Do you want to hear our opinions on The Adam Project, The Batman, Turning Red, and Free Guy? How exceptionally fortunate, that’s exactly what this podcast covers. It’s very much your lucky day. And such great value! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
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In the Adam Project, Ryan Reynold’s Adam Reed finds himself living in a 2050’s dystopia, albeit the kind of dystopia that we’re told is a dystopia without much in the way of backup. At any rate, it’s bad enough that after his wife goes missing in suspicious circumstances, he steals a time-jet and goes after her. Oh, yes, time travel exists. Should perhaps have mentioned that.
The time cops aren’t best pleased by this idea and set off in pursuit, which is enough to knock Adam off his intended time-jectory and land perilously close to his 12-year old self, played by Walker Scobell, still trying to get over the recent death of his father, and bullied for, well, acting like a young Ryan Reynolds, mainly. He’s bullied for being short and asthmatic, very far from the hunk of muscle that we’re supposed to accept Ryan Reynolds is. Ryan Reynolds produced this film. Just sayin’.
Anyhoo, the Adams soon meet up, clash and then bond, just as well as old Adam is too injured for the DNA-coded time-jet to allow him to fly it, but can be fooled by Young Adam’s presence. Just in time, as the time-cops, minions of Catherine Keener’s Maya Sorian, apparently the iron-fisted ruler of 2050, show up and start raising hell, only to be thwarted by Adam’s wife, Zoe Saldaña’s Laura Shane, ultimately only to distract the time-fascists to allow both Adams to jump a few years into the past to solve the problem by convincing their Dad, Mark Ruffalo’s Louis, to un-invent the precepts of time travel he’d come up with, in partnership with the treacherous Sorian.
And so it goes, to skip over a bunch of details that didn’t seem all that important to consider while watching it and even less so some days removed, which perhaps surprisingly is not to say I didn’t get some enjoyment out of The Adam Project. Now, a lot of the will depend on your tolerance for Ryan Reynolds, who here is playing very much the Ryan Reynolds he always plays, now with a mini-me playing Ryan Reynolds as well. For some, this will be 200% more Ryan Reynolds than is strictly healthy.
Assuming you can clear that hurdle, you’re left with a fairly breezy film that’s clearly aimed at a far younger crown than I run with, with a vibe not dissimilar to The Last Starfighter, or perhaps director Shawn Levy’s previous Real Steel, if you want a less geriatric frame of reference. It’s exceedingly short on detail in its world, and it’s plot, doing an awful lot of telling rather than showing, and frankly it’s almost mis-categorised as a sci-fi film in every aspect other than the visuals.
Still, it has a couple of decent action flurries to keep the interest levels acceptable, while the core of the story is the relationships between the two Adams, which turns out to be just the right side of the wholesome / nauseatingly sentimental line, and the support from Ruffalo and Jennifer Garner as the Adam’s mother is solid enough. Keener and Saldana are rather less well served, but that’s very much a fault of the script, rather than ability.
So, it’s not really a film aimed at me, but even so it passed the time well enough and would seem to be a competent enough production such that it should keep the tweens entertained for the evening. So I suppose it’s a success on these rather mundane grounds, and I’d have had trouble recommending this were it to involve the palaver of a trip to the cinema, but it’s right in that streaming sweet spot in terms of ease of access and competence. It’s not setting the world on fire, but at least it’s providing a slight glow.
Of the many, many, many negative things one could say about Disney, one thing you couldn’t say is that they don’t have their shit together when it comes to the various properties under their control, most particularly the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Their counterparts over at Warner Bros., however, seem to have difficulty finding their arse with both hands, if their efforts at their own rushed, poorly-planned and inconsistently-executed cinematic universe are anything to go by.
But after so many bungled attempts to copy Marvel’s success, it seems they’ve decided to tear everything up and start again, again, with The Batman, starring British actor Robert Pattinson as the Caped Crusader, in a film entirely separate from the Man of Steel and Justice League series. Oh, but they’re still releasing another film next year featuring Batman, you say? Sorry, two Batmen? Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton? In addition to this? Well, that doesn’t sound at all like a mess. How many hands does one need to find one’s own arse, exactly?
Well, for now at least The Batman, directed by Cloverfield and War for the Planet of the Apes helmer, Matt Reeves, is its own thing, and is probably the better for it. We meet The Batman after he has been doing his vigilante thing for about two years, and he’s not yet a household name in Gotham City, though he’s getting there. His relationship with the police is tense, at best, and his only unequivocal ally is Jeffrey Wright’s Lieutenant Gordon.
