• Film reviews

    #607 – Sharktopus (2023)

    Sharktopus (2023)

    Film review #607

    Directors: Hu Dong-Sheng, Shixing Xu

    SYNOPSIS: When a huge octopus washes up dead on the shore, Scientist Dr. Jingya Fan, who was working on the project to create it, abandons the project. The financial backer, Mr. Chen, is not impressed with this, and kidnaps her son to force her to continue her research in secret aboard his ship. When the shark-octopus (sharktopus) hybrid research subject escapes from captivity, the lives of the crew and passengers are put in danger, and must stop the sharktopus before it’s too late…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Sharktopus is a 2023 sci-fi film. technically a remake of the 2010 TV movie Sharktopus, it bears no resemblance to it other than the title, and a titular shark-octopus hybrid. At the start, a giant octopus washes up on shore (while crushing some passers by), which it turns out is a research project led by Dr. Jingya Fan and financed by the mysterious Mr. Chen. Fan leaves the project, but Mr. Chen blackmails her to return by kidnapping her son in order to get her to develop a cure for multiple sclerosis, which is what her son has as well as the new test subject: A shark-octopus hybrid, or “sharktopus” if you will. Dr. Fan is taken to a cruise ship that secretly houses a research laboratory where she can do her work, but Interpol raid the ship to arrest Mr. Chen at the same time as the Sharktopus escapes from confinement, and so everyone is searching for a way to survive and stop the monster. The film certainly has a lot more going on than the original Sharktopus film, but that’s not hard, as it barely had a story at all; just scenes of women in bikinis at the beach stitched together. This remake is essentially just a typical horror movie though, with the cast trying to avoid getting hunted down by the monster. There’s not really any gore or jump scares, so the film just focuses on the cast and their trying to survive.

    The film does get quite complicated, and there’s a lot going on with the characters: you have Dr. Fan trying to save her son, then you have a team of Interpol agents raiding the ship, and one of them just so happens to be Dr. Fan’s ex-partner and the Father to her son. The whole story and all the different characters do make things quite convoluted towards the end, so we don’t get much focus on the monster as we perhaps should. Also, none of the kills are really creative or exciting either: the action is very ill-paced, and we don’t see enough of the Sharktopus to make it an interesting centrepiece for the film.

    The effects in the film are a mixed bag. They are fairly detailed, including the Sharktopus itself, but the CG doesn’t blend in too well, and it looks a bit odd in motion. It definitely could have been worse, but it’s not great either. The film does offer a bit of a twist at the end, but again, since the film doesn’t really create much tension, and is all over the place, it doesn’t really feel like it has too much consequence. Overall, Sharktopus has the honour of being better than the film it is based on, but that’s a very small accomplishment given the state of the 2010 film. While the film does try and build characters and give them motivation, it’s very limited, and it doesn’t offer anything exciting in terms of being a monster film, with lacklustre horror, action and/or gore. I suppose the 2010 film at least had a self-awareness that it was silly, but this 2023 version really takes itself seriously, without the stronger plot and production to back that up.

  • Film reviews

    #572 – Crater (2023)

    Crater (2023)

    Film review #572

    Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez

    SYNOPSIS: In a mining colony on the moon, Caleb Channing is about to be shipped to the new colony of Omega, after his Father dies in a mining accident, and he is allowed to go. However, this means leaving his friends behind, which he does not want to do. Caleb also wants to fulfil his Dad’s last wish and go to a crater outside of the colony, so they decide to steal a lunar rover and head out on a road trip across the moon…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Crater is a 2023 sci-film. The film takes place in 2257 on a mining colony on the Moon, where teenager Caleb Channing is about to be transported to the colony planet Omega, after his Father died in an accident and as a result his family is allowed to take the seventy five year trip in cryostasis to reach the new planet. However, Caleb doesn’t want to go and leave his friends behind. Alongside this, his father told him his dying wish was for him to visit a crater outside of the colony on the lunar surface to see something. To this end, Caleb and his friends plan to steal a lunar rover and travel outside the colony to see the crater before he has to go away forever. The film is a sci-fi twist on the classic teen coming of age adventure, such as The Goonies and Stand by Me. It follows the formula well, and has all the necessary beats to fulfil it’s objective. The sci-fi setting gives it an interesting twist, although at it’s core it focuses on the characters and their adventure: the setting is simple enough to understand and follow, and doesn’t interfere with that. There’s a lot of convenient coincidences that make everything possible, such as a meteor shower happening when they are planning to escape so that means no one can go after them, but you can overlook that for the most part. There’s times where the film feels a bit too on-the-rails for an adventure, as it doesn’t have the capacity to deviate too much from it’s destination (being in a lunar rover, they can’t really just wander off and find anything new on the Moon), and the flashback narration from Caleb’s dad sometimes is a bit overbearing in hammering home what this trip is supposed to be does seem to be a bit counterproductive in celebrating these kid’s freedom, but is not a huge problem, and the film stands on it’s own for the most part.

