Movie Review: Spider-man: No Way Home (2021)

TL;DR – The world knows Peter Parker is Spider-man, and he turns to Dr Strange for a spell that will make everyone forget Spidey’s true identity. When the spell gets messed up, the universe opens up to parallel dimensions. Dimensions where villains in other Spidey worlds come to pay Peter a visit. Get ready for the most epic Spider-man yet. Strap in and hold on to that bucket of popcorn.

Review (warning: spoilers)

It’s a tough gig being your friendly neighbourhood Spider-man. Especially when J. Jonah Jameson (J. K. Simmons) outs Spidey’s secret identity on every big screen billboard in New York city revealing the kid behind the mask is Peter Parker (Tom Holland). When Tony Stark revealed that he was Iron Man, he had enough security guards and technology to ensure he could maintain his privacy (it also helped that he owned the entire building, Stark Tower, where he lived in the penthouse). No such luck for Peter who just wants to spend time with his girlfriend, MJ (Zendaya) and his best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon). High school is tough enough without every other kid pulling out their phones and wanting to take selfies or videos as you walk down the hallway to class.

The opening scenes of Spider-man: No Way Home are frenetic as we watch Peter web-sling his way through the city with MJ clinging to him for dear life while trying to avoid the media helicopters and public scrutiny. If you have not seen the previous Spidey film, Spider-man: Far From Home, it is advisable to at least read the synopsis so you get the gist of the commotion you’ll see at the start of No Way Home. The controversy around Peter’s encounter with Mysterio in Far From Home has been spun by Jameson’s Daily Bugle news broadcast and now questions surround Peter’s actions, which lead to an interrogation by the Department of Damage Control. Even when lawyer, Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) aka Daredevil, manages to get the charges dropped, Jameson continues on his crusade to eviscerate Spider-man.

The pressure becomes all too much, and Peter turns to Dr Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) for help. You know things will go sideways when you use magic to solve your problems, so when Dr Strange attempts a spell to make everyone forget Spider-man’s real identity (except those who are closest to Peter), what happens instead is the spell rips a hole into the multi-verse.

For those who have seen the excellent animated film Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse then they will be familiar with the idea of parallel dimensions. The multi-verse allows for alternate timelines to occur where different Peter Parkers exist and live lives that are based on the different decisions they make. When villains in other Spider-man films start appearing in this one, you can’t help but be giddy if you’re a comic book fan. When alternate Spider-men appear and you see it’s all the original cast (i.e. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield), fans will achieve comic geek euphoria (and even if you’re not a comic book fan, if you enjoy the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you’ll be applauding anyway).

What follows is a surprisingly emotional wrung film that sees three Spideys try to stop all the villains by attempting to alter things that would turn them into villains in the first place. This could have been a big bash up where fists do all the talking, and there is plenty of action in the film, but what elevates it above basic action flicks is that the villains are able to change (or at least, some of them are able to) with the help of the three Peters. The villains are tortured souls and their transformations are key to the emotional drive.

And then there’s Aunt May getting killed. If that doesn’t sting your eyes, then nothing will.

Overall, Spider-man: No Way Home is a blockbuster film that will open up infinite possibilities for new stories in the MCU. Director Jon Watts has managed to tell a story that could have tied itself into time paradox knots, but instead is cohesive and thrilling and will have you downing the popcorn and cheering our friendly neighbourhood Spider-man on for more. Spidey fans rejoice!

Now can someone please, PLEASE make a Spider-Gwen movie?

10 out of 10

Movie Review: Dune (Part 1) (2021)

TL;DR – Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel masterpiece is brought to life and tells the story about a galactic empire seeking to maintain its power by controlling the “spice” trade (a substance that allows the user to see into the future).

Review (warning: spoilers)

Political intrigue on a galactic scale is the name of the game in Dune. Based on the Hugo and Nebula award winning novel of the same name by Frank Herbert, the galaxy created and imagined by Herbert operates under a monarchy ruled by Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV. Basically, think of it as a feudal sci-fi story.

Planets are ruled by houses with established noble families and have titles based on traditional European ranks (e.g. emperor, duke, baron etc.)

Dune (Part 1) introduces us to three main players:

  • House Harkonnen is ruled by Baron Vladimir (Stellan Skarsgård) and his nephew, Rabban (Dave Bautista). The Baron is a hulking, grotesque creature that reminded me of Jabba the Hutt with a human head. A violent, military house, the Harkonnens were tasked by the Emperor to subdue the desert planet Arrakis and farm “spice” (a valuable chemical substance that brings about expanded consciousness and limited prescience).
  • House Atreides is ruled by Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac). He has a son, Paul (Timothée Chalamet), who is learning the reins of how to rule. When the Duke receives orders from the Emperor to go to Arrakis and takeover the spice operations from the Harkonnens, he knows that political manoeuvring is happening behind the scenes.
  • Bene Gesserit is a religious sisterhood where the women are trained physically and mentally and acquire superhuman-like powers. Women who master these skills become Reverend Mothers, the leaders of the sisterhood. Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) is Leto’s concubine, mother to Paul, and acolyte to the Bene Gesserit. She seeks to teach Paul in the disciplines which includes the Bene Gesserit power to use “the Voice” (an ability to control others using verbal commands).

The Emperor is also a main player, but he is kept hidden in part one. However, he is the one responsible for the manipulation of events that occur. He orders House Harkonnen to vacate the planet and make way for House Atredies, but this is a ploy to then assist Harkonnen to stage a coup against Atredies. The Emperor lends his forces, Sardaukar troops, that aid the Baron against the Duke.

