Friday, 22 December 2017

Movie Review - Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars and it's modern reboot has been naught but a winner for Disney's newest moneymaking machine; 2015's The Force Awakens becomes the highest grossing film in North America and one of the highest globally, with 2016's Rogue One earning similar accolades on it's record breaking debut. Said hype remains intact as The Last Jedi sets more box office records after it's first weekend and looks poised to be another global blockbuster that'll outmatch most rivals - making it even more of a shame that the film's overall quality doesn't quite reach the unparalleled heights of it's box office receipts.

Continuing on from The Force Awakens with the First Order reigning over the Rebellion, The Last Jedi weaves together multiple plot threads throughout it's beefy 152 minute run time; Rey (Daisy Ridley) seeks out the legendary Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) for his assistance in fighting the First Order. At the same time, the Rebellion find themselves cornered by the enemy and forced to take desperate measures to fend off the threats that await - threats in the form of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his own supreme leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). It's sort of hard to explain it all seeing as all these plot threads are interwoven without much care and focus.

Referring to this messy plot brings to mind the film's key issue - Rian Johnson's flimsy script which, despite a decent start and gripping finale, struggles to maintain a coherent structure throughout everything in between. The film switches between largely dull sequences with Rey and Luke as forced morals and bizarre tonal shifts come into play, as well as entertaining if overlong action sequences with protagonists Finn (John Boyega) and several newcomers alongside familiar faces. There's a lot of visual thrills in many of these action scenes, though many also drag and sometimes feel far too excessive and bloated.

Characters? Way too many, and the end result is a generally clumsy mishmash of people trying to hog the limelight. Scenes shared between Rey and Luke have the potential to be far more effective and engaging, but the aforementioned tonal shifts and poor pacing make them come and go with little impact - if anything cutting them down a bit would've made things less dull, despite Hamill's solid performance and some likeable humourous moments. When we zoom back to the struggling Rebellion lead by Princess Leai (Carrie Fisher), and then over to Finn and his sidekick Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), or perhaps the attempted development of abruptly rising villain Snoke, we've sometimes completely forgotten about the stuff seen in other scenes simply because the film asks us to focus on far too much at once.

But this is an entertaining movie at it's best, no doubt; again, it starts off with a brisk pace and some gripping action, all crafted through some stunning visual effects and helmed by a lineup of brilliant performances; the same and much more can be said for the film's climactic moments. It's here where the action evolves into something much more than noisy chaos without much purpose - it's consistently entertaining, with a number of twists and turns keeping us engaged beyond a bunch of explosions and stylistic lightsaber duels. It's these superbly crafted set pieces that makes the array of flaws all the more disappointing - with it's talented cast and brilliant aesthetics, The Last Jedi truly has the chance to be one of the best blockbusters of the year, but these perks are sadly dragged down by a weak script that suffers from a distinct lack of polish.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Best and Worst of 2017 - Worst Five Films

Business as usual - with the year reaching it's end, now's the time to look over the best and worst of the films I saw throughout 2017. Let's get the stinkers out of the way first...

#5 - Kong: Skull Island

Shared universes are all over the film industry since the MCU took off, and one of the most recent is the...MonsterVerse? Whatever. The series began with 2014's Godzilla, and continues with King Kong's rebooted motion picture debut - one that was welcomed by most, but often had me bored beyond all measure. Kong: Skull Island is largely burdened by sluggish pacing and a lack of focus on many of it's key characters; instead more effort goes into showing off it's admittedly impressive special effects and fairly entertaining if repetitive set pieces. Kong himself pops up now and again to have bustups with the hideous creatures that lurk around the eponymous hellhole, and despite his presence always being fairly enjoyable, he's sadly put on the back burner for the most part in favour of our boring human protagonists.

The film as a whole is far from offensively bad, but just ends up being uninteresting, samey, and riddled with clichés.

#4 - The Mummy

Shared universes are becoming...hang on, I've said this before. Christ know how many times, so I guess there's no need to hammer this rubbish in anymore; alas, The Mummy finds itself as not just a remake of a beloved (if already mediocre) fantasy flick, but the start of a new shared universe combining all sorts of horror characters into some strange, desperate ensemble. Things have certainly got off to a bumpy start to say the least - while The Mummy starts off quite decent, it quickly sinks into something both boring and contrived, soon obsessed with set pieces that aim to be chilling yet end up being unfocused nonsense as the characters confront a number of scary situations with daft one liners or a bizarre sense of humour. You're never sure what vibe the film is going for, and thus it ends up being a cheesy and poorly directed mess, only redeemed in areas by some decent performances and special effects.

#3 - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

I've always been a fan of the Pirates series - even the lesser praised Dead Man's Chest and At World's End won me over despite their many flaws, though I couldn't quite force my biased love to get me into On Stranger Tides as much. It was then the series coming to a closure seemed like the best option; though perhaps we must remember that with such larger franchises the interest is purely on profits and not so much on engaging storytelling.

Dead Men Tell No Tales adopts many of the common flaws of the franchise and worsens them even further - once again we're bombarded with a flurry of noisy action sequences that string together an underwritten, virtually non existent storyline. Perhaps the film's only compelling factor is the dedicated performance of Javier Bardem who helps make villain Salazar an interesting foe despite his weak characterisation. But what about the iconic Johnny Depp? Once again his wit and charm is long gone, leaving Jack Sparrow naught but an irritating comic relief forced into a lead protagonist role.

With $794 million in global earnings, down from over $1 billion with On Stranger Tides, it's apparent the series isn't the highlight it once was - and yet, it seems more sequels are inevitable at this stage. Sigh...

