Saturday 30 July 2016

Movie Review - Star Trek Beyond

J.J Abrams' work on the Star Trek franchise has resulted in its highest grossing entries in 2009 and 2013 respectively; now, Fast & Furious director Justin Lin takes the helm in this year's Star Trek Beyond, the next stage in the series, and certainly a satisfying threequel that will please Trekkies and general viewers alike, even if it may not feel as refined as its predecessors.

After following a distress signal to a remote part of the galaxy, the crew of the USS Enterprise, lead by James Kirk (Chris Pine), are mercilessly attacked by the sinister Krall (Idris Elba) and his gargantuan armies, who seek a hidden artefact on board the Enterprise that the crew found on their travels. With the Enterprise destroyed and the entire crew marooned on a nearby rogue planet, Kirk, alongside other escapees Spock (Zachary Quinto), Bones (Karl Urban), and Scotty (Simon Pegg), must use all resources they have to locate the truth behind Krall's actions and bring a stop to his future plans before time runs out.

What's immediate about Star Trek Beyond is that, aside from a distinct lack of lens flares, it focuses less on space settings and more on the ground - taking place for the most part on the planet of Altamid, where the crew find themselves stranded after their ships destruction in an admittedly amazing action sequence. The film gets off to a suitably quick start, skipping on unnecessary exposition, and has one hell of a gripping climax - but the key weakness lies in its middle portion, which can drag and occasionally lack consistent focus, considering it has to span over multiple characters in different locales. Idris Elba, while giving a solid performance as the antagonist Krall, can't completely save him from lacking enough development to make him fully interesting beyond a badass appearance and an intimidating presence. Otherwise, his backstory, motivations, and overall characterization isn't explored enough to make him a truly worthy villain compared to those in the previous films.

But Simon Pegg and Doug Jung's screenplay is rich in humour, which is brought to life by superb performances by the same fantastic cast, as well some multiple gripping set pieces as we approach the final act. The narrative fits together nicely we near said conclusion; it's just a shame it's not conveyed as well as it could've been, thus making it a bit too vague. From a visual perspective, everything is spot on; CGI work when it comes to the outer space sequences is composed with brilliant attention to detail and animated flawlessly, as is the set design, cinematography across all of the varied locales, as well as the make-up on the individual alien characters. Again, while not as fresh as its predecessors, Star Trek Beyond is still a potent action film and a satisfying watch from start to finish; helping to continue the series' cinematic comeback in suitably epic fashion.

Saturday 23 July 2016

Movie Review - Ghostbusters (2016)

The trailer for this year's Ghostbusters reboot, which was always going to be met with contempt from fans of the beloved original, has now become the most disliked film trailer in Youtube's history; and even with positive critical reviews continuing to pop up, hatred from the fanbase remains intact. The apparent overly feminist themes, cheesy modern humour, stereotypical black character, and apparent tired, repetitive gags the trailer demonstrated kept the backlash escalating to insane new levels, and with the film now released in the US, its average box office earnings have certainly reflected on this wave of negativity. But is this all really deserved?

Ghostbusters has the same premise as its 1984 namesake, but with new character backstories and motivations, and a number of different takes on the subject. When reunited with her long time friend and book co-writer Abby (Mellissa McCarthy), Erin (Kristen Wiig) returns to her beliefs in the supernatural and joins her and Jillian (Kate McKinnon) in the inception of a ghost catching business; a venture on which they are joined by Patty (Leslie Jones), energetic former subway worker and their first ghost-busting recruit, and Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), their slow yet loveable receptionist. With their business in place, things get off to a bumpy start, and it soon becomes apparent that the few ghosts lurking around New York City link up to something far more sinister than initially thought.

