Mortal Engines Movie Review

Gentlemen, start your “Mortal Engines”! This movie is a bit like a NASCAR race; it has a whole lot of characters, they all move at breakneck speed, they all go around and around in circles and with loud volume – but never seem to get anywhere. When the whole thing is finished, there are no Winners. Especially not the viewer. It has a visually stunning design, with a good number of images that are intricate and precise. It is based on a novel that has a unique concept, where a post-apocalyptic world has huge cities that move and rumble around a barren future landscape.

 

The ‘city on wheels’ idea shows us a large city that can only sustain and grow by searching out and taking over many smaller cities. The Big City takes over all of the resources, and assigns all the new people to hard labor. There are battles between the little guys and the ‘City of London’, and the big city always wins. This movie has many twists and turns, so there is a lot of potential for an exciting and well-defined film. There is also potential for a big sloppy mess…

 

Many centuries after the Sixty Minute War, all the people of Earth live in the ‘Traction’ Cities in the Wastelands.  Or people lived behind a Shield Wall (in what is now China). The huge, mobile cities are places where remnants of the past remain. in the ‘City of London’, the large number of people are there hoping that the Energy Project that Engineer Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving) will finally be working to give them unlimited power. Valentine is thinking of a different type of ‘unlimited power’, but in a different sense.

He works with an historian of the City named Tom (Robert Sheehan). Tom is from the lower class, and he needs Valentine’s help to rise in the ranks. But there is a woman named Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) who has a personal goal to kill Thaddeus Valentine. She almost succeeds, but Hester and Tom both are thrown out of the moving ‘City’.  Now they are trapped on foot in the No-Mans-Land. They are picked up for a ‘rescue’ by a nice couple out in the desert in a weird vehicle. But then get taken to Scavenger city to be auctioned off.

 

 

 

Thaddeus Valentine is still in the ‘City’ and he is cooking up some big plans, including finder Hester and killing her. These plans involve a reanimated cyborg named Shrike. This metal monster machine has a death wish for Hester Shaw. Shrike can’t be bargained with. Shrike can’t be reasoned with. Shrike doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And Shrike absolutely will not stop… ever, until you are dead! No, sorry — that’s the Terminator. Well, close enough. So Hester has everyone looking for her and she could be in deep trouble.

 

 

 

Tom and Hester find that the Scavenger auction was interrupted by Anna Fang (Jihae). She is a well-known rebel and the leader of the Anti-Traction League. She hates the moving cities and fights them in every way possible. Anna finds Hester, along with Tom. She rescues the two of them, just as Shrike finds Hester and announces that he will kill her for running away. Because, you see – Hester was raised by the undead cyborg monster man when her mother was killed by Thaddeus Valentine. It’ a complicated relationship… So there is more that happens, and just as scattered and confusing.

This movie ought to have a Bingo card that will allow the viewer to match each scene or idea with another movie. Main villain is actually the Father of the main character? Yup, that would be “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back”. High-speed chases and battles as shown in a bleak landscape? “Mad Max: Fury Road”. A deadly cyborg who is conducting an unstoppable quest to find and kill a young woman? “The Terminator”, of course. Far future technology that looks like mid 1890’s Steampunk? How about “The Golden Compass”.

 

There are some wonderful ideas that could be developed for “Mortal Engines”. The biggest problem is that too much world-building and idea development and background exposition entirely drowns out the main story and any feeling that these are actual people. There is way more emphasis on action than there is on acting. Plus a total overload of motion and just a passing glace to human emotion. This might have worked out quite well as a limited series TV show, say on HBO or Netflix.

But this is big-budget  stand-alone movie – perhaps ready to spur on the other movie adaptations of other books. Maybe so, but this first ‘Engine’ has seized up and it is not working…

Pacific Rim Uprising Movie Review

The movie “Pacific Rim Uprising” is a sequel to “Pacific Rim” from a few years back. In the “Rim” world, the giant monsters (called ‘kaiju’) were defeated by the humans controlling giant robots (called ‘jaegers’). It was an excuse to see enormous good guy robots lay the smack down on gigantic evil beasts in order to save the world. After the world was saved, it took ten years (in movie time) to get back to the same ‘Rock-en Sock-em’ battle mode. in “Uprising” there is a new threat, and the world is ready to be saved again. This is a Science-Fiction Action movie that relies a lot more on the Action and the Fiction than it does on the Science.

