Movie Review: Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)

TL;DR – Thor learns to open his heart again and pays the price…again.

Review (warning: spoilers)

I am probably one of the few people who did not enjoy Thor: Ragnarok. And before I continue, let me preface this by saying I’m a big fan of Director Taika Waititi. I thought Jojo Rabbit was sublime, and his comic acting chops in Free Guy as the antagonist, Antwan, was hilarious. He is incredibly talented and knows how to tell a story that is both funny, moving and poignant, and his unique style and vision in films is eye catching.

I was let down by Thor: Ragnarok because I felt the humour overwhelmed the plot. Norse mythology is rich in material, and Ragnarok is a critical (if not the most critical) event in the Norse mythos. Yet, Marvel Studios appeared happy to go in a direction that was more for laughs than any sense of delving deeper into the God of Lightning and Thunder.

So when I learned that Thor: Love and Thunder was again to be directed by Waititi and the script also co-written by Waititi and Jennifer Kaytin Robinson, my hopes for a Thor film with a little more gravitas were dashed.

But even with my expectations so low, somehow my ‘expected’ disappointed was exceeded by Thor: Love and Thunder because the story of Thor is now one of farce. Waititi has been given licence to go whole hog on the slapstick and comedy to the point where I found the character of Thor to be largely unrecognisable from the stories I grew up reading as a kid (and this includes the Marvel comics).

Maybe I’m just an old fuddy-duddy but I still crave a good fantasy story over a bunch of laughs. Marvel’s Thor doesn’t have to go “Lord of the Rings” fantasy style, but it has now gone in a direction that I no longer know what the point of the character is.

The only point I see with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) now is that with great power comes great heartache. In Thor: Love and Thunder, we get a recap of all the loved ones he has lost, which includes his parents, his brother Loki, his estranged sister Hela and his best friend, Heimdall.

Now, we can add Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) to the list. Jane is Thor’s ex and has stage four cancer. Thor who has walled off his heart to prevent any further hurt, finds himself opening up once more when he reunites with Jane. But wait I’m getting ahead of myself.

The story’s primary antagonist is Gorr (the excellent Christian Bale). Gorr and his daughter are the last of a tribe of followers who worship the god, Rapu. When his daughter perishes, and he discovers that Rapu never cared about his believers, Gorr denounces Rapu and kills the god with the Necrosword (a cursed blade that can summon creatures of darkness and allows him to move between shadows). Gorr vows to rid the universe of all gods and becomes the “God butcher”.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Jane is unable to prevent the cancer from spreading, so she turns to New Asgard and being drawn to the broken pieces of Mjolnir (Thor’s hammer, which was shattered by Hela in Thor: Ragnarok) hoping that maybe magic can cure her. Mjolnir responds to Jane and transforms her into “Jane Thor”. Though she has the powers of Thor, the transformation is temporary and does not stop the cancer.

Gorr kidnaps the children of New Asgard, triggering the eventual showdown between Thor, Jane, Korg (Taika Waititi reprising the role as the rock creature), and Valkyrie (the under utilised Tessa Thompson).

But not before Thor and company make a stop at Omnipotence City to seek the aid of Zeus (Russell Crowe) and the other gods. Crowe plays a very camp Zeus and is ridiculous, but this is totally in theme with the rest of the film. Zeus has no interest in helping Thor, thinking that Gorr will never reach Omnipotence City. This leads to a short confrontation where Thor uses Zeus’s lightning bolt against him and escapes with the bolt to use against Gorr.

One particular sequence in the film demonstrates what could have been. When Thor, Jane and Valkyrie venture to the planet where they believe Gorr has kidnapped the children, everything on screen becomes largely black and white and shades of grey. It reflects perfectly Gorr’s shadow realm and when there are flashes of colour from our trio using their weapons it is done with restraint (instead of the overtly rainbow colours of Omnipotence City). It is the only time where there is a sense of tension.

And this brings me full circle with the depiction of Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. At no point, do you ever feel that Thor will be defeated or even wounded. Unlike his fellow gods, there is never an inkling that Thor will ever get a scratch on his beautiful blonde head. He is so powerful that not even Zeus manages to disarm him (the Greek god does manage to disrobe Thor while he is chained on stage in Omnipotence City) in an act of pure fanservice. I guess Hemsworth figured that if he had to work out that much for the role, he might as well have one nude scene to show off all his rippling muscles including his gluteus maximus.

So, the only way to really hurt Thor is through his heart. Thus the whole “with great power comes great heartache”. Prior to the final battle, Thor begs Jane to remain on Earth and fight the cancer, saying that each time she uses Mjolnir to transform, it makes her weaker when she inevitably turns back to being human. Jane agrees but only on condition that Thor will return.

When Thor confronts Gorr and is put on the ropes, Jane senses it and rushes to save him but in turn sacrificing herself to the cancer as she uses Mjolnir one final time. Thus, in the end, does Thor lose yet another loved one.

This cycle of loss is meant to be somewhat broken when a dying Gorr asks Thor to take care of his daughter. Turns out Gorr was not just looking to destroy all the gods, but he was also looking for “Eternity” (a magical being) who will grant one wish if you manage to find him (or her or it… it’s not quite clear what “Eternity” is). Gorr wishes for his daughter to be alive and she comes back only for him to die. But she’s in good hands as Thor now takes on the adopted father role, signifying that he is not alone anymore.

