When the daughters of Atlas (Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu) return to Earth with plans to destroy the world of humans, Billy Batson (Asher Angel) and his adult superhero alter ego (Zachary Levi), must bring his superhero family together to save the world.
The first Shazam! film was an unexpected delight and while Shazam! Fury of the Gods doesn’t reach the heights of the original, it’s still a pretty fun sequel that builds on the themes of family that was so essential to the first one. That being said, I would’ve like Asher Angel to have more screentime with his on-screen siblings, as adult Billy aka Zachary Levi, definitely had the most screentime with the siblings, both the kid-versions and the superhero-versions. The first film had such a great balance between the superhero and the kid stuff but in Fury of the Gods it was definitely more skewed towards the superhero stuff. Which kind of makes sense but it was to an extent where you sometimes for got that this superhero was a teenager – especially as teenage Billy was a lot calmer and more thoughtful than superhero Billy who sometimes veered off into being almost Deadpool-esque with the abundance on one-liners and acting more like comic relief than a hero with responsibilities. (more…)
After Mona Lisa (Jeon Jong-seo), a young woman with telekinetic powers breaks out of an asylum in Louisiana, she makes her way to New Orleans where she meets fellow misfits and outcasts.
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon starts off strong with this neon-infused New Orleans setting but everything does peter out in the second half. It’s a film that has both comedic moments and more serious ones and the blending of those two doesn’t always work. When it’s focused on the more eerie side of things that’s when it really worked for me.
There’s a level of tension throughout the film as though Mona Lisa has these powers which allow her to make people do whatever she wants, she’s been locked away from the world for so long that she doesn’t really have many social skills or awareness of how the world works. She’s naive in some ways and it’s easy for her to be taken advantage of. Especially at the beginning when she’s just got out of the asylum and is just wearing a straight jacket, because of Jong-seo’s size it makes her look even more vulnerable. (more…)
After Cassie Lang’s (Kathryn Newton) prototype goes awry, she along with her father Scott (Paul Rudd), Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) are pulled into the Quantum Realm and have to rely on each other to find a way back home.
I do have mixed feelings about Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania as it’s a film I enjoyed when watching it, but then thinking about it in hindsight there’s stuff that really didn’t work for me.
One of those things is the editing – it was really all over the place. Some of the shot choices were weird and the way things were edited together it was often hard to tell where characters were in relation to each other. This was annoying and sometimes confusing in action sequences but it was downright strange in scenes where characters are sitting around a table talking. Some edits were jarring and took me out of scenes that should be really simple to follow.
Ant-Man is known as one of the more comedic characters in the MCU and unlike Thor: Love and Thunder, Quantumania finds the right balance when it comes to humour. No joke is over done and new and quirky characters are some nice, fun light relief and are used well.
As the vast majority of Quantumania takes place in the Quantum Realm special effects and CGI is abundant and for the most part it’s pretty good. Some things do feel flat and the creature designs and environments kind of feel like they’d fit in well in the world of Stars Wars, but other creatures are pretty cool. I think some of the issues are that no doubt the actors filmed a lot of this film on green screens and you could tell as at times a couple of actors were supposed to be looking at something and their reactions were out of sync or they were looking in slightly different directions so their sightlines were off. Again, this may well have been improved with better editing choices.
Besides the general problems that arise being in an unknown world, Scott and his family have to contend with secrets from Janet’s past, which includes Kang (Jonathan Majors). Majors is a really imposing and compelling presence throughout the film and Quantumania does that always helpful thing of building a mythos around someone before you even meet them. Majors really has a sense of gravitas in his performance and even when Kang is talking to other characters in a perfectly reasonable tone it always feels like there is an underlying threat there.
Quantumania straddles the line between being a nice, self-contained story about a family trying to make their way home and setting out the building blocks for the MCU’s next big villain. This also makes the film a bit awkward at times and while Kang is an effective presence in Quantumania, rightly or wrongly he out shines the heroes of this story.
Overall, I did have fun while watching Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania but it’s not without it’s faults. I will say that while I’m not sure how memorable this film will be in terms of the rest of the MCU, at least I enjoyed watching it unlike Thor: Love and Thunder which actively annoyed me as I was watching it. 3/5.
Trigger warnings for gore, violence, abuse, amputation, torture, war themes, animal death, and cultural genocide and ethnic cleansing
In her forest-veiled pagan village, twenty-five-year-old Évike is the only woman without power, making her an outcast clearly abandoned by the gods. When soldiers arrive from the Holy Order of Woodsmen to claim a pagan girl for the king’s blood sacrifice, Évike is betrayed by her fellow villagers and surrendered. En route to the capital, most of the Woodsmen are killed and Évike is forced to rely on the one-eyed captain Gáspár. As they travel together Évike learns about why the King coverts pagan magic, how the throne is under threat from an illegitimate son, and how the fate of the throne can have disastrous affects on her village, and her father and his people who she never really knew.
