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.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Movie Review - The Ritual

Following his closest friends' murder, Rafe Spall finds himself leading the rest of college pals on a hiking trip in tribute to their late colleague's memory. Initially evocative and more adventurous than they expected, the journey is soon cut short following a tedious injury; to get to safety as quick as possible, a shortcut through the forest is taken, where a sense of unease slowly begins to emerge and a number of dark truths soon come to fruition as the group find themselves unable to escape the evil around them.

The Ritual is a film very independent at it's core, which makes it's superb production design and special effects all the more admirable. This same praise also applies when discussing the overall atmosphere; yeah, it occasionally relies on cheap jumps, but it's not without strong moments of eerie chills and frightening twists, certainly making some of it's key set pieces all the more entertaining and nerve wracking.

The movie's key flaw sits within the story itself - though it begins with some surprising emotional heft, it eventually treads down typical horror clichés and lacks consistently refined development, particularly when the key antagonists emerge within the climax. The protagonists fare no better, in all honesty; which is even more of a shame considering how the performances offered up are largely superb and deserving of much praise.

This is a story which simply begins strong yet sinks majorly as it approaches it's conclusion; while it has moments of chills and thrills, the final act certainly feels rushed and contrived in many areas, all coming to an end with an unusually abrupt and inadvertently comical conclusion. The Ritual does offer a genuinely scary experience in some of it's best chilling moments - making it even more disappointing to see it lose more and more interest in it's story and pacing the more and more it goes on.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Worst to Best - Super Mario 3D

Super Mario Odyssey is on the way...to say I'm hyped would be a vast understatement. Since his arcade debut as Jumpman in 1981, Mario as long since been Nintendo's iconic mascot and one of the most renowned heroes in the gaming industry - his reputation precedes him with some of the best games on offer to audiences of all ages. Without a doubt his 3D outings remain just as iconic as his famed 2D ones, and it goes without saying all have maintained a consistent streak of quality over the past two decades.

So this list sure isn't an easy one to form...but now let's rank all of Mario's main 3D adventures, all of which adopt their own innovation and offer some of the best experiences on their respective platforms.

#6 - Super Mario 3D Land (3DS, 2011)

A simple yet strong effort for Mario's main 3DS debut, Mario 3D Land deftly blends the straightforward structure of the 2D classics with the complexity of his 3D efforts - the end result is a game that offers an addictive and well designed platforming experience approachable for loyal fans and newcomers alike. It's first admirable factor are of course the visuals which, impressive 3D effects aside, are certainly some of the best the 3DS has to offer, full of colour and vibrancy and with the simple yet insanely appealing art direction Mario's finest works are always known for.

Perhaps 3D Land isn't quite as memorable as later entries to this list, simply because it may seem little short lived to some and not full of as much innovation to give it the same impact other titles have boasted. Regardless, that doesn't jeopardize it's overall quality by any means, and there's no denying this is one of the best 3DS titles even half a decade on.

#5 - Super Mario 64 (N64, 1996)

Mario 64 being so low on this list may not click with many of you I imagine...though I must emphasise once more that these games are largely even in terms of quality so this in no way implies 64 is an average game. It already wins acclaim for being such a benchmark in the platforming genre, pioneering and refining conventions such as complex analogue control and a 3D camera system. It's also quite remarkable how well the experience has aged - even two decades later, revisiting 64 never feels like an outdated experience and remains just as fun as it was way back when.

What makes 64 such a great experience is the expansive structure most levels boast, promoting exploration without feeling too vague in their design. It's bags of fun to just mess about within the stages' most intricate areas, and seeking out more and more secrets in the process. It's also pleasing just how much variety the game offers - stages range from colourful yet chaotic battlefields, soothing harbours, and a tall, tall mountain (literally), so each experience feels just as unique as the last. There's still plenty of fun and variety on offer, and the game's influence on the industry alone makes it something that will never get old.

The DS remake, somewhat awkward controls aside, is also a respectable update; being able to play such a masterpiece on the go already makes it worth having.

#4 - Super Mario Sunshine (NGC, 2002)

Mario Sunshine is the series' title that yields some more mixed reactions within the fanbase; it's a great game, no doubt, but it's slightly stronger focus on story perhaps didn't work out too well in many people's eyes, and it's occasionally savage difficulty wasn't always appealing when trying to reach that 100% completion.

