Monday, 4 October 2021

Movie Review - No Time to Die

Daniel Craig's time as the iconic James Bond comes to a closure with this year's No Time to Die, which sees the eponymous MI6 agent on a high stakes mission to combat the evil Spectre organisation once more, with their newest scheme exploiting the works of an abducted scientist and the development of a bioweapon that jeopardises the world as we know it.

Craig's final Bond outing is certainly the ambitious action thriller one would expect, with a number of gripping set pieces that demonstrate a major development in scope when compared to those that came before it. Intertwined with these thrilling sequences is a story that, while certainly not on par with the franchise's best efforts, is effectively laced with interesting twists, threatening foes, and an intensive atmosphere that only escalates as more revelations come to fruition.

No Time to Die potentially qualifies as one of the best 007 films to date when it comes to action, with its set pieces once again boasting a major sense of scope and scale, which is apt for a conclusion to such a significant stage of the franchise. The truck sized budget is certainly put to good use to craft lavish special effects, superb production design, and relentless (if sometimes awkwardly shot) fight sequences which are both brutal and ruthless; all these merits are most apparent within the film's climactic battle, which is easily one of the most intense scenes that the whole series, let alone the film itself, has to offer.

It's a shame that the story, while interesting and heartfelt, perhaps goes a bit overboard with its unpredictability, which can sometimes leave it without a firm sense of direction. This becomes evident when a number of seemingly important characters abruptly come and go with little aftermath, notably when it comes to the antagonists themselves; yes, they're suitably threatening and sinister, but the jarring disposal of them once they've served their duty with narrative exposure can leave them rather forgettable. It can thus be hard to tell who the film's primary villain truly is throughout the bulk of the story.

The performances for the most part meet all expectations, with Craig delivering another caustic portrayal of Bond and the likes of Ralph Fiennes, Ben Wishaw, Naomie Harris, and Léa Seydoux shining in their crucial supporting roles. Christoph Waltz and Rami Malek, among others, do their very best as our key villains, but once again find themselves burdened by roles with a lack of substance. This is most evident with Malek as Lyutsifer Safin, whose efforts are undermined by a blandly written character which just doesn't serve as a fitting adversary for Bond to combat in this otherwise ambitious finale. No Time to Die is also home to some excessive goofy humour, but all this aside, it still provides the thrills and genuine excitement we need from such a key stage of the series, making it a largely satisfying closing chapter to Craig's time as 007.

Sunday, 19 September 2021

Movie Review - Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Marvel continue to expand on their shared universe with another acclaimed installment, this time based on a protagonist who may not be as familiar to general audiences. Said protagonist comes in the form Shang-Chi (Simu Liu), whose own origin new story begins with his father Xu Wenwu's (Tony Leung) discovery of the mystical Ten Rings thousands of years ago. The powers they gift him he ultimately uses to seek vengeance against those who murder his wife, and trains Shang-Chi as a pawn in this goal throughout his childhood. Chi eventually flees from his father and starts a new modern life in San Francisco, but his dark history makes its way back in good time.

Shang-Chi seldom does anything to build upon Marvel's traditional formula, with a lot of pop culture humour, thunderous set pieces, and fairly standard emotional sequences. This won't have a negative impact on many viewers, especially Marvel diehards, but a failure to develop this trademark formula will allow a lot of people to predict what may come of certain scenes; this makes little room for interesting twists and surprises, which to be honest its intriguing premise could've really benefited from. The only fresh aspect of this narrative is inevitably the new origin story, but the flow of said story is largely quite predictable.

A Marvel film is of course going to host a number of gripping action sequences, and Shang-Chi is no exception. Its set pieces boast some stylish fight choreography, and their scale expands dramatically as the film nears its conclusion. Some are slightly overlong and can ruin their own tone with forced, unwanted gags, but they still make for a thrilling experience that most fans will certainly enjoy. The film also fails to disappoint when it comes to the visual effects, which are beautifully crafted and seamlessly integrated, and so bolster these action sequences even further. Most of the film's cast also do a good job in their roles, primarily Simu Liu as our leading protagonist.