Duke Leto is mindful that the Emperor sees him as a threat and anticipates that Baron Vladimir will make a move against him, so he organises a meeting with the Fremen (Arrakis natives, who have been fighting against Harkonnen rule) seeking to create an alliance.

Unfortunately, the coup is only part of the betrayal. To his dismay, Leto discovers that Doctor Wellington Yueh (Chang Chen), who has been a loyal servant for House Atredies, is the one responsible for lowering the shields that allows the Harkonnen army and the Emperor’s troops to invade the city. Dr Yueh was being blackmailed by the Baron who has his wife. Sadly, the doctor’s act to save his wife by betraying Leto was for naught as the Baron, being the vindicative slime ball he is, ends up killing the good doctor and his wife. The invasion results in House Atredies fall, but Lady Jessica and Paul manage to escape and eventually meet up with the Fremen. Thus, ends part one.

‘But what about the Bene Gesserit?’ I hear you ask. Well, that’s where things get interesting. The focus of the film is not on the Duke and the ensuing coup, but on Paul. Seems like the Bene Gesserit have been keeping a watchful eye on young Paul and there lies a prophecy of some sort where a male Bene Gesserit (a messianic figure) would come into existence with the power to guide humanity to a better future.

Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) pays Jessica and Paul a visit prior to their departure to Arrakis. She tests Paul, which involves a poison needle and placing his hand in a box that causes him extreme pain. Gaius Helen tells him to not remove his hand otherwise she will stab him with the needle causing him instant death. It’s a riveting scene especially when Jessica is made to wait outside the doors preventing anyone to come in and help Paul. Her expression shows plainly the maternal instinct to go in and save Paul, but she restrains herself displaying an inner torture that mirrors the physical torture Paul goes through. In the end, he passes the test, and we discover he has been having dreams of a Fremen woman that appears in some of his visions to help him and other visions to kill him.

The Fremen woman in question is Chani (Zendaya). From what I can gather, she will play an integral role in Paul’s destiny whatever that may be. And when Jessica and Paul flee the coup and are found by the Fremen, lo and behold, Chani is part of the group.

The chess board is now set, and the opening forays have been played. Dune (Part 2) is slated for release in October 2023.

The visuals are astounding, and this is matched by sound effects that had a significant impact when I watched it in the cinema. The vast expanse of cities, planets, and armies are matched by sci-fi drooling spaceship constructs. The best of which are the ornithopters, which were a cross between a helicopter and a dragon fly.

All this investment in the sound and visuals would be for naught if not for the story and cast. Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson and Stellan Skarsgård were the highlights. While Skarsgård is somewhat one-dimensional in his evilness, my fingers are crossed that there are more layers beneath that slimy, obese exterior that will show the Baron is not a mere pawn. Ferguson and Chalamet have great chemistry as mother and son, and Chalamet especially embodies young Paul’s desire and angst to try and see the entire chess board when parts are clouded by fog.

This is not a straight sci-fi film like Star Wars but delves more into the political machinations of an empire trying to hold on to power across an entire galaxy. If multiple story threads are not appealing to you then this may be one to skip. To me, the complexity added to its depth rather than take away from it. I was giddy from beginning to end.

9 out of 10

Movie Review: Eternals (2021)

TL;DR – Eternals are immortal beings that reside on Earth. Their purpose is to destroy Deviants, giant monsters that devour humans. The Eternals have eradicated the last of the Deviants and as a result the human population grows for thousands of years. That is, until a Deviant that exhibits powers not seen previously emerges in London...

Review (warning: spoilers)

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), beings known as Celestials existed before galaxies were born. Fully evolved, they are larger than the size of planets. Arishem (voiced by David Kaye) is known as the Prime Celestial, and in Marvel Comics, his purpose is to judge whether a planet’s civilisation should live or die. In MCU, Arishem is slightly different. He uses planets to plant Celestial seeds, the planet’s population provides energy into the seed and eventually gives birth to new Celestials. Arishem refers this as the ’emergence’. Unfortunately, the emergence results in the planet cracking like an egg and all life on that planet is destroyed.

The Eternals (super powered beings that do not age) were created by Arishem to destroy Deviants (creatures that hunt and destroy life). By eliminating the Deviants, it would allow that planet to produce intelligent life.

The ten Eternals that are sent to Earth are led by Ajak (Salma Hayek) and they arrive in 5000BC. We get to see the group use the full range of their abilities against the Deviants over time:

  • Ajak has the ability to heal
  • Thena (Angelina Jolie) can conjure shields and weapons out of cosmic energy and battles like a warrior supreme
  • Ikaris (Richard Madden) is the only eternal that can fly and shoots lasers out of his eyes;
  • Sersi (Gemma Chan) can manipulate the composition of materials (for example, change a rock to water)
  • Druig (Barry Keoghan) can take over the minds of masses of people
  • Gilgamesh (Don Lee) has superhuman strength and can create gauntlets out of cosmic energy
  • Sprite (Lia Mchugh) is an illusionist, her appearance is the youngest of the group looking like a pre-teen girl
  • Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) has superhuman speed
  • Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) can shoot cosmic energy projectiles from his hands
  • Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) is an inventor/engineer.

Eventually, the Eternals believe to have eliminated the last of the Deviants, and Ajak allows them to go off to lead their own lives until such time as Arishem calls them to return home. Fast forward to present day (i.e. in terms of MCU timeline, we follow the Eternals post-Thanos and Avengers: Endgame) and we find out that Sersi and Sprite now live in London; Gilgamesh and Thena are in the Australian outback; Kingo in India; Druig in the Amazon; Iakris and Phastos in the United States and Makkari making her home in the spaceship they used to travel to Earth that is now buried in Iraq.

