The Walking Dead season finale – ‘Conquer’

So I generally don’t like to do week by week episode re-caps (as I was watch like 8-9 shows during a normal TV season), opting to talk about premieres or mid-season/season finales. But well The Walking Dead just finished season 5 with a bang, the best episode of season 5 imo and of the best finales in the whole series, an excellent episode overall.

Things really came to a head in the season with the culmination of the Pete-Rick fiasco and Deanna being forced to have a ruling about Rick, which was the main plot of the episode, getting resolved right at the end. The finale balanced a good 5-6 storylines and did that quite well though, with Morgan finally being revealed, hot on the heels of Rick and co, Daryl and Aaron out looking for new potential Alexandria recruits and inadvertently almost running into the Wolves, but running into Morgan.

The wild bunch of people with a penchant of carving Ws’ into walkers and using them as traps, also we see Sasha still going slowly crazy and doing her thing, parallel to the father Gabriel who is also a raging douche and I suspect will be offed fairly soon. He’s had interesting, meandering story arc this season and seemingly wanted to die this episode, wondering out to give himself up to a walker but opting not to, he also stupidly doesn’t shut the gate properly, ironically leading to the Walkers coming into Alexandria and Ricks’ argument being more re-inforced. Gabriel had a tense moment back in Alexandria after he taunts Sasha, talking about Bob and Tyreese, trying to get her to shoot him which she may have done, though she’s stopped in the end by Maggie, the tree of them looking like they’re praying by the end.

Is Gabriel now a good man, coming to terms with what he’s done and over his guilt? Possibly, though in Walking Dead style, if he is finally in a good place, he’s likely to be the the next one on the way out, in a random mishap probably (crossfire in a shootout maybe).

And also, Glenn and Nicholas’ tension boiled to the surface with Nicholas plotting stupidly to try and trick and kill Glenn outside of Alexandria, though for now that arc seems to be concluded with Glenn one-upping him because he’s Glenn. And choosing to spare his life, still, a moment of forgiveness for a man that probably didn’t deserve it, to Glenns’ credit. I love how the episode gave a fair amount of time to each story and the characters included in them.

Something helped by the finale being 90 minutes long of course, there was enough time to give to each story arc, scary Carol again made an appearance, re-assuring Rick of what he had to do while threatening Pete, as she does now. Michonne had a lesser role in the episode, again disagreeing with Rick but going along with what had to be done, though by the end it’s safe to assume she’s probably on board with Rick after Pete comes out swinging, literally. Those conclusive moments in the end represented the big shift in power with Alexandria with Deannas husband being accidentally killed by Pete and no one wanting to do anything next, though everyone knew what had to happen.

Deanna gives Rick the go to shoot Pete, which he does and in that, Rick takes charge and will presumably be ‘leading’ Alexandria, or at least be a leader to them in the way that he and the gang feel the Alexandrians need strong, capable leadership.

Season 5 has been good at that in general, bringing a more minimalist and thoughtful approach to each episode as a whole.

This season has felt a lot like season 1 and that of course is a goo thing, with obvious things like Rick donning the police uniform and shaving the mountain man beard but also in style and tone, the shots have been a bit more creative – like with Jess and Rick talking, us seeing Rick in the mirror and not seeing in the shot properly. Or with more close ups on individuals’ when they’re out fighting walkers, to sort of represent their internal struggle and weariness of fighting the damned creatures. It’s all very artistic and again, a good thing, season 5 has managed to excellently balance the action with the character drama that drives the show and it’s made for great viewing.

If season 6 can be as good as 5 then we’re in for a treat, if it can be better then it would be the best season of the show yet, it seems like we’re getting set up for an Alexandria Vs The Wolves show down but I don’t think the story will be that simple, we’ll of course get twists, turns and surprises along the way. Morgan being re-introduced into the story is awesome and seeing him right at the end just as Rick offed Pete was great timing, how will Morgan see him now? What will even happen between them? How and why is Morgan like a wandering sensei/ronin?

So many questions that I’m looking forward to see getting answered in season 6.

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Focus Review

Focus is a drama about professional con artists out on the job starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro and Rick Utara, directed by Glenn Ficara and John Requa, I’ve only just recently seen the film described as a black comedy and it’s a description you’ll only really apply to the film if you’ve seen it.

Because the film, as ridiculous as it is at the times, ultimately has a humorous, ‘Gotcha’! tone running through it, yes right up until the end, Focus works well as a drama focusing on just a few characters, not to the scale of heist films like the Oceans trilogy but being more reminiscent of Leverage as a movie. Focus certainly has that comedic tone, especially driven by the perenially funny Will Smith, who shines in the role as Nicky a very experienced but damaged con artist who becomes infatuated with newbie Jess played by Margot Robbie, ironically, as good as their chemistry in the film together is, their relationship ultimately detracts from the film.

