img_0710We are now five episodes in to the sixth TV incarnation of Star Trek. I don’t think it wise to judge a show on so few episodes (if we judged TNG by the first few episodes, or indeed the first season, what would we make of it?), however there’s enough material for me to put pen to paper, and offer up my early thoughts on this show.

I’d describe it as something of a slow-burner. The first two episodes don’t involve the main setting (the ship Discovery) and instead forge the backdrop to the show – a war with the Klingon Empire. With each episode, I feel the show has gotten stronger, as we begin to establish the characters. Of particular fascination is Captain Lorca, whose methods are quite different to previous Starfleet captains, whilst lead character Michael Burnham is outwardly methodical, almost to the point of being ruthless in pursuit of what she believes to be the best outcome, but internally conflicted. Tilly is quite a nervous young woman who is trying to overcome anxiety and her character is subtly raising awareness of this issue.

Stamets is a science officer and Star Trek’s first openly gay character in a TV series. So far, his character has not been defined by being gay (always a danger by a well-meaning yet ignorant production), and instead he has cut a frustrated figure, as an arrogant scientist who nonetheless wants his ideas to benefit humanity, yet seems them co-opted by Starfleet to aid in their war with the Klingons.

Saru is second-in-command of the Discovery and this character served alongside Burnham on the Shenzhou, and therefore was present as Burnham committed mutiny and arguably started the war. He is therefore not exactly enamoured with Burnham and their relationship is a tense one.

Burnham (played by former Walking Dead actor Sonequa Martin-Green) is a complex character. Her parents appear to have been killed in a Klingon raid on a joint human/Vulcan facility and she was raised by Sarek (Spock’s father). As a result she has incorporated elements of Vulcan philosophy, such as adherence to logic, however this is overridden – or tempered – by – human emotion and instinct. Burnham is quite prepared to circumvent authority if she believes she is justified, even though this has caused her tremendous problems in the past.

On the Klingons

klingon-star-trek-discovery-from-trailer

They’ve undergone a major visual change, both in terms of their appearance and also their outfits, as well as the décor of their ships (mind you, Federation ships are notably different to the TOS era). Given that the show is set just ten years prior to the events of the original series, this creates a bit of a stylistic issue. I have no problem with modernising the overall aesthetic of the show, but some of the changes have been quite drastic, and I’ve wondered a few times during the course of the show so far, if it might have been better off marketing itself as a reboot.

The F Bomb

The Star Trek TV shows don’t tend to feature swearing, and least of all ‘fuck’. That’s not to say that swearing is completely absent, and the movies (especially the Kelvin-verse films) have featured swears on a few occasions. That said, the F-word on Star Trek was unexpected, but it’s hardly the huge deal (at least, in this meerkat’s humble opinion) that some quarters are making it out to be. There is a perception that Star Trek is and always has been a family show, yet large chunks of Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise moved away from being aimed at a family audience – they might have been about families, this doesn’t mean they were for families. The Kelvin-verse films are not, in my view, appropriate for younger children and it’s an individual judgement call as to whether you let older kids watch them.

I’m also not sure of the action sequences. The space battles have been a touch too disorganised for me, in that I’ve found them a little hard to follow. This isn’t to say they’ve been bad, but I can’t call them great either.

Final Thoughts

I’m warming to Discovery. I’ve read a lot of things elsewhere from people who are determined to hate the show, but then, a lot of these people were determined to hate the show before it had even aired. Not everyone can handle change, yet if Star Trek remained static, it would fade away. Just look at what happened with Enterprise (which was basically an second attempt at recreating TNG, following on from Voyager). Star Trek cannot stubbornly stick to the same approach and expect to remain relevant; nor can it expect to maintain or expand its appeal by sticking to a tired formula. Discovery isn’t perfect, but it is trying to be different, which is no bad thing. So far, 7.5/10.

 

MyLittlePonyDrink

Ok, that’s a little unfair. As a matter of fact, I am going to ‘fess up – I enjoyed this movie. Judge me, don’t judge me, I don’t care. The film (and in fact the show) is not the standard sort of fare for this sort of movie.

