2 stars

REVIEW: Bloodshot (2020)

After he and his wife are murdered, Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) wakes up with no memories, having been resurrected and enhanced by a team of scientists. The nanotechnology in his blood makes him a super soldier and near indestructible. But as flashes of what happened to his wife come back to him, he seeks revenge, not realising that there might be more to his resurrection than he was led to believe.

Bloodshot is an action/sci-fi film that doesn’t quite now if it wants to be cheesy and fun or overly serious. Vin Diesel is his usual growly self. Is decent in the fight sequences and does a good job at being confused when needed. The supporting cast are pretty fun, with them all fitting the usual tropes. After Ray wakes up, he meets Dr Emil Harting (Guy Pearce), the scientist who saved and enhanced him, along with other former military personal who have been given a new lease of life by Harting’s technology.

KT (Eiza González) is the former soldier that gets the most development and appears to have more of a moral integrity than the others. There are small moments with her that make you start to suspect there’s something more going on. Alas those moments are small because the answers are given far too quickly.

There is some intrigue to be had in Bloodshot but unfortunately due to the script being chockfull of exposition – honestly some characters just monologue on their motivations or backstory at the drop of a hat – the intrigue comes to nothing. It’s like the filmmakers didn’t trust the audience was smart enough to pay attention to some pretty big cues and to puzzle together what was happening themselves. Instead, anytime there seemed to be a moment where new information was being revealed, it was explained almost straightaway.

The action and special effects with the nanotechnology are pretty good. There’s an action sequence in a tunnel that really stands out. The action is contained to a small area and it really showcases the power Ray has at his fingertips. It’s also lit by red flares and the smoke and powder everywhere along with the dramatic score and slow-motion shots, makes it an aesthetically pleasing sequence.

That being said, another action scene stands out for the wrong reasons. There’s an action/chase sequence that’s supposed to be taking part in London, but it is so clearly not in London that it’s completely jarring. It doesn’t even look like the characters are in the UK anymore as they run down side streets and encounter police cars that look nothing like UK police cars. At a guess, I’d say it was filmed in a Mediterranean country because the houses and shops in the UK look nothing like the ones in that sequence.

The concept of Bloodshot is interesting and while the majority of the action sequences are well shot and engaging, the actual plot doesn’t live up to its potential. 2/5.

While I’ve included the trailer like I always do, I’d not recommend watching it as it gives away the majority of the twists and turns in Bloodshot.

Y is for You Again (2010)

When Marni (Kristen Bell) realises her brother Will (James Wolk) is about to marry, Joanna (Odette Annable) the girl who bullied her in high school, she sets out to expose his fiancée’s true colours.

There are so many things that do not work in You Again but perhaps the main thing is that there’s more chemistry between Bell and Wolk who are playing siblings, than Wolk and Annable who he’s engaged to. From the opening scenes where you learn how terrible Marni’s high school life was, her brother Will is always there to jump to her defence and while sibling relationships like that are great, as the film goes on the dynamic between them feels far closer than two siblings should be. And as Marni’s vendetta against Joanna grows, it often feels like no one would be good enough for her brother, not just the fact that Joanna bullied her in school. It could well be Kristen Bell’s fault for being adorable and being able to bounce off just about anyone.

There’s some brilliant female talent in You Again but due to a poor script (people who are a part of the same family talk to each other like their just acquaintances a lot of the time) and a generic plot, they don’t really get to show off their comedic talents that well. Jamie Lee Curtis plays Marni and Will’s mother while Sigourney Weaver plays Joanna’s aunt. Turns out that they were friends in high school that drifted apart for some unknown reason, so there are two generations of feuding women here. Betty White is in it too and she has some of the funniest moments, and while Kristen Bell is charming she is not great here.