Sunshine's story sees Mario on vacation at the gorgeous Isle Delfino resort, yet he quickly finds himself framed for polluting the island's beautiful locales and is forced to clean up the mess whilst also tracking down the real culprit. It's nothing disastrous, perhaps just a bit hard to connect with considering the blatant idiocy of Delfino's native Pianta's and the incredibly cheesy voice acting. That aside, Sunshine is definitely one of the best GameCube titles; notably impactful for me as I'd dub it my first true experience with the plumber, considering I was more into the Sega Genesis and PlayStation during past generations.

The new Isle Delfino setting allowed each stage to be fresh in terms of design, and their expansive structure once again promotes exploration; it's equally fun to put the main quest aside to goof off and locate more and more secrets. The integration of FLUDD, Mario's water backpack, also stirs up the experience even further - FLUDD's various nozzles allow you to not only take care of foes and hazards with blasts of water but also navigate large gaps and zoom up to higher locations. It's aforementioned difficulty perhaps could've been a bit more refined, and you certainly wish the characters didn't open their mouths during most cutscenes, but Sunshine is otherwise one of my favourite Mario titles no questions asked.

#3 - Super Mario Galaxy (Wii, 2007)

Branded one of the best games of all time by critics and audiences alike, Mario's debut on the Wii ten years ago now certainly helped prove Nintendo wasn't just trying to milk the casual market with their latest and most controversial console - indeed, there was still the same genius company we all know and love within, capable of making some of the best first party titles seen across all generations of gaming. Galaxy deserves it's strong acclaim simply because of how much ingenuity the developers injected into the experience - as the title suggests, Mario is now whizzing into outer space to stop Bowser once more, and this setting of course paves the way for some of the most innovative level design the series has to offer even today.

The various galaxies Mario explores adopt all kinds of themes - beaches, gardens, volcanoes, you name it. We've seen similar stuff in previous Mario titles, but the fresh design in Galaxy's most notable stages make them far from samey. It's this blend of solid art direction and some amazing technical aspects that also helped show the Wii as something very capable of impressive modern graphics, even if it lagged behind it's rivals. As well as visually stunning, each level is also packed with depth and, whilst the design is actively more linear than 64 and Sunshine, there's a lot of fun to be had as you explore more and more of each world. It's a bit easy at times, yeah, but that matters not when Ninty have otherwise crafted a masterpiece of game design that will never lose it's impact.

Oh, and that music...enough said.

#2 - Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii, 2010)

The Wii became such a gargantuan hit and enjoyed such a long life that there was time for two main 3D Mario games; with so many ideas they couldn't possibly fit into the original, Nintendo came back for the first main sequel in Mario's 3D history, building upon an already stellar formula with some neat little additions and of course an onslaught of new, equally absorbing levels. Of course the most notable addition at first glance is the return of Yoshi, making his first 3D Mario appearance since Sunshine eight years prior. He can be a little underused I won't deny, but the inclusion was certainly a superb one, far more enjoyable and less fiddly than his Sunshine gameplay and paving the way for more and more creativity during his main segments in certain levels.

Galaxy 2 also streamlines the experience a little more by featuring a much smaller hub world and a stronger focus on a world map to connect each level - it may seem a shame to not have as much freedom initially, but this is a minor worry when the game's fluidity is seriously aided by this new, simpler structure. Aside from such tweaks, Galaxy 2 doesn't dramatically alter the experience offered by its predecessor, meant in a good way as of course if something isn't broken, don't fix it; the new stages and missions offer plenty of challenge and enjoyment, yet the game still adopts the same stellar visuals and fluent controls. The outcome? Certainly that rare superior sequel.

#1 - Super Mario 3D World (Wii U, 2013)

Though certainly considered one of the Wii U's best titles, Mario 3D World wouldn't be most people's choice for the best of the plumbers 3D outings. Not that it's bad in any way, but perhaps just not as impactful as past efforts, considering the resounding influence many of them had on the platforming genre.

But alas, whilst it took a lot of thinking due to the franchises refined quality, 3D World has to be my pick for the best of the best. The game adopts the style of 3D Land, with timed, somewhat linear stages, but builds upon it with a dozen new ideas of it's own: a world map more open to some exploration, more and more thoughtful concepts within each level, new power ups, and of course a multiplayer element that makes the experience over ten times as fun when shared with friends. The multiplayer may get a bit crowded during the later stages, but it remains one of my favourite aspects of 3D World's experience, and it's nice to see some later levels actually designed with it in mind to allow you to unlock new secrets and pathways alongside teammates.