#2 - Transformers: The Last Knight

A decade ago Michael Bay's infamous Transformers series began with a decent albeit forgettable action flick, and from there became a shitty film making machine of sorts. As each sequel arrived, things got worse and worse, to the point where we could only wonder how such garbage was earning such promising profits for the studio. It seems this tradition, however, may now finally be coming to an end; with just $605 million in global earnings, The Last Knight is by far the lowest grossing of the franchise and was considered quite the disappointment financially. A sequel and Bumblebee spinoff are planned, so one can only hope that is where it finally comes to a close. At least until it's rebooted.

Oh, this film? Well, of course it sucks, and of course it contains all of Bay's iconic trademarks: repetitive, bloated action scenes, narrow minded rude humour, stereotyped characters, and a thinly written story. Yeah, the visuals are good, but that doesn't make it worth watching whatsoever.

#1 - The Emoji Movie

Perhaps many saw this coming - and perhaps many will agree. The Emoji Movie was met with naught but contempt and confusion from the minute it was announced, with backlash largely aimed, of course, at it's incredibly daft premise. Said premise really doesn't have much potential outside of the occasional amusing gag, so developing it into a good 90 minute animated feature is a task that perhaps not even the greatest of filmmakers could succeed in.

Sure enough, the end result is a film that has little to no story behind it, and ends up being a ridiculous array of unfunny pop culture jokes spat out by consistently irritating characters. Colourful visuals and rare laughs aside, The Emoji Movie simply becomes the prime example of what goes wrong when film studios milk pop culture trends a little too much.

Sometimes Hollywood just confuses me...

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Movie Review - The Disaster Artist

Helmed by wannabe filmmaking genius Tommy Wiseau, 2003's The Room has now found itself widely considered the best bad movie of all time; it's nonsensical storytelling, atrocious script, and terrible acting have helped it develop a reputation that Wiseau perhaps may have wanted, albeit not quite for such reasons. It's this infamous nature that lead to co-star Gregg Sestero penning the widely acclaimed memoir The Disaster Artist in 2013, recounting his experience on the project, which now finds itself on the big screen at the hands of director/star James Franco.

The Disaster Artist revisits the making of Wiseau's (James Franco) personal masterpiece whilst also exploring the relationship between him and Sestero (Dave Franco) during it's development and production. From the moment they met to the premiere of the end product itself, the film takes us into one of the strangest filmmaking journeys of all time - a combination of genuine emotional integrity and of course a tonnage of comedy awaits during it; fans of The Room will find themselves particularly impressed at the care and attention used to recreate some of it's most iconic moments.

Perhaps the most notable pro at first glance is the performance of both the leading brothers. James Franco as Wiseau is undeniably going to annoy some, but it's simply because of how accurate he ends up being - Wiseau is a mysterious and very odd man, and Franco captures this perfectly with a performance that offers plenty of laughs. Wiseau's inept social and painfully bad directing skills are well recreated, as are his insane interactions with many of the supporting characters; it makes for some hilariously tense moments without a doubt. Dave Franco's performance as Gregg of course mustn't go unnoticed; there's depth to his character for sure, and the bond between him and Wiseau as their friendship takes a toll during the film's troubled production makes for some surprisingly heartfelt moments. We're certainly treated to much more than a comedic tribute to a superbly bad piece of cinema.

Then of course Seth Rogen's role as script supervisor Sandy Schklair, while not as memorable, still beautifully sums up the immense frustration many obviously felt as Wiseau's clueless direction took it's toll - a lineup of fine supporting actors also aid in recreating many of The Room's most infamous scenes, and their interactions with Wiseau as he continues to mess up his own ambitions are an unexpected joy to watch. It's this attention to detail that is beyond impressive, particularly when it comes to the overall accuracy of the set design, camera angles, you name it - it's all handled perfectly to tribute this atrocious masterpiece. Perhaps Franco's portrayal of some scenes is a little rusty, and the humour certainly gets repetitive now and then, but overall The Disaster Artist finds itself as a film that offers audiences plenty to admire - laughs, tears, surprises, and interesting trivia brought to life from it's source material. Even if you're unfamiliar with the premise, it's certainly worth your time.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Movie Review - Justice League

With the MCU breaking numerous records with each release, other studios are determined to try and clone it's success with similar takes at shared franchises - perhaps the most notable rival is of course one DC Comics, also homing some of the most iconic superheroes in the modern world. Though it's critical and financial success has yet to replicate that of Marvel, the DC Universe now finds itself with perhaps it's largest release yet, bringing together some of it's most iconic heroes in an Avengers-esque adventure that's been met with mixed results by many - Justice League is certainly an enjoyable modern blockbuster, but as with most films in this evergrowing franchise, finds itself hindered by frustrating narrative hiccups.

Following the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) seeks out a number of newly rising heroes to form a team dedicated to protecting the world from crime and injustice. His actions are further influenced by the sudden return of the sinister Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), leader of the extraterrestrial Parademons, having made a sudden escape from his lengthy prison and soon given the chance to conquer all that surrounds him.

Justice League certainly puts it's gargantuan budget to good use with impressive results - nothing's truly innovative, but regardless, the costumes, set design, and visual effects are all well handled, integrating these heroes into the live action world without focusing too much on unnecessary realism, but also not making for any overly corny results; this field of aesthetics has arguably been the DC Universe's strongest aspect since it's debut. We're once again left with a highly refined superhero flick on a visual scale - and of course these renowned heroes are not brought to life just by impressive aesthetics but also a lineup of talented actors who all perform brilliantly. Whether it's Affleck as Batman or Gadot as Wonder Woman, or especially newcomers Jason Momoa as Aquaman and Ezra Miller as The Flash, this is a well chosen cast that fit their roles nicely but also clearly put a lot of effort into their performances, despite some evident setbacks.

