Sunday 8 December 2019

Movie Review - Knives Out

A traditional whodunit story with a modern twist, Knives Out sees detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) called in to investigate the murder of wealthy novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) following a family gathering with all manner of suspects; particularly those motivated by their long desired earnings from Thrombey's will.

Knives Out's first key merit is arguably a renowned and well chosen cast, with the likes of Daniel Craig (sounding odd but still impressing with his American voice) as well as Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, and of course the renowned Christopher Plummer among many others. This is a cast that performs strongly throughout; while there's occasionally some inconsistencies with screen time and focus, always difficult to avoid when handling such a large ensemble, it still manages to impress thanks to the majority of said characters being full of charm and depth.

As a mystery film, one would certainly expect a clever plot with unique twists, and Knives Out certainly doesn't disappoint in that respect. This is a story writer/director Rian Johnson clearly put great effort into and prepared with significant care and attention to detail, and one brought to life on screen with a fluid pace bolstered once again by some terrific performances and a lovely visual approach. Superbly filmed from start to finish, with a cinematographic style more than apt for the mysterious vibe of the genre, Knives Out is more than easy to admire and appreciate even during some of its less exciting moments.

The plot itself is one that has its complicated aspects, but thankfully the film's confident storytelling transcends this in order to convey everything as clearly and fluently as possible, though also without making any exposition truly forced or gimmicky. As things unfold throughout, a definite wow factor is certainly apparent, with the plot's numerous twists and turns expertly handled to leave audiences incredibly enticed and amazed. Knives Out also boasts some brilliant and witty comedic value; value that blends nicely with the overall tone, thus never feeling overly shallow or juxtaposed with the film's more mysterious elements. It all adds up to a thoroughly enjoyable murder mystery from start to finish; not without some minor faults, but such faults aren't a huge consequence when the majority of it is all so fantastic.

Monday 7 October 2019

Movie Review - Joker

The most renowned adversary of Batman has seen multiple live action portrayals on the big screen, with Jack Nicholson setting standards back in 1989, the late Heath Ledger remarkably earning a posthumous Academy Award for his twisted performance in 2008, and Jared Leto being met with fairly mediocre reception despite initial hype back in 2016. Now Joaquin Phoenix brings his take on the character with a surprisingly dark R rated depiction; one that's yielded mixed results with a fair few audiences, especially the politically correct.

Joker sees failing standup comedian Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) living within the ruined hellhole that is Gotham City, himself suffering from both physical and mental illnesses which crucially rely on medication to tame. When his already miserable life soon reaches an all time low, Fleck slowly drifts toward one of crime and disorder, adopting the iconic persona as he does.

Phoenix brings fans a powerful and unique performance that certainly doesn't attempt to mimic other live action depictions; it's one that perfectly captures the most disturbing psychological problems that fester within the character's mind. Acting as an origin story, Joker naturally focuses more on the character's transformation into his villainous self rather than his numerous actions once he dons the suit and makeup. It's this that makes him relatable despite his dismal characteristics; audiences can sympathize rather than simply viewing him as a merciless criminal as the story progresses. This exploration of mental health is handled with care, and sequences displaying the most prominent and twisted symptoms make for some of the film's freakiest yet most insightful moments.

While the plot can sometimes be a bit of a tonal jumble, with most supporting characters not quite leaving the same impact despite a strong cast, it still remains an engaging tale from start to finish. Those expecting a traditional superhero story will certainly be surprised with the film's menacing approach; one that doesn't attempt to sugarcoat the character's most disturbing attributes. This brave and thoughtful development, coupled with Phoenix's dedicated performance, makes for a thrilling if imperfect experience for those interested. It's not without some repetitive moments, nor graphic visuals that occasionally feel rather abrupt, but it'll still leave a lasting impression for many; one that's both gripping and frightening in the process.

Sunday 8 September 2019

Movie Review - It Chapter Two

Splitting film adaptations of popular novels became a common pattern since Harry Potter's final installment in 2011. It was a format other major franchises including Twilight and The Hunger Games quickly embraced, yet one that's seen by many as a tired pattern without any true justification beyond bigger profits. On the flipside, not only is Stephen King's It a novel with over 1000 pages, but also one with two core narrative phases set within different time periods, making a two part cinematic adaptation arguably necessary at the end of the day. With It Chapter Two, we move 27 years onward from the original's 1989 setting, seeing our key protagonists within the Loser's Club as their adult selves, all forced to combat the eponymous monster as it returns to haunt their hometown of Derry once more.

Whilst portions of screentime are still dedicated to the youngsters from the original, who certainly remain as talented as ever, the main story once again focuses on their adult counterparts; counterparts who are brought to life with a superb main cast who flawlessly match the core personalities of their respective characters whilst also adopting believable adult development. This impressive cast includes the likes of James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Jessica Chastain, Jay Ryan, Isaiah Mustafa, James Ransone, and Andy Bean; and, of course, Bill Skarsgard returns as the villainous monster's primary form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, arguably standing tall as the highlight of the film in many ways once again.