It also goes without saying that on a visual and audial level, 3D World remains true to the series' high standards, boasting some of the Wii U's most crisp, vibrant graphics and a soundtrack that is without any forgettable tunes. Whilst I look forward to Odyssey returning to the more open world design, 3D World again proves the more linear structure is not without depth of it's own, and can certainly be just as engrossing.

UPDATE: This post has now been adapted into a video for the gaming channel ProjectFalconPunch! Check it out via the link below!

Click here!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, 6 October 2017

Movie Goofs - The Woman in Black (2012)

I don't read a lot of books - but as I've always made clear at any opportunity, my favourite novel of all time has to be Susan Hill's The Woman in Black, first published in 1985. A well told ghost story with an unsettling tone, Hill's novel is a gripping read from start to finish, with the depth to the overall narrative and characters help rendering it as good a piece of storytelling as it is a haunting experience.

Amazing stage play aside, The Woman in Black has been adapted for screen twice - a superb 1989 TV film, albeit one with numerous changes, and a 2012 theatrical release featuring Potter star Daniel Radcliffe himself...and one with even more changes, no denying. But hey, it's a pretty good horror flick overall, although just not quite the adaptation I feel the novel truly deserves.

Oh, and it's not without it's plot holes...

  • A central issue that even the original story sometimes holds is how the Woman is said to lead to the death of children whenever seen. However, the amount of times Arthur must've seen her in this film...not every sighting seems to link a to a child dying. Perhaps the meaning is of course that the death of a child is joined by her appearance? If so, Elizabeth's explanation of it is quite poor to put it lightly. 
  • Kekwick, whose son was killed by the Woman, seems to feel strongly about avoiding any chance of disturbing her to save future misery. However, this doesn't quite seem to be the case, as we see him change his mind in a flash of a second over a cheap little bribe. Some repercussions of this must've took place: did Keckwick's employer ever find out? Was Keckwick reprimanded for such a gross disobedience? I'm just thinking out loud (and far too much) now, but hey, there's some merit to my words.
  • Why does nobody just tell Arthur about the ghost of Jennet Humfrye? While this makes sense in terms of them not wanting to look bonkers or kick up even more of a fuss, they are extremely adamant to get rid of him but do a pretty poor job of doing so. It perhaps would've been better if they were just honest about it; even Sam blindly shunts aside the obvious truth and puts Arthur in serious danger for reasons that just aren't made very clear.
  • Referring back to Sam, he and his wife find it an good idea to lock up their daughter Lucy in an insane effort to shield her from the eponymous ghost. This requires obsessive monitoring and gross mistreatment - of course it links back to paranoia developed by the Woman killing their previous child, but maybe it would've been a good idea to just use protection if all they'll be doing is locking their new kid up and guarding it like incredibly valuable treasure.

  • It seems odd how the marsh surrounding the causeway has extremely strong preservation qualities, made obvious when Arthur and Sam dig up a pony trap housing two corpses in pristine condition...despite it apparently being there for a fair few years.
  • The same scene is also slightly hard to believe in as it shows Arthur tying a thick bit of rope around the submerged pony trap, in a method strong enough for it to be hauled out with minimal hassle, all whilst swimming in the marshes and consequently unable to see a thing.
  • Perhaps it also would've been a good idea for Arthur and Sam to carry out such a task during the day so they'd have a solid view of the tides and surrounding marshes, making it both easier to steer along the causeway and accomplish their bizarre goal without serious risk of veering into a sticky situation. But I guess a horror film needs to be dark during it's climactic moments, right?
  • This scene also raises the debate over how the Nathaniel boy drowned within said marshes - the book establishes that they're immensely strong and will drag anyone to their demise if they so much as catch their foot in them, however we, once again, see Arthur swimming in it with little hassle. So how did Nathaniel drown in it if he was with his parents? Did they abandon him to save their own asses? Even if he couldn't swim surely someone was there to aid him, or were the wealthy snobs that afraid of getting dirty?
  • Arthur's always established as highly protective of his son Joseph following the loss of his wife during childbirth - however, when Joseph notices the Woman at the train station, he purposely lets go of Arthur's hand and at this point neither Arthur, nor Sam, nor the lady paid to keep an eye on Joseph notice him climb onto the train tracks and approach the enormous locomotive thundering into the station.

