Friday 29 January 2016

Movie Goofs - Aladdin (1992)

With over $500 million in worldwide earnings, Disney's 1992 hit Aladdin is the second highest grossing film of their Renaissance era, only behind The Lion King. Whilst Disney's incredible reputation at the time of course drove it to such success, one of the key factors was, of course, the late Robin Williams' performance as the Genie.

Aladdin was scripted and directed by Disney icons John Musker and Ron Clements; who commonly make animated hits out of retro fairy tales or historic legends. Thanks to their love for fantasy elements, they face the challenges of ensuring plot holes don't become a serious issue - and, despite their talent, they don't quite achieve this. Aladdin is just one of their many films that boasts a plethora of illogical plot elements and numerous goofs, so in the start of a new blog series I'd like to explore, let's have a quick browse of how certain scenes (good as they are) really cocked up...
  • Jafar's snake staff has the ability to manipulate the actions of others, which begs the question as to why he even needed the Genie to make him ruler of Agrabah. Perhaps he could've persuaded the Sultan to crown him the new ruler, or kill himself? Or hell, even have Aladdin do the same? Without any explanation of the limitations of the staff, it seems rather bizarre that using it for his plan never crossed his mind.
  • Aladdin wishes for Genie to make him a Prince, and whilst Genie manages to grant him this wish by creating a handsome outfit and hosting a parade in his honour, his magic never seemed to extend into creating a backstory for Prince Ali and rewriting history to actually make Aladdin a Prince, not just dress him up as one. When Jasmine rebuffs Aladdin's affections, it just seems as if the Genie did nothing but give Aladdin some clothes and expected it to fool everyone with ease.
  • This error extends even further when the Genie offers Aladdin the chance to be a Prince again by using his final wish at the end of the film. So, what exactly happens if he proceeds with such a wish? Does he just get a new set of clothes? Surely history would need to completely rewritten to remove the issue of him being exposed as a fake Prince, which would generate so many issues with time travel and conflicting events that it hurts my brain to think of it. Thank god it never happened.

  • Jafar wishes for the Genie to make him the new Sultan - which apparently translates to uprooting the city of Agrabah amongst a vicious thunderstorm and placing it onto a neighbouring mountain, and then giving Jafar some second hand clothes. Makes sense to me.
  • Jafar has numerous chances to kill Aladdin with minimal hassle, but still seems frustrated when Aladdin never dies. During their final battle, Jafar uses his magic to turn monkeys into toys, turn tigers into kittens, unravel carpets, and make dreadful puns. He breathes fire around Aladdin, but none at him to reduce him to ash, and even hurls a bunch of swords at Aladdin, all of which miss and basically just give Aladdin a weapon to fight with. Finally, when Jafar takes the form of a giant cobra, he still gives up the chance of crushing Aladdin in favour of tormenting him with generic villain dialogue. He was just asking to be defeated, basically.
  • It's impressive enough that Aladdin managed to survive the impact of the palace tower crashing into a snowy mountain with no means of restraint or protection, but even more impressive that he doesn't begin to suffer hypothermia when barely clothed in an icy storm.
  • At the end of the film, the Sultan dismisses the law of Jasmine having to marry a Prince and just changes it so that she can marry whoever she wants. So, when Jasmine clearly wasn't interested in being forced into a royal marriage, why didn't he just change it? In fact, if he has that much control over his nation's politics, why not just cancel the law so she doesn't have to marry anyone? Some supreme leader, eh?
  • Aladdin basically steals to survive, and even wishes he could be rich and famous within the palace. So, why is the Cave of Wonders so adamant that he is the only person worthy to enter amongst all the treasure, as if it trusts him not to pinch any?

Thanks for reading!

Sunday 24 January 2016

Cool Trains

I've covered some of the coolest planes in the past, but I'll never forget my favourite form of transport: the almighty steam train. Gradually superseded by diesel and electric locomotives in the 1960s, the steam train still remains a widespread innovation, establishing numerous records during it's lifetime and becoming one of the most iconic forms of transport; particularly in the UK where the most well known trains were built.