Setbacks? Well, of course this ensemble hasn't quite been released at the same pace as The Avengers - by then each leading MCU hero had their own movie and so were introduced with slightly more depth, which isn't the case with DC's similar take on the concept. Consequently, some awkward integration of necessary backstory for heroes viewers may be unfamiliar with is inevitable; thus a number of plot threads are mixed together which leads to occasionally messy results. Many characters find themselves weakly developed, and despite a fairly intimidating performance by Hinds, the villain Steppenwolf ends up rather bland and forgettable. It's this lesser attention to storytelling that makes Justice League such a major disappointment for many - a potentially powerful narrative is sacrificed for a stronger focus on visual appeal, and the story we're left with, while certainly enjoyable at times, isn't as memorable as one would hope. The finished product certainly remains an entertaining (and somewhat underrated) superhero adventure, with a solid blend of humour and genuine thrills, not to mention some superb set pieces; it's just a shame how there was clearly potential for it to be so much more.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Movie Review - Paddington 2

Since his literary debut in 1958, Paddington Bear has remained one of the most beloved children's characters in British culture - and his fame accelerated even more with his first big screen appearance back in 2014. Paddington was both a funny and heartfelt family adventure that ranks as one of my favourite British films for sure, and with it achieving similarly renowned success from a critical and commercial standpoint, a sequel was certainly anything but obvious.

Now settled in with the Brown family, Paddington Bear (Ben Wishaw) arranges plans for a surprise gift for his aunt Lucy's (Imelda Staunton) upcoming 100th birthday: an expensive antique pop-up book featuring all of London's most iconic landmarks. After working and saving hard, his goals are abruptly shattered when the book is stolen by an unknown thief, with the blame landing on Paddington himself as he is locked away in an unwelcoming prison. Determined to clear his name, Paddington seeks aid from all those around him to track down the real culprit and ensure he doesn't spend the remainder of his days behind bars; or leave Lucy bitterly disappointed on such a special occasion.

Just as before, the most noticeable thing at first glance are the effects: Paddington 2 renders and animates the titular star just as beautifully as the original did, no questions asked. Realism aside, what really deserves acclaim is how much personality is injected into his every movement - you'll certainly never feel like you're staring at CGI, an achievement many films with much higher budgets often struggle to nail. As a character he is as loveable as before, adopting the same polite persona whilst never avoiding the usual goofy antics; funny as ever, not once do they feel over the top, and the overall humour is approachable for a widespread family audience, leaving no viewers alienated, and all these perks are bolstered even further by another fantastic vocal performance by Ben Wishaw.

The supporting characters remain just as admiring: Sally Hawkins and Hughe Bonneville flawlessly lead the Brown family as they find themselves involved in many funny yet exciting antics alongside Paddington himself, whilst newcomers Hugh Grant and Brendan Gleeson to name a few are consistently fun to watch whenever on screen, not just because of the refined performances but also the witty characters they portray. They all deliver plenty of laughs whilst still holding their strong narrative importance, and it's this stellar cast of characters and performers that also makes Paddington 2 such an entertaining story from start to finish.

But it's not just there to make you chuckle - as with the previous film, there is plenty of emotional depth to this heartwarming narrative. It's never pretentious or overstuffed, instead the many tender moments turn out wonderfully touching and may even feel like you're near some onions now and then. Things also come to an end with a surprisingly gripping climax, though once again thankfully not one trying to take itself too seriously or shoehorn in any tired Hollywood clichés - if anything it's another key moment where the film's impressive visual effects are most evident. All this equates to what is undeniably an even better experience than the original, and that's truly a compliment through and through.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Movie Review - Murder on the Orient Express

What is arguably Agatha Christie's most famous tale returns to the big screen once again, helmed by director and star Kenneth Branagh, with some stylish modern production values and an undeniably impressive cast. The core story remains largely unchanged - the greatest detective of all time Hercule Poirot (Branagh) finds himself forced to resolve the unprecedented killing on the luxurious Orient Express. The suspect is left amongst the many passengers, forcing Poirot to locate the culprit before they can strike again.

Once again this latest adaptation of Christie's renowned novel doesn't take many liberties with the main plot - such a treasured tale perhaps shouldn't be excessively toyed with, though this will undeniably be a slight downside to some as it leaves little room for surprises. The tension is generally well handled and the revelations as the plot moves forward fairly exciting and enjoyable, though what's a shame is perhaps the inconsistent pacing which can affect the atmosphere the story holds as it begins to unfold toward it's more climactic moments. Some segments also feel undeniably quite boring, making you think the runtime they eat up could've been used toward scenes that are a bit more engaging and influential to the overall plot.

But now I'm making the film seem like a real downer - Orient Express is still an entertaining thriller, supported once again by some rich production values and an undeniably stellar cast, even if some of the more talented members feel slightly underused at times. The cinematography, lighting, set design, it's all beautiful to look at and captures the time period as well as the atmosphere perfectly; this is especially apparent during the film's more eerie moments. The obvious CGI shots of the train racing along the rails during rough terrains do feel a little phoned in, however - of course computer imagery is the main way such shots would be done, though the abruptly epic presentation and thunderous sound design can make them contrast oddly with the rest of the film.