It Chapter Two has plenty of scares, though the overall approach is different and sometimes less effective this time round. Indeed, there's a further appreciation of jump scares over a consistently tense atmosphere; to be fair, said jump scares are much more than just random thuds and crashes to make you flinch with little after effect, but it doesn't stop them from becoming somewhat repetitive in the end. Repetition is an equally ideal word when it comes to the overall narrative itself, with one of its central concepts being explorations of each character and their disturbing childhood memories from the original film, returning to haunt them once more as the eponymous monster reawakens from its long rest. It's a unique format that's handled relatively well and of course one that's host to many frightening moments, but also one that can't help but feel a tad boring in the long run.

Though these story elements are of course part of the novel itself, faithfulness to source material can't always excuse such flaws; some things arguably work better on paper than they do on screen. Perhaps this can also be applied to the film's chaotic climax which drifts away from horror in some ways, eventually leaning more toward crazy action with bizarre imagery, strange plot twists, and occasional contrivances. For the most part, there is a nice degree of emotional depth and solid overall development for each character, which in turn bolsters some of the film's scariest moments as you genuinely fear for the victims on screen; though with its beastly and not fully justifiable 169 minute runtime, It Chapter Two simply ends up less interesting the more it goes on. It's ultimately just not as consistently entertaining as its predecessor, and while the exceptional cast, superb visuals, and fair share of thrills deserve much praise, its slow pace and repetitive formula also prevent it from reaching its full potential.

Wednesday 24 July 2019

Movie Review - The Lion King (2019)

Disney's live action updates of many of their greatest animated hits continues, this time with The Lion King: arguably their most renowned animated classic in the eyes of many. An enormous success upon release in 1994, The Lion King's global earnings now sit extremely close to the $1 billion mark, making it one of the highest grossing animated films even 25 years on, and easily the highest earning among the traditionally animated. So with all this fame and success surrounding it, one would expect a live action remake to be handled with extensive care; sadly, this is not quite the case.

The core story, influenced largely by Shakespeare's Hamlet, matches the original without any major changes. Following the murder of his father Mufasa (James Earl Jones) at the hands of his sadistic uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), young lion Simba (Donald Glover) finds himself exiled from his kingdom and left in despair, though soon learns he must follow his destiny and take his rightful place as leader of the Pride Lands before all falls into ruin.

The narrative doesn't need to adopt any significant changes to be good, but when many scenes have near identical shots and dialogue to those in the original, the lack of originality is extremely apparent, leaving us with a film that essentially feels like a discount alternative with a different aesthetic. While the visuals themselves are a major achievement in photorealism, beautifully rendered throughout, such a strong focus on realism leaves no room for any unique style or charm, making many of the story's most iconic moments tragically dull and uninteresting. Consequently, the characters find themselves as little more than well rendered animals with moving mouths; a real shame considering Disney did a great job making similarly realistic animals in 2016's remake of The Jungle Book full of personality for the most part.

The work from this largely decent cast also fails to meet expectations, with the efforts of Donald Glover and Beyoncé (a strange choice...) leaving their respective protagonists hugely forgettable; such criticism applies even more so to James Earl Jones' lifeless performance, making his initially welcome return an unwanted one without a doubt. Perhaps the only real praise can be aimed toward Ejiofor as a suitably sadistic (if slightly cliché) Scar, as well as Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as an admittedly funny Timon and Pumbaa, but they just aren't able to carry the weight of all this alone. Those in love with the original's musical achievements should also be prepared for mixed results; while it's good to see not every song being a complete rehash, they still can't help but feel painfully inferior to the originals.

This update of Disney's animated classic has its perks, especially when it comes to the technical side of things, but still finds itself as little more than an uninspired and lazily structured retelling. Disney's ongoing string of live action updates are still met with significantly polarised opinions, and considering The Lion King remains my favourite film of all time, this poor and disappointing remake is definitely a deep and personal loss.

Wise old mandrill Rafiki is also one of the most loveable characters in the original, and sadly one of the most, if not the most, forgettable characters this time round. For shame.

Tuesday 9 July 2019

Movie Review - Spider-Man: Far From Home

Avengers: Endgame now edges closer to stealing the highest grossing film of all time accolade from Avatar after 10 years; although it certainly brought multiple key story arcs within this beastly franchise to a close, even a film of such scale was certainly never going to finish it all for good. Not every film the MCU has offered has been an entertaining one, and the longer a series like this lasts, the harder it surely becomes to make new instalments consistently engaging. Thankfully, Spider-Man: Far From Home shows that those involved desire a strong future for the series and will certainly make the effort to achieve it.

A sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming whilst also following on from plot elements developed in Endgame, Far From Home sees Peter Parker's (Tom Holland) inevitable desires for a regular life alongside his superhero duties challenged further as he finds himself recruited for yet another mission by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) of S.H.I.E.L.D. An unfamiliar face in the form of Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), Mysterio to the world, also joins the fray to helm the fight against a new wave of threats; conflict which soon leads to more unsettling truths.

Most will agree that the MCU has always been relatively flawless when it comes to casting, and Far From Home is another key example of this. Holland exemplifies further his acting talent considering the standards that have to be met with such a major comic book icon, with a performance as an innocent and naive teenager, a character explored with a surprising amount of depth, blending nicely with his more confident persona when donning the suit itself. Jake Gyllenhaal's efforts as one Quentin Beck stand out just as superbly; his character deftly combines humour, an intimidating presence, as well as a genuine emotional core, and his confident performance makes him one of the most memorable characters despite being having many acclaimed talents to rival.

