[Early Review] Mortal Engines (2018)

Director: Christian Rivers

Cast: Hera Hillmar, Hugo Weaving, Jihae, Robert Sheehan, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Lang

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson

128 mins. Rated PG-13 for sequences of futuristic violence and action.

 

So if you look back at my Most Anticipated Films of 2018 List, you will find that the final spot on that list was given to Mortal Engines, an adaptation of the novel by Philip Reeve and the first of a series of stories. I saw the teaser trailer at an opening night screening of The Last Jedi, and I didn’t know what to think initially. It was a crazy few moments of giant city-like machines chasing each other. I’d never read the books and had no context to place the film other than the name Peter Jackson. That was enough for me.

Mortal Engines follows Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan, Bad Samaritan, TV’s Love/Hate), an apprentice historian from the giant “predator” city of London. Tom once dreamt of more with his life before the death of his parents, but now he resides in pillaging through the garbage of cities London has ingested. Now, when a mysterious woman makes her way into London and attempts to kill Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Hacksaw Ridge), Tom finds himself embroiled in their feud as he learns a horrible secret from the woman, Hester Shaw (Hera Hillmar, Anna Karenina, An Ordinary Man), that changes his view on everything. Now, he and Hester are searching for a way to stop Valentine from unearthing a great weapon while being endlessly pursued by a Stalker from Hester’s past named Shrike (Stephen Lang, Avatar, TV’s Into the Badlands).

The greatest strength of Mortal Engines comes down to its world-building. This is a fully realized environment, one that I really enjoyed spending time in. This of course comes from Philip Reeve’s source material, aided by the powerhouse writing team of Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Peter Jackson (King Kong, The Lovely Bones). I craved more information and wanted more time to be spent here in this world.

Though the world itself is really well built, it is inhabited by flimsy characters. I didn’t really get any of Valentine’s motives for his actions in the film, both in flashbacks and present. I didn’t really feel like any of the characters were likable enough to connect to or interesting enough to keep myself invested. They are people just kind of doing things for two hours.

There was so much more I wanted from this film. I feel like the biggest mistake was keeping such a short prologue at the beginning to set up the story. There is a voice recounting the Sixty-Minute War in shockingly lack of detail that it doesn’t really serve its purpose. An effective prologue can work wonders as we’ve seen previously with The Lord of the Rings films, written by the same writing team. I wanted to have the Shrike and the Stalkers set up more. I wanted to have the predator cities and the static settlements explained more to just get things going. It would have taken the great world-building and used it as a tool to drive story and develop character.

I think the lack of character depth comes from a very fresh and new director in Christian Rivers (Minutes Past Midnight) and a lot of new talent that hasn’t been tested in this large of an arena yet. I think Rivers has an excellent knack for capturing visuals (his film background up until now would show that), but I don’t think he pressed hard on character and performance. Hillmar and Sheehan have virtually no chemistry in the film and not a lot of depth. They perform as well as they can but they never develop that chemistry piece that is either miscasting or lack of time spent on directing performance.

Mortal Engines is capably enough put together to the point I would want to see a franchise continue based on the other books. The film is bursting at the seams with ambition. There is a world here that looks gorgeous on film and I want to spend more time in it, but there are problems in this film. It is far too rushed, it needs character direction, and it lacks enough power in its story. I thought the film was just okay, and I wanted to love it, but I was entranced enough by its strengths that I still want to see more.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of the anthology Minutes Past Midnight, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Kyle’s Top Ten Films of 2016

 

Hey folks, sorry this is coming in a bit late but I’ve not been feeling well and it’s given me the opportunity to catch some of the films I’d missed in 2016 and I wanted to see as much as I could before delivering this list to you.

Just a couple notes before we get into all this:

  • These are my personal top ten films of the year from the many I have seen. Not all of them are Oscar-y in nature because I still haven’t gotten the chance to see a lot of the late releases of the year. On that note…
  • I haven’t seen all the movies released in 2016. If you read this list and find that something is missing, let me know, drop a comment, and I’ll get to it.
  • This is a tentative listing of the films. I tend to do a final ranking after the Academy Awards every year, but enjoy what I have so far.
  • Lastly, this isn’t a ranking of my best reviewed films of the year. These are the films that, to me, were exactly what they were supposed to be. SO here we go…

I present to you, my Top Ten Films of 2016.

