Detective Pikachu

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Picture this:

The movie takes place in a futuristic city, where new technology, created by one large tech company, has allowed for a new way of life. Humans now coexist with other creatures, who help them do their jobs and assist them in everyday life. A young man, our protagonist, has a dislike of the creatures, due to a traumatising incident in his past. When the creatures begin to act strangely, it is up to him to solve the case. He goes on an adventure where, along with a young woman, he discovers that not everything is as it seems, and he comes to befriend one of the creatures, who teaches him an important life lesson. In the end, it is revealed that the head of the tech company was behind all of it. Now, am I describing Detective Pikachu, or am I describing I, Robot?

As I watched this film, the similarities between the two movies were obvious, and Detective Pikachu really does feel like a toned down, children’s take on the classic sci-fi. I found that you don’t really need to know anything about robots to enjoy I, Robot, and the same goes for this movie. I know next to nothing about Pokémon, and I’m sure I missed some easter eggs, but I still thought this silly family movie was a fun watch. It is a blockbuster film, and, as such, is filled with overly dramatic moments and larger than life characters, but nevertheless, I was extremely impressed at the dedication this film had to the characterisation of the Pokémon.

Each creature, even those in the background, had excellent texture animations and stylistic design. Pikachu felt alive and real, and, somehow, did embody Ryan Reynolds (I was especially impressed by the texture animation when his fur was wet). In comparison to movies like Jurassic World, the animators took care to ensure the Pokémon looked as grounded as possible. I assume that setting of the film in the dark was a design choice, one that helped to disguise any faults in the rendering of the Pokémon. And their aesthetic design besides, the actual expression and movements of the characters felt real. One thing I do know about Pokémon is that each creature makes the sounds of their name, and I was impressed by how realistic they made these voices sound. I was also unsurprised to discover that the same team who had worked on Detective Pikachu also designed creatures for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. In both films, the creatures have distinct and charming character design. 

At the end of the day, though, this is a blockbuster movie. It does not rank as one of my favourites by far, but this movie certainly passes as a film that the family can enjoy together. I can dream about an R-rated, ‘Deadpool’ style version of this movie as much as I want, but I understand the market that this movie had. It was whimsical and silly but did manage to pull some real laughs from me (mostly just because Ryan Reynolds could read me a takeout menu and I’d find it hilarious). Overall, Detective Pikachu was simply a cute film.

Lupin

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Lupin stole my heart. I don’t even care if this show doesn’t deserve 4.5 stars (it does; it’s fantastic) I will still award them happily. Lupin, in short, is a more complex, French James Bond. His character, with all his oddities, strengths and weaknesses, makes 007 look like a primped and plucked doll, although I suppose it is unfair to compare the two, given that Lupin is both 007 and M put together (although there is still a wiry, frizzy haired best friend if that’s important to you).

The story opens on a jewellery heist. A washed-up janitor, down on his luck, has decided to steal a necklace from the Louvre to cover his debts. But as I found with all of Lupin’s hijinks, nothing is really as it seems. The show takes us speeding and sneaking around the streets of Paris, and tugs at our heartstrings along the way. While there was nothing particularly interesting to be said about the cinematography, it is brilliant writing and fantastic acting that brings this show to life. Omar Sy, who I am ashamed to say I didn’t know before this, is a well accomplished actor. He plays Lupin as suave and too clever for his own good, but doesn’t hesitate to show us that Lupin, unlike Bond, has serious weaknesses. He struggles with fatherhood and his own parental past, and despite his practically photographic memory, still manages to forget to spend time with his son. The people who surround him (half of whom want to kill him, and the rest want to kiss him) are also fully realised characters in their own right, perhaps unlike the Bond girls we are used to seeing. When these well written characters are thrown into layers of conspiracy and corruption… well, what’s not to love.