Sersi has gotten herself involved with a human named Dane Whitman (Kit Harington) and is at the point where she either needs to end the relationship or tell him the truth that she is an Eternal (cause he’s going to notice that as he gets older, she isn’t aging). When Sersi reveals her secret, Dane is not all that surprised given humanity has experienced alien invasions and sentient AI (Avengers: Age of Ultron), the vanishing of half of earth’s population (Avengers: Infinity War), Asgardian visitors in Thor and Loki, the revelation that magic does exist (Doctor Strange), the emergence of Wakanda and their superior tech (Black Panther), and the climatic war between Earth’s Avengers and Thanos and his army. Instead, Dane’s first question is why didn’t the Eternals help when Earth’s mightiest heroes faced off against Thanos?

Sersi’s answer is that their mission was to remove Deviants only and not to interfere in human affairs. This ends up being a minor point of contention for me because the Eternals do influence humanity’s evolution through the course of history. For example, Phastos the inventor/engineer Eternal creates technology that leads to the invention of the atomic bomb, and Druig halts the Spanish invasion on the Aztec Capital of Tenochtitlan by mind-controlling both sides. Regardless, Sersi’s answer is the only insight as to why we have not seen the Eternals previously.

The inciting incident comes when a Deviant charges into London with the express purpose of hunting Eternals. Not only does this Deviant go against its modus operandi of only killing humans by targeting Sersi and Sprite, it exhibits healing powers, which no Deviant has been capable of previously. Sersi and Sprite survive the attack with the help of Ikaris who flies in like superman without the cape.

What unfolds are several revelations that propel the story along. We discover Ajak and later Ikaris are the only Eternals that know the truth behind Arishem’s intentions (i.e. the Earth is a mere incubator for a new Celestial, and all life on the planet will be destroyed through the emergence). Ajak is found dead, killed by the Deviant who absorbed her healing powers but later we find out it was Ikaris who sent Ajak to her death. The reason for this is Ajak, having spent all this time with humans, now feels humanity should be allowed to live while Ikaris holds on to Arishem’s mandate. Ikaris doesn’t want Ajak to rally the others to try and stop the emergence, so he sends her plunging onto a frozen lake where awaits several Deviants.

The Eternals become split into two groups: those that believe humanity is worth saving (Sersi, Gilgamesh, Thena, Phastos, Druig and Makkari) versus those who hold to Arishem’s intention to birth a new Celestial (Ikaris and Sprite). Kingo opts out, he believes humanity is worth saving but that they can’t defeat Ikaris (who is basically superman without any kryptonite weakness).

The final battle between these two sides is epic. Makkari’s speed powers versus Ikaris was the absolute highlight for me.

But importantly, it’s not simply action that is worth the price of admission, it’s also the inner conflicts within each Eternal. While Ajak and Ikaris already know, the rest receive the revelation that they are mere copies of other Eternals, and their memories are wiped by Arishem when they are tasked to go to another planet to kill Deviants. The Deviants themselves were created by Arishem to exterminate apex predators on the planets they are sent to, but the Deviants evolve outside of Arishem’s control and start killing all life not just apex predators. The Deviants themselves are looking to survive the emergence by preventing population growth feeding into the Celestial egg.

I had to turn off my brain on this (another point of contention) because Arishem appears so powerful that he could easily wipe out the Deviants that he created in the first place. Instead, he creates Eternals to wipe out the Deviants, who themselves then rise against him. This reminded me of how humans try to introduce biocontrol to wipe out pests but end up replacing the pest with another pest. For example, in Australia, they introduced cane toads to wipe up cane beetles to prevent the beetles from destroying sugar cane crops. The toads did the job, but they are now the pests. But I digress.

Each of the Eternals struggle with their own lives and the revelations presented to them. Sersi (like Ajak) comes to love humanity, and she also falls in love with Ikaris. And while he loves her in return, it conflicts with his belief in Arishem’s mandate. Then we have an interesting relationship between Gilgamesh and Thena. Thena suffers from Mahd Wy’ry which causes mental instability and results in her attacking the other Eternals. It appears as a form of dementia but is actually Thena recalling memories of past missions that were meant to have been wiped by Arishem. Gilgamesh loves Thena and helps her through these periods. His death by the Deviant that killed Ajak puts Thena on a path of revenge. Sprite having the appearance of a young girl envies the lives of others who have the appearance of adults. She has an unrequited love for Ikaris but knows he will never look at her like he does Sersi because she presents like a young girl.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Phastos ends up in a relationship with a human man and they adopt a boy as their son. Kingo becomes a Bollywood star and has some of the funniest scenes. And Druig is the communal leader of a small tribe living in the Amazon (it is a bit cultish given he can mind control the people, but he mostly chooses not to because he knows by mind controlling them they lose their free will and thus are less human).

The finale opens up many other questions that will see the Eternals return to our screens in the future and tie in with new threads of the MCU. Though the emergence is prevented, Arishem takes Sersi, Phastos and Kingo away to examine their memories and judge whether Earth should be spared. Thena, Makkaris and Druig fly off in their spaceship to find other Eternals and tell them what they have experienced. Their ship gets an unexpected visitor in the form of Eros (Harry Styles) who is introduced as Thanos’s brother. And then there is Sersi’s human boyfriend, Dane, who has his own secret which is revealed post-credits involving a sword in a case with the inscription ‘death is my reward’. For Marvel fans, this is the first reveal of the Black Knight.

Great popcorn flick with plenty to digest.