The central themes of this film are not handled well. The messages that everyone can change, people can deserve second chances, high school shouldn’t define the rest of your life – they’re all great but are bigger and more sensitive themes than this not that funny comedy can handle. The conflict between Weaver and Curtis’s characters was more interesting and neutral. This is because for a long time you don’t know why they fell out, and neither does Jamie Lee Curtis’s character, and when everything comes to ahead you can see both sides and no one was the out and out villain. Unlike the situation between Marni and Joanna where Marni suffered a lot at the hands of Joanna and her friends, and there’s no way anyone who was bullied would want the bully to be a part of their family.

I’m potentially going too deep in what’s supposed to be a fun comedy, and comedies can have serious messages or stories in them, but You Again just doesn’t do enough to make you feel sympathy for Joanna or forgive her.

You Again has a few funny moments, Curtis and Weaver’s characters and history are interesting, but on the whole You Again is just a mindless watch with nothing that memorable about it. 2/5.

U is for Unforgiven (1992)

Retired gunslinger William Munny (Clint Eastwood) reluctantly takes on one last job, avenge a woman who had been attacked by a couple of cowboys, with the help of his old partner Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman) and a young man, The “Schofield Kid” (Jaimz Woolvett).

Unforgiven is one of those films that’s always recommended when someone’s interested in exploring more of the Western genre. Because of that, I was expecting to really like it but unfortunately, I did not. On the whole, I enjoy Westerns and even did a module on them at university, but I really struggled with Unforgiven and found it more boring than anything else.

Unforgiven is just really slow going. The majority of the film is just highlighting how old William and, to a lesser extent, Ned have gotten. They used to be the best of the best, cold stone killers but they have changed, becoming farmers rather than killers. William’s world weariness is balanced out by The Schofield Kid’s enthusiasm. The dynamic between the youngster, keen to leave their mark, and the older gunslingers who have killed and know the toll it can have is good, but really the characters don’t have much of a personality. They are clichés of the genre and many of the characters could’ve been swapped with others from the genre with little to no effect on the plot.

Everything finally kicks off in the final act and a lot of the previous heavy-handed exposition becomes relevant as you see the change William goes through. It’s a final act that works because of what came before it, but unfortunately what came before it was often dull or meaningless. There’s a side plot with Richard Harris as gunfighter English Bob which amounts to nothing and is only there to hammer home how brutal lawman Little Bill (Gene Hackman) is. However, there are other scenes before and after the ones featuring English Bob that show how nasty Bill can be, so is Richard Harris even needed here?

Unforgiven won Best Picture at the Oscars in 1993 and while I haven’t seen the other nominees from that year, I’m still somewhat surprised it won. It looks good, with wide shots of the landscapes and the film quality makes it feels like a much older film than it is, which adds to the charm of a Western as they should feel timeless. However, Unforgiven is an arduous watch. The performances are mostly fine, but there’s attempts at humour that often don’t work, and the story and characters aren’t particularly compelling. Unforgiven just really wasn’t for me. 2/5.

READ THE WORLD – Turkey: The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak

Sixteenth century Istanbul: Jahan is only a boy when he arrives in the city bearing an extraordinary gift for the Sultan. He has no family or possessions to his name except Chota, a rare white elephant destined for the palace menagerie. There they learn to guard against the scheming of animal tamers, gypsies, deceitful courtiers and the mischievous Princess Mihrimah. Jahan travels on Chota’s back to the furthest corners of the Sultan’s kingdom and back again. But one day he catches the eye of the royal architect, Sinan, a chance encounter destined to change Jahan’s fortunes forever as it enables him to enter the marble halls where the treacherous plot.

I found The Architect’s Apprentice a really slow read. That’s because it is more of a character study of Jahan and while there are incidents in his life, they are like a footnote in how he grows as a person. There’s really not as much action as I was expecting, especially with the blurb mentioning lies and deceit – I thought there would be a lot more political intrigue than there was.

