More newly watched films

This is the first blog of the year where I talk about films I’ve watched that I previously haven’t seen before, it’s been a bit of a struggle with this one as depression has kicked my arse a bit and I’ve struggled for motivation to actually watch films in general, even old ones that are comfort films for. This has therefore taken me far longer than I’d have liked to get finished, as evidenced by a Christmas film being on here. I’m hoping that my mental health is going to give me a little bit of a break and I can watch some more films. Also hopefully cinemas may actually re-open in the not too distant future which would definitely be something to look forward to, even if it’s potentially older films that will vie shown to start with.

Surviving Christmas – I’m a Big Ben Affleck fan, though I’ll concede this is more to do with his more modern output than his early stuff. I do like to give the older stuff a go though which is why I picked this up after finding it cheap in spite of it seemingly being slated ,though I obviously managed expectations as a result of this. I’m not typically a fan of Christmas films as I find them overly sentimental and incredibly predictable, I got a bit of a bad feeling in the intro where a guy is donating to a charity Santa and throws his wallet, watch and wedding ring into the collection in what I assume was meant to be funny but wasn’t really and there were a few other scenes in this where dark humour is used which doesn’t really land. Affleck at this point in his career is well cast as a millionaire douchebag who after being dumped decides he wants the family Christmas experience so essentially rents a family for the holiday and it does not initially go well. He’s naturally an utterly entitled dickhead for much of the film but learns to be a better man as things progress. This is largely due to Christina Applegate’s character who acts as the romantic foil and thankfully Applegate is a delight, as she is in pretty much anything I’ve ever seen her in. James Gandolfini is comfortably the best thing in the film though, the sense of put upon exasperation he conveys is genuinely funny. Affleck overacts to a point where it’s actually cringe inducing a lot of the time, there are moments though where he’ll play a scene much more restrained which gives a much darker subtext to what’s happening and it really does provide a glimpse of a film that would have been far more interesting. As it is it’s largely a clusterfuck, an enjoyable one, but a clusterfuck nonetheless though it does have a quite decent ending. I’d warn anyone even slightly tempted to either not bother or seriously lower their expectations. I honestly want to see a version of this film where it’s played as proper dark comedy where you get the more restrained Affleck slowly unravelling over the festive period, it would have been a much much better film.

The Place Promised in Our Early Days – One of the only Makoto Shinkai feature films I’ve not seen at this point, and apparently his feature film debut. It’s also the film of his I’ve owned the longest, I honestly couldn’t say why I’ve never gotten round to it til now but having gotten properly into his films it felt like it was about time to get it watched. My initial impression was that it fits the pattern with his previous films in that it’s visually very, very pretty, Shinkai really knows how to use colour to effectively create atmosphere. The voice cast aren’t actors I know but they did solid work, it was a pretty decent dub overall. The film follows two friends, Hiroki and Takuya, as they rebuild a plane with the intention of flying it to a mysterious tower and there’s a third friend, Sayuri, who mysteriously disappears which causes Hiroki and Takuya to drift apart. It’s much more science fiction based than his films I’ve seen previously as it takes in things like parallel universes and an alternate history where the Soviet Union occupies half of Japan, which is a pretty interesting concept though it’s never really expanded on as much as I’d like, though I guess you’d either need a huge exposition dump or more time to explore it which would impact the pacing, which is largely pretty decent overall so while I’d have liked more background I understand that there’s a balance which is necessary. It’s much more violent than the other films of Shinkai’s that I’ve seen which is a result of the backdrop of the divided Japan, it adds an element of danger to the film which isn’t unwelcome. Sayuri is pretty central to the story being told, Hiroki reconnects with her in a dream of sorts and vows to fly the plane to the tower with her onboard as he believes doing so would allow them to re-connect in the real world. Overall it’s a cool film but I think it has too many plot threads going on which means that it’s not as focussed as it could be and as a result there isn’t the same level of character development I’d have liked, this is something I’d say has been learned from in later films though and honestly my main complaint is that it’s essentially too ambitious which isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world.

