Baywatch – Review

It’s tricky giving an objective view of the new Baywatch movie. That’s because it has an identity crisis of sorts. Sure, it’s a beautiful image – there’s lots of eye-candy – but it gets lost somewhere between knowing this is all over-the-top, self-depreciation and a worthy action movie with TV detective tropes.

That’s another issue, it never quite feels like a movie. Not the type you pay to go see in the cinema. It’s like a really flashy, CGI enhanced, TV movie. I’m sure Dwayne Johnson didn’t have this in mind when he agreed to replace David Hasselhoff as Mitch Buchannon.

Except, he hasn’t really replaced him. Turns out this isn’t technically a reboot, The Hoff also played a lifeguard called Mitch and handed the keys over to The Rock after serving as a mentor. So, the Baywatch a generation enjoyed on the telly is canon.

Although, we’ll spare the show a link to this. Not because it’s terrible (ignore the one star reviews), it’s just too far removed from anything serious or plausible. That’s right. The TV show was like The Wire in comparison.

The movie sees a new team form before our eyes. Mitch already has his C.J. in the guise of a warm Kelly Rohrbach (don’t worry Pamela Anderson pops up again too, and she’s called Casey Jean). She’s so warm, she is the love interest for team trainee Ronnie, who looks like a little Har Mar Superstar.

Mitch’s number two is Stephanie Holden played by Ilfenesh Hadera and spared a reunion with an equally named TV counterpart. As are Summer Quinn and Matt Brody. They divert from the television styling. Summer is now feisty, played by Alexandra Daddario.

Zac Efron’s Brody is a bad-bay Olympic swimmer with two golds in the bag, a scandal where he cost his relay team a medal, and no home to go to. The lifeguard gig is a community support punishment he doesn’t take seriously.

He continues to point out the police should run investigations, not the Baywatch folks. He obviously never watched Baywatch Nights. Mitch has a bee in his bonnet about Priyanka Chopra’s Victoria Leeds. She’s opening beachfront clubs and has an eye on property.

Mitch has her to blame for a spate of bodies washing up on “his beach” and the surge in drugs.

The way the idea of the team’s sense of duty is pushed, starts out as laughable until you realise this isn’t one of the script writers attempt at humour (many other moments will have you wondering if they are meaning to be funny, tried but failed, or oblivious) but a cringeworthy ideal.

The detective segments are padded out with dick jokes, flirting, run ins with authority figures, spew references, spewing, a few saves in the water, more action scenes on land, and a lot of flesh on display.

Anyone that criticises the movie is coming from a solid base. It isn’t laugh after laugh (but there are laugh out loud moments) and for a film running at over two hours, that’s not a great indictment for a “comedy action flick.”

But perhaps those that have consigned it to movie hell failed to see the flashing lights in the opening scenes declaring this movie as anything but taking itself seriously.

It pokes fun at itself and others. It allows The Rock persona to appear in Johnson and his supporting cast add a good dose of heart. And by the end – if you’ve been opened minded – you will feel a connection to these characters.

For that reason, it can’t be hammered with a low score, nor is it reinventing the simpler genre it inhabits, so it gets a healthy…

6/10

The Fate of The Furious (Fast and Furious 8) – Review

Just as the trouble finding a title that works across all markets is a problem for those that run The Fast and the Furious franchise, it has become hard to recall a standout identity on screen. The Europeans have been given the simplified version of adding a number eight to the title. Such a high rollout is usually the reserve of horror movies. Has director F. Gary Gray been able to avoid slashing up the moneymaking car-based property?

First off, let’s spare a thought for the man replacing James Wan. With each movie, it becomes harder to justify the fanfare (buckets of cash aside). Also, he is the first man to tackle a plot that has to exclude Brian’s role entirely following Paul Walker’s death.

The main problem is how the series hasn’t felt gripping since Michelle Rodriguez reappeared from death in a post-credits scene. It took ten minutes into the latest instalment, with her character Letty and Vin Diesel’s Dom enjoying a honeymoon in Havana, to realise these answers had already been fully explored and a full adventure had taken place in London since.

That’s the problem with “new” Fast and Furious films: they are great for the two hours you watch them, but are instantly forgettable.

