Midway (2019)

mid1Its the damnedest thing- after Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, and so many other cautionary, war-is-hell movies (which I would describe as sophisticated, grown-up war movies), I would have thought that a revisionary, brutal and sobering film about the war in the Pacific and in particular the battle at Midway would have been timely. Pick two characters, maybe a pilot for the air battles, and a naval gunner or engineer to depict the sea battles between the carriers/destroyers, and show the film from their perspective, focus purely on them. What they can see, what they can hear, what they feel. Forgo all the military planning, all the top-brass material, just show what it was like for the grunts following the orders and trying to do their job and somehow survive. I suppose what I’m suggesting is something akin to Dunkirk, but more focused and minus all that three-timelines nonsense.

And drop all the CGI hysterics, you’re going to need it obviously, but show it sparingly and effectively- narrow it down, less of the wide-angle video-game stuff and more of the brutal, vicarious you-are-there-and-its-bloody-scary stuff.

Anyway, I don’t know why I’m writing all this down, because Roland Emmerich’s Midway is not that movie. Its practically a pseudo-sequel to Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbour from 2001, as if that film was critically lauded and wildly successful and everyone demanded a follow-up.  It has the same silly virtual camera moves and video-game CGI and clunky dialogue, and like Pearl Harbour, rather feels out of its time and awkwardly ill-judged. Sure, its a noble and well-intentioned effort but it just feels… wrong. Midway had the opportunity to be the anti-Pearl Harbour and blew it, pretty much giving us more of the same, as if that were A Good Thing.

Besides which, its clear that the more CGI you have in your film, the more the quality level falls and it becomes more just, well, an animated movie. Some of the visual effects/CGI in Midway is very, very good (some shots are breathtaking) but some of it is quite poor. It just seems inevitable, and some of the CGI in this is surprisingly woeful (some panoramic shots, for instance one during burials in particular, look like pre-vis work rather than completed shots). The CGI can be wonderful and enable shots/sequences impossible before but should be used sparingly to ensure impact and moreover help with the quality levels.  Naturally you lean less on the CGI and maybe you have more time for character study and acting performances and good writing… and maybe that’s why they lean on the CGI so much, because good writing appears to be unfashionable in film these days.

Anyway, suffice to say that Midway was everything I expected, its not a complete disaster and no doubt was well-intentioned, but a great cast is pretty much wasted,  some pretty banal dialogue at times doing them few favours, and, er,  leave it at that.

MIdway (2019) is currently streaming on Amazon Prime

 

 

6 Underground

6under1Oh my fragile senses. What horror that Netflix and Michael Bay just wreaked upon me; I rather feel like I’ve just been somehow assaulted by my television. I’m in something of a stunned daze. I don’t think my eyes or ears are still working and I’m finding it as difficult to string words together into cogent sentences as it does for most of the characters in this fraking movie (“Not the puppies!”/”She’s lost a shit ton of blood”/”Nobody is going to save the world. But we can make it a little less shitty, you know?”).

I’m such a stupid schmuck.  I watched another Michael Bay movie. Oh, I knew what I was doing, I knew the risks, but I knew nothing about this film and as its a Netflix Original, I just thought, well, its going to be a much smaller budget than he’s used to,  it’ll be slower, quieter, more intimate, maybe have a plot even. Wrong. I’m such an idiot.

6 Underground is a $150 million dollar Michael Bay blockbuster with him let absolutely totally loose without a studio bothering to rein him  in or anything, its like anything goes, the ultimate Michael Bay frakfest extravaganza, Welcome to Michael Bay Film School. Its an orgy of exploding cars, exploding people, blood spurting in slow motion, long slow lingering pans over hot women’s bodies, its gun-porn, chase-porn, explosion-porn, bullet-porn, impossible stunts-porn… really, this thing is the very definition of the worst a Mission: Impossible movie could possibly be. I hadn’t realised just how mundane and restrained those Tom Cruise/Christopher McQuarrie arthouse spy flicks were. This film begins with a fifteen/twenty minute car chase through Florence, Italy in which civilians are run over by the good guys, or gunned down by bad guys, streets are wrecked, puppies and babies endangered, cars get ripped in two and bodies are blown apart, impaled, smashed, burned, ripped….