The Matrix Revolutions – This was apparently released way back on the good old days of 2003 when we were allowed to do things with other people, I never bothered watching it due to how much I’d originally disliked Reloaded. I decided I should give it a go give there’s a new Matrix film on the way and because having rewatched the second film I was interested to see how it all ended given the cliffhanger, though I will concede I wasn’t exactly excited about it. I honestly wish I hadn’t bothered, the opening 45 minutes is lots of talking with one action set piece which was decent and the first three quarters of the film keeps Neo and Smith to a bare minimum which is naturally frustrating when they’re the best things in the film, in fact Neo’s most significant contribution in this period is to get himself blinded by Smith (who hijacked a human body in Reloaded) though he’s still able to see in some fashion, which is obviously very fortunate. You get a major set piece about halfway through where the machines attack the human city and they have to defend it, which they do though they seemingly now have access to mechs and other things which is a bit of a stretch given what we’ve seen prior to this and I say this knowing how ridiculous everything else to this point has been. This battle is suitably chaotic and the effects are pretty solid but it suffers from one very key problem – I literally didn’t give a shit about any of the characters involved in this sequence. The characters they’d invested the bulk of the screen time making me care about weren’t actually in the battle and basically popped up right at the end to save the day. The final confrontation between Neo and Agent Smith felt like a wasted opportunity too, it was well shot and choreographed but it just felt incredibly soulless, this wasn’t helped by the fact that there was an army of Smiths stood around just watching it happen, it was just very anticlimactic. To be clear I didn’t hate the film though I can’t say I liked it either, I just couldn’t care about it at all, I couldn’t get invested in it which isn’t something I could say about the other 2 films in the series (for better or worse in each instance). I’m still very interested in seeing the fourth film when it comes out but I have to say that expectations will be tempered accordingly, I hope they can steer clear of the convoluted bollocks which ultimately hampered the sequels.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices – Also know as Journey to Agartha apparently, this was the last Makoto Shinkai feature film for me to see at this point. Where I had a vague idea of the basic stories for his other films this one I had no clue about which meant I was pretty much going in blind, therefore my expectations were purely around it being a visually stunning film that’d most likely be quite emotional in places. The film follows Asuna, a young girl whose father has passed away and mother works a lot so she spends alot of time on her own helping at home where she can. She’s attacked by a mysterious creature and saved by Shun, a boy from the country of Agartha, who dies not long afterwards. She later meets Shin, who is Shun’s brother, and they travel to Agartha. There’s much more to it than that as Agartha is a place where the souls of the dead reside and the seeming villain of the piece wants to bring his dead wife back. It’s a more complex plot than the other Shinkai films I’ve seen in my opinion but it feels like a more contemplative piece as a result, which I think is due to the focus on death and dealing with loss, it’s incredibly interesting. Visually it’s typically impressive however it’s quite a different style to his usual films, it reminds me more of a Studio Ghibli film which may have been deliberate given it’s much more fantasy based than his other films. It’s definitely not a bad thing, just a little jarring in terms what I’ve grown used to, though it’s always a positive to see a film maker that’s able to utilise different styles effectively. The English dub is decent if a little understated, there’s no actors I recognise in the cast but from what I’ve been able to tell the cast are largely made up of established voice actors and the experience shows. My only complaint with the film would be that it gets a little convoluted at times but the ending more than makes up for it due to the fact that it touches on loss and how it can be difficult. Also unusually for a Makoto Shinkai film it doesn’t end quite like his other films as there’s a more seemingly closed ending rather than the ones he typically goes for where they’re typically left open to interpretation, overall it’s well worth checking out.