8 out of 10

Movie Review: Finch (2021)

TL;DR – The ozone shield has been destroyed by a solar flare resulting in humanity imploding. Engineer Finch is seeking to make the most of the time he has left by creating an A.I robot that will take care of his loyal dog once he passes.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Finch Weinberg (Tom Hanks) lives on an Earth that has seen better days. The outside is an uninhabitable wasteland where temperatures and UV radiation are so high that you need a protective suit in order to wander around. We see Finch enter various collapsed buildings in search of food while he sings ‘American Pie’ by Don McLean. With him is trusty Dewey, a robot that appears to have a certain level of artificial intelligence. Finch manages to find some canned dog food and frantically returns to his home base just as a severe dust storm hits.

We watch Finch wash his suit, himself, and Dewey with care. A wracking cough indicating that Finch’s health is not in good shape. But his spirits rise when we see he has a companion, a pet dog named Goodyear. The lovable interactions between the pair, a clear sign of the bond they share.

His home is a combination of the futuristic mixed with the past. Finch is able to build and fix robots in a lab that also has shelves of books and an LP record player. He picks books, which he then places on a table for scanning by a robotic system. We see that some of the books being scanned relate to training and taking care of dogs. Finch tinkers with a new robot creation and proceeds to upload as much knowledge from the scanned books into its brain.

He powers up the robot and tests to see if it understands what he is saying. Eventually, it makes some progress and is able to communicate to Finch. However, the power goes out and Finch has to venture outside to fix up the wind turbine. There he sees a superstorm coming his way. He rushes back inside and asks the robot how long the storm will last and it predicts roughly forty days. Finch knows that he does not have enough food to survive that long. So with the robot’s knowledge transfer only 72% complete, he packs Goodyear and as much as he can into a modified motorhome and heads west to San Francisco.

Tom Hanks knows how to carry a film. If he can do it in Castaway with a volleyball he calls ‘Wilson’, he gets more than enough support from Goodyear, Dewey and his latest robotic creation, which it names itself as ‘Jeff’ (voiced by Caleb Landry Jones).

The motion capture and CGI creation that is Jeff is impressive. His evolution is a coming-of-age in an artificial intelligence-kind of way, and he looks up to Finch like a father figure. Set against a post-apocalyptic road trip, the journey and teaching of mortality are imparted on Jeff as he learns the difference between surviving and living, and the need for experience.

Though you know Finch will never live long enough to reach the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco, you will still be blubbering (or at least teary eyed) when he passes. The clock is ticking, and every moment Finch teaches Jeff is a moment that matters. A sci-fi film about existentialism that should be watched through those lens rather than the lens of a sci-fi thriller or action movie.

8 out of 10

Movie Review: Wolfwalkers (2020)

TL;DR – a magnificent Irish animated fantasy film about a wolf pack protecting their forest home from human progress, and the coming-of-age story of a young English girl finding her own identity and choosing her own path.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Wolfwalkers can be summarised in one word, stunning. Directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart have created an Irish folklore film that is for adults and children that captures story, visuals, cast and music in a masterful piece of on-screen magic.

Nominated for the 2021 Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, the story follows English girl, Robyn, and her pet falcon, Merlyn, as they move to Kilkenny with her father, Bill Goodfellowe. Set in the mid-1600s, the Lord Protector of the Irish town has hired Bill, an expert huntsman, to exterminate all the wolves in the nearby forest so that the lumberjacks can continue with their tree chopping undisturbed. The wolf pack has sought to protect their woodland home from destruction with the help of two wolfwalkers, Moll and Mebh (a mother and daughter duo who are human but can transform into wolves when they fall asleep).

Robyn aspires to be a great hunter like her father, but she encounters barriers in many forms including hostility from the Irish townsfolk (England and Ireland were at war during this period), her father’s own fear (he wants her to stay at home and be safe), and eventually the Lord Protector himself who orders she work in the scullery.

Sick of being trapped within the confines of her own home, Robyn sneaks out of town and follows her father into the woods. She hears the bell of a shepherd calling for help as his flock has been set upon by a wolf. With crossbow in hand, Robyn rushes to his aid and is about to fire at the wolf when a sheep bumps her and the arrow goes flying and instead strikes Merlyn. Distraught, Robyn goes back into the woods and finds her falcon miraculously healed. She then falls into one of her father’s own traps and is left dangling upside down from a rope snare. Mebh, in wolf form, discovers her and seeks to free her from the trap, but Robyn thinks Mebh is there to eat her and fights back. Though Mebh manages to free her, she accidentally bites Robyn on the arm in the process.

Robyn later discovers she has also become a wolfwalker and learns about the wolf pack’s plight. The background theme of industrial progress versus preservation of nature is universal, and Robyn’s view of her place and purpose opens as the story progresses. The magical transformation into a wolf is a perfect metaphor for Robyn’s mental transformation. Her mind opening up to the complexities of the world and thus coming-of-age as she seeks to help Mebh locate her mother who set out some time ago in wolf form to find a new forest home for the wolf pack to move to but has not returned. This is because Moll has been captured by the Lord Protector and is held in a cage within his castle.

The final act sees the Lord Protector and his soldiers seeking to burn down the forest and rid themselves of the wolves once and for all. Only through the actions of Robyn and the dawning realisation of her father who pieces together his daughter’s transformation are the wolfwalkers and the pack saved.

The 2-D animation is sumptuous and the animators at Cartoon Saloon studio have taken great care to fill every frame with loving detail. The visuals are an atmospheric delight as they capture the folklore feel of an Irish tale come to life. Combined with a soundtrack featuring Irish folk music and the song “Running with the Wolves” by Norwegian singer-songwriter, Aurora, the movie is captivating from start to finish.