Far From Home succeeds just as nicely on an aesthetic scale, living up to modern blockbuster expectations with ease but also going that little bit beyond with some stylish and unique visuals revolving primarily around the character of Mysterio once again. This twisted imagery adds a touch of innovation to some of its most prominent set pieces, and while not all of them boast this accolade, even those which end up a tad repetitive after a while are still largely exciting. The overall narrative itself is thankfully far from predictable due to smartly handled plot twists; it also cleverly integrates elements from previous MCU films without forced retconning becoming an issue. Indeed, while some supporting roles amongst the villainous crew are fairly forgettable, their integration is cleverly developed. With all this, Far From Home succeeds as another thoroughly entertaining entry to this enormous franchise, showing that it still has room to impress further despite the countless new standards that have been set since it began.

Wednesday 3 July 2019

Movie Review - Toy Story 4

The announcement of a fourth Toy Story film would always earn a mixed reception; regardless of the general love for the franchise as a whole, many agreed 2010's Toy Story 3 perfectly wrapped up the story, leaving no room for more. But alas, nearly another decade later, those at Pixar have given us what many now believe to be the true final chapter to the beloved animated saga; and one that certainly does impress considering the limited potential for a further story, at least at first glance.

Sheriff Woody's (Tom Hanks) life takes a unique turn when he and the rest of the gang find themselves at a travelling carnival during a family road trip, joined by Forky (Tony Hale), an insecure spork crafted into a toy by their new owner Bonnie. When Forky's repeated attempts to dispose of himself leave him trapped and in need of rescue, Woody's efforts lead him on a journey that finds him reuniting with a long lost friend from his past; soon challenging his own decisions when it comes to the future ahead.

Considering once again how well Toy Story 3 acted as a conclusion the franchise, this fourth entry succeeds surprisingly well in terms of overall narrative heft, exemplifying the potential still to hand providing those involved know what they're doing. Whilst throwbacks to previous instalments are of course present, most notably the return of the beloved character Bo Peep (Annie Potts), the story remains focused on its own new path and never forcibly retreads the same ground as its predecessors; leaving elements concluded by Toy Story 3 behind and featuring some major plot developments of its own that justify it as its own conclusion to the series, albeit one that may not leave everyone entirely satisfied.

The story embraces this new path with some unique twists, but things aren't always as refined as one might hope; this is notable when it comes to the development of its primary characters. Bo Peep finds herself drastically different in every respect to her original cute and calm persona from the older films, though this actually makes her one of the most interesting characters in the film alongside Woody himself; the chemistry they consequently share also helps bolster their charm as the key protagonists. But when it comes to the many supporting roles, including our entire toy gang (Buzz, Jessie, Rex, Ham, you name it), they offer plenty of approachable humour but nothing else to make them as consistently interesting; quite a disappointment when these are the starring roles that launched the series. The newer cast of characters, including Forky, the obnoxious yet charming Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), or the easily agitated (and extremely funny) stuffed toy duo Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele), end up much more memorable throughout and thus may leave you much more entertained in the long run.

Toy Story 4 is without a doubt a prime example of how much computer animation has developed since its inception. Simply comparing a frame of this to the admittedly somewhat dated visuals of the original film, and even the still refined ones of its 1999 sequel, proves it is an art form that has prospered significantly. It is certainly one of Pixar's best looking films, beautifully rendered and animated throughout, and further brought to life through superb voice acting from its talented cast of old favourites and brilliant newcomers. When rivalling the standards set by its predecessors, this fourth entry perhaps ranks as the weakest entry, and is certainly not quite the emotional tear jerker I was expecting, but it still remains another fine piece of work from one of the film industry's best animation studios that more than justifies its own existence.

Saturday 15 June 2019

Movie Review - Aladdin (2019)

Arguably one of the most controversial Disney adaptations from the moment marketing began, Aladdin treads on thin ice simply because the animated original is one of the studios most treasured classics; and one crucial contributor to this is of course the late Robin Williams' iconic performance as the Genie, now one of Disney's most memorable characters. But what was initially hatred from audiences now seems to have become widespread praise, and this certainly doesn't go undeserved.

After rescuing and befriending Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) within the bustling, frequently dangerous streets of Agrabah, the penniless street rat Aladdin (Mena Massoud) soon attempts to win her over through the assistance of the scheming Royal Vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), who initiates a plan for Aladdin to retrieve a magical lamp within the mysterious Cave of Wonders in return for untold riches and royalty. When Aladdin eventually finds the lamp in his own hands, he discovers what lies within: an all powerful Genie (Will Smith), whose ability to grant Aladdin three wishes further progresses his own endeavours to seek Prince Jasmine's hand as he originally aspired.