A lot of kids’ shows and films (especially the shows) will talk down to their target audience. My Little Pony doesn’t do that and yet consistently manages to convey messages to children about honesty, loyalty, kindness and friendship. My Little Pony also manages to carry a positive message to young girls – pretty much all the lead characters are female, and they define themselves not by the company or attention of male characters, but rather by their abilities, their friendships with one another and their strength of character. The story of the film is predictable but the humour is pretty good and the film manages to avoid feeling simply like a longer episode. The animation has also been taken up a notch.

All in all, it’s a colourful, musical adventure that moves outside the confines of the show and carries a positive message to the youngsters watching it. It’s also wittier than it might first appear. 8/10.

I suppose this film was inevitable. The prevalence of smartphones and their huge array of apps was, sooner or later, going to be a bankable movie product, and I dare say the film actually starts out surprisingly clever, with some notable observations about the pace of life these days, and the way in which we socialise (or don’t) thanks to our phones. The theme of the film is expression, so maybe, just maybe, in a subtle way, it’s trying to encourage its target audience (kids) to put the phones down and talk to each other. I’m not actually sure if that’s what’s going on, as the film is quite ‘meh’.

That’s actually quite ironic, given what the film is going for about expressing one’s self. Instead of being confined to a set role in life, this film is all about being different and not letting societal norms rule you. One character actually makes this point quite strongly regarding expectations for girls (only to send a confused message about this later, but I’ll come back to that). The trouble for the movie is, it just isn’t all that interesting, despite the flashy scenes and up-to-date pop music score (which is frankly more grating than great). Since the film is about apps that seem to encourage short attention spans, it’s not a surprise to see the film jump around in the same manner. This makes it quite disjointed.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t funny moments. Sir Patrick Stewart as the ‘Poop’ emoji proves to be quite entertaining, if underused (there is also one ‘red alert’ moment that had me laughing out loud). The trouble is, none of the characters are particularly interesting or engaging, and you don’t feel invested in what happens to them. Maybe kids would relate more, I don’t know.

Coming back to the feminist angle, we get a character trying to shrug off female stereotypes, only to embrace one of them in order to save the day. Maybe that can be interpreted as ‘you can still be feminine and tough’, but given how the film sets up this character, it’s a bit of a weird ‘about-face’ on that one.

All in all, there are better kids’ films out there, so I wouldn’t waste time on this one. 6/10.

For the third time since 2002, we have a reboot of the Spiderman film franchise, with Tom Holland stepping into the boots that Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield had previously filled. The key difference this time is that Holland’s Spiderman inhabits the established Marvel Cinematic Universe, joining the fold, so to speak (hence the title, ‘Homecoming‘). The arrangement between Marvel and Sony is a great bit of business for both studios, and it also gives fans what they wanted to see – one of the best-loved comic book characters Marvel has ever produced joining the MCU.

Of course, with that power comes great responsibility (sorry, couldn’t resist!). Tom Holland is the youngest of the three actors to play Peter Parker on the big screen, and as a teenager himself, is perhaps best-placed to understand the awkwardness of the age, when you are desperate to fit in, yet completely unsure of how to do it. To add to the character’s worries is the desire to be part of something greater – Parker has his powers, but is not regarded as a member of the Avengers, on account of his youth and inexperience. So naturally, he yearns to prove himself, with disastrous consequences.

Not that these consequences are entirely of his own making. A bit of trust from a key character at a certain time might have been enough to prevent a big problem later on, yet much of what happens through the middle of the film is on Parker’s uncontrolled determination to be the hero he wants to be, even if it means he overextends himself. Something we all grapple with as teenagers – we want to be more than we are, we want to fit in, we want to prove ourselves, whilst lacking the understanding that experience brings. I think we can all relate to Parker in that respect.

