Chernobyl (VOD) - Oct 20, 2019
Capricorn One

Director: Johan Renck

Main Stars: Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgard, Emily Watson, Jessie Buckley, Paul Ritter

Rating: 5/5

Nuclear scientist Valery Legasov is called in to assist in the aftermath of the Chernobyl explosion. Not only must he come up with ways - in many cases brutal - to try and contain the ever expanding radiation, but he must do so while navigating the minefield of Soviet bureaucracy and ever watching KGB handlers. Certain events are always seared into ones memories growing up - for me those are the Challenger disaster, 9/11, and the Chernobyl explosion. I remember as an young teen watching the story on the news, barely able to comprehened the horrors unfolding a continent away.

Co-produced by HBO and British company Sky, I'm not sure where this mini-series was filmed, but they do a stellar job of making you feel like you're back in the Soviet Union of the mid-80's. From the mass produced aparment blocks, to the dated clothing, to the suprisingly accurate Soviet vehicles. Thankfully they don't attempt to do Russian accents but instead just go with the native accents of the mostly British actors. To do otherwise I'm sure would have been a distraction. The two main actors, Jared Harris and Stellan Skarsgard, are favourites of mine and have appeared in such shows as The Terror and The Expanse and films such as Melancholia and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. They are simply terrific, they own the screen, and I could watch them all day long. Emily Watson plays the scientist Ulana Khomyuk who ultimately convinces Valery to put his own safety at risk and tell the truth of what happened. She acts as a representation of all the other scientists involved in trying to shutdown the disaster.

As such, there's obviously some artistic license taken, and I know that if you search the Internet there's all kinds of sites keen to point out how they think the story presented is incorrect. But that's irrelevant. The core message is what matters and is what's presented in a brutal unflinching manner. There are a few snippets of actual recordings, but it never feels like a documentary - instead it puts the viewer right in the middle of the disaster and as such is all the more powerful to behold.

Despite already knowing the tragic outcome, this is still gripping, yet hugely depressing viewing. However I think it's important this story is told again and presented to a new generation who likely aren't even aware of the horror of that day. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima - the places change, but the results are the same. Humans playing God. But unlike Gods humans are inherantly flawed. The hubris to think we can control such forces is absolute madness.

Currently available to watch via HBO's streaming service, Apple TV, Amazon Prime (via Hulu subscription), or Blu-ray.

Capricorn One (Laserdisc) - Sep 5, 2019
Capricorn One

Director: Peter Hyams

Main Stars: Elliott Gould, James Brolin, Sam Waterston, O.J Simpson, Hal Holbrook

Rating: 4/5

Three brave astronauts are set to attempt the first manned landing on Mars. You'd think such an achievement would capture the attention of the nation, but Joe Sixpack seemingly has other concerns. Even the President can't be bothered to attend the launch, sending the Vice President instead. Regardless, this launch has to be a success as it's been made abundantely clear to Nasa's project director (Holbrook) that another screwup will mean cancellation of the entire space program.

Unfortunately shortly before the launch it becomes apparent that a failed life support system would mean certain death for the crew. So a scheme is divised to spirit them away just prior to lift off and move them to an impromptu sound stage and fake the entire thing - from journey to landing and back. The deception works until a nosy engineer notices something odd about the broadcasts and a pesky reporter (Gould) starts asking questions.

I imagine this film caused quite the stir back in the day, coming only a couple years after the last (supposed) manned landing on the moon. While Mars is the destination here, it's immediately obvious the film is really echoing the long standing belief by some that the moon landings never actually happened.

The cast is stellar and is a who's who of 70's talent - but even with such a plethora of talent, the film is really carried by both Brolin and Gould. As with any thriller type movie there's always certain things which happen that you could nitpick as being unlikely, but where's the fun in that? Best to just go with the flow. And while I may be looking at things through nostalgia coloured glasses, I've found that movies from the 70's have a defined look, a certain narrative flow, and a grittiness that seems to have been lost in later decades. Director Hyams, who went on to helm the excellent Sean Connery sci-fi flick Outland manages to slowly build the tension and suspense throughout until the frenetic conclusion.

Capricorn One is what I would consider a hidden gem and a perfect encapsulation of 70's filmmaking.  And as for the premise, in today's world of pervasive Governmental control coupled with technical advances where you can't really even tell what's real or what's fake anymore the message is more relevant than ever before. While I spun this one up on Laserdisc, it's thankfully available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and streaming (Apple TV) as well. Recommended.

