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 SkarsgÄrd 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

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Friday 11 January 2019

Best Five Films of 2018

A new year has begun; numerous other things going on in my life at the moment, as well as a lack of interesting releases, left me visiting the cinema a lot less throughout 2018 compared to previous years, and consequently I found myself struggling to find enough material to compose the usual list of my most hated films before moving on to the most beloved. So, we'll dismiss the need to rank any stinkers, and focus solely on the positives; allow me to present my favourite five films of 2018.

#5 - Avengers: Infinity War

Gargantuan bests at the box office were put in place by the ever growing MCU in 2018, with Black Panther setting domestic records and, as was pretty much expected from the get go, Avengers: Infinity War setting remarkable worldwide records not too long after release. With over $2 billion in global earnings, Infinity War was yet another moneymaking machine in the film industry's largest franchise; my thoughts on said franchise have grown more positive in recent times after a fair few disappointments in the past, and I agree with many that Infinity War was arguably one of the best instalments to grace the series in a long while.

With a truck sized budget, stunning visual effects are to be expected, and it of course doesn't disappointment; thus, we are treated to all sorts of gripping action sequences from start to finish. But we also have a strong story to carry things along, and a notably powerful ending that leaves us eager for the next installment. What nicely supports all this gripping action and surprisingly complex storytelling is of course its incredibly ensemble cast, bringing together countless talent from the biggest MCU hits, all of whom give some of their best performances within the franchise this time round, it has to be said; largely blending humour and genuine emotion effectively. I've previously maintained thoughts that this series should retire fairly soon, but after Infinity War, I'm certainly left keen to see more.

#4 - Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Widespread acclaim greeted Into the Spider-Verse upon release, many even branding it the best film the web head has ever appeared in; and to be fair, this praise isn't undeserved. Into the Spider-Verse is a charming and spirited adventure that brings together various incarnations of the eponymous hero into a story that balances humour and genuine emotion in an effective manner. What of course stands out at first glance is the film's unique visuals, combining traditional and computer animation to create a stylised comic book aesthetic, and one that's incredibly delightful to look at throughout.

The film boasts a likeable cast of characters, focusing primarily on protagonist Miles Morales and the main incarnation of Spider-Man, with the various others coming into play further into the story. Everything is nicely balanced and well structured, easy to follow yet full of depth, and performed with some superb vocal work from the incredibly talented cast. For sure, this is one of the finest animated films I've seen in recent times.

#3 - Deadpool 2

Deadpool set remarkably high standards in an admittedly small R rated superhero genre, so much so that a sequel would need a lot of care and attention put into it to seem like more than just a lame cash grab; thankfully, the end result is far from that, and in some cases even a superior effort.

Ryan Reynolds will arguably stand out as one of the film's finest merits, delivering a performance just as funny and stylish as before; the same can be said for the strong supporting cast, namely newcomer Josh Brolin. It's even better when said performances are over a well drafted script, full of witty and smart humour, but also a surprisingly clever narrative that embraces self parody in a unique way and, as is expected from any modern superhero flick, boasts a number of gripping set pieces, brought to life on screen with forever impressive visuals and superb action choreography. Deadpool 2 is of course not for the younger superhero fans, but it certainly remains a great watch through and through.

#2 - A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place stands out as that rare superb horror film that blesses cinema every so often, earning this accolade thanks to its ability to deliver genuine scares and tension, but also thanks to its incredibly engaging storyline that keeps audiences hooked for reasons outside of waiting to be freaked out. Whilst the film doesn't outright dive into the history behind its concept of a world where humanity is on the verge of extinction, it slowly and cleverly unveils it via subtle methods throughout, leaving us keen to see more whilst being haunted by a number of chilling sequences involving the sinister beings responsible for all this destruction.

The film's method of storytelling will seem frustratingly vague to some as it will clever to others, but either way, A Quiet Place is definitely a winner when it comes to a struggling genre. It has its fair share of jump scares, but they're more than just cheap ways to make you wet yourself, with genuinely haunting events unfolding on screen that definitely leave lasting impressions. It's this coupled with an uneasy atmosphere throughout, as well as some fantastic performances and visual design, that makes it one of the best horror films I've certainly seen in a long, long time.

#1 - Mission: Impossible - Fallout

The Mission: Impossible series continues its resurgence of critical acclaim and box office success with Fallout, and when it comes to such acclaim, I was certainly amongst that general consensus. Fallout now stands as my favourite of the series; a series that now seems to get better and better with each new installment. This latest entry delivers once again some of the best set pieces in a modern action film, all beautifully structured throughout; but this is much more than a case of flicking through countless set pieces, with a thin story placed on the back burner to thread them together. No, this is a story that is once again well thought out and extremely compelling, full of engaging twists and brought to life by the efforts of a superb cast, primarily (and obviously) Cruise himself and Henry Cavill as our key antagonist.

As I've said, each new instalment of this series now manages to top the last, and Fallout continues this trend; it's clever, exciting, and superbly acted, and certainly the film I enjoyed the most this year.

Thanks for reading!

UPDATE: This post has now been adapted into a video for the gaming channel ProjectFalconPunch, featuring Dan Thomas! Check it out here!