Coming 2 America – I love the original film, it’s one of those films where if it happens to be on then it’s never a bad idea to sit and watch. That being said it’s not a film I’d have said needed a sequel, and with that there’s also a feeling that it may not even be good idea as there’s really no way this can even be close to as good as the original. All that being said I was super excited when it was announced and was also quite glad it was coming straight to Amazon Prime given the pandemic and how it’s shut down cinemas. It’s definitely trying too hard to re-capture what made the first film so special, and while it isn’t a patch on the original that’s not to say it’s not enjoyable. Everyone is clearly having a lot of fun and it’s great seeing Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall playing off each other again, the barber shop is again a highlight. James Earl Jones is back briefly and his character comes off more mean spirited than he really should which is a shame and Wesley Snipes is surprisingly entertaining. The de-aged Hall and Murphy used to expand flashbacks from the first film to explain the long lost son are a little jarring, but thankfully it’s not used excessively. There’s numerous little call backs and references to the first film which should probably annoy me a little but actually I found more charming than anything else, little things like the baby elephant from the first film now being grown up to a McDowells advert. There’s a scatter gun approach to the jokes where some don’t land and some do and it’s skewed a bit in favour of the former, but the ones that did land had me laughing, there’s also a very nice Trading Places reference in there which made me smile too. It treads some familiar story beats to the first film which I initially rolled my eyes at but actually it does feel like a natural progression from the first film and maintains a lot of the sweetness from the first film, I was honestly pleasantly surprised by that. It’s an unnecessary sequel and realistically it’s not a patch on what came before but it is harmless fun, and I really enjoyed it so I’m happy with it.

Wonder Woman 1984 – I really enjoyed the first film, I thought it was fun and got the tone of the character right which hasn’t always been the case with some of the DC films. My only really complaint was around the excessive use of CGI towards the end which I thought made things a bit silly, but that’s a pretty standard feeling with any film with too much CGI so it wasn’t a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. I was therefore looking forward to the sequel though I will admit to being somewhat concerned when it kept getting delayed as that’s not traditionally a great sign. It’s visually stunning, it’s incredibly colourful and vibrant which I really like, and Hans Zimmer delivers a pretty immense soundtrack, there’s a scene early on that reminded me of the original Superman film from the 70s tonally and it eased alot of my concerns as it showed that the tone from the first film was consistent with this one which was great news. Gal Gadot is excellent once again as the title character as she always seems to be, she naturally carries the film as you’d expect and she does a great job of it. Chris Pine being back makes very little sense, they explain the character he played in the first film returning but he’s initially in a different persons body and Pine seems to return as all Diana sees is him which is a very silly but it just about gets away with this conceit as Pine is a delight as the man out of time and there’s a few good laughs there. Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig are the villains of the piece, Pascal is Maxwell Lord and Wiig is Barbara Minerva who becomes Cheetah, they’re both excellent and the characters they’re playing are pretty well realised, they’re more complex than most villains in superhero films. Wiig in particular is excellent and it’s all too easy understand some of her actions, she’s kept remarkably sympathetic despite going down the path she does. There’s some nice nods to the Wonder Woman character as a whole in there too, the invisible jet and her learning to fly, there’s also a cameo from Lynda Carter who played Wonder Woman in the old TV series. I really enjoyed the film, it’s well paced and tells a story I was interested in, sure it’s silly but it doesn’t take itself too seriously and  also manages to convey genuine emotion in there too, it’s definitely well worth checking out.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League – I’ve been curious about this since it was announced, given the amount supposedly re-shot by Joss Whedon for the theatrical release I obviously wanted to know how different the original vision was. Let’s start with the obvious concern – it’s 4 fucking hours long, which is exhausting thinking about much less actually watching, though in fairness it is split out into parts so there are natural break points in there if you didn’t watch it all at once. The film follows the same basic premise as the theatrical version but there’s more context provided, which is the advantage of the extended run time. The intro is completely different with it showing the death of Superman and how his dying scream seemingly awakened the mother boxes which drive the plot, it’s much more tonally in line with Snyder’s universe too so doesn’t feel as jarring this time around. Some of the  one liners and jokes are gone, some of these are better gone, the scene where the Flash lands on Wonder Woman and Batman’s quip about Aquaman talking to fish being examples. There’s alot of build up here, it’s slow paced for the first half with alot of world building and introducing characters interspersed with some action beats. It actually works much better than I expected though you know damn well while watching that it never would have been released like this and it does feel like hacking away some of it would have had a dramatic impact on how much sense things made given that you’d be potentially losing characters and arcs. Flash and Cyborg get far more to do in this version, Cyborg in particular feels far more important to the plot here where previously he felt like something of an afterthought and Flash, while again used for comedy relief, is much more consistent as a character. There’s a completely new score in place too, Junkie XL doing the honours here and it’s very good, the call backs to Hans Zimmer’s work from previous films is nice but I do miss the Danny Elfman score too given the references to the older Batman and Superman films. There was alot I really loved about this, Batman and Superman were much more how I’ve always seen them in terms of character, Aquaman is better characterised compared to the original version, Wonder Woman is as good as ever, there’s more Alfred which is a delight, it’s less quippy than the original which I appreciate more than I expected and the lack of Henry Cavill’s CGI’d top lip is a definite upside. The negatives are obviously that insane run time, the effects are occasionally a bit ropey, it’s at times incredibly self indulgent, I think there’s a bit too much crammed into the film and it teases a Batman film that’ll most likely never get made which is a a crying shame. Overall it’s a flawed film that’s alot of fun, it’s well worth watching if you’re a fan of Snyder’s previous DC films. It’s honestly amazing it’s even been released at all given everything that’s happened since he stepped away from the film after the tragedy he had to deal with but the campaign to get it paid off massively.

