3 stars

REVIEW: Hotel Artemis (2018)

Los Angeles 2028. Hotel Artemis is run by the Nurse (Jodie Foster) and it’s a place for criminals to lay low and get patched up. The Hotel Artemis has an important set of rules, including no guns and no killing the other patients. But with riots on the streets and high-end criminals checked in, tensions begin to boil over.

Hotel Artemis does a lot of clever world-building in a very short period of time. There’s riots on the streets over clean water, rich people are desperately trying to place their valuables in the bank to avoid looters and rumours of an all-powerful mob boss. The look of the hotel, how it and the various medial equipment seems to be on its last legs, it makes the hotel almost a character of its own.

Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) is the main character of the hotel guests and thus gets the most development. When it comes to fleshing out the other characters there’s assassin Nice (Sofia Boutella) followed by scumbag Acapulco (Charlie Day). If you’re thinking all these names are a bit odd, that’s because the guests of the hotel are named after the name of their suite. All actors do a good job with what they’re given though it is Jodie Foster who’s the standout. The Nurse holds it all together as she goes from room to room, patching up guests and attempting to keep other people out of the hotel. She’s sweet lady that’s somehow ended up healing criminals, she works in a morally grey area but she’s someone who believes in the rules and is a good person at heart.

Hotel Artemis isn’t particularly an action film. Towards the end there’s a big fight but really, it’s a character driven film and the main plot is about not letting certain characters learn about other characters who may or may not be in the hotel. It sounds more complicated than it is and it would’ve been nice if there were more than one scene where multiple criminals were in the same place at once. That one scene was funny, compelling and tense.

Hotel Artemis does lack a spark of something to make it great. Perhaps it’s because, for some reason, I thought it was going to have the same sort of manic humour as Free Fire. But really while there are a few jokes, most of which come from Dave Bautista’s Everest, it’s a more serious drama about criminals.

With its 90 minutes runtime, Hotel Artemis doesn’t really let up. There’s a lot happening with these characters but the film doesn’t do enough to be memorable. 3/5.

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REVIEW: Mission: Impossible III (2006)

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is trying to balance his life as an IMF agent and his attempt at a normal life with his fiancée Julia (Michelle Monaghan) when manipulative arms dealer Owen Davian (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) who is set to steal and sell an item known only as the Rabbits Foot comes onto the IMF’s radar.

Mission: Impossible III is a good mix of intrigue, action and more emotional depth when it comes to Ethan Hunt. Ethan has semi-retired and is in love and wants to settle down with nurse Julia. While it would’ve been nice to see these two meet and fall in love, Cruise and Monaghan’s chemistry more than makes up for that. Also, Julia isn’t stupid, she knows there’s something up with Ethan and his “business trips” but she trusts him enough that he will tell her what’s going on with him when needed.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman is satisfyingly menacing as Davian. He’s calm under pressure and always seems to be a few steps ahead of Ethan and his team. Davian plays underhand, threatening people Ethan cares about including Julia, and is an intimidating presence even when he’s not on screen.

The action sequences are exciting, especially the showdown on a bridge. One of the main set pieces in Mission: Impossible III is when Ethan and his team infiltrates the Vatican. That sequence shows off all the spy tech and how good these guys are at their jobs. Mission: Impossible III definitely spaces out the action, instead focusing more on the characters and the idea there’s people at IMF that might not be trusted.

Mission: Impossible III is a good action flick with solid performances from Cruise, Monaghan and Hoffman. Ethan’s team does get left by the wayside during the final act and the Rabbit Foot is a McGuffin which causes the characters to act and it really is a surface level plot point. At its heart Mission: Impossible III is about Ethan and Julia and it’s probably the most character driven film of the series. 3/5.

REVIEW: Tau (2018)

When Julia (Maika Monroe) wakes up in a house controlled by an Artificial Intelligence system called Tau (Gary Oldman), she must figure out what its creator (Ed Skrein) wants with her and find a way to escape.

Having 99% of the film set in one location, scientist Alex’s home, gives it a claustrophobic feel as Julia begins to converse with Tau and the two of them form an unlikely connection as they learn from one another. The lighting has an influence on each scene as when Alex is home, everything is in shades of blue but when he leaves, and Julia and Tau are alone, the lighting is in shades of red. It contrasts the differences between Alex and Julia, Alex is logical and strives for control, while Julia is quick-thinking and strives for freedom.

