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Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Movie Review - Paddington 2


Since his literary debut in 1958, Paddington Bear has remained one of the most beloved children's characters in British culture - and his fame accelerated even more with his first big screen appearance back in 2014. Paddington was both a funny and heartfelt family adventure that ranks as one of my favourite British films for sure, and with it achieving similarly renowned success from a critical and commercial standpoint, a sequel was certainly anything but obvious.

Now settled in with the Brown family, Paddington Bear (Ben Wishaw) arranges plans for a surprise gift for his aunt Lucy's (Imelda Staunton) upcoming 100th birthday: an expensive antique pop-up book featuring all of London's most iconic landmarks. After working and saving hard, his goals are abruptly shattered when the book is stolen by an unknown thief, with the blame landing on Paddington himself as he is locked away in an unwelcoming prison. Determined to clear his name, Paddington seeks aid from all those around him to track down the real culprit and ensure he doesn't spend the remainder of his days behind bars; or leave Lucy bitterly disappointed on such a special occasion.


Just as before, the most noticeable thing at first glance are the effects: Paddington 2 renders and animates the titular star just as beautifully as the original did, no questions asked. Realism aside, what really deserves acclaim is how much personality is injected into his every movement - you'll certainly never feel like you're staring at CGI, an achievement many films with much higher budgets often struggle to nail. As a character he is as loveable as before, adopting the same polite persona whilst never avoiding the usual goofy antics; funny as ever, not once do they feel over the top, and the overall humour is approachable for a widespread family audience, leaving no viewers alienated, and all these perks are bolstered even further by another fantastic vocal performance by Ben Wishaw.

The supporting characters remain just as admiring: Sally Hawkins and Hughe Bonneville flawlessly lead the Brown family as they find themselves involved in many funny yet exciting antics alongside Paddington himself, whilst newcomers Hugh Grant and Brendan Gleeson to name a few are consistently fun to watch whenever on screen, not just because of the refined performances but also the witty characters they portray. They all deliver plenty of laughs whilst still holding their strong narrative importance, and it's this stellar cast of characters and performers that also makes Paddington 2 such an entertaining story from start to finish.


But it's not just there to make you chuckle - as with the previous film, there is plenty of emotional depth to this heartwarming narrative. It's never pretentious or overstuffed, instead the many tender moments turn out wonderfully touching and may even feel like you're near some onions now and then. Things also come to an end with a surprisingly gripping climax, though once again thankfully not one trying to take itself too seriously or shoehorn in any tired Hollywood clichés - if anything it's another key moment where the film's impressive visual effects are most evident. All this equates to what is undeniably an even better experience than the original, and that's truly a compliment through and through.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Movie Review - Murder on the Orient Express


What is arguably Agatha Christie's most famous tale returns to the big screen once again, helmed by director and star Kenneth Branagh, with some stylish modern production values and an undeniably impressive cast. The core story remains largely unchanged - the greatest detective of all time Hercule Poirot (Branagh) finds himself forced to resolve the unprecedented killing on the luxurious Orient Express. The suspect is left amongst the many passengers, forcing Poirot to locate the culprit before they can strike again.

Once again this latest adaptation of Christie's renowned novel doesn't take many liberties with the main plot - such a treasured tale perhaps shouldn't be excessively toyed with, though this will undeniably be a slight downside to some as it leaves little room for surprises. The tension is generally well handled and the revelations as the plot moves forward fairly exciting and enjoyable, though what's a shame is perhaps the inconsistent pacing which can affect the atmosphere the story holds as it begins to unfold toward it's more climactic moments. Some segments also feel undeniably quite boring, making you think the runtime they eat up could've been used toward scenes that are a bit more engaging and influential to the overall plot.


But now I'm making the film seem like a real downer - Orient Express is still an entertaining thriller, supported once again by some rich production values and an undeniably stellar cast, even if some of the more talented members feel slightly underused at times. The cinematography, lighting, set design, it's all beautiful to look at and captures the time period as well as the atmosphere perfectly; this is especially apparent during the film's more eerie moments. The obvious CGI shots of the train racing along the rails during rough terrains do feel a little phoned in, however - of course computer imagery is the main way such shots would be done, though the abruptly epic presentation and thunderous sound design can make them contrast oddly with the rest of the film.

