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…)
Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is living the highlife; he has a loving family and while he’s retired from boxing he’s still in that world as a gym owner and boxing promoter. When his childhood best friend Damien Anderson (Jonathan Majors), a boxing prodigy, re-enters Adonis’s life after a long stint in prison, he’s eager to prove he deserves a shot in the ring – no matter who might stand in his way.
Creed III takes place seven years after the events of Creed II and the film does such a good job at showing that passage of time and how the characters lives have changed. Donnie has retired though is still heavily involved with the boxing world and Bianca (Tessa Thompson) has been winning awards for her music and while Donnie is shaping up-and-coming young boxers, she’s writing and producing new musical talent. Their daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent) is deaf and it was so good to see how her parents and grandmother (Phylicia Rashad) were fluent in sign language and how their home was fully accessible for her too, such as having lights flash when the doorbell rang. Obviously, any loving parent should be eager to learn new things in order to communicate with their child, but it was so nice seeing this kind of family which you don’t tend to see in a big mainstream film. (more…)
Adonis “Donnie” Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is the champion and has everything going for him in his life with his mentor Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) and his girlfriend Bianca (Tessa Thompson) by his side. When Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the man who killed Donnie’s father in the ring, steps onto the scene, Donnie has the fight of his life on his hands.
There’s something about the films in this franchise that brings out performances one wouldn’t expect from its aging action stars. Stallone is still great here, like he often was throughout the series, but it’s Lundgren that impressed me this time. You don’t get to spend a lot of time with the Drago’s but it gives you enough to see what the relationship between this father and son is like. Almost naturally Viktor is full of hate thanks to the environment he grew up in but seeing how he and his father clash as Ivan pushes him in order to reclaim the family honour is interesting and the other side of the coin compared to Rocky and Donnie’s relationship.
The parallel of Rocky training in the snow for his fight against Ivan Drago in Rocky IV with Donnie training in the desert for his fight against Viktor Drago is exquisite. Sure, like Creed was a twist on the first Rocky, Creed II has similar beats to a few other Rocky films, but that doesn’t mean Creed II isn’t a really enjoyable time. The desert training montage is one of the series best and the music choices there, and throughout the film to be honest, are brilliant.
In Creed, Stallone was kind of the scene stealer but in Creed II it is most definitely Michael B. Jordan’s film. Donnie goes through a lot of physical and emotional turmoil and the way Jordan captures that, especially some of the internal battles he’s going through, is excellent. Donnie and Bianca’s relationship is wonderful and it’s so nice to see the romantic couple still together and stronger than ever in the sequel. Thompson and Jordan have great chemistry and adding a baby into their family dynamic adds a whole new set of responsibilities and pressures on Donnie’s shoulders.
Creed II is a worthy sequel as it has all the emotional beats you’d expect from this franchise plus the fights are exciting and here you really feel the punches. Thanks to the sound design, when there’s serious injuries like broken ribs you can hear them happen and the performances makes these fights feel a lot more real and dangerous. Creed II is a great continuation of the Rocky and Apollo legacy but I’m looking forward to seeing how Donnie and this franchise can step out of their shadow with Creed III. 4/5.
Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) never knew his famous father, world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed, who died in the ring before he was born. Fighting is in his blood and Donnie tracks down his father’s former rival turned friend Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to ask him to train him.
While Creed is a sequel/part of the Rocky franchise, it’s definitely the kind of clever “reboot” where you can watch it without knowing anything of the previous films. That certainly what I did the first time I watched it and I loved it then, just as I loved it this time. I won’t lie though, there is something nice to see the references and call backs to the previous films in this one and there’s the odd scene that has maybe a bit more emotional weight knowing what came before it decades ago.
The other smart thing Creed does is how it balances the legacy of this franchise with what Donnie as a character is going through. Donnie wants to carve out his own name for himself and not just get things handed to him because of his family name, but as things progress he comes to a realisation that he can be his own man but that doesn’t change the fact of who his father is. He can embrace the name “Creed” without living in his father’s shadow. The film itself goes a similar route and while it is no doubt an excellent film on its own, embracing what came before it just adds something extra special to Creed.
There are still fights in Creed but it’s really the characters and their everyday relationship drama which is the focus of this film. That’s not to say they skimp on the fights, when they’re there, they’re exciting and well shot. The fight about midway through the film is a standout as while I’m sure there’s the computer trickery putting in the edits where needed, it looks like the whole fight, including when each boxer is in their corner in between each round, is all in one take. It really immerses you in the action and I have no clue how they got the cuts to appear on each fighter’s face without you seeing the makeup artists.
