3 stars

REVIEW: Sky High (2005)

Son of superhero parents, the Commander (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston), Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is about to start Sky High – a school for kids with superpowers. The only problem is, he doesn’t have any yet and fitting into high school has never been tougher.

When Will and his best friend Layla (Danielle Panabaker) don’t fit the typical superhero mould, they get relegated to sidekicks which are generally seen as the losers of the school. This is where you get your typical high school dynamic of the popular kids vs the unpopular kids, and you’re introduced Warren Peace (Steven Strait), the Bad Boy who has hidden depths. There’s a lot of fun scenes with characters using their different powers, whether that’s in fights or in training and seeing all the powers and technology like ray guns together can be entertaining.

Sky High blends a lot of typical high school movie clichés with superhero ones and they work well together to make a fun film. At some points it’s as if Sky High knows it’s almost a spoof of both the teen comedy genre and the superhero one. Characters wear clothes in colours that relate to their powers or to people they’re associated with, and there’s a great gag with the popular yet mean cheerleader squad.

Sky High’s not too different to the norm but it’s different enough with the elements it pulls from both genres and the entire cast looks like they’re having a lot of fun – Kurt Russell especially. Sky High is a fun-family film, it’s got comedy, drama and superhero shenanigans, definitely a fluffy easy-watch kind of film. 3/5.


REVIEW: Thor: The Dark World (2013)

When Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) becomes possessed by an ancient and powerful entity known as the Aether, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) must team up with his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to protect her from the genocidal Dark Elves led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), who wants the Aether to throw the Nine Realms into darkness.

Thor: The Dark World finds Loki in prison for his crimes against Earth and his relationship with Thor is put to the test when he is the only one who can get them off Asgard undetected. Loki continues to be one of the most interesting and complex characters in the MCU. The one thing you can guarantee Loki to be is untrustworthy but the way that presents itself is still surprising.

While the Dark Elves do look aesthetically cool and somewhat intimidating, that doesn’t make them good or compelling villains. Malekith has no motivation besides turning the universe into darkness because that’s what he and his people thrive on, not matter the effects on different people. A lack of a decent villain makes this a typical end of the world type story. Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Malekith’s second in command, is reduced to a henchman and offers little opportunity for Akinnuoye-Agbaje to show how good an actor he is.

A nice call-back to the events in The Avengers is, like Tony Stark in Iron Man 3, the fact that Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) is suffering from having a God in his head. This reminds us that while the main heroes and villains of this story are Gods and monsters, there are humans here that have very human reactions to the fantastical things they face.

Thor is almost second fiddle to most of the characters in Thor: The Dark World despite being the titular character. Loki proves to be the more interesting and funny brother while Jane Foster saves the day with science. Still, Thor is suitably heroic and the final battle between him and Malekith is both funny and thrilling, thanks to the laws of physics being turned onto their head.

Thor: The Dark World is a more serious film, it even has a darker palette and it definitely likes that mouldy green colour that’s almost ever-present. It still has sprinkles of humour throughout and some good action sequences but it’s an average outing for Thor. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Shape of Water (2017)

In a top-secret research facility in 1960s Baltimore, a lonely cleaner named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) befriends a mysterious amphibious creature (Doug Jones) who is being terrorised by government agent Strickland (Michael Shannon).

The Shape of Water has a magical quality to it. The setting and particularly the music, gives it almost a golden age of Hollywood feel. Especially as the story is almost a classic story of love, friendship and good trying to triumph over evil. It’s almost like a fairy-tale and the way the film is bookended by some narration definitely adds to that feeling.

All the performances in The Shape of Water are great. Sally Hawkins does a brilliant job at conveying Elisa’s thoughts and feelings without ever saying a word. You believe in the connection she’s forming with this creature and seeing the two of the bond is lovely. Michael Shannon’s Strickland is a menacing presence from the first moment he appears. Every time he’s on screen your eyes are on him as he’s like a coiled spring ready to explode at any moment.