While generally I don’t believe that knowing the plot to a story ruins the experience (it’s the journey, not the destination) I hope it has been noted that I am trying my best not to spoil anything. Unlike with other films and television I’ve reviewed, it is important to me that you experience Lupin as it happens. The twists, turns, and witty punchlines are worth seeing first-hand. It also introduced me to French television, which, for some reason in my head, I felt must be similar to black-and-white silent films.  While of course this has the Netflix spin, the fact that I didn’t know Omar Sy before this baffles me. This show, once again, confirms what Bong Joon-Ho said when he received Best Picture, “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

The main weakness of this show is that there is not more of it. That, and the often-outrageous plot lines. There are some moments where I have to admit, I thought, ‘Even Lupin couldn’t pull that off.’ But I suppose, if we are willing to believe that James Bond throws himself onto trains and out of cars, that we should forgive Lupin for this as well.  

Spree

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Maybe I’ve been out of the loop, but I had not heard a peep about this movie until it showed up on my Netflix home screen. I hadn’t intended to choose a satirical horror movie that night, but as the trailer automatically played, I found myself instantly intrigued by the creativity in both idea and execution. The funniest (and also scariest) concept in this movie is that we have all met a guy like Kurt Kunkle, who is so obviously deeply damaged, but is also convinced that he is special, or unique, and is outraged that the world does not agree.

The story follows a young man as he tries to livestream his way to success, filming his day working for a ride-share app. Obsessive about his viewing numbers, Kurt attempts to gain the respect of Bobby, a boy he used to babysit who has made it big on the internet. Though Kurt does not initially seem altogether unhinged, he almost immediately sets to killing his passengers in an attempt to garner views. The first few passengers he kills by poisoning water bottles in the back, and originally, you are sympathetic to his journey (or as sympathetic as you can be with a serial killer) because each of his passengers is ruder than the last. When comedian and semi-celebrity Jessie Adams gets into his car, however, the tables turn. Sitting in Kurt’s backseat is someone with access to thousands of fans. He quickly tries to promote himself on her livestream, but Jessie is entirely underwhelmed by him, and quickly ends her ride. Later, after more murders that get increasingly more gruesome, Kurt winds up at Jessie Adams’s show, and listens to her criticise his obsession with fame, before delivering a phony speech about removing herself from social media. Fooled by her speech, Kurt decides that he and Jessie must be soulmates, and traps her in his car. The casting of Kurt as a young, white man, with serious social disillusionments about his place in the world, and juxtaposing that against a successful, confident black woman, feels right for, as the review from Collider puts it, ‘” American Psycho” for the digital age’. While the second act is perhaps dragged out, the third act is filled with just the right amount of gore for a horror movie of this style, and the satire of the entire film feels very grounded, especially with the vlog film style.

This film does not come without its pitfalls, however. While the film is already fairly short, with a runtime of only 93 minutes, about 30 minutes of it is wasted time that did nothing to advance the storyline, the character, or even, really, the suspense. There is also a loose storyline of Kurt’s father, a washed up DJ, which is not fully realised or satisfactorily concluded. While the core storylines and characters are intriguing, it felt as though there was a struggle to even meet the hour and a half mark, and Spree probably would have fared far better as a short film.

The Hunt

Rating: 4 out of 5.

While certainly not contending for movie of the year. The Hunt turned out to be an undemanding, dark comedy that had me on the edge of my seat. This movie deserves a solid 4 stars, if for no other reason than the delivery of the line, ‘I don’t think they believe you, Gary’. I enjoyed the familiar trope flipped on its head and appreciated that I had a genuine distaste for every one of the characters. The victims were ‘deplorables’ (according to both the movie, and, apparently, Hillary Clinton), and the hunters, despite appearing to be left wing Samaritans, were also bloodthirsty millionaires. I loved to hate them all. Our heroine is affectionately nicknamed ‘Snowball’ by her captors – a reference to a little known, niche piece of literature named Animal Farm (I’m joking of course, although the writers didn’t seem to be). However, if the Hunt had ended about 40 minutes before it actually did, this film would be 4.5 stars at least. It is greatly let down by the third act, wherein Snowball decides it is not enough to have merely killed the majority of the hunters; she must now track down and murder Athena Stone herself. Not only did this raise more questions than it answered, but it also led to a rather unconvincing climax to the film. After a dramatic fight to the death (which I believe does deserve credit for staying far away from the ‘two sexy women claw at each other’ cliché) Snowball is stabbed by the blade of a food processor. As a last-ditch attempt, however, she manages to hug Athena close enough to her body to kill her opponent. While ridiculous in of itself, the scene is further let down when Snowball pulls the blade out of her stomach and appears perfectly fine as she pulls on one of Athena’s dresses, slaps on some makeup, and catwalks down to the awaiting private jet. While I am not one to complain about watching Betty Gilpin strut down a runway in a flowing black dress, I did feel as though I wanted more from her character. There was barely a whiff of a backstory as to why she was there, or, for that matter, why any of the hunters were there either. I can appreciate that a despairing and deranged millionaire like Athena Stone may be inclined to trap a group of right-wing fanatics and hunt them down, but it was unconvincing that her friends would follow her down this serial killer route. All in all, I expected about 10 more minutes of explanation of who on earth Snowball was and why she felt a desperate need to hunt down Athena. Perhaps this is a set up for a sequel, although I don’t know what that would be. But, if you’re sat with some friends and some beers one night, slap on the Hunt, and get ready to laugh at some truly horrendous characters and gory, blood-heavy fight scenes.