A lot of time passes in The Architect’s Apprentice, it spans decades of Jahan’s life, and it really took me a while to realise that. I didn’t realise that Jahan was growing up because it seemed to take a long time for him to start maturing and evolving as a person. Plus, while things were happening to him, it just seemed like it was one event after the other and it was difficult to gage the passage of time.

For the most part I did like the writing in The Architect’s Apprentice. There’s some lovely passages and the descriptions of Instanbul and the various temples and buildings Jahan is involved with building and designing are vivid. It really does make the city feel alive and it often felt more of an interesting character than the human characters.

The relationship between Jahan and Chota the elephant was a big part of the story and one of the more interesting parts. They were incredibly close, and it frequently seemed like Chota understood what Jahan was saying and what was happening around them. The times when Jahan was with Chota made him feel like more of a real person as Chota seemed to bring out the best of him and he seemed more animated and not just a spectator in his own life when he was with Chota.

Perhaps it’s my fault going into The Architect’s Apprentice with vastly different expectations so what the book actually was, was a disappointment. Still if you like a slow-paced historical fiction novel set during the height of the Ottoman Empire then maybe try The Architect’s Apprentice. 2/5.

H is for House of D (2004)

Tom Warshaw (David Duchovny), an American artist living in Paris, looks back on when he was a teenager and the friends he had and begins to discover who he really is.

The vast majority of House of D is set in New York in 1973, and follows Tom as a teenager, played by Anton Yelchin, and his friendship with Pappass (Robin Williams), a mentally handicapped man who is often called a retard, his relationship with his mother (Téa Leoni) who relies of pills and is paranoid about keeping her son safe, and the quasi-friendship he was with an unseen woman (Erykah Badu) who is locked up in the Women’s House of Detention.

There is a lot going on in House of D in terms of themes and plot lines and the various relationships Tom has – there’s also the start of a romance with a girl at his school. Just one of these aspects could’ve made a decent film if it was the primary focus, but having to juggle so many different things means none of them are ever truly developed.

Based on the plot summary and even the trailer, you are left expecting more than what the film gives you. There’s a lot of set up for what could be a big, emotional and dramatic payoff but it ends up being more of a whimper. There’s no real satisfying conclusion to Tom airing his secrets and trying to atone for past mistakes as the payoff isn’t as emotionally satisfying as the lead up promised.

Really the thing that makes you most emotional watching House of D isn’t the story, but the fact you’re watching Anton Yelchin and Robin Williams together on screen and after both of their untimely deaths. While the story leaves a lot to be desired, their performances don’t – especially Yelchin. Even in a film that’s not that great you’re reminded of what an incredibly young talent he was as you see him hold his own against the likes of Williams and Leoni.

The tone of House of D is a weird one. It’s a story that is often very depressing, but it also has scenarios where you’re not sure if you’re supposed to be laughing or not. A lot of this comes from Williams’ Pappass. Thanks to Williams’ comic timing and visual comedy, he is funny, but because his character is mentally disabled, there’s that conflict of are you supposed to be laughing with him or at him.

House of D is a sad drama and it’s one that isn’t particularly memorable. It’s messy and somewhat insulting and insensitive at times, and really Anton Yelchin is the standout and only diehard fans of him should seek out House of D. 2/5.

REVIEW: Ophelia (2018)

Ophelia (Daisy Ridley) comes of age as lady-in-waiting for Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts), and her singular spirit captures Hamlet’s (George MacKay) affections. As lust and betrayal threaten the kingdom, Ophelia finds herself trapped between true love and controlling her own destiny.

Ophelia, as you might’ve guessed, is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet but putting Ophelia front and centre. As someone who only knew the bare minimum of what happened in Hamlet, you don’t need to know the story before watching Ophelia, though I’m sure if you did know it you might notice more of the things they put a spin on.

The performances in Ophelia are not that great, and in some cases are just bad. The likes of Watts and Clive Owen (who plays Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius) are fine but never really go full throttle on inhabiting characters have the potential to be interesting and entertaining. MacKay and Ridley have very little chemistry, and unfortunately Ridley’s performance leaves a lot to be desired. For instance, there’s some scenes that are supposed to be big, emotional moments based on other characters reactions and the score, but from Ridley’s performance you wouldn’t really think Ophelia is that affected by what is going on.

