Monday 26 December 2016

Best and Worst of 2016 - Best Five Films

Well, we've covered the bad stuff already, so before another year comes to an end, let's have a look at some of the best movies the past 12 months had to offer...

#5 - Doctor Strange

The first MCU film to introduce a new character since Ant-Man, Doctor Strange features Bennedict Cumberbatch in the lead role doing an impressive American accent for a start, though I'm sure it's not too difficult for a star of his calliber. I digress; focusing on the main hero and his eventual exploration of the supernatural to cure his lifelong injuries, Doctor Strange is made more enjoyable thanks to a welcome change in tone and style from other recent MCU installments, and thankfully doesn't try and spend too much of it's time forcing other MCU references into the narrative in order to make it naught but an advertisement for the next Avengers ensemble.

Doctor Strange has the story to match it's compelling action sequences, and whilst is starts off at a pace that may seem a bit too fast and occasionally abrupt, this is a short lived issue and soon the film becomes just as focused on it's characters as it does it's stunning visual effects. The later acts of the film are where said visual effects truly evolve into something that's not only beautifully designed and rendered, but also unique in terms of style and variation. Mads Mikkelsen also shines as a threatening and likeable yet unlikeable villain - essential for such a major film of the genre, and this adds up to an exciting rivalry between him and our leading protagonist, and thus a story that's more and more exciting as it continues to unfold with new twists and turns.

#4 - Finding Dory

Finding Nemo was perhaps the Pixar film that, alongside The Incredibles, people have longed to see a sequel to the most - and upon it's announcement in 2014, hype for Finding Dory was as big as expected. The film now ranks as the highest grossing animated film in the US (before adjusting for inflation) and one of the highest earning worldwide. The story of course follows the origins of Dory, not only providing more info on her entry into the original film but also leading a new narrative to find her long lost family, whilst getting stranded in an aquarium on the way that turns out closer to home than initially thought.

Alongside trademark beautiful animation that you expect from Pixar, Finding Dory also has a clever and touching story that shows genuine effort went into crafting this sequel as far more than just fan service or a quick attempt to generate some easy profit. The newly developed backstory may slightly retcon events from the original film, but this doesn't feel forced or weaken the narrative of either this or the original, and what we get is a solid focus on Dory's history and a new adventure for her that develops her already loveable character in a thoughtful way. The new supporting characters are equally as entertaining, and whilst Marlyn and Nemo aren't as much in starring roles this time round, they're thankfully not shunted to one side and awkwardly ignored for the majority of the film, still playing important roles and feeling naturally integrated into the overall plot. Consequently, this again doesn't feel like cheap moneymaking tactics or mediocre fan service, but the thoughtful, passionate, and hilarious sequel that the original deserves.

#3 - Deadpool

Deadpool became quite possibly the most surprisingly successful film of the year with all expenses accounted for, earning over $700 million globally on a budget of just $58 million; not even it's adult certification and the fact that Deadpool isn't exactly the most well known superhero could prevent it from earning a gargantuan profit for Fox. With Ryan Reynolds in the lead role, Deadpool achieves a perfect balance of being an epic superhero flick and an equally hilarious fourth wall breaking comedy that doesn't hold back when it comes to many controversial jokes.

The story isn't too complex or overly obsessed with establishing more shared universe stuff, which is a refreshing change from recent films of the genre. Whilst it of course refers to it's neighbouring X-Men franchise and will contribute to it's development, it still focuses on the eponymous hero in a consistent and well paced manner, developing him as a likeable and, surprisingly, occasionally relatable hero that Reynolds handles with a fantastic performance. Alongside said humour, the film is also home to a number of exciting set pieces and some impressive effects considering it's significantly lower budget compared to most modern blockbusters, equating to a fast paced, exciting, and hilariously profane superhero experience.

#2 - Zootopia

Another surprising hit of the year, Zootopia topped $1 billion worldwide as it neared the end of it's theatrical run despite not being an adaptation or sequel of any sort; something that even animated films require a lot of the time to acquire such takings. The film takes place in the titular city inhabited by anthropomorphic animals, focusing on newly appointed police officer Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) and experienced con artist Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) and their unlikely partnership to overcome a mysterious criminal case.

To comment on the animation is, again, a samey sort of deal, as you expect nothing less from Disney these days - aside from the quality of the finished graphics and fludity of the character movements, what makes this film such a compelling visual treat is it's overall art design. Zootopia uses it's unique premise to create a world which is vibrant and witty when it comes to visual gags, but doesn't overdo it to the point where we simply watch modern technology references and nothing else. At it's core, the film boasts a clever and well paced story, unveiling a number of interesting twists that Disney have been known for in their recent animated hits. Such a story is further brought to life by some fantastic voicework, particularly from our aforementioned stars, and their equally well developed and relatable characters - adding up to another modern Disney classic that's entertaining for audiences of all ages.

#1 - The Jungle Book

This film was one of my highest reviewed back in April and my favourite when revising my 2016 anticipated list, and even now I have to keep it as my favourite film of the entire year. Once again, it turns out so good that it makes it hard for me to go back and enjoy the 1967 animated original - the story and many of the characters are reimagined with a new modern perspective, and one that manages to achieve the balance between being enjoyable for all demographics whilst also carrying some deeper themes and displaying some darker, more intense moments that the original never came close to having.

Of course, one of it's most compelling factors is the outstanding usage of CGI used to craft the main animal characters - this, again, isn't good just because of it's realistic appearance but also because of how much energy and personality these characters show, being more than just animals with moving mouths. Such an accolade is also achieved through the masterful vocal performances, prominently Ben Kingsley and Bill Murray in starring roles, and especially Idris Elba as villain Shere Kahn. Easily Disney's best live action effort by far, and quite possibly one of my favourite films of all time.

Thanks for reading!

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

Wednesday 21 December 2016

Movie Review - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

With the release of The Force Awakens in 2015, the Star Wars franchise has launched to global fame even further (if possible) with new records set and new audiences reached - and this is only due to continue during the growth of the gargantuan franchise thanks to a wave of new stories based on the classic hits and the lesser appreciated yet still somewhat popular prequels. This time round, we jump back to a time between prequel Revenge of the Sith and it's narrative sequel, 1977's A New Hope, to explore the formation and crucial mission of the titular squadron and how it then influences the key plot elements of the main series.

