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

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

Logan (2017) – Review

If Get Out sold us short on the trailers, then Logan reset the balance. We know it’s Hugh Jackman’s final outing as Wolverine, and the arrival of young girl in the said trailers indicates X-23 is likely to be brought into the X-Men cinematic universe. It’s also clear we’re heading for a serious drama, less superhero feast. Knowing all this doesn’t detract from what we’re given.

Many are saying we should thank Deadpool for Wolverine getting – at last – an adult movie. Let’s face it, his previous two solo outings were subpar. And that’s being nice about it. The studio told director James Mangold and Hugh Jackman to make the film they wanted. Why don’t studios just do this all the time?

We find an aged Wolverine in a future where mutants are a distant memory. The disappearance of those with special abilities is explained clearly. Richard E. Grant’s Zander Rice has developed the vaccine earlier X-Men films fought against. He describes getting rid of them no different than curing Polio outbreaks.

The aging of Wolverine is a little less clear. We’re led to believe that perhaps it is the adamantium slowly poisoning the body, acting as a cancer. This just doesn’t wash with me. Sorry. But he’s had it long enough to dispel that theory. However, we have excused the fact his adamantium magically reappeared at the end of Days of Future Past so we can just accept the idea he’s not in the best of shape.

Neither is Professor X. He’s being kept locked away in a metal container, on lots of meds, to protect the world from his brain. See, it’s a massive problem if your head is classed as a weapon of mass destruction but you’re suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Logan’s joint carer for Charles Xavier is Stephen Merchant’s Caliban.

Quick segue here, so Tómas Lemarquis played Caliban in the very average X-Men: Apocalypse. The two versions in no way can be married up. It’s effectively a different character with the same ability (they’re trackers, in Logan, Caliban is captured and used to track the escaping Wolverine(s) and Professor X). It raises the question: Is Logan really canon?

It feels like a set-up for a continuation or a spin-off but could remain standalone. The future of mutants is preserved because Zander Rice has been attempting to weaponize strands of DNA with powers. Hence the arrival of the excellent Dafne Keen as Laura, or X-23, or future Wolverine.

As the story unravels, and Logan tries to get Laura to her meeting place, we realise some of these children have been saved from the clinic. The displays of abilities are the only let-down of the movie. They are clearly working to a tight budget and it betrays the feel of the majority of the film. The legend of the X-Men has made it to comic book form, which Logan explains is overblown nonsense.

The idea the reality was grittier fits the grittiness we see for the first three quarters of the story.

The only other problem is the appearance of a younger, healthier Weapon X. The film didn’t need cheap parlour tricks to slow Logan down. But it does offer a mirror on his growing and real humanity. So perhaps it was a good move?

The catalyst and reason for Logan to open up to his feelings is, of course, Laura. She steals scenes without using words. As there ever been a child actor so expressive and effective? Not to mention kick-ass bad. She’s determined and also vulnerable, she needs Logan’s love.

Charles Xavier also prods the conscious of Jackman’s character. Here it is touching as we see two old friends, with years of history, care for one another. Logan looks after his body and protects his mind. Not just from destruction but the truth of some unknown atrocity Professor X is guilty of committing.

In return Charles reminds Logan he is good. He can be saved.

The tone of Logan is perfect and as the main X-Men franchise loses its spirit and becomes more and more the mindless blockbuster it once stood apart from, this is a reminder that the best comic book films are the ones with heart.

It is graphic in parts. The stall is set out in the first scene when Logan places his claws through the skulls of carjackers. But it is never played for the sake of shock. It’s a movie trying to be honest.

Patrick Stewart announced on The Graham Norton Show this would also be his last film connected to the X-Men universe. By the end, you can understand his reasoning. There’s nothing a future film maker will be able to offer that bests this complete picture.

It is a passing of the torch. In Dafne Keen’s hands, it’ll be carried safely.

