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All reviews - Movies (147) - TV Shows (2) - Books (4) - Games (25)

"Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman" (2003)

Posted : 2 years, 6 months ago on 18 June 2015 08:38 (A review of Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

This is a spin-off of the classic 90s Animated Series – the last season, I'm guessing, based on the character designs and animation style. Much like with Under the Red Hood (which I watched right before this one), Batwoman makes for a great antagonist because she's much more ruthless than Batman is, less concerned with sparing her enemies' lives. The eponymous mystery is her identity. And, as a good mystery story should, it plays with your expectations a lot, challenging conclusions that seemed obvious at first. And the ultimate revelation… I have to admit, it got me; I legitimately didn't see it coming. The plot was a little too involved for me to fully grasp at first, but otherwise I enjoyed this movie.

My rating: 70%


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"Batman: Under the Red Hood" (2010)

Posted : 2 years, 6 months ago on 18 June 2015 08:36 (A review of Batman: Under the Red Hood)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

This is the best kind of Batman story: pitting him against a similar but homicidal opponent. It's all summed up in the line where Batman explains that there isn't a day that goes by where he doesn't want to kill the Joker, but he won't because he knows that once he crosses that line, he can never go back. Also, I don't often feel the need to comment on the animation in these movies, but it's absolutely top-notch here – some of the best I've ever seen in Batman's animated line-up. On top of that, it's a brilliantly written story that I've have to run through in its entirety to properly justify its impact – but obviously I won't do that. :) Overall, this is probably my second-favourite of the animated Batman movies, behind only Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.

My rating: 80%


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"Big Hero 6" (2014)

Posted : 2 years, 6 months ago on 16 June 2015 02:04 (A review of Big Hero 6)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

This review is from my blog. I was feeling lazy that day and didn't have too much to say about it, so just to add a bit of length, I'll briefly go over the plot.
When a masked villain threatens the city, a young prodigy teams up with his brother's old inflatable robot, Baymax, and forms a high-tech hero team with a group of his friends.

Really? This is what kept Interstellar off the top of the box office? This is seriously one of the most predictable movies I have ever seen – and I'm usually not the kind of guy who complains about that. Literally every single beat of the story could be seen coming from a mile away. I even correctly predicted the villain's identity. Baymax's "low battery" scene really bugged me, too: his battery still lasts for a disproportionately long time afterwards, and that aspect of the plot is never referenced again. I couldn't help but love Baymax himself, though, and all the team's different abilities were pretty cool. But for me, the highlight was the satirical car chase scene: that was funny as hell! :D Other than that, I confess myself severely disappointed.

My rating: 55%


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"Birdman" (2014)

Posted : 2 years, 6 months ago on 16 June 2015 01:58 (A review of Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance))

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Well, well. The latest Best Picture winner. And you know what? It deserves it. :) Obviously the technical wizardry immediately springs out at you: how the whole movie appears to be one continuous take, paralleling its theatrical subject matter. But it's also a brilliantly poetic case of art imitating life, with Michael Keaton's character being an obvious nod to his former Batman glory days, and Edward Norton playing a parody of his own reputation as a hard-to-work-with actor. Every character is instantly lovable, and I especially like the psychological trip: how Riggan's mind keeps running away with him. I'm sure you've heard it analysed to death already, so I'll just end by saying that I really liked it and I can easily see it getting even better with repeated viewings.

My rating: 80%


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"American Sniper" (2014)

Posted : 2 years, 6 months ago on 16 June 2015 01:57 (A review of American Sniper)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

I always have a tough time reviewing dramas, especially biographical ones, since it all comes down to how invested in the story you get. But this is a wonderfully realised one. Clint Eastwood is one of those directors who doesn't seem to care about style but more about simply telling a good story, and this is no different. I can't speak to its theme of the real-life psychology of war – that's been brought up by others – but I can say that, in every scene, you really feel like you're there. I think my favourite parts are the opening and the ending: the tension in the first scene is utterly nail-biting, and the ending is startlingly abrupt, perfectly summing up what a tragic and untimely death it was (to anyone who knows the true story, that's not a spoiler). Nothing much else to say except that this is a good movie that really makes up for some of Eastwood's recent disappointments.

