2 stars

REVIEW: Battle Los Angeles (2011)

As a squad of U.S. Marines attempt to rescue a group of civilians during an extra-terrestrial invasion of Los Angeles, they become the last line of defence for the city.

There are a lot of characters in Battle Los Angeles and they spend most of their time in full tactical gear including a helmet, so it is often difficult to tell them apart. Plus, as there’s so many characters who have only the bare minimum of character traits to make them stand out, it’s hard to keep track of who has just been killed and who is still alive.

The squad is led by 2nd Lt. William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) but the real main character is Aaron Eckhart’s Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz. He’s the one that has more than a superficial backstory and has some dramatic moments too – he gets a rather good speech where everyone else looks at him with respect.

Michelle Rodriguez’s Tech Sergeant Elena Santos is one of the more memorable characters, that that could be because she’s one of two women in the main cast of characters. The actors all do as well as they can do with what they’re given. The characters are all pretty one-dimensional, the dialogue is full of military clichés and there’s expository dialogue every ten minutes or so.

While Battle Los Angeles is an alien invasion film it plays out more like a war film with the aliens attacking the squad from a distance, and each side taking cover, so you never really get a good look at them. When the aliens do become clearer, the creature design is not that imaginative or interesting.

There are some exciting shootouts in Battle Los Angeles but they’re unfortunately few and far between, and the slower, more serious moments seriously bog down the film. It’s also far too long and had at least three moments where you felt like it was coming to a conclusion but then things kept happening. 2/5.

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REVIEW: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

In the near future Major Mira Killian (Scarlet Johansson) is the first of her kind; a human brain inside the perfectly made machine body means she’s cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier. When a terrorist known only as Kuze (Michael Pitt) begins to kill important figures in a huge corporate business, Major faces her biggest challenge yet.

Ghost in the Shell is based off a popular manga, which in turn was made into an even more popular anime in the 1990s. I have not seen or read the original source material and I can see this adaptation going one of two ways with the fans of the manga or anime; one, it’s got a tonne of cool references and is very faithful to the source material, or two, it’s not faithful at all and fans don’t like it. As someone who knew nothing about Ghost in the Shell going into the film, I found it to be intriguing on the surface but lacking any real depth or emotional connection. It also felt like the film had a lot of information and world-building to give to the audience which then made it surprisingly slow-paced for a film with so many shoot outs.

The world of Ghost in the Shell is visually stunning one with the high-rise buildings, ginormous and colourful holograms, and futuristic technology. It’s a world where cyber-enhancements are the norm, whether that means you get new eyes, a robotic liver, or new limbs – if you don’t have some form of technology implanted in your body, you’d be the odd one out. With a character like Major, who is so different from humans, even with their technological enhancements, and robots, she doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. Like the setting, the dilemma of the line between human and artificial intelligence is an interesting one but the film never delivers on its promise to examine that.

There’s a lot of cool action sequences, shoot outs and fights but they all pad out a plot that’s pretty boring. You do not spend enough time with the victims to care about them, nor do you get enough information about the corporate entity they are a part of to see why or how their deaths are important. Neither the mystery nor the overarching plot is interesting meaning the action sequences are just there to look good and rarely add anything to the characters or their motivations.

Ghost in the Shell seems to be trying to be two things. The first is a character study of Major and the world she’s apart of and the second is an action mystery story with bad guys to find and take down. The film gives neither of these elements time to breathe meaning that Major is (excuse the reference) a shell of a character, and the detective side of the story isn’t interesting. The third act is rushed as a lot of things are revealed and then new foes are brought to the forefront, however as there’s been no time dedicated to foster proper emotional connections with the characters, you do not care about what they are going through.

Ghost in the Shell has lots of cool visuals but the one-dimensional characters and a lack of a compelling story, means the finished product is ultimately forgettable. 2/5.

REVIEW: Hellboy (2019)

Hellboy (David Harbour) works for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence a secret agency whose aim is to keep the human world safe from the supernatural. When ancient sorceress Nimue the Blood Queen (Milla Jovovich) plans to rise from the dead and wreak her revenge, Hellboy and his reluctant allies must do everything to stop her.

