Movie Review: Elvis: The Movie (1979)

There’s a new Elvis film coming very soon. From director Baz Luhrmann and starring Austin Butler as the King of Rock ‘n Roll, with Tom Hanks playing Colonel Tom Parker. Full admittance, I’m not a huge Elvis fan, but my older brother is and so, I grew up with Elvis’ music and films whether I liked it or not. Whilst I’m not a huge Elvis fan, I certainly appreciate him and his work. I’m actually really looking forward to seeing the new Elvis flick too. In the meantime, I thought I’d re-watch the 1979 biopic. A film I’ve not seen since I was a kid and I just wanted to see how it holds up or if it does at all.

The first thing that I do want to cover with this flick is that it was low budget and that it was originally a made for TV movie (though it did see a theatrical and very edited release outside of the US). I mean, this film was made for around $2.5 million which is under $10 million in 2022, that wouldn’t even cover Tom Hanks’ salary in the new film. Still, even with the low budget, Elvis: The Movie is a very worthy effort in telling the life story of The King.

Starting out in 1969 with Elvis (Kurt Russell) waiting to take to the stage in Las Vegas after not performing for a number of years. Elvis begins to doubt that he still has it, worried that he will be a disappointment. The film then cuts to Tupelo, Mississippi in 1945 where we see young Elvis talking to his dead twin and getting a guitar for Christmas (it was actually on his birthday in real life). Beaten up by a local bully, young Elvis decides that he wants to do something with his life and get out of Mississippi. Singing and playing the guitar is what he loves to do, so that’s what he’ll do.

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From then on, the film follows Elvis at various moments throughout his life and career. His rise from a poor country bumpkin to a global megastar. With scenes featuring teenage Elvis at school being picked on because of his hair, his first recording sessions at Sun Records and his friendship with Red West (Robert Gray). Some of Elvis’ acting roles, his close relationship with and the death of his mother Gladys (Shelley Winters), signing up for the army, meeting and marrying Priscilla (Season Hubley) and ending in 1970 with Elvis’ triumphant return to the limelight after several years of not performing. So it doesn’t cover the last few years of his life before his death in 1977.

What you have here with Elvis is a very ‘by the numbers’ biopic that really doesn’t take any chances. It never delves into any of Elvis’ darker moments and even I, being someone who isn’t a big fan, knows that he wasn’t a saint. Yet that is pretty much how this film portrays him, as the golden child who never did anything wrong. It really isn’t a very deep film at all. Bearing in mind that Elvis died in August of 1977, this film went into production less than a year later and was filmed in mid to late 78, to be released in early 79. Perhaps there was a little hesitance on the filmmaker’s part as to not upset the still grieving fanbase and the Elvis Presley estate at the time by exploring some of his darker moments? This often feels like a collection of Elvis’ ‘greatest hits’ put to film over an accurate retelling of the man’s life.

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Yet, even with this flick being very ‘safe’, it is still a really good and enjoyable watch. Kurt Russell is absolutely amazing as Elvis. To this day, the best performance as The King ever seen on the big or small screen. Obviously, I’ve not seen the new film yet so that could change in a few weeks. Still, Russell really is brilliant. He has the mannerisms down perfect, the voice and that Elvis swagger. The fact that Kurt Russell kind of looks like Elvis really helps too. Now, Russell didn’t do any of the singing, he just lip-synched to recordings made by Ronnie McDowell, which are really damn good. Close your eyes not knowing that you are listening to an Elvis impersonator and I think that even the biggest Elvis fans could be fooled.

The rest of the cast do really well too. Shelley Winters as Elvis’ mother is wonderful and the chemistry between her and Kurt Russell really does come across well on screen. Playing the part of Elvis’ father, Vernon, is Bing Russell… yup, Kurt Russell’s real father. So obviously their chemistry is perfect, a father and son playing a father and son. Pat Hingle plays Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker and this is what I mean about this film being very ‘safe’ because there is none of Parker’s shady life in this film at all. Again, I’m not a huge Elvis fan, but I’ve heard the stories of how Colonel Tom Parker exploited Elvis and perhaps mismanaged and pushed him too far. Of course, Parker was the man who took Elvis from small-time performer in Tupelo, Mississippi and turned him into a global phenomenon but he was still a bit ‘dodgy’ as a person and there’s none of that in this film.

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The rest of the cast do their bit as the friends of Elvis with Robert Gray paying Red West, Elvis’ closest friend and he does a fine job. Season Hubley as Priscilla Presley is good too, even if she doesn’t come into the film until about halfway through and really isn’t used as much as perhaps she should’ve been. Elvis was directed by the legend that is John Carpenter. Now famed for his sci-fi and horror films. In fact, Carpenter landed this job after directing the classic horror film, Halloween. This was also the first time that John Carpenter and Kurt Russell worked together. This sparked a long, fruitful friendship and collaborative working relationship between the two.