In the post credits, we see that Jane gets to enter Valhalla.

All a bit ho-hum in the end.

4 out of 10

Movie Review: Thirteen Lives (2022)

TL;DR – based on the real life events of a Thai soccer team trapped in a flooded cave.

Review (warning: spoilers)

In June 2018, monsoon rains arrived early flooding the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in northern Thailand and trapping a soccer team of twelve boys aged between 11 and 16 and their assistant coach. The event captured the attention of the world over and resulted in an international rescue mission involving over 10,000 people including Navy SEALs, professional cave divers, rescue workers, police, soldiers and government representatives from around the world.

Director Ron Howard delivers a solid retelling of these events. The complexity of the rescue was, in no uncertain terms, astounding. It included:

  • Teams scaling the mountain to divert rain from going down sinkholes into the caves, which instead resulted in flooding of nearby farmland and destroying crops but was a key measure in minimising underwater currents in the caves for the divers.
  • Installing pumps that pumped out millions of gallons of water from the caves.
  • Mapping out the network of tunnels and creating lines that would guide the divers back and forth. In total, it took divers a staggering eleven hours roughly for a round trip from the entrance to where the soccer team were stranded and back again (spanning a total of 8 kilometres).
  • Placing spare diving cylinders at certain points along the network.
  • A pulley system established at the entrance to transport the boys into ambulances.

The behind-the-scenes making of this film must have been enormous as Howard captures every ounce of tension from his main cast of characters, the fear and anxiety of the coach and children stuck in the cave (and huge supporting cast outside including families, government officials, workers and volunteers), and the claustrophobic confines of the dive itself.

The main cast, and the focus of the film, is primarily on the rescuers. John Volanthen (Colin Farrell) and Rick Stanton (Viggo Mortensen), two British cave rescue divers, and Dr Harris (Joel Edgerton), an Australian anaesthetist, who all played key roles in the rescue mission. And this film largely revolves around their actions.

The camerawork is incredible. The above-the-ground camera shots of the mountain itself with monsoon rains unleashing from the heavens along with the countryside of Thailand is stunning, and this is contrasted brilliantly against the fear-inducing death trap of the underwater journey that the divers must take. Watching the divers squeeze through nooks and crannies and along tunnels barely wide enough for an adult human is captured using camera angles and shots that must have been painstakingly done.

Howard demonstrates his experience as director and what initially appears to be a lengthy running time of 2.5 hours for the movie ended up feeling to me like it passed in an instant. Besides the drama of the rescue itself, the film does touch upon the politics, debates and issues that confronted those involved. Probably the most profound one being the idea to anaesthetise the children so they would be unconscious for the entire trip out of the cave and the associated risks with that idea.

The fact that all twelve boys and their coach were successfully rescued is nothing short of a miracle. And the film honours Saman Kunan (a former SEAL who died during one of the dives) and Beirut Pakbara (also a SEAL who died of a blood infection during the operation).

I have read that there are several other production companies that have made or will make a film or TV series about the Tham Luang cave rescue. Notably, The Rescue a 2021 documentary film by National Geographic has been critically acclaimed as it interviews and obtains real footage of the divers and the rescue. And Netflix are producing a TV series titled Thai Cave Rescue (set for release in September 2022 at time of writing this blog) after obtaining access to the thirteen members of the Thai soccer team.

Comparisons are likely to occur, but I have been fortunate to watch Thirteen Lives without having seen any other versions. Where Thirteen Lives does not explore are the lives of the soccer team themselves. We only see the surface of these kids and their coach, and this was likely intentional by Ron Howard as only Netflix has obtained the rights to the team members.

In that light, however, it’s still an engaging and riveting experience from beginning to end.

9 out of 10

Movie Review: Lightyear (2022)

TL;DR – story about the man behind the toy.

Review (warning: spoilers)

The movie opens simply by stating:

In 1995, a boy named Andy got a Buzz Lightyear to for his birthday.
It was from his favourite movie.
This is that movie

And away we go. Buzz and company are flying an exploration vessel into unchartered space (4.2 million light years from Earth). As a space ranger, they scout planets and wake the scientist crew if they believe the planets are worth exploring.

The mission log narratives are there. The iconic lines that Buzz delivers such as, “Terrain seems a bit… unstable”, “You’re mocking me aren’t you?” and, of course, “To infinity and beyond” will remind you of the toy Buzz immediately. The action sequences and movements of the human Buzz are almost identical to the toy Buzz. In fact, the “makers” of the toy have modelled it so well against the movie character that they’re almost identical. Almost.

What makes this film subtly different is how the character of Buzz portrayed in the movie that inspired the toy is far more complex as the movie progresses.

Far more human.

This is where it is clever once you let it sink in. For example, the voice of the human Buzz (Chris Evans as opposed to Tim Allen) is subtly different. The casting of the human Buzz to be voiced by anyone other than Tim Allen caused controversy. However, I feel it is a clever move to demonstrate that there are distinctions between human and toy.

The toy Buzz is so iconic because it does outrageous things and acts like… well… a toy.

