Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (VOD) - Dec 3
Director: David Yates
Main Stars: Eddie Redmayne, Colin Farrell, Katherine Waterson, Dan Fogler
Rating: 3.5 out 5
Newt Salamander (Redmayne), a young English wizard, is fresh off the boat having newly arrived in 1920's New York City. He has with him just his suitcase inside of which is an entire world of rare magical creatures. After accidentally misplacing it they are released into the city causing untold mayhem. The timing is not great as the city is in the midst of an anti-magic movement and even amongst wizards his beasts are outlawed. To recover his precious animals he must enlist the help of a bumbling No-Maj named Jacob (Fogler) and a perpetually in trouble agent (Waterson) of the Ministry of Magic. Can he recover them all before the quarreling parties turn their attentions toward him? Not knowing much about this other than it was a sort of prequel to the Harry Potter films I didn't really have any preconceived notions about it. I haven't even finished all the Potter films so I'm obviously not a 'fan'. That said, I found them to be enjoyable enough fare. Thankfully not being familiar with the source I'm spared the inevitable moaning as to how true it is to the books. I really liked the 20's setting and found it to be refreshing. But what really made the film enjoyable was the cast. I especially liked the actress who played Queenie, a mind reading flapper. Her flirtation with Jacob helped ground the film. All of the actors managed to elevate what easily could have been just another CGI crap-fest. As for the CGI it was neither jaw dropping nor was it distractingly bad. Overall it was effective. And one little guy in particular - a kleptomaniac platypus type thing with an affinity for shiny things - is simply adorable to behold. I can't say how fans will react, although I suspect they'd eagerly gobble up anything related to author Rowling, but even to the casual viewer it's an entertaining first entry to the planned quadrilogy.
Solo: A Star Wars Story (VOD) - Nov 9
Director: Ron Howard
Main Stars: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover
Rating: 3 out 5
Next up in Disney's attempt to milk every last penny out of the Star Wars franchise...Solo is the second spin off film, following Rogue One. I'll say this up front, Rogue One was by far the better movie, however this wasn't as bad as I expected it to be. Here we get to see a young Han Solo (Ehrenreich), how he meets Chewbacca, how he really won the Millenium Falcon from Lando (Glover) and we finally get to see him do the famous Kessel Run (in less than 12 parsecs). Beyond the general sense of Star Wars fatigue setting in for most viewers, things didn't look promising when studio execs fired the director and brought in Ron Howard who then went and reshot the majority of the film. I can only speculate, but my guess is the previous director wanted to take things in a more grim, gritty direction whereas Disney wanted a light hearted romp similar in tone to the first film. And a light hearted romp is what we get. The film moves along at a brisk pace, is shot well, and up to the usual visual and aural standards of the series. For me Ehrenreich was ok in the role, but let's face it, no one can really replace Harrison Ford is such an iconic role. And as much as I love Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones she just didn't seem to fit in here. Finally we have the now standard comedic role of the robot and while I like the quirky English actress who voices the role the exact same thing was done, and done much better in my opinion in Rogue One. One the plus side it was fun seeing the origins of the title character. You get to see how the Falcon transformed into to the state it was in when we first saw it in the original film, how the bond with Chewbacca formed, and you also get to see a certain character from the first prequel introduced which frankly was pretty cool. Not the best entry in the series but certainly not the worst and entertaining enough popcorn fare. Now hopefully Disney slows down the pace of these releases and we don't end up with 'Jar Jar Binks: A Star Wars Story'.