For a low budget TV movie that this is, it is certainly far better than you’d expect it to be though. Really great performances throughout and even if the film never really gets very deep or delves into some of the more ‘personal’ aspects of the whole Elvis and Colonel Tom Parker relationship, it is still very much worth seeking out for a watch. Oh yeah, try to find the full version too. As I said earlier, this film was edited for its release outside of the US. I remember a cut of the film that starts just before the death of Gladys Presley. This version cuts out everything before her death too, Elvis growing up, going to school, his first song recording, and the wonderful chemistry between Kurt Russell and Shelley Winters, it’s all gone. It pretty much cuts out half of the film. In fact, this is the cut of the film I remember watching as a kid and it comes in with around an hour and a half runtime. There is another 2 hour cut too however, the full version is actually just under 3 hours and it was only when writing this review that I found the full version to watch for the first time.

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This flick also missed a fantastic opportunity to do a wonderful in-joke. See, Kurt Russell’s first-ever movie acting role was actually with Elvis. It was in the film, It Happened at the World’s Fair from 1963. A then 12-year-old Kurt Russell had to kick Elvis in the shin.

They meet again later in the film and young Russell kicks Elvis in the shin again. There are scenes in this Elvis biopic that have Kurt Russell playing Elvis acting in films. Why they didn’t recreate this scene with Russell playing Elvis and some kid playing Russell kicking him as Elvis, I have no idea. It would’ve been amazing. Apparently, the two got on well on the film set too and would often throw a baseball between each other as they waited between scenes to be filmed. This isn’t Kurt Russell’s only connection to Elvis either. Aside from kicking The King in the shin (twice) and playing him in this film, Russell also played an Elvis impersonator in 3000 Miles to Graceland. A film where Russell’s character is suggested as being Elvis’ illegitimate son, he also sings Such A Night as Elvis during the credits. Kurt Russell voiced Elvis in Forrest Gump too, which starred Tom Hanks, who plays Colonel Tom Parker in the new Elvis flick.

Okay, so a bit more trivia before I end this one. Kurt Russell met with the real Vernon Presley at Graceland while making this film. Vernon was a big supporter of the flick and offered to help out in any way he could. Vernon Presley actually wanted Kurt Russell to wear some of Elvis’ real clothing for the film. Russell picked out the iconic Adonis white jumpsuit. Now, there is a slight anachronistic error here as that jumpsuit was made in 1972 and this film ends in 1970. So in reality, the suit didn’t exist when it is shown in the film. Still, that is Kurt Russell wearing Elvis’ actual famed jumpsuit on the poster for the film and in the film itself.

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But yeah, Elvis: The Movie may not be perfect, it may ignore some of the more questionable aspects of Elvis’ life, his relationship with Colonel Tom Parker and so on and it may come across as being a bit too ‘safe’ as to not want to upset the fanbase/Elvis estate. But still, this is a really good film. Kurt Russell is amazing in the lead role and he is supported by some great actors too. Watch the full and uncut 3-hour version though as it really is the best version of the film out there.

Movie Review: Everything Everywhere All At Once

The multiverse, a wonderful concept that can lead to an inexhaustible infinity of ideas. There could be between one other and an infinite number of universes, other than this one, where there is another version of you leading a different life. Maybe in this universe you clean toilets for a living but in another, you are a world-famous movie star, a scientist who discovered the cure for all known cancers, an honest politician… or just a slightly different version of you wearing a hat while cleaning toilets for a living. The multiverse is an endless well to pull ideas from.

Marvel have been exploring the multiverse with their films, most recently with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. A film that I felt was very okay and that was mainly down to the fact it was directed by Sam Raimi. Then there was Spider-Man: No Way Home, a film that used the multiverse to play on fan nostalgia. I really enjoyed this one but I can’t help but feel that enjoyment mainly came from the fact it did feature past Spider-Men and villains already familiar to me. If it had been the same film but with a completely un-nostalgic cast, I honestly don’t think it would’ve had the same impact.

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On the flip side of that point, there is Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. An animated multiverse flick that didn’t have nostalgia to fall back on and did something a bit more ‘out of the box’. I mean, I doubt that you’ll ever see Peter Porker/Spider-Ham in a live-action Spider-Man film. Why am I bringing Marvel/Sony’s attempts at tackling the concept of the multiverse? Well mainly to show how the same idea can be handled in very different ways. With the MCU, they don’t really seem to be using the idea of a multiverse all that well, it feels very ‘safe’ and ‘fan-service’ like. However, Sony’s effort with the animated film allowed the filmmakers to be a bit more experimental and push the concept of a multiverse a bit further to make a much more interesting film.