The human Buzz deals with human lives and this is, at its core, the heart of the movie. Along with Buzz, we are introduced to another space ranger, Commander Alisha Hawthorne. She is a wonderful foil for Buzz’s character and ensures his feet remain planted on what is important. However, Buzz doesn’t realise this until much later in the film.

At the beginning, Buzz is all about the mission. To be a space ranger and to serve and protect the scientists on board the ship while they continue to explore unchartered space. He’s single-minded (just like the toy) and so when their ship is attacked by the planet’s vine-like tentacles, Buzz is determined to get off the planet with everyone safely onboard in one piece. He wants to do everything himself. He wants to be the hero. He finds the rookie space rangers on board burdensome, and he doesn’t even trust the IVAN (internal voice activated navigator) system and would rather handle the controls himself than hand it over to autopilot.

This leads to Buzz making a mistake that damages the ship and results in him and the crew being stranded on the planet. The hyper-speed crystal used to fuel the ship is destroyed.

As they slowly colonise the planet, Buzz starts doing test flights on a new hyper-speed crystal so they can continue their journey in unchartered space. However, Buzz discovers there’s a catch. Due to time dilation, each test flight that approaches the speed of light causes a jump. To Buzz, his test flight might feel like only a few minutes but back on the colony, everyone has experienced years passing.

Feeling responsible for getting everyone stranded, Buzz continues with the test flights and watches as his good friend Commander Hawthorne ages dramatically each time. She settles down, gets married, has kids and grandkids and eventually leaves one final message to Buzz before her passing. It’s a scene right out of another Pixar film – Up – where we get snapshots of the couple at the beginning meet, get married, and grow old together.

This sequence in Lightyear is where you realise that this isn’t Toy Story.

And the film is all the more powerful for it. As events unfold, Buzz learns that he needs to trust others to help him (including IVAN) and with the help of Sox (an intelligent and very funny robotic cat), Buzz comes to realise that there is something more important than the mission. And that is people.

He has to go through quite a bit before this epiphany hits him including facing a time travelling older version of himself who pilots a robotic Zurg. The older version wants to travel into the past to make it so that they never crashed and got marooned on the planet in the first place. But present Buzz realises that by doing that, it would mean Hawthorne would never get married and have a family.

You take it for granted just how good the Pixar animation is. If you pay attention, the detail is stunning. The scene where an Izzy Hawthorne (granddaughter to Alisha) has to push off from an airlock to another part of the ship with nothing but the emptiness of space around her is nothing short of nerve racking. If her trajectory is not right then she would end up floating into outer space forever. This is one example where the animation is as good as CGI generated space flicks.

A great sci-fi adventure that should be viewed as what it means to be human as opposed to a toy.

9 out of 10

Movie Review: Ghostbusters Afterlife (2022)

TL;DR – fitting tribute to all things great about the Ghostbusters with a dash of Goonies thrown in.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Over three decades have passed since the supernatural events in New York in which the world was introduced to a quartet of loveable dudes with proton packs that busted ghosts. Many of the events in the first Ghostbusters film should be watched in order to fully appreciate Ghostbusters Afterlife.

The story is set in Summerville, Oklahoma, and although it’s the year 2021, the town is stuck in a bygone time where there is zero mobile phone reception, and there still exists drive-in restaurants where carhops bring fast food to your vehicle on roller skates. By all intents, there’s not much to do for the kids in this town other than to drive up to an abandoned mine and watch the sun set. And though the town is not on a fault line, they seem to be experiencing earthquakes on an almost daily basis.

Little does anyone know (except one particular individual) that the mine was the site of an occultist named Ivo Shandor, who built a temple in order to summon Gozer, an evil god of destruction.

The one individual who knows about what is actually happening is an aged Egon Spengler (Bob Gunton) who has gone to great lengths to set up his dirt farm with a giant ghost trap to trap Gozer once and for all. The film opens with Egon driving madly away from the mine and being chased by an unseen poltergeist after having captured Zuul, or it could be Vinz (it’s not clear which one), who are demigods that serve Gozer. Zuul is the “gatekeeper” and Vinz is the “keymaster” and together they can open a portal between worlds to allow Gozer to come through and wreck destruction. These supernatural beings will be familiar to those who have watched the first Ghostbusters.

Unfortunately for Egon, while he manages to get back to his dirt farm and lures the creature chasing him, the ghost trap fails to activate. Egon hides the trapped ghost under the floorboards and suffers a fatal heart attack after being attacked by the creature.

This event leads to Callie (Carrie Coon) and her two kids, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (McKenna Grace) to take over residence at the dirt farm. Callie is Egon’s estranged daughter, who has long held the belief that her father abandoned her. Her goal is to move in, clear out all her father’s stuff and sell the place so they can move back to the city.

Again, for the those who have watched the first Ghostbusters, you’ll pick up straight away that Phoebe is a young girl version of her grandfather, Egon. She’s hyper intelligent, wears the same glasses as Egon wore, has the same curly hairstyle and loves science. She is also extremely unusual in that she gets calmer when things get crazier.

And believe me, the crazy hits the fan and sprays it all over the place.