Hellboy is reboot/reimagining of the comic books and has nothing to do with the Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy films in the early-mid 2000s. This film focusses more on the horror elements that come with Hellboy and there’s more bloody violence and swearing too. There are many different creatures, some have pretty interesting character designs, but unfortunately some of them suffer from bad CGI. Now bad CGI doesn’t make a movie bad, but when it’s there and the rest of the film in terms of story and characters aren’t so great, it’s definitely more noticeable.

There’s a lot going on in Hellboy and as it keeps jumping between characters and locations, it’s clear that the overall plot is far too convoluted. Characters seemed to get to different locations too quickly to be possible, and one way they get there is by having a character become unconscious and then wake up somewhere else. The editing is very messy as well. In action sequences and fight scenes it’s sometimes hard to follow and the editing is so quick that when there’s scenes of characters just standing and talking, you don’t get proper reaction shots to a joke (which means they don’t often land) or some big important piece of information.

As I mentioned there’s a lot of different things happening in Hellboy, with lots of different characters doing different things. Unfortunately, just because there’s a lot happening, it doesn’t mean it’s entertaining. It became rather boring watching these different fights because there’s not enough to make you care about the central characters. The dialogue is often at it’s most generic, and many scenes aren’t there to develop any of the characters personal arcs.

David Harbour made a good Hellboy, but the script he had to work with didn’t really give enough emotional depth to his fight to be good. Psychic Alice (Sasha Lane) and special forces agent Daimio (Daniel Dae Kim) are both fun characters and they and Hellboy bounce off one another really well when the script allows it.

Hellboy is messy and unfortunately rather dull. There were sparks of fun and interesting things with some of the characters but it’s not enough to make this film enjoyable or worth watching again. 2/5.

REVIEW: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)

After Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes from justice and starts to amass his followers, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) tasks magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) with finding the powerful but dangerous Credence (Ezra Miller) before Grindelwald does.

Amazingly, a lot happens in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald but at the same time, the many characters and their actions do little to further the overarching plot. The main plot could take up less than an hour, everything else is loose plot threads that have the potential to come to fruition in future films but in this one they leave you confused and cold.

As well as many new characters being introduced in The Crimes of Grindelwald, Newt’s American friends return too – even though characters like Jacob (Dan Fogler) and Queenie (Alison Sudol) seemed to have a completed story arc at the end of the first film! You meet Newt’s older brother Theseus (Callum Turner) who works for the Ministry of Magic and is engaged to Newt’s childhood friend Leta (Zoë Kravitz), both are interesting but have little to do.

There’s so many scenes where characters just dump exposition and usually not in a compelling way either. There are also flashback scenes of when Newt and Leta were studying at Hogwarts together. These are sweet and the younger actors do a fine job but through previous dialogue between adult characters you got that they used to be good friends and Leta had a tough time at school. These scenes, while nice, weren’t needed and added little to the film.

The special effects are stunning, though the opening chase sequence is hard to follow, and when Newt is with his fantastic beasts, those scenes are a lot of fun and cute. However, going forward it’s hard to imagine if future films will keep featuring magical creatures (or even keep the “Fantastic Beasts” title) as these scenes while more light-hearted and show off what a truly wonderful character Newt is, do little to further the convoluted plot.

There’s some very odd and potentially insensitive choices as well throughout the film but especially when it comes to the future Grindelwald predicts. In his quest to show his followers how bad and dangerous Muggles are, he insinuates that the Second World War and all the horrors that come with it can be avoided if wizards were in charge. It is a sequence that is weird and almost unbelievable.

The Crimes of Grindelwald is just messy. None of the characters have a satisfying or complete character arc, very few of them achieve their goals, and the story as a whole is convoluted. The way some scenes are edited leads to confusion too as characters seem to suddenly appear or move from one location to another without much set up. Also, there’s so many connections or easter eggs relating to the original Harry Potter series – some of them are great whereas others seem to make little sense with what we already know. It’s as if J.K. Rowling is throwing in all these references, whether it’s a characters surname or an object, and hoping that these cool things will detract from the fact that the new story is overstuffed and chaotic.

