Monday 28 December 2020

Movie Review - Soul

The latest release of renowned animation studio Pixar has now debuted on streaming service Disney Plus, opening to the usual warm welcome that you'd expect from most of the studio's works. Their newest story sees school music teacher Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) on a bizarre adventure to reunite his astray soul with his body following their separation within the afterlife; it's a plot hard to truly detail without risking an onslaught of spoilers, but what follows from here is a vivid journey of further self discovery for someone who doesn't always appreciate what's around him.

Soul is as beautifully animated as you'd expect any Pixar film to be, boasting rich and realistic detail within its various locales yet maintaining a unique degree of style and charm, particularly during scenes that take place within the afterlife and preexistence settings inhabited by various souls among other fictional beings. It's this art direction that lets the film's aesthetic stand out in its own way without just looking like a visual rehash of previous Pixar works or just other computer animated films in general. Soul also boasts some superb original jazz music composed by Jon Batiste; clearly a lot of effort went into the overall sound design to capture the main vibe of the film's story and setting, with remarkable results.

The opening act of Soul is certainly one to admire, with a charming introduction to our main protagonist, voiced superbly by Jamie Foxx, whose impulsive and somewhat cocky nature is effectively portrayed through a combination of humourous and heartfelt moments in a fairly short period of time. His entry into the realm of souls then of course brings to life the most astounding visuals and degree of originality that the film has to offer, and so it's a great shame from there that things slightly decline within a lengthy middle act of amusing yet somewhat repetitive gags and general silliness, which ends up feeling both somewhat cliché and incongruous. The opening act once again establishes a very promising concept with plenty of room for originality and depth, and while this subsequent middle act certainly isn't bad, it's a tad too long and has too much obsession with trying to make audiences laugh than focusing on the film's core themes in a meaningful way.

Repetitive as some of the humour can be, Soul is still a very funny film for the most part, with amusing dialogue and witty slapstick. It also boasts a beautiful ending, which demonstrates more of Pixar's expert art direction and concludes a story with resounding themes in a very memorable fashion. This is a film that was greeted with universal acclaim by most critics and audiences upon release; although I can certainly see why, I myself just didn't quite feel that same resounding positivity and thought there were many missed opportunities. It obviously matches all the usual merits on Pixar's checklist: gorgeous animation, a superb cast, a strong core story, and very charming humour, but struggles a bit more with a consistent tone. Certainly another good piece of work from Pixar, but not quite on par with their finest films.

Friday 29 May 2020

30 Day Film Challenge - April 2020 - Part 3

Here we have the final post covering the 30 films I watched throughout April as part of the 30 day film challenge.

Part 1 is here, Part 2 here.

#21 - A film that made you doze off
          Django Unchained (2012)

It goes without saying that Quentin Tarantino is widely seen as a filmmaking god; his name alone is a strong enough marketing tool to attract audiences who may not normally be interested in the various genres he explores. Django Unchained currently remains his most successful film yet, and while I can't deny it has plenty of things that deserve praise, be it the strong performances or amusing humour, it's also a film that I find far too long, often boring, and somewhat repetitive when it comes to its many excessively violent set pieces. I'm not as big a fan of Tarantino compared to most, and Django was merely another one his films where I'd be shocked to discover that there's nearly an hour of runtime left when it felt the end was indeed approaching.

#22 - A film that made you angry
          Iron Man 3 (2013)

I was very keen to see Iron Man 3 based on how epic it looked in the trailers, primarily thanks to Ben Kingsley's role of a seemingly intimidating antagonist known as the Mandarin. It was thus a huge shame when a plot twist revealed his true character to be nothing more than a daft actor hired by the film's real villain, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), to misdirect the eponymous hero as part of his evil scheme. This alone greatly annoyed me, but it was even more of a shame to see the majority of the film adopting a fairly silly tone that often exploited a cheesy sense of humour. It's a fine example of deceptive marketing, considering how well the trailers conveyed a sense of urgency and spectacle within the narrative. A great shame.

Spoiler alert.

#23 - A film made by a deceased director
          2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

What a charming condition...

But alas, although 2001: A Space Odyssey received mixed reviews upon its initial release, it is now widely deemed one of late director Stanley Kubrick's best films and one of the most impressive artistic works of the 20th century. Much of the critical praise is aimed at the film's interesting attention to scientific detail, as well as the beautiful imagery within its outer space setting and the remarkable special effects for its time. Perhaps its not always consistently entertaining, in fact it does drag now and then and occasionally feels somewhat unfocused, but overall its an impressive piece of work that certainly had an effective and lasting influence on the science fiction genre.