She befriends a boy named Podcast (Logan Kim), who has his own podcast and a fascination for supernatural stories, at summer school along with her teacher, Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd), who is a seismologist and has a fascination for all things Ghostbusters-related (he later has a fascination for Phoebe’s mother, Callie… read on below). The chemistry between Phoebe and Podcast reminded me a lot of the characters in Goonies.

Through the exploration of the dirt farm and the mine, Phoebe and company discover what Egon was doing including his lab where she is guided by Egon’s ghost to fix a proton pack. She also finds the trap hidden under the floorboards, and when they open it, it releases Zuul (or Vinz) who travels back to the temple. In the mine, they find Ivon Shandor has somehow kept himself alive in a cryogenic coffin. Near him is a pit where Gozer attempts to rise out of but is constantly blasted down by three huge proton canons built by Egon. It is these canons that are causing the daily earthquakes.

Phoebe’s brother, Trevor, also discovers and successfully fixes the ol’ Ghostbusters Cadillac (the scene where he goes hooning around the fields is a lot of fun).

All things culminate in a paranormal cataclysm that is triggered when Callie gets possessed by Zuul and Vinz possesses Gary. Together they copulate in hilarious fashion (again, a tribute to the first Ghostbusters where Rick Moranis and Sigourney Weaver’s characters get possessed by the demigods and copulate) in order to open the portal to allow Gozer to come through. Gary/Vinz also destroys the proton canons ensuring Gozer’s arrival.

The final stand off sees the arrival of the original Ghostbusters (Phoebe contacted Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) seeking his help) and combining their efforts with Phoebe, Egon’s ghost, Callie, Trevor and Podcast to take on Gozer.

There’s plenty to love about Ghostbusters Afterlife and director Jason Reitman, who also co-wrote the script with Gil Kenan, have stayed faithful to the first two Ghostbuster films. There has been criticism about the fanservice, but I didn’t think it was overdone.

Even the miniature Stay-Puft Marshmallow men in the Walmart scene attacking Paul Rudd was pretty funny.

But my favourite scene would have to be when Trevor is behind the wheel of the Ghostbusters Cadillac, Podcast is remote controlling a ghost trap on wheels, and Phoebe is in a side gunner seat with proton pack ready and blasting her gun at “Muncher” (a ghost that must be a relative of “Slimer” in the original Ghostbusters, who eats nothing but metal) while they speed along a country road trying to prevent Muncher from reaching the mine and the sun is setting in the background. It’s an iconic scene that left me giddy.

8.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness (2022)

TL;DR – a film about differences and how those differences are what make us interesting.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Chickenhare, as the name suggests, is half-chicken, half-hare and he has no idea why he was born this way. He is found as a baby in a boat by two hare brothers, Peter and Lapin, who are adventurers trying to find the Hamster of Darkness (a mythical sceptre that can summon an army of ghost hamsters). Raised by Peter, Chickenhare idolises his adopted father and wants to become an adventurer as well. However, he is teased incessantly for his appearance and tries to cover up the chicken parts of him so he looks like a hare only.

He wears fluffy rabbit shoes over his chicken feet and a fedora hat to cover the chicken feathers that grow between his large rabbit ears that would make Dumbo the elephant envious. While Peter expresses a love that accepts all of Chickenhare, Chickenhare hates that he is different.

Bubbling beneath the surface is a rivalry and feud between the two hare brothers that reminded me a lot of the relationship between Mufasa and Scar in “The Lion King”. Peter is anointed the King of Featherbeard, and Lapin attempts to overthrow his brother for the crown but fails. Stuck in a cell, Lapin is allowed to access books and continues to research the Hamster of Darkness, which in his mind if he can obtain he will become ruler of Featherbeard.

When Chickenhare comes of age, he undertakes the trials set by the Royal Adventure Society to become a full fledged adventurer. Unfortunately, he fails the obstacle course due to the gear he is wearing that covers up his chicken features. Down but not out, Chickenhare endeavours to secretly find the Hamster of Darkness to prove his ability as an adventurer. He goes to meet his Uncle Lapin in jail to obtain a book on the Hamster of Darkness and in doing so, Lapin obtains one of Chickenhare’s feathers to pick the lock to escape. Thus begins the race to find the Hamster of Darkness first.

Chickenhare and the Hamster of Darkness takes a lot of inspiration from other films. As mentioned above, there is “The Lion King” rivalry between brothers Peter and Lapin. And Chickenhare is a character like Dumbo the elephant, who is shunned for his appearance. There is even a scene later in the film where Chickenhare finally accepts who he is and his enormously large rabbit ears sprout chicken feathers allowing him to fly just like Dumbo. But the inspirations don’t stop there. Others that I picked up include:

  • The adventure scenes are all influenced from “Indiana Jones” movies with booby traps and even a giant rock wheel that slowly rolls down a hallway threatening to crush Chickenhare and his friends (just like Indiana did running away from the giant boulder in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”).
  • Lapin’s imprisonment down the bottom levels of the dungeon reminded me of Tai Lung the snow leopard in “Kung Fu Panda”. Lapin even escapes using one of Chickenhare’s feathers to pick the lock, just as Tai Lung escaped from his shackles using a duck feather.
  • The obstacle course set out by the Royal Adventure Society uses dangerous contraptions to test the dexterity and skill of the wannabe adventurer. It reminded me a bit of the training arena in “How to Train Your Dragon” minus the dragons.