Mortal Kombat – I guess this is technically a reboot given it doesn’t connect to the original films at all, but they’re all based on a computer game series so not really sure how it all works. Trailers for this showed a level of violence that at least mirrored the games, as well as a number of things that appeared faithful to that series so I was pretty interested, though with the caveat that game adaptations are typically shit. First impressions were that it was visually impressive though the blood effects were a little off, and it makes an odd decision to introduce a brand new character called Cole Young. Thankfully he’s pretty likeable and acts as a gateway into the world the film builds, there’s a certain amount already established which you learn about via Cole which is quite  a handy narrative short cut. It keeps the core cast relatively tight compared to the sheer number of characters that have been in the games over the years, this leads to some pretty glaring omissions like Johnny Cage though which just doesn’t feel right somehow. It sticks pretty close to the games tonally, in the sense that it doesn’t shy away from the violence at all. There’s some fatalities in there too for good measure and it largely doesn’t take itself too seriously though this does jar somewhat with the intro which sort of feels like it belongs in a completely different film along with the Sub Zero and Scorpion fight later on. Casting is largely solid, Joe Taslim as Sub Zero is probably the stand out though as he’s probably the main bad guy overall and there’s a genuine sense of menace about him which is impressive. There are definitely things I don’t like, it’s little too cliched and silly in places, some of the special effects are a little ropey, it doesn’t actually have the traditional tournament at all and it basically short changes Goro massively which is a shame. That said it’s a lot of fun and leaves plenty of room for a sequel which is something I’d definitely want to see as I thought the fight sequences were great overall. There’s also scope to bring in plenty of other characters, Johnny Cage being the most obvious and then there’s the second Sub Zero which could be a great addition. Ultimately I hope it does well enough to justify further films, I’d definitely recommend giving it a watch.