Great story, great art, great voices, great script, great music… can’t really ask for more.

10 out of 10

Movie Review: Red Notice (2021)

TL;DR – art heist flick with plenty of sparkle but not much substance.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Where to start? So a ‘red notice’ is issued by Interpol to law enforcement around the world of a criminal or fugitive. When said criminal seeks to evade justice in one country by fleeing to another country, Interpol can issue a ‘red notice’ requesting law enforcement to provisionally arrest that criminal pending extradition.

International art thief, Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds), is seeking to be the most wanted art thief in the world. The reason he seeks to be number one on Interpol’s list is because of daddy issues, but this is background filler that is a lame excuse for the life he has chosen (not at all believable, so don’t even bother).

Seeking to capture Nolan is FBI criminal profiler, John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson) who is assisting Interpol though has not been granted any jurisdiction or powers outside the United States. Interpol has somehow bought into Hartley’s credentials and doesn’t do any background check on him (cue turning off one’s brain at the absence of logic). Hartley is a criminal profiler but is a brick house of an agent (because it’s Dwayne Johnson) and has undercover and thieving skills (yes, he can pick pocket like a pro… suspicious much?) that rival Booth and thus makes no sense and is even less believable. It makes sense at the end because of the twist, but if you question initial scenes, you will see the twist coming.

Last but not least, we have Sarah Black a.k.a. “The Bishop” (Gal Gadot), the current number one art thief in the world. She always appears on the scene without explanation and with an ease that makes me think she has superhuman powers (or at least the power to wander into places invisible without anyone noticing). Given this is Gal Gadot we are talking about, how she manages this is the least believable. But we shouldn’t question this. After all she is the number one art thief in the world.

The film opens with a history lesson about three jewelled eggs gifted to Cleopatra by Marc Antony. These priceless artefacts are now worth a fortune. One is held in a museum in Rome, another is owned by an infamous arms dealer, and the third has never been recovered.

Booth steals the first egg, successfully escapes, returns to his hideout in Bali only to discover Hartley and Interpol are waiting, and gets arrested. The egg is secured briefly only to be swapped out by Black disguised as an Interpol agent. Framed by Black, Hartley becomes the prime suspect and winds up in prison with Booth. The pair are then confronted by Black who reveals that she knows that Booth has uncovered the location of the third egg. She offers Booth a cut of ten percent if he tells her where the third egg is. Booth declines her offer.

After Black’s departure, Hartley convinces Booth to work together to capture Black. The incentive for Booth being 1) to bust out of prison, 2) to acquire the eggs, and 3) to usurp Black as the number one art thief in the world. Hartley’s motive is simply to clear his name and arrest both Booth and Black in the act.

There are so many plot holes in this story that I don’t know where to begin. For starters, how does Hartley know Booth’s hideout is in Bali and its exact location? The explanation is that Hartley’s profile skills allowed him to figure this out. It’s a throw away one liner that is farcical. Next, how is Black able to masquerade as an Interpol agent? Surely, Interpol would know the exact number of people on this mission to Bali, and who each agent is that has been assigned to retrieve the first egg and arrest Booth. Next, how does Black know that Booth has knowledge of where the third egg is located? She has a voice recording of Booth saying he knows, but how she came to have this recording? Who knows?

The above is a sample of the gaps that require you to suspend all belief. At least Ocean’s Eleven explained how they were going to rob the casino. There is no attempt to provide clever explanation in Red Notice.

This film is all about the interactions between the three main leads and action sequences. Admittedly the camerawork on the action is well done, and while Ryan Reynolds is now typecast in his character (i.e. guy with smart mouth) along with Dwayne John who is also typecast in his character (i.e. guy who kicks ass), the banter between the pair does bring out a chuckle here and there. Gal Gadot’s character is meant to be the foil between the two, manipulating the strings to achieve her own goals.

It is not so much a heist flick as it is a wannabe “Indiana Jones” adventure (even at one point, Booth starts whistling the theme song from the Indiana Jones movies) as the trio travel around the world to acquire the three eggs. The final twist leaving the film open for a sequel. I don’t think the film is trying too hard to be clever, which is a good thing. This is not Money Heist or seeks to create a massive reveal like The Usual Suspects. It’s an action comedy where a good-looking cast gets to do good-looking action. Accept that and you’ll enjoy the movie.

5 out of 10

Movie Review: The Many Saints of Newark (2021)

TL;DR – Prequel story to the HBO crime drama “The Sopranos” following a young Tony Soprano and his uncle, Dickie Moltisanti during the 1967 Newark riots. Enjoyable for fans of the highly successful TV series.

Review (warning: spoilers)

From 1999 to 2007, viewers were gifted with one of the greatest TV series to hit our screens. The Sopranos followed the tumultuous life of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), father and head of a New Jersey-based Italian mafia. Gandolfini’s iconic role was so convincing, I believed that the actor had mafia ties. The HBO produced series was nominated and won so many awards that the list takes up its own Wikipedia page. From the cast, to the direction, to the camera work, to the costume design, to sound and music composition, The Sopranos set a platinum standard when it came to TV entertainment and demonstrated that small screen “cinema” could be as gripping, engaging and thoroughly engrossing as a feature length film on the big screen. But The Sopranos would be nothing without a story created and written (primarily) by David Chase. It is the writing that elevates The Sopranos into legendary status among the upper echelon of great TV drama.