And this brings me to Everything Everywhere All at Once, a film about Evelyn and Waymond Wang, a middle-aged married couple who own a laundrette and who are being audited by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Yup, in terms of multiverse films, laundrette ownership and tax audits are not exactly high concept ideas. And yet…

“When an interdimensional rupture unravels reality, an unlikely hero must channel her newfound powers to fight bizarre and bewildering dangers from the multiverse as the fate of the world hangs in the balance.”

Written and directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as Daniels. These guys have a bit of a penchant for the ridiculous. See 2016’s Swiss Army Man as proof. A film that features a man stuck on an island, and who uses a dead body with severe flatulence as a jet ski to travel the seas. The dead body has a multitude of other uses too, hence the title. So yeah, that’s the level of absurdity we are dealing with here. If you can’t get on board with the idea of a dead Daniel Radcliffe’s erection being used as a compass in Swiss Army Man, then Everything Everywhere All at Once will most definitely have you screaming ‘what the fuck!?’.

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Starring the absolutely awesome Michelle Yeoh, who I have adored for years now, and Ke Huy Quan… or Short Round from Indiana Jones, as he will always be known. Yeoh and Quan play the aforementioned married couple Evelyn and Waymond Wang, running a launderette. As they are being audited by Deirdre Beaubeirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis) an IRS official, Evelyn learns that she is part of something much bigger than washing people’s undercrackers. An evil ‘verse jumper’ called Jobu Tupaki is threatening the destroy the entirety of the multiverse and Evelyn must connect with multiple parallel universe versions of herself (that she created by making different decisions in her life) to stop that from happening. Oh and don’t worry, I’m not doing spoilers here, so this is safe to read.

What kind of a genre is Everything Everywhere All at Once? Well, it’s kind of everything, everywhere and all at once really. It’s a martial arts, black comedy, romance, action, fantasy, family drama, animation, sci-fi… a discussion between rocks about the existence of the universe, a film about bagels and so much more. This film is just utter bat-shit crazy and the title really does sum everything up nicely. Split into three parts the Everything, the Everywhere and the All at Once that the title suggests. We follow Evelyn Wang as she learns that she has to stop the pretty major concern of the end of the multiverse and destruction of all life everywhere, ever in every possible reality. In terms of threat, this is a pretty big one.

Evelyn pulls skills and talents from the many other versions of herself to help defeat the evil… and that is all I’m going to say.

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The film shows many different universes and some of them are really quite sane, such as the self-referential one where Evelyn, played by Michelle Yeoh, a martial arts movie star in our reality, becomes a martial arts movie star in the reality of the film. To the not quite as sane universes, such as one where everybody has hotdogs for fingers… because? There is even a part of the film that becomes a deep discussion between two rocks about how and why the universes and life exists… all done in complete silence and via text-based dialogue. Yup, that is the kind of craziness that Everything Everywhere All at Once throws at you. I mean, it does feature butt plug kung fu…

And yet, in all of that insanity, there is a real human story here about acceptance and family values, especially within Chinese culture that is highlit by the fractured relationship between Evelyn and her daughter (Stephanie Hsu). Really, nothing here should work because none of it makes any logical sense. And yet, it is the utter nonsense of it all that ends up making the most sense. Obviously, I am avoiding spoilers here so can’t really get into the details of what happens to who and how. But the basics of an evil possibly destroying the multiverse really is the gateway to a much deeper and engrossing plot about family.

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The various universes that we get to see, from the perfectly sane to the utterly ludicrous, are wonderfully realised and a joy to experience. There’s a lot of circular symbolism (washing machine doors, googly eyes, scribbles on IRS receipts and more) that is seemingly pointless at first but it all becomes clear towards the end of the film. Everything Everywhere All at Once is crammed with loads of little touches that you may miss the first time around but pick up on with subsequent viewings. As I write this review right now, I have watched the film three times in two days and I’m still picking things up that I previously missed. I have only just noticed how, when Evelyn first experiences the multiverse and the screen fractures, so do the subtitles that we the viewer read. from tiny little details, to much bigger ones are littered all through the film and you’ll need a keen eye to not just see them but also understand the point.

As basic as the good guy (or gal in this case) has to stop the naughty evil plot is, there is so much more going on in this film that is subtext and leads to a much deeper piece of storytelling all round. I have been trying to summarise exactly what watching Everything Everywhere All at Once felt like and I think I may have it. Watching this took me back to the first time I watched The Matrix. Both films have that stylised action look to them and both have a lot more depth and meaning behind them too. Both have that ‘WTF’ aspect to them, even if for entirely different reasons. Both films have a duo of filmmakers at the helm with a vision that is so non-Hollywood that it stands out in its own right. I don’t think I’ve seen a film that has challenged and entertained me in the way that Everything Everywhere All at Once has since I watched The Matrix 23 years ago.