My rating: 75%


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"Jurassic World" (2015)

Posted : 2 years, 6 months ago on 15 June 2015 01:38 (A review of Jurassic World)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Well, it's finally happened. :) Jurassic World, after over a decade in development hell, has finally been released. Personally speaking, this has to be the most anticipated movie of my entire life; I've been waiting for this since 2001! I went to see it on Saturday, making it a little too late to make the "first impressions" compilations I've traditionally posted on that day, but now I'm ready to share my thoughts.
I already did a whole essay on my blog about my expectations for this movie, which you can read [Link removed - login to see][Link removed - login to see]">here if you're curious. Just to reiterate, I am a huge, *huge* Jurassic Park fan. In the case of the first instalment in the franchise, it's probably the only case where both the book and the movie are in my top five all-time favourites respectively; I absolutely adore them both. The Lost World, as a novel, was a worthy follow-up: still a thrilling adventure, and much better than its subsequent film adaptation, which I personally think is flawed but still enjoyable. And then there's Jurassic Park III. The less said about that, the better.
And now we have Jurassic World. I'm not sure how many people were anticipating this movie as much as I was, but I personally wanted it to at least trump the second and third movies and hopefully reinvigorate the public interest in dinosaurs by presenting them in a new light.
…But I hate to be the bringer of bad news, but Jurassic World is a disappointment.

Now, I usually tend to keep my "first impressions" reviews to no more than 250 words. But this is a series that's so dear to me that I couldn't help but get more passionate than usual. So this is one of very few times you'll see me let loose and say pretty much everything that's on my mind.
But before we get started, let me make it clear: I didn't dislike this movie. I just have several major gripes with it.

First let's look at the story.
Twenty-two years after the events in the first movie, John Hammond's vision of a theme park centred around dinosaurs has finally come true: the new park, Jurassic World, is flourishing.
But then an emergency situation develops in the form of a new genetically engineered hybrid predator, nicknamed "Indominus rex". It was intended to be a new attraction to spark the public interest once again, but everyone underestimated it. It escapes from its enclosure and heads straight towards the occupied area of the park. Claire Dearing, the park's operations manager, realises her two nephews are in particularly grave danger, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to find them and get them to safety.

The plot is perfectly serviceable for what it is; it's really the only way a story about a fully functional park could have gone. It's little more than a B movie when you look at it: a thinly scripted string of misadventures, more concerned with cheap thrills than genuine grandeur. Why else do you think it focuses almost exclusively on the carnivorous dinosaurs, with the herbivores reduced to mere extras? Now, granted, Jurassic Park III did the same thing, but this is a far more focused kind of blast than that movie; it makes more of an effort to tell a cohesive story, it's not just ninety minutes of running away from dinosaurs.
The characters are pretty boring, but let's be honest: the characters in the Jurassic Park movies have never been anything to write home about. They're archetypes at best, planks of wood at worst.
I half liked Chris Pratt's central performance. Guardians of the Galaxy was the first time I saw him (I'm sure I'm not alone on that), and whereas his humorous turn just annoyed me in that movie, here it actually was kind of effective; he did make me laugh a few times. I think the difference is that here it was comic relief, whereas in Guardians of the Galaxy it was an extension of that movie's overall humour, which I just found really awkward. But then there were the deadpan serious moments that were really prominent in the trailers. I suppose the character is to be commended for knowing when not to joke around, but to me it just seemed like two entirely different people.
Still, though, it was pretty cool to see him as the alpha in a hunting pack of Velociraptors! :D That hunt was one of my favourite concepts presented by the story. I also like how, even from the start, the raptors aren't fully tamed. During the scene where a worker is rescued from their pen, even though Owen is able to command them to a certain extent, they still go for him as soon as he turns his back on them.

One thing I really didn't like was how the child characters are treated – not just by the movie itself (I'll get to that in a minute), but by the other characters as well. These two brothers, Zach and Gray, are high school age and around nine or ten respectively, but everyone constantly talks to them like they're five. The parents babying Zach as they're setting off kind of came across like they were joking with him (a joke that a teenager wouldn't appreciate, by the way), but their aunt Claire greeting them in a similar manner when they arrive is just absurd. It just seemed like the writers didn't understand how people within families talk to each other. The scene with the mother tearfully saying goodbye was so over the top that it just reminded me of a very similar scene in Transformers 2 – and believe me, Transformers 2 and Jurassic Park should never be uttered in the same sentence! The point is: just because they're children is no reason to treat them like babies!
But on top of that, their role in the story is confused as well. They take centre stage at the beginning, making it seem like they're going to be the main characters. (Which would actually have been a clever nod to Michael Crichton's original draft of the Jurassic Park novel: initially it was written from the point of view of a child.) But as the movie progresses, they become less like characters and more like a MacGuffin, just there to advance Claire's storyline. They try to add some drama with Zach promising to never leave Gray, but it just rings hollow.
And on a side note, their parents' divorce is brought up once and never referenced again. A couple of lines in that scene prove consequential later on, but the divorce might as well have never been brought up in the first place. It's like they added it just because divorce has always been a staple of Jurassic Park, both the books and the movies; you can't have Jurassic Park without it.