This one starts with a street race reminiscent of simpler times, when it was good old street races, a bit of undercover work, and not big set-pieces. It can’t last in a modern version of a film bearing the name (in any guise) connected to this franchise. It is now Bond on Wheels, and we all remember what happened to that series when the stunts became too far-fetched…

Because they are brains-out movies, no spoilers or hints will be dropped here. It’ll remove the ten seconds of reveal you may be interested in. The main premise is how Dom goes rogue and is recruited by cyber terrorist Cipher, played by Charlize Theron.

He’s hunted by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Luke Hobbs, himself now an outlaw from his own government after the initial mission went tits-up when Dom went rogue. He’s aided by Dom’s own team, and Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw.

Yep, you read that right. Far from me to be a cynic, but the baddie gets a new backstory added where he was a decent captain in the SAS but his government sold him short – just like The Rock’s! Forget that he then became a ruthless murdering bad guy.

The thing is, there’s no need to care. Believability is suspended, so why not just enjoy the characters as they come? Also, it gives us Helen Mirren popping up as Shaw’s mum. In the process, we see a posh bird trying to sound like Peggy Mitchell from EastEnders.

A special mention should go to Kurt Russell. This was a screen-stealing edition of Mr Nobody and when you compare his turn in Guardian of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and this, you appreciate just how diverse his range is.

The same cannot be said of Nathalie Emmanuel as Ramsey. The Brit needs to drop the overaccentuated well-spoken words and be more natural in the role. With a screen awash with warm characters, she is the odd one out. The static, cold, sterile (pretty) face.

The plot has been criticised for being bloated, long, and dull. That’s a major knife in the back, it’s actually okay. The cliched parts aside, and the massive suspension of disbelief required (and that’s a great thing, otherwise we’d be robbed of Shaw’s comedic shoot-out toward the film’s end), it does reach the scope it aims for.

Okay, it is best served as a hangover film when you need a quiet Sunday afternoon, perhaps not what the studio want to hear, but with two sequels planned, their cash cow has some milk left in it.

There’s rumours Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel clashed during this movie’s production. From a marketing point-of-view, that is ironic because moving forward the franchise Vin started might have to become The Rock centric in order to survive.

6/10

Ghost in the Shell (2017) – Review

The fuss of casting a white actress in the lead role of Ghost in the Shell can at last take a (temporary) backseat. It helps that the actor in question is Scarlett Johansson, she has the screen presence to divert attention to what is important. As always, that should be the plot.

Playing the role of the Major, a rank we see her attain here after a short opening sequence that reveals her “creation” and/or alteration. She is Mira Killian, her brain is planted into a perfect engineered cybernetic body made by Hanka Robotics. The CEO there, Cutter, sees her as a weapon and wants her up and running as soon as possible.

The designer, Juliette Binoche’s Dr Ouelet (because white people make, as well as look, like the best of Asia in this future world), sees Major as a living person. Most definitely not an object. And therein begins our moral tale of consciousness and what constitutes life. However, unlike the animated original, these themes – along with the entire movie – have been made more accessible for a mainstream audience.

It means the deeper philosophical questions have been dumbed down and the action sequences, instead pioneering like its forbearer, become generic and lifeless. They do pay homage to scenes from the original, at times it’s as if moments have been lifted from there. And the authenticity of the environment is solid throughout.

It falls down when it comes to adding suspense and the journey Major undertakes to reveal her true identity (it isn’t Killian). It’s noble they tried to add the backstory in what they must be hoping is a franchise, but everything is far too obvious.

Whether it be Hanko turning on Major, to the main plot of seemingly malevolent AI that is looking to bring down Hanko. This third-party intelligence is at odds with Major’s views of the world, leading to Hanko losing faith, despite Dr Ouelet’s protests.

It seems tech companies like to be run by bad guys once they’re making revolutionary strides forward. Hanko is like RoboCop’s OCP. A company in deep with the government and run lawlessly from within.

Visually, it can be stunning at times. A body suit clad Johansson is always going to be easy on the eye, and as mentioned, the set pieces breathe life into the world they are trying to replicate from the original. Perhaps the finale goes too big on the Hollywood action, and the setting feels at odds with all that came before it.