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The cast is wonderful too. I have loved Michelle Yeoh ever since seeing her in Jackie Chan’s Police Story 3: Supercop back in 1992. Speaking of which, this film was actually originally written specifically for Jackie Chan. However, the Daniels decided to change the lead to a female, I think this would’ve been a great film for Chan to do too but Yeoh is outstanding. From the action scenes to the more grounded in reality/family drama stuff or even when this film goes full-on absurd hotdog fingers mode, Michelle Yeoh is perfect. It really is great to see Ke Huy Quan (Short Round from Indiana Jones) doing something with some real meaning too. He’s not the kid with the cute voice anymore and depending on which version of Waymond he is playing. The dowdy and useless one from the ‘normal’ universe or the kick-ass and exposition spouting version from the Alphaverse, he’s on point.

Jamie Lee Curtis as the IRS official is really more of a supporting character but don’t worry, she also gets pretty involved in the more bizarre aspects of the film… as well as some doing some ass-kicking of her own. Seeing Jamie Lee Curtis do some martial arts and pro wrestling moves could be the greatest thing you’ll see this year. Even James Hong is in this and if you are a big Chinese/American film fan then you should know who this legend is. I mean, Lo Pan from Big Trouble in Little China… ’nuff said.

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Everything Everywhere All at Once is beautifully shot too with some great use of cinematography to allude to certain aspects of the plot that are very subtle. I only just noticed, on my third viewing, that the aspect ratio of the film changes as it progresses. It becomes more wide-screen as Evelyn sees and understands more of what is going on, clever. The action is captured brilliantly and clearly. Funny nods and references to things in our universe that are different from the universes shown in this film (the Ratatouille bit was great). A madcap hodgepodge of film genres, filming styles and story threads. But like a patchwork quilt, everything is stitched together to make a final product that works as a wonderful sum of its parts.

In terms of multiverse films that I have seen recently, Everything Everywhere All at Once blows all of them out of the water… and on a much smaller budget too. Proving that money doesn’t always buy the best of everything. Jamie Lee Curtis even took to Instagram to declare that this film “out marvels any Marvel movie they put out there”… one in particular. She’s not wrong either. As pissed off as a lot of Marvel fans were over her comment, that is exactly how much better this film is as an exploration of a multiverse concept and as an overall film. Around $200 million is what Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness cost to make, this film? $25 million. An eighth of the budget and yet, infinitely better in every possible way.

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Now, I know that Everything Everywhere All at Once is not going to be for everyone because it is so ‘out there’. Yet as crazy as this film can be and does get in places, under all of that chaos is still a very grounded story about family relationships and human needs, mothers vs daughters, husbands vs wives, aspirations vs disappointments. There is a lot to take in here and as I said earlier, subsequent viewings can reveal details that you may have missed first time around. Like The Matrix, this film can be viewed on a multitude of levels. You want to just watch some well shot and pretty awesome action? This flick has that. You want a film with scenes that would make the Monty Python Colonel character appear and say “stop that, it’s silly” over the nonsense? Check. You want a movie about relationships and love? That’s here too.

A few days ago I watched Top Gun: Maverick and I thought it was the best film I had seen this year. A very worthy sequel to a classic 80s flick that is adored by many. Then I watched Everything Everywhere All at Once afterwards and suddenly, Top Gun: Maverick seems so ‘underwhelming’… but still amazing in its own right. Everything Everywhere All at Once is what cinema should be about more often. Ballsy filmmakers taking chances with smaller budgets to deliver refreshing pieces of unique art… no matter how absurd they may get. Proof that you don’t need a $200 million budget to make a deep and engrossing film… with a scene that features two rocks discussing the existence of life in utter silence.

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Movie Review: Top Gun: Maverick

1986’s Top Gun is one of the quintessential movies of that decade. How many times have I watched the first film? I have no idea but it’s a lot. Top Gun was one of my ‘growing up’ films. It was very quotable, it had a naked Kelly McGillis sex scene… and overt homoeroticism with half-naked sweaty men playing beach volleyball, while Kenny Loggins sang about Playing With The Boys. Oh, it also had some pretty great fighter jet action scenes and stuff too.

Really, all Top Gun was, was a romance flick with jet fighters. It was a film with a very simple premise but a film that became a modern-day classic. It also made Tom Cruise a huge star and had quite a bit of heart to it. Just mention the name ‘Goose’ to any Top Gun fan and watch their bottom lip quiver. As great as that first film was, it really did feel very stand-alone and no sequel felt necessary. Yet, here we are, a whole 36 years later and Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell is back.

“After more than 30 years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is where he belongs, pushing the envelope as a courageous test pilot and dodging the advancement in rank that would ground him. Training a detachment of graduates for a special assignment, Maverick must confront the ghosts of his past and his deepest fears, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who choose to fly it.”