After reading and loving the Winternight trilogy I thought I’d continue the wintery, forest, Eastern/Central European-inspired trend and finally read The Wolf and the Woodsman after recieiving it in a subscription box a couple of years ago. Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy The Wolf and the Woodsman as much as the Winternight trilogy, and perhaps I shouldn’t have read these stories almost back to back as it’s easy to draw some comparisons. (more…)
After Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), a highly intimidating Soviet athlete, kills Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) in an exhibition match, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) comes to the heart of Russia for revenge.
Even though Rocky’s driving force is the loss of his friend which is obviously a big deal, Rocky IV feels goofier than the previous films. It doesn’t really help that there’s a talking robot in the Balboa household which is probably the most 80s and out of place thing they could’ve added to this series.
Considering Rocky’s reaction and emotional fallout in losing Mickey (Burgess Meredith), his reaction to Creed’s death and his perceived role in it is a lot more muted. Creed’s death doesn’t have the big emotional impact that it should do and then the rest of the film never really recovers from that.
I love a good montage as much as anyone but in Rocky IV it feels like they didn’t have enough character work or a strong narrative to make a decent film and instead just filled up the runtime with montages. There are two training montages back-to-back and are purely split up by one scene of Rocky and Adrian (Talia Shire) having a conversation and then it’s back to the training montage. There’s also a montage to song “No Easy Way Out” by Robert Tepper while Rocky is driving and it’s all footage of the previous three films. Perhaps if I hadn’t watched these films in quick succession it wouldn’t have felt so redundant but even then though it begins with Rocky reminiscing about the evolution of his and Apollo’s relationship, it ends up being a highlights reel of everything that happened in the previous films. Not too sure what they were going for there.
The fights between Drago and Apollo, and Drago and Rocky are still pretty good. The framing of how much larger Lundgren is than both Weathers and Stallone is really good. It especially works with Stallone as he’s the leanest of the three and the reach of Lundgren’s arm is so big that it’s hard for Stallone to get close to him. The camerawork definitely paints the David vs Goliath picture well.
Overall, Rocky IV is a bit sillier than its predecessors and doesn’t really have the emotional weight it should have. The fights are still engaging though and Rocky and Adrian’s relationship is still one of my favourite things about this series and Paulie (Burt Young) is one of the worst. 3/5.
Normally I’d give a general overview of the book I’m reviewing, whether that’s what’s on the blurb of the book or my own synopsis, but with John Dies at the End I’m not really sure I can. The blurb is weird and vague and gives now real information except warnings not to read the book, but now that you’ve picked it up bad things are going to happen and you can’t unlearn the fact there’s an “otherwordly invasion currently threatening to enslave humanity”. So needless to say, going into John Dies at the End I really did not know what to expect. I will say it’s about two friends, John and David (the book is from his perspective and parts of it has him recounting events of the book to a reporter), and how they can see things that aren’t there and go on adventures as they try and figure out what’s going on.
Even though I’ve now read John Dies at the End, I still can’t describe it. It’s a weird, creepy horror story with paranormal elements and drug-induced psychoses and a dog that’s perhaps immortal. At this point I’m not even sure I really liked it but there was something about it that was super compelling and kept me reading. Perhaps it’s because so much strange and/or unsettling things were happening all the time so I ended up feeling like I was just going along for the ride and was waiting to see what on Earth was going to happen next – and if anything was ever really explained.
There were some answers but not enough for me and the answers we did get often led to more questions. There’s so many moments when characters aren’t sure they can believe what they’re seeing and as this is being told from David’s point of view, you end up doubting things too. It’s really quite the strange reading experience.
I think I preferred the first third of John Dies at the End, mainly because that really set the scene in terms of the creepiness with horrifying creatures and the general unnerving feeling of something not being right. While I knew John Dies at the End was classed as a horror story, the kind of weirdness and horror it had was so unexpected that it was more shocking and interesting to begin with. There’s also a time skip about a third of the way though and I’m generally not a fan of time skips so that didn’t really do much for me, especially as the first third was so action-packed and interesting. As John Dies at the End is a 460-page book, variations of the same weirdness did get a bit repetitive over time and I did find the last 100 pages or so a bit more of a drag even though more and more things were being revealed.
Character-wise David seems to be a bit of a spectator to his own life and gets dragged into this situation by John and though he’s pretty resourceful, a lot of it comes down to dumb luck. The same can be said for John but pretty much everything that came out of John’s mouth was cringe-inducing as it often revolved around his penis or making himself seem more strong/smart/skilled than he was. These two guys are just average twenty-somethings and so there is the internet-related, kinda gross boys’ humour that you might expect which at times I did find myself skimming over.