The period costumes and setting all look lovely. The costumes and makeup during a costume ball sequence are especially interesting, with Ridley having blue face paint around her eyes, contrasting with her red hair. Also, in another party scene, George MacKay has a lot of eyeliner on which is certainly a look.

The 1 hour 40-minute runtime does end up dragging a bit. The plot meanders along slowly and while every effort is made to put Ophelia front and centre of the action and in charge of her own destiny, in reality she’s still a victim of circumstance and the men in her life – Hamlet, Claudius, her father – still often have more power over her life than she does.

The finale is somewhat satisfying as all the tensions between characters reaches boiling point and the threat of conflict with a neighbouring country comes to fruition. However, it feels almost too little too late and it doesn’t have the emotional heft that you’d want in an epic finale.

Ophelia is a bit of a dull spin on a classic story. While the idea of having this story told by a female character who is unfairly treated in the source material, the end product isn’t as interesting as that scenario. 2/5.

READ THE WORLD – Vietnam: Night, Again edited by Linh Dinh

A collection of short stories by over a dozen different authors. These stories are about relationships, family, and show a side to Vietnam that’s not just the war.

Like with a lot of short story collections, I found Night, Again to be a bit of a mixed bag and unfortunately in this case I wasn’t grabbed by many of them. I thought the writing in them was generally good, and they each were like a slice of life for often very normal people. There were a few I really liked though.

One of them was “A Marker on the Side of the Boat” by Bao Ninh. This story was about a soldier who was saved by a woman, but then the pair of them are caught in a bombing. This was a fast paced and engaging story that pulls you in in such a short number of pages.

“Gunboat on the Yangtze” by Tran Vu was an unsettling one as it was about a brother and sister who have an incestuous relationship. It’s an uncomfortable read really as to begin with even though their relationship is obviously unhealthy, there’s an almost innocence to their relationship that it seems actually supportive and good for them. That strange feeling doesn’t last for long, as events quickly take an even darker turn.

A lot of the stories in Night, Again were dark or depressing. Even the ones that were lighter in tone had a sense of melancholy about them as the characters often had a bittersweet moment of realisation about their circumstances or who they were. I did get a bit of whiplash going from story to story as while a lot of them were pretty gloomy, there was the odd story like “Scenes from an Alley” by Le Minh Khue, which was a darkly funny tale.

All in all the majority of stories in Night, Again weren’t that memorable, but I’m pleased I read some stories that weren’t just focussed on a war, but often instead dealt with the everyday tragedies. 2/5.

READ THE WORLD – Saint Kitts and Nevis: Only God Can Make a Tree by Bertram Roach

Adrian is the son of a black Caribbean woman and an Irish immigrant father and is blessed with the pale skin and European features to allow him social mobility in the rigidly hierarchical society of twentieth-century Caribbean life. He falls in love but is offered the opportunity to improve his social standing, and thus the rest of his life, if he can suppress his heart’s desire and decide with his head. Will he choose Julia, the only woman he has ever really loved, and settle for being an overseer, or will he opt for the plantation-owner’s daughter, Alice Mills, who could provide him with the social standing he has always dreamed of?

Only God Can Make a Tree is a short book at less than 150 pages, and it is a quick read both because of its length and because of the writing style. It’s written very simply and is very much a book where it tells you what’s happening and what characters are feeling rather than showing you through metaphors or flowery language. This makes it seem like it’s not a very well-written book as you can’t easily connect with the characters and the plot is just laid out in front of you. It took a while to get used to how it was written, but its blunt, on the nose approach to this story did make it easy to read and sometimes engaging.