I remember being so, so hyped for this film throughout 2011 as it's release neared and the trailers rolled out. Like I said earlier, it's a decent horror flick no doubt, with one of it's biggest pros being Radcliffe and the strong cast he leads. Sadly, it just feels too noisy and obsessed with forcing set pieces into the mix, than it does portraying the heart of the book with a fresh aesthetic. Oh well.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, 17 September 2017

RETROSPECT - Most Anticipated Films of 2017

As the year begins, I of course have my most anticipated cinematic releases, once again all noted in my original list you can find here. Now, after seeing It just last week, I have my opinions on all five films - and so here's my ranking of them not in terms of hype but now overall quality.

#5 - Pirate's of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has always been commercially successful but never the most critically acclaimed; this year's Dead Men Tell No Tales certainly doesn't find itself in any better circumstances, in fact in even worse ones considering it's even weaker box office earnings. I've always been a big fan of the series, perhaps On Stranger Tides less so, but it's this installment that certainly deters my interest for any future sequels and makes it very evident that there's just no real creative potential to keep going.

The key issue is just the story itself. Not only is it weak when you view it altogether, but it's so badly developed that even over an hour into the film it's hard to fully piece together what exactly is going on and why. Javier Bardem performs well as villain Salazar, but the character is so poorly structured that he holds little interest outside of a cool design and Bardem's solid acting. Indeed, outside of the impressive visual effects and occasional charms of Johnny Depp (who clearly isn't interested anymore), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is simply just as bloated and awkwardly structured as it's title.

#4 - Spider-Man: Homecoming

I've made it quite apparent by now that I hated Tom Holland as Spidey in last year's Captain America: Civil War. Hell, the entire film I found fairly average considering it's glowing reviews, but it was both Spidey's forced integration and bloody irritating persona that made my appreciation for the film dwindle even lower as the climax approached. It wasn't so much Holland's acting as it was the weak development and writing the character fell victim to - not a good starting point for a very big moment in the series.

But that didn't detract from my interest in the character's first sole entry in the franchise, and whilst the finished product is far from the best the MCU has to offer, it's a pleasing step forward from the iffy Amazing series with some superb visuals, a strong cast, and an entertaining if somewhat underdeveloped villain. It's also satisfying to see Tony Stark have a genuine significance in the overall narrative - trailers and posters of course made it seem like he was a forced integration of the MCU's biggest icon in order to generate more hype, but thankfully this is not the case. The overall story flows nicely and is backed by some gripping set pieces, making Homecoming the debut Spidey really deserves in this monster of a franchise.

#3 - Beauty and the Beast

With earnings of over $500 million in the US and $1.2 billion globally, Beauty and the Beast ranks as the highest grossing film of the year - such an accolade doesn't go undeserved, even if the film isn't without fault. Disney look set to revisit more and more of their classic animated hits in live action as time goes on, and Beauty and the Beast is largely a decent example of how this can be done right when you're working with some of the most treasured material of all time. The film's overall visual design is a superb live action reimagining of the original's vivid animation, and a strong cast help bring it to life even further - perhaps my only grudge with said cast is Emma Watson who, despite visible effort, doesn't really capture the role of Belle...a problem that evolves into something even uglier when you hear that dreadful electronic singing voice of hers. In fact, whilst many of the songs are nice modern updates of the originals, most of them lack the majesty and charm, feeling too often like actors who really can't sing awkwardly forcing themselves to do so - a sort of Mamma Mia scenario, if not quite that bad.

One actor not doing an amazing job isn't the end of the world, but of course is a little more serious if it's the lead protagonist. Still, Watson has her moments, and is far from terrible - just miscast if I give my honest opinion. It's the supporting cast of Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thomas, and Luke Evans to name a few that adopt their roles perfectly, and of course the same can be said for Dan Stevens as the Beast himself. The effects used to animated many of the side characters, who also have new designs that feel fresh yet loyal to the originals, are just as superb, and thus the finished product is one that can never live up to the original but still an entertaining and heartfelt experience.

#2 - It

Based on Stephen King's acclaimed horror novel, It ranked as my most anticipated film for the entire year - and it sure didn't disappoint. Already the film has won over countless audiences, achieving a record breaking opening weekend for the entire horror genre and rivalling some of the biggest superhero blockbusters in terms of it's ongoing domestic earnings. Arguably the most impressive aspect of the film at first glance is of course one Bill Skarsgard in the role of Pennywise the Dancing Clown; his performance is beastly and extremely frightening in many scenes and this, coupled with an impressive and stylishly dark production design, equates to an absorbing and chilling experience.