My main takeaway from Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is Newt is a sweetheart, I love his brother Theseus and I hope there’s more of their relationship in the next film(s). There is a lot of set up in this film, for so many characters and plot threads, and little pay off so hopefully future film(s) will be more exciting and satisfying. But that does mean Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald has little about it that’s memorable or important. 2/5.

REVIEW: Beyond (2014)

Cole (Richard J. Danum) and Maya (Gillian MacGregor) struggle to keep their relationship going as they try to survive in a world where the human population has been decimated by an alien attack.

When Cole and Maya meet there’s news of an asteroid that’s heading towards Earth. People start to decide what to do with what could be their last few months or years alive as Cole and Maya fall in love.

Beyond has two stories running through it. There’s how Cole and Maya met, fell in love and how their relationship develops, and then there’s them in the present, alone in the wilderness, running from spaceships and trying to stay alive. Beyond is a film that’s made up of flashbacks and flashforwards, which makes it a choppy mess a lot of the time. Because it doesn’t spend that long in either time, you don’t get to know Cole and Maya that well, both as a couple and individually.

Cole and Maya spend more time arguing once they’re together than anything else, making you wonder how they are staying together. It seems like the apparent end of the world is the only thing that keeps them together.

The Scottish landscapes that Cole and Maya travel across are striking, and the way the present, dystopian part of the film is shot is beautiful in an eerie way. The music is suitably haunting too and all those elements make a bleak situation, however the story nor the character are never compelling enough to make this sci-fi drama/mystery enjoyable.

Really the sci-fi set up, an asteroid heading for Earth that could turn out to be an alien lifeform, is a backdrop for Cole and Maya’s relationship. The film never utilises its sci-fi roots to its full effect, nor gives you characters and a relationship you will to succeed.

Beyond is an intriguing low-budget British sci-fi film but it doesn’t quiet deliver what it promises. 2/5.

MINI COMIC REVIEWS: Jessica Jones Vol. 1, Tales of Suspense: Hawkeye & the Winter Soldier and FABLES: Cubs in Toyland

Jessica Jones Vol. 1: Uncaged! by Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Gaydos and Matt Hollingsworth

Newly released from prison, Jessica Jones has got a lot of problems. Her latest client wants her to investigate her husband, who thinks he’s from another universe, and Jessica’s own husband, Luke Cage, wants to know where their daughter is. Jessica’s got a lot on her plate when a new threat appears, one that wants to destroy all heroes.

I liked how this book managed to keep Jessica Jones and her story relatively grounded, while still having cameos from other superheroes like Jessica Drew aka Spider-Woman and Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel. It made Jessica and her PI business a part of the wider superhero world, but it also shows how Jessica is constantly fighting against the title of “hero” and being a part of that world.

Jessica and Luke’s relationship is strained, but I did enjoy seeing it and I hope they can work things out. Jessica has given a lot up to do what she thinks is the right thing, and it’s meant keeping a lot of secrets from the few people she cares about.

The main story in Jessica Jones Vol. 1 was interesting but I wasn’t that scared or intrigued by the main villain as I couldn’t really get their motives. This might have been something

I liked the art style in Jessica Jones, and I loved the monotone colours, it really set the tone of the story. While I didn’t love this comic, it does enough to make me want to continue the series to see how Jessica can possibly sort her life out. 3/5.

Tales of Suspense: Hawkeye & the Winter Soldier by Matthew Rosenburg, Travel Foreman and Rachelle Rosenburg

The Black Widow is dead, but someone is killing her old enemies one by one. With a broke heart and a bloody trail to follow, Clint Barton aka Hawkeye is looking for answers. The only place he might get them is from another of Natasha’s ex-boyfriends, Bucky Barnes aka the Winter Solider. Will Clint and Bucky be able to trust each other enough to get to the truth, or is the truth deadly and out to get them?