Annihilation (VOD) - Oct 8
Director: Alex Garland
Main Stars: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Oscar Isaac, Gina Rodriguez
Rating: 4 out 5
After her husband mysteriously disappears a year ago on a covert mission and then suddenly shows up out of the blue acting strangely, Biologist Lena (Portman) is shuffled away to a secret military facility bordering on a massive energy wall that's slowly growing in size. Besides her husband, anyone else whose gone in has never returned. Led by the doctor (Leigh) who has spent the last three years researching the phenomena, Lena joins up with some other volunteers each experts in their field to enter 'The Shimmer' and document the mysteries within. I had actually seen this awhile ago and meant to review it but for whatever reason never got around to it - which is a shame as in a year of dismal releases this was easily my favourite. This is a hard film to describe. You could cherry pick certain parts and compare it to other movies but that would be doing it an injustice. But during the climatic ending it totally felt like Under the Skin which I also adored. And like that film, this one definitely gets well, under your skin. Some critics decried the turn it takes from the novel it's based on, but not having read it that wasn't a factor for me. Performances are all strong although I'm saddened to see my favourite actress Jennifer Jason Leigh relegated to secondary roles. A visual spectacle with a head trip of a story, this is science fiction at it's best and is highly recommended.
Avengers: Infinity War (VOD) - Aug 11
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Main Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Benedict Cumberbatch
Rating: 2 out 5
After 10? 15? 20? of these movies is there really any point in discussing the story? Essentially masturbatory material for comic geeks you finally get (almost) all the Marvel super heroes together in one film. Yes it was better than Age of Ultron, but that's not saying much as AOU was the high water mark for me in a cesspool of these never ending releases. There were a few genuine laughs, the effects were ok, and the sound likely was the usual bombastic cacophony of aural goodness. I say likely because for some reason it actually sounded like crap on AppleTV. I had to totally crank the volume before it was satisfactory, something I haven't had to do before when watching off iTunes. So the technicals were good, but the story was the weak point. Granted it would be a challenge for any script writer having to juggle so many different characters at the same time. As such, the two characters with the biggest impact to the overall story are the only two heroes who didn't have their own origin movies. How does that make sense? All that said, I actually appreciated the end which was like a kick to the gut - I thought holy crap! they're going all Indie flick with a depressing conclusion to over a decade of the mythology. I thought that was pretty ballsy and I really liked it. Then I found out on the Interwebz that it was nothing more than the literary equivalent of a bad dream and the money gravy train will continue unabated. Enough! ENOUGH! ENOUGH! Stop it! I'm also tired of the argument of 'oh well if you don't like it then don't go to it.' If the fanboyz would simply stop forking out their money for this garbage we wouldn't have such a dearth of quality movies and being offered up Iron Man 34 instead. Seriously, what are we on, like the fourth iteration of Spider-Man now? And the argument of which movie universe is better Marvel or DC is equally tiring. It's like saying which steaming pile of crap smells better. My God the stupid is everywhere. Someone get me a Criterion release to watch!!!
Paddington 2 (VOD) - Aug 4
Director: Paul King
Main Stars: Ben Wishaw, Henry Brown, Hugh Grant, Peter Capaldi
Rating: 4.5 out 5
Now living with the Brown family, Paddington takes on a series of odd jobs in an effort to raise money so he can buy a very special pop-up book for his Aunt Lucy's 100th birthday. Things go badly when he is framed for the theft of the book and he ends up in prison surrounded by hardened criminals. Things don't look good for 'ol Paddington but he soon wins over the inmates with his charm and by introducing them to the culinary delights of marmalade sandwiches. Now he must enlist their help in an attempt to clear his name and recover the book. Sequels are almost always a case of diminishing returns, and you can argue that perhaps some of the wonder of the original is lost here, but it still beats the hell out of most of the garbage being released on this side of the pond. I watched the first one without knowing much about it and immediately fell in love with the little guy. Although ostensibly a 'kids' movie, I like how they don't resort to shoehorning in the odd joke aimed at parents. They don't need to as the character and stories are strong enough to stand on their own and appeal to all ages. Anyone who doesn't simply adore Paddington is clearly dead inside. Watch for an epic prison dance scene in the credits which frankly should have been at the end of the movie instead. A true delight and I can only hope a 3rd film is in the making.