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Top Gun: Maverick has had a bit of a troubled production. Originally announced back in 2010, Tony Scott, who directed the first film, was on board to return as director here. As he was working on the project, sadly, he committed suicide in 2012. So, the whole thing was put on hold. In early 2018, the project was picked up again with Joseph Kosinski hired as director. Originally set to be released in July of 2019, it was delayed until June 2020 so they could shoot some more scenes. Then the whole covid thing kicked off and more delays came. Set to be released at the end of 2020 instead… only that didn’t happen as covid had a massive domino effect on other big movies and loads of release dates got moved around. Top Gun: Maverick was then set to be released in July 2021. But that didn’t happen either as Tom Cruise became too busy shooting the next Mission Impossible film(s) and would not be available to help promote this one. Eventually, Top Gun: Maverick was given a May 2022 release and it actually made it too.

After the film began production over a decade ago, the sad suicide of its original director and multiple delays that led to a 3-year wait. Was it all worth it, does this sequel work or tarnish the awesomeness of the original? Well, that is what this spoiler-free review is going to tell you.

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As I say, I won’t be doing spoilers here but I do need to quickly go over the basics of the plot. After over 30 years of service, Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell is now working as a test pilot for the U.S. Navy. Happy with where he is, Maverick has purposely dodged promotion to avoid being grounded and stuck behind a desk. After going against Rear Admiral Chester Cain’s (Ed Harris) wishes, Maverick pushes a hypersonic prototype jet to its limits, which results in destroying the very expensive jet. Instead of punishing Maverick by grounding him, Admiral Cain sends him back to the United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program (AKA Top Gun), where he was trained himself in the first film, to train a new group of fighter pilots for a mission.

What Top Gun: Maverick is, in essence, is yet another one of those ‘legacy sequels’. You know the kind of film by now as we have already had a few recently. A sequel to a film with a huge, many years gap between them that brings old characters back to teach the new blood how to do things. Ghostbusters: Afterlife and the new Scream come to mind as I write this. A sequel film that is very heavy on the nostalgia of the original while trying to inject some modern ethics into a dated franchise. These kinds of films can really be hit and miss. It’s great to see some much-loved characters back but they often feel out of place now.

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As with other legacy sequels, Top Gun: Maverick really does slap you hard with the nostalgia. There are parts of this film where I was questioning if this was a sequel or a thinly veiled remake. Do you want a scene in a bar where the hotshot pilots ridicule their teacher, unbeknownst to them that the person is their teacher? Do you want a follow-up scene where those same hotshot pilots have a ‘damn’ moment when Maverick is revealed to be their new teacher at Top Gun? Do you want a scene with people singing Great Balls of Fire around a piano? Do you want a scene on a beach with some half-naked sports? Do you want more Kenny Loggins? This film has all of that and more. To put this in a most basic description, Tom Cruise in this film is playing the Kelly McGillis character from the first film.

As I said, that is putting this film into basics as there is a lot more going on here. One of the new characters is Bradley ‘Rooster’ Bradshaw (Miles Teller) who is the son of Goose from the first film (both even have moustaches) and the relationship between Maverick and Rooster is not the best. So you have your conflict angle there. The other characters are filled out with some carbon copies of characters from the first film too.

The only two returning characters from Top Gun are Maverick and Iceman (Val Kilmer). Now, Kilmer has been suffering from throat cancer and can’t talk, I mean in real life, not this fiilm. So there was serious doubt that he would be in the film, but he is. And without going into spoilers, the scene that he and Cruise share together is perhaps the best of the entire film. It’s not about flying jets, no action or anything. Just two old friends talking and it really does pack a hell of a punch. The chemistry between the two is wonderful to see. And even though we’ve not seen anything of their relationship over the last 30-odd years, you still get a sense that these guys are close.

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The obligatory love interest for Maverick is Penelope Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly). Now, if you are a die-hard Top Gun fan, then that name may sound familiar. Penelope wasn’t in the first film but the name was mentioned. She was the girl that is referenced several times, the admiral’s daughter that Maverick has a few ‘high-speed passes’ with.

But outside of all the references and nostalgia for the first film, Top Gun: Maverick really does hold its own. The action scenes are brilliantly shot as Tom Cruise (a producer on the film) demanded that no CGI should be used and all the action be real. Real jets flying in real locations getting involved in real (scripted) conflict. It looks amazing too. As good as CGI can be at times, it really can not compete with the real thing. I’m sure some CGI was used to enhance the scenes but the jets themselves were real. The cast actually had to sit in real cockpits in real jets and were flown by real pilots to get all of the close-up shots. This film is far better for it too and the action here is really well done as it looks and feels very authentic.

The directing by Joseph Kosinski is top-notch too. This is one of the films that doesn’t feel like a scene is wasted, as if it is just there for ‘reasons’. Even the half-naked sports on a beach scene feels like it should be part of the film. Whereas, with the first film, you really do question what the point was. There is drama, emotion,  action and a bit of romance along the way. The whole thing really does feel very Top Gun. I’m not exactly a huge fan of Tom Cruise, I find him okay at best. But when he gets it right, he can be amazing. Here though, I absolutely loved him. His Maverick is older and a little wiser here, but he still has that cocky arrogance and charm that was there with the character in the first film. It may be 36 years later but quite honestly, this feels like it could’ve been made a couple of years after the original.