What's tricky with these live action Disney adaptations is simply retelling the story. Changes are essential to surprise audiences a second time, but too many changes can end up disowning the source material everyone has loved for many years. Aladdin thankfully retells the classic tale in a unique and engaging way, keeping the core premise identical with the same loveable characters (and some new ones to boot), but largely changing the overall structure, and so you'll never feel like you're watching a replica of the original. The musical numbers also have the same impact; the original's most iconic songs are present, but all updated with a fresh modern twist, down to genre influences and even smart alterations of the lyrics themselves. There's also some new songs mixed in, and while they sometimes feel a bit segue amongst the scenarios occurring around them, they remain well performed and suitably memorable.

Will Smith's performance as the Genie deserves praise simply for his unique take on the character, which is never a forced attempt to mimic the comedic charm Robin Williams boasted. Indeed, Smith's effort in the role, while equally zany, fast paced, and funny, is more casual and down to Earth, not referencing pop culture in the same hilarious way, but with his comedic charm instead stemming a lot more from strong, witty dialogue, all delivered with perfect timing, as well as the awkward yet charming chemistry between himself and Aladdin, who also finds himself perfectly performed by a suitably cast Mena Massoud. The cast in general is relatively solid; Naomi Scott plays Jasmine well enough, even if the character is somewhat forgettable this time round, and the same goes for Marwan Kenzari as Jafar, whose casting also stirred up much controversy. He's better than the trailers made him out to be, unique in his own way instead of a lazy replica, but he's also not quite as memorable at the end of the day, and arguably rather bland in scenes that demand more emotion.

Visually, Aladdin certainly delivers any expectations reasonable audiences would have, adding its own surprisingly dark twists and so making scenes that were perhaps more comedic in the original now quite intimidating but still equally stylistic. The CGI effects used to craft key characters including Abu, Carpet, and, of course, the Genie himself are all fantastic through and through; the motion capture technology to turn Smith into a blue magical being is surprisingly effective, and whilst many were reluctant upon seeing it debut in the initial trailers, it's certainly nothing to remain hostile towards. At the end of the day, Aladdin is what a good live action Disney adaptation should be: loyal to the classic premise, yet still adding in its own fresh ideas to take audiences on a new adventure in a whole new world. 

Tuesday 11 June 2019

Movie Review - Godzilla: King of the Monsters

The next stage of the MonsterVerse arrives not just as a sequel to 2014's Godzilla but also as its own ensemble, seeing numerous beasts from Toho's own legacy and beyond duking it out for supremacy across the entire Earth itself. Such a premise has plenty of potential to bring genuine thrills and excitement to the big screen, but while King of the Monsters succeeds on an aesthetic level, its story and pacing ultimately might not leave both newcomers or even diehard fans truly compelled.

Following Godzilla's battle against the MUTO creatures during 2014, man kickstarts an organization known as Monarch to study similarly large and powerful creatures that dominated the Earth in ancient history; referring to them to as "Titans". Years onward, many powerful beings are discovered and soon awakened; most notably the lethal King Ghidorah, a foe humanity soon stands feeble against, and one who brings the eponymous monster out of hiding once more for a battle deciding their own dominance as well as the very fate of the world around them.

It of course goes without saying that King of the Monsters is a visual treat from start to finish, both stylishly filmed and boasting some refined modern special effects. It's just a shame you won't find a truly rewarding amount of monster action throughout this two hour adventure, with the pacing and overall balance of the story shunting even Godzilla itself to one side for strangely long periods of time without much mention of it whatsoever; so much so that I myself occasionally forgot all about it, as well as several other monsters that were supposedly important to the story. While the villainous King Ghidorah definitely deserves praise as an intimidating villain, other Toho classics Mothra and Rodan end up with roles disappointingly short.

This mediocre story does admittedly build up to an admittedly superb climax filled with all the visual thrills one would expect, but the majority of the film simply lacks this level of quality. When it comes to the human characters and the drama around them, despite solid performances from a decent cast, there's also some inconsistent development and strange motivations, ultimately rendering a fair amount of them uninteresting and even somewhat annoying. Throughout the majority of the film I found myself largely bored and frustrated by the brief flashes of monster action that came and went without much flare, and only truly compelled once again when it came to the gripping final battle. Films like this of course need to have more depth than monsters fighting endlessly, but the attempts at such depth here just aren't consistently engaging; many felt the same with the 2014 film, but I still enjoyed that one a whole lot more.

Sunday 26 May 2019

Movie Review - Pokémon Detective Pikachu

Live action movie adaptations of video games have never been the best idea, history has taught us well; it seems agreed at this stage that the forever iconic Sonic the Hedgehog's upcoming adaptation could be yet another rich example of this, despite the studio's admittedly impressive efforts to ensure a positive outcome following some atrocious initial feedback. But, amongst all this, one surprising result has come from Hollywood's bizarre efforts to turn these video game worlds into overly complex live action narratives; one widely praised as possibly the very best effort to date, in the form of Pokémon Detective Pikachu.

Inspired by the titanic franchise that I'm sure almost every soul on Earth has at least heard of, but more specifically a spinoff game for the Nintendo 3DS released last year, Detective Pikachu follows former Pokémon trainer Tim Goodman (Justice Smith) on a search for his missing father, police detective Harry Goodman; a man presumed deceased by many but who Tim believes is still out there somewhere. On his travels, he soon befriends an incredibly intelligent Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) that only he can understand, also learning that he too has a connection with Harry and seeks to find him just as Tim as does.