9/10

Passengers – Review

With taglines like: There is a reason they woke up, and, Nothing Happens by Accident, you have every right to expect mystery and intrigue. Passengers soon reneges on these empty promises.

The concept is a decent one and visually the film gets off to a great start. The sets wouldn’t look out of place in an Alien film. Everyone aboard the starship Avalon is heading to a Homestead II, a new Earth, a fresh start. It takes 120 years, so by the time they are removed from suspended animation, their loved ones back home will have long passed.

Bad news for Chris Pratt’s character, Jim Preston, is that the ship hits an asteroid field. Or more like, half the field hits the ship. It causes damage to multiple systems, breaking his pod’s sleep cycle. Just his pod, mind. Bad, bad (writing?) luck.

It means Jim spends a year trying to fix the problem, get access to the crew and bridge rooms, and eventually face suicide. Until he happens across Aurora Lane’s (that’s Jennifer Lawrence) sleep capsule. With nothing else to do, he looks into her story. She’s a writer so he reads her back catalogue and watches all her induction videos.

“She’s so funny,” he exclaims.

She’s about as funny as a white girl sat on a BBC chat show talking about desecrating sacred artefacts.

Jim’s only company has been Michael Sheen’s Arthur, an android barman. He’s like a really friendly version of Lloyd from The Shining. He is at pains whether or not to wake Aurora up or not.

Well, he does. And suffice to say, that secret gets out. So you see, there was a reason they woke up: to drive a stagnant story on. No conspiracy, no experiment, no sabotage.

In a movie of convenient moments, it is no surprise that Aurora falls for Jim. Their class difference aside (he gets better breakfasts now she’s around from the computer), chances of meeting a soul mate based on assumptions, and the strain of the situation have no bearing. They’re just perfect for one another.

Later in the film, Laurence Fishburne pitches up when another pod fails. Convenient that this occurs when the story needed another plot device and equally handy that it’s just a single pod again.

The closing section sees Jim and Aurora forced to work together to save the damaged ship. What they can’t save is the weak script. Okay, it’s a harmless romantic movie but a waste of an imposing set, good actors, and a solid premise.

The studio didn’t spend $110m and bring in two hot box office names for the sort of experience that will be relegated to lazy Sunday afternoons on the sofa. The poor results and box office performance won’t hurt any of the stars, they’ve enough credit in the bank, but it’s an inexcusable disappointment.

5/10

Apple Tree Yard – Season 1 – Episode 4

This series ends on the dramatic high the BBC promised before it aired. The courtroom tension that followed in the final hour was so fraught because of the humiliation female characters had to endure.

First up was DS Johns, a police officer that had a working relationship with the ever-dependable non-Spook Costley. She was cross-examined if his behaviour altered during the weeks in question.

She said, “no.”

So, Costley’s own barrister went in hard. Now, I’m no legal expert. But I’m pretty sure in court, you can’t get away with shocking language if you add the precursor: “To use a colloquial term.” But apparently you can, as she was asked, “did he finger you.”

I mean, come on. Just ask in the politest possible way what happened.

Turns out Costley had quickly moved on from Yvonne and was acting inappropriately elsewhere. All building up a picture of an unstable man. Professionals in various psychiatric fields argued the merits of his personality disorder.

As if the treatment of DS Johns wasn’t bad enough, the onslaught continued when Yvonne took to the stand. She broke down, delivering the impact of why she was scared of reporting the rape. When the same barrister delivered the bombshell she’d lied about the affair, her credibility lay in tatters.

But as rightly pointed out, that lie doesn’t mean her ordeal should be dismissed or that she coldly plotted a murder.

We headed to the obvious conclusion but as seems to be the modern way, we needed a twist. Over the weeks we have relied on Yvonne’s narration, her recollection of events. In a closing scene, we see her visit Mark in prison. He says he never told, that he kept the secret.

His inability to separate fact from fiction extended to throwaway remarks.

A solid finish to a series with a shaky start.

8/10