The original film is a classic that nobody wants to see ruined. But this modern take on the idea is undoubtedly poorly advertised - at least in some ways - and so rendered in a negative light, when in actual fact it's a solid modern comedy that pays respect to its spiritual predecessor whilst adding fresh ideas of its own. The use of an all female cast never feels overly patronising or a forceful feminist ideology - it just feels like we have four female protagonists, the majority of whom all perform with plenty of spirit and energy. Whilst Chris Hemsworth's loveable yet somewhat idiotic male character may sometimes feel like an offensive stereotype to some, looking past such overly sensitive ideologies reveals him to be full of comedic appeal and, if anything, I find the main weakness to be how underused he is. When it comes to Neil Casey as the film's villain, his somewhat vague development and underwritten morals cause a little bit of initial confusion, but the deadpan performance flawlessly coincides with the witty dialogue he is given, resulting in an enjoyable antagonist with a strong finale.

The use of modern CGI effects of course doesn't have the same mindblowing appeal as the original, and there are times when it could've been a little more polished, but the end results are still fun to watch - especially during the final act. The central issue is that, despite its enjoyable nature, Ghostbusters really doesn't bring anything new to its genre and and often lacks strength when it comes to character development - which is even more problematic when Leslie Jones' role doesn't branch away from the stereotypical behaviours demonstrated in the trailer as much as we'd desire. With this in mind, a well chosen overall cast, vibrant visuals, and a welcome sense of fun ensure this is a pleasing modern take on a classic film which, even if it can't match said original, is a nice surprise considering how dreadful it looked at first glance.

Wednesday 13 July 2016

Movie Review - The Neon Demon

Nicolas Winding Refn's works are far from family friendly, but its this years The Neon Demon that takes his lust for stylish for violence and twisted imagery to new heights. Starring Elle Fanning as aspiring fashion model Jesse, the film explores a darker side to an industry that appears glamorous on the surface - but toys with the mind and grossly objectifies the human body when you search within. Jesse's journey leads her to numerous others in the fashion trade, including makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone), and a downward path of decadence with naught but tragic results.

Sounds like an interesting narrative - if only Refn could convey it properly.

When it comes to the visuals of The Neon Demon, the majority of the film is stylistic and extremely unique, boasting some suitably dark imagery and a number of bizarre yet imaginative scenes unlike anything seen in previous films of the genre. However, at times, these images aren't supported with narrative context - meaning their existence in the film isn't truly justified and thus their presence often quite confusing and random. Pacing is a common concern as the film tends to move at a strange, sluggish pace - this can suit the tone of certain scenes, and it's evident this is an intentional trait at times, but it doesn't detract from the fact that the film too often becomes a tiresome bore. These two flaws coincide when scenes relying on prolonged moments of glorified images and lighting techniques drag out, only to then shift to other scenes that race along a brutal pace; thus completely cocking up all chances at developing characters consistently.

The acting is generally solid, with Fanning providing a fitting deadpan performance, even if she sometimes lacks emotional engagement - perhaps this is often more down to lacklustre writing than her own talent, as the character is so thinly written for a central protagonist that her potentially powerful narrative development is squandered in favour of, as established, visual thrills. When it comes to supporting characters, the only real memorable one (used loosely) is Jena Malone as Ruby, but her eventual transition in the film's final act, without trying to spoil, is somewhat abrupt and not entirely believable. Others include Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee Kershaw as competing fashion models who also clash with Jesse, and whilst their characters also have emotional potential, it is often wasted due to their minimal screentime and Refn's inability to balance them with the other cast members. Keanu Reeves, whilst incapable of not providing any charm, is also thrown aside with a fairly meaningless character in the form of Hank, a rough motel owner, who has no real purpose and could easily be removed with minimal impact on the script - never a good thing.

The Neon Demon isn't light on shock factor either - whilst it's clearly for adults based on its age ratings, even they can't reveal just how disturbing the film gets as it nears its climax, and it's certainly going to severely freak out even the most bold viewers. Its just a shame that Refn focused more on the aforementioned colours and highlights in his cinematography and imagery as well as this shock factor than he did with creating a well structured narrative. Clumsy pacing, vague storytelling, and forgettable characters (many of whom appear briefly and then vanish) result in a film that has no principle focus and so only stands out because of how well it occasionally seduces and shocks the audience.