I’ve now reached some kind of epiphany: all those years, when Michael Bay was going around making films like The Rock and those Transformers films, Pearl Harbor or the Bad Boys films, I thought he was just making silly loud blockbusters but really he was perfecting some whole new kind of movie-making, a whole new art-form hitherto undreamed of by any Film School known to man. This thing is the new 3D or the new Imax. This is The Future. Some day all films will be as loud and fast and stupid as this. Yeah, you THINK most films are loud, fast and stupid, but you ain’t seen this, you ain’t seen NOTHING.

So. Lets see if I can stretch what this film excuses for a plot into a paragraph. The 6 Underground are six ‘dead’ people, they are ‘ghosts’ who have faked their own deaths (or had them faked for them) in order to go all A-Team and beat the biggest Bad Guys from beyond the grave- unknowable, untouchable, utterly expendable; these six beautiful people (Ryan Reynolds,  Mélanie Laurent, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Adria Arjona, Corey Hawkins, Ben Hardy and Dave Franco, yeah that’s right I named seven, its a Michael Bay movie) in beautiful places turning murder and mayhem into a work of art. Ryan Reynolds is the leader, ‘Number One’, a genius tech-billionaire with a conscience (yes there is such a thing, that’s the magic of Hollywood), who has recruited a team of ex-CIA/ex-assassin/ex-underworld experts (‘Number Two’, ‘Number Three’ etc etc) in order to right the wrongs that our lousy untrustworthy Governments refuse to because obviously everyone is corrupt other than our ‘ghosts’. Hence today’s mission is sorting out the dastardly dictator of poor Turgistan (I kid you not), first by killing his Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse/Generals while they are vacationing in Las Vegas at a Chemical Warfare convention (or something), and then freeing his brother who has been terrifyingly imprisoned in the Penthouse Suite of the most mindbogglingly lavish billionaire apartment in a city ‘somewhere exotic’  before crashing the dictators state-run television network and then a party on his billionaire yacht.

Naturally doing this involves killing lots and lots and lots of people and blowing up all kinds of shit. Its some kind of brilliant genius, to be sure. At this point in his career, and running utterly amok as he is thanks to those depraved bastards at Netflix, Bay has this down to some kind of relentless, terrifyingly efficient machine, a film posing as Terminator. Its horrible and beautiful and brilliant and bloody awful. Even now, I cannot quite believe it. Did I see it? Did I hear it?

I feel a little like dear old Charlton Heston on the beach: “Those crazy bastards (Netflix). They did it. They really did it. They gave Bay $150 million and Final Cut. Those crazy bastards.” Cue falling to my knees in despair, fists clenched towards my shamed OLED. The End.

The Meg

Round One:  Statham v. Megaladon- FIGHT!

So The Meg. I think I thought the trailers were a joke. This couldn’t possibly be actually real, could it? A Chinese/Hollywood co-production featuring a gigantic prehistoric shark in an increasingly personal feud with Jason Statham? A film that literally proves there’s yet more depths for the summer blockbuster to sink into.

I’m used to crazy dumb films. Hell, I only saw The Wandering Earth a few weeks ago. But here we are. Maybe the Chinese are trying to destroy film-making in general- not content with making Michael Bay cinematic hybrids of their own, they recruit Hollywood talent to join in with their unholy exercise to destroy Western Civilization through bad moviemaking (its funny, you’d just think they’d sit back and let Michael Bay just carry on himself).

So bad it’s fun. We’ve all thought it at some time or another watching blockbuster schlock. I’m not so sure how much fun is to be had with this though. Mind, it earned lots of dosh at the box office, proving that stupid loud films with implausible giant sharks with dubiously generic characters and awfully creaky plot twists are somehow incredibly popular with the popcorn crowd, to the tune of over $530 million. Its bizarre really, as this thing is so bad it seems more destined straight to video than the local cineplex, but hey, Screen One seems to be the new VHS bin. How else to explain it?

Well, for one thing, its extremely gentle. I think Jaws was gorier than this and Piranha probably had more scares. This is decidedly (some would suggest cynically) family-friendly material, very Dr Who even in how it dishes out its very fishy tale of a monster shark discovered in deeper depths than even Cameron’s The Abyss dared plunge into. Its also very Gerry Anderson, with all manner of shiny CGI submarine hardware utilised to excite the easily excitable. An aquatic Pacific Rim almost.