Gordon brings Batman into the scene of the murder of Gotham’s mayor to aide him, something that doesn’t best please Alex Ferns’ (or, as he will forever be known in this country, Trevor off Eastenders) police commissioner, but it turns out to be fortuitous as the murderer has left a message for Batman, the first in what will turn out to be many clues, or riddles, left beside an increasing number of murder victims, something that will allow, in a way we’ve not seen on film, the “World’s Greatest Detective” to actually detect and that, which is the film’s greatest strength.
Batman’s investigation will see him cross paths with the likes of John Turturro’s Carmine Falcone, Zoë Kravitz’s Selena Kyle and an unrecognisable Colin Farrell as The Penguin, amongst other well-known characters from the comics, as he attempts to solve the crimes and protect Gotham.
The Gotham we are shown here is absolutely the darkest, gloomiest and most desaturated we’ve ever seen, and I hope you like browns, reds and greys, as well as Ave Maria, because that’s pretty much all you’re going to see or hear for three hours. Well, that, and a Batman motif that ought to see composer Michael Giacchino sued by John Williams since it sounds almost exactly like Imperial March, only that it doesn’t resolve, which is ever-so-slightly maddening.
There are no great surprises in how the plot plays out, nor who is responsible for what, but it really is enjoyable to see a greater focus on Batman’s detectivicating (totally a word), and Robert Pattinson is really quite enjoyable to watch in the role. He’s somewhat less successful as Bruce Wayne, coming across far too emo, though he does at least look suitably haggard, and Wayne is quite a small part of this outing.
The supporting cast is pretty solid, Wright and Kravitz in particular, though Paul Dano suffers from having to be a shrieking lunatic much of the time, and his considerable talents feel rather wasted, though that’s not to say that he’s bad, just underused.
What is bad is, of course, the voiceover by Batman, which adds precisely zip, but didn’t irritate me as much as is often the case as I had entirely forgotten about it until I came to write these notes; the Batmobile, which is largely a 1970s US muscle car, and therefore scores high on “believable” but low on “in any way interesting or good”; and the running time which, as I mentioned, is three hours (or exactly one minute shy, if you want to be precise about it).
The excess length really does come at the end as the film has a big third reel problem, and it’s very much outstaying its welcome come the denouement, by which point I had turned into some sort of human sigh machine. It’s a pity, as it took the shine off of a film I had otherwise very much enjoyed, but fortunately not enough to stop me either recommending it nor looking forward to another outing with Pattinson donning the Dark Knight’s cowl. And hopefully by such time someone will have been round the Warner Bros. editing facilities and removed the superglue Zack Snyder presumably put in all the colour and saturation dials.
Pixar’s latest sees us following 13 year old Chinese-Canadian “Mei” Lee, voice by Rosalie Chiang, an energetic, high-achieving kid striving to do her best and to not disappoint her ancestors, be those historical or immediate, namely her mother, Sandra Oh’s Ming Lee, who is part mother, part helicopter, seemingly far too protective of her child.
Some of the rationale for this becomes apparent when one day the little girl turns into something else. Not a woman, necessarily, as the title’s tilt at menstruation hints, but a panda. A giant red panda. uwu.
Whenever strong emotions hit, the women of Mei’s family will turn into an unusually large red panda in order, as her mother later explains, to protect their family, all the way back to their venerated ancestor Sun Yee, and all of a sudden the temple the family maintain to her makes a bit more sense. This process can be stopped, with a ritual performed at the next red moon, a month or so from now.
Mei believes she’s able to control her emotions and goes back to normal school life, and returns to dreaming about making it to the upcoming teen-bop group 4*Town’s concert along with her supportive friend group. If only they could raise some money to afford the tickets, perhaps by exploiting some supernatural gifts. What could go wrong?
Actually, surprisingly little, at least in a strictly physical sense, until her actions cause Mei’s mother to flip her lid, loose her cool and unleash massive red-panda based destruction upon Toronto.
I think you could make a case that the final act panda-kaiju tomfoolery is a bridge too far, a decidedly un-subtle escalation of already established symbolism that doesn’t add all that much to the film apart from giving it a rather more traditional concluding structure, and it was doing well enough with the battles being more internal in nature, destroying emotions rather than stadiums.
But maybe I’m being a grouch, as I’d argue that this is the best thing Pixar’s done since Coco. Not as good, in my opinion, but there’s maybe a bit of personal bias towards the setting of Coco that would swing the other way for the Asian community. At any rate, Turning Red is well worth watching regardless of your ethnicity.
