A Caged Animal? A 60 second review of USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage (2016)

“Truman has chosen you and your crew to lead a highly classified mission.”

Remember Quint’s speech in Jaws about the American ship carrying the Hiroshima bomb that got hit, sank and stranded all the soldiers in open water to be attacked by sharks? Well this is that movie, and many people will be glad to hear it’s the enigmatic Nicholas Cage taking charge of the ill-fated USS Indianapolis.

Unfortunately this isn’t the balls-to-the-walls Cage we love from Face Off and Wickerman. Instead, this is the stoic Cage that struggles to carry a drama by himself, let alone one that hinges on paying fitting tribute the lives of so many men. But it isn’t just Cage’s fault this film is bad.

What I liked…

The story is a good one at its core, true stories often are. The paramount secrecy of the mission leading to an insufficient rescue response is a fascinating one, reflecting the need to put certain risks aside for the greater goal of ending the war.

Quite good lighting and some of the set designs are decent. There was something authentically “wartime” about some of it, albeit all a little “bright” at some points when it simply did not suit the situation.

The last act detailing America’s response to the event is an interesting tale all on its own. But you will be bored by that point.

What I disliked…

Effects are woefully bad. The underwater shots of torpedoes and sharks look so terrible. Unfortunately this completely ruins the film at key moments of action and suspense, which are really rare.

From Titanic to Deepwater Horizon, many movies have proven that just because you already know what’s coming doesn’t mean it can’t blow your mind when it happens. But in Men of Courage the director Van Peebles handles the explosion and sinking of the ship in such a lazy and amateurish way that it completely collapses the viewing experience.

The awful love triangle that the writer obviously felt was necessary came off like an even worse version of Pearl Harbour, if that’s possible. You don’t care about the characters in any way. So much so that when they are crying in each other’s arms it is unbearably hard to watch.

This may sound slightly sadistic, but I would have liked to feel the soldiers’ suffering some more. It just felt devoid of emotions despite the incessant wailing from Sizemore clinging on to what is left of his leg like a child with a blanket. I wanted to care, I really did, I just didn’t. Cage was pretty bad in this as well, really struggling.

Shapstik Verdict

It tries to be a war, romance and thriller movie all at once and succeeds at none of them. Director Mario Van Peebles has a lot to answer for here. I actually watched Quint’s speech from Jaws just after seeing the film, and it told a gripping, emotional and dramatic account of events, without the camera even leaving his face. This could have been a great movie in the right hands, which makes it even harder to bear.  It has one or two watchable moments. But even if you love Nicholas Cage and have a fetish for sharks, don’t watch this movie. 2/10


Lacking Willpower? A 60 second review of Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

“They like to get the landmarks.”

I heard this was bad but…wow. Independence Day: Resurgence is truly an assault on not just our senses, but on the wonderful memories we hold over the first film and its brilliant blend of cheese and suspense. I don’t think Will Smith’s presence would have come close to saving this movie, but his absence seems to be sorely felt among the original’s fandom.

Set 20 years after the events of the first film, the human race has rallied together and, using a mix of leftover alien technology as well as our own, have created a world that reaches out and explores, as well as keeps one beady eye on the sky for any future invasions.

It seems the alien attack of 1996 has left us even more paranoid than usual, and only with the help of new faces and old (some of which have aged better than others), can we defend ourselves again from what is pretty much the same plot as the first film.

What I liked…

Always good to see Jeff Goldblum, although he is no doubt heavily phoning it in here. Liam Hemsworth also looks like he is enjoying himself. Brent Spiner is entertaining, but he has the unfortunate task of acting in some of the most atrociously-written scenes in the movie. The moment he wakes from a coma is the moment the film moved from poor to laughable for me.

The effects are good, no doubt. But considering the film has had twenty years to get this right, it’s still far off the mark and lacks any imagery that stays with you like the first film.

(Struggling here) There’s a giant ball-alien-thing that is quite interesting to look at.  Until it becomes another plot device that amounts to nothing.