So while Shang-Chi has has all the usual positives one would expect from a Marvel film, its still conjoined with a number of disappointing flaws, and it honestly should've done a lot more with such a complex premise. Its attempts to inject an emotional vibe into this narrative largely feel like an afterthought, and can often be ruined once again by a forced integration of daft humour; this is especially apparent with Awkwafina's performance, which is overly reliant on unfunny silliness. It's a story with many charming moments, but it should've taken its interesting premise a lot more seriously.

Friday, 9 July 2021

Movie Review - Luca

The core themes of Luca have certainly garnered the interest of many satisfied viewers, and such reception is arguably what most would expect from a motion picture crafted by one of this industry's leading animation studios. Pixar's newest feature tells the story of the titular sea monster (Jacob Tremblay) and his efforts in exploring the world above the ocean, which leads him to befriend Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), another young sea monster with the same aspirations that Luca himself has embraced and pursued over many years.

It's a story that's reasonably touching, but not quite as unpredictable as it may initially sound; while the core premise is certainly unique, it's hard to deny that the structure of the overall plot is fairly standard and formulaic. Charming visuals and passionate vocal performances from a talented cast help bring an appealing lineup of characters to life, but a lack depth (and a slightly bland protagonist) may leave them rather forgettable to some. It's by no means a bad narrative, primarily once again thanks to some surprisingly complex themes, but its overall structure perhaps just isn't as unique as such a strong and creative premise would demand.

A Pixar film released in 2021 obviously faces no risk of visual flaws, and Luca certainly delivers on the inevitably high expectations. It's brought to life with a colourful and lively aesthetic, and this appealing art direction is then superbly rendered and smoothly animated with excellent attention to detail. It meets all the standards one would expect from a high budget Pixar production, and is beautiful to look at from start to finish. There's really nothing one can fault with the film's overall aesthetic.

While the overall flow of Luca's story is indeed quite formulaic, it's still entertaining, with a fluent blend of humour and emotional warmth that allows it to effortlessly appeal to a family audience. Its heartfelt themes in regards to friendship and self acceptance, effectively conveyed in a reasonably subtle manner, help make it much more than just a piece of disposable, cliché entertainment. It's charming and inventive to an extent, but perhaps some work in the development of its characters and direction of the plot would've bolstered it that one step further and helped it rival more of Pixar's greatest efforts.

Monday, 28 December 2020

Movie Review - Soul

The latest release of renowned animation studio Pixar has now debuted on streaming service Disney Plus, opening to the usual warm welcome that you'd expect from most of the studio's works. Their newest story sees school music teacher Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) on a bizarre adventure to reunite his astray soul with his body following their separation within the afterlife; it's a plot hard to truly detail without risking an onslaught of spoilers, but what follows from here is a vivid journey of further self discovery for someone who doesn't always appreciate what's around him.

Soul is as beautifully animated as you'd expect any Pixar film to be, boasting rich and realistic detail within its various locales yet maintaining a unique degree of style and charm, particularly during scenes that take place within the afterlife and preexistence settings inhabited by various souls among other fictional beings. It's this art direction that lets the film's aesthetic stand out in its own way without just looking like a visual rehash of previous Pixar works or just other computer animated films in general. Soul also boasts some superb original jazz music composed by Jon Batiste; clearly a lot of effort went into the overall sound design to capture the main vibe of the film's story and setting, with remarkable results.

The opening act of Soul is certainly one to admire, with a charming introduction to our main protagonist, voiced superbly by Jamie Foxx, whose impulsive and somewhat cocky nature is effectively portrayed through a combination of humourous and heartfelt moments in a fairly short period of time. His entry into the realm of souls then of course brings to life the most astounding visuals and degree of originality that the film has to offer, and so it's a great shame from there that things slightly decline within a lengthy middle act of amusing yet somewhat repetitive gags and general silliness, which ends up feeling both somewhat cliché and incongruous. The opening act once again establishes a very promising concept with plenty of room for originality and depth, and while this subsequent middle act certainly isn't bad, it's a tad too long and has too much obsession with trying to make audiences laugh than focusing on the film's core themes in a meaningful way.