Yesterday (Theatre) - Jul 12, 2019

Director: Danny Boyle

Main Stars: Himesh Patel, Lily James, Sophia Di Martino, Kate McKinnon

Rating: 3/5

Jack Malik (Patel) is a struggling musician and the only person who seems to believe in him is his part time manager (James) a person who he grew up with but despite an obvious attraction she is never able to leave the friend zone. One day everything changes when a global power outage hits. After the lights come back, to his astonishment he discovers that for some reason no one has ever heard of one of his favourite bands - The Beatles. They've seemingly been erased from history. Armed with that knowledge he decides to strike out in a new direction using their songs to propel him to musical stardom. Now he just needs the remember the damn lyrics to Eleanor Rigby.

When I saw the trailer for this I instantly knew I wanted to see it as it was different and it was obviously a feel good movie. Something I was definitely in the mood for. In that respect it didn't disappoint. But while good, I was hoping it'd be one of those movies that achieved greatness and sadly it falls a bit short.

You don't have to be a Beatles fan to enjoy the story as anyone with a passing knowledge of the band and their biggest hits will be humming along and tapping their toes. SNL's Kate McKinnon has an amusing role as the music industry shark ready to discover the next big thing and then promptly devour them while extracting every dollar possible before disposing of them when someone else comes along. While the overall tone of the film is breezy, they do make several digs at the music business - but part of me wishes they would have skewered it a bit more. Ed Sheeran plays himself in a self deprecating role - I'm guessing that's a big deal that he's in it? Who knows as I'm not up on the latest 'artists'. There's an interesting side plot involving a couple of people at his concerts who'd look at him really oddly while he was playing. I thought I knew where that was going to go but they surprised me and I honestly got a good laugh out of it. There's also a cameo from the past which is a bit jaw dropping and it took me awhile to figure out who the actor was. Finally while fairly long at 2 hours the ending felt rushed and tacked on which was a letdown.

A pleasant surprise and mad props for originality in an era of endless remakes and comic book movies that while enjoyable left me wanting more.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (VOD) - Jun 5, 2019
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Director: David Yates

Main Stars: Johnny Depp, Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Jude Law

Rating: 2/5

The dastardly Wizard Grindelwald (Depp) escapes from prison in New York City and flees to Paris!

Back in jolly 'ol England, ever awkward but lovable Newt (Redmayne) is tasked with thwarting his evil plans and um...something or other. What were his evil plans again?

Hmmm. According to IMDB's summary the whole plot point of the bad guy in this film is he's trying to raise an army of pure-blood wizards to rule over non-magical people. After well over 2 hours I had no idea that's what he was trying to do. And here we have my biggest issue with the sequel to Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. My previous review of the first film was generally favourable. Not having read any of the books and not having even seen all the Harry Potter films, I was judging it simply on its entertainment value and not as a convert.

It was different enough and had a plethora of fun CGI'd creatures plus a turn of the century New York City backdrop that I enjoyed it overall.

But with the follow up they dispense with the cute creatures (for the most part) and instead focus on building the story for the presumed third film. And that's always the problem with the middle films in trilogies (which I'm assuming is the plan), you always get that feeling like they exist only to usher in the big climactic final act. There was also casting overload with way to many new people taking away screen time from the main characters from the previous movie. About the only redeeming feature was that Depp toned down his performance for once. Instead of the usual quirky schtick that he does so effortlessly in all of Tim Burton's efforts here he's more subdued and actually fairly effective as as the quiet but menacing villian. Sadly his efforts are wasted.

I suppose people familiar with the source material might be enthralled, but when I found out Grindelwald was the cousin of so and so which I'm sure was super shocking I was like 'ya, so?'. Glad this was just a rental.

For fans only...

Prospect (VOD) - Apr 21, 2019

Directors: Christopher Caldwell, Zeek Earl

Main Stars: Sophie Thatcher, Jay Duplass, Pedro Pascal

Rating: 3.5/5

Cee (Thatcher) spends her days reciting her favourite book from memory while her father chastises her for her lack of focus on the task at hand. That task being prospecting - retrieving valuable fossils? from the goopy innards of an alien species buried in the ground on the moon below them. The task being made all the more challenging as they must also survive the moon's toxic green forest. Her father has the coordinates to the big score and promises her they just need to do this one last job and then they can leave this life behind them. Unfortunately the orbiting space station has informed them that they are leaving shortly for new locales. Will they be able to harvest the goods and make it into orbit again before they are permanently left behind?

I happened to be flipping through the movie trailers on my Apple TV and came across this little Indie offering. It looked different so I decided to give it a watch.