For such a short book it covers a lot of time and different characters lives. Adrian is the main character but as the choices he makes have knock on effects onto the people around him, you get snippets from other characters points of view as they struggle to deal with the fallout of his actions. The latter half of the book spans more time as Adrian fathers’ children and they grow up and have to live with Adrian being their father and what that can mean for them.

Adrian is a character that’s equal parts infuriating and sympathetic. While his actions are his own, and they are often reckless and hurt women who do love him, he is boxed in by the hierarchical society and has limited options if he desires to climb the social ladder. Adrian has high aspirations in a society that won’t really allow him to have those aspirations. He is a man that’s almost trapped between two societies because of his parentage, he can pass for white a lot of the time, but at the same time many white people will never see him as anything but black and will treat him accordingly. There’s also how Adrian appears to be destined to make similar mistakes to his own father, and all the rum that’s available is not good for any of the characters.

The sections about life in Saint Kitts and Nevis in the twentieth century were interesting. White, often English, people still owned the cotton and sugar cane plantations but now they pay people to work the land, albeit very cheaply. The former slaves are now labourers. As not a lot of time has passed since the abolition of slavery, there’s still some tension as the white plantation owners believe that the black people are still savages deep down. Often the glimpses of Caribbean society and how it works were more interesting than Adrian’s life. Though that being said, how Caribbean society works had a direct effect on Adrian and how is life panned out so the intersection between the two was also interesting.

I read Only God Can Make a Tree in less than two hours but I’m not sure how long this story will stick with me. It’s a concise family saga that gives a unique insight into post-slavery Caribbean and how one man’s aspirations can have long-lasting and unexpected effects. 2/5.

REVIEW: Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)

My review from when I first saw The Last Jedi is here and as this is the first time I’ve watched this film since the cinema, and it’s been a few years, there’s probably going to be spoilers in this review.

As Rey (Daisy Ridley) urges Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to train her in the ways of the Force, the Resistance is on the run from the First Order.

I’d not seen The Last Jedi since I saw it in the cinema, I did watch it twice then and was left feeling a bit meh about it. Over the past two years there’s been many people screaming about this film on the internet, both championing it and slating it, having problems with it that boil down to straight up misogyny or racism, or having genuine issues to do with characterisation and story. Honestly, the environment surrounding The Last Jedi online makes me somewhat hesitant to mention it, whether I had good things or bad things to say about it.

But after rewatching it now in preparation for The Rise of Skywalker, and just a day after I rewatched The Force Awakens which I love, I can safely say I don’t like The Last Jedi. There are some bits I enjoy, and the film looks great, but overall I just don’t like what happened to a lot of the characters or how (at least at the moment and The Rise of Skywalker could change this) it feels like a standalone film and the events of this film won’t have much of an effect on the next one.

My main problem with The Last Jedi is that it feels like a filler episode for a TV show. It is a very character-driven film. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it spends so much time focusing on its characters that the overall plot doesn’t really move forward. These characters do things, but often what they do is pointless because it doesn’t move the plot forward, or they don’t achieve anything and in fact more often than not what they do hinders the heroes in some way. Having characters fail isn’t a bad thing, it allows them to learn and grow and seeing characters fail can be interesting, but when their failures are for nothing, then there’s a problem.

Then there’s the characters and their characterisations. Firstly, I while I like Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) I do not like how Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Rey spend 95% of the film apart from one another. One of my favourite things about The Force Awakens was the relationships between Finn and Poe and Finn and Rey. Those characters instantly gelled and their chemistry was off the charts and I wanted to see more of that, and for Rey and Poe to finally interact. Instead there was a kit of stuff with Finn and Rose, which again I liked how their relationship developed but I wish it had done so when they were with the rest of the heroes.

