Saturday, 10 November 2018

Movie Review - The Grinch

Following their excessively modernized and mediocre adaptation of The Lorax back in 2012, Illumination Studios now return with their second Dr. Seuss adaptation in the form of one of his undeniably most renowned - The Grinch. Starring one Benedict Cumberbatch as the eponymous Christmas hating recluse, our story once again sees his evergrowing bitterness towards the annual holiday and it's widespread celebration within the town of Whoville eventually become too much for him to cope with, leading him to devise his own suitably sinister plan to steal it from them once and for all. Our story is helmed by the bizarre casting of musician Pharrel Williams; though his dialogue as narrator is charming and fitting to the Dr. Seuss rhythm of our story, his delivery ultimately isn't, perhaps not so much down to his actual effort but once again him being unsuitable for the role itself; a voice that just doesn't quite fit the tone. Something I had to get out of the way first...

In terms of it's main aesthetic, The Grinch is similar to many other of Illumination's efforts; the studio is known for adopting a low budget scheme when it comes to their productions and whilst it doesn't make their films unappealing to the eye in any way, there isn't any notable visual element that stands out in them compared to the likes of Pixar or even Dreamworks. Perhaps at times it may even look a bit bland to those who obsess over such stuff, and while the film does a decent job of adopting an art style that's reasonably faithful to that of it's premise, it's also hard to unsee the style of many other Illumination productions at times. Exploring multiple aesthetics isn't one of the studios strong points, even if this latest effort still remains a nicely animated one as a whole.

The Grinch as an experience may be more appealing to younger audiences, but that's not to say adults might not be won over by the film's charm and occasional witty slapstick. Cumberbatch delivers a superb vocal performance as the Grinch himself, capturing his grouchy and cunning personality which makes him a largely enjoyable watch from start to finish. You'll find yourself far more interested in him as a character than the supporting Whos, who (no pun intended) come in the form of Cindy Lou (Cameron Seeley), her loyal group of friends, as well as her overworked yet loving mother Donna Lou (Rashida Jones). There's good intentions to their supporting roles, with an attempt at some dramatic depth and occasionally amusing comedy, yet a lot of it ends up being fairly bland and uninteresting in the long run, largely relying on many tired clichés. The Grinch's development throughout isn't the most complex either, but still more interesting and entertaining, and still surprisingly heartwarming in areas despite its lack of overall consistency.

Perhaps one of the film's strongest moments is the Grinch devising his plan to steal Christmas itself; it's cleverly structured and thoroughly entertaining, leading to an equally enjoyable climax as he raids Whoville itself to complete his final dastardly scheme. There's ways the film of course differs from the book, inevitably to reach feature film length, and while it doesn't build much upon its original premise or wow audiences over with many of its new additions (the aforementioned supporting Whos, for example), this isn't a flaw that holds back the many enjoyable moments the story has to offer. In general, it's once again only the Grinch and his loyal dog Max that offer the key entertainment, not so much our forgettable supporting (and even occasionally annoying) Whos, but overall this latest adaptation remains a fun family experience with a decent balance of laughs and tender emotions.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Movie Review - Venom

With the rights to certain characters bouncing between Disney and Sony, Marvel at the movies is now all over the place in recent times; their biggest icon Spider-Man was finally handed over to the evergrowing MCU franchise under a mutual agreement following the abrupt end of his failing rebooted series, but now Sony intends to pursue it's own similar shared universe with what rights it has left to try and reach similar success it seems. It all starts with Venom, a standalone antihero flick featuring one of Spidey's most recognizable foes, now starring in his own adventure which certainly hasn't won much acclaim in the eyes of most.

Starring Tom Hardy as washed up journalist Eddie Brock, Venom is essentially an origin story for the titular character in question, involving a number of symbiotic alien lifeforms brought back to Earth by humanity itself in an attempt to colonise other planets due to the apparent decline of our very own; such actions are influenced merely by greed and deranged ambition at the hands of inventor Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). What follows on of course is Eddie himself inadvertently tying up with one of said symbiotes and evolving into the monstrous creature Venom itself. 

Whilst on paper Venom seems like it has a decent amount of story to add up to an entertaining superhero flick, story ends up being one of its biggest flaws; our introduction to Eddie himself is perhaps one of its most notable flaws as the script rushes through his initial development, including his failed relationship with Anne Weying (Michelle Williams) and the loss of his initially successful career. This isn't an emotionally stirring drama attempting to thrive at the next Academy Awards so one doesn't expect such scenes to drag on for hours, but audiences will largely fail to care one bit for anything that happens because of how the script chooses to gloss over it; this also leaves Brock's ex-girlfriend Anne as a character forgettable beyond all measure in the end.