Monday 7 January 2019

Movie Review - Aquaman

Despite its occasional highlights, the DC Extended Universe has arguably struggled to rival its colossal Marvel counterpart in terms of financial gain and certainly in terms of critical success. Its latest entry Aquaman hasn't exactly been met with universal acclaim, but has bolstered the struggling franchise and won over many audiences at first glance as shown by its remarkable box office receipts thus far. There's fun to be had, but whether or not you will be truly immersed at the end of the day depends if its entertaining visual thrills can mask some evident flaws when it comes to the general development of the characters and the overall story itself.

Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) is a half Atlantean, half human who lives on the surface world, having been rejected from Atlantis itself due to his half breed nature. Many years later, rebel Atlanteans seek him out and urge him to return, bringing news that he must take his place as the rightful king and challenge his half brother Orm Marius (Patrick Wilson), who plans to bring war to and eventually wipe out the surface world. Orm also co-operates with the malicious pirate David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who seeks vengeance against Arthur for his actions when fending off him and his father from attacking a nuclear submarine not long prior.

Aquaman isn't afraid to embrace the corny atmosphere of its premise; but perhaps this can be a flaw as much as it can be a merit to some. Not every comic book adaptation needs to be a intense and realistic thriller following in the steps of Christopher Nolan's most poetic works but translating the content of the comic books to the big screen requires some effort to help it fit in with a realistic modern world and avoid any inadvertent laughs now and then. Aquaman doesn't always nail this, and feelings of bemusement may consequently stem from some of its aesthetics, costume design especially, and incredibly cheesy writing. How audiences respond to it will generally come down to personal preference, but all I can say is that it's surely hard to at least not chuckle a bit when Black Manta shows up.

The story itself is fairly unfocused and certainly dragged out; but even with its healthy runtime it still struggles to balance out the many characters it insists on cramming into itself. This creates an issue where characters central to the plot often disappear and reappear sporadically, leaving them underdeveloped and uninteresting as a result. Though when it comes to development, perhaps the film does deserve some praise when it comes Aquaman himself, a character portrayed with plenty of wit and severity by Momoa, and one whose backstory is told with the use of cleverly interwoven flashbacks as the main story itself progresses; a technique that ensures the overall pace isn't severely disrupted. This aside, the meat of the story, while not offensively terrible, isn't suitably balanced; and is just boring, to put it more simply.

Aquaman of course boasts some brilliant visuals, something we certainly expect by now from a high budget superhero film. The effects used to compose the underwater kingdom of Atlantis are vivid and rich in detail, and those used to superimpose the actors themselves within this world are equally impressive. While its various set pieces are too often triggered by random explosions that abruptly (and annoyingly) cut off character conversations, they're certainly exciting to watch and once again demonstrate some superb modern visual effects. The film as a whole certainly isn't terrible, and of course has its various entertaining moments and decent lead performances, but just doesn't do a truly good job of trying to develop a half decent storyline and perhaps tone down the silliness throughout, and so we have an overlong and thinly plotted action flick as a result.

Saturday 5 January 2019

Movie Review - Bumblebee

Over the past decade Michael Bay's Transformers film series has generally been naught but a rubbish film making machine, albeit one raking in promising studio profits in the long run. It's this year the series sees its first release met with critical success; Bumblebee has Bay shoved aside from any major creative involvement and instead acting as producer this time round. Remarkably, though perhaps unsurprisingly in a way, the end result is a well executed and genuinely entertaining blockbuster in a franchise full of polar opposites.

Taking place before the 2007 film that kickstarted this series, Bumblebee sees the eponymous hero, initially under his original name B-127, escaping a war ridden planet Cybertron and seeking refuge on Earth under the orders of Autbot leader Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), where he meets and befriends Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld), a lonely and grief stricken teen struggling to cope in life following the passing of her father. As their friendship prospers, as does trouble around them when B-127 is eventually discovered by villainous Decepticon scouts; who have their own malicious intent to bring the war on Cybertron with them.

Though the first installment to this series wasn't offensively terrible, more mediocre at best, what followed was a whirlwind of noisy action flicks whose remarkable accolades in the special effects department were tragically overwhelmed by their nonsensical storylines, melodramatic performances, and bizarre tonal shifts; it all largely comes down not only to poor scripts but also of course the choppy directing of Michael Bay himself. Bumblebee maintains the remarkable visual effects from the many failures before it but also understands what makes a good story, finding a relatively solid balance of genuine thrills alongside witty humour and emotional resonance throughout; a strong lead performance by Hailee Steinfeld also supports the latter merits nicely.

The core friendship between Charlie Watson and Bumblebee is they key focus of the plot, with the plot involving the Decepticons occurring around them but linking in nicely, never feeling awkwardly pushed aside; the film for the most part finds a decent balance for these two central story elements. Perhaps human naivety is a minor narrative flaw once our eventual antagonists arrive; narrow minded government trust toward these arguably terrifying looking invaders is what ultimately influences the chaotic end climax, which may feel a bit contrived and face palm worthy, but not a huge issue when the majority of the story is so enjoyable. Bumblebee himself is just as entertaining as he's always been even in the worst efforts of this series, perhaps more so this time round, cute and amusing as his relationship with Charlie and his understanding of a new world around him develops and prospers; and of course the tougher side to him emerges when the film's exciting set pieces kick in, all of which are superbly staged and once again crafted with gorgeous visual effects. All these merits make Bumblebee a thoroughly enjoyable action flick from start to finish; it's just a shame it took so long for a genuinely good film to emerge from this series.