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Non-Review Review: CHiPs

CHiPs is what happens when you adapt a successful-yet-forgettable eighties action series in the style of a poorly-aged nineties sitcom.

There are a whole host of problems with CHiPs, but tone is the biggest concern. Writer and director Dax Shepard never seems entirely sure what he’s pitching, which leads to a bizarre mishmash of a juvenile gay panic comedy with retro nostalgia trappings strapped on to a lazy police thriller. None of these elements work particularly well on their own, but mashing them all together leads to even bigger problems. CHiPs tries to be several different things, and succeeds at none of them.

When he catches these corrupt cops, he’ll send them to the Peña-tentiary.

Who is the target market for CHiPs? The film pitches itself as a raunchy parodic reimagining of a show that was beloved at the time, but has faded into history. There’s obvious precedent here, and CHiPs can be reasonably placed as part of the movement that includes 21 Jump Street and Baywatch. However, CHiPs does not aim for nostalgia enough to appeal to fans of the show, and is not clever enough to attract the same audience as 21 Jump Street. The result is a reboot of an eighties motorcycle cop show aimed at fourteen-year-old boys.

Ironically, CHiPs feels retro for all the wrong reasons. CHiPs is largely defined by the idea that bodily functions (and male sexual organs) are hilarious, and that there is nothing funnier than two dudes touching each other’s erogenous zones, particularly when there’s at least one dude pointing out how hilarious it is. CHiPs is defensive nineties gay panic wrapped in eighties nostalgia. It is a strange cocktail.

Cashing their CHiPs.

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Non-Review Review: Life

Life has a certain endearing b-movie schlock value to it, a cheesy and derivative deep space creature feature that indulges all manner of body horror in its race to the climax. With all due respect to the esteemed philosopher Forrest Gump, most viewers know exactly what they are going to get.

The biggest problem with Life is that the film is very predictable. There is very little here that seasoned science-fiction horror film fans will not have seen before. Indeed, this is arguably reflected in the biggest problem with its central monster. The first life form discovered in outer space, the creature that stalks the crew in Life is initially appealingly alien; a translucent starfish evolving into a mass of tentacles with a love of bodily orifices. Unfortunately, the creature quickly becomes more conventional. The movie even names the beast “Calvin.”

Caught in the Gravity of Alien.

And yet, there is a quirky appeal to all this. Life is a movie with an attitude mirroring that creature. It begins as something intriguing before morphing into something far too familiar. More than that, there is a ruthless efficiency to the film. Characters are rendered as little more than archetypes, information is delivered primarily as plot set-up rather than character development, the first act of the film races through what should be huge dramatic beats in order to get to the squidgy monster mayhem. Life knows what it is, even when it’s not pretty.

There is something endearing about this ruthless efficiency, the commitment with which Life seizes upon its b-movie stylings as a vehicle for really creepy space scares. Life suffers a little bit from its by-the-numbers second act, but it demonstrates enough enthusiasm for its schlocky sensibilities that it’s hard to hard. Life finds a way.

Needing some space.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Who Mourns for Morn? (Review)

Who Mourns for Morn? suffers a great deal from its place in the sixth season.

Who Mourns for Morn? is the second broad comedy in the last three episodes. It is the third light-hearted episode of the last six. That would be a lot of comedy for any season of Star Trek, but it is particularly apparent in the context of the sixth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. After all, there is supposed to be a war raging in the background. The cathartic release of You Are Cordially Invited made a great deal of sense after the opening six-episode arc, and The Magnificent Ferengi was a brilliant comedy episode. However, this is just too much.

Painting a picture of a life...

Painting a picture of a life…

To be fair, the structure of the season contributes to this sense of humour fatigue. The decision to open the sixth season with a six-episode arc focusing on the retaking of Deep Space Nine was bold and ambitious, but it left little room for comedy or humour. As a result, the comedy episodes were concentrated in the aftermath of that sprawling war story, making for a particularly jarring contrast. The first half of the sixth season of Deep Space Nine only has three comedy episode, which is not too much by any measure. However, they arrive in rapid succession.

Taken on its own terms, Who Mourns for Morn? is a solid and enjoyable episode. It is not as funny as House of Quark or Little Green Men, but it moves quickly and works from a clever premise. It is populated with quirky supporting characters, none of whom outstay their welcome. Who Mourns for Morn? is a fun little runaround. Unfortunately, it arrives at a point in the season where the audience is exhausted from all those runarounds.

A very messy, very dirty business.

A very messy, very dirty business.

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Non-Review Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

The best and worst thing that can be said for Beauty and the Beast is that it beautifully recreates the animated source material.

A lot of love and affection went into Beauty and the Beast. The production design is amazing, a truly stylish blend of physical objects and computer-generated imagery to create something that feels like a hybrid between live action and animation. It is a very skillful blending of two different approaches to film making. On a purely technical level, judged as a mechanical adaptation, Beauty and the Beast succeeds triumphantly. It is a live action fantasia recreation of a beloved animated film.

More than that, Beauty and the Beast works largely because it is so effective an adaptation. Beauty and the Beast scores phenomenally well because it so carefully and precisely translates material that has incredible emotional power. There is a case to be made that the original Disney adaptation is one of the best films in the company’s canon, with some of the best songs and the most memorable set pieces. The live action adaptation ensures that very few of these moments get lost in translation, which lends the movie a compelling weight.