Branagh delivers a superb performance as the lead detective Poirot, capturing the character's witty sense of humour and balancing it nicely with his more serious side when delving into the depths of this sinister crime. The rest of the cast, while not as consistent, also perform strongly - Josh Gad, Willem Dafoe, Derek Jacobi, Penélope Cruz, as well as Johnny Depp as the murder victim himself. Depp's role is of course not very lengthy considering his early sign off, but the performance he does deliver is solid enough for what the character is. What weakens much of the effort provided by this fab cast is the lack of development toward the characters they play - even Poirot himself doesn't feel as interesting as you might wish he was despite Branagh's polished performance, and this flaw is even more applicable for some of the supporting roles. Murder on the Orient Express delivers tender emotions alongside some engrossing thrills, all presented with some lovely aesthetic design; and while it's plot development and pacing is not as refined, the end product is an entertaining adaptation of the renowned mystery.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Movie Review - Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You!

It's my honest opinion that none of the Pokémon movies I've seen excel in terms of overall quality; to be fair, these are hardly attempts to earn a spot in the National Film Registry, but even with that in mind the lacklustre animation and dull storylines of most installments render them far from memorable. So with that said, it's even more pleasant to see a slight change in form for the series as a whole - this year's I Choose You is far from a masterpiece, but it's without a doubt a fairly fun animated flick to potentially appeal to now adult nostalgic fans as well as young newcomers.

I Choose You finds itself as a retelling of Ash Ketchum's journey from Pallet Town to become the greatest Pokémon Master, joined by his initially hostile sidekick Pikachu. When their journey's rough start leads to them witnessing the legendary Ho-Oh and garnering one of it's magical rainbow feathers, Ash finds himself as the chosen one for a renowned mission to uncover more about Ho-Oh and the secrets behind it's inception.

You don't go into a film like this with epic expectations, and that's a fitting mindset - it doesn't attempt to be an emotionally powerful, poetic tale, which certainly benefits it's overall quality. It's laid back if still rusty storytelling leads to an appropriately fun and chilled viewing that kids will certainly enjoy, even if adults outside of the fanbase may not be as consistently engaged. What's pleasant to see at first glance is some fairly impressive animation - it's not without awkward integrations of cheap looking CGI but thankfully this doesn't ruin the overall aesthetic approach; the art direction is pleasant, and everything is nicely drawn throughout. The English cast is largely composed of existing voice actors from the television series, and while the performances are similarly cheesy, there's certainly nothing offensively bad about them overall.

Where I Choose You admittedly slips up is of course the story - as a reboot of the early episodes of the original series, the plot certainly (and somehow) crams far too much into it's near 100 minute runtime, and the end result is a lack of focus during many key scenes and some very rushed moments that consequently lose their attempted emotional appeal. Once again, you don't expect this film to be an Oscar winning drama of sorts, though it would help if some moments weren't blatantly glossed over - perhaps their absence would actually benefit the overall story and pacing even more. The flaws don't end there: the characters aren't overly memorable, there's plenty of corny (though still somewhat funny) moments, and the script enjoys some awkward contrivances and abrupt twists, but as a fun and approachable animated effort, I Choose You generally succeeds in most aspects.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Movie Review - Blade Runner 2049

Though met with mixed reactions and mediocre box office takings upon release, 1982's Blade Runner now remains an iconic cult hit and arguably one of Ridley Scott's finest directorial efforts. Now, over thirty years later, an unexpected sequel has arisen - whilst the acclaim is on par with it's beloved predecessor, as our it's lacklustre box office takings. In spite of such disappointment, Blade Runner 2049 undeniably ends up being one of 2017's very best films, and the sequel that the original certainly deserves.

In 2049, biorobotic humans dubbed replicants are engineered for a variety of tasks; one such model, K (Ryan Gosling), works within the LAPD to hunt down and retire older replicant models hidden deep in society. His work eventually begins to unveil more and more mysteries about the replicants' history and potential, which in turn triggers questions over his own origins and purpose.

Blade Runner 2049 thankfully creates a story respectful towards the original, not something to milk it's fame - it intertwines a number of new ideas with it's already engrossing premise to further develop this rich fictional world. Everything is brought to life superbly in every category; superb art direction creates engrossing and equally unique dystopian future, depicted with some stunning CGI visuals and set design. Such aesthetics are further supported by a superb soundtrack by iconic composer Hans Zimmer alongside Benjamin Wallfisch - it pays homage to the original with similarly iconic themes whilst also offering up some lovely original music.

Audiences will journey through all manner of twists and turns as the plot moves forward; while not without occasional sluggish moments (leading to a huge run time), the complex narrative is still handled with care and attention to detail. It challenges viewers with a number of intriguing questions about what is human and what isn't, and of course leaves it to the audience to deduce a number of interesting twists themselves - certain plot threads seem to intentionally lack a degree of finality, allowing for more subjective outcomes and inviting debate amongst audiences over what various scenes mean and how they fit in with the original film.

This story prospers even further thanks to a superb cast lead by Gosling, also featuring talents such Jared Leto and Sylvia Hoeks in threatening if slightly forgettable villainous roles. Gosling's deadpan protagonist wins merit for an intimidating presence during various set pieces as well the genuine heartfelt persona that comes to fruition as more tender moments unravel; it certainly leads to what is arguably one of Gosling's best roles to date. Harrison Ford also makes a welcome return in the role of Deckett - going into his purpose within the narrative will lead to a wave of spoilers, but it's fair to say Ford's performance is just as spot on as it was in the original; the character blends seamlessly into the latter portions of the story and is developed even further with superb results, making his role far from a lazy cameo.