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Top Gun: Maverick is brilliant. I really wasn’t expecting it to be at all though. As a big fan of the original and being very wary of legacy sequels like this, I was ready to roll my eyes in disappointment. However, by the time the end credits were doing their thing, I had a massive grin on my face. This isn’t just a sequel to a classic film, this is a very worthy sequel to a classic film. Dare I say it, even better than the first film… yes I do dare. The nostalgia is there and even with a lot of remade scenes, it never felt out of place. There is a bit in the last act of the film with a none-too-subtle ‘I may be old but I can still, do what I do’ analogy and even this made sense within the film itself. With a slightly over 2 hour runtime that just flew by (no pun), I recommend that you get this watched ASAP. Was it worth the three decade and several delays wait? Oh yeah.

Movie Review: Scream

I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Scream franchise. The first film did feel fresh and slightly unique at the time. Though personally speaking, I’ve always felt that Wes Craven did the whole self-referential, meta-horror film thing far better a couple of years earlier with New Nightmare.

Anyway, I did enjoy the first Scream and it reinvigorated the dying slasher sub-genre by poking a very self-referential finger at it. Watching the first film now, it feels very cliché but at the time, it really was quite a revelation to the horror genre. Scream 2 decided to take on the topic of sequels with its meta writing. Scream 3 tackled the horror trilogy, while Scream 4 poked fun at horror remakes. The first film really was quite brilliant, the first sequel was okay but the concept was already beginning to feel stale. The third and fourth films, which I have seen, I couldn’t tell you a thing about them as they were so unforgettable and tired.

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Now twenty-six years after that first iconic movie comes Scream 5… or just Scream as it is titled. My dislike for movies that fuck up their titles like this aside, this fifth film also has a horror film subject as it attempts to make light of, the reboot/sequel… or requel as the kids say these days.

Okay, so I’m not doing spoilers here, so this is safe to read if you have not yet seen Scream… the fifth film, not the original film.

Scream wastes no time in getting to the meta writing as it opens up with what is basically a remake of the opening scene from the original film… as seen in the trailer. Let this set the tone for what this film is. A film that very heavily references the first film while trying to be new. Scream falls into the whole legacy sequel thing that is on-trend right now. A sequel to a film from a few decades ago trying to breathe new life into an older franchise.

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This being a Scream film means it can have a bit more fun with that idea thanks to its meta writing. Of course there is a scene where people sit around and talk about requels. Of course there’s a reference to ‘passing the torch’. Of course there is the return of some of the original cast to show the newbies how it’s done. The trouble is, this shit just isn’t fresh anymore, it’s about twenty-six years out of date.

So the basic plot of Scream is that the in-universe film series, called Stab, is floundering now it is at its eighth instalment, stylised as Sta8 (poking fun that Scream 4 was stylised as Scre4m). As the Stab films are (now) very loosely based on the events derived from the first film and are not very good, as they have begun to take severe liberties… like giving the killer a flamethrower. So someone decides to restart the famed Ghostface killings and teens begin to turn up dead so that perhaps the Stab films will have something new and realistic to be based on. Dewey has become a recluse after his divorce from Gale but the teens convince him to look into Ghostface attacks. Dewey gets in contact with both Sidney and Gale and the trio turn up to sort things out.

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That is your basic plot, though there are a few more spoilery details that I’m skipping over. How best to sum up Scream? It’s a Scream sequel… that’s about it. The film isn’t terribly awful but it doesn’t really do anything you haven’t already seen before… especially if you have watched the Scream sequels before it. David Arquette’s Dewey is by far the best character in the franchise and it is great to see him back here. It’s also a very different Dewey who has changed following the events of the franchise. He is no longer the goofy Deputy Sheriff of Woodsboro, he’s actually pretty bad-ass here, while being a broken man. Then you have Courteney Cox as Gale Weathers and she is still a bit bitchy if not just a tad softer when she wants to be. Yes, Sidney Prescott is back and played by Neve Campbell and she is fine I guess. But if anyone is the standout here, then that has to be David Arquette.

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The new cast are your typical teens played by people way too old to be playing teens. I don’t even think I could tell you one of the new character’s names off the top of my head because they are so stereotypical and bland. The only name I remember is a character called Wes and that is because I’m pretty sure he is a reference to the series’ original director and master of the horror genre, Wes Craven. Wes isn’t behind the camera for this one as he sadly passed away back in 2015.