But as something to look at, whether it be Major, Hideo (we see why he needs the goggles), the city, or most of the fight scenes, it deserves the title: Ghost in the Shell.

It even tries to carry the heart of the original and gets a free pass, this time, because of the leading lady.

Sadly, it just lacks that something special beyond the performance of Johansson to make it noteworthy. The 1995 version was ground-breaking in many ways, this is the exact opposite. It plays it safe, using standard techniques and methods we’ve seen a million times before in countless forgettable movies.

Hopefully there is enough of an interest to allow Section 9 another chance but without Rupert Sanders in the director’s chair.

5/10

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – Review

It’s time for another addition to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, thankfully, we get served a film that still feels fresh when the monotony of the rest of the market pounds relentlessly forward. This is highlighted from the start, with – probably – the best opening credits sequence ever seen in any film. Ever.

The Guardians are well established now, and fighting a massive pink beast fishy thing. But that’s all going on in the background while Baby Groot is dancing away to ELO. It’s immediate relief that the humour from the first film remains, it’s just the scope that is getting upscaled.

The main cast all return, even Vin Diesel to “voice” Groot. This time they actually feel like a better fit. We see them on the run after Rocket (the Racoon Bradley Cooper) steals from the Sovereign race moments after receiving applaud for completing a mission.

These folks feel at first, like a novelty cameo before the real story starts. Just a planet of gold skinned and haired, genetically engineered perfectionists. As it happens, they are involved throughout as they seek to avenge the stolen batteries and make an example of the Guardians.

As with all films of this nature, we have subplots on the go. Rocket’s is how he pushes people away when he feels them getting too close. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) have the “unspoken thing” going on. Best described by Quill (Star-Lord) as Sam and Diane in Cheers. Gamora reminds Peter, she doesn’t know what Cheers is.

Gamora also has sisterly love going on with Nebula (Karen Gillan, not ginger, now shaved and blue). She was the prize from the Sovereign race and prisoner-turn-accomplice.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. See, the Guardians do the classic team-up movie trick of running separate missions. After badly crash landing on a planet, where Drax (Dave Bautista) is dragged behind the ship like a water-skier gone wrong, hitting every tree in sight at speed, resembling Wile E. Coyote (suspend that disbelief or the film ends at this point), the group are visited by Ego.

No, no, no, not Kanye West, but Kurt Russell, a god claiming to be Quill’s dad. So, leaving Rocket behind with a tied-up Nebula and Baby Groot in order to carry out repairs, Drax, Gamora and Quill head to Ego’s home planet.

As they dash off, Yondu’s Ravagers arrive to capture Rocket. They’ve been hired by the Soveriegn to find the Guardians. But that all goes bad when the Ravagers rebel and Yondu himself loses his men and his freedom. Seems some thought he always protected Peter back when he worked with them, and still gets favouritism.

On Ego’s world, his empath helper, Mantis (Pom Klementieff), shares a closeness with Drax and starts to drop the hints that Ego might not be an entirely good god.

This is where the generic, overly simplistic plot is showed up for what it is. Kurt Russell as Ego is great at playing the larger-than-life, slightly untrustworthy father figure Peter craves. His explanation of how he started as a consciousness millions of years ago and created a world before deciding to walk as a man is grand without being grotesque.

The problem is, it all starts to feel very two-dimensional. The movie only holds together at this point because of Zoe Saldana’s performance. She gives the picture its heart and direction. Without her, it would have been a bland mess. And with a film with so much neon, that would have been a neat trick.

Gamora Vol 2

The values of family, companionship, are the main drive. It should also be noted, that Marvel deserve some credit for allowing this part of the MCU to remain largely untouched by the main series. The Guardians still feel special and protected from the oversaturation of the superhero market.

Weak plot aside, by the movie’s end – and long closing credits with multiple scenes – just as you can’t deny Baby Groot is cute, you can’t help but feel a warmth inside. It’s a feel-good factor movie, that shouldn’t be able to trade with so little substance – but does. Maybe we’re all suckers for classic songs, 80s references, and cameos of digitally restored David Hasselhoffs?