But his acting isn't the only merit. The protagonists of several young teens dubbed The Loser's Club perform admirably considering their age - something never easy to master for such young characters with extremely complex development. This, alongside a very engaging story, all helps render It a benchmark in modern horror that proves also how important it is to entertain the audience outside of just decent scares.

#1 - War for the Planet of the Apes

It's a shame to see the latest entry to the rebooted Planet of the Apes series struggling to achieve the success of it's predecessors. With only $370 million in worldwide earnings, as opposed to $710 million from it's predecessor three years ago, the epic nature and element of finality to the narrative clearly wasn't enough to win over similarly large audiences. On the critical side, however, War for the Planet of the Apes has not failed one bit, and it's thoroughly deserving of all the praise it has earned - I could now easily class this one of my favourite trilogies in film history.

War builds upon the high stakes that the ending of Dawn generated, with the apes now battling the humans to determine Earth's dominant species now that all chances for peace are lost. However, whilst there's plenty of action and visual thrills, this is also a film with an intelligent, thoughtful story - so much so that long periods without action never become boring, in fact just as interesting when we see the story advance with all sorts of twists and turns. Andy Serkis also helms a fantastic cast with another masterful motion capture performance as Caesar, who again has the same engaging characterization as before - if you've yet to see this film, or in fact either of it's predecessors, that is a fault you must rectify as soon as possible.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, 11 September 2017

Movie Review - It

The name Stephen King is surely not foreign to most audiences. One of the most renowned yet also most challenging authors of all time, King is known for his complex novels of often formidable length, of which over 50 exist, that tackle all sorts of unique themes across all kinds of genres - though of course, King has usually been branded the master of horror, with his 1988 novel It undoubtedly being one of his most famous horror works. Telling the story of an evil entity haunting a small town every three decades, It found itself originally adapted for television in 1988 with an iconic lead performance by Tim Curry, and now enjoys it's first theatrical release with one Bill Skarsgard taking on the lead role of It it...uh, well, itself.

It's plot is simple enough to grasp but still has a lot of depth - the eponymous evil primarily appears in the form of a twisted clown named Pennywise, attracting it's preferred prey of young children, yet it's shapeshifting capabilities allow it to exploit the phobias of it's victims to break them down into more vulnerable states. The central victims eventually become a group of seven children who meet up through their less than renowned social status, dubbing themselves The Losers Club, who soon make it their goal to piece together the exact origins of the monster pursuing them and find a way to put an end to it's malicious actions. This narrative is both complex and heartfelt, capturing the emotions of the numerous characters nicely and developing them all with a refined attention to detail for the most part - the twists and turns we experience also make the story more engaging as it moves along, making this a horror film that relies on more than just scares to entertain the audience.

Undoubtedly the key highlight of It at first glance is Skarsgard as Pennywise - comparing him to the highly acclaimed performance of Tim Curry in the original would be crude considering their vastly different nature, with Skarsgard's interpretation being far more animalistic and monstrous than Curry's well spoken albeit sadistic evildoer. Either way, Skarsgard is a highly frightening foe, and the cruel, dark sense of humour the character adopts when haunting it's victims is nicely captured without loss of the overall fear factor. The design is just as compelling - perhaps a tad too blatantly creepy if Pennywise has a goal of attracting young kids, but still something stylistically dark and unique. This, coupled with some impressive visual effects during some of the film's major scares as well as Skarsgard's superb acting, certainly renders Pennywise a thrilling foe from start to end.

But it's not just Skarsgard who performs well - the Losers Club surely isn't an easy handful of characters to bring to life on the screen considering their age, but It has an impressive lineup of highly talented youngsters in the lead roles, namely Jaeden Lieberher who delivers an emotionally stirring performance absolutely masterful for someone so young. It's this high quality acting, alongside the fab visuals and sound design, that makes It such a chilling experience - yeah, some of it is a wee bit loud (especially in IMAX), but the many scares are thankfully far from cheap jumps. Perhaps a principle flaw does lie within the slightly bloated runtime and occasional jarring tonal shifts, with chills becoming chilled in some abrupt transitions, but an otherwise solid structure, talented cast, and well crafted scares make It a worthy adaptation of an iconic novel, and I'm certainly anticipating the next chapter come 2019.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Movie Goofs - Iron Man (2008)

Iron Man is perhaps best known as the pioneer of the titanic Marvel Cinematic Universe, now officially the largest movie franchise of all time and one that continues to expand with more and more blockbusters as each year flies by. Their quality, in my eyes, has undeniably tanked somewhat recently, and perhaps this can be largely linked to how many films insist on cramming in multiple characters and insane amounts of plot threads to almost make even the standalone hero flicks feel like Avengers sequels.