Both Monroe and Skrein are great in their roles and when the two of them are caught in almost a battle of wits, the tension is at its peak. Julia is a memorable “final girl” who combines grim determination with hopefulness and a caring side.

Tau is a creepy horror-sci-fi hybrid that offers another take on the man verses AI dilemma we’ve seen in countless films over the years. However, Tau doesn’t really offer anything new in terms of commentary on AI’s and how as they become smarter, people may abuse them. There’s parallels made between the trauma Julia faced at the hands of her parents and the restrictions Alex puts on Tau, but it lacks any real depth. Still, with its 90-minute runtime, Tau is an engaging small-scale sci-fi flick. 3/5.

REVIEW: Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Bleak House is a saga with the legal case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce, which is about an inheritance dispute, at its centre. There are many characters and subplots in Bleak House, but the heroine of the story is Esther Summerson, a young woman who is taken under guardianship of John Jarndyce, and who’s connections become a focal point of the story.

Bleak House has two narrators, Esther Summerson and an unnamed omniscient narrator. To begin with, their stories seem to run parallel to each other and there’s not much that connects the two of them but as the story progresses the narratives merge and characters from both perspectives interact with one another.

I think listening to the audiobook is what got me through Bleak House, if I’d been reading the physical book I would’ve given up on it. The audiobook of Bleak House I listened to was narrated by Hugh Dickson and I think he did a fantastic job at making each of the many many characters sound different and, more often than not, memorable. This made the story and its many sub-plots and characters easier to follow. Also, I think the more humorous moments or dialogue were easier to understand when listening to it, compared to reading it, because the language was easier to comprehend

Bleak House is a dense story with is subplots and characters, but it also has an interesting mystery and is sometimes funny too. There’s so much going on in Bleak House it’s hard to give a summary of it or go into all the characters – I will talk a bit about Esther Summerson though. Esther grew up unloved, so she is very self-deprecating and grateful for every little thing. Even though she grew up in an unloving home, she’s someone with a big heart and a lot of love to give. Her relationship with Ada, another of John Jarndyce’s wards, is lovely as they support one another and quickly form a solid connection.

I’m happy I’ve finally read Bleak House, it’s been sitting on my shelf for nearly five years, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It’s a story with a legal battle, with romance, with family drama and it’s a detective story too. It’s so many things and it’s a commentary on the poor in London and the tough and potentially hopeless situations they are in. 3/5.

REVIEW: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

When a volcano on Isla Nublar becomes active, it threatens the lives of the only dinosaurs on Earth. Former park manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and raptor behaviourist Owen (Chris Pratt) mount a campaign to rescue the dinosaurs but those funding the expedition have other plans for the creatures.

Fallen Kingdom is a film of two parts. The first is a disaster film and a race against time. The second part is a horror film. The switch between these two elements isn’t exactly smooth and the middle section does drag a bit but when these two elements take their turn being at the forefront, Fallen Kingdom is a tense and exciting film.

The sequence on the island shows off all the dinosaurs in all their glory. The special effects are overall stunning. In some of the wider shots with multiple creatures the effects aren’t quite as great but on the close ups on individual dinosaurs the level of detail is incredible.

When the story moves to the Lockwood Estate, where businessman Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) awaits the dinosaurs, the tension amps up with the introduction of a new creation from scientist Dr Henry Wu (BD Wong). This is when the film turns into a story about a creepy mansion filled with monsters.

The main problem with Fallen Kingdom is the humans. It’s hard to care about them and while I didn’t want any of the “heroes” to get eaten, it was more from the typical desire for the protagonists to succeed rather than any fond feeling I had for them as characters. Claire is a character who’s changed a lot since we saw her in Jurassic World (2015) but Owen is just the same brash guy. There’s new characters like computer tech Franklin (Justice Smith) and veterinarian Zia (Daniella Pineda) who while are pretty two-dimensional offer a new perspective of the dinosaurs. Unfortunately they both are absent for the majority of the third act leaving it to Claire and Owen to save the day again.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has some spectacular set pieces and some generally scary moments. However, the human characters and their often-stupid decisions, let the film down. 3/5.