It’s a shame I saw it that way at least, because I thought the film would have been a lot better if it had explored more into the lives of some of the characters, namely Nicky and Jess,

Nicky works the streets and clients with his elaborate con plans, with one plan in particular in the film so elaborate it reminds you that you’re watching a movie, though it’s brilliantly executed and one day he meets Jess, she’s amazed by his lifestyle and what they do and wants in on it. They end up working together and enjoying it as they go along but ultimately Nicky sends her away, not wanting to get too involved with her, they meet again years later, with Jess now more experienced and Nicky lusting after her, kicking off the 2nd half of the film that twists and turns and shocks to a degree.

Though it’s arguably unbalanced and not as well executed as the first half of the film, with that being said the performances really carry the film and Will Smith is fantastic as a troubled, joker pro con artist, really ‘Will-Smithing’ it in some scenes which seem to come naturally to him, making for some great dialogue. He works just as well opposite Margot Robbie and they make believable back and forth lovers, Margot gives a great performance once again and is more than just a spurned lover, really making the character her own and giving Nicky a few surprises here and there, which was great to see.

The writing for the film is also great and the dialogue is top notch, the characters are mostly memorable and lively, which leads to some great scenes and their interactions make the film all the more engaging, the plot itself is interesting throughout and I didn’t find myself bored at any point, wanting to find out just how it would all end. Though you can sort of see where it’s going close to the end, you will probably be surprised twice by the ending, you may guess that Owens was in on the plan the whole time with Nicky as I did, though I wondered to myself if the film would really be going with that ending, though it worked out in the end I suppose.

Overall the ending was a bit bizarre and left of field, firmly putting the film in near unbelievable ending territory with films like Gone Girl, Nightcrawler but just thinking about how over the top it was is just a reminder of the type of film that Focus is, unashamedly surprising audiences until the end. I won’t say Focus is a bad film per se, but it definitely could have been better, it works as a silly movie unafraid of being silly with over the top characters and a pretty entertaining plot from start to finish.

The ending may leave people with a bad taste in their mouths but I don’t think it took away from the film, rather it delivered that final ‘Gotcha!’ to the audience, concluding what was a thrill ride of a film.

6.5/10

. Lively, entertaining characters though it would have been nice to add some depth to them

. Engaging, interesting plot with a silly ending

. Nicky and Jess’ relationship isn’t that interesting, sort of takes away from the plot

Spectre first trailer reaction

Daniel Craig rocking those turtlenecks.

So the first trailer for new Bond flick Spectre dropped yesterday and it’s looking pretty good so far, with a few hints here and there towards the plot, Bond apparently hiding a secret from MI6, we also see the big bad of the film (his body and shadowed out face anyway) Oberhauser – the guy talking to Bond near the end of the trailer. That being a nod to classic Bond films with villains having concealed faces.

My reaction straight away to the trailer is to the tone of it all, the opening shot of the partially destroyed MI6 headquarters, the music throughout the trailer, it’s all very sombre and quite dark, continuing with the general tone from Skyfall but this seems even darker. Pitching Bond up against an evil organisation is a great idea for the film and harkens back to Bond plots from years gone by, while we’ve had over the top, typical Bond villains in Craigs’ films, I have a feeling that Bond going against SPECTRE will feel like old school Bond.

We don’t see Q, the new M (Ralph Fiennes) or Christoph Waltz (we don’t see his face anyway) in the trailer so those should be some cool character reveals to come in upcoming promo for the film, as well as Dave Bautista of course, playing bad henchman Mr Hinx who looks the part already. There are photos of Bautista as Hinx and other photos from Spectre already floating around online.

But yeah I’m quite liking the vibe from Spectre so far, it feels quite gritty and old school, we’ll be getting Bond style bad guy henchmen, the brilliant Christoph Waltz as the main antagonist and Bond up against the odds, it sounds great so far.

Chappie Review

Ah Chappie, a very well advertised film and one of my most anticipated films of 2015 actually, it sadly falls short of being a great film but is (sort of ) another step in the right direction for Neil Blomkamp, who is yet to top the great District 9.

Chappie, set in near future South Africa policed by autonomous robot police forces centres around one robot in particular called Chappie, taken out of action and re-programmed for initially nefarious, criminal needs by criminals Ninja, Yolandi and Yankie (America). They plan to use Chappie to carry out some typically criminal plans and kidnap scientist Deon Wilson played by Dev Patel to do the re-programming, what follows is the revelation that Chappie comes back to life but can think and feel, becoming the worlds’ first sentient robot.

And as things in sci-fi films go, sentient robots are a no-no and Chappie is hunted by the powers that be, namely the ruthless Vincent Moore played by Hugh Jackman, out to make sure no police bots are tampered with or used for the wrong means. First off, Chappie is a well cast film and the premise is actually great, the thought of how society and the world at large would react to a sentient robot but the film doesn’t quite address that concept right until the end of the film.