Blade Runner 2049 didn't need to be nearly three hours long, some of it's set pieces are a little excessive, and the plot undeniably gets a little too confusing during it's deepest moments - but what you watch is still an enthralling piece of science fiction and a worthy successor to a beloved cult classic. Fans of the original will be just as impressed as those fairly new to the story; it's a shame to see it fail to attract the majority of the general public, but if it's still playing at your local cinema and you've yet to give it a chance, that's something you should quickly rectify for sure.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Movie Review - Thor: Ragnarok

The MCU continues to grow as each year passes, and now has reached new standards in the eyes of many critics with the God of Thunder's threequel blockbuster (sure to be anyway); Thor: Ragnarok is now the most acclaimed film in the franchise, exceeding the immense praise of even Iron Man and The Avengers, so to say the hype of fans is only escalating would be a gross understatement. Now, sorry to sound like an elderly killjoy, but this is the part where I come in and try to justify my controversial thoughts - Thor: Ragnarok is an enjoyable adventure, but far from the masterpiece most people strangely make it out to be.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns to his world protecting duties across the stars following the overthrow of Ultron, but soon finds himself stripped of his ancient hammer Mjolnir and stranded on the planet Sakaar, forced to battle against the also captive (and universally hailed) champion Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) to satisfy the gladiatorial desires of the violent natives. He soon leads an effort to escape as his homeworld Asgard comes under threat by Odin's twisted firstborn Hela (Cate Blanchett), reborn to exact her revenge and spearhead the impending Ragnarok - the predicted end of Asgard and all who live there.

To begin with, Thor: Ragnarok simply adopts the same flaw that many recent MCU films have been suffering from - many may disagree with me, and it's all a matter of taste perhaps, but it's simply too goofy. It certainly has a likeable sense of humour, deeply funny at it's very best, but the filmmakers simply can't step back and develop a sensible scene without throwing in an awkwardly timed gag to debunk any buildup of genuine tension or emotional weight. This is a superhero film for a wide audience and not one that has to be dark, gritty, and obsessed with complex themes, but it's also one that does have the potential for some more serious development - sadly said development never quite comes to fruition. Indeed, there are times where you'd think this is a parody of the genre more than anything else.

But Ragnarok is not without charm; as said, when it's funny, it's really funny, and even it's most awkwardly placed jokes are not without their humourous appeal. It's cast perform strongly to ensure said laughs and eventual epic moments are executed wonderfully - particular praise can be handed to Hemsworth himself as a likeable if overly silly Thor and especially Jeff Goldblum as the film's secondary villain Grandmaster, the ruler of Sakaar. His character is fairly flat and role in the narrative somewhat unbalanced, but Goldblum's performance does a sound job of capturing the character's twisted sense of humour to make him an entertaining villain whenever he shows up. In terms of the film's principle antagonist, Blanchett brings Hela to life with suitable sadism, though her strangely long absences and occasional daft antics can make investing consistent interest a tricky task.

Hulk's inclusion holds some significance given that Ragnarok is derived from the Planet Hulk comic storyline, however I can't say his role won me over. Ruffalo's performance is decent, and the effects used to bring his giant green self to life are as refined as ever, but the character's gross idiocy and irritating dialogue frequently reduce him to a cliché moronic comic relief - a real shame considering his former threatening appeal. Thor: Ragnarok still boasts the same visual thrills and stylish set pieces that most MCU films have mastered so well, but these can't fully make up for the unfocused, overly silly humour and generally mediocre story. It's good fun, and another treat for the most loyal of fans, but little else.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Movie Review - The Ritual

Following his closest friends' murder, some bloke named Luke (Rafe Spall) finds himself leading the rest of his college pals on a hiking trip in tribute to their late colleague's memory. Initially evocative and more adventurous than they expected, the journey is soon cut short following a tedious injury; to get to safety as quick as possible, a shortcut through the forest is taken, where a sense of unease slowly begins to emerge and a number of dark truths soon come to fruition as the group find themselves unable to escape the evil around them.

The Ritual is a film very independent at it's core, which makes it's superb production design and special effects all the more admirable. This same praise also applies when discussing the overall atmosphere; yeah, it occasionally relies on cheap jumps, but it's not without strong moments of eerie chills and frightening twists, certainly making some of it's key set pieces all the more entertaining and nerve wracking.

The movie's key flaw sits within the story itself - though it begins with some surprising emotional heft, it eventually treads down typical horror clichés and lacks consistently refined development, particularly when the key antagonists emerge within the climax. The protagonists fare no better, in all honesty; which is even more of a shame considering how the performances offered up are largely superb and deserving of much praise.

This is a story which simply begins strong yet sinks majorly as it approaches it's conclusion; while it has moments of chills and thrills, the final act certainly feels rushed and contrived in many areas, all coming to an end with an unusually abrupt and inadvertently comical conclusion. The Ritual does offer a genuinely scary experience in some of it's most unsettling moments - making it even more disappointing to see it lose more and more interest in it's story and pacing the more and more it goes on.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Worst to Best - Super Mario 3D

Super Mario Odyssey is on the way...to say I'm hyped would be a vast understatement. Since his arcade debut as Jumpman in 1981, Mario as long since been Nintendo's iconic mascot and one of the most renowned heroes in the gaming industry - his reputation precedes him with some of the best games on offer to audiences of all ages. Without a doubt his 3D outings remain just as iconic as his famed 2D ones, and it goes without saying all have maintained a consistent streak of quality over the past two decades.

So this list sure isn't an easy one to form...but now let's rank all of Mario's main 3D adventures, all of which adopt their own innovation and offer some of the best experiences on their respective platforms.