The Shape of Water is a bit tonally uneven. At its centre is a sweet story but then there’s sudden bouts of blood and violence – most of which are courtesy of Strickland. It’s also got some surprising moments of humour, a good number of them were from Elisa’s neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) who’s friendship with Elisa is lovely.

The Shape of Water is one of those films where I appreciated it more than I liked it. While for many it is one of their favourite films of the year, for me it was a lovely film with a lot of heart, but I don’t think it will stick with me for very long. 3/5.


READ THE WORLD – Singapore: Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend Nicholas Young, she has no idea what she’s going to face. She’s looking forward to spending time with Nick’s family until she’s faced with private jets, expensive cars and luxury mansions. Rachel is thrown into a world of extravagance and dynastic superiority and nothing could prepare her for Eleanor – Nick’s formidable mother with very strong feelings about who’s the right, or wrong, girl for her son.

Crazy Rich Asians is a lot of fun. It’s over the top and ridiculous a lot of the time but the way it’s written pulls you into these characters lives and their antics. While Rachel and Nick and their relationship is at the heart of this story, you meet a lot of other characters and each chapter is from a different character’s perspective. This makes it interesting as you have Rachel, who’s American born Chinese and while she has a good education and career, is not used to the lavish lifestyle and the way all these people who have grown up in and live in Singapore think about money. It gives you both the outsider and the insider perspective.

I really sympathised with Rachel a lot. While Nick is lovely he’s also very naïve about the wealth he comes from and does nothing to forewarn Rachel about what the world he grew up in is like or talk to his parents about how serious he is about her. Rachel’s left floundering for a lot of the story as she must contend with spiteful and jealous people, mostly women, who believe she’s just after Nick’s fortune.

A lot of the other characters, on the other hand, are unlikable. They’re rude, thoughtless and self-serving but that’s what everyone is like in this upper-class society is painted as. It was heard to connect with a lot of them because so many of them were nasty but were apparently being that way for the sake of the family. Eleanor especially was an interesting yet seemingly heartless woman.

Crazy Rich Asians does have a lot to say on class, immigrants, different types of Asians – those who are from mainland China, those who were educated in England or Australia, and those who have stayed in Singapore for most of their lives. Characters all have different relationships with money and many of them are so far removed from the “real world” that their outbursts over having the right designers or private jet is often unbelievable.

The ending of Crazy Rich Asians does seem a bit rushed, especially after a good portion of the book was building up to one moment. However, it is the first book in a trilogy so perhaps the messy ending is made a bit neater in the sequel. A sequel I’m not sure if I’m desperate to read, as a lot of these characters were just not relatable or even nice people – I don’t think I can survive in their world for long periods of time. 3/5.


REVIEW: Jane Got a Gun (2015)

When her husband Hammond (Noah Emmerich) ends up on the wrong side of John Bishop (Ewan McGregor) and his men, Jane (Natalie Portman) turns to her former fiancée Dan (Joel Edgerton) to help her defend her family and her home.

I always enjoy watching newer Westerns. It’s a genre that had its heyday between the 1930’s-1960’s and its archetypal characters and stories have in many ways, become the blueprint for a lot of modern western films. Jane Got a Gun puts a woman front and centre, showing both Jane’s trauma and strength as she fights for her loved ones.

Through a series of flashbacks throughout the film you learn more about Jane and her relationships with both Hammond and Dan and see how the three of them have ended up in the situation they’re in. these flashbacks add a lot to the characters but often it feels like it’s just filling time as Jane and Dan prepare for battle. When there is the battle, it’s like a home-invasion thriller. It’s tense and exciting, though it doesn’t show off all the groundwork Jane and Dan put in to its full potential.

Portman gives a dedicated performance, fully embodying the grief, fear and determination Jane has in the face of a much larger and stronger enemy than herself. It’s a pity then that Bishop feels more akin to a pantomime villain, twirling his moustache, than a fleshed-out antagonist.

Jane Got a Gun is a decent addition to the Western genre. It doesn’t really do anything new or ground-breaking, but Portman’s performance and the relationship between Jane and Jan offers a compelling heart to this otherwise typical genre film. 3/5.