With all the above elements, does the movie work? Surprisingly yes. Though there are clear tributes to other films including a moment where Lapin reveals that he is Chickenhare’s father (actually he’s not, but they had to do an ode to “Star Wars”), the movie works because the characters are engaging and the story of accepting one’s differences, and it is these differences that make us interesting and unique, is a message that all audiences young and old should hear and embrace.

Chickenhare is supported through the film by Meg (a skunk who faces her own issues of discrimination) and Abe (a pessimistic tortoise that is so droll in his delivery that you can’t help but chuckle).

And then there is the scene with the “pigmies”. A tribe of pig-like critters that see Chickenhare as a god that they provide a banquet for and then subsequently will sacrifice in a volcano. These pink little dudes stole the show. They can turn themselves into cube building blocks and essentially build one on top of each other into transformer-like structures. They’re hilarious and quite alarming when a tidal wave of them come at you.

And did I mention that the when the Hamster of Darkness is used to summon the ghost hamsters they reminded me of the green ghost swarm in “Lord of the Rings”?

I mean do I need to go on? It’s an enjoyable ride.

8.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Persuasion (2022)

TL;DR – against her own judgement, Anne breaks off her engagement with Frederick Wentworth. Eight years later they meet again. Let the mind reading begin as they both mis-read each other’s feelings entirely.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Is chivalry dead? Not in a Jane Austen adaption. Persuasion, based on Austen’s last novel of the same name, examines and often repudiates the social codes of its time for which Austen was renown for.

While chivalry and social class of landed gentry is not dead in Austen’s novels, she goes to considerable lengths to demonstrate that you can only go so far in sensing another person’s emotions and trying to read into what they are thinking and feeling without crumbling into a tragic mess. Especially when that emotion is love and it is a battle between the heart and head.

To point, the film begins with Anne Elliott (Dakota Johnson) very much in love with Frederick Wentworth (Cosmo Jarvis) but has been persuaded by friends and family to break the engagement she has with him because he is of no notable name or rank (a mere sailor) and thus no suitable social status.

Eight years later and she hasn’t got over Frederick, and they meet up again through extenuating circumstances. Those circumstances being that Anne’s family is in financial trouble and they need to rent out their lavish estate, Kellynch Hall, and move to the less “lavish” town of Bath. Turns out Admiral Croft and his wife Sophia (Frederick’s sister) will be the ones moving into Kellynch Hall. And Anne meets Frederick once more who is now a decorated captain and is with considerable coin and social standing.

It’s as plain as day that the love between the pair has not waned. If anything, it has only grown stronger. And now that Captain Wentworth is higher up the rung on the social ladder, there should be no reason why he and Anne confess their love for one another once more and wed.

However, that would be a very short movie.

Instead, we have a lot of forlorn looks, uneasy chatter, and a surrounding cast that either treat Anne with tolerated disdain (i.e., her own family) or are making their own moves on Captain Wentworth or Anne respectively.

The humour is generated primarily from Anne’s narcissistic family who are all caricatures of the privileged social class (their fortunes obtained through inheritance or marriage as opposed to an honest day’s work). They’re a double edged sword that will either turn you off the film because they’re so annoying, or you’ll laugh out loud at how ridiculous they are as attention seekers.

Dakota Johnson carries the film well as the central character Anne, and her breaking down the fourth wall scenes about her thoughts and observations engage the audience.

However, for all her efforts, it’s not enough to carry a film that lacks any real drama. Though both she and Frederick capture the eye of interested others, which is meant to bring tension between the pair, there is never a sense that they won’t ever end up together.

All attempts at depth and being astutely scathing toward the upper class social structures of its time are filled with the hot air of its narcissistic supporting characters. And any insights about unrequited love and hope for a love that is found then lost then found again ends up being banal rather than thought provoking.

But perhaps that’s the aim of the film. In which case, enjoy the gorgeous cinematography and Dakota’s performance.

7 out of 10

Movie Review: The Gray Man (2022)

TL;DR – when the CIA seeks to disband a program of government elite assassins known as “the Gray Men” in order to retrieve stolen intel damning the agency itself, they put in charge a mercenary with sociopathic tendencies. Really smart move…not.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Court Gentry (Ryan Gosling) has been incarcerated since he was 15 and is serving a 36-year prison sentence for killing his father.

Donald Fitzroy (Billy Bob Thornton) waltzes in, gives some watermelon bubble gum to Court, and tells him he’s there to commute his sentence.

The catch? Court has to come work for the CIA and be part of a black ops unit called the Sierra program and “exist in the gray” serving his government masters indefinitely but at least free to move on the outside instead of being stuck behind bars.

Fast forward 18 years and Court (aka “Sierra Six”) is in Bangkok at a raucous party of the rich and criminal kind and assigned a job to assassinate a bad guy. Things go sideways when Court refuses to fire because of collateral (a child is near the mark). Court is ordered by his Center Chief, Denny Carmichael (Rege-Jean Page), to take the shot and permitting him to incur collateral damage, but Court feigns his gun jamming. He pulls the fire alarm and in the ensuing chaos, attempts to get close enough to his target and kill him direct.

