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Film Review: Terminator: Dark Fate

“August 29th, 1997, Was Supposed To Be Judgement Day. But I Changed The Future, Saved Three Billion Lives…”

Added into the foray of high profile film franchises in the world of Hollywood which have been dissected, disgraced and destroyed thanks to sub-par release after sub-par release, the Terminator series returns once again to cinemas this week in the form of Dark Fate, an effects ridden sequel which attempts to put the series back on track after the jaw-droppingly awful filmic abortion which was 2015’s Terminator Genisys, a film so poor that there seemed to be no turning back or sign of redemption for a story which should have ended after the events of the masterful, Judgement Day, the last decent film to be released under the Terminator banner all the way back in 1991. Completely retconning the events of the films and the spin-off television series which followed James Cameron’s original sequel, Dark Fate picks up twenty seven years after the events of the series’ second chapter, a movie which follows an incredibly familiar and well-worn narrative as it attempts to both pay homage to Cameron’s original films whilst offering a potential way forward for the franchise, and whilst the latest Terminator offering isn’t as dreadful as previous entries in the series, Dark Fate is pretty much as generic as it can get in terms of a loud, bloated Hollywood blockbuster.

Directed by Tim Miller of Deadpool fame, Dark Fate begins with a snippet of film from Judgement Day, with the famous interrogation scene of Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor within the confines of the mental institution utilised to remind audiences of her character’s existence as well as confirming once again just how well directed Cameron’s sequel really is, and whilst it’s rather heartwarming to see that Hamilton still exists as an actor as she once again rips up the big screen with her sarcastic, heartless demeanour, Miller’s movie might as well be a retread of the a-typical Terminator narrative. With the “John Connor” hero subtype now being re-focused onto Natalia Reyes’ Daniela Ramos, the plot sees Mackenzie Davis (Blade Runner 2049) take up the mantle of the primary protagonist as she continuously battles against Gabriel Luna’s (Rogue One) Rev-9, an awfully designed rehash of Robert Patrick’s infamous T-100 and a villain whose primary scare factor is the jarring CGI which follows him as he leaps around in attempt to make his character carry some form of relevance. When Arnie eventually and inevitably turns up, the film does begin to pick up slightly but when a two hour film is essentially just a twenty first century rip-off of two science fiction classics, it’s fair to say that maybe it is time to put the Terminator franchise on hold indefinitely.

Overall Score: 5/10

Film Review: Gemini Man

“When I Saw Him, It Was Like I Was Seeing A Ghost. Like Every Trigger I’ve Ever Pulled…”

When it comes to my own personal opinion of Ang Lee, a director who still seems to be riding off of the critical success of the multi award winning and completely overrated, Life of Pi, the Chinese born filmmaker never really settles on a steady production line of impressive body of cinematic works, with his best work, such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain, sandwiched between the disastrous, Hulk, highlighting that whilst Lee isn’t afraid to push new boundaries in the world of film, not every decision seems to be one which works to a successful degree. With no one on the planet managing to catch up with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Lee returns to the world of mainstream blockbusters in the form of Gemini Man, a ridiculously preposterous science fiction action flick which sees Will Smith (Suicide Squad) as Henry Brogan, a highly skilled government assassin who upon hitting the ripe age of his early fifties, decides that retirement is the best way forward after a life full of murder finally takes its toll.

As per the spoiler-heavy nature of trailers nowadays, the main crux of the narrative then focuses on a very out-there government conspiracy to eradicate Brogan after he is determined to be a threat to natural security, resulting in the discovery of Brogan’s clone, a younger, more agile and apparently less emotional version of himself who is sent to hunt his elder counterpart down by the slick-haired figure of Clive Owen (The Informer). Part Looper, The Matrix and every other science fiction classic known to man, Lee’s movie is inherently messy, stupid and unengaging, one which features a screenplay from Game of Thrones creator, David Benioff, and the type of straight-to-DVD B-movie which makes you wonder how on earth films like this manage to get widespread release when films like Dragged Across Concrete and Burning are harder to find than the Bermuda Triangle. Want an answer? Will Smith, and whilst the Fresh Prince tries his hardest to put some meat on the bones of a very stagnant plot, the truth is that Lee’s baffling love of all things technical means that Gemini Man looks absolutely terrible, with the de-aging effect used on Smith creating a very disturbing uncanny valley vortex which makes half the movie look like a third-rate video game, and whilst Lee’s latest isn’t the worst film I’ve ever seen, it is clearly his weakest film to date and proves that some filmmakers only have one or two good films in them for the entirety of their careers.