The Midnight Sky

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Midnight Sky is a barely interesting story about family and survival that comes in at a middling 3 stars. Set in the harsh frozen landscape of a post-apocalyptic North Pole, the movie opens with our hero, Augustine, refusing to leave his planet behind. As a terminally ill patient, he decides that death on Earth is better than a short life on a spaceship. Simultaneously, we follow the quirky but well-bonded crew aboard the spaceship ‘Aether’, who are returning home after an exploration to K-23, one of Jupiter’s moons and the hopeful second home to mankind. For the majority of the film, nothing remotely engaging happens to the crew, but instead we are shown scenes after scene of the crew chatting, whether about the strange radio silence from Earth, or deciding a name for the unborn child of a crewmember, who we know as Dr. Sullivan.  Back on Earth, however, things are getting slightly more chilling. Augustine, who we realise is not only terminally ill but also deeply alcoholic, has discovered a young, mute girl still stuck inside the space station, forgotten in the frantic attempt to evacuate. We are then launched into the ‘begrudging, grumpy man cares for small child’ trope that we quickly realise stems from Augustine’s own guilt over abandoning his young daughter and her mother years before. This relationship is by far the most compelling part of the story; Clooney’s performance is understated but well developed, and I found myself genuinely caring about the fate of the unlikely.

The acting aboard the Aether, however, is not as well realised. The characters are one dimensional, and hollow. While I can appreciate this movie is an adaptation of the novel, and perhaps the book contained more insight for these characters, the translation to the big screen is not made well. In fact, it appears that without two of the five crew members, the plot would have developed in nearly the exact same way. Their story is only saved by a single scene, where the young scientist Maya is struck by shrapnel and eventually bleeds out. Even this scene is only made so interesting by the cinematography – Maya’s blood floats around her in drops, weightless, while she struggles to breathe.

Back on Earth, George Clooney is also dying; his blood transfusion kit (necessary for him to survive) has been lost, and it is now a race against time to contact Aether and warn them of the uninhabitable state of their planet. When he does finally contact the crew, there is flat and unconvincing storyline of two characters that decide to return to Earth, despite knowing they will likely perish practically upon arrival. Their explanations seemed half-hearted, and as I mentioned before, the development of the plot and the starring characters is entirely unchanged by their decisions. Quickly after the two depart the Aether, there is an emotional reveal that the pregnant crewmember, Dr. Sullivan is actually Augustine’s daughter. We realise that the young girl Augustine has been fighting so hard to protect was, in fact, a fantasy of his daughter. It is implied that his decision to try and save the young girl was, in fact, a desperate attempt to save his real daughter, whether this was planned or not. Now, maybe I am just not someone who expects there to be a twist ending, because I very rarely see them coming, and this was no different. It retroactively amended previously unimportant plotlines, and, if only vaguely, brought the story to a full circle. Overall, while I can appreciate that there was an attempt at portraying recurring symbolism of family and survival, the Midnight Sky was an only a partially successful sci-fi, where the only real thought I had as the credits rolled was, ‘Well, now that’s over’.