Friday 22 December 2017

Movie Review - Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars and its 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 its record breaking debut. Said hype remains intact as The Last Jedi sets more box office records after its first weekend and looks poised to be another global blockbuster that'll outmatch most rivals, and so its a big shame that the film's overall quality doesn't quite match the unparalleled heights of its 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 its 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 still a somewhat entertaining movie at its 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 surrounding them all the more frustrating. The talented cast and brilliant visuals give The Last Jedi a chance to be one of the better blockbusters of 2017, 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

With the year reaching its end, now's of course 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; while it was welcomed by most, it just often had me bored beyond all measure. I feel Kong: Skull Island is burdened by sluggish pacing and a lack of focus on many of its key characters; instead more effort goes into showing off the admittedly impressive special effects and fairly entertaining if somewhat repetitive set pieces. Kong himself pops up now and again to have scuffles 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.

It's not offensively bad, but just ends up being dull, repetitive, and riddled with clich├ęs.

#4 - The Mummy

The Mummy is not just a remake of a beloved (albeit mediocre) fantasy flick, but the start of yet another shared universe intending to combine all sorts of horror characters into some strange, desperate ensemble. Things have certainly got off to a bumpy start to say the least, for while The Mummy starts off quite decent, it quickly sinks into something both boring and contrived. It's grossly obsessed with set pieces that aim to be chilling, yet ends up being unfocused nonsense as the characters confront a number of scary situations with very abrupt shifts in the overall tone. You're never sure what vibe the film is going for, be it genuinely scary or somewhat silly, 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 this series, with even the lesser praised Dead Man's Chest and At World's End winning me over despite their many flaws. However, I couldn't quite force my biased love to get me into On Stranger Tides as much, so 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 series' common flaws and in some ways worsens them even further; viewers are just 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, which leads to Salazar being a fairly 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, it was nowhere near as much of a success as On Stranger Tides, and it's apparent the series isn't the highlight it once was. Sadly, it seems more sequels are inevitable at this stage.

#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 a big commercial disappointment. A sequel and a Bumblebee spinoff are still planned, so one can only hope that is where it will finally come to a close. At least until an inevitable reboot.

Oh yeah, this film. Well, of course it sucks, and of course it contains all of Bay's iconic trademarks: repetitive, bloated action scenes, narrow minded and rude humour, stereotyped characters, and a thinly written story. Yeah, the effects are very good, but that's not enough make it worth your time.

#1 - The Emoji Movie

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

Sure enough, the result is a film that has little to no story behind it, and one that just 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 go a little overboard with milking pop culture trends.

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 greatest bad movie of all time. Its nonsensical storytelling, atrocious script, and terrible acting have garnered widespread recognition; recognition that Wiseau perhaps may have wanted, but not quite for such reasons. The film's infamy even lead to co-star Gregg Sestero penning the widely acclaimed memoir in 2013, known as The Disaster Artist. He reminisced on his experience on the project, which now finds itself on the big screen thanks to 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 its 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, with a solid combination of emotional warmth and likeable humour. Fans of The Room will find themselves particularly impressed by the care and attention used to recreate some of its most iconic moments.

Perhaps the most notable pro at first glance is the performance of both the leading brothers; while James Franco as Wiseau may annoy some people, this trait is actually because of how accurate his performance ends up being. Wiseau is a mysterious and very odd man, and Franco captures this perfectly with a performance that offers plenty of laughs and charm. Wiseau's inept social and painfully bad directing skills are well captured, as are his bizarre 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 either; there's depth to his character for sure, and the bond between him and Wiseau as their friendship is damaged during the film's troubled production makes for some very heartfelt moments. We're certainly treated to much more than a comedic tribute to a superbly bad piece of cinema.

While Seth Rogen's role as script supervisor Sandy Schklair may not be as memorable, he still superbly depicts the immense frustration these people obviously must've felt due to Wiseau's clueless direction. A lineup of other fine supporting actors also aid in recreating many of The Room's most infamous scenes, and their interactions with Wiseau as he continues to screw 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, the works; it's all handled perfectly to tribute an 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 lots of interesting trivia to boot. Even if you're unfamiliar with the premise, it's certainly worth your time.