Mega Movie Catch-up #18

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Here’s a heap of stuff I’ve been catching up on over the Aussie summer…

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)
Overall a fun adventure but it’s an absolutely arduous slog to get through.

The opening action sequence is exciting (if overlong) and the third act climax is a legitimately wonderful idea as a send off (if somewhat drawn out) but it’s the meat and filling in the middle of this sandwich that ends up kind of soggy and sometimes flavourless. Nothing about it is outright “bad”, it’s fine but as I implied with the opening and ending, the pacing is somehow slow and drawn out. Every action scene feels a minute or two too long, every bit of exposition (although important) doesn’t really grab you, and the mysteriousness of the puzzles occasionally fall flat.

Some of that might’ve been alleviated if the characters were more likeable. Indy’s grumpiness makes sense not only because he’s old but he’s also dealing with grief, loss, and a broken marriage but apart from a few bright sparks you wonder if Harrison Ford wants to be there. Mads Mikkelsen takes far too long to become even remotely interesting as the villainous Voller. And while I love the concept behind Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s character, Helena Shaw, I’m not sure if the execution works (like the rest of them it’s more to do with the writing rather than the performances).

Everything hits bare minimum in terms of effectiveness. It’s just entertaining enough, it’s just thrilling enough. Had it been a much tighter edit or story then this might’ve been a much more glorious finale for the character.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (2023)
A fun reimagining with some great ideas until it outstays its welcome.

The pattern over the last 40 years is that Ninja Turtles will have (at least) two separate incarnations/reboots each decade (of course the 80s had the original Eastman & Laird comics and the original cartoon, the 90s had the live-action movies and the Next Mutation series by Haim Saban, the 2000s had Peter Laird’s reimagining as well as the CGI cartoon, Nickelodeon gave us three with the CG series, the Michael Bay-produced monstrosities, and the Rise of the TMNT) and so as a long time fan I’ve become accustomed and resigned to the fact that not every new version will click with me nor does it have to.

Mutant Mayhem is the first of the 2020s and is actually quite fun with some solid ideas, an interesting premise, decent humour, cool action sequences, and a lovely take on what it means to be teenagers. But ALL of it is undermined by its execution and not knowing when enough is enough. Some of the jokes were genuinely funny and I enjoyed the Turtles’ banter but then it wouldn’t stop and quickly became obnoxious. Marvel movies may get criticised for being “too jokey” but this doesn’t know to stop at the cliff’s edge. Instead of telling a coherent story, it often felt like a series of connected SNL skits especially when highlighting and critiquing past “lore” (which it has a right to do but still…).

Worst still is that the tone and coherence of the movie is completely undermined by the art and animation style. It worked for Spiderverse because there was a deliberate point in utilising the eclectic visuals. Here it just feels like the film is unfinished, as if they chopped in animatics or placeholder visuals with scenes where it becomes too cluttered you can’t make out what’s going on (much like Mitchell’s Vs The Machines, which had the same co-director). The current generation of movie critics and cinefiles have been brainwashed into thinking this style is “good” simply because it’s “different”. No, it’s pretentious and obnoxious and I can’t wait for people to turn on it soon.

Most of the voice cast all did a great job, however, the voices of Donnie and Mikey felt like they were swapped around and Jackie Chan was completely miscast as Splinter (also in changing him from stereotypical sensei they then leaned into -with purpose- stereotypical overbearing immigrant parent, which is the trend lately but it falls flat).

While I can admire the attempt, it’s a bit unsatisfying and ends up being a not terrible yet mostly disposable bit of content.

Polite Society (2023)
I wish I made time to see this in the cinema like I had originally planned because it’s a lot of campy fun!

It resembles a high-concept kids action adventure but with swearing and violence. That tonal clash also comes out with the South-Asian elements in a very British frame and it actually works. As long as you can get past the corniness and embrace the camp then it’s a helluva great time watching the awkward slo-mo wire work as the sarees fly around.