John Dies at the End was an interesting reading experience. As I said, I preferred the beginning when it was all new and unexpected (one of the first sequences inside a supposedly haunted house was genuinely suspenseful and surprising) and as the plot progresses it gets more and more wild which some may love while others may find ridiculous – I was on the fence about it. I didn’t like John but being in David’s head wasn’t so bad and his sense of imagination really did paint a vivid picture when it came to some of the creatures they encountered or horrifying (and sometimes really gross) situations they found themselves in. 3/5.
When a team of mercenaries, led by a man with the codename Scrooge (John Leguizamo), take a wealthy family hostage with plans to steal the fortune from their vault, they encounter unexpected resistance from Santa Claus (David Harbour) who was making his rounds when the family mansion came under attack.
Violent Night is kind of exactly what you’d expect and it does what it sets out to do and does it well. A Santa who’s disillusioned by Christmas and how children just seem to want money or video games, gets caught up in a home invasion and fights to take down the bad guys and save the family – some members of which you wouldn’t necessarily mind if they didn’t make it out of this situation alive.
Violent Night does the feuding/dysfunctional family thing really well. The majority of the family members are self-absorbed and bordering on narcissistic and the saving grace is young Trudy (Leah Brady) and her mother Linda (Alexis Louder). It’s Trudy’s connection to Santa that brings a surprisingly emotional heart to the film as she’s the only one who still believes in him and her being so nice and caring starts to make him believe in the good of others again.
The Father Christmas lore in Violent Night is pretty cool. His naughty or nice list and his sack full of presents are both inventive and how he gets up and down a chimney is especially cool. While Violent Night is obviously a Santa takes down bad guys film, it’s nice to see that the charm or magic of Father Christmas isn’t lost.
David Harbour is great as a jaded Santa who starts taking down bad guys almost by accident. The fight sequences are well-shot, innovative and fun, and the violence is pretty bloody and gory at times too. Definitely the kind of stuff that makes you grimace even when you’re also laughing at the mercenaries misfortunes. The action and comedy balance well and there’s some wonderfully dark Christmas-related puns.
With brutal fights, some fun booby traps, and the fact that throughout all the carnage Violent Night still manages to retain the general spirit of Christmas, it could well go on to become a Christmas cult classic as it executes its simple premise well. 3/5.
Hart is a marshal, tasked with patrolling the strange and magical wilds of Tanria. It’s an unforgiving job, and Hart’s got nothing but time to ponder his loneliness. Mercy never has a moment to herself. She’s been single-handedly keeping Birdsall & Son Undertakers afloat in defiance of sullen jerks like Hart, who seems to have a gift for showing up right when her patience is thinnest. After yet another exasperating run-in with Mercy, Hart finds himself penning a letter addressed simply to “A Friend”. Much to his surprise, an anonymous letter comes back in return, and a tentative friendship is born. If only Hart knew he’s been baring his soul to the person who infuriates him most – Mercy. As the dangers from Tanria grow closer, so do the unlikely correspondents. But can their blossoming romance survive the fated discovery that their pen pals are their worst nightmares – each other?
I really enjoyed the setting and world-building of The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy. The fantastical land where “drudges” (basically zombies) roam and how the mythology and religion of these people does have some bearing on their lives today. How Mercy cared about the dead and how the burial rituals are different to what we tend to know about them was really interesting and how the dead are honoured and cared for isn’t something you see in books that often. Especially in a romance where the heroine is an undertaking – it’s not the most pretty or girly of jobs but Mercy’s love for it shined through.
It’s easy to compare The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy to the film You’ve Got Mail as it’s the story of two people who don’t like each other but find they a connection when they don’t know it’s their worst enemy that they’re writing to. The letters were a great way for the reader to get to know more about Hart and Mercy and see beneath their hostile exteriors. While it’s easy to say Hart is the grumpy one, Mercy can be pretty harsh and cruel too as she tends to think she’s right a lot of the time. Seeing how they both soften overtime when it comes to each other as well as with family or co-workers was nice.
The problem I had with The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy, and the reason I put it down for a while and took so long to finish it is because around the half way point something happened that just made me feel uncomfortable. To go back to the You’ve Got Mail analogy, what happened was like if Tom Hanks had walked into the coffee shop to meet Meg Ryan, knowing she was his anonymous pen pal but she didn’t and then started a relationship with her without telling her that he knew so much about her because they’d been writing to each other for months. It was a power imbalance to the relationship that just made me feel weird and as naturally the truth would come out eventually, that made me more stressed waiting for it to happen especially as it took a lot longer than I thought it would.
I know in romance stories there’s often miscommunication or that one final hurdle before the couple have their happily ever after, but the way this one played out made me more uncomfortable than interested. I don’t read a lot of romance so if you’re more used to that trope then maybe The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy would be absolutely fine for you. I think knowing it would happen and then reading this long drawn-out process was a different thing.