What's more of a shame is this isn't rushed through quickly to make Venom's appearance pop up even sooner - Eddie's transformation into the beastly badass still takes quite a while, and even when the symbiote makes his way inside, we're mostly just treated to a number of clumsy fight sequences starring an extremely hungry and goofy Tom Hardy beating up laughably incompetent agents with stretchy, slimy limbs beyond his control. This all links to how Venom simply can't decide on its tone for the most part - unsure if it wants to be comical and silly, riddled with admittedly funny but rather unfitting jokes and slapstick, or quite the opposite, with mild horror in some surprisingly unsettling sequences that establish a much darker tone. It's these jarring tonal shifts that make the script seem like an unfinished mess at times, with the story largely feeling like it was put on the back burner to boot.

Venom isn't all bad. Tom Hardy's charms serve well, the action scenes do entertain now and then despite being overly noisy and somewhat repetitive, and the visual effects are as impressive as ever. It's just a shame the potential within this project is largely wasted; little thought and creativity is injected into it. There's some fun to be had, and audiences who don't look for such depth may be able to look beyond its many flaws, but the more it goes on the more it feels increasingly daft and dull, and a waste of a promising concept. It's even more of a shame Sony now wish to force their own shared universe out of all this.

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Movie Review - Christopher Robin

Disney's live action revivals of their animated classics continue to be met with mixed results from many dedicated fans, as well as highly shifting financial outcomes. The likes of Beauty and the Beast and The Jungle Book certainly make their mark on the industry with earnings hovering around the $1 billion mark, whereas the likes of this year's Christopher Robin, featuring characters from the beloved Winnie the Pooh films, in turn adapted by A. A. Milne's classic stories, certainly doesn't impress as much. With it's global earnings not even at $100 million despite being in cinemas for quite some time in many places, it more closely sits alongside the disappointment of last year's Pete's Dragon - a more niché tale that sadly didn't have the larger target audience to win over.

Christopher Robin isn't exactly a direct live action remake of Disney's Winnie the Pooh animated efforts, as is obvious by even a brief glance at the poster in all honesty. What we have here is a tale featuring the eponymous childhood icon having to leaving his life within the Hundred Acre Wood behind, his friends there with it, upon departing for boarding school; soon enough he reaches adulthood, in the hands of Ewan McGregor, where a difficult balance between his work and family life ultimately lead to an ongoing struggle that sits out of his hands. It's here his childhood friends Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, the lot, all make their way back into his life, with him their to aid them and them their to aid him.

Pooh and his friends find themselves largely inspired by their original animated designs, brought into the live action world with a stuffed toy aesthetic which gives them a charming appearance that largely fits the film's visual style; though admittedly Pooh isn't as easy to engage with as the others at first, strutting about like a pale zombie, destroying all in his path and blathering on about honey until it really starts to get tiresome. Disney also bring new talent into the vocal cast, including Peter Capaldi as Rabbit and Toby Jones as Owl (both of whom you barely see sadly), though Jim Cummings returns as Pooh and Tigger once again; whilst his voice has always been a great one in recent times for said roles, the chance to refresh the characters for a live action portrayal (especially one sticking to it's British routes) seems wasted in the end, and hearing the voices we all love from the jubilant animated films within the real world just feels a little unusual at times, forever talented as Cummings will be.

Perhaps this criticism is more aimed at Pooh than Tigger, for the latter's charm is much stronger considering his upbeat, colourful nature, despite some similarly destructive behaviour at times - such a criticism can apply to many of these characters to be fair. In terms of the films' overall story, there is an awkward pace it must be said, as the script struggles to balance the key elements of the protagonists focus on work and family as well as the sudden return of his childhood friends. There isn't an extensive focus on the characters Robin interacts with bar Pooh, Tigger, and Eeyore in all honesty; even the bond with his sulky wife and daughter feels flat at times, and the climax itself also feels somewhat rushed, if briskly paced and admittedly fun. All these traits make Christopher Robin a charming if somewhat forgettable family film, one with some surprisingly strong themes, bolstered further by a solid (if occasionally tryhard) performance by Ewan McGregor and fantastic visual effects. It doesn't set any new remarkable standards for it's genre, and to be honest drags significantly as we near the finale, but still goes to show how Disney is the master of helping to flourish the charm of childhood nostalgia.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Movie Review - Ant-Man and the Wasp

The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to thrive as the most successful in cinema history, now with it's latest release as the sequel to 2015's Ant-Man. Paul Rudd returns to us once more in the lead role, this time alongside Evangeline Lilly as the secondary eponymous superhero Hope van Dyne/The Wasp, both of whom team up with van Dyne's father Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) in a plot to rescue her mother Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) from the mysterious Quantum Realm.