Branagh delivers a superb performance as the lead detective Poirot, capturing the character's witty sense of humour and balancing it nicely with his more serious side when delving into the depths of this sinister crime. The rest of the cast, while not as consistent, also perform strongly - Josh Gad, Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacobi, Penélope Cruz, as well as Johnny Depp as the murder victim himself. Depp's role is of course not very lengthy considering his early sign off, but the performance he does deliver is solid enough for what the character is. What weakens much of the effort provided by this fab cast is the lack of development toward the characters they play - even Poirot himself doesn't feel as interesting as you might wish he was despite Branagh's polished performance, and this flaw is even more applicable for some of the supporting roles. Murder on the Orient Express delivers tender emotions alongside some engrossing thrills, all presented with some lovely aesthetic design; and while it's plot development and pacing is not as refined, the end product is an entertaining adaptation of the renowned mystery.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Movie Review - Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You!


It's my honest opinion that none of the Pokémon movies I've seen excel in terms of overall quality; to be fair, these are hardly attempts to earn a spot in the National Film Registry, but even with that in mind the lacklustre animation and dull storylines of most installments render them far from memorable. So with that said, it's even more pleasant to see a slight change in form for the series as a whole - this year's I Choose You is far from a masterpiece, but it's without a doubt a fairly fun animated flick to potentially appeal to now adult nostalgic fans as well as young newcomers.

I Choose You finds itself as a retelling of Ash Ketchum's journey from Pallet Town to become the greatest Pokémon Master, joined by his initially hostile sidekick Pikachu. When their journey's rough start leads to them witnessing the legendary Ho-Oh and garnering one of it's magical rainbow feathers, Ash finds himself as the chosen one for a renowned mission to uncover more about Ho-Oh and the secrets behind it's inception.


You don't go into a film like this with epic expectations, and that's a fitting mindset - it doesn't attempt to be an emotionally powerful, poetic tale, which certainly benefits it's overall quality. It's laid back if still rusty storytelling leads to an appropriately fun and chilled viewing that kids will certainly enjoy, even if adults outside of the fanbase may not be as consistently engaged. What's pleasant to see at first glance is some fairly impressive animation - it's not without awkward integrations of cheap looking CGI but thankfully this doesn't ruin the overall aesthetic approach; the art direction is pleasant, and everything is nicely drawn throughout. The English cast is largely composed of existing voice actors from the television series, and while the performances are similarly cheesy, there's certainly nothing offensively bad about them overall.

Where I Choose You admittedly slips up is of course the story - as a reboot of the early episodes of the original series, the plot certainly (and somehow) crams far too much into it's near 100 minute runtime, and the end result is a lack of focus during many key scenes and some very rushed moments that consequently lose their attempted emotional appeal. Once again, you don't expect this film to be an Oscar winning drama of sorts, though it would help if some moments weren't blatantly glossed over - perhaps their absence would actually benefit the overall story and pacing even more. The flaws don't end there: the characters aren't overly memorable, there's plenty of corny (though still somewhat funny) moments, and the script enjoys some awkward contrivances and abrupt twists, but as a fun and approachable animated effort, I Choose You generally succeeds in most aspects.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Movie Review - Blade Runner 2049


Though met with mixed reactions and mediocre box office takings upon release, 1982's Blade Runner now remains an iconic cult hit and arguably one of Ridley Scott's finest directorial efforts. Now, over thirty years later, an unexpected sequel has arisen - whilst the acclaim is on par with it's beloved predecessor, as our it's lacklustre box office takings. In spite of such disappointment, Blade Runner 2049 undeniably ends up being one of 2017's very best films, and the sequel that the original certainly deserves.

In 2049, biorobotic humans dubbed replicants are engineered for a variety of tasks; one such model, K (Ryan Gosling), works within the LAPD to hunt down and retire older replicant models hidden deep in society. His work eventually begins to unveil more and more mysteries about the replicants' history and potential, which in turn triggers questions over his own origins and purpose.


Blade Runner 2049 thankfully creates a story respectful towards the original, not something to milk it's fame - it intertwines a number of new ideas with it's already engrossing premise to further develop this rich fictional world. Everything is brought to life superbly in every category; superb art direction creates engrossing and equally unique dystopian future, depicted with some stunning CGI visuals and set design. Such aesthetics are further supported by a superb soundtrack by iconic composer Hans Zimmer alongside Benjamin Wallfisch - it pays homage to the original with similarly iconic themes whilst also offering up some lovely original music.