Repetitive as some of the humour can be, Soul is still a very funny film for the most part, with amusing dialogue and witty slapstick. It also boasts a beautiful ending, which demonstrates more of Pixar's expert art direction and concludes a story with resounding themes in a very memorable fashion. This is a film that was greeted with universal acclaim by most critics and audiences upon release; although I can certainly see why, I myself just didn't quite feel that same resounding positivity and thought there were many missed opportunities. It obviously matches all the usual merits on Pixar's checklist: gorgeous animation, a superb cast, a strong core story, and very charming humour, but struggles a bit more with a consistent tone. Certainly another good piece of work from Pixar, but not quite on par with their finest films.

Friday, 29 May 2020

30 Day Film Challenge - April 2020 - Part 3

Here we have the final post covering the 30 films I watched throughout April as part of the 30 day film challenge.

Part 1 is here, Part 2 here.

#21 - A film that made you doze off
          Django Unchained (2012)

It goes without saying that Quentin Tarantino is widely seen as a filmmaking god; his name alone is a strong enough marketing tool to attract audiences who may not normally be interested in the various genres he explores. Django Unchained currently remains his most successful film yet, and while I can't deny it has plenty of things that deserve praise, be it the strong performances or amusing humour, it's also a film that I find far too long, often boring, and somewhat repetitive when it comes to its many excessively violent set pieces. I'm not as big a fan of Tarantino compared to most, and Django was merely another one his films where I'd be shocked to discover that there's nearly an hour of runtime left when it felt the end was indeed approaching.

#22 - A film that made you angry
          Iron Man 3 (2013)

I was very keen to see Iron Man 3 based on how epic it looked in the trailers, primarily thanks to Ben Kingsley's role of a seemingly intimidating antagonist known as the Mandarin. It was thus a huge shame when a plot twist revealed his true character to be nothing more than a daft actor hired by the film's real villain, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), to misdirect the eponymous hero as part of his evil scheme. This alone greatly annoyed me, but it was even more of a shame to see the majority of the film adopting a fairly silly tone that often exploited a cheesy sense of humour. It's a fine example of deceptive marketing, considering how well the trailers conveyed a sense of urgency and spectacle within the narrative. A great shame.

Spoiler alert.

#23 - A film made by a deceased director
          2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

What a charming condition...

But alas, although 2001: A Space Odyssey received mixed reviews upon its initial release, it is now widely deemed one of late director Stanley Kubrick's best films and one of the most impressive artistic works of the 20th century. Much of the critical praise is aimed at the film's interesting attention to scientific detail, as well as the beautiful imagery within its outer space setting and the remarkable special effects for its time. Perhaps its not always consistently entertaining, in fact it does drag now and then and occasionally feels somewhat unfocused, but overall its an impressive piece of work that certainly had an effective and lasting influence on the science fiction genre.

#24 - A film that you wish you saw in the cinema
          Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000)

I received this film on VHS as a Christmas present in 2000, at first believing it was a recent release that I would be one of the first to watch. Many years onward I of course discovered that it was released in cinemas that summer; it was both an interesting and devastating discovery. While my 25 year old self can't deny that the film is incredibly flawed, with a fairly daft story that fails to do the source material justice, my six year old self still absolutely adored it from start to finish. It would've been great to have seen it all on the big screen, considering I was always one of the biggest Thomas & Friends fanatics.

