Review: Star Trek Beyond

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2016 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Star Trek Beyond

The third installment of the new Star Trek franchise is the first not to be helmed by JJ Abrams, with Justin Lin stepping into the rather large shoes of Abrams. Lin has been best known for the Fast & Furious films from Tokyo Drift through to the sixth installment of a franchise that is safe to say has been completely rejuvenated under his stewardship. But, does he have what it takes to carry on the stellar work already done by Abrams?

If the trailers were anything to go by, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that Lin had the writers destroy the Enterprise (it’s in the trailer, it’s not a spoiler. The Enterprise is constantly being blown up!) so he could shot a load of motorcycle chases. Happily, there’s slightly more to it than that.

This time around we find the crew of the Enterprise a couple of years into its five-year mission exploring space and Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is starting to wonder what the point is of exploring infinity. “Life has started to feel episodic” is one of his lines, which is the first in quite a few call-backs to Star Trek’s televisual origins.

As previously stated, due to a trick, the Enterprise is destroyed by the main villain and a seemingly unstoppable wave of an army. Due to the evacuation process, the various members of the team are split up which makes this film much less of a team movie than the previous offerings. But this, and the fact they are severely under equipped to fight such a large army, forces the crew members to put their heads together and think their way out of the various situations they find themselves in. Again, this is more reminiscent of the TV series, which was always based more on diplomacy than action.

It’s clear that Simon Pegg, as one of the writers, gave himself a prominent role in the plot as his character, Scotty, is partnered up with Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), the latest kick-ass alien in the Star Trek universe. Her character is the most interesting, the most fleshed out and the most exciting, as the rest of the original cast seem to be coasting somewhat with only one or two other actors to bounce off for most of the film and not much in the way of development. With the exception of the relationship between Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Bones (Karl Urban) whose bickering and misunderstandings mark some of the comedic highlights of the film.

There are some fairly sizable plot holes in the film, it is a blockbuster sci-fi that has been written by five people after all. For example, who is the henchman of the villain, Krall (Idris Elba), and what’s his back story? Also, there was a distinct lack of emotion from the crew of the Enterprise after the destruction of what had been their home for the past three years, which detracted from what could have been a much more emotional scene.

Another, possibly slightly less important, issue is why would you cast Idris Elba as the main antagonist and then bury him in full prosthetics? Eric Banner was recognisable in the first of the reboot films and in Into Darkness Benedict Cumberbatch and Frank Weller had none at all.

Overall, Star Trek Beyond is better than is has any right to be on paper. It’s probably a little less enjoyable than the previous two films, but still more than watchable and one of the closest in tone to the original films and TV series. A laudable effort, that has seen the green light given for a fourth installment already. Can Justin Lin do for Start Trek what he did for the Fast & Furious franchise? He’s not definitely attached to the fourth installment, but don’t bet against it.

Review: Blink-182, California

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 6, 2016 by Tom Austin-Morgan


California is the seventh studio album by pop punk stalwarts Blink-182. It’s fair to say that the last 12 or 13 years haven’t exactly been smooth sailing after a hiatus between 2004 and 2008 after fall-outs and plane crashes followed by eight years that only yielded one album and an E.P.  thanks to Tom DeLonge busying himself with side projects and more in-fighting.

So, DeLonge leaves the band and is replaced by Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba. How then, will the new album sound after all this upheaval and line-up changes?

Bloody awesome.

The bands eponymous 2003 album was made after tensions in the band had already come to a head and within a year the band had called it quits. The comeback album, Neighborhoods – released in 2011, was a musical progression, but was recorded in multiple locations and with the musicians playing their parts separately and it sounded like an album made by people who had been through the mill and not quite over it.

California is such a joyous sounding album compared to the meagre pickings from the last decade and a half, it’s easily the best offering since Take of Your Pants and Jacket in 2001. In fact it could be said that this is the follow-up album to ToYPaJ that Blink-182 should have been, but took the band to implode and reform to bring about. It sounds like the band are finally having fun again after all these years and that shedding the weight of DeLonge and bringing in the fresh talents of Skiba have completely regenerated Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker.