Overall Score: 4/10

Film Review: Ad Astra

“He Gave His Life For The Pursuit Of Knowledge. Because Up There Is Where Our Story Is Going To Be Told…”

After sending half the audience to sleep with the ridiculously overrated, The Lost City of Z, back in 2016, American filmmaker, James Gray, returns to the world of cinema this week with Ad Astra, a spectacle heavy, big screen science fiction blockbuster which continues the volcano-sized, heatwave of excellence the one and only Brad Pitt is currently on after his absolutely superb work on 2019’s best film of the year so far in the form of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Co-written by both Gray and Ethan Gross who reunite after their work together on Z, Ad Astra is a knowingly, and at times shockingly uncanny hybrid of Apocalypse Now and 2001: A Space Odyssey, a strangely sanctimonious science fiction thinker set in the near future which sees Pitt as Major Roy McBride, a decorated, dedicated and emotionally vacuous astronaut who is sent to the now commercially exploited reaches of Mars in order to make contact with his revered yet long lost father after power surges damaging the Earth are seen to be originating from his last known position; the far reaches of Neptune.

Upon accessing the IMDB trivia page, director James Gray wanted Ad Astra to include the most “realistic depiction of space travel that’s been put in a movie” and likened the project himself to include elements of Joseph Conrad, the author who of course supplied the blueprint for Apocalypse Now with “Heart of Darkness”, and whilst the picture does indeed owe an enormous debt to simply beautiful cinematography from Hoyte van Hoytema, the acclaimed DP with previous credits on Interstellar and Dunkirk, it’s fair to say that Gray’s movie is one of the most ill-disciplined, so-called “clever” science fiction movies I have ever seen. Whilst I can bypass all manner of technical specifications when it comes to science fiction if the narrative has me engaged all the way through, Ad Astra is so clearly a rip-off of all similarly plotted movies to come before it that as soon as I was aware the full extent of where the movie would ultimately go, I simply became a vessel of negativity eager to plot black hole-shaped craters into elements which just didn’t work whatsoever. Whilst Pitt does a solid job offering a central performance which is one half Ryan Gosling circa First Man and the other half Sam Rockwell à la Moon, as soon as the poorly designed, floating, maniacal monkeys (yes, really) showed up, I’d had enough of the narrative and focused more on the stupendous technical achievements of a movie which felt the need to become more stupid as it went on, and whilst Ad Astra failed to send me to sleep, Gray’s latest is indeed a spectacular technical achievement which fails at the first hurdle when it comes to a decent narrative. Want good science fiction? High Life is the 2019 movie to go to.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Men in Black: International

“We’ve Been Compromised, With Every Citizen At This Planet At Risk. Trust No One…”

With the catalogue of blockbusters appearing on the big screen post-Avengers: Endgame so far this year not exactly managing to hit the same levels of excellence in any way shape or form whatsoever, with the likes of Godzilla: King of the Monsters and X-Men: Dark Phoenix failing to win over both critics and the box office alike, one of Hollywood’s most rusty cinematic franchises is strangely brought back to life in the form of Men in Black: International in a last-ditch attempt to save the day for cinema chains across the worldWith the original Men in Black from 1997 still too darn entertaining to be regarded as a guilty pleasure, with a typically sarcastic Tommy Lee Jones and a Will Smith in full-on Fresh Prince-era brilliance resulting in a cinematic partnership for the ages, the subsequent sequel and threequel failed to ignite similar levels of excellence, resulting in sheer bemusement when rumours of a fourth entry was on the way, and with the latest chapter this time being directed by F. Gary Gray, whose work on the excellent, Straight Outta Compton, has somewhat been overshadowed after the not-so excellent, The Fate of the Furious, it’s fair to say that International isn’t the most anticipated movie of the year thus far.