Arguably the most difficult task when making a film like this is of course bringing the colourful and vibrant designs of the numerous titular critters we're all so used to seeing in 2D artwork, old school sprites, or simple 3D in game models into a live action world, maintaining their core designs whilst making them fit in with the world around them. For the most part, Detective Pikachu does an excellent job of this. Our eponymous hero, performed superbly by Ryan Reynolds, maintains the core look of a classic character without feeling at all conspicuous in this live action setting. This praise can be applied to most of the other Pokémon seen throughout; perhaps there are a few times where the CGI awkwardly stands out, which usually just comes down to the design of the Pokémon itself, but for the most part everything has been exceptionally handled on an aesthetic level. Such credit the film's many set pieces also deserve; some are admittedly rather noisy and do drag a little, but they largely deliver an entertaining and exciting ride.

In terms of story, Detective Pikachu does its best to provide some interesting twists and turns to keep audiences hooked and to avoid being too predictable as it goes on. Perhaps the key flaw with its narrative simply comes down to many events occurring simply because they do; a lot of key plot elements don't always make perfect sense and feel extremely forced. A film like this doesn't need to be insanely complex with its narrative, though certain contrivances can make things feel a bit rushed; several key characters don't always feel as interesting as one would hope they'd be. For the most part, it's relatively engaging and fun, and certainly bolstered by a strong cast who deliver solid performances; key praise in this respect certainly goes to Smith and Reynolds as the leading heroes. Fans of the franchise, and perhaps even those unfamiliar with it, should find much to enjoy here, even if the end result perhaps could've once again been polished a bit more when it comes to the story and supporting characters.

Monday 29 April 2019

Movie Review - Avengers: Endgame

With a remarkable and previously unheard of $1.2 billion worldwide global debut, this year's Avengers: Endgame proves once again just how popular the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become since its inception with Iron Man back in 2008. Countless new box office records are set as soon as the film is welcomed into cinemas and many more are certainly on the way; it's clear this finale to the largest franchise in the history of film is making a huge impact across the world at a brisk pace. Does this insane net profit reflect on genuine quality? Most would say so, and I'm one of them.

Endgame of course won't bring the truck sized franchise that is the MCU to a permanent conclusion; instead, it acts as a finale to the primary storyline focusing on the Avengers since they gradually began to assemble over a decade ago now. Carrying on from Infinity War, those who survived the destruction Thanos (Josh Brolin) finally unleashed after gathering the six Infinity Stones must unite to restore balance to the ruined world; whilst simply moving on may seem the easy path to peace for some, the long term damage still remains, and it's clear in the end that action must be taken to bring true justice.

Avengers: Endgame does essentially need to bring forth a time travel plot of sorts in order to advance its story; most may have speculated such a thing considering how Infinity War ended with Thanos achieving his goals and defeating the Avengers in quite a sinister manner. The way it conveys this plot is thankfully creatively executed, linking back to storylines established in previous MCU films and building upon the mythology in a manner that doesn't feel too contrived. What follows with this is a gripping ensemble adventure as the most iconic heroes in Marvel's history tackle a number of unique challenges that cleverly link back to previous MCU films in the process; it's clear a lot of thought was put into establishing this as a true finale to this phase of the franchise.

Endgame's runtime is amusingly a topic of much discussion; at 181 minutes, it's easily the longest Marvel film to date and one of the longest superhero films ever, and even brings forth numerous recommendations from fans of the most ideal moments to rush to the loo if necessary. Yeah. Regardless, this runtime for the most part works without too much sluggish pacing; perhaps it's the first hour that hosts some of the film's weaker moments, such as repetitive humour which in turn leads to some awkward tonal shifts. Whilst it's great that Endgame never goes down an overly depressing and dark route in terms of its overall tone, perhaps there's times where said goofy (though to be fair very funny) humour doesn't quite know when to step aside; a common issue with many MCU films I've noticed to be honest.

The outstanding cast give it their all and of course deliver superb results as is expected; Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, the lot, and especially of course Josh Brolin as Thanos, arguably one of the best villains in Marvel history, once again spectacularly brought to life on screen via outstanding motion capture effects. It goes without saying that Endgame is a visual marvel (sorry) throughout; I'd be here all day listing individual visual praises, so all that has to be said is that it's as aesthetically resplendent as one would expect and more, and when these rich visuals, superb performances, as well as an exceptional score by Alan Silvestri are blended together during the film's many set pieces, they themselves become some of the best you'll ever see in a modern action film. As a whole, with all these aforementioned praises, it's certainly fair to say Endgame is one of the MCU's strongest instalments, and a fine conclusion to another of its epic storylines.

Friday 12 April 2019

Movie Review - Dumbo (2019)

Yet another of Disney's many live action remakes arrives in the form of Dumbo, though this time round we have a finished product that differs in many ways from its animated counterpart; consequently, one might want to consider it a new story partially inspired by Disney's 1940 classic. In Tim Burton's newest production, you won't find any mice specialising in one to one coaching, storks delivering newborn baby elephants, and certainly not any racially offensive singing crows smoking enormous cigars. Instead, we have story of a financially struggling circus and a family living and working within it enduring their own hard times, all taking place following the first World War.