    The cast of Caleb and his friends are diverse and interesting enough, and give strong performances throughout, which creates a good connection between the characters. Each of them has their own issues and outlooks that bring something to the trip, and there’s some conflict between the characters, but it’s very minimal. We don’t learn everything about the characters, and that’s fine, because we’re just enjoying this journey with them. There’s a message about environmentalism and worker’s rights that runs throughout the film, but it keeps it subtle, letting it play off a little more in the finale when the journey is over. The ending is a jump, but one that doesn’t diminish or write off the impact of what it does, and gives just enough to keep things hopeful.

    The film looks pretty good, with a consistent sci-fi aesthetic that feels used and worn, without it looking too cheap or hokey. The CG isn’t top notch, but again, that’s just a small thing you can overlook. All in all, Crater is a decent adventure that takes it’s subject matter seriously, although this might be a bit too serious for it’s target audience. The adventure is fun and easy to follow, the performances are pretty good, and while there are some issues with the film, they are mostly easily overlooked, and don’t detract from the experience.

  • Film reviews

    #557 – Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Now and Always

    Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Once and Always (2023)

    Film review #557

    Director: Charlie Haskell

    SYNOPSIS: Rita Repulsa has returned in a robot body, and is out to get the original power rangers. The yellow ranger, Trini is killed when she sacrifices herself to save the blue ranger Billy. One year later, Robot Rita returns with her plan to absorb the power rangers into her new machine to take their power for herself. The rangers must reunite to take down Rita and save their friends…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers: Once and Always is a 2023 special released as part of the thirtieth anniversary of the Mighty Morphin ‘ Power Rangers TV series, and the beginning of the franchise as a whole. In the opening scene, we see the power rangers in battle against Robot Rita Repulsa, and the yellow ranger, Trini, sacrificing herself to save the blue ranger Billy, which is quite a serious twist. Fast forward a year later and we see Trini’s daughter Minh being raised by Zack, the black power ranger who is now her guardian. Unfortunately, Robot Rita has returned, and has a new plan to kidnap the power rangers to fuel a new machine and absorb their power. She starts kidnapping rangers from all over the world, including the original Red, Green and Pink ranger. Zack and Billy, the black and blue rangers, enlist the help of one-time rangers Rocky and Kat to help them stop Rita’s scheme before it’s too late. The story feels very much like a typical Power Rangers plot line, and could have easily been lifted from an episode of the series. On top of that though, they add in a more mature storyline around the death of Trini, and her daughter, who is set on revenge, and exploring what it means to be a power ranger, which provides enough emotional scenes alongside the typical martial arts action. There’s a decent balance between what you expect from the franchise, and the more in-depth mature story that a now-older Power Rangers fan can enjoy too, which is nice. It’s definitely not a high-budget reboot or remake, and perhaps offers no surprises in terms of story, but it captures that silly, low budget quality of the original that still had the charm to capture children’s imaginations thirty years ago, and in some ways it’s nice that it didn’t try to be anything else.

    With regards to the characters, only Zack and Billy, the original black and blue rangers return. This leads to bringing in Rocky, who succeeded as the red ranger, and Kat, who became the pink ranger. The death of Trini, the yellow ranger follows from the death of her original actress. The green ranger Tommy, Jason David Frank declined to appear, but also died shortly after the filming was done, and Austin St. John and Amy Jo Johnson, the original red and pink ranger) also declined to appear. All in all, the cast is very much half complete, and that’s before you include that the original Rita Repulsa and Zordon actors also passed away, and while Zordon did not return, the voice for Rita’s robotic replacement is quite a solid performance. The cast of Power Rangers has always been a revolving door of actors as they leave and a new one takes on the suit, and this special tries to both reference them all, while still focusing on the original team. As such, even if you’re a Power Rangers fan, you might not recognise all the references and characters if you didn’t watch past a certain point in the series. Despite this, Rocky and Kat play their characters well, and while the acting is sometimes a bit flat and cheesy, again it’s what you expect from the series. The special does feel like it has to navigate around the missing cast a bit to try and fit everything together, but at it’s heart it’s still a typical Power Rangers story that’s simple enough to follow.