His target turns out to be Sierra Four. Sierra Six is never told the identity of his targets, and so Sierra Four tells Court that he’s been sent to kill one of his own. The ensuing fist fight among fireworks going off leads to Four being killed but not before he hands Six a pendant containing a USB stick with sensitive information showing the agency has corruption within and that he’ll be targeted next.

Sure enough, mercenary Lloyd Hansen (Chris Evans) is hired by Carmichael and sent to take Sierra Six down. Chris Evans plays the sociopathic mercenary with relish, but it is a challenge to see him as anything other than an evil Captain America. The character Lloyd is a sick, torture-loving, rack up the body count as much as we have to, kind of guy and Evans delivers this role with guns blazing and biceps flexing in the kind of one-dimensional way that is sadly lacking any depth or complexity.

It is clear early on that Denny Carmichael is the corruption within because no sane person would utilise a loose cannon like Lloyd unless they had no scruples themselves. When Six eventually is able to decrypt the USB stick, it is shown there are videos of all the corrupt dealings that Denny has been involved in and the kills he has committed (or got others to commit) in order to further his own ends.

Through flashbacks, we discover that Court committed murder because his father abused him and his brother. This includes his father dunking his head in a tub of water and nearly drowning him along with using a car cigarette lighter and burning his arm. The breaking point is revealed when Court has to stop his father from killing his brother. It’s not any more layered than Lloyd’s character, but Ryan Gosling does his best to portray some level of complexity to his character in flashback scenes where he is assigned to look after Fitzroy’s niece earlier on in his career as Sierra Six.

The film is jam packed with action sequences that show why The Gray Man is the most expensive film ($200 million budget) ever produced by Netflix to date.

But does combining cash-draining action with a star studded cast equate to a great film? Or even an enjoyable one?

The answer is no. The problems lie in the plot. Even if you accept both Carmichael and Lloyd’s carte blanche power to seemingly be able to do whatever they want, which results in kidnapping, torture and murder of high ranking officials, destruction of cities and enough civilian casualties that you think that countries have somehow declared war on each other without knowing, there are huge problems by film’s end.

For example, when Lloyd and Court face-off in one final macho fist-fight, Lloyd actually has Court exactly where he wants him. Prior to said fight, Lloyd has Fitzroy’s niece at gun point and forces Court to lay down his weapon. Lloyd should have shot Court at this point and that would be game over. But instead, he goes on a short monologue about how he wants to test himself against Court in a fist-fight. After spending countless resources, hiring numerous hitmen, and causing death and destruction, Lloyd finally has the upper hand on Court and instead decides he wants to go toe-to-toe with him instead. Inexplicably, he lets Fitzroy’s niece go, lays down his own weapon and essentially challenges Court to a UFC match to the death. It’s moronic and silly.

And then in this same scene, Court (who has an earpiece and is working with non-corrupt CIA agent, Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas)) is told by Dani that she is in sniper position and can take Lloyd out. Why she didn’t do this once Lloyd willingly releases Fitzroy’s niece is baffling. Court actually accepts Lloyd’s UFC death match challenge and tells Dani to stand down. Idiotic.

The film also suffers from this sense that the story moves for the sole purpose of jumping from one action scene to the next. It is almost as if the Russo brothers who directed this film couldn’t care less about a coherent story and just wanted to show off how they could do these eye-watering action sequences. “Forget plot, more action!” I can hear them shout.

This could have been the next Bourne Identity, a spy thriller that reveals conspiracies in a genuine mysterious and gripping way rather than this over-the-top bombastic affair.

When Court and Lloyd duke it out, I was exhausted by all the previous action and numb from any sense of gravity of the situation. Not that any of it made much sense anyway.

If you’re after a mindless (or mind-numbing) action fest with no need for depth then The Gray Man will be right up your alley. Action without the thrills.

5 out of 10

Movie Review: The Sea Beast (2022)

TL;DR – “How to train your dragon” for sea monsters.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Little Miss Maisie Brumble is an orphan. Her parents were monster hunters but perished out at sea, and she now lives with other orphans in a home funded by the king and queen of the land. She’s a plucky soul, tells tales of famous hunters at sea to the children and makes several attempts to escape the orphanage.

Her latest escape sees her stowaway the ship “Inevitable” run by Captain Crow who has been hunting his whole life for his “Moby Dick” (a giant sea monster they call the “Red Bluster”).

Maisie convinces the Captain to allow her to stay aboard and develops an unlikely bond with Jacob Holland, who has been anointed by Crow as the next Captain of the Inevitable once they capture or kill the Red Bluster. Crow wants the legacy of the Inevitable to live on, and he sees Jacob as the most suitable to take over once he retires since Jacob displays the leadership, courage and charisma to handle his crew.

When they finally encounter the Red Bluster, the battle is fierce, launching a number of harpoons to hook and reel it in. The Red Bluster, however, is smarter than it looks and swims in a circle causing a whirlpool that threatens to sink the ship.

Against Crow’s instructions, Maisie cuts the ropes that connect to the harpoons, thus freeing the Red Bluster, but also preventing the Inevitable from going under. The ship is released but Maisie and Jacob are thrown overboard.