Double Dragon – I confess that I decided to watch this not because I especially wanted to but more to see if it was as bad as its reputation would indicate. It’s based on a computer game where 2 brothers beat the shit out of waves of bad guys to rescue the one of the characters girlfriends, not exactly a complex plot so it’s a little odd that the film goes a v very different route plot wise. It did star Mark Dacascos though who I’ve seen in a few things so made me hopeful the fight sequences might be alright at least, and Robert Patrick as the bad guy is, in theory, solid casting, needless to say though I went in with low expectations. These expectations were not exactly reassured when after the intro to establish an ancient medallion as plot macguffin it shows the setting as being New Angeles in 2007 where you honestly can’t help feeling like just having it be Los Angeles would have been less of a ballache. You also get a flavour for how bad the special effects are going to be when Patrick’s character takes possession of half the medallion, it’s really weird to think this came out after Jurassic Park and Terminator 2 and the effects are so want, though I concede I’d imagine this had a comparatively minuscule budget. It then establishes the heroes, Dacascos playing the more serious Jimmy and Scott Wolf as Billy who for want of a better word is a dickhead, instantly unlikeable and I wanted him to have his head kicked in early doors so I didn’t have to put up with him. The whole aesthetic is just weird, the futuristic setting means all vehicles look mental and the gangs that come out after curfew look like a mish mash of the Warriors and the Village People, it’s seriously fucking weird and hard to believe someone got paid to sort it out, the heroes have a car that has what appears to be a jet engine on it which is powered by an onboard incinerator they feed newspaper into, I’m all for suspending disbelief but for fuck sake. The dialogue is dire, genuinely appalling to the point where again it’s amazing someone was paid for the script. It tries to be clever and satirical, it cuts to news reports like Robocop does and there’s cereal branded by the bad guy (though these are just Rice Krispies with the elves wearing shades and a sticker stuck over the rice part on the box), but these attempts never really work as the film makers don’t understand what satire actually is. There’s also a henchman that gets some kind of medical procedure done to him to make him stronger and he winds up looking like a ball bag, I wish I was kidding. There’s also very little fighting which is idiotic given the game it’s based on, and it’s an utter waste given that Dacascos can actually fight. It is without a doubt every bit as shit as I was expecting, and actually it’s frustrating as if you remove the mystical bollocks, and the bullshit pseudo sci fi setting and just focus on the fighting to rescue the person you’re closer to the games, you’ve arguably got a better film and you could have used some of that special effects money to pay for a better script. Honestly the only thing that makes it semi worthwhile is that Patrick seems to genuinely be having a blast as the bad guy. Watching shit like this voluntarily though seriously makes me question my sanity, there are so many things about this that I could rip to shreds but honestly it’d take too much time and space.

Men in Black International – I originally intended to see this at the cinema, the trailers had looked promising and the chance to see Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson bantering off each like in Thor Ragnarok definitely appealed to me. Then it came out and got absolutely slaughtered in reviews and I just never bothered so figured I’d give it a go now it’s on Netflix. I went in with the mind set that it can’t be as bad as the reviews indicated surely, I appreciate that I should really know better at this point and keep expectations low but sometimes I’m sense of hope overrides my sense of realism. Thompson is very much the main character here as agent M, a new hire who has managed to track the Men in Black agency over the course of 20 years, she’s a socially awkward delight and you know she’ll have come into her own by the end of the film and Hemsworth is the maverick agent, you get the impression at this point he could do this sort of role in his sleep but he’s consistently entertaining thankfully. It’s very weirdly paced as M finds and joins up and has a montage of training which happens insanely quickly and then it takes about half the film to build up to the main plot, and even then it doesn’t flow especially well. There’s some questionable effects with some of the aliens and there’s special effects like the pointlessly transforming subway train which honestly would have worked better it had remained a standard train, this is a theme in the film in that some things just seem to happen for the sake of looking cool. Some of the alien designs are pretty cool but this comes with the caveat that bar a couple of exceptions none are especially memorable. It’s unbelievably predictable, you know that the alien M meets at the start is going to factor in again at some point and it happens, though I will say it’s quite sweet when it comes. The villains are imposing but literally have no characterisation and there’s a twist that is horrendously realised, it should be meaningful but because the character doesn’t get a lot of characterisation it comes off as trite instead.The most irritating thing about the whole film is there’s some really good performances in here, Thompson and Hemsworth play off each other well, Kumail Nanjiani is fun as the voice of an alien, Liam Neeson is solid as always and Emma Thompson might be the best thing in it, which is impressive given the limited amount of time she’s actually in it. Overall it’s shit but it just about manages to stay on the side of being mildly entertaining shit, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone but if asked it would probably result in shrugged shoulders and a comment that I’d seen worse films.

I’m really glad to have got through this finally, I think the next newly watched film thing I do will likely be pure anime as I’ve acquired quite a few new films of late and I’ve been putting them off as I’d already done a few for this blog and didn’t want to overload it where I think a dedicated one is just fine. Cinemas are also hopefully due to re-open soon so there may be some stuff worth seeing there soon, though I’d imagine not for the initial few weeks.

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