Directed by the increasingly famous Gareth Edwards, known for work on 2014's Godzilla, the film focuses primarily on the fugitive Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), who finds herself bargained into assistance for the Rebels due to her knowledge of the criminals they pursue and how to bring them in. During her quest, primarily joined by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), she finds herself discovering more sinister plans than initially expected and works hard alongside the newly dubbed Rogue One squadron to conquer them before lasting damage is done.

As a prequel made so late after the films surrounding it, Rogue One has to achieve the careful balance of nicely intertwining the characters and existing plot elements without adding unnecessary twists or manipulating the beloved storylines in a way that dismisses their original design from the original films - and thankfully this is achieved greatly for the most part. The story flows nicely and is simple enough to follow at times even for those who aren't serious fans of the franchise - this opens it up to a wider range of viewers and demonstrates stronger effort from the writing/directing side of things as a whole. The story is also brought to life by some great performances - whilst Jones is a little bland sometimes in her lead role, the character is still interesting to watch, which can be said as well for Luna as Cassian Andor. However, perhaps the key performers are Ben Mendelsohn as key antagonist Orson Krennic and Alan Tudky as brilliantly charming comic relief K-S20.

With the usual big budget and, well, being a Star Wars film, you can't expect bad special effects - and that's proven correct from the get go. The CGI visuals craft some fantastic set pieces and alien characters, and is especially impressive when generating the likeness of Peter Cushing on stunt actors to recreate the classic villain Governor Tarkin - it's of course quite noticeable at times next to actual people, but still incredibly well composed when it comes to the level of detail in almost every aspect. Perhaps the key flaw is the initial pacing, where the film jumps between locations at a very rapid pace and seems more keen at times on showing storm troopers getting knocked down more than in bringing more story elements to fruition; similarly, the final set piece finds itself being a whee bit too long. Whilst it's epic and full of some amazing moments, all brought to life with stunning visuals, it ends up becoming a little repetitive and dragged out for no solid purpose other than to shove action in your face - which does get tiresome. That aside, Rogue One finds itself being another impressive entry to Disney's reintroduced Star Wars series, and should this level of quality keep up, some more good stuff will be on the way.

Sunday 18 December 2016

Best and Worst of 2016 - Worst Five Films

Another year, another lineup of great movies and some equally crappy ones. I found myself underwhelmed with many of my most anticipated films this year and devastated beyond comprehension over ones that I knew would be bad, but not as bad as they truly turned out to be. Before we review the good stuff, let's have a glance over the worst that cinema had to offer this year.

...of course there's probably a lot worse overall than what follows, but I'm not gonna waste my time seeing laughable nonsense like Norm of the North, so bear (haha) that in mind...

#5 - The BFG

One of the biggest box office flops of the year, The BFG grossed little over $178 million on a colossal $140 million budget, despite being an adaptation of a fairly popular kids story and being directed by filmmaking legend Steven Spielberg. Perhaps a crowded summer schedule and dwindling interest in said popular tale contributed to such a failure, but I have to say despite generally positive feedback from critics, it doesn't quite offer the same fun, heartwarming experience of the animated original - mainly due to it's bloated run time, lack of depth to it's characters, and extremely abrupt ending. I found myself literally almost falling asleep during certain scenes out of pure boredom and losing interest in the plot the more it went on, begging for it to stop stalling and just wrap up. While not offensively terrible in any way, and certainly admirable when it comes to it's CGI effects and Mark Rylance's decent performance in the leading role, the main issue is that it's just so overlong and sluggish that watching it feels like a true challenge at times.

#4 - Suicide Squad

An interesting superhero flick from DC that features their most popular villains in the starring roles, Suicide Squad was one of my most anticipated films of the year, despite me not being a very big fan of DC overall. This wasn't just down to an interesting concept but also some great looking performances from a talented cast and amazing aesthetics. Sadly, the end result, as I've said several times before, was nothing short of a letdown. Suicide Squad is a poorly directed mess for the most part, thanks to a general inability to focus on any key characters from it's ensemble lineup and balance their impact within the overall narrative - as a result, the story jumps between them at sporadic moments, leaves some completely unattended to and thus forgotten in many scenes, and the less said about Jared Leto's performance as the Joker the better. Whilst he looked pretty cool in the various trailers and marketing material, he simply finds himself shoved to one side with no real purpose aside from showing up occasionally to act crazy - with fairly irritating results. Despite some great box office earnings, the film ends up being a mediocre disappointment at very best.

#3 - Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Man of Steel was released to generally solid feedback from fans and some promising albeit frontloaded box office takings, meaning a sequel was always bound to happen - not only that, but the film marked the debut of DC's shared comicbook movie universe, similar to the evergrowing MCU. This anticipated sequel marks the first time Superman and Batman have appeared together in their own movie, and despite some good looking trailers among other things, the eventual release didn't fulfill expectations - thanks to poor reviews from critics and fans and fairly mediocre box office results considering it's enormous debut, with it's opening weekend in the US accounting for literally 50% of it's entire domestic gross.

I've waffled on about this movie so many times, both in my review and my retrospect of this year's most anticipated movies, so I can only really regurgitate the same points - it's bloated, boring, overwhelmed with too many daft plot threads and strange contrivances, and clearly rushed from start to finish in every respect outside of production design. It's got some superb special effects, and I was quite fond of Ben Affleck's performance as Batman considering the poor material to work with, but this can't make up for the ludicrously bad plot and the fact that Cavill's performance as Superman is much weaker than in Man of Steel - this only covers a fraction of the film's flaws. The DC universe is poised to fail if these movies continue being pumped out without proper effort put into them.

#2 - The Neon Demon

Yawn...wait, what the hell? Omg wtf. Ugh god. Ugh...boring...wait, jesus. That's messed up.