I really enjoyed this. It’s a sequel to everything that happened with Secret Wars, Captain America apparently being an agent for Hydra and a lot of bad stuff happening, but you really didn’t need to know any of that to read and enjoy this comic. I only knew the concept of Secret Wars and haven’t read any myself, but this book does enough to give you all you need to then enjoy these characters and their interactions.

I’m a big Clint Barton fan and I really enjoyed how he and Bucky interacted. It was great how in the fist issue it’s told from Clint’s point of view and then the second issue is from Bucky’s, giving you an insight into both of their minds. They both don’t like each other but they have a common goal in finding out what’s going on with Natasha’s past. They have some really funny moments, and Clint is his idiot but capable self which I loved.

I liked the art style and the colours too for the most part, though some facial expressions were a bit overexaggerated for my taste. Tales of Suspense: Hawkeye & the Winter Soldier is a really fun, character-driven mystery and I’d love to read more about Clint and Bucky’s reluctant partnership. 4/5.

FABLES: Cubs in Toyland by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha and Gene Ha

Theresa has a lousy toy boat that she doesn’t really like but it talks to her, encouraging her to run away to a land that she can be Queen of. Theresa travels to Toyland, where broken-down playthings dwell. Wooden, metal, plastic or stuffed, they’re all looking for a queen to fix their bodies and their realm. But these toys are broken in more ways than one. As Theresa’s family search for her, including her wild brother Dare, what will become of her when she discovers the truth about Toyland? And what will staying in that realm cost?

This graphic novel has been sitting on my shelves for years. A friend bought it for me for Christmas one year, but I had never gotten around to reading it as it’s Volume 18 in the Fables series and thought I wouldn’t be able to follow the story without reading the previous 17 volumes. Recently I did some googling and as everyone seemed to say this was a standalone volume I gave it a go.

I do agree it’s a standalone. I could follow the story and the various characters and their relationships easily enough, though there were the few odd moments that seemed to be tied to the larger story that I was unaware of.

The magic system and how all the characters are versions of the classic fairy tales is interesting. Cubs in Toyland was surprisingly sinister and dark at times – these weren’t the fluffy Disney-versions of the fairytales we all know. There were some bloody and violent moments too, which were even more disturbing as they featured young children.

Maybe it’s because I didn’t have as much of a connection to the characters as I hadn’t read the previous volumes, or maybe just the story wasn’t for me, but I did find Cubs in Toyland a bit of a slog to get through, especially the last 40 pages or so. I just didn’t really care to find out how the story would end or if Theresa would be OK. 2/5.

REVIEW: The Murders in the Rue Morgue And Other Stories by Edgar Allan Poe

A collection of three short stories, two of them are The Murders in the Rue Morgue and its sequel The Mystery of Marie Rogêt which are creepy and gruesome mysteries. The third is The Purloined Letter which is mystery about a seemingly simple case.

I had an interesting time with this short story collection. It was the first time I’d read any Edgar Allan Poe and I flew through, and really enjoyed, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, but I found the other two stories a real drag.

All three stories are told from the point of view of an unnamed narrator. His friend Dupin is an amateur sleuth so when there’s a crime, he narrates how Dupin gets involved and how he might solve the case. Dupin’s explanations of what happened is where the stories lost me. They’re really long and in depth, with page long paragraphs that I found myself getting lost in as his explanations didn’t intrigue me. They seemed like a way to show off how clever Dupin was but there was never enough to make me like the guy.

The events of The Murders in the Rue Morgue are horrifying and there are a lot of vivid descriptions on the crime scene. Those sequences, in all the stories, are the most compelling. It’s the explanations that ended up boring me instead of making me interested in finding out whodunnit.

These short stories reminded me of the works of Arthur Conan Doyle and E.W. Hornung. The style of writing and story-telling is quiet something but unlike Sherlock Holmes or A.J. Raffles, Dupin isn’t a charismatic protagonist that I almost instantly took a liking to.

I’m not sure if this was a good introduction to Poe but at least I can now say I’ve read The Murders in the Rue Morgue. 2/5.