And even then it’s not fully addressed, save for interview clips through the film with people talking about Chappie, hinting the world is aware of him, Chappie suffers from something Elysium also suffered from, a great premise hindered by a lackluster story and poor execution. Chappie is about 60% action film when you really think about it, while watching I thought of how much better the film could be if it removed some of those action set pieces and South African pop duo Die Antwoord (Ninja and Yolandi) altogether. Although they did provided good comic relief and a light tone to the film, their inclusion in it still feels a tad misguided in retrospect.

That being said, the acting in the film is generally good, Dev Patel is good in his somewhat limited role, Ninja and Yolandi take centre stage as the criminals come Chappies’ adoptive parents and are surprisingly decent actors, while Sharlto Copley is fantastic as an expressive, confused, growing and learning Chappie. Chappie of course is the star of the film and you do really feel for him when things don’t go great, you want him to be safe and just learn like he seems to want to and it’s a testament to Neil Blomkamps’ directing, when you or at least I, felt more for the sentient Robot than most human characters in the film.

Chappies’ action ultimately detracted from any overall message the film was trying to send out, if there was one at all and the plot of having Chappie becoming sentient to just carry out crime felt like a wasted opportunity and oh I wish I had more good things to say about the film! Speaking of wasted opportunities, Sigourney Weaver in the film didn’t do much, a great actor of her calibre really should have had a bigger, more meaningful role, same thing goes for Hugh Jackmans’ Vincent, as good an antagonist he was, he was one dimensional.

Chappie is an overall unbalanced but entertaining story which could have been better if its’ execution was good as the overall premise, though it’s another decent step forward for Neil Blomkamp.

I don’t fault Blomkamps’ ambition and drive to deliver hard hitting sci-fi though and I hope he keeps soldiering on, he’s one of the better directors in the genre right now and I’m sure he’ll make some more excellent films in the future.

6/10

. Great overall premise and set up

. Story doesn’t unfold in the most meaningful way, wasted opportunity

. Good cast for the most part, great acting from Sharlto Copley as Chappie. Some characters are underdeveloped

Jupiter Ascending review

The Wachowskis’ are back, with a sweeping space drama that makes up for in visuals and ambition, what it lacks in good story telling, characters and pacing, inevitably the film will get compared to the directors career highlight – The Matrix but it’s a bit pointless. While I do love The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded, Jupiter Ascending is something entirely different, a distinctly space faring drama centred on Jupiter Jones, a normal person who is actually a descendant of a royal family and heir to Earth.

It’s not all doom and gloom though as she’s protected by genetically modified warrior (part canine, part man) Caine played by Channing Tatum, working for an organisation that opposes the evil galactic industry that goes on.

To sum up the story, space dwelling bad guys that want to rejuvenate their lifespans indefinitely want to get her out of the picture and take power over the earth, harvesting its’ inhabitants to add to said lifespans, the antagonists in the film are hardly menacing or intimidating. Though harvesting a planets creatures and resources and sucking it dry is a bit evil, I suppose, the big bad in the film is Balem Abrasax played by Eddie Redmayne, an odd looking, soft talking but sort of chilling evil emperor, a villain you’d be a bit more creeped out of than scared of in all honesty.

Also while the story did make sense and wasn’t necessarily convoluted, it just wasn’t really interesting, Jupiter is sort of along for the ride and never really does that much, though the action sequences are quite cool, albeit a bit short. The mythology and history behind the premise film was more interesting to me than the actual film itself, how this industry of expanding lifespans came about, past wars fought over planets maybe and what not, in my mind I can imagine storylines more interesting that could have been presented.

And while there are twists and turns and a moment where things do look to be going wrong, it’s all a bit predictable and you can see exactly where the film is going but that being said, things the film does well – scope, it’s an earth – space straddling film and it’s cool to see the space stations, space ships and space flying scenes. (Allow me to geek out here a bit) I also quite liked the design of the weapons used in the film by villain and hero alike, as well as the space craft and the rather cool energy hover boards  and energy shields used in the film especially by Caine, reminded me of the Omni-tools from Mass Effect.

And back to what Jupiter Ascending didn’t do well, pacing, the film felt too short to me to be honest, it felt like a generic blockbuster and something completely un-Wachowski, they’re more than used to long, meandering stories and making interesting narratives with them but you just don’t get that with this film. That and characters, while there are maybe 2 or 3 that are memorable or interesting enough, excluding Jupiter herself, there just wasn’t much character development in the film in general, while basic CGI villains and a host of bland side characters didn’t help much either.

Jupiter Ascending is a great looking film and big in scope, it’s ambition is sadly let down by poor execution, dull characters and a yearning for a good, interesting story that’s just not quite there.

5/10

. Dull, poorly told narrative

. Lack of menacing, intimidating villains

. Good cast but poor array of characters