So, in another random post, let's take a look at just a few of the coolest trains and just why they're so famous...

LB&SCR E2 Class

The E2 tank engine was built between 1913 and 1916, with ten constructed in total. It was mainly intended as a station pilot and general shunting engine, preparing express trains and freight trains for larger locomotives. However, occasionally, these little guys did haul their own freight trains over short distances. They were surprisingly strong for their size, but small coal bunkers and limited boiler space made them inadequate for longer travels. They enjoyed a steady and surprisingly long career, lasting almost 50 years until their eventual retirement in the 1960s. Sadly, all were scrapped, leaving none to survive preservation and remain with us today.

Why is this engine so significant? Well, most people will recognise just why...of course, one of the most treasured children's characters of all time, Thomas the Tank Engine himself, is based on this class! But outside of that, they still have a reputation of their own, enjoying a lengthy career as useful and robust shunters that were a big step forward beyond their weaker predecessors, the E1 class.

LMS Stanier Class 5

William Stanier, one of the most notable steam train engineers, designed the LMS Stanier Class 5, nicknamed the Black Five, in order to provide mixed traffic services; that is, they are designed for both passengers and freight. They were introduced to the English railways in 1934 and production concluded in 1951, with a stellar total of 842 locomotives being built. It's widely considered a favourite amongst railway fans, thanks to impressive stats and a robust, iconic design. The Black Five was able to reach speeds of 75mph (though 50-60mph was more common), and was immensely strong, effortlessly hauling lengthy freight trains and express services. The year 1963 saw them widely withdrawn from service, and while the majority were scrapped, an unusually large eighteen of them remain in preservation on heritage railways and museums.

In terms of popular culture, the Black Five is the basis for Henry the Green Engine in The Railway Series and it's TV adaptation Thomas & Friends, who was rebuilt into one of these locomotives following an accident with a freight train dubbed The Flying Kipper.

LNER Gresley Classes A1 & A3

Sir Nigel Gresley was no stranger to fans of the railway industry - he built some of the most famous engines in history, which revolutionised mainline services with newly established stats of speed and strength. The A1 and A3 locomotives were relatively similar, with the latter sporting upgrades in boiler space and general size - in fact, only 27 of the 51 A3 locomotives were built from scratch, with the rest being A1's upgraded into improved specifications. A famous member of this class is the 4472 Flying Scotsman, named after the very train it hauled throughout it's entire career; a service that still runs today between Edinburgh and London. This beautiful beast became the first locomotive to reach 100mph in 1934, and also garnered a record for longest consistent journey whilst based in Australia in 1989 - where it hauled a passenger train across 422 miles without a single stop.

Flying Scotsman is universally considered the most famous steam locomotive in history, and one that, again, revolutionised the railway industry alongside other members of the class. Sadly, it is the only preserved member, with all others being scrapped in the 1960s.

LNER Class A4

One of the most iconic locomotives of all time, the Class A4 was designed by Sir Nigel Gresley (one locomotive of which is named after him) for the purposes of providing even faster express services on the English main line. Notably, one member of this class, 4468 Mallard, holds the record for fastest steam locomotive in history - reaching 126mph at Stoke Bank in 1938. Their streamlined body was the key to their outstanding speed; world records aside, the locomotives also added general convenience to most passenger journeys, shredding off lengthy journeys around the Scottish mainline by well over half an hour. They occasionally hauled freight trains, but for the majority of their prosperous lifespan, these locomotives became notable for establishing high speed express services as something that could evolve into something faster and faster for years to come.

A total of 35 of these trains were built between 1935 and 1938, and they retired from service in the early, you guessed it, 1960s. The majority were scrapped, but six remain preserved, most notably the aforementioned Mallard and the equally renowned 4498 Sir Nigel Gresley.

Thanks for reading!

Friday 15 January 2016

Most Anticipated Films of 2016

And so, here begins the 16th year of the 21st century - and, without a doubt, another exciting one for major film releases. Without a long winded introduction, let us begin; here are my most anticipated releases for the next 12 months...