It's why tuning into Iron Man among other early MCU hits is satisfying in today's world - never does the film feel too obsessed with forcing more and more stuff into this shared universe. Instead it creates a compelling story of it's own, helmed by a superb cast playing well developed characters, and boasting some masterful effects within some compelling set pieces. All amazing stuff, and it's why it remains my favourite of the franchise even a decade onward.

However, it's not without goofs and plot holes. Is any movie, though? Even your favourites...so let's take a look at where the filmmakers may have cocked up just a little.

  • Whilst the terrorists who capture Tony of course known nothing about how to build the Jericho Missile and so can't instantly recognise the robotic outfit Tony's actually constructing, it seems odd that considering how long he was in captivity for and how the terrorists continued to keep a close eye on him that they never once figured out that he was creating a weapon to aid his escape. Hell, perhaps they could've at least had guards standing in the room 24/7, instead of goofing around staring at god awful quality CCTV cameras that clearly didn't help in the long run.
  • When Tony finally completes said robotic outfit, he makes good his escape from the cave by taking off into the sky in a gargantuan field of flames. However, as we see clearly, his suit has two enormous eye sockets protected by absolutely nothing, and this raises a crucial question: how were his eyeballs not roasted into pure nothingness during his epic ascent?
  • On that subject, when Tony's flight is cut short by some sort of malfunction, he falls god know how many hundred feet and crashes into the desert below, smashing his suit into a million pieces, yet leaving him totally unharmed. I'm sure his limbs would be flying across the wilderness alongside said metal pieces, wouldn't you agree?
  • A very minor yet somewhat strange flaw shows members of the Ten Rings addressing Stane over Stark's capture through a video clip in their own language, which apparently is as easy to translate as typing TRANSLATE to switch to an English voiceover. Was it not possible for them to speak English? Unusual considering he is their English-speaking employer after all, whom they'd been making all sorts of dodgy business dealings with for quite some time.

  • Tony's mini arc reactor used to power his suit and keep him alive of all things is kept super secretive, with nobody except Pepper getting a half decent look at it. Yet, later in the film, Stane is able to create a tool used to remove said reactor from Tony's chest as if he had the chance to study it's exact dimensions and features. Sure, he briefly saw it upon Tony's return, but nowhere near enough to actually have such refined knowledge of it. How did that happen?
  • The majority of this movie depicts Tony constructing his suit, going through all sorts of prototypes and beta designs, and requiring a lot of intense practice to master the art of flying. However, when Stane builds his suit based on Tony's scrapped plans and enters it for the first time, he is able to maneuverer around, fly, and fight with little to no hassle whatsoever.
  • On the subject of Stane's suit, it is known by the agents of SHIELD that he is building such a weapon and intends to use it for some epic destructive purposes, but they decide sending six or so agents armed with generic PG-13 pistols will be enough to bring a stop to his madness. It's stuff like this that makes some superhero villains so easily achieve their goals...until the last minute anyway.
  • You could say it's primarily down to him just losing his marbles, but one has to question what Stane's plan is once he has defeated Stark in their final battle? Everyone knows it's him in the gigantic suit so him creating a lineup of similar ones isn't gonna happen as he'll be seized by the CIA the moment he exits his armour; and if he doesn't intend to exit it, daily life is surely gonna become a lot more awkward.
  • Tony demands Pepper to overload the reactor as one last effort to defeat an unbeatable Stane, but Pepper is reluctant to do so, insisting Tony will die - something Tony also seems to be accepting of. Said death seemed so inevitable that it seems odd that nobody questioned why it never happened, especially when Stane was so easily destroyed and Tony just slammed to one side yet popping up all healthy and well in the next scene.

Still one of the best superhero films now and forever.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Movie Review - Annabelle: Creation

Supernatural horror is a mixed bag in modern cinema, with many entries ignoring core atmospheric traits and instead settling for samey jump scares. However, that doesn't mean well made films of the genre are absent in today's world - one such example is 2013's The Conjuring, arguably one of the best horror films in recent times. Following it's success, a series has kicked off, including a sequel last year and spinoff titled Annabelle in 2014 - and now arrives the prequel to the aforementioned Annabelle (a prequel to the prequel...), a film which was less than spectacular in the eyes of most critics - something that certainly isn't the case with this latest entry.