Ten years ago, a brave jaeger pilot and commander named Stacker Pentecost declared they were “canceling the apocalypse!”. They did this by fighting and defeating the kaiju. But he died in the effort and he left behind his son Jake (John Boyega) and his adopted Japanese daughter Mako (Rinko Kikuchi). Mako was a famous jaeger pilot back in the war. Back then, young Jake was starting in the Jaeger Training program until he was kicked out. But after a street brawl instigated by an even younger Amara Namani (Cailee Spaeny), who is a street-wise orphan and illegal jaeger scrapper, they both get (forced) into the school. There Jake meets his old partner-pilot Nate Lambert (Scott Eastwood), who wants Jake to take the training seriously this time.

There are new threats that arise, and a Chinese industrial tycoon wants to replace all human-controlled jaegers with remote-controlled drones. There is a special vote to be held in Sydney, but an unknown jaeger attacks the city and kills Mako. She was able to get out a coded message in time. The kaiju may be returning, and this time, they are getting help. There are two scientists (also from in the first movie) named Dr. Newt Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman). Newt now works for the huge Chinese company making the drones. Gottlieb is still with the team that supports the jaeger pilots.

After a sneak attack by the drones, who are secretly controlled by kaiju brains, only the Trainee Cadets are all that is left. Like I said, this movie relies very little on the Science from Science-Fiction. Trainee Cadets include Amara plus a handful of other ethnically-diverse young jaeger pilots. They are led into battle by Jake and Lambert, who have the most powerful jaeger named Gipsy Avenger. Some of the other jaeger names are Bracer Phoenix, Guardian Bravo, Titan Redeemer, and Saber Athena. These sound more like Axe Body Wash scents, but oh well…

But how are the evil kaiju still on the attack after ten years, and who is helping them to organize a new assault on humanity? I am not at liberty to say, but the culprit might say that It’s Always Sunny in Tokyo City. By the way, the skyscrapers in Tokyo take a beating from the jaeger vs. kaiju wrestling match. The whole place seems to be pretty much gets leveled, as the kaiju all combine into one super-sized monster. The thing is heading to Mt. Fuji, and the thing is not after film or apples.

The acting is relatable to the story-line, it is not fantastic, but there are a couple of standouts. John Boyega has a ton of charm and charisma, and he will not be outdone by the same attributes in Scott Eastwood. Cailee Spaeny is OK in a role that tries to make her do (and know) too much. The snide little comments from Burn Gorman as Dr. Hermann make him the best one to root for.

There is plenty of action, and it all holds together really well. That is unlike the mess that is any “Transformers” movie. The pacing is brisk and it moves from location to location with a focused goal. It does not let any fluff take over the story. You know, stuff like, a deep back-story for any character, any accurate scientific theories, any meaningful dialogue, and especially no mushy romance scenes.

To sum it up:

If you like this sort of thing, then you will sort-of like this thing…

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movie Review

The Master of the Marvel Mix Tape is back. Yes, Peter Quill  and his gang of misfits have returned to the movies. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” takes another step into the wilder side of Marvel’s never-ending stream of comic book heroes. Back in 2014, the first movie introduced the characters, and now you have more time to get to know your ‘Guardians’.


Quill (Chris Pratt), also known as Star Lord, is working with Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax (Dave Bautista). With them are the two creatures; a genetically-modified raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and humanoid tree-thing, now called Baby Groot (Vin Diesel). They are hired to fight off a monster for a group of gold-colored Sovereign people. They defeat the beast and win the release of Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora’s evil half-sister.


But soon the Sovereign leader is after the Guardians, and they hire a mercenary team of Ravagers led by Yondu (Michael Rooker). Yondu and Quill have a sorted history going way back to when Peter was kidnapped off  Earth. Peter Quill is still looking for his father, when the Guardians meet up with Ego (Kurt Russell). Ego is an ancient being called a Celestial, and he has created an entire Living Planet based on his brain power.

Quill learns that Ego (his human-like avatar, not the Planet) is his actual father. But Quill is still upset that Ego loved his mother, but then left her. Quill wants to go along with Ego, so that he can be a semi-immortal creature, too. But Gamora is wary, and she has a right to be. Not everything is as rosy as it appears. Yondu has his crew mutiny against him, but with help from Rocky and Baby Groot, he’s back in command.

Nebula escapes and goes after her half-sister Gamora. They fight an attack each other, but they do eventually find common ground. Ego has plans, much larger than what Peter Quill can imagine. But his plans would cause death and destruction of thousands of planets. All of the Guardians, along with Nebula and Yondu, team up for a good old-fashioned fight to the finish. Ego is immortal and all-powerful, but he still has some weak spots. If the crew all work together, can they find the answers in time?