Michael B. Jordan is excellent in Creed and conveys that emotional turmoil of trying to find a place to belong and a family without just living off your famous relatives’ names. The family he builds is Rocky, who he starts calling “Unc” pretty much as soon as they met much to Rocky’s bemusement, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), his musician girlfriend, and his adoptive mother Mary Anne (Phylicia Rashad). I kind of loved what Creed says about family because here’s Rocky that’s lost his wife and best friend/brother-in-law and his own son lives in another country, so while he doesn’t have any close blood family either, with Donnie’s help he also gets a second chance at a different kind of family.
Stallone is just jaw-droppingly good in Creed and his Rocky is just tired and almost willing to give up on life until Donnie comes along. Their relationship is at the core of this film and they both push at each other to keep fighting.
Everything about Creed is so well done which shouldn’t be a surprise now with hindsight as director and co-writer Ryan Coogler repeatedly surrounds himself with excellent artists and collaborators. Composer Ludwig Göransson’s score has its own vibe to it but when it incorporates the Rocky theme it does so at just the right moment.
In the era of reboots/legacy sequels Creed is far better than probably anyone was expecting. It does exactly what it set out to do, pay homage to great characters like Rocky and Apollo while forging a new character in Donnie that can stand on their own two feet. Creed blends emotion, drama, and high stakes fights brilliant and overall, it is an excellent film, whether you’ve seen the Rocky films or not. 5/5.
Brilliant but disgraced detective John Luther (Idris Elba) breaks out of prison to go after the gruesome serial killer (Andy Serkis) who is terrorising London.
Look, who needs Idris Elba as James Bond when he’s got John Luther in his repertoire? Luther is back with a bang and he’s still his wonderfully clever and morally grey self but there’s still those odd moments where you can see the humanity beneath the tough guy façade.
The Fallen Sun puts Luther against two adversaries, a serial killer and the police force led by Odette Raine (Cynthia Erivo). As Luther and the police both try and find who is behind these heinous crimes, Luther also has the cops on his trail. It’s fun to see how he stays ahead of them when he knows how they work and especially when Luther’s former boss Martin Schenk (Dermot Crowley) is brought in to help. The dynamic between them two was always one of my favourites in the show and that trust and respect is still there.
Andy Serkis is brilliant as the mastermind behind these killings. It’s great to see him being a proper scary villain again and the crime(s) committed are suitably unnerving for a Luther story. There’s something so calm but menacing in Serkis’ performance which makes when he turns on the showman charm even more unsettling.
The score by Lorne Balfe is great too and the way it heightens the tension is top-notch. There’s some fun moments where you can see how the filmmakers perhaps had more time and a bigger budget compare to making the TV show. For instance, there’s some interesting long takes as Luther fights his way out during a prison riot.
Luther: The Fallen Sun has everything you want from a Luther story; creepy and disturbing crimes, a game of cat and mouse, and Luther on the backfoot. If you like the show, you know exactly what to expect and Idris Elba delivers 100%. 4/5.
After a computer-generated matchup between current heavyweight champion Mason ‘The Line’ Dixon (Antonio Tarver) and ex-champ Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) puts Balboa as the winner. Dixon’s people look to make the match a reality. Meanwhile Rocky’s looking for a way to process his grief and decides to come out of retirement to try and find some purpose – even if that means he’ll face an opponent who’s faster, stronger and thirty years his junior.
Maybe it’s because I’ve watched all the previous Rocky films so close together but Rocky Balboa did get me a bit emotional a couple of times. Where we see Rocky now at this stage of his life just feels right for the character. He’s still grieving for his beloved Adrian and it becomes clear that he hasn’t even started processing his feelings and grief even though she’s been gone a few years now. Stallone is wonderful in the scenes by her grave and when talking to Paulie (Burt Young) about his memories of her.
Rocky’s got his own restaurant and has a decent life for himself even if he’s not as close to his son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia) as he’d like. Their relationship was interesting and not what I was expecting because there’s a lot of love there, it’s just Robert doesn’t know how to step out of his father’s shadow.
A trope I tend to love is unlikely friendships, especially when the two friends are different generations or genders and Rocky Balboa surprised me by having that. Rocky meets bartender Marie (Geraldine Hughes) and their friendship is really sweet, especially when Rocky is up front about not being over his wife and Marie wasn’t expecting anything like that anyway. It was a fresh dynamic compared to the familial relationships Rocky already has and worked really well.