Having watched all six seasons of The Sopranos, I almost fell off my chair when I read that David Chase and co-writer Lawrence Konner had penned a screenplay about a prequel. Directed by Alan Taylor, The Many Saints of Newark focuses on a young Tony Soprano’s childhood against the backdrop of the 1967 Newark riots that were sparked when a black taxi driver was arrested, beaten and killed by white police officers.

Played initially by William Ludwig and later by Michael Gandolfini, a young Tony Soprano tries to navigate his childhood and teenage years surrounded by a father, Johnny Soprano (Jon Bernthal), uncle Junior Soprano (Corey Stoll) and the rest of the DiMeo mafia family all involved in criminal activity. However, it is his mentor, Dickie Moltisanti (Alessandro Nivola), that he has the greatest respect and admiration, and the story primarily follows the pair.

The story shows that Tony never really stood a chance at choosing a life on the straight and narrow. At key points, Dickie attempts to get Tony to follow the rules and not get swallowed into a life with the mafia. But the things that Tony witnesses and the bond that comes being part of the mobster family burn indelible images into his brain and you know it is only a matter of time before Tony wants to learn the ropes to the “family” business.

By contrast, we follow Dickie and the life of a mobster and all the highs and lows that such a life entails. Dicke’s life reflects and prophesies what Tony’s life will be when we watch him in The Sopranos TV series. Dickie’s actions result in profound consequences that impact his conscience. Yes, he’s a mobster and thus you would think that his conscience would have been long ago seared to the point of no return, but there lies the complexity and horrifying beauty of the story. It is the fact that somewhere deep down (likely buried six feet under) is a piece of Dickie’s soul that still feels guilt and knows right from wrong. This manifests itself when he visits his uncle Sally (Ray Liotta) in prison. Sally also happens to be identical twins with Dickie’s father, and did I mention earlier in the film, Dickie kills his father? I didn’t? Well, this review did say spoilers.

Sally is the ‘therapist’ to Dickie’s conscience and is prophetic in nature because Sally comes to realise the blood on Dickie’s hands and tells him that he needs to stay out of Tony’s life (lest Tony gets sucked into a life of crime also). It is not coincidence that the first episode of The Sopranos has Tony talking to a psychiatrist.

These linkages are key to truly appreciating The Many Saints of Newark. Thus, if you haven’t watched the TV series, you will likely miss out on many of the connections with the prequel. The fun is in identifying all the characters in the prequel with those in the TV series and getting a glimpse into how they become who they become.

The final scene where Tony is at Dickie’s wake (yes, another spoiler, Dickie does not make it out alive in this film) and the camera focuses on young Tony, you can see in his eyes that his destiny is now set. This is confirmed when the song – “Woke up this morning” by Alabama 3 – starts playing. This song is as iconic as Tony because it is the opening credits song to The Sopranos. I honestly got goose bumps when that deep baritone voice and drum beat started playing.

8 out of 10

Movie Review: The Harder They Fall (2021)

TL;DR – a stylistic western revenge flick with a killer soundtrack that tells more of the story than the dialogue and visuals.

Review (warning: spoilers)

A husband, his wife and their son sit down at the table for supper. The husband says grace, thanking the Lord for their meal, but they are interrupted by a knock at the door. When the husband sees who it is, he whispers, ‘No.’

The husband backs away, looks longingly at the rifle perched on the wall out of reach. The stranger enters, spits on the floor and sits down at the table taking out two gold plated revolvers and puts them on the table. The husband sits down and asks the stranger to leave his husband and son out of this. He expresses that the quarrel is with him not with his family. The stranger calmly raises his two guns and points one each at the wife and son. The husband pleads to leave them alone. The stranger points both guns at the wife and fires killing her instantly. He then turns and shoots the husband. The son screams seeing his parents murdered before him. The stranger takes a razor out of his pocket and proceeds to cut the boy’s forehead while he continues to beg and scream. Thus is the opening of The Harder They Fall, a film by Jeymus Samuel in his directional debut.

Samuel is a singer-songwriter and music producer and clearly uses this strength in adding story-telling and atmosphere through the choice of songs (most of them original) designed for this film. A mix of reggae and religious sounds that is used extensively and, at times, compensates for lack of story.

After the opening violence, we fast forward and are introduced to Nat Love (Jonathan Majors), outlaw and leader of the ‘Nat Love Gang’ who rob from other outlaw gangs who rob from banks. Make sense? Basically, a robber who robs from robbers. But that is not his primary drive. His primary drive is hunting down the Buck Gang led by Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) who was responsible for killing Nat’s parents (yes, Nat is the boy we see screaming in the opening scene and has a cross cut into his forehead by Rufus’s razor blade).

Nat’s gang comprises of sharpshooter Bill Pickett (Edi Gathegi) and quick draw Jim Beckwourth (RJ Cyler) along with Mary Fields (Zazie Beets), Nat’s previous love who left him because she couldn’t bare not knowing if Nat would come back alive from each of his revenge kills.

The last one alive on Nat’s mission of revenge is, of course, Rufus Buck himself and the story that unfolds is largely linear with the mandatory twist in the final scenes. When a large number of bodies are scattered on the ground and Nat faces off against Rufus, it is then we finally get to see Rufus’s motive for killing Nat’s parents. In short, Nat’s father had a previous life as a violent outlaw who was married and had a son. That son was Rufus. Seems Nat’s father had the dark past of beating his first wife and son leading to one day killing Rufus’s mother who was trying to defend him. The father leaves and starts a new life as an honest man, remarries to another woman and has Nat.

So the twist is a revenge within a revenge or rather a cycle of revenge. Rufus didn’t kill his half brother, Nat, because he knew that Nat would want revenge and become an outlaw himself. To Rufus, it was the ultimate revenge on his father who killed his mother and left him to rot.

