Thursday 30 October 2014

Movie Review - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have passed the glory days; nobody could get enough of them in the 1990s, but these days they only continue to be in the public eye with the reasonably popular CGI animated series. Being absent from film since 2007's weak TMNT, the turtles have come back in a standard Hollywood reboot - but one that doesn't really do them justice.

Journalist April O'Neil (Megan Fox) desperately tries to get her voice heard when she claims a group of vigilantes are secretly fighting off the Foot Clan, a gang of criminals hell bent on ruling New York City, lead by the tyrannical Shredder (Tohoru Masamune). Her tenacious efforts soon expose these mysterious vigilantes: four humanoid turtles dubbed Leonardo (Johnny Knoxville), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) and Donatello (Jeremy Howard). Lead by their loyal master Splinter (Danny Woodburn), they are tasked with fending off Shredder and his allies as they attempt to take over the city, and O'Neil discovers her relationship with them is far more complex than she initially thought.

Using motion capturing techniques, the turtles themselves are brought to life exceptionally; as expected from a high budget Hollywood blockbuster, the effects are top notch. The motion capture translates to extremely polished believable animation, and the voice work from the talented cast is just as good. The casting of Knoxville was met with mixed reactions, and while Leonardo is missing his characteristics as a brave leader, Knoxville still manages to deliver a great voice with his limited material. Ritchson, Fisher and Howard give it their all, and even Megan Fox is decent despite being terribly miscast.

But the script here is extremely weak, lacking a coherent structure, and pitting the turtles against incredibly poor villains - yes, the Shredders depiction really sucks. This in turn makes the few plot twists lose any of their desired impact and limits the space for character development. The movie never takes itself too seriously but at the same time never really tries to adopt an emotional focus to its story. The action scenes dazzle as always, and its humour is approachable to wide audiences, but in the end Ninja Turtles is just a mediocre experience; there's fun to be had, but not much else.

Thursday 23 October 2014

Movie Review - Nightcrawler

Marking Dan Gilroys directorial debut, Nightcrawler features Jake Gyllenhaal as a bizarre sociopath who is driven into a number of methods to earn money; one that particularly grabs his attention is the competitive and power hungry world of urban crime news. He ensures his success with blackmail and little to no compassion, leading to a dark path for those around him - but an aspired one for himself.

For starters, Nightcrawler is beautifully filmed and superbly acted. Gyllenhaal's character is creepy and equally interesting, and he crafts these qualities with a strangely effective monotone delivery and animalistic curiosity. Tension in the later scenes is well constructed, sometimes pushing the film into horror genre territory, and Gyllenhaal's complete lack of empathy makes for some truly disturbing thrills, even if his performance sometimes overshadows the rest of the actual film.

However, Nightcrawler is vague with its general plot, and sometimes it's hard to deduce the principle focus. The ending does little to resolve several unanswered questions; this leaves the audience to interpret many character motives and meanings, which is always amusing, but sometimes a more solid conclusion is in order. With this in mind, Gilroys script is still original and clever; and despite issues with the general plot, a handful of fine performances and some great thrills make Nightcrawler an engaging if flawed experience from beginning to end.

Friday 17 October 2014

Worst to Best - The Dark Knight Trilogy

Two years after its conclusion, The Dark Knight trilogy remains one of the most iconic and cherished in film history. Christopher Nolan took the caped crusader and delved him into a story with darkness and depth at its core - starting in 2005 with Batman Begins. While it didn't make any records initially, the series soon expanded into major blockbuster territory with The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises - Nolan has moved on from the franchise now, and with only three films to review, let's delve into my shortest Worst to Best list yet. Well, by worst, I mean least favourite. Worst does not suit this trilogy whatsoever...

#3 - The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The hype for The Dark Knight Rises was immense following its epic marketing campaign, focusing on Bane as the villain who brings Batman to his knees and the mere fact that this is the conclusion of such a major film trilogy. Set eight years after The Dark Knight, the film features Bruce Wayne returning as Batman following a depressing absence; a terrorist threat has arisen in the form of Bane and his armies, who lay siege to Gotham to cure it of sin. Its story is nicely complex with many strands as it moves forward, but sometimes things get a bit too farfetched - generating massive plot holes and conflicts in logic.

But with this aside, The Dark Knight Rises manages to transcend its slightly mediocre script with some exquisite cinematography and production design, not to mention some thrilling action scenes. It's an ambitious effort from a brilliant director, and with a lineup of fine performances from a fantastic cast, it makes for a great conclusion to this epic story arc.

#2 - Batman Begins (2005)

Batman Begins disposed of the campy silliness that plagued the string of Batman films before it, portraying the caped crusader as a wounded hero in a dark and intelligent storyline, driven by realism and human drama. The focus is more on Bruce Wayne than his alter ego - which works extremely well, keeping us engrossed in the story and not waiting impatiently for Batman himself to crop up. And when he does an hour or so into the film, the action and excitement only gets better.

Remarkable production values make for visuals just as strong as the story; incredibly detailed sets of the Gotham slums built at Shepperton Studios as well as a creative blend of CGI and miniatures make everything feel nice and tangible. It's all wonderfully shot by Wally Pfister, and with a brilliant score by Hans Zimmer and top notch performances from a great cast, Batman Begins ends up being one of the most compelling superhero films ever, and the definition of a worthy franchise reboot.

#1 - The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight ranks as one of the highest grossing films in North America and by extension of all time - its earnings of $1.004 billion were up over 200% from Begins' $373 million, something pinned down to the stellar reputation the latter had built up in the three year gap, as well as the buzz surrounding Heath Ledger's incredible performance as the Joker - one of Batman's most iconic foes.