A Quiet Place (Blu-ray) - Jul 22
Director: John Krazinski
Main Stars: Emily Blunt, John Krazinski, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe
Rating: 3.5 out 5
After earth is invaded by fierce alien creatures, the handful of remaining survivors live on constant edge as they do everything they can to avoid making any noise - noise which will instantly attract these monsters with super sensitive hearing and invite certain death. I'm not sure what it is with Hollywood lately. It seems that any movie which comes out that doesn't outright suck, especially in the horror genre, is heralded as groundbreaking and is hyped to no end. I got suckered into seeing Get Out because of that and now the same with this film. Not that it's bad, far from it, I just wished I had rented it instead of buying it on Blu-ray as I don't think its rave reviews are justified. The story is definitely unique, so huge props for that. With only a minimal amount of dialog and sporadic action the film instead builds up the suspense slowly and thus the focus is squarely on the actors and they all give solid performances. Emily Blunt just owns the screen and I could watch her all day long and the daughter who is deaf in real life is extremely believable. The creature effects are also decent, no complaints there. My biggest issues were some huge gaps in logic that bugged the hell out of the movie geek in me and some melodrama at the expense of logic. And while I dislike gore for gore's sake, bumping it up to have been Rated R instead of PG-13 would have been nice. A flawed, but highly enjoyable horror flick that while miles ahead of the typical crap coming out lately didn't quite meet my high expectations. Shhhhhh!
I, Tonya (VOD) - May 27
Director: Craig Gillespie
Main Stars: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney
Rating: 4 out 5
Growing up as a self admitted red neck, Tonya's only talent in life is skating. Forced to endure the mockery of her status in life, having to make her own costumes, deal with judges determined to see her fail, while living with her abusive mother somehow she's able to overcome all of it and become the first US woman in history to land a Triple Axel. Things go off the rails however after her husband hatches a plot to cripple her main rival and ensure she wins the gold at the Olympics. Ok, I admit it. I was always team Tonya. I remember thinking Kerrigan was a whiny spoiled princess and Harding was the better skater. After the 'incident' went down she faded into obscurity apart from some brief infamy with a decent (by celebrity sex tape standards) leaked sex video. So when I saw the trailer for this I was like 'really? this is a joke right?'. It seemed like such obscure subject matter, but as the lovely Margot Robbie was the lead I was intrigued - then the reviews started coming in and it was obvious this was a surprise hit. A lot of praise was heaped upon Allison Janney as the cold hearted bitch of a mother, but frankly I was more impressed with the guy who played her husband. And Robbie herself, who honestly for me is usually just extreme eye candy actually turns in a nuanced performance that shows she's more than just a pretty face. Finally, the harshness of her sentence compared to the actual perpetrators reminded me that behind every salacious news story that we love to briefly gawk at before moving onto the next shit show, is a real person at the center of it who long after the reporters have left must live with the consequences.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (VOD) - Mar 29
Director: Jake Kasdan
Main Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan
Rating: 2 out 5
One day four high school kids find themselves in detention - the Jock, the Nerd, the Babe, and the Weird Girl. Hey, it's the Breakfast Club right? Sadly, no. Instead of finding meaning and acceptance about themselves and their relationships with other they instead find the game Jumanji sitting on a shelf collecting dust - now updated from a board game to Nintendo era computer game - and get sucked into its mystical world where their adolescent bodies are transformed into the game's heroes. Now they must work together and use their special powers to restore balance to the force, er, universe of Jumanji. Here we have the latest Hollywood installment in pointless remakes. The late Robin Williams now replaced by The Rock. Hey, maybe they can remake Good Morning Vietnam with him as well? But why stop there? They should remake everything with The Rock. Oh, look! He did that eyebrow thing of his! The guy is just so amazing. What a thespian. In case you can't tell, I'm not a fan. But to be fair, he actually wasn't bad here. Kevin Hart (man he's short) and Jack Black split up the bulk of the comedic work. And hottie Karen Gillan supplies, well, the hotness. Sadly though, she loses her adorable Scottish accent this time. Oh and Tom Hank's kid shows up for literally a minute at the end, likely collecting a $10 million paycheque for his efforts. I guess at the end they do go a little Breakfast Club-ish as they're all one big happy group of friends now. That makes this paint by numbers effort even more annoying by trying to shoehorn some kind of point to the 2 hours?!?!? I just wasted watching. An entertaining enough rental but instantly forgettable.