But now let's move on to the major, major problem with this movie. It turns out I had every right to be apprehensive about the special effects. In comparison to the previous movies, these are way beyond subpar! Just like most every other blockbuster these days, Jurassic World makes the mistake of relying too much on CGI. Whenever the dinosaurs were on screen, I didn't feel any sense of awe or wonder whatsoever; I just felt like I was watching a cartoon. And that really pisses me off because the earlier movies didn't rely exclusively on CGI; they blended it with practical effects almost perfectly. That's what made Jurassic Park – and the CGI revolution as a whole – so groundbreaking in the first place. To see a franchise that formerly had us believing those dinosaurs were real, reduced to little more than video game graphics… it's about as disappointing as you can get.
Though, to be fair, the issues with the CGI may simply be the result of a rushed schedule. Production only began on April 10th 2014 – just fourteen months before the release date. I don't know how long a big-scale movie typically takes to complete production, but I'm willing to bet they needed longer than that.
There are some animatronics used in the movie, but not nearly enough. They're only used for scenes where the actors have to actually touch a dinosaur, like the raptors in the stand and the dying Apatosaurus. You're not going to see anything like the full-sized animatronics from the first three movies. There's not nearly enough of a compromise to make the dinosaurs as a whole seem real.
And that really is the one factor that constantly drags the movie down: the fact that it's pure CGI means nothing packs any kind of a punch because it's all so obviously fake. Even as I'm writing this, I just can't get over that.

Now let's talk about the Indominus rex, this movie's biggest addition to the franchise.
Now, let's face it: the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park have never been real per se; they've always been somewhat mutated. From the very start, they were created by blending dinosaur DNA with modern frogs'. And the I-rex is just the crowning achievement of that: making them no longer dinosaurs but simply theme park monsters. There's even a line in the movie: "That's not a real dinosaur." Its whole point is that it's a composite of several different animals. But rather than being awesome, I just found it dull because, again, the special effects never had me believing it was real.
Also, the reveal of the mystery animal in its DNA structure… I kind of saw it coming from a mile away. I mean, with the level of intelligence the I-rex displays, what else could it be? And the more I think about it, the stupider a plot device it seems. Blending T-rex DNA with raptors'? Who… just… who the FUCK thought that was a good idea?!!!

One thing I really wanted to see addressed in this movie was the lack of feathers present in these dinosaurs. But it didn't happen. The closest we get is a scene where Dr Wu brings up what I just did: that the presence of other animals' DNA means none of them are real dinosaurs. Though there does seem to be a clever reference to that fact in the way the raptors have been redesigned: they have blue stripes along their backs very similar to some modern lizards or salamanders.
And, speaking of Dr Wu, he disappointed me too. He was barely in the first movie, but was a major character in the novel, so I was really hoping he'd finally live up to that potential here. Also, I seem to recall he was a somewhat sympathetic character in the book; he actively helped out in the efforts to get the power back on. In any case, here they turned him into an arrogant, condescending jerk, and later on essentially an antagonist.
Another question that's never answered: where did they get the DNA to clone that mosasaur? I asked that question of Jurassic Park: The Game and it still applies here. With the other animals, they extracted blood from mosquitoes preserved in amber, but that would hardly be possible with a marine creature.

The movie is rated PG-13 (or 12 here in the British Isles), and it definitely exhibits the traits we typically associate with that dreaded rating these days. The violence seems very tamed down so as to appeal to a younger audience, whereas in the other movies the dinosaur attacks felt legitimately intense and visceral. Spoilers here, but the only death that I felt came close to matching those standards was Zara's, mostly because of how drawn out it was. Even though, as a character, she was almost a nonpresence that never earned our sympathies, you couldn't help but feel for her in the moment: how those pterosaurs didn't finish her off right away, but just kept playing with her.

Now, let's end with some more positives. They all involve spoilers, though, so if you don't want to know, skip to the final paragraph, where I draw my conclusion.
There's a great scene in the middle of the movie where Zach and Gray come across the ruins of the old Jurassic Park. As they walk through the overgrown Visitor's Centre entrance hall and the classic music plays, it makes you feel sentimental; it really does.
Another scene that springs to mind is when the raptors are chasing a minivan with its doors hanging open, which seems to be a nod to a similar scene in the Lost World novel.
But the main thing the movie did for me was the final scene: a massive three-way brawl between the I-rex, the raptors and the unexpected return of everyone's favourite Tyrannosaurus rex. :) That whole scenes seems to be one big rebuttal to the T-rex/Spinosaurus fight in Jurassic Park III – hell, there's even a moment where the T-rex destroys a mounted Spinosaurus skeleton. And the knowledge that this is actually the same T-rex from the original park just makes it that much more awesome. :) The only disappointment is that the T-rex doesn't actually kill the I-rex. It certainly fights back, but it's the mosasaur that ultimately takes it out.