With the usual acting suspects dropped in favour of Thor and Valkyrie themselves, it’s fair to say that the likeable pairing of Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson (Avengers: Endgame) is one of the only good things about International, a lifeless, run-of-the-mill, cash-grab which sees Thompson as Molly Wright, a wide-eyed, alien-obsessed dreamer whose experience of the titular darkly attired agents as a young child results in her soon joining up herself and working alongside Hemsworth’s suitably cocky and annoyingly charming, Henry, in order to, you guessed it, save the world against an alien threat known as the hive. With cringe-inducing dialogue, poor storytelling and an over-reliance on forgettable special effects, Gray’s movie prefers the art of nonsensical explosions over a decent plot and whilst the inclusion of Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick) as the voice of a clingy, cutesy egg-shaped alien adds a much needed level of comedic spice, International is annoyingly both a gigantic waste of time and talent, adding itself rather nicely to the collection of half-baked summer blockbusters thus far. Neurolyse me now.

Overall Score: 4/10

Film Review: High Life

“We Were Scum, Trash, Refuse That Didn’t Fit Into The System, Until Someone Had The Bright Idea Of Recycling Us To Serve Science…”

Moving into the world of English language movies for the first time at the fresh age of seventy three, French filmmaker, Claire Denis (Let the Sunshine In) and long-term collaborator, Jean-Pol Fargeau, bend the minds of audiences across the globe with High Life, a mesmerising, often beautiful, art-house influenced science fiction nightmare which mixes the psychological impact of isolation seen in the likes of Solaris and Moon, with a truly stunning design and technical nuance, one clearly influenced by the likes of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Nolan’s own space travel masterpiece, Interstellar. Set, in true genre fashion, during a dystopian future world in which the Earth is seemingly struggling from a disturbing lack of resources, High Life follows, in nonlinear fashion, Robert Pattinson’s (Twilight) Monte, a convicted murderer who along with other troubled felons, are sent out into the far reaches of space within the confines of a claustrophobic and self-sustaining spacecraft and towards a far-away black hole in order to attempt to examine and potentially extract the energy within in order to aid their fellow humans back on Earth.

With the nonlinear fashion of the narrative allowing the tale to unravel through being watched rather than being explained, Denis’ movie begins in an almost Silent Running esque manner, presenting Pattinson’s shaved-headed convict all alone in space with the responsibility of not only maintaining his own life through the care of his spacecraft, one which includes a recycling based garden and a computer program which requires daily updates in order to prevent complete destruction, but of a young child too, one born of space and one whose parentage isn’t entirely clear until the drama moves forward. With excellent supporting performances from the likes of previous Denis collaborator, Juliette Binoche (Ghost in the Shell) as a cracked scientist hell bent on perfecting the art of artificial insemination, and a rather placid, understated one from André Benjamin (Revolver) as a convict turned pacifist, High Life moves slowly but does so in a way to ensure that every detail has both meaning and impact, with particular set pieces bound to either make you look away in disgust or remain jaw-dropped at just how surreal the story ultimately plays out. With Pattinson once again proving how fine an actor he has become after choosing projects away from the limelight in the ilk of Cosmopolis and Good Time, Denis’ first foray into the English language is by no means perfect, but boy is it utterly unforgettable.

Overall Score: 8/10

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 11 Episode One – “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”

“So Today, I Want To Talk About The Greatest Woman I’ve Ever Met…”

Much like the beginning of Matt Smith’s tenure as the Eleventh Doctor many moons ago, the eleventh series of Doctor Who brings with it both a fresh, new incarnation of the travelling Time Lord alongside an alternative showrunner, with Broadchurch creator, Chris Chibnall, taking over the reigns from Steven Moffat who presided over both Smith and Peter Capaldi’s time in the role which boosted the show into international success. Getting the primary talking point from the new series out of the way, The Doctor has of course decided to shift genders, with Chibnall reuniting with Broadchurch star, Jodie Whittaker (Journeyman) to offer up the first female incarnation of the character in the show’s fifty five year history, and whilst my main concern isn’t of course anything to do with the gender of a character who not only is alien but has managed to last on our screens for over fifty years, there are particular worries regarding Chibnall’s ability to take over a show loved by so many across the globe, particularly when you examine Chibnall’s previous writing credits on the show which so far have been anything less than impressive. Here we are however and what “The Woman Who Fell To Earth” proved to us was that the show is indeed headed in a different course entirely to the Capaldi era, channeling more of the early Smith-led episodes for an opener which was high on ideas but low on execution.