Sums up my thoughts during this movie. As boring as it is weird, The Neon Demon is a film that's not for the faint of heart - featuring some sporadic violence, bizarre sexual content, and a rather disturbing final act. This intensity, however, fails to truly grab audience attention in a positive manner, instead just making us wish we were watching something that wasn't endlessly trying to freak us out without crafting it's strange obsessions into a decent overall narrative. Whilst Elle Fanning gives a solid albeit occasionally bland performance in the lead role, and Jena Malone particularly shines as deuteragonist Ruby at times, it's not enough to redeem the messy storyline which, again, is more keen on displaying unsettling content rather than conveying any emotional impact or interesting ideas. What we're left with is a film that's hard to truly discuss in depth without spoiling - but rest assured, I found myself only prevented from dozing off due to the unwanted intensity of it's freaky moments; thus I then felt nothing but a strong desire to forget what I just saw and never bother with it again.

#1 - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Not just the worst film of 2016 but easily one of the worst films I've ever seen, this sequel to 2014's fairly shitty Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is nothing more than a passionless cash grab that lacks a human touch and genuine interest when it comes to direction and writing. The story is not only formulaic but ravaged with plot holes and insulting oversights which further prove that this was all pieced together brainlessly so that it could be rushed into cinemas as soon as possible. It's obsessed with rude gags that are painfully unfunny, many of which stem from the idiotic villains who, despite their great reputation in the original franchise, are rendered as naught but complete imbeciles - it's evident the creators had even less appreciation for the source material this time round and the final result is a film that's offensive, boring, and incredibly painful to watch for both passionate fans of the series and general audiences who know little about it.

And with a weak $245 million in worldwide earnings on a $135 million budget, this is another fine example of why pumping out sequels as soon as you can is seldom a good idea.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday 13 December 2016

Movie Review - Moana

Disney's ongoing modern renaissance reached new heights once more with the release of Zootopia earlier this year, and while it's opening box office figures may not be as colossal as the studio's biggest hits, the fantasy adventure Moana looks poised to continue such success without difficulty. Directed by Disney icons John Musker and Ron Clements (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules), this latest animated hit tells the story of the eponymous princess (Auli'i Cravalho) and her journey across the ocean alongside the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson), after being chosen for an important mission by the sea itself before the incoming darkness dominates her homeland and everywhere around it.

Moana feels like a traditional Disney film from the get go but with the addition of modern animated trademarks - mainly in terms of it's humour and visual style, the latter of course is most evident as a key highlight. The animation is truly beautiful throughout, displaying a number of remarkable lighting techniques in the oceanic sequences, both in the night and day, which yields some truly stunning end results. Characters remain as fluently animated and lively designed as ever - you'd expect nothing less from Disney at this stage, and they certainly stay true to their reputation here. The same impact is also felt when it comes to music - the songs we'll get to later, but it has to be said that the score by Mark Mancina (Tarzan, Brother Bear) among other snippits of music by other contributors (namely the short intro by Olivia Foa'i) help further cement viewers in the atmosphere of this beautifully crafted setting.

When it comes to the overall story, Moana is generally exciting and engaging, and it's admirable that it manages to keep us hooked throughout despite some limitations within it's setting and cast. Moana herself is one of Disney's most well fleshed out protagonists, and it's clear plenty of effort was made to make her more diverse from past Disney princesses - she's funny, courageous, relatable in some ways, and her chemistry with Maui is generally well developed; the two not only share a number of hilarious comedic sequences but also form a visible emotional bond as the story goes on that feels natural and realistic, in spite of some contrivances and random moments. While Dwayne Johnson's vocal performance is without a doubt funny, passionate, and very entertaining, it's the performance from 16 year old Auli'i Cravalho that will win over most audiences - not only when it comes to general acting but especially her singing. The majority of the songs themselves are just as memorable as they are enjoyable, but the singing performance by Cravalho are most notably vibrant and incredibly passionate, making the primary How Far I'll Go the movie's best song by a mile for sure. 

Whilst the narrative is great for the most part, it of course can't be without flaws - these occur when it comes to moments of pacing and general plot development, and are mainly linked to Maui himself. Whilst he is likeable to watch and brilliantly voiced by Dwayne Johnson once again, his backstory isn't as fleshed out as it should be, thus making certain revelations about his overall character arc a little underwhelming and somewhat generic - similar things can be said for some last minute contrivances as we near the film's climax, though these don't have so much of a negative impact. In spite of this, there is much to enjoy in Disney's latest release when it comes to all the key categories - from visuals to music to humour to overall storytelling. Said disappointing flaws can be frustrating given the potential they have stripped away in some sections, but Moana remains another thoroughly enjoyable hit from the house of mouse that once again proves they have still not lost any of their magic.

Monday 5 December 2016

RETROSPECT - Most Anticipated Films of 2016

You know the drill - I started the year with a list of my most anticipated movies, and now having seen the final one on the list (Fantastic Beasts) just over a week ago, it's time to go back and rank the movies in again in terms of their overall quality - and see how it compares to my initial expectations...

#5 - Suicide Squad

The second highest on my list at the beginning of the year, Suicide Squad seemed like it had loads of potential for a great outcome based on the concept itself, let alone the promising trailers. Many highlighted Jared Leto as the Joker which, even if it couldn't surpass Ledger's performance, seemed equally promising and interesting for one of the central villains in antihero based narrative.

Sadly, much like this year's DC Universe hit Batman v. Superman, Suicide Squad turned out to be an overlong, boring, and incredibly underwritten misery from beginning to end. Whilst it's cast was promising and it's visual effects as impressive as ever, the main weaknesses, as detailed in my review, is simply how it's script lacks a complex enough story to justify it's bloated run time; consequently, we're burdened by many dull scenes that have no real purpose aside from trying to extend the film's length or trying (and failing) to generate some excitement without any narrative context. Leto's main role, while seemingly promising in the trailers, turned out to be naught but him acting crazy now and then with little development to his overall character, and thus the result was incredibly forgettable - which can be said about the entire film itself. And that's putting it nicely.

#4 - Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

The near bottom of my most anticipated list but still a film I was eager to see, Fantastic Beasts initially looked like a desperate attempt to harvest more profit from the concluded Harry Potter series, with it's source material having no storyline whatsoever and thus being an odd choice for a blockbuster adaptation. However, with Rowling herself penning the script, a great cast, and some very promising trailers, the film looked more and more exciting and refreshing as it's release date came ever closer.