 

10cloverfieldlane2016d

  1. 10 Cloverfield Lane

-When the trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane dropped just weeks before it’s theatrical release, it blew me away. How was this film connected to Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield? What’s John Goodman doing in this? Why isn’t it found-footage? After seeing the film, I still don’t really have answers, but one thing I do know is that 10 Cloverfield Lane was one of the most tense and shocking thrillers in recent memory. Carried by strong performances from its leads and the standout chilling work from Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane does a lot with a little, adding to this unique franchise and making me look forward to God Particle, the next film in the Clover-verse coming later this year.

 

captainamericacivilwar2016a

  1. Captain America: Civil War

-This is the kind of film that shouldn’t work. A big budget superhero blockbuster based around themes that are so important today. With the cast of somewhere 124 leads comes a showdown between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark over the damage that superheroes do just to save lives. It is full of rich fully-realized character development and action scenes so insanely busy but perfectly captured that it seems an impossible feat and yet, the Russo brothers made one of the best superhero movies of all time with the odds so dangerously stacked against them.

 

rogueoneastarwarsstory2016a

  1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

-When Disney purchased the Lucasfilm brand and immediately started work on a new Star Wars film, I was hesitant, but here we are with the second film released since the acquisition, and it is even more impressive than The Force Awakens. How director Gareth Edwards wrote a love letter to the Star Wars saga and turned it into one of the best films in the entire series is beyond me. Rogue One seamlessly blends with A New Hope and creates such an amazing story out of one paragraph of the opening crawl from the original movie. Great work from Ben Mendelsohn, Felicity Jones, and Alan Tudyk carry this incredible story that is really for the fans who have been there since the very beginning, Rogue One is much more than just a Thank You.

 

huntforthewilderpeople2016a

  1. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

-I actually came across this film because it was a 99 cent rental on Amazon, and I’m so thankful I did. Hunt for the Wilderpeople didn’t really get me with its trailers, I probably would’ve passed it by, but since I have now seen it, all I can say is, why haven’t you? This was a gorgeously shot and humorously-injected coming-of-age story with the two most unlikely heroes this year. The story of Ricky Baker, a foul-mouthed troublemaker, and his “Uncle” Hector as they get lost and get wild in the Bush of New Zealand is fun and heartwarming. The two are hunted by authorities after Hector is seen as possibly unfit to raise Ricky. The movie is equal parts fun and touching. See it.

 

greenroom2015a

  1. Green Room

-I was blessed to be able to see Green Room before its initial release and I was blown away by the visceral survival thriller featuring the late Anton Yelchin. My skin crawled and I leapt out of my chair more than once in the painfully captivating tale of a rock band attempting to escape a Neo-Nazi bar after witnessing a murder. Green Room isn’t a film for anyone (and I don’t say that often, but this is often very difficult to watch) but it’s also one of the most fun experiences I had in a theater all year.

 

theconjuring22016e

  1. The Conjuring 2

-Another shockingly great movie from 2016 was the hotly-anticipated sequel to the classified horror classic from 2013, The Conjuring. Director James Wan returned to helm the sequel which hopped across the pond to Enfield to see Ed and Lorraine Warren face their most difficult case to date. This movie is a rare horror film with as much heart as horrors, and I was absolutely floored by both the creepy and inventive techniques behind the camera and also the emotionally-charged beats in front of it. For me, this is the rare horror sequel that actually surpasses the original.

 

kuboandthetwostrings2016b

  1. Kubo and the Two Strings

-Why? Why haven’t you seen this film? Kubo and the Two Strings, the newest film from Laika, virtually disappeared from theaters after kind of dudding upon release. It’s tragic, as the film is their best stop-motion film to date. An animated film that is just as much for adults as for children, Kubo and the Two Strings takes on strikingly adult subject matter in this beautifully crafted journey of a boy’s journey to defeat the terrifying Moon King using his magical shamisen. Influences from classic Kurosawa and spaghetti westerns infused with intelligent characters are what makes Kubo and the Two Strings an instant classic.

 

dontbreathe2016a

  1. Don’t Breathe

-Wow, I did not see this coming. Don’t Breathe, from director Fede Alvarez, is another exemplary horror film from a terrific year for the genre.  In it, three thieves break into a blind war vet’s home to claim his fortune for themselves when they discover their victim has skills and secrets that none of them expected, and they may not survive the heist. Don’t Breathe played a surrealist approach to the escape room subgenre in a different way that Green Room did earlier in the year. Instead, it made us fear for our antiheroes and dread the terrifying Blind Man, played excellently by Stephen Lang. Don’t Breathe is visually stunning as well relentlessly disturbing, and it’s a must-see for fans of the genre.