    All the typical beats and action are here in this special: from the hand-to-hand combat with Rita’s goons, the Rangers fighting with the weapons, and the Megazord fight, everything is here that you would expect, along with the cheesy one-liners to go with them. It’s really a love letter to the franchise that captures the feel of the Power Rangers, while also reflecting on some more mature and emotional story elements that the now-older fanbase can appreciate. If you want a reboot, you can watch the 2017 Power Rangers movie, but Once and Always is one for those who watched the original series on Saturday mornings and had their imaginations captured. I was never a huge Power Rangers fan as a kid (I always preferred cartoons over live-action shows), but even as a sometimes fan, I found plenty in here that was entertaining enough, and allowed me to remember the series fondly. It’s full of references and everything Power Rangers, and while you’re probably not missing out on much by not watching it, it’s still entertaining enough, and a fitting tribute to those actors who are no longer with us. As the special concludes with: Once a ranger, always a ranger…

  • Film reviews

    #553 – Scooby-Doo and Krypto, Too!

    Scooby-Doo and Krypto, Too! (2023)

    Film review #553

    Director: Cecilia Aranovich Hamilton

    SYNOPSIS: Mystery inc. are called by Jimmy Olsen to Metropolis, in order to investigate the disappearance of the Justice League: Superman, Batman, and the rest. They arrive to a Metropolis overrun by villains, and Lex Luthor plotting to buy the Justice League headquarters and demolish it. The gang team up with Krypto the super dog, as they attempt to find out what happened to the Justice League…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Scooby-Doo and Krypto Too! is a 2023 animated film and part of a long line of direct-to-video titles in the Scooby-Doo franchise. This time, Scooby and the gang are travelling to Metropolis, where Daily Planet photographer Jimmy Olsen has sent for Mystery inc. (via Daphne, who he thinks is his girlfriend because they were voted “best red-haired couple” when they were kids at summer-camp), in order to investigate the disappearance of the Justice League. When they get there they are immediately set upon by villains such as Giganta, The Joker, Solomon Grundy, and the like: who are all running amok since Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the rest aren’t around. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor is trying to get the mayor to sell him the now abandoned Justice League Headquarters so he can demolish it. The plot is set up as a typical Scooby-Doo mystery featuring all the usual essentials such as Scooby and Shaggy stuffing their faces, a list of suspects, a trap, and searching for clues. Though it must be said that it being a typical plot is not a bad thing: Scooby-Doo is a rare example of a franchise that has been successful for over fifty years without making significant changes. The only time the franchise falters is when it attempts to re-boot or re-imagine it (See: Scoob!). As such, even though it’s predictable, it’s still fun. This isn’t the first time Mystery inc. has had a crossover with superheroes though, as they have met Batman more than once, even hinting at it in the story, which is a nice touch. What strikes me is just how action-packed the film is: there’s rarely a lull in the energy of the film, and as soon as it starts, we are treated to Mystery inc. being chased around the city by the various villains from the DC universe, and it’s a pretty cool showcase of all the different characters that provides a bit of a twist on the classic Scooby-Doo chase. In fact, the whole film is full of references to the DC universe: probably far more than I noticed, but because of the relentless pace of the movie, you’ll have to be quick to catch some of them.

    The Mystery inc. gang are on very typical form here, with everyone being the characters you are familiar with. No lengthy character establishments needed here. The supporting cast that provide the suspects for the mystery fill out their roles well, and Lex Luthor joins the gang to provide some comedy relief for the most part, and his part fits in really well, and adds something novel and fun, alongside his dog, “Rex Luthor.” Krypto shows up about half-way through the film, and even though he can’t speak like Scooby, still manages to capture a Superman-style personality with his actions, and is a solid support character too. I think more could have been done to explore the dynamic between Scooby and Krypto, but I don’t think the movie really needed it: it’s just a bit of fun that doesn’t need an in-depth character study or complex relation building.

    As mentioned, the pace of the film is quite relentless, and there’s plenty of high energy action scenes alongside the typical Scooby-Doo shenanigans. A criticism of some of these scenes, such as the opening chase with the super villains, and the finale with everyone chasing the Phantom Zone projector around, is that they perhaps last a bit too long without much variation to keep them interesting. The film does try, but they perhaps could have been cut down just a little bit to avoid viewers noticing that they have been going on for a while. But that’s just a minor criticism, and on the whole, Scooby-Doo and Krypto, Too! is a fun adventure that is full of life, character and references which turn a silly crossover into a solid Scooby-Doo adventure. The central mystery is a bit weak in places, and as mentioned some of the action scenes go on for just a bit too long, but overall it gets in all the classic Scooby-Doo tropes (plenty of “Zoinks” and “Jinkies”), while also giving room for something new, such as Lex Luthor’s comedic role providing some much welcome and unexpected humour. Obviously intended for younger audiences, but there’s enough fun for older viewers as well. Unfortunately, the film’s released was cancelled due to Warner bros. company restructuring; fortunately, the entire film was leaked online, probably by someone disgruntled with the decision, so go find it if you want some good old-fashioned Scooby-Doo fun with a superhero twist.