7/10

Baby Groot

Kong: Skull Island – Review

“Let’s face it baby, these days, you gotta have a sequel,” to paraphrase Stu from the 1996 film Scream. If that was remade today, it’d be something like this: “‘cause let’s face it baby, these days you gotta have a shared universe.” Thanks to Marvel’s unprecedented success at juggling many balls in one massive shared cinematic universe, every studio and its dog is trying the same trick.

The latest Ghostbusters was supposed to launch a shared series of films. It failed. Of course, DC is trying the same. It’s struggling. Legendary is trying its hand with a MonsterVerse, which brings us to the relaunch of King Kong. This trip to Skull Island is primarily to familiarise the audience with King Kong in the universe that 2014’s Godzilla took place in.

The opening credits use the same montage technique as the Gareth Edwards monster film but there is no direct connection, Godzilla showed the years 1954, 1999 and 2014. Kong’s tale predominantly takes place in 1973 (after seeing a US pilot and Japanese dogfight counterpart crash land on the island in 1944).

The premise being John Goodman’s Bill Randa wants to travel to an island that defies detection. He’s convinced – because of something he saw as a child – that prehistoric animals exist in the modern day. He thinks Skull Island is a haven for them. Of course, he’s correct, and the island isn’t just home to a massive monkey. There are things that make the dinosaurs look fluffy.

Randa uses the end of the Vietnam war to leverage the powers that be to use the returning military for a little excursion. Enter a team. Shared universes need teams, even if the decades that divide the movies means it’s a onetime shot.

Tom Hiddleston is James Conrad, a former SAS man turned mercenary, reminding us why he can never be James Bond. Brie Larson turns up as photographer Mason Weaver. She is a do-gooder that has been on the cover of Time and is looking for the next big shot, regardless of the danger. And we have Samuel L. Jackson playing Preston Packard, the leader of the squadron assigned to land on the island.

Brie Larson Hiddleston Kong Skull Island

Along for the ride are a few scientists, their biggest contribution is discovering we live in a hollow world. Yep, we can forget science when given massive monkeys with five fingers. Do we need pseudo-science to makes sense of it? Clive Balls does believe the world is flat, so perhaps some people will buy into this. Plus, it could explain the appearance of further beasts in upcoming Godzilla films.

Because the scientists need to probe, they dropped seismic charges to determine the composition of the land mass. Or as they appear to Kong: bombs.

There is no slow build-up and a big reveal to Kong like in all of his previous outings. Here, the King is front and centre from the off. He takes out the incoming helicopter squadron with ease. The moment is perhaps to pay homage to the original battle from 1933 on the Empire State Building. If so, all it does is alert us to the fact there is no tension or investment.

The survivors meet up with that crashed 1944 pilot, he turns out to be Hank Marlow, played by comic actor John C. Reilly. He provides relief in a film that doesn’t really need any. Godzilla (2014) was criticised for being too dark. It literally lacked a colour palette. This movie goes too far in the opposite direction.

The banners on buses and building gave us the hint. Those garish colours fill the big screen. What it loses in mood swings it toward cartoon. In doing so, the characters follow suit. Samuel L. Jackson, as well as reusing his own lines from Jurassic Park, and paraphrasing himself from Pulp Fiction, becomes the single-minded human antagonist.

He’s miffed Kong killed his invading crew. Hank Marlow explains, Kong keeps the dangerous monsters at bay and the island’s indigenous people safe. Jackson doesn’t care. It’s as unrealistic as his pouch – something a soldier returning from years of war in Vietnam just wouldn’t have.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts must have had a checklist of classic Kong shots – like the blonde woman lay in King Kong’s open palm – but he missed the vital element. Kong’s powerful scenes work when you feel for the character. In this outing, we don’t have time to care for the big guy.

And Brie Larson, arguably the most talented actor in the film, can get the damsel in distress and looking up in awe facial shots down to a T all she wants, it means zero if the world she’s working in is soulless.

The action is visually perfect, the actors do their best with a limited script, but it lacks the intelligence Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla strived for in pursuit of a more accessible action flick. I hope to see Kong again, next time I hope he reminds us why we used to care.

6/10