But, much like Suicide Squad in some ways, Fantastic Beasts cannot generate a narrative meaningful enough to justify it's 2+ hour run time - as a result, we're once again overwhelmed by many scenes that feel wholly unnecessary. The same can be said for some the supporting characters (and weak villain), several of which are largely uninteresting and experience strange shifts in their overall motivations to the convenience of the plot, often making them hard to engage with or even find likeable. Rowling is also grossly obsessed with injecting more and more political nonsense into her story which, while great for making the world as believable and genuine as possible, starts to tempt you into sleepiness when all you hear is political jargon in such a promising fantasy setting. Good in terms of aesthetics, but I was won over by little else, and left majorly disappointed.

#3 - The BFG

In hindsight, I'm not sure why this one was on my list - because with all the other big movies coming out in 2016, I think there were plenty of other choices that could've outmatched it. Still, Disney's live action retellings of not only their famous animated hits but also classic fairy tales in general have impressed audiences greatly for the most part, and so this one looked like it could be another contribution to such success - especially with the acclaimed Steven Spielberg appointed as director.

But The BFG is...jesus, ONCE AGAIN, a movie that is far too long for it's own good. It's storyline suits a much shorter, leaner project, but this film drags it out with simple scenes that are stretched uncomfortably long and some which serve no purpose whatsoever. The characters are fairly thin for the most part, even the eponymous giant played reasonably well by Mark Rylance, and especially the generic giant villains. The ending also feels incredibly abrupt, though perhaps I didn't complain much when the boredom finally came to a much needed conclusion - as things went on and on, I could literally feel my eyes closing, and endured an ongoing struggle to pay attention. Definitely one of Spielberg's worst, and again, a saddening letdown.

#2 - Zootopia

It's only now we've started to get to the good movies at last. Originally at number 3 on the list, Zootopia impressed me greatly upon release, and I'm not the only one who would make such a claim - for it became an even bigger hit than anticipated, with over $1 billion in box office revenue and critical acclaim from reviewers all around. Disney have definitely used this brilliantly unique concept in the best way possible, making a film that's funny and heartwarming, and not one just obsessed with making modern technical pop culture gags - something I was very anxious about at first glance.

The film's themes of acceptance and prejudice are well conveyed without being patronising, and it's story remains appealing and engaging for all ages. The focus on solving a mystery keeps us hooked throughout, pieced together in a way that makes it's development and outcome not too obvious yet never too complex, once again making the film approachable for all kinds of audiences. There's of course a great lineup of talents in the cast, namely Jason Bateman and Ginnifer Goodwin in their starring roles, but also the likes of Idris Elba and J.K. Simmons in small but highly entertaining supporting roles, among many others. The animation is just what you'd expect from Disney in their recent resurgence - clean, colourful, and incredibly energetic, making for a film's that as lovely to look as it is engaging to follow.

#1 - The Jungle Book

The film that garnered the top spot of my most anticipated list finds itself untouched - for this year's The Jungle Book is easily one of Disney's finest live action films to date, and a masterful retelling of the 1967 animated original. Featuring all the beloved characters but bringing them into a plot far more complex and exciting than it's animated source material, this live action remake becomes an engaging and emotionally resonant watch from start to finish, and one that is upheaved even further by it's absolutely outstanding CGI effects.

Said effects used to craft the animal characters are more than just aesthetically convincing - they still manage to make these realistic animals appear lively and capture their emotions with beautiful attention to detail. This allows them to be far more than bears or tigers with moving mouths, but characters who are highly entertaining to watch and believable across many aspects. The cast, as I've said many times, is just as amazing - featuring the likes of Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, and Christopher Walken - all of whom play their roles brilliantly, even if some are less impactful than others, and it must be said Neel Sethi does an equally impressive job with Mowlgi when one considers he essentially had to pretend to talk to all of these characters during initial filming. The reimaginings of the classic songs are all here to and, while some may find them a little out of sync with the context of some scenes, they remain thoroughly enjoyable to listen to. Definitely one of the best films of the year - so good it makes it hard for me to go back and truly enjoy the original in comparison.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday 26 November 2016

Movie Review - Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

With the Harry Potter film series being such a money making machine, having it come to an end in 2011 was likely not easy for the folks at Warner Bros - as a result, finding new ways to keep the franchise evolving, especially with the ongoing trend of shared franchises, must've been a...well, a must. Back in 2001, Rowling penned a small non fiction style book set in the Potter universe, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, under the pen name of fictional character Newt Scamander, which explored various magical creatures in the world she crafted. Now, over a decade on, a major film has managed to evolve from such material - scripted by Rowling herself and directed by long time Potter devotee David Yates.

The main character is of course one Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), who travels to New York in 1926 with his magical briefcase housing a number of unique creatures he seeks to protect and eventually write his own published works on. During his journey, however, behaviour of said animals and his brief conflict with muggles leads several to break free and escape into the city around them - with the aid of muggle Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and fomer aura Tina (Katherine Waterston), Newt must recapture the creatures before their collateral damage gets out of hand, whilst also helping to prevent a new evil that begins to rise during the chaos.

I went into this film with sound expectations - and for me, there's a blend of positives and negatives, with the latter too often outweighing the former to the point of exhaustion and tediousness. The book of course has no real story - and so to develop a full scale blockbuster narrative out of it was not an easy task for sure. However, whilst I'd love to say an admirable job has been done, the film too often exposes these difficulties - with key issues being jarring tonal shifts, a generally dull narrative, weak villain, and a severely bloated run time. Character motivations also seem to be strangely mixed up in the latter portion, which is hard to fully explain without spoiling, but it essentially leads to some seriously forced scenarios that show how difficult it was to form an exciting climax for this story.

It feels like two narratives are going on at once - is this about Newt's quest to capture his missing creatures or about the mysterious villain Percival Graves (Colin Farrell)? Said villain receives barely enough screen time and is seldom developed in an interesting manner that his role is mostly forgettable despite Farrell's best efforts, and so scenes with him feel like an afterthought. Rowling is also obsessed once more with injecting insane amounts of political themes into these stories, which is of course great to make her universe as authentic and complex as ever, but it can't help but feel monotonous when we're enduring legal matters in a film that can provide so much more colour and excitement. The comedy is generally good, as are the set pieces/slapstick scenes with Newt's missing creatures, but the shame is that these may be instantly followed by abruptly dark or deeply political moments that lead to immense shifts in tone and pace.