We also see other sides to Parker – his determination and his courage. After a pivotal moment where he is stripped of his confidence and the support of Tony Stark, he is unexpectedly thrust back into a deadly situation – or to be more precise, he puts himself back into a deadly situation when he sees an opportunity to step in and correct his earlier mistake. This exposes him to great danger, but he is conscious of the greater danger of letting the situation continue unchecked, and he doesn’t hesitate to put place himself in harm’s way to stop the bad guy. Bravery has often been a key part of the character – just look at the comics – so this is a nice way of honouring the character.

Speaking of the bad guy, Michael Keaton is an Oscar winner and he reminds people as to why here. Adrian Toomes/The Vulture carries a lot of steel and menace as a guy driven to the edge, and he is not (unlike some Marvel villains) a one-dimensional character, but rather, a man who feels that he is doing a service for the little guys against the fat cats. He sells weapons of tremendous power to the wrong people, but acts to protect his family and loved ones, and has a strong sense of loyalty to the little gang he works with. He can be ruthless; he does so to protect the people he loves.

In fact, this brings me to a nice little moment at the end – both hero and villain have the opportunity to let the other die/set the dogs on the other. Both pass this chance up in order to do the right thing. This sets the film apart from many of the other MCU entries, which tend to be quite ‘black and white’ in terms of how they handle their dilemmas.

In terms of the other characters… really, they feel quite incidental. Jacob Batalon is Ned, Parker’s best friend, and he provides comic relief and an outlet for Parker, but not a lot else (though he does have one of the best lines in the movie). Laura Harrier is Liz, Parker’s dream girl, but she doesn’t really have a lot to do. She is portrayed as being very clever, but doesn’t get too many chances to demonstrate this. A more interesting character is Michelle, played by Zendaya, of Disney TV series fame. Michelle is quite a bullish character, speaking what’s on her mind and eschewing the standard narrative of high school culture. Finally, Robert Downey Jr reprises his role as Tony Stark/Iron Man, serving as the main link between this new incarnation of Spiderman and the MCU as a whole, whilst Jon Favreau is back as Happy Hogan, the somewhat beleaguered security chief/administrator for Stark. Gwyneth Paltrow makes a cameo at the end as Pepper Potts, but it’s very brief, and Chris Evans appears as Captain America in some ‘motivational videos’ which are quite funny.

The film is ultimately a vehicle for Peter Parker, and also for Tom Holland. He does an excellent job portraying the confused state that young Parker is in, ranging from his nervous energy, to dejected misfit.

Finally, I feel compelled to praise the length and breadth of the MCU. The last three entries we’ve had Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, and now Spiderman Homecoming. One film dealt with mysterious realms and ‘magic’, the other was misfit team space adventure, and this latest film is about teenage angst. Each film weaves part of a complex tapestry and yet manages to be distinctive. The universe Marvel has built is truly amazing.

9/10

Noooooooooooooooo! That pretty sums up what my inner child was screaming as I watched the latest (and hopefully last) of the Michael Bay-era Transformers movies. Whilst the first film was average without being a complete wreck, they’ve gotten worse, and The Last Knight is simply an exercise in going through the motions. Here, I’ll sum up the story (which co-incidentally will sum up the stories of the previous films). In ancient times it turns out there were Transformers who did some stuff and got written into legend. In modern times some important event/artefact resurfaces and the Autobots fight the Decepticons for it. Also, the Autobots are being hunted by mean human agencies. Rinse and repeat.

Throw in some rubbish jokes and you have yourself a Transformers film. It was so distinctly ‘meh’ that I didn’t even give it my full attention – indeed, I couldn’t give it my full attention – it wasn’t good enough to manage to do that. These movies have none of the spirit of the cartoon series that I knew and loved, way back in my youth. They have taken the heart of the Transformers show and ripped it out, then stamped on it with steel-capped boots. The Last Knight is no exception to this rule and I can only hope it will mark the end of this particular series, though given that the flashy explosions and crass humour is a box office winner, I suspect we’ll have more of these crappy films to endure at some stage.

What makes these films even worse is the disorientated action sequences that often just become blurred jumbles, and The Last Knight suffers from this in spades. As always the Decepticons are virtually in indistinguishable from each other and only Megatron has a personality.

