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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.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Movie Review - Incredibles 2


Incredibles 2 is certainly one of the most anticipated animated films in recent times - it's been fourteen years since the original impressed us and left us dying for a follow up, and it's clear by this sequel's box office records that said hype has indeed been lived up to on a financial level. Critics are equally impressed - but is all this acclaim truly deserved? It seems most audiences would agree, but I find myself rather unsure, despite being both a huge fan of Pixar and of course the original film itself.

Incredibles 2 follows directly on from the original as the titular heroes fight off the villainous Underminer (John Ratzenberger), only to generate further controversy following all the destruction done in the process; however, they eventually find themselves approached Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), owner of DevTech, who seeks a way to restore superheroes' former glory amongst the general public. His schemes are initially helmed by Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), who ventures on a series of missions to demonstrate the unseen potential superheroes truly have once more, soon bringing her face to face with a mysterious new foe known simply as the Screenslaver.


The Incredibles stood out amongst the animated genre upon release for many reasons, though one such reason was it's thoughtful story that blended together a lot of complex themes and ideas; so it's a shame this long awaited sequel doesn't really live up to that level of quality, and certainly not the immense expectations behind it. Perhaps the biggest issue is simply the structure of the story itself - Elastigirl is primarily the star of the show this time round, and while she certainly helms a lot of gripping and superbly choreographed set pieces, it's a shame the former greatness of Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) is long gone, with him now stuck in the role of an overworked babysitter, struggling to understand Dash's (Huck Milner) strangely complicated homework, Violet's (Sarah Vowell) teenage emotional turmoil, and of course the insanely repetitive chaos involving Jack-Jack's handful of newly developed powers.

As a result of these awkward jumps between Elastigirl's heroisms and Mr. Incredible's disastrous babysitting, the plot in general is just fairly shallow - with a dull villain and somewhat predictable plot twist as we approach the climax. On the flipside, the final fight itself is perhaps one of the films' best moments, blending the antics of all kinds of heroes into a creative climactic battle - I only wish this was a bit more regular, instead of having most heroes jammed into roles that are essentially borderline comic relief. Incredibles 2 is a decent film, boasting beautiful animation and a plethora of gripping set pieces, but it also just feels unfocused and excessively silly; too often I felt like I was watching some sort of parody of the genre, and not the near masterpiece almost everyone else believes it to be.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Movie Review - Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom


The modern film industry is arguably infested with more sequels than ever before in recent years, particularly with the advent of evergrowing shared universes, which themselves are leading to the revival of many age old franchises that rank among the most treasured in cinema history. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a sequel that slots nicely into such a category - the truck sized earnings of 2015's Jurassic World made a sequel an irreversible decision from a business perspective, but while Universal's bank accounts will be looking good soon enough, it's a shame this level of positivity can't quite be applied when discussing the finished project itself.

Three years after the destruction of the Jurassic World theme park, the volcanic activity within Isla Nublar begins to reemerge, placing the now freely roaming at dinosaurs at risk of extinction once more. Some won't let such tragedy unfold - dinosaur activist Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas-Howard) and Navy veteran Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) join a team of fellow activists to rescue a number of species from Nublar before time runs out, though these actions ultimately leave them tangled in a scheme that brings to fruition another threat against them all.


Fallen Kingdom's biggest setback is that which has plagued almost every other sequel to the beloved 1993 classic - a story that holds little merit and is simply more of the same. Whilst Jurassic World had it's interesting premise with John Hammond's original bizarre dream of a dinosaur infested theme park coming to fruition at last, there was little potential for a continuation outside of financial gain; Fallen Kingdom provides visual thrills and excitement within it's very best moments, but said moments are dwindling in overall variety, and outside of them we have very little to be truly absorbed in. You'll find little has been done to stir things up - the plot is another generic blend of cardboard cutout villains motivated by naught but fancy profits, seriously miffed off dinosaurs causing a ruckus and killing a number of disposable extras, and of course the iconic idiocy and greed of man as the central cause of all this unwanted chaos to begin with.

Any attempted emotional depth largely feels forced and forgettable, and often quite sappy, with numerous tired clichés recycled within a script flooded with numerous contrivances. My bitter self emerges once more, but rest assured Fallen Kingdom isn't necessarily a bad film, per se; it's still entertaining for the most part, and offers a decent array of laughs and genuine thrills, once again brought to life through some stunning visual effects and well structured (if occasionally silly) action sequences, and of course all is portrayed well through a strong, well chosen cast. It's just a shame the filmmakers have made little effort to try and breathe any sort of new life into the age old series, instead settling for a flimsy narrative that recycles all these tired conventions. At this rate, it seems things have definitely run their course, hard as it is for studio executives to come to terms with.