#5 - The BFG

Steven Spielberg, the director who needs no introduction, will take the helm on the first live action adaptation of Roald Dahl's acclaimed story book, which many may also know by it's 1989 animated adaptation starring Sir David Jason. Disney will produce this latest big budget fairy tale which stars Mark Rylance as the eponymous character and Ruby Barnhill as protagonist Sophie. Many people are expressing distaste at Disney's recent trend of turning old classics into live action blockbusters, and while they've not always perfected their outcomes, this itself looks like a charming piece of work that will hopefully maintain the book's original spirit whilst updating things suitably for modern audiences. It's hard to truly assess it as we've only got one trailer and some promotional images thus far, but I certainly look forward to it, especially when one considers how Spielberg has always nailed charming nostalgic and childhood tones in many of his classic films without resorting to pretentious pandering.

US Release: July 1
UK Release: July 22

#4 - Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

In J.K. Rowling's screenwriting debut, she will adapt her 2001 novel Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them into the first feature film in the Harry Potter universe since the series' conclusion half a decade ago. Taking the director's chair is David Yates, director of the first two Potter films, so it's most certainly in safe hands.

It's more of an inspiration of the novel than a direct basis, as of course, the novel itself is just a non fiction book (in Harry Potter's world at least...) that documents various species that dwell in the wizarding world. The always superb Eddie Redmayne stars as Newt Scamander, author of the novel in question, and a keen Ministry of Magic wizard who journeys to the muggle world to face important meetings with government officials. Crucial to the plot is a magical briefcase he carries that stores a number of supernatural creatures inside, and one that of course houses potential dangers to get the plot going. Although it initially seemed forced to adapt such a novel into a film, the fact that Rowling herself is penning the script gives me hope that a lot of genuine care will be made to ensure it's not a lazy cash in of her work. Yates' return to the directors chair is more than welcome, and with a well chosen cast to boot, things are looking promising thus far.

UK + US Release: November 18

#3 - Zootopia

Zootopia, known as Zootropolis in the UK, is Disney's next animated more-than-likely blockbuster. A society of anthropomorphic animals is not exactly an original concept, but here's where the creators added their own unique touch: the world is a world not only inhabited by animals, but also designed by them, something Disney executives hinted that would be reflected in the overall architecture of the locales and cities. Jason Bateman and Ginnifer Goodwin star as Nick Wilde, a con artist fox, and Judy Hopps, a young rabbit police officer, respectively, who must team up as unlikely friends to solve a mysterious criminal case within the titular city before time runs out.

Disney have risen from their 2000s slump in the past half a decade to become one of the most successful animation studios once more, and Zootopia certainly looks poised to continue the trend - the initial teaser shown back in June is a charming summary of the film's humour, as was the laugh a minute sloth trailer shown back in November. Thankfully, in both previews, the plot wasn't spoiled too much, and a detective story is a more than welcome path to take after numerous other narratives in recent Disney flicks. I certainly anticipate it being one of Disney's funniest and most unique in their recent resurgence.

US Release: March 4
UK Release: March 25

#2 - Suicide Squad

Though I'll undoubtedly give it a watch, I have to be honest and confess my thoughts that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice looks pretty stupid. However, the other DCU film that will hit cinemas this year focuses on the array of villains in DC Comics' history: Suicide Squad. The first trailer premiered back in July, reaffirming confidence in it's strong cast consisting of Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman and, of course, Jared Leto as the terrifying Joker.

Everyone likes to raise the debate of whether or not Leto can rival Heath Ledger's acclaimed Joker from 2008's The Dark Knight, but perhaps we should look past any sort of rivalry and admire his new approach to the character. A superhero film dedicated solely to the villains is something we've not seen in recent times and so this will make for an interesting approach to the structure of the story. A lineup of superb actors helm each role, and with the ever talented David Ayer as writer/director, Suicide Squad will hopefully live up to it's large ambitions of being a unique twist on the superhero genre.