There are a lot of musical similarities with the intros of a lot of the songs to the band’s late 90s material but there is still a progressive shift including strings and electronic elements that became much more prominent in the latter albums. There is a definite Alkaline Trio-sounding influence from Skiba which gives an extra layer to the Blink-182 sound, in places he sounds a bit like DeLonge and in places he really takes the songs and makes them his own and this versatility also help with the range of the new songs.

The other thing that is a nice surprise is that the album has 16 tracks, I can’t remember the last new album I bought that had a decent amount of songs on it. However, two of these songs are around 30 seconds in length and are just joke entries, but this is something the band has steered clear of in recent times while they were taken in a more serious, po-faced direction by all the tumultuous goings on. It’s just nice to be reminded of the reason you fell in love with the band in the first place. Oh, and they also leave in Barker messing up a drum fill and a couple of other studio outtakes, which is also fun to hear.

Even the slowest song on the album, ‘Home is Such a Lonely Place’ is like a sequel to ‘Stay Together for the Kids’.

If I have to criticise it, and it’s not a perfect album, I would say that the opening song, ‘Cynical’, is too short to really set out the feel of things to come. Also a lot of the tracks are over-produced to the point where, in places, Hoppus and Skiba even sound like they’ve been auto-tuned. Which is fine, if it weren’t noticeable. The last criticism is that there aren’t enough songs, apparently, if Barker had his way there’d be nearly 20 tracks. as he felt that the fans had waited too long for content he was excited by.

However, all this means that the future seems bright and that there’s life in the old dog yet. Let’s just hope the addition of Skiba can work alongside his other bands, Alkaline Trio and The Sekrets.

Review: Captain America: Civil War

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2016 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Captain America Civil War poster

This is the second film this year where the good guys are punching each other in the face because of disagreements over how to deal with collateral damage caused during previous films in the franchise. Though instead of two heroes we have about six on each side in this film. Is it too much?

Before I answer this question there’s another, more pressing question at hand: How long can Hollywood keep pumping out superhero films before they reach a critical mass and people get bored? How long can they keep making enough money to continue their franchises into the 2020s and beyond like they’re planned for?

The last few films about costumed crimefighters have left me feeling a bit nonplussed leading me to question whether they’re working any more. Avengers: Age of Ultron was underwhelming with some great bits, Ant Man was fun but not great and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice had some great moments but was a complete mess.

Fortunately, for me, Captain America: Civil War raises the bar back up again for this tired genre. It is unfair to compare CA: CW and BvS: DoJ, but it’s inevitable. Where the DC/Warner Brothers film felt like something to endure, despite rattling along, Marvel know how to invite the audience in and have fun. Even when everything is going wrong, it’s still colourful and interesting to look at, except for a certain scene near the end which is heart-wrenching to watch. This can only be achieved after experiencing these characters’ stories over the last eight years and got to know them as (almost) fully rounded characters through multiple movies, something the darker DC/WB films failed at as we don’t know much about any of their current clutch of characters.

It would be fairer to compare CA: CW to Avengers: Age of Ultron. Ultron was potentially a great villain, but the film was mishandled and felt like a film made by committee rather than by an auteur. Once again though, Marvel killed off a great villain, which is what is so refreshing about CA: CW. It is cleverly written by the Russo brother, just like CA: Winter Soldier was and, although Crossbones was killed off in the first scene (bad Marvel!), they have introduced the most calculating villain since Loki in Zemo. And he didn’t even wear a costume or even a uniform.

If you’re a fan of the Marvel oeuvre, you’ll really enjoy this, it has all the colour, panache and witty dialogue you’ve come to expect. But there is also real heartbreak in the fallout from Zemo’s plan and the conclusion of the film has an ellipsis that really makes you wonder where the characters are going to go from here.