Another interesting mechanic used by Director Samuel is that while the story is entirely fictional, the characters are based on real people. And practically all these historical figures are of African American or Indian descent. But this is not a film about race. There’s only one scene where race is played out when Nat and his gang robs a bank in a town whose population is all white, but there is no particular narrative or message being said.

More subtly, Rufus has created a town called Redwood, which has a black population and there is inference that Rufus seeks to create a mecca or sanctuary for black people. However, again, this is just a by-product that is not examined in any significant detail. The story is simply about revenge and how revenge spawns more revenge (yes, there is a final shot where Nat having achieved his revenge rides off with his love, Mary, but we see the arm of someone holding a hat looking down on them from a cliff and if you’ve been following you will know that it belongs to a character named Trudy (Regina King) who was Rufus’s right-hand woman…) So, sequel perhaps?

Overall, I couldn’t help feel that the film was more style over substance. The reliance on the soundtrack and the solid cast unable to hide its flaws in the story. For example, Mary talks Nat into letting her “scout” Redwood, which doesn’t make much sense especially when she ends up simply trotting into town on her horse and trying to make a deal with Rufus (who does the logical thing of capturing her and using her as bait to flush out Nat). Bizarre move on both Nat and Mary’s part. At some points, I also felt the film was more about showcasing songs that fit into the narrative rather than the story standing on its own two feet with support from the soundtrack. By the end, there is not much to savour as all the shooting and killing feels templated and Rufus’s revelation (which admittedly is delivered with as much gravitas as Idris Elba can muster) is anti-climatic.

A case of buy the soundtrack but not the movie.

6 out of 10

Movie Review: Official Secrets (2019)

TL;DR – This is the story of British translator Katharine Gun who worked for the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) and blew the whistle on her own government and the United States for attempting to blackmail UN diplomats of other nations to vote with the UK and US on the invasion of Iraq.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Anyone who has followed the events leading up to the 9/11 World Trade Centre terrorist attacks and the political aftermath will be aware of British whistle blower Katharine Gun, who in 2003 leaked a top secret memo in relation to an illegal operation between British and American intelligence services to spy on UN diplomats. The UN Security Council were looking to vote on a resolution supporting the invasion of Iraq. This operation sought to spy on those nations that could swing the vote to the US and UK’s favour by obtaining information they could use to blackmail those diplomats.

US President George W. Bush declared a war on terror after the 9/11 attacks. Bush together with UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, sought to convince the rest of the world that Saddam Hussein held weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Other countries opposed the invasion and held the position that there was insufficient evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. This in turn led to worldwide protests against the Iraq War.

Official Secrets is a no-frills drama of the conflict within the UK between anti-war advocates and government agencies waging war on terror. Katharine Gun (Kiera Knightley) is driven to act when she sees news reports regarding the US and UK government pushing to invade Iraq based on ‘intelligence’ she knows is not backed by solid evidence. It also looks into the machinations of the British newspaper, The Observer, and journalist, Martin Bright (Matt Smith) as he receives the top secret memo through a middle person who knows Katharine and seeks to authenticate the information.

In the film, the key scene is when Katharine sits down with Scotland Yard detective, TinTin (Peter Guiness) and is interviewed:

“What were you employed to do?” asks TinTin.
“Well, I can’t be specific,” responds Katharine.
“Be general then.”
“I translated signals intelligence and I report anything I thought might be of interest to my clients.”
“Your clients?”
“The Foreign Office. The Ministry of Defence.”
“So, you work for the British government.”
“No, not really.”
“No?”
“Governments change. I work for the British people. I gather intelligence so that the government can protect the British people. I do not gather intelligence so that the government can lie to the British people.”

Detective TinTin then drills down on Katharine that her work involves being a spy and as a spy it is her job to eavesdrop on private conversations regardless of who they may be (including UN diplomats).

Katharine’s response is calm and measured as she says, “I don’t object to being asked to collect information that could help prevent a terror attack. What I object to is being asked to gather intelligence to help fix a vote at the UN and deceive the world into going to war.”

What follows is the British Government charges her for breaching the Official Secrets Act and the pressure exerted on her to plead guilty in order to receive a more lenient sentence. Katharine hires lawyer, Ben Emmerson (Ralph Fiennes) to represent her and after going through the charges and the likely prosecutor’s case, they do their own research and discover that the Attorney-General Peter Goldsmith had written an advisory document stating that it would not be lawful to use force (and instigate a war on Iraq) without a new Security Council resolution. Further this document existed at the same time the GCHQ were emailed a memo to spy on UN diplomats. Goldsmith later reversed his position after going to Washington stating that the UN’s resolution of the 1991 Gulf War could be reactivated to legitimise a new war with Iraq (which the film depicts as a ‘fringe view’ at best).

Ben Emmerson then proceeds to try and put the legality of the Iraq War on trial and requests documents from the government. In a remarkable final scene, the prosecution drops all charges on Katherine as the documents in question would have shown that the government had deceived the British people into entering a war on Iraq.

Words are then shown on screen indicating in 2010, Goldsmith’s advice to Tony Blair was made public indicating it would be illegal to go to war without a Security Council resolution and this coincided with when Katharine leaked the memo. Statistics are then shown of the number of Iraqis killed and wounded during the four years of war, along with the number of US and UK soldiers that died. Real life footage at the end shows Katharine being mobbed by the press and being asked whether she would do it again and she indicated she would.