This is when you realise the Red Bluster is like “Toothless” the dragon in How To Train Your Dragon. The Red Bluster saves Maisie and Jacob by holding them in its giant mouth and swimming to an island. Though Jacob initially denies that the Red Bluster might actually not be evil, he soon comes to realise that the creature has only been killing hunters because it is being hunted.

All the stories that Maisie read about sea monsters raiding coastlines and destroying villages are false. Myths written by the ruling king and queen’s ancestors to generate prestige and wealth through the destruction of sea monsters and the lives of past hunters to create safe trade routes across the ocean.

Though Jacob and Maisie attempt to convince the Inevitable crew that they’ve been wrong about sea monsters all along, Captain Crow refuses to believe them.

The eventual capture of the Red Bluster and the bravery of Maisie and Jacob to reveal the lies of the king and queen to the people of the kingdom in order to save the creature are straight forward story telling.

The strength of the film is in its gorgeous animation and distinct character designs. Every character is engaging and some of the funniest moments come from the Red Bluster itself with dour and deprecating expressions at Jacob’s shortcomings.

The animated battle scenes at sea are stunning, and the detail from the ocean waves to the sky and every little bit of the Inevitable is pure eye candy.

And while the story will engage younger audiences, adults will likely be left with a feeling of wanting more.

The climax fizzles because when it becomes obvious even to Captain Crow that the Red Bluster is not naturally bad, the Captain’s reaction is one of stupor and there’s no resolution for Crow’s character. His lifelong “Moby Dick” nemesis is nothing more than a giant red fish wanting to live out its existence undisturbed.

While Jacob and Maisie embrace their new lease on life, we never find out what happens to the Captain, who arguably is as much a main character as the other two.

Story with a simple moral that holding onto hate and anger is not a way to live, The Sea Beast will delight young audiences and is a marvel in beautiful animation.

7.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Love and Leashes (2022)

TL;DR – Korean rom-com with a masochistic twist.

Review (warning: spoilers)

The opening line of Love and Leashes is “no relationship in the world is perfectly equal”.

Ji-hoo (Jun) has moved over from the business team to the PR team where he meets Ji-woo (Seohyun). Immediately, a fellow colleague remarks that their names are very similar and could get confused. The pair are teamed up by their boss after Ji-woo takes issue with a YouTuber who displays homophobic tendencies but works on an educational program, so their boss (who often puts his foot in his mouth with sexist remarks) asks them to work together to come up with a casting list. The friction between Ji-woo and her boss is obvious as he passive aggressively leaves his empty takeaway coffee on her desk and walks away. Ji-woo proceeds to crush the plastic cup in one curled fist with Ji-hoo noticing and looking on curiously.

Ji-woo is attractive but her colleague comments that she has a look in her eyes that is stand-offish and puts men off. However, this doesn’t stop Ji-hoo (who attracts a bit of a fan club from the women) coming up to Ji-woo and expressing that he’s looking forward to working with her.

The next day, Ji-hoo stops by the mailroom to pick up a package but discovers, to his horror, that the package has been accidentally given to Ji-woo (because their names are so similar). In a panic, he rushes to the elevator and frantically races to Ji-woo before she opens the package. It’s a funny sequence as Ji-woo opens the box to discover a spiked dog collar. Ji-hoo grabs the collar and tries to convince Ji-woo that it’s for his dog, but it becomes obvious that’s not the case when Ji-hoo tries to grab the box from Ji-woo causing it to fly up in the air, raining down foam packaging and a pamphlet that shows the purchase was from an S&M shop.

Ji-hoo freaks out on the inside that Ji-woo now thinks he’s a pervert. When he’s back at home, he talks in an online group chat with others who are into S&M and they say he needs to be careful otherwise he could lose his job.

Later in the evening, Ji-woo is going for a jog and stops at a shop displaying S&M gear. She imagines Ji-hoo confronting her and trying to put the spiked collar on her, which she refuses. Her day-dreaming is caught by her mother, who amusingly says she should go into the shop and even offers to buy her something (her mother is obviously much more up with the times than the bosses working at the PR company).

As things develop, there are humorous exchanges and misunderstandings, which reach the point where Ji-hoo asks Ji-woo to be his master (she would be the dom to his sub). What is interesting is that Ji-hoo asks this in a manner that is a contract rather than some romantic attraction, and Ji-woo initially reacts against the idea but becomes curious by it.

The cultural stigma of BDSM in a country like Korea is examined to some degree, and while the two leads capture the comic moments quite well, it is actually their deeper exchanges that are engaging. For example, Ji-woo asks Ji-hoo why he wants her to be his master, and he expresses an inner awkwardness that he has to pretend to be someone that he’s not so people will like him (which is ironic given he is very popular), yet he thinks Ji-woo is authentic and speaks her mind rather than being pigeon holed into an idea of how women should be in Korea. Likewise, Ji-woo is surprised at Ji-hoo’s own anxieties and is moved by his honesty.

The sexual tension that you would think exists in a film about BDSM is actually far more touching and poignant than expected simply because it is clear that Ji-woo is attracted to Ji-hoo in a romantic, falling-in-love kind of way when Ji-hoo believes Ji-woo could never feel that way towards him (due to his proclivities) and thus views their relationship as a business contract.

