Wednesday 21 February 2018

Movie Review - Black Panther

The MCU continues to grow as each year passes; we now approach its ten year anniversary with Iron Man hitting cinemas as far back as May 2008, and with each year since more and more heroes have hit the big screen to renowned success and widespread acclaim. Yet another example arrives in the form of Black Panther - far from the most well known hero to the general public, but one whose opening box office takings would make you assume quite the opposite.

The story branches away from the meat of the MCU narrative, taking us into the fictional nation of Wakanda, home to a number of supernatural tribes powered by the rich material known as Vibranium. Using said material to devise advanced technology, the Wakandans segment themselves from the main world, their actions directed by the Black Panther leader. Said role is soon assumed by newest king T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) - who then finds himself on a quest to prevent Vibranium from falling into the wrong hands following the malevolent actions of vengeful soldier N'Jadaka (Michael B. Jordan).

It's a narrative with a lot of depth and branches to it, so summing it up is quite difficult - those who haven't read the comic books may find themselves a little confused at times, though it does its best to establish characters and their motivations in the best possible way, blending such development with a number of entertaining, beautifully filmed set pieces. Black Panther adopts a rich, stylishly dark visual style that makes its briskly paced fight scenes superb to watch, and certainly leads to a lot of absorbing tension during its more atmospheric moments. Thankfully this isn't just a mindless blend of action, however; the film does its best to develop a cast of strong characters and mix them into the suitably complex story. The traditions of the Wakandan tribes are nicely captured without becoming too excessive, helping to establish the world around us as we head through each phase of the plot.

What I also found equally enjoyable about Black Panther is how it's almost entirely absent of any scene that contributes to building the MCU franchise and little more. Many recent films in the franchise that I've admittedly still enjoyed have had their fair share of forgettable moments that, again, simply exist to just merge other characters in the series together - Black Panther lacks such stuff, making it a well focused and consistently engaging story that doesn't branch away at any point to simply build the franchise around it and awkwardly link it into other MCU flicks. All these perks, coupled with some excellent performances, notably Boseman and Jordan in their lead opposing roles, make for a gripping superhero hit from start to finish; sure, the story, fab as it is, may be a little puzzling at times, and perhaps some moments do drag, but we're still left with a fine entry to the MCU that even non comic book fans can enjoy.

Thursday 15 February 2018

Best and Worst of 2017 - Best Five Films

I've already covered the worst cinematic efforts of last year, and my list of the finest is late to say the least - sadly Disney decided to release Pixar's latest product Coco two months later here in the UK and considering its outstanding acclaim upon debut in the US, I decided to wait and check it out before listing my favourites of the past 12 months. Perhaps I've also been a bit lazy in recent times...so, with Coco reviewed a few weeks back, let's finally commence with a long overdue ranking of the best films of 2017...

#5 - It

First brought to life as a television flick starring Tim Curry in 1990, Stephen King's arguably most renowned novel made its way to cinema screens for the first time last September to rather outstanding results, scooping up $700 million in global earnings to rank as the horror genres highest grossing effort. Such accolades don't go undeserved - thanks to a superb script, haunting visuals, and a fantastic lead performance by Bill SkarsgÄrd, It ranks as a terrifying yet thoughtful tale, far from afraid to censor the novel's key thrills whilst also never forgetting the complex story behind it all. Certainly one of the best horror films I've seen in quite a long time, and one fans of the genre must make checking out a huge priority.

#4 - The Disaster Artist

Tommy Wiseau's masterpiece of bad filmmaking The Room remains an icon to many - and so a film based on its development, in turn adapted from the 2013 memoir of the same name, was inevitable for sure. James Franco finds himself helming and starring in this retelling of Wiseau's adventures throughout his films' bizarre production stages, and while Franco's own re-enactment of some of The Room's most infamous scenes are not always as faithful as one would hope, his overall effort in capturing the detail and depth to each character in such a story is inspiring for sure. Ranking as a humourous yet surprisingly deep story, The Disaster Artist is also an admirable and reasonably faithful effort to retell a strangely iconic part of film history.

#3 - Paddington 2

Paddington, released back in 2014, raised initial concerns of being a beloved childhood character being forced into a silly modern, pop culture riddled story simply to cash in on the appeal and earn a quick buck for needy film studios. Thankfully, the final product was a loveable and superbly told family adventure, and this all carries over into the sequel with equally fantastic results. With our titular hero once again brought to life with superb visual effects and rich voice work from Ben Wishaw, what also makes this another loveable watch is of course the superb blend of tender emotions and big laughs; we're left once again with a film apt for wide range of audiences in almost every way, suitably building upon the many successful merits of its predecessor.

#2 - Coco

Again, I had to see this first before making this list - it may have not even made it on, but based on its overwhelming critical success, I had a major feeling it simply would. Alas, Coco certainly stands tall as one of Pixar's very best efforts, let alone one of the best films of last year, showing how the studio has yet to lose their touch when it comes to crafting beautifully original stories that help prove animation still has the potential for complexity and emotional depth - not just ranking as colourful silliness to keep the kids quiet. It succeeds in pretty much every key category for sure - it looks gorgeous, has a handful of memorable songs, and a rich narrative that has the courage to explore deep themes in an approachable manner, leaving it a heartwarming masterpiece for all age groups.

