2 stars

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.

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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.

REVIEW: The Predator (2018)

When a lethal alien creature crash lands on Earth, a ragtag group of soldiers must fight to survive.

The Predator starts off well with the opening sequence of sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) encountering the predator for the first time. It’s an exciting scene that shows how deadly the Predator is and what humans are up against. McKenna takes some of the creatures’ tech and mails it to his home as he thinks no one will believe him. There his son Rory (Jacob Tremblay) opens the box and starts playing with it, putting himself and everyone around him in danger.

The actual plot leaves much to be desired with the films own established logic frequently being ignored. For instance, bullets are seen to have little to no effect on the Predator, but these characters still keep shooting it. It also tried to fit in a lot of scientific reasoning as to why the Predator had come to Earth, connecting it to some of the previous films while doing so, but it didn’t really work nor was it needed.

For an action/horror film, there’s a lot of jokes in this film, and barely any of them land. Every single character’s defining trait is “they’re funny” which not only makes it hard for any of these characters to stand out, but when the film tries to have a serious moment between characters it doesn’t work. There’s one moment where something happens that I expect was supposed to be sad and poignant, but people laughed. Sterling K. Brown plays the government bad guy and he’s supposed to be intimidating and scary but because he’s cracking jokes in every scene he’s in, he just doesn’t feel threatening.

The action is generally well shot and exciting and there is a lot of blood and gore as the Predator violently kills just about anyone it encounters. However, the editing was a little odd and inconsistent at times. People and cars move between shots and are suddenly in different places making some sequences hard to follow.

The Predator is an easily forgettable film. Even while writing this review, I was struggling to remember anything that really stood out, both positive and negative. It’s mostly fun, though Tremblay’s character having autism and it being used to further the plot in a stereotypical way is problematic, but it also has nothing to make it memorable in terms of the genre or of the franchise it’s a part of. 2/5.

REVIEW: Mission: Impossible II (2000)

When terrorists plot to steal a deadly super virus, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is tasked with putting together a team to find the terrorists and get to the virus before they do. Joining him is tech expert Luther Strickell (Ving Rhames), pilot Billy Baird (John Polson) and civilian thief Nyah Hall (Thandie Newton), who has a history with the terrorist leader, Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott).

Directed by John Woo, Mission: Impossible II is almost the polar opposite of the first film. Mission: Impossible II is all about the action and is a full fights and shootouts, while Mission: Impossible was more of a character-driven thriller. There’s a lot of dramatic slow-motion camera shots in Mission: Impossible II that after a while just makes the whole thing feel cheesy. Ethan Hunt has apparently learnt martial arts in the four years since Mission: Impossible and it sometimes looks really quite weird and unnatural and is another way the film distances itself from its predecessor.

Mission: Impossible II begins with Hunt recruiting Nyah and they both fall for each other surprisingly quickly leading to a good proportion of the film being about Nyah stuck between two men. Unfortunately, Cruise and Newton have little chemistry, and some dodgy dialogue, so they are a couple you really don’t believe in.

Mission: Impossible II’s main problem is for all of it’s over-the-top action sequences it still ends up being dull. The characters are not that interesting, though Ambrose has his moments of being an intimidating villain, and the finale is over-long. 2/5.

Admittedly we probably have Mission: Impossible II to thank for the increasingly dangerous stunts Tom Cruise takes part in in each subsequent film. The first time we see Hunt in Mission: Impossible II, he’s climbing a huge rockface, thousands of feet off the ground, without out any ropes and then dangles by one hand off a cliff. These huge stunts are now a key part in the Mission Impossible franchise.

REVIEW: The Meddler (2015)

Marnie (Susan Sarandon) doesn’t know what to do with herself after her husband dies so she moves closer to her daughter Lori (Rose Byrne) and soon befriends Lori’s friends and tries to fully intergrate herself into Lori’s life.

The Meddler is about grief. It’s been over a year since her husband died but Marnie misses him terribly and suddenly has way more money than she knows what to do with thanks to his life insurance payout. She becomes overly generous because of that, paying for her daughter’s friend Jillian’s (Cecily Strong) wedding and buying expensive gifts for just about anyone she meets. She even befriends Apple store worker Freddy (Jerrod Carmichael), convincing him to take night classes and then even driving him to and from them.

The problem with Marnie is I did not like her. I understand why she is being so interfering and clingy as it’s because she’s still grieving and is focussing on everyone around her instead of thinking about her dead husband but that still didn’t stop me from wanting to throttle her. While Lori obviously still loves her mother, even though she annoys her a lot of the time, as a viewer I had no fond feelings for her at all.

The Meddler is heartfelt and sometimes funny too. The performances are all great and Sarandon is a standout but that wasn’t enough to get me to look past how much I disliked Marnie. Unfortunately my dislike of Marnie had a knock on affect and made me dislike the film itself. 2/5.

REVIEW: Doctor Strange (2016)

After an accident that permanently damages his hands, neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) travels the world in search of healing. He’s drawn into the world of the mystic arts and is taught the sorcery skills and the path to enlightenment by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) to protect the world.

Stephen Strange is a brilliant surgeon but an incredibly arrogant and rude man. His relationship with fellow doctor, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), is strained due to his superiority and it only get worse as he refuses to accept that his career as a leading neurosurgeon is over. Strange isn’t a likeable character and while he does go on a journey and changes, he’s still not a particularly pleasant guy.

Doctor Strange is an origin story, and an origin story that is very similar to that of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in Iron Man. However, Cumberbatch lacks the humour and charisma of Downey Jr, which means that Strange feels like a very bland hero. Humour and Cumberbatch don’t really work together, in fact the only moments of humour that really land in Doctor Strange are when McAdam’s Christine is performing surgery while a magical battle is happening around her.

The bad guy in Doctor Strange is Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a sorcerer who’s got dark plans. He seems like an interesting antagonist, especially when he has a dialogue with Strange, but unfortunately you don’t get to see him that much – he’s there for a fight scene and then disappears until the next one.

Doctor Strange has some incredible visuals. While there’s a fair bit of exposition to introduce the concept of multiple dimensions and the astral plane to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, when you get to see characters interact with and move between these dimensions, it’s stunning. Characters can bend reality to their will, leading to mind-bending visuals. It’s like a city is inside a kaleidoscope, and as the city folds into itself, characters are fighting with magic while contending with the constantly moving environment.

The performances are generally decent but not great unlike the spectacular visuals – but a great-looking film doesn’t make a great film. There are moments of wonder and excitement in Doctor Strange, but otherwise it’s not that memorable. 2/5.