CA: CW is the Avengers film we deserved from A: AoU and expands the Marvel Cinematic Universe further, amazingly giving each of the myriad characters enough time to shine in their own right. The film  is stolen by stand out performances from Tom Holland as Spider-Man and Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther. Ant Man does something you may not expect and there’s a really great bit of misdirection involving Zemo’s plan the Winter Soldier(s).

There’s a heck of a lot going on in this movie, but even so there were two or three moments where the film sags, unlike BvS: DoJ you are acutely aware of how long you’ve been in the cinema during these scenes. But even so you always know what’s going on and each character’s motivation is crystal clear and that’s a testament to the writing and the storytelling that has come before this.

Put simply, I’m really looking forward to the Spider-Man and Black Panther movies, but CA: CW has rejuvenated my interest in the superhero genre, for the time being.

Review: The Jungle Book

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 5, 2016 by Tom Austin-Morgan

the jungle book

When Disney let Tim Burton reimagine Alice in Wonderland, little did we know that success of that film would kick-start a slew of live-action remakes of their entire back catalogue, but here we are. When the plan to do this with The Jungle Book was floated a few years back, it was met with trepidation; how could it work? Surely it’ll be rubbish, right?


This film is a triumph. Director Jon Favreau has pulled off something truly magical. The seams between the – minimal – physical sets and the first-time actor, Neel Sethi, who is pretty much the only actual actor in the whole film, and the computer generated animals and sets are invisible. There are times where Sethi, as Mowgli, touches the face of the wolf pack mother, (Lupita Nyong’o ), and it looks like he’s interacting with a real wolf. The fur moves so convincingly it completely convinces you that what you’re seeing is actually happening.

In fact, the trailer gave the impression that the animals may come off slightly cartoon-y. Far from it. The animators have made sure  the faces and mouths of the animals only move to the restrictions of that particular animal’s face would move. This adds to the ease in which you can suspend your disbelief.

It has something for everyone: fantastic special effects; a brilliant voice cast; a couple of classic songs from the original, animated movie; humour; threat; and a really strong core message.

The only criticisms to be found come in the shape of small niggles, such as Idris Elba’s performance of Shere Khan is basically Luther. Which isn’t a problem really, but it is strange to hear a tiger speaking in a cockney accent! The other is that Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) is used quite sparingly. Finally, the ending is quite different from that of the Kipling stories and the original animated film. That said, the Kipling versions are short stories, so there’s nothing to say that Favreau’s film ends before the final chapter of these, but it would have been nice to see the conclusion we’ve all grown up with, and is inevitable.

The positives hugely outweigh the negatives though. Bill Murray steals the show as Baloo, it seems as if he was allowed to go off-piste in a way none of the other voice actors as his dialogue is a lot more casual and contemporary. Hearing Christopher Walken deliver lines (and a song) as King Louie – now a Gigantopithecus rather than an Orangutan, as they don’t live in India – was something that will stay with you.

Watching The Jungle Book is a magical experience you don’t experience too often. It’s most definitely worth a watch in the cinema if you haven’t already.

Review: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2016 by Tom Austin-Morgan


From the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman to the fact the trailers were a bit boring, years of waiting, speculation and out-and-out hate speech around this movie can finally be answered and people on both sides of all the arguments can finally put it all to one side, right? Unlikely.

 Before writing this review I asked around for view points just to see if what I thought was out of kilter with the popular opinion. Turns out mine was more central than I imagined. Not that I need to justify my own thoughts.

Firstly, I’m a fan of the source material, Frank Miller’s ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ is a seminal work in the comic-book medium and changed the fact of the ‘graphic novel’ forever, ushering in the grown up comic. Also, without this comic, you wouldn’t have had 1989’s Batman and it would have been a lot longer ’til we got to where we’re at where popular culture is awash with A through to Z-list characters getting their own films and TV series.