I wanted the “lies” to come out a lot quicker than they did and it took me longer to read this book than it should’ve as I’d be apprehensive waiting for the big reveal and I found it hard to root for Hart and Mercy’s relationship when one of them was keeping such a big secret from the other.
Overall I did like this mixture of cutesy romance and fantasy. It wasn’t something I’d read before and was surprised how well the elements came together and when there wasn’t big secrets I found The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy to be very quick and easy to read. 3/5.
Nearly 5,000 years after he was given the powers of the gods Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson) is freed from his earthly tomb, to find his home country of Kahndaq is now besieged by mercenaries, so he sets about unleashing his unique form of justice on the modern world.
The best thing Black Adam has going for it is Dwayne Johnson. He does make an imposing villain/anti-hero and it is kind of fun seeing him be so ruthless with a bunch of bad guys without then second guessing it. It’s clear from the outset that the people who have invaded this country are not good people and deserve anything that is coming to them.
Naturally Black Adam needs some superpowered good guys to go up against and that’s where the Justice Society of America (JSA) comes in. Like all the superpowered characters in this film, I knew nothing about the JSA and I still know little about them and how the Justice Society works as this film gives very little backstory or characterisation to any of them. Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo) is the new guy, Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) has pretty cool and colourful wind powers, Hawkman’s (Aldis Hodge) main thing is saying “heroes don’t kill people” over and over again, and Dr. Fate (Pierce Brosnan) is just the best and steals just about every scene he’s in – even when he’s going toe to toe with Black Adam.
Everyone gives fine to good performances and the JSA team are all generally likeable and have decent charisma but it was hard to really care about them all. Also naturally, as Black Adam couldn’t be an out and out villain, there was always going to be something that would unite him and the JSA as they fight some other big bad. It’s a superhero movie cliché and unfortunately in this instance, the random new baddie wasn’t particularly interesting either.
Something that the film treats as a Big Reveal and a plot twist, is diminished as it’s in the trailer and it’s not even a subtle thing. If you’ve seen the first trailer, the trailer below in fact, you may be like me watching this film, just waiting for something seemingly obvious to be spelt out, but that thing is only so obvious when you’ve seen the trailer. It’s poor marketing on the studios part as any dramatic heft is lost.
I did like what Black Adam had to say about Western (super) powers not being interesting in the strife of a Middle Eastern country such as Kahndaq, until they have their own powerful guardian and then they are seen as a threat. That kind of on the nose but different (for a superhero movie) political commentary was unexpected but welcome.
Black Adam is neither particularly good nor particularly bad. If I was a kid, I’d probably have a great time with this as it reminded me a bit of those “middle tier” superhero movies like Fantastic Four (2005), it has a lot action set pieces and bombastic fights while also not being very memorable. Some of the CGI is a bit dodgy and trying to stuff so many new and somewhat obscure characters into a two-hour movie means that characterisation is left by the wayside. 3/5.
John Finnegan (Treat Williams) is the captain of a speedy little boat who’s been hired by armed mercenaries to take them to a luxury cruise liner in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean where they can loot it and hold the passengers to ransom. Things don’t go to plan however as when they arrive the ship is almost deserted and it’s clear that someone, or something, has already ransacked the place.
Deep Rising is written and directed by Stephen Sommers, director of The Mummy (1999) and The Mummy Returns (2001) – two of my favourite films – and Odd Thomas (2013) which I also have a soft spot for. So, while I am a self-confessed wuss, I thought I could handle this film and while it certainly has a higher rating than the other films mentioned, and utilises that with the blood and guts spurting everywhere, Deep Rising is also a really fun and satisfying action/disaster/horror movie.
Deep Rising is one of those fun 90s moves where you can go “It’s them!” a lot. The mercenaries are led by Wes Studi and also feature Jason Flemyng, Djimon Hounsou, Cliff Curtis, Trevor Goddard and Clifton Powell. Famke Janssen’s thief Trillian is the sole female character in this small group of survivors and she’s pretty great. Easily likeable and Trillian has her own illegal skills which helps her when she’s in a jam.
Deep Rising does a great job of building tension, especially as what’s attacked the ship isn’t seen fully until over halfway through the film. Being economical with the special effects means you instead have something pulling characters off screen, banging on doors and walls, and the sense that something is in the water, stalking everyone. It plays with expectations too as there’s a number of times when you’re waiting for the jump scare and the film makes you wait longer than you think it will, still managing to make the seemingly obvious scare a surprise.
Overall Deep Rising is a decent creature feature and has some very satisfying kills of some horrible characters. Look, we all enjoy it when the bastard gets their comeuppance. Also, there should be more films with jet ski chase sequences. 3/5.