#6 - Super Mario 3D Land (3DS, 2011)

A simple yet strong effort for Mario's main 3DS debut, Mario 3D Land deftly blends the straightforward structure of the 2D classics with the complexity of his 3D efforts - the end result is a game that offers an addictive and well designed platforming experience approachable for loyal fans and newcomers alike. It's first admirable factor are of course the visuals which, impressive 3D effects aside, are certainly some of the best the 3DS has to offer, full of colour and vibrancy and with the simple yet insanely appealing art direction Mario's finest works are always known for.

Perhaps 3D Land isn't quite as memorable as later entries to this list, simply because it may seem little short lived to some and not full of as much innovation to give it the same impact other titles have boasted. Regardless, that doesn't jeopardize it's overall quality by any means, and there's no denying this is one of the best 3DS titles even half a decade on.

#5 - Super Mario 64 (N64, 1996)

Mario 64 being so low on this list may not click with many of you I imagine...though I must emphasise once more that these games are largely even in terms of quality so this in no way implies 64 is an average game. It already wins acclaim for being such a benchmark in the platforming genre, pioneering and refining conventions such as complex analogue control and a 3D camera system. It's also quite remarkable how well the experience has aged - even two decades later, revisiting 64 never feels like an outdated experience and remains just as fun as it was way back when.

What makes 64 such a great experience is the expansive structure most levels boast, promoting exploration without feeling too vague in their design. It's bags of fun to just mess about within the stages' most intricate areas, and seeking out more and more secrets in the process. It's also pleasing just how much variety the game offers - stages range from colourful yet chaotic battlefields, soothing harbours, and a tall, tall mountain (literally), so each experience feels just as unique as the last. There's still plenty of fun and variety on offer, and the game's influence on the industry alone makes it something that will never get old.

The DS remake, somewhat awkward controls aside, is also a respectable update; being able to play such a masterpiece on the go already makes it worth having.

#4 - Super Mario Sunshine (NGC, 2002)

Mario Sunshine is the series' title that yields some more mixed reactions within the fanbase; it's a great game, no doubt, but it's slightly stronger focus on story perhaps didn't work out too well in many people's eyes, and it's occasionally savage difficulty wasn't always appealing when trying to reach that 100% completion.

Sunshine's story sees Mario on vacation at the gorgeous Isle Delfino resort, yet he quickly finds himself framed for polluting the island's beautiful locales and is forced to clean up the mess whilst also tracking down the real culprit. It's nothing disastrous, perhaps just a bit hard to connect with considering the blatant idiocy of Delfino's native Pianta's and the incredibly cheesy voice acting. That aside, Sunshine is definitely one of the best GameCube titles; notably impactful for me as I'd dub it my first true experience with the plumber, considering I was more into the Sega Genesis and PlayStation during past generations.

The new Isle Delfino setting allowed each stage to be fresh in terms of design, and their expansive structure once again promotes exploration; it's equally fun to put the main quest aside to goof off and locate more and more secrets. The integration of FLUDD, Mario's water backpack, also stirs up the experience even further - FLUDD's various nozzles allow you to not only take care of foes and hazards with blasts of water but also navigate large gaps and zoom up to higher locations. It's aforementioned difficulty perhaps could've been a bit more refined, and you certainly wish the characters didn't open their mouths during most cutscenes, but Sunshine is otherwise one of my favourite Mario titles no questions asked.

#3 - Super Mario Galaxy (Wii, 2007)

Branded one of the best games of all time by critics and audiences alike, Mario's debut on the Wii ten years ago now certainly helped prove Nintendo wasn't just trying to milk the casual market with their latest and most controversial console - indeed, there was still the same genius company we all know and love within, capable of making some of the best first party titles seen across all generations of gaming. Galaxy deserves it's strong acclaim simply because of how much ingenuity the developers injected into the experience - as the title suggests, Mario is now whizzing into outer space to stop Bowser once more, and this setting of course paves the way for some of the most innovative level design the series has to offer even today.

The various galaxies Mario explores adopt all kinds of themes - beaches, gardens, volcanoes, you name it. We've seen similar stuff in previous Mario titles, but the fresh design in Galaxy's most notable stages make them far from samey. It's this blend of solid art direction and some amazing technical aspects that also helped show the Wii as something very capable of impressive modern graphics, even if it lagged behind it's rivals. As well as visually stunning, each level is also packed with depth and, whilst the design is actively more linear than 64 and Sunshine, there's a lot of fun to be had as you explore more and more of each world. It's a bit easy at times, yeah, but that matters not when Ninty have otherwise crafted a masterpiece of game design that will never lose it's impact.

Oh, and that music...enough said.

#2 - Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii, 2010)

The Wii became such a gargantuan hit and enjoyed such a long life that there was time for two main 3D Mario games; with so many ideas they couldn't possibly fit into the original, Nintendo came back for the first main sequel in Mario's 3D history, building upon an already stellar formula with some neat little additions and of course an onslaught of new, equally absorbing levels. Of course the most notable addition at first glance is the return of Yoshi, making his first 3D Mario appearance since Sunshine eight years prior. He can be a little underused I won't deny, but the inclusion was certainly a superb one, far more enjoyable and less fiddly than his Sunshine gameplay and paving the way for more and more creativity during his main segments in certain levels.

Galaxy 2 also streamlines the experience a little more by featuring a much smaller hub world and a stronger focus on a world map to connect each level - it may seem a shame to not have as much freedom initially, but this is a minor worry when the game's fluidity is seriously aided by this new, simpler structure. Aside from such tweaks, Galaxy 2 doesn't dramatically alter the experience offered by its predecessor, meant in a good way as of course if something isn't broken, don't fix it; the new stages and missions offer plenty of challenge and enjoyment, yet the game still adopts the same stellar visuals and fluent controls. The outcome? Certainly that rare superior sequel.