The special effects are as good as ever, and the performances are strong despite weak character development, but the issue here is that it seems truly evident Rowling could not bring to life a compelling story from a simple non fiction-esque book. The fact that this will be followed by dozens of sequels and begin a new shared Potter film universe makes me uneasy when it gets off to a clumsy start, but who knows, perhaps some surprises await. As it is, this film stands as naught but a visually impressive, occasionally funny but otherwise dull and poorly paced disappointment, and I found myself itching for it to finish when there was at least an hour left - and said eventual hour did nothing to change my thoughts.

Friday 11 November 2016

Movie Review - A Street Cat Named Bob

Based on the best seller by James Bowen, and consequently the true story of Bowen's recovery from homelessness and drug addiction with the help of his ginger tom companion, A Street Cat Named Bob is an interesting tale that, for the most part, finds an ideal balance between staying loyal to the book and being creative in it's own right - even if, from a filmmaking perspective, there are some key flaws from aesthetic and pacing perspectives.

The story covers Bowen's (Luke Treadaway) struggle with homelessness triggered by his severe drug addiction, and consequently the loss of his family's love and trust. With little hope even after he is provided a temporary home by the council, Bowen soon meets and befriends an equally lonely ginger tom, adopting it as his own under the name Bob. With Bob's love and company, Bowen soon finds his prospects taking a sudden turn, being driven with a newly found confidence to return to the dignified self he desires to be.

With the main relationship between a man and a speechless cat, it surely wasn't an easy story to adapt, but for the most part, the creators have done a admirable job; Bob's personality is captured well through a lot of charming behaviours demonstrated by the feline in question (portrayed by the real Bob himself) and, even if the POV camerawork is sometimes a little clumsy, the way he and Bowen interact is well portrayed and both funny and touching on many occasions. However, human interaction is far from absent - Ruta Gedmintas joins the narrative as newcomer Val, the animal loving neighbour of Bowen. She plays the part well for the majority of the film, providing comic appeal and an upbeat vibe whenever she arrives on screen, but her unstable focus in the overall script makes her a little uninteresting at times - her bond with Bowen is also not as strong as it could've been when you consider what the filmmakers were aiming for. The same can also be said for Bowen's father Nigel, played by Anthony Head, who stars in a fantastic emotional scene as we near the film's end but sometimes lacks the development required to draw us into the connection between him and Bowen.

But A Street Cat Named Bob has many heartwarming moments - namely when we see Bowen, portrayed brilliantly by Treadaway, roaming the streets in search of food or coin, as well as the abuse he receives from those more fortunate than himself. His growing love for Bob is also extremely touching as their relationship begins to develop, thanks to a combination of strong development and Treadaway's performance. Such scenes feel over the top or cliché, but at the same time, are effectively crafted to make you sympathise with an unfortunate character based on a real figure and connect with the love he shares with an equally unfortunate pet. The only central issue with the film is pacing - it can sometimes be clumsy and unsteady, with some scenes lacking the development they deserve, and others feeling slightly unnecessary. Some of the acting from the extras can also feel a bit tacky, even if they are on screen for hardly any time at all. In spite of these flaws, A Street Cat Named Bob remains an endearing film and a pleasant adaptation of the book, and a film that's worth seeing for those wanting naught but a touching and somewhat informative tale without any unnecessary Hollywood complexities.

Saturday 29 October 2016

Movie Review - Doctor Strange

The latest installment in the largest film franchise of all time sees one of Marvel's lesser known characters yet again coming to life: this time, it's the ingenious sorcerer Steven Strange, portrayed by Bennedict Cumberbatch, in a new blockbuster MCU picture helmed by Scott Derrickson. Beginning as a smart yet arrogant neurosurgeon with a wealthy life and a incredible reputation, Strange's prospects are turned upside down when he finds himself in a horrific car accident that leaves his hands severely injured and barely useable. In his quest to recover and refusal to accept defeat, he finds himself eventually journeying to the Karmar-Taj compound in Nepal, becoming pulled into a world beyond everything he deemed real and an eventual mission to save it as well as himself.

Recently the MCU has been a bit of a mixed bag for me; the previous installment, Civil War, didn't really win my interests as much as it did for others, but thankfully Doctor Strange seldom feels like it is part of the shared universe without sacrificing any major franchise conventions. By this I mean, as with several other standalone MCU hits, the film never tries to consistently mention or integrate other characters into the mix just for the desperation of showing that this is an MCU movie, given that it's, again, not one of Marvel's biggest characters. Doctor Strange focuses on its own narrative from the get go and stays focused from there on, and things move at a surprisingly quick but engaging pace as the story escalates. It may be a bit too fast at first, giving little time for further character development, but it's an approach that works well for the most part.

The most notable thing about Doctor Strange from the start is of course its visual effects - as we move into the latter portions of the film and witness the titular hero truly evolve, a stronger focus on effects comes into play to depict the numerous confrontations he finds himself within. Such confrontations take place within a number of twisted realms and distorted depictions of real world landmarks, influenced by the powers of the heroes and villains, which ends up forming an Inception-esque series of set pieces that are notably impressive in 3D - and especially in IMAX. The talent behind these effects is evident when you realise how seamlessly each actor is integrated into them; the shifts between physical and CGI shots are far from jarring and flow beautifully, making said set pieces all the more entertaining and engaging. Aesthetics aside, the fact that the general fight choreography in most battle scenes is equally as impressive and fast paced keeps these scenes enjoyable outside of just staring at pretty graphics.

Bennedict Cumberbatch arguably shines in the titular role, with a confident, witty, and fittingly heroic performance - this blend of humour and substance translates to several other key characters, notably Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl, and Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One. Perhaps, as is the flaw with many MCU films (and even modern blockbusters to be honest), unwanted humour may sometimes spring up only to kill the atmosphere of an effective scene, but the overall tone of the script is thankfully inviting for a large demographic and never sinks into something too menacing or dark. As a villain, Mads Mikkelsen provides a strong effort and yields great results, despite a somewhat underwritten role, though such lack of development can't compare to the general uninteresting persona of love interest Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), who is decent enough as a general character, but the romance between her and Strange is arguably forced to a point where it seems like the director really did not want it in there.