Utilising a full hour to not only introduce a brand new Doctor to the world but a considerable amount of new companions too, Chibnall grounds his opening episode in contemporary Sheffield, where a regenerated and slightly shaken Doctor crashes into the lives of the Sinclair family and Mandip Gill’s probation serving Police Officer, Yaz, who believes her time is better spent than dealing with more than parking disputes. With hammy acting and quick-fire comedic dialogue, Chibnall’s writing feels more than a touch of Moffat’s handling of Matt Smith’s Doctor, and even with a wide range of local, Northern banter which keeps on reminding that “We don’t get aliens in Sheffield”, Whittaker’s first performance manages to blend the kookiness of Smith and Tennant with the sincere dramatic pull of a Eccleston or Capaldi, with the former particularly coming to mind in how his early beginnings seemed to show an actor uncomfortable with the lighter touches than the heavy doses of drama. With dark, brooding cinematography and a Blade Runner-esque heavy synth soundtrack from Murray Gold replacement, Segun Akinola, Chibnall’s attempts at balancing the tonal waverings of the show does slightly fail, and even with a staggering amount of death and a rather creepy leading antagonist which looked like a cross between the Green Goblin and the monster from Jeepers Creepers, the feel of the show never really settled down but undeniably still managed to evoke more of the “classic” Who than one would have imagined. With bundles of exposition adding to its’ downfall, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” was no means a disappointment, just an opening hour which comes nowhere near to the excellent openings NuWho has presented in the past, and with nine weeks to flourish and become her own interpretation, Chibnall’s’ reign begins in interesting, if flawed fashion. That theme tune though.

Overall Episode Score: 6/10

Film Review: The Predator

“I Think They’re Attempting Hybridisation. They’re Upgrading On Every Planet They Visit…”

With it being thirty one years since the original Predator in which Arnold Schwarzenegger out muscled Carl Weathers and a brand new monster franchise was violently brought to the attention of Hollywood, director Shane Black (Iron Man 3, The Nice Guys) brings his own particular twist to the series with a direct sequel to the previous entries which features over-inflated ego’s, jaw-dropping violence and an eclectic twist of tones as we see the threat of the titular monster land on the doorstep of Boyd Holbrook’s (Logan) Quinn McKenna, a merciless Army Ranger sniper whose team are swiftly massacred after a mysterious alien ship crash lands on earth. With Black himself famously having a leading role in the original, his penchant for black comedy which has been rife throughout his directorial back catalogue thus far is surprisingly the standout tone of The Predator, a film which attempts to pay respects to the original with ridiculous levels of violence and an overwhelming B-movie sensibility, but a sequel which too ultimately feels nothing more than a slice of popcorn flashiness without the lingering aftershock which made the original release back in 1987 so darn re-watchable even after initial sniffy reviews back in the day. What’s the point of film critics anyhow? Please continue.

Following in the footsteps of the soon-to-be released Mile 22 by disregarding the fundamental laws of film-making by glossing over basic characterisation and seemingly hiring editors who are hooked on some sort of maniacal drug, Black’s movie doesn’t half move like a bullet train, hooking audiences straight into the action as a quick detour into the jungle leads onward to hidden government bases, Halloween covered schools and finally back to the jungle as our titular murderous beast gleefully tears the wide range of cannon fodder violently apart. With Black choosing to focus the heart of the action upon Holdbrook’s shoulders as his character finds himself on the self proclaimed “loony bus” alongside the likes of Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight) and Thomas Jane’s (The Punisher) rather forgettable but equally homicidal “troubled” soldiers, the quick quipped banter between the characters at first doesn’t seem to fit with the tone of the movie whatsoever but as the movie progresses into more extreme and over the top territory, including a drastically overlong and plodding conclusion, Black’s vision is clearly groundwork for an expanse into wider Predator related territory, and whilst his latest is riddled with flaws and silly mistakes, the best way to view The Predator is to understand what it fundamentally is at heart; a trashy B-movie wannabee.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Upgrade