REVIEW: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

The story of a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) who joins a group of smugglers and thieves led by Beckett (Woody Harrelson) to take on an almost impossible heist for crime lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a prequel to the original Star Wars films, showing us how Han Solo became the Han Solo we know and love. Is this film needed? No. Is it a good film? I’s alright and its downfall is that it has the same problems that so many prequel films have no matter the genre. You know the characters who you’ve seen in films that are set later on survive this adventure and you know any characters you’re introduced to in this film who you haven’t seen before will either die, turn evil, ride off into the sunset or just generally not have a big role in this film. Sometimes it’s a combination of more than one of these potential outcomes. The new characters are mostly decent but aren’t particularly fleshed out or, in the case of Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), are suddenly given multiple different facets towards the end of the film that it feels a bit like whiplash.

Alden Ehrenreich does a great job as a younger version of Harrison Ford’s jaded Han Solo. This Han Solo is a guy who doesn’t really know where he fits in, he tries being good, he tries being bad and a lot of the time he’s just very lucky. Donald Glover is also very charismatic as a young Lando Calrissian and seeing how Han and Lando meet is great and the two of them bounce well of each other. Another great first meeting is Han and Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) seeing the friendship grow between these two was wonderful and any of their interactions or the scenes that featured the two of them were the best. Chewbacca probably has the most well-developed and interesting character arc in this film to be honest.

The action and fight scenes are good with the heist on a train being a standout moment. However, the pacing of Solo: A Star Wars Story leaves much to be desired. The first thirty minutes or so is a bit of a slog, but it does pick up once Han meets Beckett and his crew. The first thirty minutes or so were also incredibly dark. I honestly found myself squinting at the screen a few times as it was difficult to make out characters reactions to events that were happening around them. While scenes that take place at night or on grimy planets will naturally be darker, it seemed like everything was so poorly lit that when something interesting did happen, it was hard to actually see it.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is a perfectly fine film. It’s mostly fun and the characters you’ve already met are great. There’s a few surprises in Solo: A Star Wars Story and a lot of references to the franchise as a whole (some of which are eyeroll-inducing and really aren’t needed). Overall, it’s a film that doesn’t add much to the Star Wars mythos but it’s a mostly fun adventure featuring some much-loved characters. 3/5.

REVIEW: Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

Best friends Charlie, Taylor and Jamie are heading to SupaCon! Charlie is a blogger and actress promoting her first film at SupaCon and it’s her chance to show the fans she’s completely over her breakup with co-star Reese Ryan. When she meets super famous online personality Alyssa, Charlie begins to think her long-time crush isn’t as one sided as she thought. Taylor’s more reserved than Charlie. Her brain is wired differently making social situations often terrifying and a fear of change makes her constantly re-evaluate what she wants from her best guy friend Jamie. But when she enters a fan contest to meet her favourite author, Taylor begins to rethink her lifelong goal of always playing it safe.

Queens of Geek is a super quick read, I flew through it. It’s all set during one weekend at a fan convention called SupaCon so there are a lot of geeky references to comics, cosplay and fandom in general. It’s kind of a love letter to fandom, and how people can find safety and comfort in fandom and the TV shows/films/books that people can bond over. It’s a nice looking into the world of comic cons and how they can be very overwhelming but also be a place to meet likeminded people and make new friends.

The story is told in alternate perspectives, Taylor and Charlie’s. Taylor has anxiety and Asperger’s and it’s insightful hearing her explain how she feels in certain situations and about life in general. She’s almost constantly struggling but still loves her friends and her fandom. Taylor is bisexual and has had a past relationship with a boy and during her time at SupaCon gets to know Alyssa. Their romance is really sweet and they both talk about how their past relationships have affected them and what they’re looking for going forward.

The amount of communication between Taylor, Jamie, Charlie, and Alyssa (and all combinations of thereof) was extraordinary. Any misunderstandings are more likely to last a couple of paragraphs than a couple of chapters. It’s both great to see a solid group of friends or a potential love interest be so open about their thoughts, feelings and fears with one another, but also a bit disconcerting as it’s something that is (unfortunately) so unusual in fiction, and often in real life as well. So often one character gave an encouraging speech to another character that it felt unrealistic.

Queens of Geek is definitely a character driven book. There’s not really any plot twists or big moments, instead it highlights various important diverse topics like sexuality, mental health, body image and unhealthy relationships. All these topics are handled well but the story sometimes felt like it had been put on the backburner in order for a character to say their piece about a certain topic.

Queens of Geek is a cute, quick read with some great characters who really support one another. Jamie, Charlie and Taylor have a solid friendship and each of their personalities shines through. However, it’s not a memorable read for me as it felt like it was trying so often to tick as many important, diversity boxes as possible that it didn’t end up grounded in reality. 3/5.