Overall, you can safely call this another new hit in the MCU, boasting a solid script, directed confidently by Scott Derrickson, and brought to life with talented, passionate actors and a dazzling array of visual effects. The key flaws come in the form of aforementioned character setbacks, yet also an effective yet very abrupt climax that ends an otherwise superb finale in a slightly disappointing fashion. Still, the clever amount of ideas placed into the film are admirable to say the least, and it makes for a refreshing superhero origin story and a great watch all round.

Sunday 16 October 2016

The Best of Walt Disney World

Attracting over 50 million visitors each year, Disney World has long been the largest and busiest vacation resort in the world, and it's no surprise when you consider just how much it houses - with 4 theme parks and 2 water parks, alongside countless hotel resorts and it's own shopping/dining complex in the form of Disney Springs. Each of said theme parks house some amazing and memorable rides, appropriate for many groups, so let's have a quick glance over some of the best it has to offer...

#5 - Toy Story Midway Mania

Toy Story Midway Mania, found in Hollywood Studios, is an amazing piece of tech - a 4D shooting gallery attraction that feels a lot like a major beefed up version of Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin's concept. After putting on your 3D glasses, you're placed in a cart which zooms around it's rails on a preset route, stopping briefly as you face a series of screens where characters from the Toy Story films pop up and instruct you on what to do - shoot as many of the varying targets in each toy box setting with all kinds of projectiles, from darts to pies to baseballs. Each target has the amount of points it bestows to you shown on it, and of course the harder ones to hit are the ones you really wanna go for if you wanna build up your score.

With some amazing, immersive technology, a fast paced atmosphere, and an overall exciting, cheerful vibe, Toy Story Midway Mania is easily one of the best rides the resort as to offer, and one that guests of all kinds of age groups can enjoy. 

#4 - Rock N Roller Coaster

If you read my original Disneyland Paris visit post from 2013, you'll know how much I love the Parisian edition of this ride - and whilst the Florida version is relatively similar in terms of track layout, it's theming is entirely different. Whilst the one in France is based on Aerosmith developing a ride featuring a music technology, meaning the ride is actually part of the story, this American version (which came first) is based on them leaving a gig in a stylised "really fast car", as worded by the stars of the show, and racing through the streets of Los Angeles. As a result, instead of the main room being filled with disco lights and smoke effects, you'll find yourself encountering all kinds of road signs, many warning you to stop, which of course the wreckless drivers are destined to ignore. Sound effects also add further atmosphere with revving engines and skidding tyres - but, also much like the French version, Aerosmith music is rocking on the on board speakers, adding further adrenaline.

The ride also begins with an immense 60mph launch, straight into a direct loop which links into a corkscrew inversion, generating a crazy zero G effect and a thrilling floaty feeling. You then thunder along the rails at similar speeds, with one more inversion following this, reaching your sudden stop after one hell of a ride. As such, it's easily one of the best coasters I've been on, despite poorly managed queues that take aaaggeess even during low crowd periods.

#3 - Test Track

Stationed at Epcot, Test Track originally opened in 1998 under the sponsorship of General Motors, with the theming being a basic proving ground motor experience. The ride closed in April 2012 for a major overhaul, reopening six months later with a new Chevrolet tag and a more complex, interactive design that, after another brief update, also makes extensive use of the resort's Magic Band scheme, introduced against guest profiles in 2014. Before boarding their test vehicles, riders actually design their own car on a touch interface, creating a unique vehicle with varying stats of speed and handling whilst also giving it an appearance that suits them best - the touch screen interface allows for a lot of freedom, making each design dramatically different among riders. It might not always turn out quite how you'd expect, but once it's over, you then board the aforementioned ride vehicle which zooms around a track to simulate testing environments for real cars, with your virtual car's performance against such circumstances appearing on a scoreboard as the ride goes on, ranking against the cars designed by other riders you're with. The final portion of the ride is a brief but epic run on the exterior circuit, at speeds of around 65mph, making it one of the fastest rides in Disney history.

It's difficult to explain to those not familiar with the ride structure, but trust me, it's design is extremely intuitive and creative, building upon the already superb original with a host of necessary modern tweaks and thoughtful ideas. The main ride itself inside the dummy car is as tense as it is exciting, carrying you along sound stages designed to resemble outdoor environments with thrilling sharp turns and sudden jolts of speed. Definitely make it a priority upon visiting.

#2 - Space Mountain

Easily one of Disney's most iconic rides, Space Mountain appears at almost every Disney theme park in the world, but with an interesting trait - they're all entirely different. Of course while identical rides may vary slightly between resorts in terms of aesthetics or minor layout changes, each Space Mountain has it's own unique theme and structure, and the Magic Kingdom's is easily the largest of the bunch with two duelling, mirrored tracks. Whichever one you find yourself on is of course completely random (though FastPass riders often find themselves on one and the rest on the other), and you'll often find yourself riding in sync with those on the opposing track. The ride features much smaller trains than other iterations of the ride, which race along the track in darkness at just shy of 30mph - of course, surrounding you are all kinds of galactic aesthetics, from planetary backdrops to distant twinkling stars. As you whizz through all sorts of sudden turns, drops, and stops, enormous speakers around the room also play kickass music by Michael Giacchino on a continuous loop; you can't always hear it that well which is a bit of a shame, but it still adds an effective atmosphere.

Whilst I certainly adore the Parisian version, this revisit to the rides oldest iteration certainly makes it hard to determine which is truly my favourite...

#1 - Expedition Everest

Possibly one of the most creative and certainly one of the best roller coasters I've ever been on, Expedition Everest holds several unique accolades when it comes to Disney theme park rides; the first to travel both forwards and backwards and also home to the largest ever animatronic in Disney history, that being the 25 feet tall Yeti that riders encounter on their journey throughout the 60 meter high artificial mountain. It is also the most expensive roller coaster ever built, with a cost of $100 million upon completion in 2006.