Scream has a multitude of references and throwbacks to the first film. There are some subtle and not so subtle returns of some other characters from the original. Plus the fact that this is set in Woodsboro once more, you’ll also get to see some familiar locations. This almost feels like one of those legacy sequels that ignores the franchise’s other sequels… almost. There are returning characters from Scream 4, so the events of the other films most definitely did happen. In this regard, Scream kind of feels like Ghostbusters: Afterlife in how that film heavily referenced the first film but mostly ignored Ghostbusters II… even though Ghostbusters II did happen. Scream just references Scream (see the issue with the title?) more so than the other films in the series and this makes it feel like it is ignoring the other sequels when it isn’t.

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This isn’t a scary film at all but then again, I don’t think the Scream films ever really were. There are quite a few bloody kills but those feel very ‘seen it all before’ as there really is only a handful of ways to kill someone with a knife. People get stabbed in the neck, in the back, in the chest, in the legs. There is nothing imaginative or creative in any of the death scenes (or the fakeouts) at all. The surprises are minimal and you should be able to work out who the killer is before you get to the halfway point, especially if you have seen any of the previous films in the franchise and know all the signs and false signs.

It is the writing of the Scream films where the real attraction lies. The meta humour, nods and references to other horror films, the ‘satirical’ sideways look at the horror genre. Yes, Scream has this in spades but very rarely does it feel like the writing pops in the same way it did in the first, and for most of the second film. The concept of the meta-horror film has been done to death and Scream really doesn’t do anything worthy with it here. For me, the whole meta-horror film idea peaked with Scream 2 and never really got any better.

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There were a few lines and references here that kind of worked but for the most part, it was tiresome and predictable with a lot of recycling tired, old ideas without a sense of irony. Yes, the title of Scream (instead of Scream 5) gets a reference. There is a bit of dialogue calling out ‘toxic fans’ in what felt like a preemptive attempt at shielding against the negative press this film could quite easily amass. Yet, Scream has been getting loads of massively positive press and I can not work out why. The film is okay at best. I loved the first film, the first sequel was pretty damn decent too. After that, they got a bit ‘meh’ and this sequel is very much at that level of quality. Scream is Scream 3 & 4 okay-ish and not Scream 1 & 2 levels of cleverness.

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If you are a die-hard fan of the franchise, you’ll probably get more out of this than I did. I got a very okay film with a concept that just feels outdated now. Scream movies put me in mind of knock-knock jokes. The subject may change but the structure, the delivery and the payoff is always the same. Still, as annoying as the title Scream is for the fifth film, at least they didn’t call it 5cream.

Movie Review: The Matrix Resurrections

Well, it’s finally here. After an eighteen-year gap from The Matrix Revolutions, Mr Anderson is back.. but was it worth the wait? Okay, I’m not doing spoilers here so this is a safe review to read. Still, I would recommend just going into The Matrix Resurrections as blind as possible and avoiding any reviews.

Not only is this film one of those legacy sequels that seem to be all the rage these days. This The Matrix flick also joins the list of brilliant film sequels that uses the ‘resurrection’ subtitle. I mean…

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Surely The Matrix Resurrections can’t be this bad… can it? I often find these legacy sequels follow similar paths, high on the nostalgia and references, while lacking any real substance of its own. The Matrix really did change cinema back when it was released in 1999. Every other film released for a few years had some kind of reference or joke that was The Matrix influenced. Several filmmakers tried to emulate the style of the then Wachowski brothers, see movies like Equilibrium or even the Keanu Reeves starring John Wick trilogy. Films that used sci-fi or action… or both to stylistic effect. If there was one thing that The Matrix oozed, it was style.

Of course, under all of that style was some ‘effing awesome substance too. The Wachowskis created a hell of a world with the first film, a film that got a lot of people theorising, analysing and talking for years, even today. I was lucky enough to see The Matrix on the big screen when it was released. It was a film I knew nothing about, I hadn’t even seen a trailer. It was released at a time when Keanu Reeves’ career was pretty much dead, so nobody really paid it any attention. It was topped off with a lot of unknown or forgotten about actors. Honestly, back in 1999, The Matrix was a massive underdog of a picture that people didn’t expect anything from… especially me. Yet, I came out of that cinema and said that this film would be our generation’s Star Wars. A comment I still stand by and one I feel that became true in many ways. Star Wars had legacy sequels too… ones that (perhaps) didn’t really please the fans of the franchise.

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As for the sequels to The Matrix, they are largely detested. For me, I thought they were fine. hardly as groundbreaking as the original. Yet, since when have sequels ever been better than the original? It happens yeah but it is very, very rare. I thought that The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions were okay films. I don’t outright love the sequels as I do with the first film, nor do I outright hate them like so many fans do. So yeah, I’m kind of going into this film with an open mind. I’m not full of hate that we have another sequel, I’m not exactly full of hope because these legacy sequels (or just sequels in general) rarely turn out great.

Well, it’s time to see just how good or bad The Matrix Resurrections is. Again, I’m not doing spoilers here, other than mentioning things already seen in the trailers, so I can’t really go into depth with the plot here. I’ll just copy & paste a synopsis that I found to cover the basics.