“See, You Thought I Was A Cripple But You Didn’t Know That I’m A Ninja…”

Between the creative talents of Leigh Whannell and Jason Blum, the founder of Blumhouse Productions, the two have seemed to have built an ever-expanding empire of horror cinema, with the success of Whannell’s own Insidious franchise seemingly paving the way for ventures into much more diverse examples of the genre. Cue Upgrade, the latest venture from Whannell who writes and directs an ultra-violent, brutally black comic horror which sees Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus) as Grey Trace, a traditionally work hungry grease monkey who soon becomes a guilt-ridden quadriplegic after he and his wife are brutally attacked by the hands of murderous criminals. With Grey taking the chance to walk once again by accepting the offer given to him by Harrison Gilbertson’s (Need for Speed) Eron Keen, a socially awkward billionaire tech freak whose newly created device, STEM, harnesses the power to render Grey’s disability defunct amidst a few hidden upgrades which soon turn Grey into a merciless, vengeful killer as hunts down the similarly dangerous and technologically advanced killers who have changed his life forever.

Set within the cyberpunk world of a near future dystopia in which drones control the skies and technology is quickly eradicating the need for a human-based workforce, Upgrade revels in the contemporary fashion of evoking the multi-coloured, neon stratosphere world of Blade Runner, as seen this year alone in the likes of Netflix’s Altered Carbon and Mute, in which people are seen lost within the confines of virtual reality and back-alley hackers are distinctive by their gender fluidity and knack for groovy hair dye. Adding to the wonderfully absurd surroundings in which the action takes place, the film’s awareness of its’ B-Movie exploitation origins manages to effectively balance elements of Cronenbergian body horror with dark, warped comedy in which enemies are devoured in the most violent ways possible seen on the big screen since Brawl in Cell Block 99. With Logan Marshall-Green suggesting he’s much more than just a Tom Hardy lookalike with a brilliantly crafted physical performance in which particular body movements look almost too surreal to comprehend, Upgrade is a step in the zany direction for Blumhouse, but boy is it god damn enjoyable.

Overall Score: 7/10

Film Review: The Meg

“That Thing’s Out There. We Need To Find It And Kill It…”

Rushing onto the big screen and breaking the rules of conventional cinematic rules by managing to swerve away from straight-to-video bargain bucket where it undeniably belongs, everyone’s favourite bald-headed Brit, Jason Statham (The Fate of the Furious) leads the cast of The Meg, a horrendously dire, B-Movie nightmare which sees Statham as Jonas Taylor, a seemingly invincible and overly irresistible rescue diver who is tasked alongside a team of awfully inane scientists to defeat the titular Megalodon, a seventy foot long murderous shark thought extinct which is released upon the world to chew upon the cannon fodder of citizens which lay in its’ wake. Based upon the 1997 book “Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror” by American science fiction author, Steve Alten, The Meg fails on a comprehensive level of failing to be the type of movie which can be typecast as “so bad its’ good”, with the film’s dire script, awful dialogue and shambolic acting performances all managing to co-exist together in a finished product which ranks up there with the worst cinema has offered up this year so far, a turgid release which makes you yearn for the sheer absurdity of Sharknado.

Whilst Jason Statham is the sort of actor whose presence is always welcome in any type of movie, his particular individual performance within The Meg is Oscar worthy in comparison to the carnival of awful side-notes which encompass the supporting cast, with the likes of Rainn Wilson (The Office), Ruby Rose (John Wick: Chapter Two) and the horrendously accented Li Bingbing (Transformers: Age of Extinction) all being handed woefully two-dimensional characters whose chemistry and comedic timing comes across utterly cringe-worthy at a range of different points during the action. With a screenplay which includes the type of dialogue where each character takes it in turn to shout obvious warnings and entirely lazy portions of tiresome exposition, The Meg seems to know the genre basis it attempts to sink its’ teeth into quite clearly, but thanks to the staggeringly inadequate direction of Jon Turteltaub, a filmmaker renowned for the likes of The Sorcerers Apprentice and erm, Cool Runnings, the finished product is downright stale and unworthy of viewership, and whilst it’s easy to poke fun at movies which try to be just good old fun instead of attempting to come across as the new Citizen Kane, The Meg just doesn’t work at any level at all, and for a movie which happens to include the brooding baldness of Jason Statham, that’s quite a startling feat in itself.