This is not “Fifty Shades of Grey”. This is a film that is surprisingly more moving and insightful about the connection between two people, and examines what is the basis of love. It also makes you ponder about the opening line of the film, and the idea of ‘power’. It’s the moments in-between the actual acts of S&M that elevates this film. The fact Ji-woo is confused about how she feels after she inflicts pain willingly received by Ji-hoo demonstrates how ‘power’ confuses the desire for loving kindness.

Great chemistry between to the two leads, and a story that is both funny and touching in equal measure.

8.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Last Night in Soho (2021)

TL;DR – psychological thriller involving ghosts, psychic connections, and 60s music.

Review (warning: spoilers)

There is a scene in Last Night in Soho between Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) and Miss Collins (Diana Rigg). Eloise is renting a bedsit in Miss Collins’s house, and after a number of surreal events, she asks:

“Did someone die in my room?”

“This is London,” scoffs Miss Collins. “Someone’s died in every room in every building in this whole city. Every street corner, too.”

Eloise has moved from her rural home to Ye Ol’ London to study to become a fashion designer at the London College of Fashion. Her bright-eyed and innocent exuberance starts taking a turn when the move is not all it’s cracked up to be. The student dorms she initially stays in is filled with passive aggressive cliques, and her roommate, Jocasta (Synnove Karlsen) has a particular predilection for putting her down. This leads Eloise to pack her bags and move to the rental.

That’s when things start getting real weird. Eloise’s first night transports her back to the 1960s where she appears to be in the body of Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), a beautiful blonde girl trying to break into the singing business. There she meets Jack (Matt Smith) who is an agent/manager for various singers and is immediately struck by Sandie’s confidence. Jack and Sandie dance in a club and share a passionate embrace where Jack kisses her neck in a mirrored room, and we see Eloise in the reflection also being kissed by Jack (as if feeling the moment being inside Sandie).

When Eloise awakens, she thinks it’s a dream. But inspired by Sandie’s determination to become a singer, Eloise dyes her hair blonde and designs a dress that is 60s inspired and impresses her teacher. It’s then Eloise notices that she has a hickey on her neck and starts to believe it wasn’t just a dream.

Eloise’s present life starts mixing with Sandie’s past, and the rabbit hole gets dark when Eloise realises that Sandie has been tricked by Jack who gets her to be an exotic dancer and later a prostitute. To Eloise’s horror, Jack has become Sandie’s pimp, and all her dreams of becoming a singer have disappeared.

The mental overload starts crossing over during the day when Eloise sees apparitions of Jack and all the men that Eloise was forced to sleep with. Her sanity holds by a thread when in one vision she sees Sandie being held down in bed with Jack looming over her with a knife. The camera zooms in on the knife to reflect Eloise’s horror as blood goes flying.

Though you’re given the impression that Eloise has been murdered, the twist is she managed to wrench the knife away from Jack and kill him instead. Eloise then goes on a revenge murder spree and killing every man that took advantage of her.

When Eloise uncovers the truth, she discovers that Sandie is actually the present day, Miss Collins, and all the dead bodies have been buried in under the floorboards and in the walls of her house (how Miss Collins aka Sandie managed to get away with all these murders and prevent the stink of decaying corpses from permeating her entire home is a mystery).

The final confrontation between Eloise and Miss Collins/Sandie ends in the house being burned down and Miss Collins/Sandie accepting her fate and dying in the fire. Thus ends the tragic life of Miss Collins/Sandie.

Though it is never fully explained, Eloise appears to be a psychic medium. Throughout the film there are references to her mother who came to London, suffered a mental breakdown that resulted in her suicide, which would indicate that Eloise’s mother may have also been a psychic. At the beginning of the film, Eloise sees her mother in her mirror, which initially you think might just be a memory but later realise is her ghost.

London is the perfect setting to be overloaded by all the murders that have come before, and Eloise manages to survive through luck and the faith and trust of her sole friend, John (Michael Ajao), who she meets at the college and perseveres by her side even though everyone around Eloise thinks she is going mad.

The film’s strongest elements are in its casting, McKenzie, Taylor-Joy, Rigg and Smith are excellent and the choreography of 60s Soho clubs along with a brilliant soundtrack, allow the viewer to become immersed in the story.

Unfortunately, the story itself and the thriller/horror elements are a bit pedestrian. Eloise’s classmates are shallow to a fault and their passive aggressive nature does little to add to the story. The character Jocasta is particularly one-dimensional, embodying a bully that is more suitable in a high school setting than a college one. The mystery and twist around Sandie’s past life is evident when you examine the fact that the stabbing scene is never revealed in its entirety (not until the twist is revealed). The close-up of the plunging blade becoming more and more bloody is artistically clever but it shouts out that not everything is what it seems. It also doesn’t make much sense that Eloise, who witnesses the killing, doesn’t see that it ends up being Jack who is killed. She’s not stuck like we are (as the viewer) by a camera close up of the blade, so she should have seen that Sandie successfully wrenches the blade from Jack and stabs him. Yet, after this vision, Eloise is of the belief that Sandie is the one who was murdered.

Last Night in Soho is stylish with not quite enough substance, but you can still enjoy it for the strong cast and excellent soundtrack.

6 out of 10