What I disliked…

This might sound a bit of a “filmy” reason to hate on Independence Day: Resurgence, but I found the editing so overly aggressive and rushed. I could count the number of shots that last more than five seconds on one hand, it just kept chopping the film to pieces giving me no time to breathe. It would be OK if it was all needed, but I can think of a number of characters, let alone the scenes they were in, that could be completely removed and discarded (I’m looking at you, busload of children doing nothing whatsoever).

Pandering to Chinese audiences. This happened on several occasions, including product placement, mandarin lessons and a scene where a giant ship comes over Hong Kong and its own gravity, due to its size, tears up the streets and buildings. This “own gravity” thing was actually a good idea but the writers decided not to continue it throughout the rest of the movie and seconds later we see plenty of instances where nothing surrounding the ship is affected by its so called “gravity”. This is just one example of the film’s relentless inconsistency.

The movie is so overloaded with pointless dialogue among obsolete characters that it is a wonder that they didn’t put the brakes on this train before it became the proverbial wreck that it is. With so many characters the film quickly becomes a conveyor belt of spoken and visual plot exposition. Some of the cast, Will Smith’s “son” for one, deliver their lines with such a lack of direction it moves into the realm of “straight-to-video”.

They messed up Bill Pullman’s “speech”, if you consider that there even was one. Everything you loved about the first film is taken away and bastardised. In its place we are given a host of tired sci-fi cliches, repetitive tropes and pathetic attempts to recapture the magic of ID1. The cloak in Dr Strange has more personality than the entirety of this film, no exaggeration.

Shapstik Verdict

I have only touched on what is wrong with Resurgence. Its writing, editing, acting and direction are nothing short of appalling. In fact, I’m not quite sure how they managed to mess this up with such totality. Sometimes a movie can be saved despite its flaws, with a sense of fun, or at least with some good performances from a stalwart actor or two. But Resurgence is so bland and flat that it dulls your senses so you can’t even manage to laugh at its disgracefulness. You might find someone that will defend its visual accomplishments, but even the most rose-tinted of glasses has not stopped people universally disliking this film. I am starting to feel sorry for those that defended Suicide Squad, at least that had Will Smith. 2/10

Language Lessons? A 60 second review of Arrival (2016)

“Now that’s a proper introduction.”

Arrival is about as far removed from a cheesy sci-fi blockbuster as you can get. So if you watch the film expecting to be bowled over by action and lasers, I guarantee you will feel more than a little let down. That being said, if you go in with the most open mind possible, it will be filled with some of the most profound science-fiction writing and jaw-dropping visuals ever put to screen. There’s a reason it’s still holding strong well above 90% on Rotten Toms.

From the director that brought us Prisoners and Sicario, two of my favourite films in the last few years, Arrival is an alien invasion film that is less about defending our planet, and more about questioning how we would communicate with another species, if at all. Linguistics and physics both have a part to play as we battle our inherent divisiveness and unravel why the aliens are here, and more importantly, what exactly they want from us.

Not to give anything away, but Arrival also plays with our assumed concepts of cause and effect, as well as how our memories dictate our actions. Confused? Me too. I guess we are just going to have to science the shit out of this one…

What I liked…

The term “visionary director” gets bandied about way too often in the film community, but in Villeneuve’s case it feels more apt than usual. Although an extremely character-driven movie, there are some broader shots that leaves your jaw on the floor. This is especially the case when you first see the ship hovering above the ground, as the surrounding atmosphere and moisture gets pulled over the rolling hills, creating one of the most stunning science fiction shots I have ever seen. I can’t get enough of this guy.

The film completely hinges on Amy Adams playing Dr Louise Banks and she doesn’t disappoint. With the uncanny knack of being able to display multiple emotions at once, her story is the canvas on which Vilenueve paints the film, as she shows her vulnerability as well as her strength, reflecting on some level our own species. As with Prisoners, the characters in his films always seem so, well, human. This is key to the film’s success.

The reason I love science-fiction above all other genres is that on occasion, it tackles concepts that reach beyond our own planet and broaden our horizons. The almost mystical detachment written over the face of Dr Banks as she interacts with the aliens, reflects our own step back as viewers and critics alike attempt to get their head around exactly what Arrival is. I love ideas, even if I don’t understand them, and Arrival is full of narrative twists and turns that keep you thinking throughout.