The two leads, Priya Kansara and Ritu Arya, are both wonderful and charming and have great sibling chemistry and so when that is tested it plays as the real heart of the film. I can only imagine how this film could have played out with a much bigger budget to match its ambition because there are moments that felt a tad limiting and some plot elements felt too contrived but then so is the logic of a lot of these kinds of movies. There’s also an abruptness to the ending that is somewhat unsatisfying (actually there are a few abrupt moments) but overall I still had a good time.

Sadly, this has only been released on DVD and not blu-ray here in Australia so it looks like I may have to order from overseas.

Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget (2024)
Highly enjoyable even if it’s missing some of the charm of the original film from over 20 years ago.

I always love me some stop-motion especially from the folks at Aardman but even I’m weirded out by the gap between sequels (and most of the support cast had apparently reprised their roles for this).

While the original 2000 film was a parody of World War 2 prison escape movies, Dawn of the Nugget seems to be a mashing of a few different influences, mainly the 1960’s secret agent adventures as well as Squid Game (which is directly referenced in one of their posters). These ideas do work together, however the former feels just a tad too much or missing the point (in the original the farm resembled a POW camp from the point-of-view of the chickens, the new factory looks like the secret lair of a Bond villain even from a human’s perspective, which feels like overkill). In fact, that retro setting is important to the main plot of the movie, which gave me a big chuckle.

If you can get past how many false endings this films has in its third act climax, and so lack of tighter editing, this really is a fun and funny little adventure.

Rebel Moon – Part 1: A Child of Fire (2024)
Once upon a time I used to be a Zack Snyder apologist but holy hell this is garbage!

It’s not just garbage, it’s “hard rubbish”… the junk and shit left on the side of the road for others to pick up and what’s left in the rain ends up soiled and mouldy. Despite a handful of decent ideas. this film is a clumsy patchwork of tired tropes, other people’s old ideas, and muddied influences To dub it a “Frankenstein’s Monster” of a movie implies a far more interesting film than it actually is.

Everyone on screen is giving it 110% but there’s nothing in the story or direction that can back it up. It’s obviously a rip of The Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven, but that alone is not enough to work. The design feels lazy, from the celtic/nordic influences, to the wild west aesthetic, to the cyberpunk planet, the fascist uniforms lifted straight from 1930s Europe, the awkwardly-inserted anime-style exposition, to the weapons that look like repainted NERF blasters. It’s all a bit trite. Some of that is even tied to the casual racism exhibited in this film where most of the folks on the “rebel moon” with the nordic influences are mostly white, the guy they pick up on that dusty ranch outpost is giving Space-Native American and so he can tame a wild beast, and the only Asian characters are introduced on the planet made to look like some unseen corner of Blade Runner.

Also, the main character’s “inciting incident” is the near-rape of the virginal young blonde, a moment that was broadcast the moment she appeared… fucking awful!

While Zack Snyder is a great visual director, I realised back when Suckerpunch came out (which I did kind of enjoy) that he’s not much of an original storyteller and Rebel Moon continues that lack of ability. This feels like a first draft of a story, an expensive fan film that prioritises “coolness” and “lore” over likable or sympathetic characters. But I also think his general directing is getting worse too. This has all the trademark Snyder speed ramping but a lot of it is even more unnecessary and distracting than usual. If anything, the film could’ve been 30-minutes shorter without a lot of the slo-mo and had tighter pacing. Even worse: this is the SETUP movie!

They should never have revealed that this was a rejected pitch for a Star Wars movie because that only enhances how terrible of a rip-off this is and then that becomes all you can think about and compare with.

Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó (2023)
I seldom include short films or documentaries in these movie catch-ups but I felt this needed to be highlighted…

The title translates to “grandma and grandma” and this one hit a little close to home and I love it dearly. It’s only about 16 minutes long so there’s not a lot I can say about it yet it captures so much about these two ladies, their friendship, and the every day of their twilight years.

It’s fun, heartwarming, bittersweet, a little bit irreverent, but most importantly it feels authentic. It’s definitely worth a watch to see why it’s up for an Oscar this year.

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