Marvel scored really big with the first ‘Guardians’ movie, and now they have a chance to double-down on the crazy fun of these characters. There is such a high-energy spark within this group that the easy dialog and funny situations just are a joy to watch. Each characters get a little time to develop more and become deeper and more intense. Some are real standouts, such as Yondu. His character was not much more than a cameo in the first movie. But here Michael Rooker really gets to make fantastic impression.

 

All the actors are great and well cast for the roles. The most fun is to see Kurt Russell coming back into movies big time, and this role for him is just icing on the cake. Baby Groot is such a little huggable sapling, that every time his image is on screen, you just want to say, “Awwwww”.  Quill is still clever and snarky, Gamora is strong and stoic, and Drax is a huge mountain of power, with a big soft heart.

The movie is full of pop culture references. Lots of things are brought up, such as Pac-Man, Cheers (the TV show), Knight Rider (the TV show) and David Hasselhoff. There are again lots of Marvel cameos, like Howard the Duck, Cosmo the Space Dog and (of course) Stan Lee. There are a few celebrity cameos: Sylvester Stallone, Ving Rhames, and Michelle Yeoh.

Yes, the “Guardians of the Galaxy” have come back, and they are saving the Galaxy again. As Rocky says, “We can really raise our rates now”. It seems that they have raised the quality standards, too. Hey, and it can also be found in 3-D and in IMAX format, which actually makes for Greater Guardians!

ghost-in-the-shell-movie-review

Ghost in the Shell Movie Review

“Ghost in the Shell” has been around for quite a while, first as a Japanese manga comic series, and in 1995, as an animated movie based on the series. Now it has become a live-action version. This cyber-punk classic is given a new look and feel, still keeping with the dystopian future and the Asian-themed storyline. The most prominent roles are not played by Asian actors in this version. But it still has a futuristic vibe that has been seen before.

In this future generic Asian city, the largest company is Hanka Robotics. A crucial experiment is successful when Dr. Ouélet (Juliette Binoche) oversees a living human brain merged into a cybernetic ‘shell’ body, with a perfect human form. The Major (Scarlett Johansson) becomes a super-powered crime fighter for a counter-cyberterrorist group called Section 9. This group is led by Togusa (Chin Han), who reports to the government about all criminal activity.

Major and her partner Batou (Pilou Asbæk) are caught in a series of murders when top executives from Hanka Robotics are brutally killed. Evidence leads to a shadowy figure called the Puppet Master, later found out to be named Kuze (Michael Pitt). The Major catches up to Kuze and they find very unusual similarities. Major starts to question everything about her past, which has always been clouded and mysterious.

The more that Major and Batou investigate, the more troubled Major becomes. She knows that her body is manufactured, but she tries to understand why her brain (her “ghost”) is leading her to a place and time in her past. Hanka Robotics is led by a shady CEO who keeping many secrets from Major. When she finally learns the truth, it will change everything in her world.

Marvel will probably not release a stand-alone “Black Widow” movie for a long time. So now with “Ghost in the Shell”, you can see it as “I, Black Widow Robot”. Scarlett Johansson has perfected her bad-ass, take-no-prisoners hot chick fighting machine persona. In this movie, she further perfects the ‘machine’ part of that equation. She is always cool and in control, and this movie demands that she continue in that role. She pulls it off with no problem.

The rest of the cast is very much on target to the original source material. Pilou Asbæk is terrific as Batou, and he looks like a young cyber-punk Kiefer Sutherland. Juliette Binoche brings a very conflicted worry to her role, as she does not want Major to know her true origin. Chin Han has the perfect look for a wise man who can lead the Section 9 group, always speaking his native language when everyone speaks English.

The production values and set designs are stunning. They are beautiful to see and visually very active and colorful. The action sequences are set up and carried out with a smooth style. The story leads deeper into the background of the Major, and finds that she might want to be there.

However, the main drawback is that all has been done before. All classic science-fiction movies are copied here and there: ‘The Matrix’, ‘The Terminator’, ‘Blade Runner’, The Fifth Element’ and others. Even the animated version of this same movie beat it by over 20 years. If all you want is something 100% original, then you must look somewhere else.

If you are looking for a well-produced and action-filled science-fiction movie, then this will please you. Scarlett Johansson plays the role well, even without being Oriental. If you do not mind all the places where they have borrowed from other movies, you might really like “Ghost Blade in the Matrix Runner Shell”…