The first scene is a one we’ve seen so many times: Bruce Wayne’s parents being confronted and shot in front of their son. Quite why we needed to see this again is anyone’s guess, this is a film following hot on the heels of the most successful Batman-based films ever in which we saw this. We also saw it in the Joel Schumacher abominations and the Tim Burton versions. We know. I’ll have this exact same rant if, in three weeks Marvel do the Spider-Man origin during Captain America: Civil War, we all know about it and we don’t need to see it again. That five minutes could have been cut, if not made way for some much-needed dialogue later in the film.

Ben Affleck as Batman is the best thing about this film, his take on the Dark Knight is one who has been there, done it and is tired of the relentless bad guys he’s faced in his career. So much so, that if you were telling the story through Superman’s eyes Batman would be a terrifying villain who tortures and brands his victims.

The problem is that you can’t see things through Superman’s eyes. He’s a virtually indestructible alien with almost unlimited power, which is why he’s such a hard character to get right and why he hasn’t been handled well in recent years, possibly ever. It’s a shame that Henry Cavill (and Brandon Routh before him) is given so little to do other than mope.

Batman’s hardly a barrel of laughs either, but at least that’s expected. But that means that your leads are just pouting men having a bit of a strop and are angry at each other for effectively doing the same job. The light to their shade is provided by Jessie Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. The villain. Possibly the most annoying character this year and a complete miscast. Eisenberg chooses to play Luthor as another damaged orphan but instead of being imposing and in control with anger issues (like Wilson Fisk – Vincent D’Onofrio – in Daredevil) he plays him as an eccentric brat who has more in common with Heath Ledger’s Joker than a future President of the USA. Don’t even get me started on the bell tolling monologue. The repetitive chanting reminded me of the final scene for Ray Liotta in Revolver, one of the few films I’ve been tempted to walk out of.

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is fine, but criminally underused. It feels as if Zack Snyder decided he needed a female character that wasn’t a wordless henchperson or a damsel in distress. One of her scenes includes the most clumsy shoe-horning in of supporting characters of future movies ever seen. For a start, it looked like it was shot for TV and secondly, why on earth was Lex Luthor giving the future members of the Justice League names and logos?

There are some interesting scenes, the best of which feature Batman; the car chase with the new Batmobile was thrilling; the introduction to the Batman was scary and clearly based on ‘Year One’, another Miller classic; and the flight between the titular heroes was just how you wanted it to be.

These scenes were outweighed by the boring or ludicrous. The first 40 minutes was relatively boring, even though Snyder decided to get out of his own way and seemed to be shooting a proper film that had an interesting case-building story involving Lois Lane, Superman and Batman all trying to get to the bottom of what each other, and Luthor, are up to. It all starts to crumble with a bizarre dream/premonition that if you don’t really follow what’s going on or know what’s coming from Warner Brothers/DC films over the next decade you just wouldn’t understand. I know this for a fact, I asked people. And the final scene is just as destructive and CG heavy as anything in Man of Steel, something Snyder seemed so desperate to put a different spin at the beginning of this film. But hey, at least the island was uninhabited, right? What about the city’s power supply that was destroyed and anyone who must have been working there?

This film is a mess. It’s not necessarily all Snyder’s fault, the script is clunky and the dialogue is lazy, but that’s not even the problem, we don’t expect Shakespeare from superhero films. The real problem the film has is that it’s trying to do about four different things; it’s a sequel to Man of Steel (kind of); it’s a brand new Batman film (kind of) and it’s setting up the incoming Justice League (horribly) while also giving us insights into what’s coming way down the line in the WB/DC universe (I think. Time travel is tricky – ask the X-Men and Terminator). The film is never given time to focus on any of these elements for as long as they deserve because if it had the running time would have been closed to six hours rather than just under three.

I really wanted this film to work and to some it has, but there’s something about the Snyder films that leave me cold. I don’t now if it’s the fact I don’t really like Superman, the washed out colour palette of the film or the mopey tone they are setting but something doesn’t sit right with me and I can’t get behind them. I hate to compare them to Marvel films, but what else are you supposed to do? There’s a certain magic with Marvel, they’re fun and although they’re equally as ludicrous when you boil it down (Thor is a virtually indestructible alien and a lot of their big villains are CG monsters) at least they give you a laugh and wink at you because they know they’re a bit silly.