UK + US Release: August 5

#1 - The Jungle Book

Here we go with another live action Disney update - that of their 1967 animated classic, which in turn is based on the 1894 storybook by Ruyard Kipling. The most notable thing at first is it's outstanding cast - Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Christopher Walken, Bill Murray, and of course, Scarlett Johannson as Kaa, the manipulative python; a casting choice that garnered much controversy due to the role typically being masculine. Her voice didn't completely win me over in the first trailer, but I still anticipate what direction her performance will go down, given that the tone of the film seems to be much darker than it's animated source material.

It certainly doesn't look light on thrills either, with Bagheera himself engaging in a fight with Shere Kahn in the trailer, albeit very briefly - something we never saw in the original, and a scene that emphasizes some new ideas coming to fruition. Although a darker tone seems to be present, Murray undergoing the main role as the loveable sloth bear Baloo is sure to help the film retain a key part of the original's jubilant spirit and charming comedic appeal; of course, we all know the much loved Bare Necessities will be making a return and will be sung by Murray himself. Let's hope the balance is met between the classic fairy tale-esque vibe and it's ambitious path to be more complex for the modern crowd.

UK + US Release: April 15

Thanks for reading!

Saturday 9 January 2016

Movie Review - The Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino is a director who needs no introduction - the Hollywood giant rose to fame in the 1990s after his debut feature Resevoir Dogs, and his status only expanded with the release of his iconic Pulp Fiction in 1994. His aestheticization of violence, non linear narratives, and eccentric takes on classic genres continue to wow audiences globally; and here comes his most recent hit, The Hateful Eight, a return for Tarantino to the Western genre, featuring band of, funnily enough, eight Westerners who find themselves trapped from a blizzard in a small hut. During their stay, a number of strange occurences put them on edge and lead to the revelations of some disturbing secrets that make them all closer than they initially thought, be that good or bad...

The film is split into six chapters, and stars Tarantino regular Samuel L. Jackson in the main role as bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren, as well as a strong supporting cast consisting of Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Channing Tatum, Tim Roth, and numerous others, all of whom play their parts well, despite some weak characterizations within Tarantino's script. The director is not exactly known for having short run times, and at 167 minutes, The Hateful Eight is no exception. It's easy to sum up the flow of things: the film has a good start, a fantastic climax, but the middle portions are not consistently interesting.

One moment you're enjoying some good humour, amusing and equally clever mystery scenarios, and some truly dedicated performances, whilst the next you're enduring some sleep inducing, meaningless scenes that exist to simply to drag out the run time for no logical reason. It becomes truly absurd how stretched out certain scenes are due to confusing and fluctuating character motivations and actions, which in turn causes frustration and severe boredom. Certain scenes serve no true purpose in the long run, and some of them seem to exist only for Tarantino to demonstrate his talent for penning eclectic and amusing dialogue. Whilst his talent is evident, it feels slightly pretentious and pointless to sit through certain scenes that seem to exist only to show off.

But as I said, the introduction is strong, with a humourous and likeable introduction of the characters, and the climax is perhaps one of the finest moments, deftly blending thrills, an element of mystery, some engaging plot twists, and a plenty of controversial humour into a brilliant conclusion. Jackson shines in the main role with, again, a laugh a minute yet equally threatening personality, producing much of the film's comedy yet also being a strong, intimidating presence. Tarantino also incorporates his trademark love of gore and violence, which leads to some shocking yet equally thrilling (and often hilarious) shootouts and fight scenes. The Hateful Eight isn't a masterpiece, and in fact the brutal run time and sluggish pace in the middle make for some incredibly dull moments, but all in all it's another satisfying and generally entertaining movie from an acclaimed director that is sure to please his loyal fans.

Friday 1 January 2016

Best and Worst of 2015 - Best Five Films

Happy New Year to all! Before 2015 came to a close, I covered the worst films that it had to offer. To kick off 2016 in positive fashion, let's focus on the bright side - here, I'll give you a run down of my five favourites from the past 12 months!

#5 - Mad Max: Fury Road

The first installment to the Mad Max franchise since 1985, Fury Road is co-written and directed by series creator George Miller once again, and stars Tom Hardy in the lead role. Instead of a direct sequel to Mad Max 3, Fury Road instead feels like a reboot of sorts, or just a new story that doesn't completely rely on it's predecessors. As a result, newcomers to the series won't need to watch the originals (though you still should) in order to get a grasp of what's happening; and while the narrative initially seems to take a step back in favour of action, that is not quite the case overall.