Overall, Official Secrets depicts another example of why people distrust and are disillusioned by politicians and governments. Sadly, the film does not attempt to show anything of the other side (other than news footage of Bush, Blair and Colin Powell urging the UN to vote for the invasion into Iraq). The 9/11 terrorist attacks created an atmosphere of global fear that still echoes on today and generated a need for governments to be perceived to be acting against terror threats. A time when emotions were so high that the need to act (even if those acts involved violation of human rights and privacy) was unbearable. It was an impossible time for political leaders, but arguably a time when political leaders needed to rise above the emotion and be the voice of calm.

If you want to learn what happened leading up to 9/11 and the events after, I recommend watching Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror, a docuseries that shows much of humanity’s failings and the destruction caused by war and hate.

The cast of Official Secrets are all spot on especially Kiera Knightley and Adam Bakri who plays Katharine’s husband, Yasar Gun. Director Gavin Hood delivers a tight film that is worth the watch even if it doesn’t delve into the complexities of a time when the political climate was at a tumultuous high. In truth, if Hood decided to lump all that in as well you would have a running time over three hours. Better off watching the docuseries I mentioned above.

7.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Hypnotic (2021)

TL;DR – A psychiatrist uses hypnosis to take control of women who look like his late wife. A drivel of a film lacking any substance.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Hypnotic opens with a female security guard being asked over the intercom by some male security guard to go ahead and do her rounds and he will come and cover the desk. It is late in the evening and the place is largely empty. The desk has a single monitor with CCTV coverage of various areas of the building. The camera then shifts to inside the building to an office with the name ‘Andrea B’ on the glass door and a woman peeks through the blinds from within. The woman is Andrea Bowen (Stephanie Cudmore), she’s scared and nervous as she makes a call to a Detective Wade Rollins (Dulé Hill) from the Portland PD and leaves a message saying she believes ‘he’ is still watching him. With eyes, red-rimmed and tearful, she walks to the elevator which takes her down from the 18th floor to ground, as the numbers count down, she receives a phone call from ‘Unknown Caller’ and thinks it is the detective.

Cue strange man’s voice who says, “Andrea, this is how the world ends.” The elevator stops suddenly, Andrea starts screaming as the walls of the elevator start closing in… literally. Trapped in a vice, the scene fades as Andrea is crushed.

Without having read anything about this film, given this opening scene and movie title, I’m guessing there’s a psychopathic psychiatrist who uses hypnosis on his patients and when using a key word or sentence such as “this is how the world ends”, triggers the patient to mentally believe they will die even if part of their brain says, “I’m in an elevator and elevator walls do not suddenly start moving in to crush me like a garbage compactor”.

We now meet Jenn Tompson (Kate Siegel) who arrives at a party with a pot plant that has seen better days. At the front door, she is greeted by her friend, Gina Kelman (Lucie Guest), and Jenn confesses she bought a bottle of wine to bring to the party but already drank it and instead brought a plant that she now notices is dead. Gina doesn’t care about the plant and says she tried calling her to tell her ‘Brian’ is here. Jenn’s expression is all you need to know that her and Brian were once a thing but they are now not a thing anymore. Jenn decides to brave the party anyway and asks for a glass of wine. Clearly, alcohol being the only thing getting her through life at this moment.

During the party Jenn is introduced by Gina to Dr Collin Meade (Jason O’Mara). Gina speaks glowingly of the assistance and therapy Collin has given her and attributes her recent promotion up the career ladder to him. For all the alcohol consumed, Jenn is still astute enough to say to Collin that she didn’t know that therapists could hang out with their patients. To which, Collin replies bashfully that he follows the rules 99% of the time then lowers it to 95%, which gets a giggle out of Jenn.

She excuses herself when she sees Brian (Jaime M. Callica) and ends up in a four-way conversation with him, Gina and Gina’s husband, Scotty (Luc Roderique). Collin inserts himself into the conversation by asking what Jenn does and discovers she is a software engineer like Brian. We also find out that Brian has a severe sesame seed allergy requiring an epi-pen to be carried around with him. I’m already guessing Brian is not going to make it to the end of the film and will consume sesame seed unknowingly with no epi-pen in sight. Collin leaves his business card for Jenn before the party ends.

Sessions ensue involving hypnotherapy and three months pass with Jenn turning her life around. She invites Brian over for dinner (at the suggestion of the good doctor). To prepare, she is at a grocery store when she receives a phone call from an ‘Unknown Caller’ and she freezes. She then awakens sitting down in her house with dinner laid out on the table, she doesn’t remember any of this (and has lost a passage of time) and hears someone choking in the bathroom. Sure enough, it’s Brian having an allergic reaction. She manages to find an epi-pen and calls the ambulance, but Brian ends up in a coma (so, I was close, he doesn’t die but almost).

The rest of the film follows the path of psychological thrillers where Jenn tries to figure out what is happening to her, and the good doctor espouses ‘therapy’ that talks about not letting fear win and allowing her to trust him when we know he is said psychopath. It’s a by-the-numbers affair which delivers style over substance and thus falls short of any thrills.

I cannot stress strongly enough that this film takes great liberties surrounding what it portrays as ‘therapy’. The idea of just being happy and not letting fear win is not something any proper psychiatrist would seek to instil in their patient. Part of who we are is feeling the spectrum of emotions that comes from being human and that includes happiness, joy, sadness and fear. Suffice to say, however, that even if I turn my mind off and treat the idea of hypnosis as mind-control purely as a story mechanic designed to bring tension, it still falls flat. That Collin uses hypnosis to control women who look like his late wife is both contrived and cliché. Any attempt at twists or shocks failing miserably due to a plot that has nothing going for it.

Hypnotic is truly a boring affair.

1 out of 10