Audiences will journey through all manner of twists and turns as the plot moves forward; while not without occasional sluggish moments (leading to a huge run time), the complex narrative is still handled with care and attention to detail. It challenges viewers with a number of intriguing questions about what is human and what isn't, and of course leaves it to the audience to deduce a number of interesting twists themselves - certain plot threads seem to intentionally lack a degree of finality, allowing for more subjective outcomes and inviting debate amongst audiences over what various scenes mean and how they fit in with the original film.


This story prospers even further thanks to a superb cast lead by Gosling, also featuring talents such Jared Leto and Sylvia Hoeks in threatening if slightly forgettable villainous roles. Gosling's deadpan protagonist wins merit for an intimidating presence during various set pieces as well the genuine heartfelt persona that comes to fruition as more tender moments unravel; it certainly leads to what is arguably one of Gosling's best roles to date. Harrison Ford also makes a welcome return in the role of Deckett - going into his purpose within the narrative will lead to a wave of spoilers, but it's fair to say Ford's performance is just as spot on as it was in the original; the character blends seamlessly into the latter portions of the story and is developed even further with superb results, making his role far from a lazy cameo.

Blade Runner 2049 didn't need to be nearly three hours long, some of it's set pieces are a little excessive, and the plot undeniably gets a little too confusing during it's deepest moments - but what you watch is still an enthralling piece of science fiction and a worthy successor to a beloved cult classic. Fans of the original will be just as impressed as those fairly new to the story; it's a shame to see it fail to attract the majority of the general public, but if it's still playing at your local cinema and you've yet to give it a chance, that's something you should quickly rectify for sure.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Movie Review - Thor: Ragnarok


The MCU continues to grow as each year passes, and now has reached new standards in the eyes of many critics with the God of Thunder's threequel blockbuster (sure to be anyway); Thor: Ragnarok is now the most acclaimed film in the franchise, exceeding the immense praise of even Iron Man and The Avengers, so to say the hype of fans is only escalating would be a gross understatement. Now, sorry to sound like an elderly killjoy, but this is the part where I come in and try to justify my controversial thoughts - Thor: Ragnarok is an enjoyable adventure, but far from the masterpiece most people strangely make it out to be.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns to his world protecting duties across the stars following the overthrow of Ultron, but soon finds himself stripped of his ancient hammer Mjolnir and stranded on the planet Sakaar, forced to battle against the also captive (and universally hailed) champion Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) to satisfy the gladiatorial desires of the violent natives. He soon leads an effort to escape as his homeworld Asgard comes under threat by Odin's twisted firstborn Hela (Cate Blanchett), reborn to exact her revenge and spearhead the impending Ragnarok - the predicted end of Asgard and all who live there.


To begin with, Thor: Ragnarok simply adopts the same flaw that many recent MCU films have been suffering from - many may disagree with me, and it's all a matter of taste perhaps, but it's simply too goofy. It certainly has a likeable sense of humour, deeply funny at it's very best, but the filmmakers simply can't step back and develop a sensible scene without throwing in an awkwardly timed gag to debunk any buildup of genuine tension or emotional weight. This is a superhero film for a wide audience and not one that has to be dark, gritty, and obsessed with complex themes, but it's also one that does have the potential for some more serious development - sadly said development never quite comes to fruition. Indeed, there are times where you'd think this is a parody of the genre more than anything else.

But Ragnarok is not without charm; as said, when it's funny, it's really funny, and even it's most awkwardly placed jokes are not without their humourous appeal. It's cast perform strongly to ensure said laughs and eventual epic moments are executed wonderfully - particular praise can be handed to Hemsworth himself as a likeable if overly silly Thor and especially Jeff Goldblum as the film's secondary villain Grandmaster, the ruler of Sakaar. His character is fairly flat and role in the narrative somewhat unbalanced, but Goldblum's performance does a sound job of capturing the character's twisted sense of humour to make him an entertaining villain whenever he shows up. In terms of the film's principle antagonist, Blanchett brings Hela to life with suitable sadism, though the character's strangely long absences and occasional daft antics can make investing consistent interest in her a tricky task.


Hulk's inclusion holds some significance given that Ragnarok is derived from the Planet Hulk comic storyline, however I can't say his role won me over. Ruffalo's performance is decent, and the effects used to bring his giant green self to life are as refined as ever, but the character's gross idiocy and irritating dialogue frequently reduce him to a cliché moronic comic relief - a real shame considering the character's former threatening appeal. Thor: Ragnarok still boasts the same visual thrills and stylish set pieces that most MCU films have mastered so well, but these can't fully make up for the unfocused, overly silly humour and generally mediocre story. It's good fun, and another treat for the most loyal of fans, but little else.