Not everything didn’t work, rip everything but Batman out and throw in any of the Suicide Squad as a villain and you’d have a great Batman film.

Review: London Has Fallen

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2016 by Tom Austin-Morgan

london has fallen

Look at that poster. I mean, really?

There’s not much point reviewing this film in any serious way, it’s much the same as Olympus Has Fallen except even more overblown. In fact, you may as well just go and read my review of that film and replace any mention of ‘the White House’ with ‘London’ and ‘North Korea’ with ‘Pakistan’.

The plot is ludicrous, Gerard Butler’s accent is all over the shop, especially when he’s in scenes with another Scottish actor, Aaron Eckhart grimaces and grits his teeth through his scenes and Morgan Freeman is clearly only here because he needs to pay for a new kitchen.

There have been some damning reviews criticising the film for being overtly racist. I didn’t find that to be the case, certainly the antagonists are no more caricatured than the Korean terrorists in Olympus Has Fallen. But, right now nonspecific terrorists from the middle-east with no proper affiliation to internationally recognised countries are the ‘bad guys’ at the moment, just like North Korea was the ‘enemy’ of America when the first film was made.

Overall, it’s the same film, but more unwieldy. The first worked because it’s basically Die Hard in the White House. It was confined. London Has Fallen falls down – so to speak – because it has fewer restrictions. This kind of action film needs restriction to keep it on track.

If you like big dumb action films, this is fine. If you’re looking for cinematic excellence why are you reading a review of London Has Fallen?

Review: Deadpool

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2016 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Deadpool Poster

First off: I thought I’d posted this over a month ago. Secondly: I’m a massive Deadpool fan, so this review could be heavily biased. (Aside: It will be.)

What is there to say about this film that either hasn’t already been said or could possibly spoil it. For once we’ve been given a film where the trailer gave away quite a lot of the plot and the set-pieces, but it didn’t matter.

Deadpool isn’t a traditional super hero film and it has managed something Fox, Sony, Warner Brothers and even Marvel have failed to do; appeal broadly to an audience that wouldn’t otherwise go. The Warner Bros. films might be seen as too earnest, the Marvel films might seem too unwieldy what with all those characters and interlinking stories, The Fox films have messed about with time-travel and the Sony films have re-invented Spider-Man for the umpteenth time. Deadpool stars heart-throb Ryan Reynolds, it looks funny, and it’s not taking itself seriously at all.

This is why Deadpool has given Fox its highest opening weekend ever, even more than Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and the highest opening weekend for a 15 (R-Rated) movie ever. It’s different from anything people have seen in a super hero film. And this should worry you.

I could go on to describe how I started laughing about five seconds into the film and didn’t stop throughout, or the fact that Reynolds was born to play this role. I could also go into the two-dimensional supporting cast and how this isn’t necessarily a problem. I could even go on to explaining all the in-jokes and how much this is a film for the fans that, somehow, appeals to many more than the core Deadpool-reading audience. But there’s no reason as everyone is saying he same thing and by now you really should have seen it.

What I will say is that Hollywood regurgitates successes ad nauseam until it gets old, so expect to see a lot more gore and close-to-the-knuckle comedy in superhero films going forward. Already Warner Bros. have said there will be an R-Rated version of Batman v Superman;Dawn of Justice for the DVD/Blu-Ray release and Fox have stated their final Wolverine movie will be R-Rated too. The problem with this is that the gore and some of the language suits Deadpool, it may work for Wolverine, but it doesn’t really suit Batman and really isn’t needed in a Superman film.

Not everything needs to follow a successful formula to be a hit. Deadpool didn’t and look what happened there… oh, wait…

If you’ve not seen this film it’s too late, but it is well worth a watch. Could be a little annoying for those not familiar with ‘the Merc with the Mouth’, but that’s who he is and this film is unashamed of that, as it should be.