The Annabelle doll is often seen as one of The Conjuring's freakiest attributes, and now we're off to explore even more of it's backstory - beginning with the death of one Annabelle Mullins (Samara Lee) and the trauma it has on her parents Samuel (Anthony Paglia) and Esther Mullins (Miranda Otto). Soon enough their residence becomes a home for numerous orphans including disabled girl Janice (Talitha Bateman) whose curiosity quickly gets the better of her, leading to a number of unusual events which all soon add up to unveil the truth behind the Mullins' past and the mysterious essence now dwelling in their home.

Annabelle is arguably a mixed film in hindsight, craving rapid jump scares over genuine atmosphere, and thankfully Creation acknowledges this to provide much better results. It's largely well structured and establishes fear factor through tense atmosphere, many of which conclude with some thrilling jump scares that never usually feel too cheap or repetitive - this is all brought to life by a visibly passionate cast, especially the youngsters that make up most of it. The lineup of actresses portraying the numerous orphan protagonists perform wonderfully, especially lead Talitha Bateman as Janice and Lulu Wilson as Linda, Janice's closest friend. Both of them alongside the numerous supporting roles are not only relatable in how they convey their roles but also extremely talented when it comes to acting out the numerous horror sequences - the fear they convey never feels forced or cheesy, and blends superbly with the chilling atmosphere the film creates.

However, whilst their performances are largely spot on, it's hard to deny that most characters in the film lack much of the development they really need. Janice's disability feels forced in a lot of the time to make certain horror chase scenes more intense and little else - no overall narrative impact, which is a disappointment considering it had some interesting potential. The supporting actresses also lack much depth despite some strong performances, to a point where even remembering the characters' names is difficult. Said lack of depth also, in all honesty, applies to the overall plot - whilst it's still generally entertaining, it isn't without the handful of clichés and generic pieces of backstory that are often unveiled during abrupt conversations instead of over time in a clever, more believable structure. This doesn't rank Annabelle: Creation as a bad film by any means - just as a good one with some key flaws. Narrative hiccups aside, it's largely perfect in the way it conveys a scary essence and handles some exciting jump scares, making it a thrilling watch for that alone.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Movie Review - The Emoji Movie

Branded by many as one of the worst animated films to pop up in a long time, this year's The Emoji Movie was greeted with naught but hostility from the very second it was announced - and each trailer made it's fate more and more foreseeable. Indeed, reception has been so abysmal that it's box office results are looking as mediocre as anyone would expect and it's reviews so bad that Rotten Tomatoes couldn't even find a way to summarise it...yikes. But is all this negativity really deserve...oh, what's the point.

Within the phone of young student Alex (Jake T. Austin) lies Textopolis, a world comprised of the device's numerous apps and texting features and inhabited by the eponymous emoji's, whose roles within society are to simply pose appropriately when Alex utilises them in an SMS message. Though their role seems simple, one emoji, Gene (T.J. Miller), finds himself unable to adopt the preset "meh" persona due to his expressive charisma - something that jeopardizes his future within the city and forces him on a quest to become the emoji society needs him to be.

It's as ludicrous as it sounds, I won't lie. The concept isn't one that's automatically terrible - perhaps it'd work well as a silent short film, for example. But the writers are adamant to craft a story with the cliché themes of love, friendship, and being yourself - mix this with a very daft concept and you have an extremely awkward end result. Such awkwardness is then worsened by characters who are massively underdeveloped, forgettable, and frequently irritating; Gene's overall struggle to simply pull a miserable face is a desparate story arc that can't ever be taken seriously, whilst the corny antics of clumsy sidekick Hi-5 (James Corden) painfully blend an already unfunny performer with even less funny jokes, making you want to glue your eyes and ears shut whenever he pops up on screen.

There's also a romance in there somewhere between Gene and hacker emoji Jailbreak (Anna Faris), whose backstory was clearly pulled out of the filmmakers' asses at the last minute and who also seems to be capable of overcoming any obstruction with her 1337 hax skills, even if it blatantly contradicts some earlier moments and results in a tonnage of dumb plot holes. I won't be all negative - The Emoji Movie does have some funny jokes and pop cultural references, and Maya Rudolph's strangely committed performance as the villainous Smiler may generate a few giggles, but these are all built around a generic, soulless narrative that's even less tolerable within such a silly premise. The very young may have fun and will certainly admire the colourful visuals, but everyone else will find their faces colliding with those palms a lot.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Movie Review - Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan - even the most laid back film fans will be no stranger to this name. Arguably one of modern cinema's most famous filmmakers, Nolan has tackled numerous genres and given birth to some of the most innovative blockbusters in recent times; be it the acclaimed reboot of DC Comics' Batman in the form of his Dark Knight Trilogy or the mind-bending sci-fi flick Inception, something always referenced when referring to the need for more originality in the summer movie season.