Of course, our eponymous elephant is indeed in here somewhere. Colin Farrell stars as Holt Farrier, an amputated war veteran and widower. The travelling circus he works within and returns to following army service is also home to his children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins); the circus itself finds itself in a state of financial decline, but following the birth of a newborn elephant with strangely oversized ears, takes an interesting turn that nobody involved could have anticipated.

The cast also features the likes of Danny DeVito as circus owner Max Medici, Michael Keaton as the greedy Vandevere, owner of an amusement park who eventually strikes his own business deal with Medici, and Eva Green as Colette Marchant, a charming and experienced trapeze artist employed by Vandevere; this entire cast performs brilliantly, primarily Keaton in his sly yet funny villainous role, though on the other hand it is a shame DeVito is somewhat underused given his inevitable comedic charm. The effects used to bring Dumbo himself to life are as refined as one would expect from a modern blockbuster, particularly one in the hands of Disney, and he finds himself blended seamlessly into the live action world around him. The actors themselves of course deserve praise when it comes to their interactions with Dumbo, bringing forth some heartfelt and similarly funny scenes, well executed considering the character wasn't there to start with, as well as praise toward their performances within the film's several entertaining set pieces.

Dumbo does find itself somewhat flawed when it comes to its storyline, which of course, as previously said, was stirred up dramatically from the animated original to be more fitting for a live action premise and of course to justify a longer run time. But even with this new material, the near two hour length is still a bit much, making the film somewhat repetitive as it goes on and occasionally quite boring as we near the middle. Dumbo as a character is fairly entertaining to watch, certainly funny and the centre of some touching moments once again, but in general isn't overall memorable and regrettably has moments of being slightly annoying; when it comes to repetitive moments, Dumbo's fear of flying is definitely something to mention. This is all in all an entertaining film for the most part, appealing for older and younger audiences, and of course boasting some superb visuals, but it's also a film that needed to focus a bit more on streamlining its narrative into something a bit more focused and much less samey.

Saturday 30 March 2019

Movie Review - Captain Marvel

The forever lucrative MCU introduces its newest character in the form of Captain Marvel; certainly recognizable in comic book history, but perhaps not so much amongst general audiences. Regardless, the latter trait hasn't stopped the film from becoming yet another box office giant for Disney; though one that's been a mixed bag for many when it comes to overall quality, and to be fair for arguably justifiable reasons.

Captain Marvel stars Brie Larson as Vers, a member of the Starforce alliance within the Kree Empire, itself stationed on the planet Hala. Though persistently trained to master her strength and superpowers by her mentor Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), Vers repeatedly suffers from recurring, unexplained nightmares, as well as amnesia when it comes to her own mysterious past. This past begins to unfold and her powers themselves put to the test when she finds herself stranded on Earth, soon teaming up with S.H.I.E.L.D. operative Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to fight off the shapeshifting Skrulls, the primary enemies of the Kree Empire itself who seek Vers and her knowledge for their own seemingly sinister gain.

Captain Marvel essentially takes us back to the beginning of this series; while of course Captain America's antics within the Second World War were a fair few years prior, this story establishes some key inspirations for the beginning of the Avenger initiative itself, influenced majorly of course by Nick Fury's starring role. It does thankfully have its own narrative depth, to an extent at least, and any outside backstory it does establish, from little touches to certain characters to crucial narrative elements, are nicely done for the most part. But as for the film's own central plot, it is regrettable that things don't always work as well, for it admittedly lacks focus; the characters themselves, outside of Vers and Fury, also lack any real development, which can often lead to many of their key motivations becoming somewhat unclear and poorly conveyed.

Such flaws are most noticeable towards the end of the film when certain twists come into play; it's hard to elaborate on them without spoiling, but while the climax of the story does have good intentions with some of its plot twists, they're just not exceptionally handled. The cast itself is as superb as any Marvel film, with Larson and most definitely Jackson standing out nicely in their central performances, but while much of the supporting talent including Jude Law and certainly Ben Mendelsohn did their best with what they had, their roles ultimately came up a tad short due to forgettable characters; wasted potential at the end of the day. When it comes to action, the film's many vivid and fast paced set pieces forever dazzle, though perhaps lack a bit of tension when you eventually come to realize the evident invincibility of our main hero as she effortlessly slaughters all the moronic baddies without much strain or effort. This doesn't make said set pieces boring in any way, but maybe a little repetitive after a while.

Captain Marvel is definitely funny; but it's occasionally guilty of daft, unwanted, and occasionally irritating gags during scenes that really don't demand them. It has moments of well executed and genuine drama, but this obsession with humour can result in some dramatic tonal shifts; it's a shame this emerges during the climax at times, disrupting some tense and potentially heartfelt moments. Perhaps I do make this film sound pretty poor, but it's a decent superhero experience for the most part. Fun, with great talent on board, and many noble ideas within the overall narrative; its key flaw is just how it doesn't execute many of these ideas in the best possible ways.

Friday 15 February 2019

Movie Review 200 - How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

My 200th movie review since 2011!