I can’t give this film any more than 3/10.

I know what you’re thinking. Why is a grown meerkat going to see Captain Underpants? Well, the answer, dear reader, is that seven year-old daughters want to see it, and mummy and daddy couldn’t take her to see Dunkirk, so we ended up seeing Captain Underpants instead.

I confess to fearing the worst from this movie. The trailers did nothing to impress me, but then, I’m not the target audience. Looking at it through the perspective of 8-12 year-olds who enjoy jokes about ‘Uranus’ ‘poopypants’ and various other toilet-related puns, it can be argued this was in fact quite an enjoyable film. It certainly kept my daughter amused!

The film revolves about the friendship of two characters whose names I have already forgotten, who create comics around their character of Captain Underpants, and when their friendship is threatened by a maniacal headteacher, they somehow hypnotise him and transform him into the titular character. Cue various preposterous scenarios. As I said, it’s aimed at a specific age group, and yet manages to be surreal enough in places to get chuckles out of adults too. It managed to be better than expected, but I wish I’d seen Dunkirk!

7/10

RickOConnell

VS

NickMorton

Ok, time for a slightly different take on my movie reviews – comparing a classic, to a remake – or is that a classic remake to a modern-day remake? Or a modern-day classic remake of a classic vs a modern-day remake of a modern-day remake?!

I don’t know. It’s confusing, but Tom Cruise’s latest stunt-filled mayhem is a remake of a remake, with Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy being a remake of the 1932 The Mummy.

Still with me? Good, because thre’ll be a quiz later, and I will need help with the questions, let alone the answers – and just to be even more confusing, there was another filmed called The Mummy released in 1959, though it’s the 1932 film upon which Brendan Fraser’s film is based, and in turn, Tom Cruise’s film is based on Fraser’s film. My comparison is between the Fraser and Cruise editions – so, let’s weigh up!

Firstly, Fraser’s character of Rick O’Connell is a much warmer, friendlier guy than Cruise’s Nick Morton. Part of that lies in the writing, part of it is from Fraser’s natural charm. He and Rachel Weisz have a good chemistry from the word go, and Arnold Vosloo brings a strong presence as the titular Mummy. The 1999 edition harks back to the classic adventure/monster film genre, capturing the spirit of the era, and doesn’t take itself too seriously either. In contrast, Nick Morton (Cruise’s character) is not some roguish figure of charm, but a colder figure, a less likable man, from the start. Sofia Boutella is creepy as the Mummy, there’s no denying that, but not particularly memorable, Annabelle Wallis is Jenny Hasley, an archeologist whose character exists solely to move the story on, and Russell Crowe shows up as an apparently important character, and keystone for the wider universe Universal Studios are trying to build, but he is not exactly amazing in this either.

Even the CGI, whilst better (as it should be, some 18 years on), isn’t as good as it should be. It’s not a huge leap forward from 1999.

In short, for a fun movie that lets you forget your life for a couple of hours, I’d always choose 1999’s The Mummy over the new one!

We’re kicking off a lot of film reviews with something of a modern cult classic, that has spawned a lot of memes, and speaks to animal lovers everywhere – John Wick. Starring Keanu Reeves as the titular character, it follows the story of a retired assassin of such skill and reverence that he became known as the Boogeyman. An overly simplistic analysis of the plot would be: John Wick’s dog dies, and he goes on a rampage. It’s not that simple, but a stupid-ass punk killing the post-humous gift of a dog proves to be the catalyst for numerous sequences that show off how lethal and ruthless John is. The film is very slick, with a surprisingly good plot, and you can’t help but get the feeling that no one is going to stand in John’s way – he is just too good, and too motivated, to be stopped.

Keanu has come under fire for not being a particular great actor, but his performance here is pretty good. He needs to convey a stoic and determined hitman and he does – perfectly. It might be a little unkind to say this, but I am having trouble remembering the supporting cast, as Keanu’s performance is overpowering.