Now the man returns with his latest summer hit, Dunkirk, a retelling of the renowned evacuation within the midst of the Second World War. Not unusual for Nolan is the concept of narratives with multiple threads, and Dunkirk is not exception: the story follows three key segments of the eponymous event across the land, air, and sea. Within land, Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) finds himself under threat alongside thousands of other soldiers as they seek to return home from the compromised French town, whilst at sea the likes of mariner Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) venture to the thousands of soldiers of who find themselves stranded and without hope of rescue.

Intertwined with this is of course the air, featuring Spitfire pilots lead by Farrier (Tom Hardy) fighting off the German armada whilst the rescue below continues with great difficulty. What makes this branching narrative pattern work well is that, whilst it can sometimes make character development an issue, it actually helps render the film as a sort of reenactment of the event and not an overly sentimental adaptation of it. We aren't treated to onslaughts of hefty backstory and it's clear not too many liberties have been taken within the creative process; instead, what we see is grim and down to Earth, not reaching the likes of Saving Private Ryan in terms of visual intensity but still giving birth to some extremely tense and gripping scenes, many of which also catch audiences off guard and so make the thrills all the more impactful.

A strong cast also helms a number of superb performances. Solider Tommy is sometimes a tad underdeveloped, but the genuine fear yet determination Whitehead demonstrates within his performance helps us relate more to the overall struggles such troops must've been forced through - the same can be said for the supporting cast and extras surrounding him, and of course for the likes of Rylance, Hardy, and of course Kenneth Branagh in their surprisingly powerful roles. Their acting ability flourishes more than ever to bring even more life to an already smartly written script. Nolan also remains a fab visual stylist, of course - overall the aesthetic perfectly replicates the time period and once again helps understand just how hellish some of these experiences must've been. Dunkirk is a brilliant watch from beginning to end, and while not without flaws in instances of some sluggish pacing and mediocre development, it remains an exciting yet also thought provoking war film that shows yet again how Nolan is an expert of his craft.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Movie Review - Cars 3

Though one of the biggest franchises of all time when it comes to merchandise, Disney Pixar's Cars hasn't exactly been their most acclaimed; the 2006 inaugural installment, while receiving a fairly positive response, was considered one of the their worst efforts at the time, and it's 2011 sequel branded as Pixar's first bad film by many. This subsequent mixed reception of the series has made it's third installment one of the studio's least anticipated and currently lowest grossing films to date...however, I'd certainly dub it far from their worst in terms of overall quality.

Cars 3 sees Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) struggling to maintain his top positions in the racing league after the arrival of a new lineup of advanced opponents who outmatch him in almost every category. His subsequent ambitions to top them lead to naught but failure, and he soon finds himself questioning his future as a racer whilst also fighting to try and overcome these new rivals, mainly the arrogant wannabe champion Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer).

Cars 3 is as gorgeously animated as any Pixar production - everything from lighting, textures, and overall emotion within each characters' facial expressions is spot on, and this is further brought to life by some excellent voice work across the entire cast. The overall tone is a decent balance of genuine heartfelt emotion, without going to extremes, and plenty of approachable comedy, something I felt the original Cars also handled quite well, but one it's sequel ditched in favour of an onslaught obnoxious gags. As it may initially seem, the story for this threequel is a little predictable at first glance, but some respectable twists that come into play towards the climax certainly help make it more interesting and more what we expect from Pixar.

Whilst Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) was more of the lead hero in Cars 2, he returns to a comic relief this time round, and thankfully is always enjoyable to watch during his brief appearances - Lightning finds himself the star of the show once again, building upon his redeemed personality after the original Cars. The relationship developed between him and wannabe racer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) leads to some surprisingly touching moments, but said moments thankfully never become too sappy. Perhaps the only major issue with Cars 3 is the somewhat bloated run time, which can make simple scenes drag out to uncomfortable lengths; this aside, Pixar's latest effort largely finds itself as a worthy redemption from it's lame predecessor and an enjoyable animated flick for a wide range of audiences.