It looks really nice, table stakes for Pixar perhaps, but this is a nice blend of what I might call their house style with a touch of Ghibli influence, and more importantly Mei feels like a believable and relatable character, well, transmogrification aside, and the relationships with her family and friend group similarly feel real. It’s actually one of the very few North American films I seen with a school dynamic that seems relatable, rather than an adaptation of Lord of the Flies.
In short, a lot to like, very little if anything to dislike. It’s the Moviewatch recommendation of the week.
Films and video games have never really gotten on, have they? Nor films and computers. (Incidentally, how can it be that WarGames, from 1983, is still near the top of the list of even vaguely reasonable portrayal of computers on film, at least where they’re an important part of the plot?) So, a film with computers AND video games, and a clean-shaven Ryan Reynolds to boot, could only ever hold pain for me. I suppose, then, I should come to terms with the fact that I’m clearly a masochist, because I can’t work out why else I watched Free Guy, other than that I couldn’t be arsed leaving the house that day to see Uncharted, and apparently films not getting video games was an itch I wanted to scratch.
Rather than being an adaptation of a game, though, Free Guy is set in the world of one, and clearly thinks it’s The Truman Show, but is in fact much more like The Lego Movie mixed with Ready Player One (and worse than either of those). Ryan Reynold’s “Guy” is an NPC, whose days entail getting the same coffee from the same coffee shop, and going to the same job at a bank, a job that mostly entails lying flat on the floor while “heroes” (who are, of course, the human players) rob the place, multiple times per day.
Passed in the street one day by one of these heroes, Jodie Comer’s Millie, his world gets flipped turned upside-down, and suddenly he begins questioning his existence. This is because he’s becoming a real boy, and while there may be no strings on him, there are strings of code in him that are facilitating this, strings of code that happen to prove that the artificial intelligence programme Millie wrote with her partner, Keys (Stranger Things’ Joe Keery) is, indeed, the basis of Free City, the game in which Guy, for want of a better word, lives. As this is specifically against the agreement the two had with Taika Waititi’s games executive, Antwan, when he acquired their IP, she’s a bit pissed, and has been playing Free City regularly in the hope of discovering evidence of it.
The new, free, Guy becomes a sensation in the game, and players and streamers all over the world are wondering who this amazing “Blue Shirt Guy” is, who became incredibly successful in the game through the never-before-tried tactic of “playing the good guy”, one of a number of times the film confuses being smart with being smart-arse. Millie, of course, falls in love with him before realising he’s not even a real person (despite looking like Ryan Reynolds, which I’d have thought was a dead giveaway, and not just a cheap joke). A ticking clock is then put on things because the sequel is being released in two days and the first game will be shut down and also deleted at its launch? I think. So Millie must find a way to save Guy and prove Antwan stole her code, and also stop Antwan, now wise to her plans, from killing Guy. It’s all very stupid, which wouldn’t in itself be entirely awful if the film wasn’t also annoying and boring.
Taika Waititi, whose presence in the film is the only real reason I watched Free Guy, is absolutely squandered. He’s not funny, his character’s not clever or insightful (at least the film’s consistent, I guess): he’s just a petulant man-child who doesn’t want to be found out for having nicked someone else’s work. Nominally he’s the villain, but he’s pretty milquetoast, especially when you compare him to actual video games executives, whether it’s rapist-protecting, rapist-enrichening scumbags like Ubisoft’s Yves Guillemot, cold-eyed sociopaths like Activision Blizzard’s Bobby Kotick, super-creepy bastards like Gearbox’s Randy Pitchford or the crunch-glorifying people atop Rockstar Games, makers of Grand Theft Auto, the games Free City is most clearly based on. I’m not saying that this vapid film is necessarily the place to have a go at any of those, but when you compare the character to real world examples he’s pretty much a non-entity. It’s almost like they didn’t even try.
And that’s it – they didn’t try. Free Guy feels like a quick cash grab and not something anyone had any passion or fondness for, relying as it does on fan service and references. “Oooh, a light saber, I know that!” “Captain America’s shield! Woo! That’s so much better than character or dialogue!”
The game featured in the film, as I’ve mentioned, feels most like an entry into the Grand Theft Auto series, though with particularly garish visuals layered on top, that perhaps call to mind the likes of Fortnite but mostly terrible trash mobile games. It is also, weirdly, small-feeling: GTA is marked out by its vast scale, yet the world of Free City seems to cover perhaps two or three city blocks. Small in vision, small in ambition, ignorant of how pretty much anything, or anyone, works, Free Guy is terrible, boring dreck and, naturally, already has a sequel lined up. I despair.
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