REVIEW: Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh

At seventeen years old, Mariko is sent to the imperial palace to marry a man she did not choose, a man who is the son of the Emperor. But her journey is cut short when her convoy is attacked by the Black Clan – a group of bandits and thieves who were hired to kill Mariko before she could reach the palace. But Mariko survives and vows revenge on those who want her dead. Disguised as a peasant boy, she infiltrates the Black Clan, becoming one of them, impressing them with her wit and ingenuity. But as she gets closer to her enemies, Mariko begins to discover a web of lies and a history of secrets that will change everything she thought she knew.

Flame in the Mist is set in Feudal Japan but there’s also some magical elements in it too. I really in the liked how the historical was entwined with the magic and myths, both seemed very groundedses characters reality. When this book first came out I heard it was a Mulan retelling or inspired by Mulan, and it’s really not. The only similarity to Mulan is that the main protagonist is a girl who disguises herself as a boy in order to further her aims. Mariko’s goals are very different to Mulan’s. Mariko is very smart in terms of academia and alchemy, but is incredibly naïve when it comes to life outside her gilded cage. She doesn’t know how to hunt or cook or fight and often gets into verbal sparring matches with those around her to try and hide her failings.

Mariko likes to think she’s good at reading people, and has learnt to be underestimated, being a daughter of a prominent Samurai, but when she meets Ōkami she has a much harder time getting a read on him. The dynamic between Mariko and Ōkami is an interesting one and they bounce of each other really well, managing to intrigue and unsettle one another at the same time. Ōkami is just the sort of character I end up really liking. He’s slow to trust but loyal, has a deadly set of skills and is smart. He and Mariko make an unconventional partnership.

Flame in the Mist was a bit slow to pull me in. While it kicked off straight away with the attack on Mariko’s convey, I found it took a while to connect with her and her story. As the story progressed, more characters began to reveal themselves, their political aspirations and loyalty, slowly showing that Mariko was caught up in plots much bigger than herself. The second half of the book sped along though. There was a lot of action, fights and secrets revealed and it became a proper page-turner.

Flame in the Mist is the first book in a duology so natural there’s a lot of threads left hanging, though there was some good character stuff throughout the book. While I won’t be rushing out to get it as soon as it’s released later this year, I will be picking up Smoke in the Sun at some point as I did end up enjoying Mariko as a character and am interested to see how all the plot threads are wrapped up, especially the political ones. 3/5.


REVIEW: Waterworld (1995)

In a future where the polar ice-caps have melted, and the Earth appears to be entirely submerged underwater, a mariner (Kevin Costner) struggles to survive and fight off outlaws as he reluctantly agrees to help a woman (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and girl (Tina Majorino) try and find dry land.

The world of Waterworld is fascinating and that is mainly because of the amazing sets and practical effects. This is a film that was clearly filmed on the open ocean, and the boats various characters have all feel lived in and an extension of the characters themselves. Especially the mariners boat, it’s an interesting ship and is clearly something he has adapted and maintained over many years. It’s made up from a motely assortment of materials and the stuff inside it is a mixture of stuff from the old world and equipment he’s made.

Because of how the ships and characters clothes are all patched up, Waterworld almost feels timeless. The action set pieces still look good and that’s due to the practical effects, there’s fire and explosions everywhere and you believe the characters are right in the thick of it. The action is entertaining and it’s easy to follow, with there being so many wide shots so you can see jet skis jumping over walls, or the mariner dashing around his boat, to take out the bad guys.

While the sets, costumes and the production design are all very good and help set this dystopian scene, the story and characters aren’t so great. The acting isn’t particularly good, Costner says so many of his lines in a monotone, that while the mariner is supposed to be a reclusive character, there’s not much to him that makes him compelling. Dennis Hopper plays Deacon, the villain of the piece and he spends most of his time shouting and is more like a pantomime villain than a real threat.

The story itself is predictable but the scope of Waterworld has to be admired. 3/5.