Beginning with gentle dips as you exit the station and enter the mountain itself, the ride soon morphs into something far more intense as you find yourself going backwards after encountering torn up rails at the conclusion of a small slope - as the train comes to a stop against this hazard, the track behind you cleverly flips over to divert to a new route, which, again, the train thunders down in reverse. After one final pause and change in track pattern, the train returns to forward motion once more and soars down a 80 foot drop, reaching it's full speed of around 50mph on one final chaotic circuit, concluding with a frightening glimpse of the animatronic Yeti monster just as you leave the mountain and return to safety.

What I just adore about this ride is the tense pace - it really builds up to a stunning finale and, thanks to some incredible sound design, you're really pulled into a terrifying atmosphere as the Yeti antagonist stalks you on your journey. What's equally as amazing is, of course, the set design itself - the 200 foot high mountain and the intricate caverns within it work alongside said sound design to provide an atmosphere that I find to be unrivalled in other roller coasters I've been on over time. Such creativity of course extends into the track layout, with the forward and backward pattern making for a diverse and exciting ride from start to finish. Easily the best ride at the resort, and possibly my favourite roller coaster of all time.

Surely this shows how much I love it?

There's lot of other great stuff at Disney World, so maybe I'll do another lineup soon...we'll see.

Thanks for reading!

Friday 30 September 2016

Movie Review - Bridget Jones's Baby

Bridget Jones's Diary garnered immense backlash during production at the casting of Rene√© Zellweger to play a much loved British literary character, but the end result proved to be naught but harsh judgement - her performance in the role is widely deemed one of the best in a recent English comedy, and even though the film's less-than-inspired sequel didn't meet the same expectations the original had set, her talent in the main role still shone without a doubt. Now, twelve years since said lacklustre sequel Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, arrives a random yet surprisingly well made third installment in the form of Bridget Jones's Baby - the title of which will already grab the attention of fans.

Bridget's relationship with the now married Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) may have thrived at the end of the previous film, but now she is left single once more as things didn't work out, with her other former lover Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) sporadically believed to be killed in a tragic plane crash. Egged on by her friends to be with someone once again (or at least in someone's bed), Bridget finds herself soon sleeping with wealthy relationship expert Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey), only to then briefly reunite with Mark in the midst of his much desired divorce. Following her affairs, she finds herself pregnant, with not only a hectic chase to find out who the father really is kicking off, but also a struggle inside her (no pun) to find out whom she truly loves deep down.

Zellweger's distinct charm in the role hasn't vanished even over a decade on, with equally clever writing in place to give her plenty to work with - her memorable voice is there, as is the rebellious yet idiotic nature of the character which leads to a number of hilarious situations. Despite some initial strange plot decisions as things get going, it's a relief to see that this Bridget Jones is much closer to its original basis than its lousy predecessor, focusing equally on a degree of narrative robustness over mindnumbing silliness. That's not to say silliness isn't present - however, it's of course needed for such a character, and just as in the first film, it's executed nicely, delivering plenty of laughs with a stream of physical and verbal gags. Many of said gags also poke fun at more modern pop culture traditions, considering it's been twelve years since the last film, be it with politics or technology, for equally hilarious results.

The performances from series regulars Zellweger and Firth are as funny as ever, and newcomer Patrick Dempsey is especially impressive in his likeable role, despite occasional hiccups in consistency. He, Zellweger, and Firth consequently form a hilarious yet strangely touching (as we near the climax...again no pun) love triangle, which grows and grows with Bridget's bulge. Perhaps its greatest flaws include some sporadic (and poorly conveyed) time jumps, an occasionally annoying performance by Sarah Solemani, and I wasn't truly satisfied with the ending in all honesty; in spite of this, Bridget Jones's Baby is a huge improvement over The Edge of Reason, and definitely worthy of its existence despite being so late on arrival.

Sunday 25 September 2016

Movie Goofs - Jurassic Park III (2001)

The Jurassic Park series, despite being of the most treasured in film history, isn't really one of the highest ranking from a critical perspective; it's only the original that has garnered widespread acclaim, while its sequel, even the recent more Jurassic World, receiving generally mixed reactions overall.

The third entry is seen by most as the very worst and is also the lowest grossing at the box office; and, of course, is one that boasts a plethora of daft plot holes within its tacky narrative...,

  • The Kirby's method of getting Alan Grant to follow them onto the island involved the them faking a huge family business when, in actual fact, all they do is run a small plumbing company. As a result, a cheque they penned to Grant to bribe him into coming with them is of course rendered useless, but this all leads to one curious query: why on Earth did Grant not research this so called "Kirby Enterprises" conglomerate and actually cash in the fake cheque before going on this dangerous mission? That would've saved him an awful lot of hassle...
  • Referring back to this, the reason the Kirby's decided to bring Grant with them is because they thought he knew the island inside out due to his previous ordeals. Except, well, one key problem: Grant was in fact on the other dinosaur island, Isla Nublar, during said ordeals. Grant published a book regarding the experience so it wouldn't have been too hard to learn this. The Kirby's even mention that Grant's book is what convinced them that he's the right man, which just further exemplifies their irrational idiocy.
  • Bellowing into a megaphone as loud as possible isn't the smartest thing one should do while on an island full of free roaming, man eating dinosaurs. The character's do eventually acknowledge this, but to be perfectly willing to do it in the first place is absolutely moronic.
  • The Spinosaurus, strangely desparate to chase the main characters endlessly despite having much bigger things to hunt and snack on, is able to ram through a barbed, incredibly thick steel fence with no visible wounds or injuries. That's ridiculous enough, but this ludicrous strength suddenly tanks as its efforts to smash apart a rusty old door outside a rusty old building fail miserably. 

  • The invincibility of the satellite phone is absolutely absurd. After being swallowed up by the Spinosaurus, it's still audible from within the dinosaur's belly and from a great distance, and even still functional once pulled out of the dinosaur's soaking wet excrement god knows how many hours later. Perhaps it's a Nokia of some sort...there's no other explanation one can fathom really.
  • After reacquiring this strange looking Nokia device, Alan calls Ellie for help and she immediately obliges, somehow managing to convince the Navy and Air Force to send as much of their squad as possible to rescue a bunch of nobodies who willingly and illegally went to the forbidden dinosaur island. Why would they even bother?
  • Why does a man stand on the beach before the arrival of the military just to call out the names of the main characters? It's an amusing reveal but doesn't quite make sense. Could you imagine watching them devise a plan involving a man wandering onto a dinosaur ridden island and yelling as loud as he could, completely unaided or without protection? And him being totally cool with it?
  • Such a relaxing finale: John Williams' memorable score, the gorgeous sunset, and three pterosaurs who just tried to drown and feed the characters to their babies soaring off into the horizon to "find a new nesting grounds", as Grant says with a pleased look. Why nobody is not even a little bit concerned about this is beyond me. So are we cool with letting savage cloned dinosaurs live amongst us now?