What's arguably Dreamworks Animation's most acclaimed series from a critical standpoint now comes to a conclusion with How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World; a story following on one year from the events of its predecessor where the dragon riders of Berk, lead by Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), continue to search, fight for, and free dragons across the seas. Inevitable collateral damage from such a large scale quest eventually expands it into another; one to seek out the mythical Hidden World, a place of harmony and secrecy, where dragons can forever be safe from the persistent hatred of mankind.

The Hidden World is beautifully animated; that's the standard praise that one always starts with. Such technical prowess is to be expected from modern day Dreamworks, and with a refined art style to support this technical splendour, the final on screen visuals deliver without fault. Accompanying this is of course another rich score from the acclaimed John Powell; one that fluently combines rich new compositions alongside superb throwbacks to recognisable themes established throughout the series.

There's really no flaws with The Hidden World on an aesthetic level; when it comes to storytelling, things are also fairly solid. Considering this is the conclusion to the trilogy, the film certainly succeeds in delivering a satisfying ending to the overall narrative; not a generic happy ending, nor one that's overly depressing in an attempt to be original and excessively complex. In fact, it's a unique blend of both, strange as that may sound, and further bolstered by the fact that it's far from predictable. It's a conclusion that's heartfelt and well executed, and one that clearly had some decent thought put into it.

But what's a shame is the emotional integrity of the ending isn't consistent throughout the overall narrative. Moments when the film really demands a more serious tone are occasionally shunted aside in favour of somewhat juvenile humour and repetitive jokes, which renders some potentially powerful moments incredibly unsatisfying and certain supporting characters rather irritating. This is a funny script, but it's a shame it favoured this occasionally silly approach during moments where it could've been a lot deeper and potentially darker; this is especially apparent during some of its set pieces and climactic scenarios. The set pieces on offer are still exciting and fun, and of course still need their fair share of humour, but there are times when such humour is once again a tad overbaked.

Arguably The Hidden World's most impressive traits, aside from its aforementioned aesthetic achievements and well executed ending, lie within these relatively exciting (if occasionally somewhat forgettable) action sequences, the impressive lead vocal performances, primarily Baruchel reprising his role as Hiccup, as well as an element to its narrative featuring the lead dragon Toothless developing a charming relationship with another dragon of his kind; one we find is crucial to later parts of the story. Our key antagonist, dragon hunter Grimmel, is a fairly bland villain with little backstory and cliché motives, but he has a few exciting moments and is brought to life by a solid performance by F. Murray Abraham. For the most part, The Hidden World is a fun animated finale to a great series, just one that's weakened by some bland (and occasionally annoying) supporting characters and jarring tonal shifts.

Sunday 10 February 2019

Movie Review - The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

The original Lego Movie was a surprisingly unique animated hit that surprised critics and audiences alike back in 2014; not a cinematic attempt to milk the beyond renowned construction toys in a cheap and uninspired manner but one using their appeal to its advantage to tell a surprisingly well thought out narrative with a solid blend of heart and humour. A sequel was thus more than welcome, while I won't claim to be as won over as many, it certainly remains once again a decent mixture of familiar themes and family friendly laughs. 

Five years after the events of the first film, the world of Bricksburg has been left a post apocalyptic wasteland following the attacks of Duplo invaders, caused by confrontation over the real world Lego set between siblings Finn (Jason Sand) and Bianca (Brooklynn Prince). Ultimately, these attacks leads to the abduction of multiple Bricksburg citizens, including Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) and Batman (Will Arnett), forcing rookie Master Builder Emmett Brickowski (Chris Pratt) on a quest to rescue them from the Duplo army before it's too late.

If you've seen glimpses of any of the movies within this franchise thus far, then you'll know it goes without saying this main sequel is a winner in the visual department without question; not only beautifully rendered, but also adopting a charming style of animation that's reminiscent to stop motion, which of course truly works for the central premise. The animated world of Lego is also blended with the occasional intervention of live action scenarios which depict their influence on the world itself; a clever a concept just as it was in the original, though one that does admittedly get a bit too excessive and farfetched this time round, primarily as we reach the film's climax.

Speaking of the climax, that in general is where the story itself loses some traction, developing clever twists just as the original film did but then using some strange contrivances in order to make these twists come to fruition; the initial revelations have their impact, but the eventual explanations behind them leaves them rather bizarre. The story as a whole is fairly entertaining, overcoming many of its weaker traits thanks to its consistently witty and approachable humour, charming cast of characters, and the refined vocal performances used to bring said characters to life, namely the efforts Chris Pratt as our key protagonist Emmett, and especially Tiffany Haddish as new antagonist Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi. Ultimately, The Lego Movie 2 is funny and heartfelt, but while its narrative has lots of potential, the execution doesn't quite feel as inspired as it potentially could be; ultimately, many audiences won't be bothered by this, but it ended up leaving me a tad bored and bemused at sporadic moments.

Friday 25 January 2019

Most Anticipated Films of 2019

I didn't find myself truly interested in many of the films 2018 had to offer; the coming twelve months certainly look more interesting without a doubt. Not just in terms of great films on offer, but generally interesting ones; ones that may be terrible, but will still leave a lasting impression, and spark much debate among audiences. Of course you can already see one that I'm referring to just below, so let's just begin...