The Shape of Water (Blu-ray) - Mar 21
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Main Stars: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones
Rating: 5 out 5
Elisa (Hawkins) leads a lonely life. Her daily routine consists of making hard boiled eggs, masturbating in the bath, working at the nearby military research center, and interacting with her neighbor who is a struggling commercial artist. One day at work she is startled to witness the arrival of some top secret cargo consisting of an aquatic creature (Jones). She soon forms a bizarre attachment to it that ultimately leads her into a life or death struggle. Guillermo del Toro is a master filmmaker. His movie Pan's Labyrinth is firmly enshrined as one of my all-time favourites. I purposefully stayed away from any reviews or press for his latest effort as I knew I'd be getting it as soon as it came out on Blu-ray. Within mere seconds I was hooked and sucked into his fantasy vision. It kept reminding me of a weird aquatic version of Amélie and was simply a delight throughout. Visually it is stunningly gorgeous with vivid saturated colours everywhere you look, which gives a feeling of being underwater. He somehow manages to delicately balance humour, wonder, horror and emotion all at once without being excessive in any one area. In the hands of anyone else I contend this would have been a disaster, but in his we have that rare perfect film which ranks as one of his best. It's no wonder it cleaned up at the Oscars. Hugely recommended!
Logan Lucky (VOD) - Feb 3
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Main Stars: Channing Tatum, Katie Holmes, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig
Rating: 3.5 out 5
Jimmy Logan (Tatum) just got fired from his job as his undeclared limp has made him a company liability. On the same day he finds out from his ex-wife (Holmes) that she's taking his kid and moving and that he doesn't have the money to legally stop her. Desperate to come up with the cash he hatches a plan to rob the local speedway with his one armed brother (Driver). He even drafts a 'Rules For Robbing A Bank' to-do list he tapes to his fridge - there's just one catch, the guy they need to blow the safe is already in prison and first they'll need to bust him out. Think of this as a poor man's or redneck Ocean's 11 complete with daisy dukes and NASCAR races. I remember seeing the advertisements for this when it came out and thinking it looked like an interesting and quirky film. Sadly it doesn't quite live up to the quirkiness of even the least Coen brothers offering. Still, Adam Driver is slowly but surely growing on me as an actor and it's refreshing to see Daniel Craig doing something other than James Bond, with an American accent no less! Throw in some trashy stereotypical southern hotties (one of which is Elvis Presley's granddaughter) along with female favourite Tatum and you have an entertaining enough but ultimately forgettable flick. Director Soderbergh came out of a self imposed retirement to helm this and it's good to see him back as I've always enjoyed his films.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Theatre) - Jan 14
Director: Rian Johnson
Main Stars: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac
Rating: 4 out 5
After six previous films I'm assuming there's no need for a storyline summary so I'll just dive in. It's a dark time for the rebellion...ok I admit while watching the iconic scroll my first reaction was a bit of an eye roll as the story sounded awfully familiar - especially after the previous installment which felt more like a remake of the first film than a sequel. But once I stopped nitpicking and went with the flow I found myself quickly getting sucked into the universe which delighted me as a child and even today as a jaded adult still occasionally sends a shiver of excitement through me. I'll say this up front that I found it to be much more enjoyable than The Force Awakens which for me had a number of serious shortcomings. Performance wise Hamill is terrific, I got over my misgivings of Adam Driver from before and enjoyed him immensely here, and even the late Carrie Fisher while thankfully having a much bigger part this time felt much more settled into the role. It terms of technical's it looks and sounds like what you'd expect from a Star Wars film - a relentless visual and sonic assault on the senses. There are a few things that bugged me - a WTF?!?!? Mary Poppins in Space moment, an overly long runtime (an entire side story could easily have been cut), and a huge gap in logic concerning a mutiny - but one can mostly overlook them for the bigger picture. Loved by critics and savaged by fans in an unusual reversal from the norm, I personally thought it was great and outside the original trilogy the best film in the long running series. May the Force be with you!