Then there’s the characterisations. I think Rey and Kylo Ren’s (Adam Driver) arcs were the most consistent with what was seen in The Force Awakens but Poe seemed like a completely different person which is even more weird when you consider the fact that The Last Jedi starts immediately where The Force Awakens finished. There’s a fine line between cockiness and arrogance and Poe just leaps over that line. Considering in The Force Awakens he very much cares about what happens to his fellow pilots and follows General Organa’s (Carrie Fisher) orders, it’s just unbelievable he’d be willing to sacrifice so many lives in order to blow up a ship. Over the course of The Last Jedi Poe learns humility, battle tactics and to trust his superiors – all things that someone who is a Commander in the Resistance should already know, considering they are an experienced pilot and Commander.

With Finn it feels like this was a waste of potential. Finn is an ex-Stormtrooper and that could lead to so many interesting things instead of him just casually being able to tell people plans for various First Order ships when needed. You could have members of the Resistance not trusting him, Finn not trusting himself, Finn having guilt over killing those who used to be his brothers in arms, Finn wanting to help other Stormtroopers defect, conflict between Finn and Poe when he realises Poe’s the one who killed his friend and thus helped snap him out of his brainwashing in The Force Awakens. A lot of the time in The Last Jedi it feels like Finn is a secondary character; to Rose, to Poe, to Rey, when he should be one of the leads.

I feel like I’ve just been talking about the problems I have with this film, but I do like some things about The Last Jedi. Even though he’s not in it much, I really like Benicio del Toro’s character, he’s a conman and a thief and not a nice guy but I do have a soft spot for that kind of character. I like the action sequences too. The fight in the throne room between Rey and Kylo Ren is fantastic to watch and it’s exciting to see these two enemies fight side by side if only for a moment. I also think the fight between Kylo Ren and Luke is clever and I like what it allows the rest of the heroes to do.

I also like the idea of Luke being ashamed for what he did – or didn’t – do when training Kylo Ren and how he failed him and his family. I like how resistant he was to train Rey and how scared he was of her strength. That all made sense to me, but I don’t have the nostalgia or strong love for the original Star Wars characters. Perhaps that’s why the choices made about the new characters I fell in love with in The Force Awakens hurt so much.

All in all, I found The Last Jedi to be rather disappointing on rewatch. In some ways it’s almost style over substance as it’s a very visually appealing film and there’s sequences that are entertaining in isolation but when you look at the broader story and how the characters act, it’s just not an enjoyable time. 2/5.

REVIEW: The Knight Before Christmas (2019)

When medieval English knight Sir Cole (Josh Whitehouse) is magically transported to present day Ohio, he meets high school science teacher Brooke (Vanessa Hudgens) and together they must figure out how he can complete his quest in order to return home.

The Knight Before Christmas is one of those Christmas films that is most definitely not good, but at times it can be weirdly watchable and that’s mostly down to the charm of Vanessa Hudgens.

The Knight Before Christmas is a classic fish out of water tale. Being a medieval knight Cole knows nothing about anything from technology to food and everything in between. This leads to what are supposed to be funny moments – sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t. After Brooke hits Cole with her car she takes him in as she feels bad and it’s obvious that he’s lost his memory what with him having old fashioned speech patterns and believing he’s a fourteenth century knight and all.

You do have to give Netflix kudos for having a character in The Knight Before Christmas sitting down and watching another one of the Christmas films. I guess it makes sense in terms of costs and the legalities but it’s still kind of funny. I’m pretty sure they namedropped a fictional country that features in another of their Christmas films too. Does this mean that there’s a Netflix Christmas Film Cinematic Universe?

The close relationship between Brooke and her sister Madison (Emmanuelle Chriqui) is nice and they feel like believable siblings without Madison being solely relegated to the supportive family member. Hudgens and Whitehouse don’t have a lot of chemistry but they’re not terrible together. As Cole and Brooke slowly begin to understand and care for one another you can’t help but wish they’d realise how they feel a lot sooner – but then where would be the drama and “suspense”?!

The Knight Before Christmas is cheesy predictable Christmas nonsense. It’s harmless but forgettable but Vanessa Hudgens’s charm and big doe eyes save it from being awful. 2/5.