 

arrival2016a

  1. Arrival

Arrival is just proof that Denis Villeneuve can do whatever he damn well pleases. You want a sequel to Blade Runner? Sure, whatever you want! After Prisoners and Sicario and Enemy, to hit it out of the park yet again with Arrival is almost unprecedented. Villeneuve is quickly becoming a household name, even if most Americans butcher the pronunciation. Arrival, starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, accomplishes the rare task of being a genre film that isn’t really about aliens. Sure, that’s been said a lot, and if you’ve seen the film, you know what I mean. But in all fairness, it’s just really nice to see a complex and interesting story that isn’t dumbed down to suit audiences.

 

theniceguys2016b

  1. The Nice Guys

-Another sad bomb from this past year, I saw The Nice Guys while waiting to board my plane leaving Hawaii. I had just gotten engaged, so you might play off my enjoyment with the film to that, but I revisited the film a few times since then, and I love it more and more each time. A sendup to 70s cinema and hard-boiled detective stories as well the classic buddy-cop subgenre that director Shane Black continues to wring perfection from (I’m talking to you Lethal Weapon), The Nice Guys is just a perfect damn movie that excites and entertains and makes the unlovable people the most fun to spend time with.

 

Honorable Mentions: Swiss Army Man, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and Deadpool.

 

Well, there you have it. These are my favorite films of the year. I’m excited for #2017oscardeathrace to begin, and I may see a few favorites get knocked off, but overall, 2016 was a great year for movies, just not a great year for most anything else. Well see you in 2017 (which is kind of now).

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 5th Birthday!] Avatar (2009)

avatar2009a

Director: James Cameron

Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver

Screenplay: James Cameron

162 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and smoking.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Cinematography
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Winner: Best Achievement in Art Direction
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Directing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Film Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing

 

Titanic was a powerhouse at the box office during its release back in 1997. I don’t think anyone could have guessed that director James Cameron (Aliens, Aliens of the Deep) would be the one to dethrone his own film as highest grossing film of all time, but as it turns out, he did in 2009 when he released Avatar, a masterpiece of science fiction and general filmmaking.

Avatar is the story of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington, Terminator: Salvation, Cake), a paraplegic grunt who takes on his dead twin’s job as explorer on the planet Pandora. Jake’s job is simple, explore and make contact with the Na’vi, a species of humanoid blue aliens living on the planet, through the use of neural link with something called an avatar. When he gets lost on the planet by himself, he is saved by Ney’tiri (Zoe Saldana, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Book of Life), a Na’vi princess who is tasked with showing Jake the ways of their community. While the science lead Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver, Exodus: Gods and Kings, The Cabin in the Woods) wants to pursue peace talks with the indigenous Na’vi, the military Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang, Conan the Barbarian, A Good Marriage) is only interested in moving them elsewhere in order to mine the precious element Unobtanium which lies beneath their home.

avatar2009c

James Cameron should be awarded for the directing skills he has. I love the work he puts into his films. His screenplays, however, often fail to truly inspire. That’s where the controversy surrounding Avatar lies. Cameron’s screenplay was very criticized for being essentially the same movie as Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves, Fern Gully, and The Last Samurai. Now, I don’t see that as being a problem, because there are only essentially two stories. The first is the story of a man who leaves home and finds a mysterious place, and the second is the story of a mysterious man who comes to town. Yeah, these films are similar, but so many stories are the same. It’s how you tell them that matters, and James Cameron tells his story well.

Avatar’s cinematography deserves to be experienced, not merely seen. The environments on Pandora are so beautifully envisioned and so deeply realized. The film is edited together very tightly, though the story does run on a little longer than it needed to be. The special effects are so vivid and so well-crafted that they are the most-deserving of the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects that year.

Let’s take a look at the performances here. Sam Worthington definitely has the look of a superstar and there was even a time when I thought he was capable of acting, but since that time has passed and I have realized that isn’t true. His work in Avatar isn’t the worst in cinema, but he is easily trounced by his fellow actors. Stephen Lang’s over-the-top performance works quite well given the out-of-this-world story here.

Can I just have a moment to proclaim Zoe Saldana as the hottest alien working in films today? She is mostly known for the incredible work in three science fiction masterpieces like Star Trek, Guardians of the Galaxy, and here as well.

I give enough props to Michelle Rodriguez (The Fast and the Furious, Machete Kills) for portraying the same character she plays in every movie, and she does it well enough.

Sigourney Weaver adds that extra layer of professionalism to the film that raises the level nicely.

avatar2009b

Avatar isn’t a perfect film, but it comes pretty damn close for all the hype it had. I still find it quite enjoyable, even for a film with a less than stellar screenplay and a runtime a little longer than needed. Still worth it. Still a phenomenon.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