Ant-Man and the Wasp thankfully never tries to be too excessively dark or serious, instead giving us a laid back experience with some extremely funny moments portrayed well by it's strong cast. In spite of this, it occasionally has an extreme obsession with such humour, trying a little too hard with mediocre results. The best examples appear with supporting character Luis (Michael Pena), an old friend of Scott Lang, who largely serves a comic relief but in the end is naught but an irritating supporting role trying too hard to make the audience laugh. Some may find him appealing, who knows, but I certainly found him more annoying than anything; Pena does his best, it's just most of the content he's given that makes him irritating to watch.

But that doesn't render the film bad throughout; Paul Rudd in the lead role does his best once more, delivering a witty and charming performance from start to finish, and our titular female hero Janet/The Wasp is helmed superbly by Michelle Pfeiffer and serves as an undoubtedly strong inspiration for badass female heroes in general. Both her and Ant-Man himself are involved in all manner of gripping set pieces that use the concept of size alterations to delivery genuine thrills but also genuine laughs, crafted through superb visual effects and thankfully never milking said size alteration concept too much - the film's climax is notably where said praise is most applicable. These lead roles are backed by a decent lineup of supporting performances, namely from Michael Douglas and Laurence Fishburne.

Our central antagonist lies in the hands of Hannah John-Kamen, portraying Ava Starr, a female version of Marvel's lesser known villain the Ghost. Deformed by her exposure to the Quantum Realm, Starr finds herself left with all manner of powers that allow her to phase in and out of existence, albeit at the cost of extensive pain and suffering on her end. Though her development is a bit mediocre and occasionally filled with contrivances, Ava Starr remains a fairly entertaining and intimidating villain portrayed well by John-Kamen, and one definitely contributing to well to many of the film's gripping set pieces. All this combined makes Ant-Man and the Wasp and entertaining if somewhat forgettable superhero flick, one for audiences of various demographics to enjoy.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Movie Review - Mission: Impossible - Fallout

The Mission: Impossible series reached new heights back in 2011 with Ghost Protocol, climbing even further in 2015 with the equally renowned Rogue Nation; and now, should you believe it, even further with it's latest installment, Fallout, where eternally badass IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is tasked with intercepting the sale of plutonium cores at the hands of The Apostles, a terrorist agency formed by the remains of The Syndicate, previously lead by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) before his capture two years prior.

To be considered a good MI film, there's one thing Fallout has to nail: set pieces. The franchise in general is known for being one of the best within the action genre, something bolstered significantly by Tom Cruise's love for performing his own crazy stunts and doing it so perfectly. Thankfully, Fallout does not disappoint; indeed, viewers are treated to a juicy lineup of exciting action sequences from beginning to end, alongside equally intense, fast paced fight sequences, which keep you on the edge of your seat as you near the more dramatic moments of the story. Inevitably, there are one or two brief moments where you may feel a set piece is slightly dragging, but this doesn't make them any less impressive in the long run.

But once again this isn't a mishmash of crazy action scenes with nothing constructive to link them together - Christopher McQuarrie has drafted another superb script to direct, developing an engaging story with a number of smart twists and turns as it progresses. All this is further brought to life by the superb efforts of a fantastic cast, from familiar faces Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, to of course Cruise himself, as well as an excellent performance by Henry Cavill as August Walker, a CIA assassin tasked with working alongside the IMF team following controversy from a failed mission. Cavill's talent and the character's strong development make it an interesting role within the film's brilliant narrative; there's certainly more to everything here than meets the eye, making it a compelling watch throughout.

There's very little I have to fault with MI series' latest installment - again, perhaps one or two set pieces may drag ever so slightly at times, and as we approach the climax the story may be a bit hellbent on throwing a tad too many twists at the audience, making it a tad confusing at times, thrilling as it all is in the end. It remains a cleverly structured and thoroughly enjoyable action flick that shows how the franchise really does stand on top within the genre, offering some of the most fast paced, intense set pieces fans could ever ask, brought to life with superb special effects and stuntwork. I seem to say this every time a new installment comes out - but I think perhaps Fallout now ranks as my favourite of the series, it must be said.