Unfortunately, it is also a reminder that a nigh-perfect adaptation of this version of the story already exists. Beauty and the Beast runs a muscular two-hours-and-six minutes to the animated film’s eighty-two minutes, but that statistic is misleading. The additions are pointless at best and distracting at worst. As a whole, Beauty and the Beast makes the animated original look like a more streamlined take on this tale that cuts a lot of the fat, telling the same story in a way that is at once more concentrated and more concise.

Mirror, mirror.

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Non-Review Review: Kong – Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island has an endearingly “pop” sensibility to it.

There are moments at which Kong: Skull Island feels more like an evocative theatrical-length montage than a film. This is only the second feature-length film from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, and the movie has jarring and disorienting quality to it. Vogt-Roberts saturates the screen with reds and greens, whirls the camera at incredible velocity, and cuts at an impressive tempo. Even dialogue heavy scenes are constantly panning and cutting.

Sundown showdown.

This approach does no favours to the cast. Most of the players in Kong: Skull Island seem to have more trouble finding a consistent character throughline than mythical monsters. Tom Hiddleston seems quite lost for most of the film. Brie Larson probably does the best job of any of the major players, although the rapid-fire editing helps John C. Reilly seem suitably eccentric as the obligatory insane exposition character. Veteran performers like John Goodman and Samuel L. Jackson are forced to hold on for dear life.

However, none of this is a problem. For all its flaws, Kong: Skull Island never over-estimates how interesting its human characters are, mostly treating them as a vehicle to get to the promised monster mash. Vogt-Roberts’ direction might seem hyperactive and over-caffeinated, but it understands this. The camera and the cuts are always moving towards the monster, with the characters serving to deliver thematic dialogue and look suitably moody as seventies music plays over montage sequences.

“Oh, so that’s why they call it Skull Island.”

Kong: Skull Island never feels entirely cohesive as a feature film. That is not a fatal flaw. The movie feels weird and ethereal, the audience constantly kept off-balance by the heighten stylistic choices and the gusto with which the movie seizes upon these opportunities. After all, the eponymous island is a place where anything is possible and nothing is as it appears. It feels somewhat fitting that the movie drifts into a loose free-form style driven more by imagery than by story.

Kong: Skull Island feels in someways like a monstrous monster movie, and there’s something quite appealing in that.

No bones about it.

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Non-Review Review: Tschick

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017.

Tschick is a charming, if disorganised and overly episodic, coming of age road movie.

The basic set-up of Tschick is effective, if a little familiar. Maik Klingenberg is an imaginative and socially awkward teenager, the child of an alcoholic (if well-meaning) mother and a distant (and philandering) father. He is invisible to his classmates, except to the eponymous Tschick. Andrej Tschichatschow is a new arrival from Russia. He is antisocial, he smells bad, and he suffers from alcoholism despite only being a teenager. Naturally, he proves even less popular than Maik. The other students don’t know Maik exists, but they hate Tschick.

Cliffhanger ending.

Cliffhanger ending.

With his mother checked into rehab and his father absent for other reasons, Maik is left to fend for himself. He ends up embarking upon a cross-country road trip with Tchick in a stolen car. Along the way, the pair have a series of encounters with a wide variety of people and intersect with various other walks of life. As a result, Maik and Tschick have a unique shared experience, forging a deep bond and a mutual respect. The resulting journey is full of wry well-observed comedy and heart-warming moments, largely held together by the charm of leads Tristan Göbel and Anand Batbileg.

However, Tschick lacks the focus necessary to tie these elements together. It is both too focused on its own narrative and character arcs to fully embrace a stream-of-consciousness “on the road” travelogue style and too episodic to cohere into a single strong narrative. The result is a film that feels rather uneven and disjointed, a road trip constantly hitting speed bumps.

Venturing far afield.

Venturing far afield.

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Non-Review Review: Headshot

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017.

The obvious (and easy) comparison for Headshot is The Raid.

Part of that is down to the superficial similarities. Both are relatively straightforward Indonesian action movies starring Iko Uwais with an emphasis on martial arts. Even beyond that, The Raid was a breakout hit and exists as one of the defining modern martial arts movies for wider audiences. Even without the similar stuntwork and the combination of lead actor and genre, The Raid would be a stock point of comparison for Headshot. The film even seems to invite and encourage the comparison, with directors Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto consciously evoking Gareth Evans’ style.

Headed into danger.

Headed into danger.

The comparison does Headshot no favours. For all the similarities between the two films, the differences are telling. Headshot has a style that consciously evokes The Raid, but it lacks its streamlined efficiency. It has a number of impressive prop-heavy set pieces that call to mind the impressive work in The Raid, but it never embraces the loose and freewheeling style that made The Raid so striking. More than that, Headshot never manages the delicate balance between rudimentary character work and a solid story, leading to a film that feels both paper-thin and over-developed.

Headshot is a solidly middle-of-the-road martial arts slugfest, but it lacks the sheer “wow!” factor that made The Raid pop.

Bar none.

Bar none.

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