#25 - A film you like that's not set in the current era
          Gladiator (2000)

Taking place almost 2000 years ago during Ancient Rome, Gladiator features Russell Crowe as a warrior reduced to slavery who seeks to avenge his murdered family, ultimately training as a gladiator to do so. While it's a fairly simple revenge story at first glance, there's still plenty of thoughtful development and political subtext within the narrative as it proceeds; this all helps inject more depth into the setting and characters without creating any needlessly complex plot threads. Such merits are further bolstered by a lineup of superb performances, primarily from Crowe himself, and a number of exciting set pieces that confidently show the true brutality of the Roman era. While its near 3 hour runtime isn't always justified, it's still an entertaining story that provides a rich depiction of a notable part of human history.

#26 - An adaptation that you like
          Life of Pi (2012)

Life of Pi easily remains one of my favourite films in recent times. It's a fine piece of work when looked at from every angle, boasting an inventive story, a remarkable lead performance from Suraj Sharma, and of course some incredible special effects that bring its unique premise to life with flawless results. It comfortably blends adventure, humour, and heartfelt drama, perfectly balancing the overall vibe of the story so as to avoid any abrupt tonal shifts, keeping audiences consistently entertained and intrigued. Many moments left me in awe, with others making me laugh and some almost leaving me in tears. Having never read Yann Martel's original book, I of course can't judge the film's faithfulness, but I'll still always consider it a noble accomplishment regardless.

#27 - A film that is visually striking to you
          Batman Begins (2005)

Christopher Nolan is of course one of the most acclaimed directors in modern times, with his non conventional influence on mainstream Hollywood cinema paving the way for some remarkable works across multiple genres. The renowned Dark Knight trilogy stands tall as one of his finest works in the eyes of many, and while 2008's The Dark Knight is widely considered the very best, my personal favourite would be the title that started it all: Batman Begins. It's a strong and engaging origin story, with a talented cast, some thrilling action sequences, and of course an aesthetic that perfectly crafts a dark universe that's fitting for our titular hero. The dismal depths of Gotham City's slums are an eerie setting to behold; the city stood out nicely as one in a true state of turmoil, burdened by crime and human corruption. Nolan's focus on practical effects over extensive CGI lead to some fantastic results, giving everything a far more natural aesthetic with great attention to detail. A compelling watch, and a visual treat without a doubt.

#28 - A film that made you feel uncomfortable
          The Cat in the Hat (2003)

Films adapted from Dr. Seuss' works are never the most entertaining I feel, and The Cat in the Hat is perhaps the very worst of them all. It's boring and unfunny, but what makes it such an uncomfortable watch is the design of our eponymous mischief maker, played by Mike Myers. It's an unsettling combination of human and feline characteristics, making him downright weird to look at and somewhat freaky when he goes into his more manic phases. Both this and 2000's The Grinch proved beyond all measure that the zany aesthetic of Dr. Seuss' works just doesn't translate well to a live action settingand so it's great to see no more attempts have been made since.

#29 - A film that makes you want to fall in love
          Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Easily one of my favourite Disney films to date, Beauty and the Beast has a romantic relationship between our lead characters so touching and heartfelt that it's incredibly difficult not to be left in a loving mood yourself once it's over. This is a story that's simple enough for younger audiences, yet also one with plenty of depth and fitting character development; one of course can't also dismiss the gorgeously drawn animation and incredible music, be it Alan Menken's top notch score or the remarkable songs performed by a lineup of talented Broadway artists. It's a loving tale that once again ranks as one of Disney's very finest, and certainly their most romantic by a long shot.

#30 - A film with one of your favourite endings
          Super 8 (2011)

Super 8 isn't the most memorable sci-fi film, but it still offers a fairly enticing story with a decent balance of tension and drama, and definitely has an impressive ending to boast about. This ending sees the alien, itself largely unseen throughout the film, forming its spaceship high above the streets, soon leaving Earth to return home as many citizens watch in awe. It's a combination of rich visuals, beautiful cinematography, and strong performances, all of which is then complemented by Michael Giacchino's superb musical score. It's a film I hadn't watched in quite a long time, and although much of it I didn't remember too well, the ending always sticks with me as a beautifully structured and fitting conclusion to the overall story.

Thanks for reading!