's perspective of the last act of Man of Steel and I enjoyed that a lot; it made it seem real and what it would've been like for a civilian perspective which made for some interesting scenes; so the directing itself and the camera work was really well done. And then there were two or three scenes dotted about I really enjoyed too, one including Holly Hunter's amazing acting in the Capitol building scene that was really tense.
  Another positive for me was Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor; I know a lot of people don't like his representation of the character but purely as a movie villain, I thought he did a great job and was very creepy and menacing; he also had this music that played when he appeared and that was great. Hans Zimmer once again delivers a fantastic score.
    Now moving onto what did not work. There's no easy way to put this, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a complete mess. It is so incredibly choppy I didn't know what I was supposed to be focusing on. There were at least four different movies in here; and they didn't really gel at all. There would be a scene following one character's agenda and then it would cut randomly to a different scene with different characters and I think OK, this is later on now but then after what felt like only a minute it would cut back to the first scene and I was like, "Oh, this is still happening". And it wasn't as if the scenes were related; the whole tone, the music and narrative would change. So imagine that happening with four different movies all at the same time I didn't know what to keep track of in the end. Random things would happen that made no sense and they had no desire to explain them or even hint at why it was happening. Even the characters of Batman and Superman themselves; did you think they had some sort of moral code? Some things that you think Batman doesn't do or Superman we've already seen can't possibly do? Nope, all out of the window without an explanation which made for just a really depressing movie; I cannot think of one scene where something nice or good happened or that justice prevailed or a feeling of satisfaction.
  And don't get me started on easter eggs; I'm obviously not going to spoil them but they were the most forced, shoe-horned, rushed teases I've ever seen. Things I was supposed to be excited for came out of no where and did not fit at all in what was happening.
  In the end, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a choppy mess with one or two distinct highlights and a good score but with a lack of narrative and so many moments it didn't need I have to give it...