That is, while Fury Road is stockpiled with action scenes that rank amongst some of the best in a modern blockbuster, it also features a surprising amount of depth within this post apocalyptic world that the characters dwell within. It's an exhilarating and heart racing experience from start to finish, with wonderful performances from stars Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, and a superb score by Junkie XL that compliments the already superb action sequences. Even if you're new to the series, this is certainly a must see.

#4 - Jurassic World

Jurassic World is the first in the franchise since Jurassic Park III, and the anticipation was all but evident - it's one of the highest grossing films of all time, with over $600 million in US revenue and and over $1.6 billion worldwide. Truly, fans from all over the world were eager to see the new direction the plot was taking; instead of it being the disasters of trying to make a dinosaur theme park, now it's about managing one that's finally opened to tourists.

Chris Pratt stars as Velociraptor trainer Owen Grady, who becomes tangled in a mission to save visitors of the eponymous theme park when the attempt to rejuvenate visitor interest terribly backfires. The result is the Indominus Rex, a dinosaur hybrid, who runs riot on the island to destroy everything in her path. While it's not going to wow us the same way the original did in terms of CGI innovation, Jurassic World is still visually striking and thoroughly entertaining, with plenty of gripping set pieces and an interesting new direction for the franchises themes and ideas. An epic thriller that's worthy of it's title.

#3 - Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

The Mission: Impossible series reached new heights in 2011 with Ghost Protocol, and that trend continues with the equally acclaimed and financially successful Rogue Nation. Here, IMF agent Ethan Hunt's latest mission sees him combatting an undercover criminal group known as the Syndicate, whilst also running from the CIA after their disbandment of the IMF itself. Tom Cruise makes a welcome return in his trademark role as a crazy stuntman and an unsurpassable action star, and is joined by usual cast members Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, and Ving Rhames, with Sean Harris starring as the film's villain, Solomon Lane.  The story may seem generic at first glance, and perhaps a bit shallow, but there's a surprising level of depth within it, and a clever sense of direction as the film goes on and more plot twists come to fruition. Couple this with superbly staged action scenes, a lineup of excellent characters, and of course some fantastic stunt work by Cruise himself, and you have another fine entry to this reinvigorated franchise.

#2 - Selma

Despite entering limited release at the end of 2014, Selma expanded into larger worldwide territory in the early months of 2015, so I'll add it on here for the sake of it. A historic biopic of Marin Luther King's efforts to spearhead racial equality in a corrupt 1940s America, Selma stars David Oyelowo as the leading man himself in one of the best performances I've seen in a recent film. It doesn't hold back with expressing just how violent and corrupt this part of human history really was, exemplifying the dark heights that racism reached through disturbing riot set pieces and some sinister performances from a strong cast. Tom Wilkinson also shines as President LB Johnson; the story gives us an insight to his struggles as a politician who agrees with King's ideologies but still can't find the right way to bring them to fruition, due to pressure from his peers and the general public's opposition.

It sounds pretentious, but it's far from that - genuine, heartfelt, and extremely dramatic, Selma is a beautifully constructed biopic that does justice to the iconic figure who inspired it.

#1 - Inside Out

As with some other films in my recent lists, Inside Out is one I've talked about a lot already so I'll keep this brief.

It's a powerfully moving tale with a strong, inventive premise, gorgeous animation, and a deft, masterful blend of comedy, wit, emotional resonance, and genuine drama. It's another addition to Pixar's lineup of animated classics and further proof that, with the right amount of care and attention, CGI animation can be much more than shallow, colourful nonsense to keep the kids quiet.

Here is my review and here is my feedback in my 2015 retrospect. Have a read for further insight to why this film is so friggin good!

UPDATE: This video has now been adapted into a video for the ProjectFalconPunch Youtube channel! Take a look!

Click here!

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for my most anticipated films of 2016, coming soon!