To find out if his reality is a physical or mental construct, Mr. Anderson, aka Neo, will have to choose to follow the white rabbit once more. If he’s learned anything, it’s that choice, while an illusion, is still the only way out of – or into – the Matrix. Neo already knows what he has to do, but what he doesn’t yet know is that the Matrix is stronger, more secure and far more dangerous than ever before.

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Anyway, the first thirty minutes or so of The Matrix Resurrections is full of self-gratification, meta, sucking its own dick, ‘aren’t we clever’, non-stop references to the first three films. All legacy sequels do this, they can never just be their own thing, they have to lay on the nostalgia trip hard and heavy. The Matrix Resurrections does this harder and heavier than most other films if its ilk. I had a few niggles with Ghostbusters: Afterlife for doing the same thing (especially the ending), this film though? It takes that shit to whole new levels of unbelievable forced nostalgia. The Matrix Resurrections feels like it’s trying to be clever… and failing hard. There were times during the first half an hour when I could feel my eyes rolling, as if they had a mind of their own. It really is quite sickening how much ‘look at me, I’m a sequel to a popular film’ that this does do.

From lines of dialogue that are either taken directly from the previous films, lines that are similar but slightly altered to other lines like “Reboots sell” that force what the film is down your throat. Subtle scenes that echo those from the previous films or reference events. Neo eating noodles in a local restaurant, etc. Yup, this film really does its very best to let you know that you are watching a sequel to a massively popular film that has had a good few years gap between. Honestly, I really was getting a bit angry at just how ham-fisted The Matrix Resurrections was being with its blatant callbacks and references.

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After all of that self dick sucking though and when the plot began proper, once they got all of the front end heavy nostalgia crap out of the way… the film seriously kicks up a gear. Not only that, all of that shit in the opening suddenly began to make a lot more sense. This wasn’t forced nostalgia just for the sake of having it, just to keep ramming it down your throat that you are watching a sequel to a film that’s a couple of decades old. What first felt like a film trying to be clever and failing, soon felt like a genuinely clever film. It feels… well I guess it feels very The Matrix. The opening thirty to forty minutes began to feel like it was making fun of legacy sequels that do the nostalgia trip thing. It got most of that crap out of the way in the opening so it could get into the main story proper, all while still having some importance on the actual plot too.

The think the best way to describe The Matrix Resurrections, without going into deep spoilers, is by linking to this officially released trailer. That way, you can choose to click on it and reveal more about the plot of the film, still without spoilers. But there is just enough there to get the theme and concept of just WTF is going on, still using what is known about the universe that the films take place in.

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How and why both Neo and Trinity are brought back (they were most definitely dead at the end of The Matrix Revolutions) makes sense within the universe that these films exist. Are they even the original characters, are they some kind of program, are they real? That’s the beauty of The Matrix as a franchise, it is pretty much limitless and with some thought behind the writing, you can really do anything. What Lana Wachowski has created here is pretty damn impressive given the legacy these films have created. There have even been questions of whether The Matrix Resurrections is a sequel at all. If you have seen the trailers, then you’ll know there’s a lot of reusing certain shots, effects and iconography that makes this feel like it is some kind of a remake… I can’t really get into that without spoiling the plot. All I can tell you is that this film has a lot more depth than it first appears to.

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Of course, you have stylised action. There are mass shootouts, “I still know kung-fu” fight scenes, vehicle chases and so on. In this regard, The Matrix Resurrections does very well indeed. It’ll never be as groundbreaking as the first film was, you just can’t capture lightning in a bottle twice. Still, the action here is very well done and while hardy original anymore. still manages to impress. There’s a scene that involves an interesting new look at bullet-time which is also used to deliver a hell of a lot of exposition too. A kind of a slow, race against time action scene that is packed with urgency… just presented in a very slow way. It’s certainly an interesting twist on what we have seen before. As the trailers show, there’s new Morpheus. Once it is explained why, it makes perfect sense. There are several returning characters from the previous films some very much expected, some genuine surprises.

There really is a lot here to talk about, I just can’t as I’m not doing spoilers. I think this is a film that’ll need more than one viewing to get the most out of it too. Not because The Matrix Resurrections is confusing or anything, it’s really not. If you could follow the first film, you can follow this. The multiple viewings will really be because there’s a lot of little details here, a lot of nuances that need your full attention and I’m pretty sure there are things I missed when I watched.

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I went into this film, not dismayed but definitely weary and unsure if I should even bother with it. By the time the end credits rolled, I was pretty damn happy. The Matrix Resurrections takes what we already know about the world and updates it for a more modern era. Some great action, balanced out with more character-driven and story elements. Not as amazing as the original but a very worthy sequel in its own right. It does sequel-bait at the end and there’s a very pointless ‘comical’ end credits scene that you really don’t need to see. But yeah, I say give this one a view.