#1 - Super Mario 3D World (Wii U, 2013)

Though certainly considered one of the Wii U's best titles, Mario 3D World wouldn't be most people's choice for the best of the plumbers 3D outings. Not that it's bad in any way, but perhaps just not as impactful as past efforts, considering the resounding influence many of them had on the platforming genre.

But alas, whilst it took a lot of thinking due to the franchises refined quality, 3D World has to be my pick for the best of the best. The game adopts the style of 3D Land, with timed, somewhat linear stages, but builds upon it with a dozen new ideas of it's own: a world map more open to some exploration, more and more thoughtful concepts within each level, new power ups, and of course a multiplayer element that makes the experience over ten times as fun when shared with friends. The multiplayer may get a bit crowded during the later stages, but it remains one of my favourite aspects of 3D World's experience, and it's nice to see some later levels actually designed with it in mind to allow you to unlock new secrets and pathways alongside teammates.

It also goes without saying that on a visual and audial level, 3D World remains true to the series' high standards, boasting some of the Wii U's most crisp, vibrant graphics and a soundtrack that is without any forgettable tunes. Whilst I look forward to Odyssey returning to the more open world design, 3D World again proves the more linear structure is not without depth of it's own, and can certainly be just as engrossing.

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

Click here!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, 6 October 2017

Movie Goofs - The Woman in Black (2012)

I don't read a lot of books - but as I've always made clear at any opportunity, my favourite novel of all time has to be Susan Hill's The Woman in Black, first published in 1985. A well told ghost story with an unsettling tone, Hill's novel is a gripping read from start to finish, with the depth to the overall narrative and characters help rendering it as good a piece of storytelling as it is a haunting experience.

Amazing stage play aside, The Woman in Black has been adapted for screen twice - a superb 1989 TV film, albeit one with numerous changes, and a 2012 theatrical release featuring Potter star Daniel Radcliffe himself...and one with even more changes, no denying. But hey, it's a pretty good horror flick overall, although just not quite the adaptation I feel the novel truly deserves.

Oh, and it's not without it's plot holes...

  • A central issue that even the original story sometimes holds is how the Woman is said to lead to the death of children whenever seen. However, the amount of times Arthur must've seen her in this film...not every sighting seems to link a to a child dying. Perhaps the meaning is of course that the death of a child is joined by her appearance? If so, Elizabeth's explanation of it is quite poor to put it lightly. 
  • Kekwick, whose son was killed by the Woman, seems to feel strongly about avoiding any chance of disturbing her to save future misery. However, this doesn't quite seem to be the case, as we see him change his mind in a flash of a second over a cheap little bribe. Some repercussions of this must've took place: did Keckwick's employer ever find out? Was Keckwick reprimanded for such a gross disobedience? I'm just thinking out loud (and far too much) now, but hey, there's some merit to my words.
  • Why does nobody just tell Arthur about the ghost of Jennet Humfrye? While this makes sense in terms of them not wanting to look bonkers or kick up even more of a fuss, they are extremely adamant to get rid of him but do a pretty poor job of doing so. It perhaps would've been better if they were just honest about it; even Sam blindly shunts aside the obvious truth and puts Arthur in serious danger for reasons that just aren't made very clear.
  • Referring back to Sam, he and his wife find it an good idea to lock up their daughter Lucy in an insane effort to shield her from the eponymous ghost. This requires obsessive monitoring and gross mistreatment - of course it links back to paranoia developed by the Woman killing their previous child, but maybe it would've been a good idea to just use protection if all they'll be doing is locking their new kid up and guarding it like incredibly valuable treasure.

  • It seems odd how the marsh surrounding the causeway has extremely strong preservation qualities, made obvious when Arthur and Sam dig up a pony trap housing two corpses in pristine condition...despite it apparently being there for a fair few years.
  • The same scene is also slightly hard to believe in as it shows Arthur tying a thick bit of rope around the submerged pony trap, in a method strong enough for it to be hauled out with minimal hassle, all whilst swimming in the marshes and consequently unable to see a thing.
  • Perhaps it also would've been a good idea for Arthur and Sam to carry out such a task during the day so they'd have a solid view of the tides and surrounding marshes, making it both easier to steer along the causeway and accomplish their bizarre goal without serious risk of veering into a sticky situation. But I guess a horror film needs to be dark during it's climactic moments, right?
  • This scene also raises the debate over how the Nathaniel boy drowned within said marshes - the book establishes that they're immensely strong and will drag anyone to their demise if they so much as catch their foot in them, however we, once again, see Arthur swimming in it with little hassle. So how did Nathaniel drown in it if he was with his parents? Did they abandon him to save their own asses? Even if he couldn't swim surely someone was there to aid him, or were the wealthy snobs that afraid of getting dirty?
  • Arthur's always established as highly protective of his son Joseph following the loss of his wife during childbirth - however, when Joseph notices the Woman at the train station, he purposely lets go of Arthur's hand and at this point neither Arthur, nor Sam, nor the lady paid to keep an eye on Joseph notice him climb onto the train tracks and approach the enormous locomotive thundering into the station.

I remember being so, so hyped for this film throughout 2011 as it's release neared and the trailers rolled out. Like I said earlier, it's a decent horror flick no doubt, with one of it's biggest pros being Radcliffe and the strong cast he leads. Sadly, it just feels too noisy and obsessed with forcing set pieces into the mix, than it does portraying the heart of the book with a fresh aesthetic. Oh well.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, 17 September 2017

RETROSPECT - Most Anticipated Films of 2017

As the year begins, I of course have my most anticipated cinematic releases, once again all noted in my original list you can find here. Now, after seeing It just last week, I have my opinions on all five films - and so here's my ranking of them not in terms of hype but now overall quality.