His untimely death garnered the film even more publicity, but at the end of the day, The Dark Knight is far from overhyped - and is easily one of the best superhero films in recent times. It succeeds as an action packed blockbuster but also as an engaging crime thriller, with a fantastic screenplay taking the story in a number of surprising directions and twists. This alongside naturally superb performances and stylishly dark visuals make The Dark Knight quite easily one of the best films ever made. Not nominated for a Best Picture Oscar...what nonsense.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday 12 October 2014

Movie Review - Annabelle

A lower budget spinoff of last year's The Conjuring, Annabelle tells the story of the titular doll who appears to carry a disturbing curse, haunting those who have it in their possession. Coming off from one of the best horror films in recent memory, Annabelle certainly has potential - and while it may not be as well constructed as its counterpart, it sure is just as freaky.

As the story begins, the Annabelle doll is currently the possession of married couple John (Ward Horton) and Mia Gordon (Annabelle Wallis), who are expecting their first child. Things soon take a turn for the worse when members of a satanic cult murder their neighbours and target them next, with their motivations revolving around the bizarre doll itself. When the authorities intervene, the Gordons quickly move away to another house, though Annabelle whom they tried to dispose of mysteriously follows them - and their connection begins to expose more sinister truths behind these strange occurrences.

Annabelle may not be a masterful piece of storytelling and it's certainly not as compelling as The Conjuring, but to say it's not scary would be a massive lie - maybe there's one too many jumpies, but at least most of them actually have scary content, rather than being pointless loud noises. The film successfully manages to craft a number of shocking moments that make the cinema erupt into screams of panic - particularly with its stylishly grim cinematography and eerie sound design.

The doll itself and the satanic entities that begin to emit from it only add to the fear factor as the film approaches its climax; sadly, this build up is met with an extremely clumsy payoff, resulting in a rushed ending and an unfortunate lack of focus. The conclusion actually starts to provide some unintentional laughs and lazily mimics The Conjuring itself, making for a been there, done that vibe. With these compliments and criticisms in mind, Annabelle is definitely lacking in substance, but with some solid performances and plenty of scares, it makes for a thrilling experience when enjoyed on the big screen - especially with a large audience.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

The Worst of Disney Animation Studios

I love Disney, and their benchmark animation studio has without a doubt created some of the finest animated films in history. Recently they claimed the honour of highest grossing animated film with Frozen, and they'll continue their line of quality pictures with Big Hero 6 this year. With over 50 films in their canon, the room for stinkers is very large - so lets return to negativity and view my least favourite Disney efforts.

#5 - Robin Hood (1973)

Robin Hood is not offensively bad, but due to stiff animation and a bland plot, it fails to live up to the impressive standards of the Disney lineup. Back then, Disney were already facing a massive decline in popularity and profits, hence why many films released during this period may not be everyones favourite. Robin Hood is quite easily one of the worst, and never really made an impact for me.

#4 - Oliver & Company (1988)

Oliver & Company was released during a time when Disney faced tough competition from Don Bluth Productions, and although they eventually came out on top, many of their efforts failed to impress critically. Oliver & Company is no exception; bar Huey Lewis' Once Upon a Time in New York City and Billy Joel's Why Should I Worry, this Disney flick fails to offer any decent songs despite being a musical. Couple this with some really lacklustre visuals and a boring plot, and you have a Disney film that fails to even come close to being memorable.

#3 - Pocahontas (1995)

The only film in the Disney Renaissance era that most people dislike, Pocahontas was ironically the one everyone thought would destroy The Lion King at the box office, and one that most Disney animators were desperate to work on. In the end, a dull script is brought to life through incredibly sluggish animation and a run time far too short to develop the story in any meaningful way. It tries to be a more dramatic Disney flick, but just fails to be as fun or exciting as the other Renaissance hits.

#2 - Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Tim Burton's attempt to inject an epic narrative into the Alice in Wonderland story failed miserably in 2010, but likewise, Disney's 1951 animated film's lack of any structure whatsoever makes it an equally dull affair. Though it's faithful to the already overrated story, Alice in Wonderland is still incredibly flat, with throwaway characters and repetitive scenarios. It's a personal favourite to many Disney fans, but it never did anything but creep me out.

#1 - Chicken Little (2005)

I've talked about this before so let me keep this brief.

Rubbish animation, awful jokes, awful story, terribly unlikeable characters.

I hate this film.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Movie Review - Life After Beth

Released in very limited demand, Jeff Baena's zombie comedy Life After Beth stars Dane DeHaan and Aubrey Plaza. When Zach Orfman's (DeHaan) girlfriend Beth (Plaza) passes away, he is left grief stricken and lonely; that is until he catches sight of Beth back at her house, after an apparent miracle that rose her from the dead. Overjoyed to reunite with her, things soon take a turn for the worse when Beth's physical and mental state deteriorates into something quite sinister...

Life After Beth has a handful of laugh out loud moments - but it doesn't seem to offer much else. It excels in both slapstick and funny dialogue, but as many other people have said, the concept seems to work as a short gag - not translating well to a feature film. The plot is weakly drafted and lazy, and often contrives whatever it wants without a thorough explanation. While this isn't offensively bad for such a silly storyline, it makes the film come off as a massive vanity project.

In spite of its weak narrative, Life After Beth does have some really solid performances from a talented cast, particularly Plaza and DeHaan, and John C. Reilly in a relatively small role. The script is also packed with some witty jokes and dialogue - unfortunately this isn't enough to save the film from being a relatively brainless affair, amounting to little more than a guilty pleasure.