Wednesday 6 July 2016

Movie Goofs - Scooby Doo! and the Loch Ness Monster (2004)

Like all kids, I loved Scooby-Doo when at school. The classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons were some of the most iconic in the history of animation, and when it comes to movie appearances, there's many enjoyable if forgettable works, live action failures aside.

Mystery Incorporated's journey to Loch Ness in 2004 was one of my favourite animated flicks as a kid, and it's still a funny and zany little adventure to this day. As with all Scooby-Doo narratives, one must put aside reality and a large amount of common sense for the entire duration; however, at times, all your disbelief must be suspended to the point where it may be impossible to recover once the film is over...

  • One of the Loch Ness Monsters turned out to be a giant wooden puppet thing controlled by Colin and Angus, done so as they wanted to scare away other athletes in order to win the games and because they found it amusing. However, when you witness the strength, agility, and sheer lifelike nature of the creature in previous scenes, to believe it is two teens controlling a bunch of logs decorated with a scary lizard pattern is just not possible.
  • Adding to this, notice how when the disguised Colin and Angus first chase Shaggy and Scooby, they violently drop down from the Blake Castle cliffs into the Highland Games field, their Nessie machine thing totally unharmed after doing so. However, they are later tricked into falling down a small trap hole and, once they do, the entire thing is smashed to pieces. What happened there?
  • On the subject of that, why did neither of them face any legal repercussions for committing these actions? They completely smashed apart a place of historical significance and architectural importance, as well as, you know, a family home. In the end, their justification is that they "enjoy a good ol' practical joke". In reality, I'm sure a gargantuan fine and lengthy prison sentence await, once the Judge gets his/her around how bizarre their actions were. 
  • Professor Fiona Pembrooke is equally guilty of these crimes, having created a mechanical submarine Loch Ness Monster of her own in order to convince Sir Ian Locksley that the creature is real. Once exposed, her actions are laughed off with the typical "meddling kids!" quote, when in actual fact they almost render her, like the teens, a domestic terrorist. She gets off quite easy with that.

  • The technology used to create the submarine monster must've cost a fortune and taken incredible effort to build. However, it is never explained how Professor Pembrooke managed to create it. She must've done so herself, otherwise other people would've known of her plans. How did she do it? Where did she do it? How did she afford it? How and where did she perform test runs to ensure it ended up working to perfection without being noticed? The list of puzzling questions goes on and on here.
  • We can say the exact same thing about the giant puppet Nessie made by Colin and Angus, but in some cases that's even less comprehensible, considering how much more difficult it must've been for them to successfully operate it in a believable fashion.
  • When Shaggy and Scooby are being chased by Nessie for the first time, they somehow survive and are left totally uninjured after sliding down a huge cliff and crashing onto an open field in a ruined castle tower with no means of restraint or protection.
  • It takes the other folks at Blake Castle a worryingly large amount of time to come to Shaggy and Scooby's aid when they are being chased by Nessie amongst the Highland Games field, considering all the smashing and roaring that was going on. They also completely ignore the partial destruction of the castle itself and somehow don't catch a glimpse of the enormous brown lizard walking away from the field towards the town. You'd think they might've done so quite easily if running all the way down from the cliffs beside the castle, with a perfect view of the field below them.
  • Professor Pembrooke's land and sea models of Nessie have feet, are brown with bright red eyes, and have no fins at the end of their tails, which is surely not ideal when trying to prove to Sir Locksley that Nessie is real. You see, she wanted him to be convinced all along, so if her plan worked, he'd of course have a look at her photos - which show the creature as a greenish brown colour, with flippers instead of feet, and a tail fin. Even if Sir Locksley did believe her before the Mystery Inc. team solved the case, Pembrooke was always going to be exposed as her fake Nessie monsters look nothing like the small glimpses of the real creature in her photos.
Why am I bringing so much logic into this movie? Sometimes it's fun to see how different films would be if even a glimpse of common sense was present. While this film is certainly good fun, it perhaps at times just asks you to stretch your imagination a little too far. Such is the world of cartoons though really.

Thanks for reading!