I await the sequel with something approaching terror.

 

 

 

The Wandering Earth (2019)

This is almost infinitely bonkers. I don’t even know where to start regards reviewing it. If I were to suggest its best bits compared to the worst excesses of Armageddon, and that it also just went beyond that in featuring almost blatant lifts from Interstellar and Gravity and The Day After Tomorrow and Sunshine, becoming some kind of sci fi Disaster Movie Greatest Hits package, well, I guess that would just about sum it up and make the rest of this post quite redundant.

Its not that I haven’t seen anything quite like it, it’s just that, well, I have, but it was spread across several movies, and this thing condenses it all into a two-hour effects marathon that just assaults your eyes and intelligence in ways that even The Transformers movies stumbled at. I remember everyone scoffing at the science of Gerry Anderson’s Space:1999 back in the 1970s, and here we are with somebody suggesting that, well…

The sun is dying (Sunshine) and the only (?) hope for humanity is to pilot Spaceship Earth by, er, strapping several thousand huge bloody engines to it and letting rip, er, breaking out of orbit and literally flying the planet Earth to another star. Wait, just pause and digest that a moment, they are taking the Earth on a two-thousand year journey out of the solar system across interstellar space to another star. Okay. This also involves building a huge spaceship to lead the way with a Chinese astronaut sacrificing his family duties in order to step up and do his astronaut duty (Interstellar/Armageddon) and leaving his estranged children rather pissed off. Earth of course plunges into winter as it moves further from the dying sun (The Day After Tomorrow) and as the cities above plunge into icy horror (Snowpiercer) the remnants of humanity live in gigantic underground cities, busy maintaining and fueling the massive rockets on the surface pushing the planet into space. Unfortunately there has been some miscalculation or freak act of interplanetary gravitational mechanics because the Earth is moving too close to Jupiter (2001 etc) and is caught into its gravity well and planet Earth’s journey to another star (no, I can’t quite get my head around the sheer audacity and stupidity of that) is threatened to be cut short by the Earth plunging into Jupiter’s Great Red Spot.

It really is that insane, and I haven’t gone into the details about giant trucks on Earth or the HAL9000-wannabe up on the spaceship or the disparate groups and arcs running through the film. Its like someone took the sci-fi writer’s handbook of credibility and chucked it into the bin. A hugely successful blockbuster in its native China, it seems to have slipped onto Netflix out of nowhere and is quietly gathering some notoriety as being the film to make Michael Bay seem the very definition of restraint. I suppose the one good thing about it appearing in the West so quickly on Netflix is that it nixes some damn fool in Hollywood deciding to make a Hollywood remake. Its not to suggest that Hollywood could have done it any better or worse- one thing I can say about this film is that it definitely puts Chinese film-making on the map, technically at least, as it’s certainly up there with the kind of scale of effects spectacle previously the domain of the major American studios. Sure, it does look a bit too much like videogame cutscenes much of the time, but that’s true of some Hollywood stuff too.

Its just a shame, really, that instead of being uniquely Chinese and its own thing, it spends so much effort clearly mimicking Hollywood and recent Pop Culture excess, but on the other hand, it is refreshing to see a film in which its someone other than the Americans saving the world. Thinking about it, it perhaps indicates the future and real world order- I suppose in the Victorian era, it would have been the British Empire saving the world, in the last century it would have been America saving the world, but in this new millennium power is clearly shifting, and perhaps its true that it will be Asia and the Chinese that will step up in future apocalyptic movies to save the world.

Its stupid. Its a blast. I felt a little dirty after sitting through all of it. I mean, really, it’s almost insulting, how daft and spectacular this thing is. But it’s certainly something. Just not really sure what it is. Crazy, yes, certainly. Lousy. Noisy. Eye-candy. Its the film that almost makes Armageddon seem like an arthouse movie. Perhaps there will be a sequel where they take a wrong turn near Saturn… I mean, considering the film’s huge success in its home territory a sequel is surely inevitable, it’s just I’m rather scared at where they will take the next one.