Overall Score: 3/10

TV Review: Westworld – Series Two Episode Ten “The Passenger”

“No World They Create For Us Can Compete With The Real One…”

With the finale of Westworld’s debut season a fascinating, masterful and downright majestic ninety minutes of television which not only offered up more questions than answers within a series which was getting more and more renowned for having more narrative rabbit holes than some audiences could feasibly cope with, but more importantly, set the base line for the second round of stories which would ultimately follow, “The Passenger”, the similarly feature length concluding arc of the show’s second season undoubtedly had a hard act to follow, particularly when the preceding nine episodes this time around have left arguably a wider amount of certain story-lines teetering on the edge. With deaths aplenty, brain-melting exposition and enough shocking twists to make M. Night Shyamalan bow to exhaustion, Westworld’s latest closing chapter was a plot heavy but familiarly beautiful example of science fiction at its’ most ludicrous and inventive, one which once again boldly offered up more question marks than straightforward answers in an attempt to lay the mouthwatering stepping stones for the future of the show which on the basis of its’ ever expanding nature, has endless possibilities lying ahead.

With the majority of the plot focused on a heavy proportion of the main characters converging at the Valley Beyond, now envisioned as a mystical, Stargate-esque gateway which the hosts enter in order to “free” their minds from the prison of the park and into a virtual reality free from their physical self, the chance to see a culmination of Maeve, Akecheta and the redeemed figure of Simon Quarterman’s Lee Sizemore all having their own particular second season character arcs come to a end was particularly well managed, even when after the sheer mastery of episode eight, Akecheta ultimately seemed a tad bit wasted over the course of the entire run amidst a few fatal plot holes such as the extent of Maeve’s Neo-like powers and the issue of why not everyone seemed to be effected by the Clementine spreading virus which swiftly turned the hosts into 28 Days Later inspired rampaging murderers. With the pace of the episode not allowing audiences the chance to come up for fresh air at all, the bulky exposition section involving Delores, Bernard and Charlotte Hale’s band of Delos security did ultimately seem rather mind-melting at times, particularly when we see Delores and Bernard jump into the storage pump of the guests and reunite with a virtual manifestation of Logan who proceeds to explain the predictability and simplicity of mankind in a elongated set piece which unfavourably reminded me of the convoluted Architect scene in The Matrix Reloaded, and whilst particular resolutions were brought to the table, their is no doubting that “The Passenger” is the sort of episode that requires second, third and even fourth viewings in order to dissect the entirety of the subject matter it attempts to portray.

With Westworld’s second season in general improving with every step, “The Passenger” reminded that even when the show is at its’ most extreme in terms of baffling its’ audiences, the beauty in its’ construction deserves to be wildly lauded, and with soaring, stunning cinematography once again and a masterful collection of musical pieces by Ramin Djawadi, including a concluding reworked version of Radiohead’s “Codex”, the show continues to be one of the most vividly rewarding televisual experiences of the moment, one which challenges works of cinema for sheer, resounding spectacle. With twist after twist and the finality of death not strictly being adhered to, the episodes’ final twenty minutes was undoubtedly close to pushing the panic button at times in terms of swaying from the realms of plausibility, but with a joyously entertaining turn of events which sees our favourite hosts transfer from one world to another and the fate of William/The Man in Black being well and truly thrown up into the air, “The Passenger” concluded a series by adhering to the show’s characteristic of being at times remarkable and challenging in equal measure, but with curious possibilities lying ahead to be explored, Westworld finished in a way which every season should by leaving the audience seriously wanting more.

Overall Episode Score: 9/10

Overall Season Score: 8.5/10