There’s a sequel – but whilst it’s pretty good, it’s not as good as the original. I’d actually recommend this film quite highly, if you wish to switch off your brain and enjoy some action!

8/10

I don’t tend to be fond of giving films 10 out of 10. I have this… mental block, I guess, around the idea. Can a film really be so good as to get a perfect score?

With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, the answer is an emphatic yes. I thoroughly enjoyed this film, and I think I’ll run out of superlatives for it long before I finish this review. I won’t go into too much detail of the plot, but suffice to say, the story manages to be reasonably interesting, with some nice little nuances, whilst the film is jam-packed with visual treats, a lot of humour, and a surprising degree of emotion, particularly toward the end.

For all the outward signs of an epic space-faring advventure, Guardians 2 manages to feel quite intimate compared to the first film. It feels like the film takes place over a small radius. Central to the film is the theme of family, with various characters facing feelings of abandonment, sibling rivalry, and loss. Woven in are some great jokes (the trash panda reference is particularly funny), and some very amusing visual gags. The villian is probably one of the most interesting seen in the MCU to date, and Guardians 2 manages to tell a stand-alone story that isn’t influenced by the impending Infinity Wars films – as with the first film, the Guardians are who they are, without compromising for anyone else.

Every character has moments to shine – Quill, despite having spent most of his life in space, is still in many ways quite wide-eyed and, ahem, innocent, in some respects. Gamora is still seeking to put her past to rest, starting with her relationship with Nebula. Rocket is still looking to belong somewhere. Drax still harbours pain from his own past. Groot… well, Groot is just adorable.

Would I take children to see this film? That depends on the child. My own daughter would probably find some elements of it overwhelming and frightening, as Guardians 2 does move a touch more in that direction than the first film. The jokes are pushing the edges of what’s appropriate for younger children to hear. There is plenty of fantasy violence. It’s fair to say the 12A certificate is well-earned.

As a final thought, Guardians 2 continues to show us the length and breadth of the variety in the MCU. From the somewhat serious Civil War, to this, and all the steps inbetween, Marvel have crafted various films with completely different characteristics, and yet you can see how they all fit together, more or less seamlessly. You want to see morre of these characters, and you want them to succeed.

Like I said, this film gets 10/10. It is, quite simply, brilliant.

Mortality. Legacy. Two words which come to mind when thinking of Logan. This is the most raw, passionate take on the character, exposing his vulnerability and his pain as well as making him – and through him the audience – confront his past. Logan is Wolverine but he is also Logan – a man who has lived a long life, and a life full of struggle – here, he is tired, he is weakening, and he wishes to drown his sorrows at the bottom of a bottle. His last link to the world of optimistic heroes is Charles Xavier, by this point (in the year 2026) 90 years old and suffering from seizures that amplify his telepathic powers and have harmful – even lethal – effects on the people around him. Charles retains the essence of who he is – a man who wants to help people. Logan retains the essence of who he is – a man who wants to reject what the world wants of him, is outwardly surly, and bitter, yet deep down, retains a powerful sense of doing the right thing.

Charles is Logan’s conscience, and the two of them are moved to help a young girl called Laura, when she ends up involved in their lives through chance (or is it fate?). Laura is (to paraphrase Charles) very much like Logan, in more ways than one, and though part of Logan wants nothing more than to reject the image of himself and the time that represents, he cannot help but move forward, urged by Charles and by his own sense of honour to help this little girl.

I won’t divulge the main plot details, but both Logan and Charles are old, and facing sickness and death. They have both seen much death and their responsbilities weigh heavily on their minds. This film is about finding the means to move foward, even when they feel their strength is deserting them.

Hugh Jackman gives a powerful performance as a hurting, tired Logan, and Patrick Stewart reminds us all of his prowess as an aged Charles. Films of this nature tend to get overlooked for awards, especially major awards like the Oscars, but surely the performances of Jackman and Stewart are worth considering, for they are strong, brave performances, in a film that shows (like Deadpool before it) that 15-rated comic book movies can and do work.

9/10