The final fight in Rocky Balboa is one of my favourites in the series. Just how it’s shot and edited together, along with moments that are in black and white with just a pop of red for either fighter’s blood was so cool and engaging and made it stand out after seeing a bunch of other Rocky fights very recently.
Rocky Balboa is about an aging fighter battling with his emotions and still putting on one hell of a fight in the ring. Obviously there’s the Creed films where you get to see more of Rocky and how his life turned out, but even if you didn’t I think this is a wonderful place to leave the character. He gets one last hurrah and is surrounded by those he cares about which is all anyone like Rocky could want. 5/5.
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.
Recently retired from fighting due to the risk to his health, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) takes on Mickey’s old boxing gym and begins to train Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison), an up-and-coming boxer with a lot of potential. Rocky’s focus on Tommy though begins to put his personal life at risk.
The scenes of Rocky V with Rocky’s shaking hands and then him and Adrian (Talia Shire) receiving his prognosis about his brain injuries are brilliant. The opening especially is a chance to see Rocky vulnerable in a way we’d not seen before and showed how strong his and Adrian’s relationship is. With that setup it’s easy to presume that Rocky V will go a more serious and different route to we’ve seen before in this series so it’s then a shame that his ill health is barely mentioned again and doesn’t have a real impact on the plot.
Instead, you have Rocky taking in Tommy, and putting all his focus and love on him as they share the love and skills for boxing, while ignoring his son. It’s easy to see why Rocky is like this at least to begin with but his family has seemingly always meant more to him than boxing or titles so it’s not enjoyable seeing him put someone he’s just met onto a pedestal to the detriment to his loved ones.
While the Rocky films have always been underdog stories, often showing the tough life Rocky has had, they’ve also always had some fun to them. Rocky V doesn’t have that fun element. Too much of it is a downer on Rocky and his family. They lose their house and money, Rocky Jr. (Sage Stallone) feels replaced in his father’s eyes by Tommy, and Rocky struggles to balance his love for the sport and his love for his family. And Paulie (Burt Young) is continuing to be his cantankerous and somewhat irresponsible self.
Sylvester Stallone still gives a great performance and is probably the thing that kept me somewhat interested throughout this slog of a film. I’ve seriously been impressed with him when watching this franchise as I’ve always been under the impression that he may give the odd great performance but generally isn’t a good actor. Overall, Rocky V is just very predictable and not that exciting, Stallone’s performance and the final fight are the only worthwhile things about this film and even then, it feels like that’s being quite generous. 2/5.
After an innocent AOL chat turns racy sixteen-year-old Catholic Alice (Natalia Dyer) discovers masturbation and struggles to suppress her new urges as the act would be considered a sin.
Yes, God, Yes is a wonderful coming-of-age story that tackles religion and female sexuality. Alice attends a Catholic school and, when she suddenly gets these new urges that everyone tells her are sinful, she attends a religious camp to help get her back on the straight and narrow.
The script for Yes, God, Yes is great as it pokes holes in the hypocrisy in religion (specifically Catholicism) and does it in a way that’s natural. It allows moments to breathe and often the focus is on Alice as she observes different people breaking the rules/committing sin and how that goes against what those same people had been preaching hours earlier. Natalia Dyer is such a compelling lead and she captures that naivety of sheltered teenagers when it comes to sex and then the interest and anticipation when Alice discovers how to pleasure herself. When Alice starts to get more conviction in herself and how she views God it’s truly great to see.
Yes, God, Yes is set in the Midwest in the early 2000’s which makes Alice’s uncertainty about sexual slang all the more believable. When rumours spread about her, she denies everything and even says she doesn’t know what she’s being accused of even means. All the 2000’s references are wonderful with Alice playing Snake on her chunky Nokia, the computer with the huge screen, and Titanic being on VHS and a formative influence when it comes to Alice’s sexual awakening.
Yes, God, Yes puts forward a compelling argument as to why a lot of films should be just 90 minutes or less. At 78 minutes, Yes, God, Yes never overstays its welcome and instead manages to capture all the cringey, awkward, funny, and difficult things about being a teenager who is trying to figure out who they are. It’s hard enough trying to figure out what you enjoy in life without having just about anything fun or pleasurable considered to be a huge sin. 4/5.