What I disliked…

There are some slightly pointless characters, like Jeremy Reiner’s, but they do all help to build the character of Dr Banks, on which the film pivots.

Forest Whitaker is a legend, but his accent slips more than once in this movie.

The film is slow, but it really has little choice when you consider the linguistic and temporal barriers it attempts to break down for us.

It isn’t as engaging and as well paced as his other films, which some extra editing may have helped. That being said, there are some shots which I wouldn’t want to lose even a millisecond on.

Shapstik Verdict

The film goes beyond the merely cerebral and steps into a realm of galactic linguistics that will leave some, myself included, feeling a little drained and slightly jarred. But questioning not just our place in the universe, but our understanding of it, is a rare jewel in science-fiction and one that I think is worth treasuring, especially when the writers and directors are able to translate such an earth-shaking idea onto film so well. Add to that incredible cinematography, great performances and a courageous narrative, you have a film that will no doubt demand not just a rewatch, but a rethink as well. 8/10

Slightly Stranger Things? A 60 second review of Dr Strange (2016)

“Forget everything that you think you know.”

After gems like Guardians, Ant Man and Deadpool, we really shouldn’t be that surprised when Marvel Studios nail a new character on their first try. Dr Strange is no exception, although there is something extra special at work here that raises it above other mediocre entries. Dare I say it, perhaps even rivalling Winter Soldier and the original Iron Man? Maybe not…

What I liked…

Visually stunning. Likening it to Inception is only highlighting how rarely playing with physics works well, which is testament to the film’s breath-taking sequences. The backdrops and set design reminded me more of Crouching Tiger than Winter Soldier. The light design and use of CGI is some of the best put to film.

The writing is the biggest win for me. The way every line of dialogue and every moment of action has a purpose drives the film forward. The amount of character development they manage to create in just one movie makes Tony Stark look like a one-trip pony. It has the wit of an Iron Man movie, but with the necessary philosophy that makes turning a stubborn academic in to a master of the arts believable.

Cumerbatch is perfect for the role. A great balance of arrogance, charm and intellect that makes the character so engrossing for the viewer. His background as a studious doctor is ideal for the transition to magic.

Casting and acting are superb. Tilda Swinton was really good, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong were a great supporting duo. Everyone is funny, sometimes too much perhaps, but the way Cumberbatch plays off of the stoic faces of Ejiofor, Swinton and Wong works really well.

What I disliked…

Have we partly been down this road before? Yes. Is it a reason to dislike the film? Probably not. Is it a valid criticism? Hmm, maybe. But when you consider how inundated we are with comic book movies, it is no surprise that some of the tropes are becoming recognisable.

Derrikson doesn’t handle the hand to hand combat scenes as well as the Russo bros. As pretty as it looks, some of the fight scenes lack the visceral quality that we have come to adore about the ol’ Cap movies.

Seems “strange” that our protagonist adamantly denies the existence of any magical elements in the world, despite the fact its set after the Avengers, with Thor, Vision, Scarlet Witch and Co regularly tearing shit up with their powers. Maybe I missed something that explained otherwise, but it feels like the good doctor would at least reference the existence of “enhanced persons”. Wong does, and the doc hardly responds.

Another lame selection of Marvel villains? I would say so. Kaecilius didn’t really develop too much as a character, and the main bad guy was very recognisable as well from previous interpretations (Green Lantern anyone?).  Perhaps more back story to the central turncoat would have made more of Mikkelsen’s talents and fleshed out a more Loki-esque antagonist to get our teeth into. Instead we are treated to a bit of a purple-eyed plot device.

Shapstik Verdict: Probably regret not seeing this in 3D at the cinema as I can only imagine how amazing some of those city-bending scenes would be. But it still shines as one of the most original and entertaining Marvel films to date. Its visuals will no doubt steal the show for many, but for me, credit goes to both Cumberbatch and the writers on this one. 7/10