Tuesday 21 November 2017

Movie Review - Justice League

With the MCU breaking numerous records with each release, many other studios are inevitably determined to try and clone its success with similar attempts at crafting shared franchises. Perhaps the most notable rival is of course DC Comics, who also home some of the most iconic superheroes in the modern world. Though its critical and financial success is yet to replicate that of its Marvel opponent, the DC Universe now finds itself with perhaps its largest release yet, bringing together some of the 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, it often 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, who is hellbent on conquering all that surrounds him.

Justice League certainly puts a gargantuan budget to good use with admittedly impressive results; the costumes, set design, and visual effects are all well crafted, integrating these heroes into the live action world without leaning too much toward unnecessary realism or overly campy and dated depictions. The renowned heroes are then brought to life by a fine lineup of talented actors who all perform brilliantly. Whether it's Affleck as Batman or Gadot as Wonder Woman, or even newcomers Jason Momoa as Aquaman and Ezra Miller as The Flash, this is a well chosen cast that fit their roles nicely and who clearly put a lot of effort into their performances, despite some unfortunate setbacks.

What setbacks? Well, of course this ensemble hasn't been released at the same pace as The Avengers; by the time that film hit cinemas in 2012, each leading MCU hero had their own movie and so were introduced with a lot more depth, which isn't the case with DC's project. As a result, some awkward integration of extensive backstory is shoved in, and a number of plot threads are thus jumbled together with occasionally messy results. Many characters find themselves quite poorly developed, and despite a fairly intimidating performance by Hinds, the villain Steppenwolf ends up somewhat bland and forgettable. It's this lesser attention to storytelling that has made Justice League such a major disappointment for many, with a potentially powerful narrative sacrificed for a stronger focus on visual thrills. While the story we're left with is certainly enjoyable at times, it just isn't as memorable as one would hope. Despite these flaws, the finished product still remains an entertaining (and somewhat underrated, in my eyes) superhero adventure, with a solid blend of humour and genuine thrills, not to mention some superb set pieces. It's just a shame that they didn't go that one step further to truly do the source material justice.

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, with his fame bolstered even more in 2014 when his first big screen adventure was released to global acclaim. Paddington was both a funny and heartfelt family adventure that ranks as one of my favourite ever films, and considering it was just as commercially successful as it was critically praised, a sequel was anything but inevitable.

Now settled in with the Brown family, Paddington Bear (Ben Wishaw) arranges to get 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 and the blame then landing on Paddington himself, who is locked up in prison as a result. 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 his loving aunt 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 film 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, which is an achievement even many films with much higher budgets struggle to nail. He is as loveable as ever, adopting the same polite and generous persona whilst still finding himself tangled up in a number of goofy antics. The film's humour is enjoyable for a widespread family audience, leaving no viewers alienated, and all these perks are supported by another fantastic vocal performance from Ben Wishaw.

The supporting characters remain just as admiring; Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville flawlessly lead the Brown family as they find themselves involved in many funny yet exciting scenarios alongside Paddington himself. Newcomers Hugh Grant and Brendan Gleeson (among others) are just consistently fun to watch, not just because of their refined performances but also because of the wit and charm of the characters they portray. They're the source of plenty of laughs yet have genuine substance and narrative importance, and this is what makes Paddington 2 such an entertaining story from start to finish.

But this isn't just a film obsessed with comedy, for there is still plenty of emotional depth within its heartwarming narrative. It's never pretentious or overstuffed, and has many scenes that turn out to be wonderfully touching; ones that may even make you think there's some hidden onions near your face. Things also come to an end with a surprisingly gripping climax, though thankfully not one trying to take itself too seriously or shoehorn in any tired Hollywood clichés; if anything it's another 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 one hell of accomplishment.

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, helmed by director and star Kenneth Branagh, with some stylish modern production values and an undeniably impressive cast. The core story remains largely unchanged, with ingenious detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) solving the case of an unprecedented killing on the luxurious Orient Express. Suspicion and tension rises between the many anxious passengers, forcing Poirot to locate the true culprit before they can strike again.

This latest adaptation of Christie's renowned novel doesn't take many liberties with the main plot; while such a treasured tale perhaps shouldn't be excessively toyed with, this will undeniably be a slight downside to some viewers as it leaves little room for surprises. A tense atmosphere is captured nicely and the many narrative revelations as things progress are fairly exciting and enjoyable, though perhaps slightly burdened by inconsistent pacing. Some segments are undeniably quite boring, and the runtime such scenes eat up could've been used toward ones that are a tad more engaging and influential to the overall plot.

But now I'm just making the film sound bad; alas, Orient Express is still an entertaining thriller, supported once again by some rich production values and a stellar cast. The cinematography, lighting, and set design is all beautiful to look at and captures the time period as well as the atmosphere perfectly. Some obvious CGI shots of the train racing along the rails during rough terrains do feel a little phoned in, however, and their abruptly epic presentation and thunderous sound design can make them contrast oddly with the rest of the film surrounding them.

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 always as memorable, still perform very well: 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 delivers 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 isn't always as interesting as you might've hoped despite Branagh's devoted 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; while its plot development and pacing is not as refined, the end product is still an entertaining adaptation of a renowned classic story.

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, they're hardly attempting to earn a spot in the National Film Registry, but even with that in mind the lacklustre animation and dull storylines 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 is still a fun animated adventure that can appeal to 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 trainer ever, 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 its magical rainbow feathers, Ash finds himself as the chosen one for a renowned mission to uncover more about Ho-Oh and the secrets behind its inception.

You don't go into a film like this with gargantuan expectations, but the film's simplicity is appropriate; it doesn't attempt to be an emotionally powerful, poetic tale, and this certainly benefits its overall quality. The simple if still a bit rusty storytelling leads to a suitably fun and chilled viewing that kids will certainly enjoy, though adults outside of the fanbase may not quite be as engaged. What's pleasant to see at first glance is some fairly impressive animation; while it's not without some awkward integrations of cheap looking CGI, the overall art direction is still pleasant and nicely brought to life. 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 bad about them.

I Choose You does still have some narrative hiccups despite the largely solid result. As a reboot of the first few episodes of the original series, far too many narrative elements are crammed into the film's near 100 minute runtime, and the end result is a lack of focus during many key scenes and some very rushed moments. Again, you don't expect this film to be an Oscar winning drama of sorts, but it would help if some scenes weren't so blatantly glossed over; if anything, the absence of some may have actually benefited the overall story and pacing. The flaws don't end there: the characters aren't overly memorable 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.