To sum things up, the movie was okay. If I were to form a scale from one to ten, where Jurassic Park 1 is the pinnacle at a perfect ten and Jurassic Park III is rock bottom at one, then this movie would join The Lost World somewhere in the middle: a six, maybe. Conceptually it's not bad; it tells the story of a working park going awry well enough. I just wish they would have used more practical effects, shown more respect for the child characters and addressed the progress in our reconstructions of dinosaurs. It's a well-meaning addition to the franchise, but it was quite a letdown after a fourteen-year wait.
Both the novels are great, but as far as I'm concerned, the only one of the movies that's really worth a damn is the first one. It will never stop being one of my all-time favourite movies. Much like The Lost World, this one may still be a fun adventure with some good ideas of its own, but ultimately it's not essential viewing.

My rating: 65%


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"Mad Max: Fury Road" (2015)

Posted : 2 years, 6 months ago on 15 June 2015 12:27 (A review of Mad Max: Fury Road)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

I was never a big fan of the first Mad Max, but I think the second one can easily stand alone as its own movie – and a damn good one.
In this reboot, whereas originally oil was the scarce commodity, this time it seems to be water.
The story is set up well enough – it's a quest to find a better life – but Immortan Joe's society isn't explained very well. What exactly is Nux, and why do only he and his kin require (or at least use) "blood bags"? Maybe watching it with subtitles will help.
Also, bearing in mind how rare oil was in the original movies, I didn't appreciate how extreme the vehicles were, constantly spewing fire that would most likely waste fuel.
However, the action itself is where the movie shines. This is a welcome return to old-school, authentic stuntwork, making the action scenes all the more visceral and all the more exhilarating.
It was also fun to spot the various nods to the original trilogy, like the scene where Max threatens people with an empty gun.
So, while I still think I like Mad Max 2 (AKA The Road Warrior) better overall, this is still one of the best action movies in recent years, and a good example of how to do a reboot right.

My rating: 80%


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"Avengers: Age of Ultron" (2015)

Posted : 2 years, 6 months ago on 15 June 2015 12:24 (A review of Avengers: Age of Ultron)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Speaking as someone who was pretty disappointed in the second wave of Marvel movies, I think this is, hands down, the best Marvel movie since Avengers 1. It's a concentrated blast of pure fun and doesn't aspire to be anything more than that. It's still the same wonderful characters being themselves and bantering brilliantly, and there are too many awesome moments to count – especially during the climax, where I wanted to go, "YEAH!" several times. Plus, it was such a breath of fresh air to see a superhero movie acknowledge the danger to civilians and the need to get them out of harm's way; the Hulkbuster fight wasn't just a fantastic concept, but that whole scene came across as one big statement of, "Take that, Man of Steel!" To sum it up, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. Is it as good as Avengers 1? No, but I didn't expect it to be. Again, though, I do think it's the best Marvel movie since that masterpiece, and easily one of my favourite movies of the year so far.

My rating: 85%


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"Chappie" (2015)

Posted : 2 years, 6 months ago on 15 June 2015 12:22 (A review of Chappie)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

I might have gone into this movie with higher expectations had I not disliked director Neill Blomkamp's previous effort, Elysium. And, between that film and this one, it's starting to look more and more like District 9 was a fluke! This was horrible!
And that's mainly down to the opening. Talk about starting off on the wrong foot! Everything that was being set up struck me as so derivative – especially the MOOSE, which is a blatant ED-209 rip-off – that it immediately tarnished the rest of the movie that followed. As a result, I was in such a bad mood that I just found the storyline clichéd and the scenes with Chappie learning things embarrassing. And the trite scene where Yolandi tells him about the soul actually had me yelling, "Oh, fuck off!" at the screen.
The maddening thing is that this isn't an inherently bad concept. The idea of an AI learning and maturing has been done well before, and it had potential to be done well here, but it's all ruined by the immediately obvious clichés and the ludicrous one-dimensional villains.
I have to commend the special effects, though: Blomkamp and his effects team have always been brilliant at replacing actors with animated characters so that they really look like they belong in the shot. But aside from that, this movie just flat-out made me angry.

My rating: 25%


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"Kingsman: The Secret Service" (2015)

Posted : 2 years, 6 months ago on 15 June 2015 12:19 (A review of Kingsman: The Secret Service)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Matthew Vaughn's second adaptation of a Mark Millar comic. :) And just like Kick-Ass, it proves to be a match made in heaven! :D In a word, wow! It's a send-up to over-the-top spy action movies that's equal parts gleeful homage and biting satire. It tells two stories in parallel: a young new recruit going through Kingsman training, and the actual Kingsman agents investigating Richmond Valentine – who, by the way, is a great villain. There are too many amazingly clever moments to even count; if I could gush about every single scene, I would. :) But I will say this much: the whole film strikes a perfect balance between funny, sardonic and exciting, and is just all-around exhilarating. Obviously the year's not over yet, but I'm pretty confident this will still be in my top five by year's end. I loved it.

My rating: 90%


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