#1 - War for the Planet of the Apes

The Planet of the Apes series recovered from a downward spiral with its 2011 reboot, which revitalised the central story with a well told origin tale featuring some of the most exceptional motion capture CGI effects seen in a modern blockbuster. Last year's War for the Planet of the Apes brought the central trilogy to a close, despite potential for more sequels, and everything you'd expect from a closing installment is met in this emotionally stirring yet still suitably epic sci-fi hit. Alongside remarkable special effects, it's the lineup of fine performances that also help bring a well structured story to life in the best way possible, notably Serkis as ape leader Caesar once more and Woody Harrelson as our intimidating villain, simply known as the Colonel, who lacks the amount of screentime one may expect from a major foe but this somehow doesn't prevent him from remaining a thrilling antagonist. All this coupled with gripping yet never overly excessive set pieces leave this a superb finale to a fantastic story, maintaining all the positives of the previous entries and treating us to a lot more to boot.

Apologies once again for the major delay with this post, but there you have it - now let's see how this year's lineup of films compare...

Thanks for reading!

Thursday 8 February 2018

Movie Review - Winchester

The supernatural horror genre, in fact perhaps even the horror genre as a whole, is an ideal one for low budget flicks. Budget doesn't always equal success, as many classics have made clear, but of course such classics didn't reach their acclaim just because of low budgets. Winchester is another awkward example of this, and one that also utilizes one of the biggest marketing tools for a horror project: based on true events...

Okay, well yes, it is to an extent based on a true story - that of the renowned Winchester Mystery House, residence of firearm magnate William Winchester and his widow Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren). This bizarre landmark holds various backstories as a cursed one for ghosts of Winchester gun victims to chill, a story Winchester uses as we bring mental health doctor Eric Prince (Jason Clarke) into the mix. With Sarah deemed mentally unsound to helm the company in her grieving state, Prince is hired to make a diagnosis for himself that will support or debunk such claims of Sarah being cursed...let's face it, being a supernatural horror film, what route do you think we'll be going down?

The more I left the gap between seeing the film and writing this review, the more difficult the latter became. Winchester I never recall being a painfully awful horror flick, but without a doubt a boring and forgettable one. What's most apparent upon watching is how reliant the film is on cheap and eventually irritating jump scares; the human body's natural flinching response to such sudden loudness is passed off as genuine fear once again, and I'm sure I'm not the only person who finds such a strategy tiresome and irritating. To be fair, sometimes the content making you jump can be quite threatening and induce mild scares, but this seldom occurs and for the most part you're putting up with a string of thunderous sound effects and occasional generic screams.

Whether a horror film sucks in the scare department or not, it still has to be held together with a half decent story, and Winchester doesn't offer much here either - simple parts of the narrative are frequently dragged out to desperately piece together a feature length tale from fairly mediocre source material, and a our newcomer fictitious characters including lead Eric Prince don't offer much to keep us compelled. Whilst Jason Clarke gives a decent performance, once again considering mediocre source material, it doesn't truly save the character from being bland and largely uninteresting. Same can be said for Helen Mirren who, fantastic an actress as she always will be, fails to be more than a pale lady walking around adopting a moody expression, perhaps opening up a bit more as the film nears its climax but not so much to keep her consistently interesting. It's this mixture of weak scares and boring characters that makes Winchester a dull horror effort through and through, with praise only really viable for its decent production design and little more.

Saturday 3 February 2018

Movie Review - Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Though a sequel to a 25 year old cult hit seems odd, Welcome to the Jungle has become a surprise success to say the least; nearly $900 million in global earnings despite a relatively minor debut, and a high level of acclaim for critics and audiences alike. With the original having Robin Williams dragged into a supernatural board game of sorts, Welcome to the Jungle brings the concept into the modern era with a lineup of teens being dragged into the mysterious Jumanji video game, taking on the form of their chosen avatars, and left with a mission to escape before time (or their extra lives) runs out.

Jumanji is a simple blockbuster effort from start to finish, and that works to its benefit for the most part; the characters each have their own charming if somewhat generic personalities and are brought to life by a loveable cast both in their teen forms and in-game avatars. Dwayne Johnson particularly stands out as a comedic charmer, with much of the humour aimed at his impressive physique as expected, but those behind him are just as loveable in their own unique ways. Jack Black finds himself with an interesting role given that his character within the real world is actually female, now transferred into a male avatar, paving the way for a ton of obvious yet witty jokes that make for a number of crude yet big laughs.

This a story that can't truly prosper without modern special effects - and said effects are beautifully handled without a doubt, leading to many epic set pieces with all kinds of creative fictional creatures. Fans of all kinds of video games will adore the clever references to such game logic, including special moves, character perks, non playable characters and their repetitive dialogue, and various missions that drive the main structure of the game itself. Jumanji uses these conventions to portray a simple yet fun story and also fill it with tons of clever gags, both through witty dialogue and well timed slapstick. Perhaps the film's only real flaws lie within its basic nature, which isn't exactly a trait of a poorly made project, and perhaps just inevitable considering its source material. The villain doesn't truly stand out as a consistently interesting opponent, though many audiences may have no real issue with such stuff. As it stands, Jumanji is a fun and well structured comedy adventure, portrayed once again through a talented cast and some forever impressive special effects.