#5 - Sonic the Hedgehog

Indeed, an unusual choice to have on my list considering virtually nothing about this film so far looks compelling; of course, all we've seen is an official poster which depicted Sonic in a very awkward posture as well as other leaked images that only spawned more mockery and controversy. Who knows. Either way, at this stage I have little to no confidence about this film; however, with all this ongoing controversy surrounding the many leaks and countless rumours, I'm left interested to see more as it moves further through production, and then very curious over the final outcome.

If I'm honest, if the leaked, though apparently fake, image of Sonic's final design was real, I thought it was half decent considering it was translating such a cartoony design to live action, though it seems it has since been confirmed as fake. This film may likely remain sat here at #5 when I end up doing my eventual retrospect list, but again, whilst I'm not currently expecting an amazing outcome, I remain interested in how it'll turn out considering all the ongoing controversy; it'll certainly be a strange one, that's for sure.

US Release: November 8
UK Release: December 26

#4 - Godzilla: King of the Monsters

The next stage of Monsterverse kicks off with an ensemble bust up which brings together Godzilla and many of Toho's most iconic monsters including Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah, certainly one of the most renowned. Many will recall the 2014 Godzilla film's most criticised aspect being a lack of action; perhaps its most infamous trait was cutting away when it seemed like an exciting set piece was about to kick off, which some saw as a way of building up suspense for the epic finale, and others as just an unnecessary annoyance. After watching the trailers for King of the Monsters, it'd be quite remarkable if similar controversy was once again achieved; certainly it seems like we have an exciting and chaotic blockbuster on the way, and while the trailers haven't left me hugely interested in any of the key characters so far, they've certainly left me more than interested to see more of this reimagined lineup of monsters duke it out in a (hopefully) high stakes narrative.

US + UK Release: May 31

#3 - It: Chapter Two

The 2017 adaptation of one of Stephen King's most renowned novels certainly creeped me out more than its 1990 television adaptation; it was undeniably the performance of Bill Skarsgård as the eponymous villain in its primary form as Pennywise the Dancing Clown that stood out as one of the film's strongest merits, and so I certainly greet a sequel with open arms. Adapting the novel into two parts thankfully has a genuine benefit towards the storyline instead of being another forced studio method to squeeze further profit from valuable source material; we now found ourselves venturing into the second portion of the novel's plot which takes place in the 1980s, our main characters now young adults, facing the villainous creature as it returns to haunt them once more.

A strong cast including the likes of James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, and Bill Hader are brought in to portray the roles of the primary characters as adults this time round; while little has been shown about the film thus far, my love for the original alone is enough to make it one of my most anticipated of the year. Let's hope now upcoming marketing material doesn't instantly put me off...

US + UK Release: September 6

#2 - Toy Story 4

Though 2010's Toy Story 3 appeared to conclude the central story of the series on an emotionally satisfying note, it seems Pixar just couldn't keep their hands away from it, and so nearly another decade later we find ourselves treated to a new installment which brings forth a new story featuring new friends as well as some familiar faces. What's been one of the most anticipated aspects of this new installment is of course the return of Bo Peep, Woody's love interest voiced once again by Annie Potts, who was sadly given away from Andy's toy collection between the second and third films, as a brief heartfelt moment in the latter implied. Whilst it initially seemed like a fourth entry may have been a forced and greedy attempt to keep the series going after it had reached a nice conclusion, the standards of Pixar and the series itself already shows promise; the basic story sounds pleasant, especially with the return of Bo Peep once again, though at this point very little is known about it despite the release being only six months away. There's still more surprises on the way which I'm very keen to see.

US + UK Release: June 21

#1 - The Lion King

Disney's ongoing trend of adapting many of their animated classics into modern live action blockbusters continues to be met with mixed feedback amongst the most dedicated fans; some love the gorgeous new aesthetic approach toward some of the studio's finest works, whilst others see them as lazy cash grabs and signs of the company struggling to think of new ideas. I've not really maintained an overall consensus towards it myself; if the film is good, it's good, and vice versa. Considering The Lion King is my favourite film of all time, I was interested to see how a live action adaptation would turn out, and the trailer itself left me very impressed.

Said trailer primarily focused on the renowned opening scene, though also showed very brief clips of other scenes; as is expected, the visual effects left the biggest impression. The live action adaptation of The Jungle Book from 2016 arguably set new standards for CGI and it seems The Lion King is set to build upon that. I'm more than keen to see some the film's most dramatic moments with these outstanding modern effects, particularly the renowned wildebeest stampede, which of course was ever so briefly seen in the trailer itself and looked absolutely remarkable in just that tiny glimpse. The cast itself also looks promising; I won't deny feeling nervous over how some will compare to those from the original, namely Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, but there's still potential without a doubt. At least James Earl Jones is of course returning as Mufasa, showing Disney's impressive awareness that nobody is apt to surpass him in the role. Some loyal fans of the original are hostile towards this adaptation, but I'm hungry to see more for sure.

US + UK Release: July 19

Thanks for reading!