Thanks for reading!

Thursday 15 September 2016

Movie Review - The BFG

Easily the most well known filmmaker of all time, Steven Spielberg has tackled all sorts of genres, with mostly superb results: from family friendly classics such as E.T. to genre establishing thrillers such as Jaws, Spielberg's works have also gone on to create flourishing franchises of all kinds and render him one of the film industry's most financially pleasing as well as creatively compelling directors.

He's had a few a disappointments, which has to be expected in such a huge filmography, but this year's The BFG is likely one of the most upsetting and surprising to date - thanks to mediocre box office takings and a general mixed response from audiences.

Based on the Roald Dahl book published in 1982, the story involves lonely orphan Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), who is whisked away from her orphanage by the titular gentle giant (Mark Rylance) when she catches sight of him during his midnight work - delivering and capturing dreams as people sleep. Fearing that returning Sophie home will risk exposure of himself and his homeland of Giant Country, the BFG decides to keep her as a companion, and the two form an unlikely friendship over time which soon leads to their eventual quest to rid Giant Country of the man eating monsters that dwell within it.

The most notable thing about the film at first glance is its extensive use of CGI to create the BFG himself, the Giant Country around him, and the other man eating beasts living in it. Rather than being animated purely from scratch, the BFG, as well as the other giants, are created using motion capture techniques - whilst this is certainly a tad creepy at first glance, it actually makes for some impressive results. Mark Rylance's performance is full of visible effort; he captures the vocal tone and the speech pattern of the BFG perfectly, and his expressions, as well as the effects generated around them, are just as believable. What is a shame, however, is that the BFG's overall characterization simply doesn't live up to the character's standards - he really doesn't seem that friendly from the get go, more like a miserable old man. This trait goes on for far too long, making him eventually dull and somewhat unlikeable, no matter how much talent Rylance clearly shows.

It's strangely not until the film nears its finale that his truly friendly side comes to fruition, which, again, leads to an unlikeable central character for a large portion of the story. When it comes to Barnhill as Sophie - well, considering this is her first major film, she is extremely talented, injecting plenty of humour and genuine emotion into her performance to render the character as a charming protagonist. Her physical integration into the CGI effects as she enters the Giant Country is truly superb, seamlessly generated and highly polished. But these passionate performances (even against weak characters) and amazing visuals can't then save the pacing of the story. The direction doesn't feel like the confidence of Spielberg whatsoever; he's crafted something that's often boring, overlong, and extremely sluggish, with a multitude of unnecessary scenes that serve no purpose but to drag out an underwritten narrative. Such rushed pacing also leads to a lack of emotional exploration during scenes that truly ask for it - too often major things happen, and you think it will result in a tender moment, but it's shrugged off and things move on as if nothing happened. It's truly a shame, as Spielberg was apt for the job considering the source material, but he just doesn't pull it off here; the end result is a boring experience that genuinely made me feel drowsy a few times the more it went on.

Sunday 11 September 2016

Birthday at the Railway

Another birthday, another egotistical blog post - two days ago I turned 22, meaning all the big omgwow numbers (16, 18, 21...) are now behind me. Ageing will now be an unremarkable thing with no accolades to reach. Well, it was always that to me anyway.

This year I've done many things on a week off work. For a start, on September 6, I went to the Mid Hants Railway for the first time in years, and on one of my first visits that wasn't a Day Out With Thomas event. It truly is beautiful to witness, all of these steam locomotives - while of course you wouldn't really wish they were still in service instead of diesels/electrics as the latters are much faster and your journeys would consequently be fairly unbearable, the intricacy and detail is something you just don't see in said modern locomotives. The railway itself is equally beautiful - it was originally used to transport locally grown watercress to London, hence it's Watercress Line brand name, whilst also providing regular passenger services between there and Southampton. The views you see as you journey across rural Hampshire are stunning to say the least, and while on quiet days it can be easy to get a tad bored, you'll find much to love especially in the Ropley station where the loco yard resides - allowing you to view all the current locomotives up close, even during refurbishments, as well as rooms containing trivia and historical information on the world of steam traction. Some parts feel a bit worn out and dull, especially the shops, but this is still a place that provides a calm, relaxing outing for those fond of the subject matter.

In London, I did several things, including visits to the Natural History Museum (and their Colour and Vision) exhibit, the Bond in Motion exhibit at the London Film Museum, and the Revolution exhibit at the V&A Museum - culminating with a viewing of the much loved The Woman in Black at the Fortune Theatre. I first saw it on a school trip in 2011, and for those who haven't seen it and are interested in any way, I recommend it without hesitation - despite it's play within a play twist, it's by far the most faithful retelling of the novel, with both films (much as I love the 1989 one) making too many changes to really be dubbed loyal adaptations. Relying on just two main actors, the play is a resourceful and well paced ghost story that cleverly brings the novel to life without the need for excessive theatrical effects or gimmicks - less is more in this definite masterpiece, and to say it'll scare you is surely an understatement.

Present wise isn't important this year, as my gifts in general was this amazing series of outings shared with my other half. The aforementioned museum tours were equally as remarkable, particularly that of the NHM, which is easily one of my favourite places on the planet - thanks to how interactive and involving it's exhibits are, as opposed to just being bland models and pictures with text slapped in front of them. The Bond in Motion exhibit, while a little short, is also pretty sweet, giving you a viewing of all of the vehicles used in the original Bond films, from the original classics to those even used in Spectre. You also get a chance to have your photo taken in a cheesy 007 format - we gave it a go...what do you think

Plus, I will be seeing Southampton play Sparta Prague as part of the Europa League on September 15 as another gift of sorts, so let's hope it doesn't turn out to be as miserable as their recent efforts have been. Much as I love them, a key part of me can't help feeling it will be...

Thanks for reading!