Here we have a great example of not needing a large budget and lots of special effects to craft a decent and engaging sci-fi entry. To be honest there's not a lot of dialog or different sets - everything either taking place in the interior of their drop ship or on the moon's forest. And yet I was surprised when the credits rolled at how fast the movie seemed to fly by. It obviously kept me engaged throughout. If I had anything negative to say it would be that at times the dialog was a bit muddled - not really surprising considering everyone spends almost all their time with helmets on their heads. I'll have to look up the one actor - Pedro Pascal to see what else he has done as I found him to have a commanding screen presence. The girl who plays Cee was equally effective especially considering it was her film debut.

Visually competent although again, there's not a lot of different scenery to be had. The forest manages to look other worldly enough via a constant and dreamy looking colourful dust floating around in the air. I also liked how the story kind of just throws the viewer into the middle of things with barely any exposition and you're left on your own to figure out what's going on. To be honest I was shocked to find that this was an American production as it definitely had a Euro vibe to it. A decent and gritty genre film that while not groundbreaking manages to do a lot with only a little.

Overlord (Blu-Ray) - Mar 25, 2019

Director: Julius Avery

Main Stars: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, Pilou Asbaek

Rating: 3.5/5

On the evening before D-Day a group of American paratroopers is tasked with dropping behind enemy lines to destroy a key radio tower, thus helping to ensure success for the coming attack. Thinks quickly go awry when their plane is shot up all to hell, and the survivors scattered all over the French countryside. Private Ed Boyce (Adepo) eventually links up with some members of his squad and they proceed with their mission. However once inside the bunker at the base of the tower they soon encounter something much worse than just enemy troops.

Nazi zombies. I'm not sure why, but combine those two words and you're sure to peak my cinematic interest. For me, the high water mark of this particular sub-genre was the 2009 film Dead Snow. That said, it was your typical low budget indie offering. However, when news broke of Overlord, there was excitement in the air as this was going to be a big budget effort associated with non-other than JJ Abrams. The guy behind the latest Star Wars movies was producing a Nazi zombie movie! So does having gobs of money guarantee a classic? Not really. Another reviewer probably summed it up best - "This is a B-budget movie, with A-budget production values." The opening scenes are stellar. A visual and sonic onslaught leaving you on the edge of your seat. I thought at one point my subwoofer was going to explode. But by the mid-point the film reasserts its horror origins and while never quite descending into camp territory, there were some scenes that looked right out of Re-Animator. I kept expecting Herbert West to make an appearance.

Despite the middling lull, things wrap up nicely with a frenetic finale. While I appreciate the attempts to elevate the story into something more, they perhaps did too good a job at the start as it was a bit of a letdown when things transitioned from war flick to horror flick. And without giving anything away, the whole zombie aspect wasn't quite what I was expecting and as such was a bit disappointing. An interesting effort that doesn't quite achieve its lofty goals, but for fans at least is still worth watching.

Mortal Engines (VOD) - Mar 20, 2019
Mortal Engines

Director: Christian Rivers

Main Stars: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae

Rating: 1/5

Tom Natsworthy spends his uneventful days working at the museum on the tracked city of London hunting down examples of ‘ancient tech’. One day his whole world is turned upside down when he instinctively attempts to catch a would be female assassin who just narrowly missed killing London's de facto leader and champion. Eventually Tom and the girl both end up tumbling to the earth as the city leaves them behind. Will he ever return home and will the mysterious assassin ever avenge the death of her mother?

I'll say up front that I've read the book, and while I wouldn't say I'm a 'fan', I obviously like it enough that I'm currently reading the 4th entry in the series. I knew going in that this didn't have great reviews, but again, having read the book I wanted to see what someone else's vision of the material would look like. And visually, it doesn't disappoint. I wasn't entirely sure how they'd be able to pull off the vast scale of the cities involved but they managed to do a great job. It's worth a rent for this alone. Unfortunately by the end I was furious as they changed several aspects of the story and fates of certain key characters. I hate, hate, hate when studios do that! It's one thing to take a story and base a film on it which expands upon the scope or the characters (think Blade Runner), or even when introducing new characters to advance the plot for various reasons (think Lord of the Rings), but to do so for no apparent reason drives me crazy. What? Idiots they pulled off the street for a test screening couldn't grasp the concept of someone doing something under protest and eventually redeeming themselves - so instead some pinhead exec decided to make them a one dimensional bad guy? I'm itching to go off on a rant about what a joke Hollywood is, but I'll abstain for now.

If you want to see a grand visual spectacle and haven't read it then it's worth a look, however if you even remotely enjoy the book stay far, far away from this travesty.