#5 - Pirate's of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has always been commercially successful but never the most critically acclaimed; this year's Dead Men Tell No Tales certainly doesn't find itself in any better circumstances, in fact in even worse ones considering it's even weaker box office earnings. I've always been a big fan of the series, perhaps On Stranger Tides less so, but it's this installment that certainly deters my interest for any future sequels and makes it very evident that there's just no real creative potential to keep going.

The key issue is just the story itself. Not only is it weak when you view it altogether, but it's so badly developed that even over an hour into the film it's hard to fully piece together what exactly is going on and why. Javier Bardem performs well as villain Salazar, but the character is so poorly structured that he holds little interest outside of a cool design and Bardem's solid acting. Indeed, outside of the impressive visual effects and occasional charms of Johnny Depp (who clearly isn't interested anymore), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is simply just as bloated and awkwardly structured as it's title.

#4 - Spider-Man: Homecoming

I've made it quite apparent by now that I hated Tom Holland as Spidey in last year's Captain America: Civil War. Hell, the entire film I found fairly average considering it's glowing reviews, but it was both Spidey's forced integration and bloody irritating persona that made my appreciation for the film dwindle even lower as the climax approached. It wasn't so much Holland's acting as it was the weak development and writing the character fell victim to - not a good starting point for a very big moment in the series.

But that didn't detract from my interest in the character's first sole entry in the franchise, and whilst the finished product is far from the best the MCU has to offer, it's a pleasing step forward from the iffy Amazing series with some superb visuals, a strong cast, and an entertaining if somewhat underdeveloped villain. It's also satisfying to see Tony Stark have a genuine significance in the overall narrative - trailers and posters of course made it seem like he was a forced integration of the MCU's biggest icon in order to generate more hype, but thankfully this is not the case. The overall story flows nicely and is backed by some gripping set pieces, making Homecoming the debut Spidey really deserves in this monster of a franchise.

#3 - Beauty and the Beast

With earnings of over $500 million in the US and $1.2 billion globally, Beauty and the Beast ranks as the highest grossing film of the year - such an accolade doesn't go undeserved, even if the film isn't without fault. Disney look set to revisit more and more of their classic animated hits in live action as time goes on, and Beauty and the Beast is largely a decent example of how this can be done right when you're working with some of the most treasured material of all time. The film's overall visual design is a superb live action reimagining of the original's vivid animation, and a strong cast help bring it to life even further - perhaps my only grudge with said cast is Emma Watson who, despite visible effort, doesn't really capture the role of Belle...a problem that evolves into something even uglier when you hear that dreadful electronic singing voice of hers. In fact, whilst many of the songs are nice modern updates of the originals, most of them lack the majesty and charm, feeling too often like actors who really can't sing awkwardly forcing themselves to do so - a sort of Mamma Mia scenario, if not quite that bad.

One actor not doing an amazing job isn't the end of the world, but of course is a little more serious if it's the lead protagonist. Still, Watson has her moments, and is far from terrible - just miscast if I give my honest opinion. It's the supporting cast of Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thomas, and Luke Evans to name a few that adopt their roles perfectly, and of course the same can be said for Dan Stevens as the Beast himself. The effects used to animated many of the side characters, who also have new designs that feel fresh yet loyal to the originals, are just as superb, and thus the finished product is one that can never live up to the original but still an entertaining and heartfelt experience.

#2 - It

Based on Stephen King's acclaimed horror novel, It ranked as my most anticipated film for the entire year - and it sure didn't disappoint. Already the film has won over countless audiences, achieving a record breaking opening weekend for the entire horror genre and rivalling some of the biggest superhero blockbusters in terms of it's ongoing domestic earnings. Arguably the most impressive aspect of the film at first glance is of course one Bill Skarsgard in the role of Pennywise the Dancing Clown; his performance is beastly and extremely frightening in many scenes and this, coupled with an impressive and stylishly dark production design, equates to an absorbing and chilling experience.

But his acting isn't the only merit. The protagonists of several young teens dubbed The Loser's Club perform admirably considering their age - something never easy to master for such young characters with extremely complex development. This, alongside a very engaging story, all helps render It a benchmark in modern horror that proves also how important it is to entertain the audience outside of just decent scares.

#1 - War for the Planet of the Apes

It's a shame to see the latest entry to the rebooted Planet of the Apes series struggling to achieve the success of it's predecessors. With only $370 million in worldwide earnings, as opposed to $710 million from it's predecessor three years ago, the epic nature and element of finality to the narrative clearly wasn't enough to win over similarly large audiences. On the critical side, however, War for the Planet of the Apes has not failed one bit, and it's thoroughly deserving of all the praise it has earned - I could now easily class this one of my favourite trilogies in film history.

War builds upon the high stakes that the ending of Dawn generated, with the apes now battling the humans to determine Earth's dominant species now that all chances for peace are lost. However, whilst there's plenty of action and visual thrills, this is also a film with an intelligent, thoughtful story - so much so that long periods without action never become boring, in fact just as interesting when we see the story advance with all sorts of twists and turns. Andy Serkis also helms a fantastic cast with another masterful motion capture performance as Caesar, who again has the same engaging characterization as before - if you've yet to see this film, or in fact either of it's predecessors, that is a fault you must rectify as soon as possible.

Thanks for reading!