#24 - A film that you wish you saw in the cinema
          Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000)

I received this film on VHS as a Christmas present in 2000, at first believing it was a recent release that I would be one of the first to watch. Many years onward I of course discovered that it was released in cinemas that summer; it was both an interesting and devastating discovery. While my 25 year old self can't deny that the film is incredibly flawed, with a fairly daft story that fails to do the source material justice, my six year old self still absolutely adored it from start to finish. It would've been great to have seen it all on the big screen, considering I was always one of the biggest Thomas & Friends fanatics.

#25 - A film you like that's not set in the current era
          Gladiator (2000)

Taking place almost 2000 years ago during Ancient Rome, Gladiator features Russell Crowe as a warrior reduced to slavery who seeks to avenge his murdered family, ultimately training as a gladiator to do so. While it's a fairly simple revenge story at first glance, there's still plenty of thoughtful development and political subtext within the narrative as it proceeds; this all helps inject more depth into the setting and characters without creating any needlessly complex plot threads. Such merits are further bolstered by a lineup of superb performances, primarily from Crowe himself, and a number of exciting set pieces that confidently show the true brutality of the Roman era. While its near 3 hour runtime isn't always justified, it's still an entertaining story that provides a rich depiction of a notable part of human history.

#26 - An adaptation that you like
          Life of Pi (2012)

Life of Pi easily remains one of my favourite films in recent times. It's a fine piece of work when looked at from every angle, boasting an inventive story, a remarkable lead performance from Suraj Sharma, and of course some incredible special effects that bring its unique premise to life with flawless results. It comfortably blends adventure, humour, and heartfelt drama, perfectly balancing the overall vibe of the story so as to avoid any abrupt tonal shifts, keeping audiences consistently entertained and intrigued. Many moments left me in awe, with others making me laugh and some almost leaving me in tears. Having never read Yann Martel's original book, I of course can't judge the film's faithfulness, but I'll still always consider it a noble accomplishment regardless.

#27 - A film that is visually striking to you
          Batman Begins (2005)

Christopher Nolan is of course one of the most acclaimed directors in modern times, with his non conventional influence on mainstream Hollywood cinema paving the way for some remarkable works across multiple genres. The renowned Dark Knight trilogy stands tall as one of his finest works in the eyes of many, and while 2008's The Dark Knight is widely considered the very best, my personal favourite would be the title that started it all: Batman Begins. It's a strong and engaging origin story, with a talented cast, some thrilling action sequences, and of course an aesthetic that perfectly crafts a dark universe that's fitting for our titular hero. The dismal depths of Gotham City's slums are an eerie setting to behold; the city stood out nicely as one in a true state of turmoil, burdened by crime and human corruption. Nolan's focus on practical effects over extensive CGI lead to some fantastic results, giving everything a far more natural aesthetic with great attention to detail. A compelling watch, and a visual treat without a doubt.

#28 - A film that made you feel uncomfortable
          The Cat in the Hat (2003)

Films adapted from Dr. Seuss' works are never the most entertaining I feel, and The Cat in the Hat is perhaps the very worst of them all. It's boring and unfunny, but what makes it such an uncomfortable watch is the design of our eponymous mischief maker, played by Mike Myers. It's an unsettling combination of human and feline characteristics, making him downright weird to look at and somewhat freaky when he goes into his more manic phases. Both this and 2000's The Grinch proved beyond all measure that the zany aesthetic of Dr. Seuss' works just doesn't translate well to a live action settingand so it's great to see no more attempts have been made since.

#29 - A film that makes you want to fall in love
          Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Easily one of my favourite Disney films to date, Beauty and the Beast has a romantic relationship between our lead characters so touching and heartfelt that it's incredibly difficult not to be left in a loving mood yourself once it's over. This is a story that's simple enough for younger audiences, yet also one with plenty of depth and fitting character development; one of course can't also dismiss the gorgeously drawn animation and incredible music, be it Alan Menken's top notch score or the remarkable songs performed by a lineup of talented Broadway artists. It's a loving tale that once again ranks as one of Disney's very finest, and certainly their most romantic by a long shot.

#30 - A film with one of your favourite endings
          Super 8 (2011)

Super 8 isn't the most memorable sci-fi film, but it still offers a fairly enticing story with a decent balance of tension and drama, and definitely has an impressive ending to boast about. This ending sees the alien, itself largely unseen throughout the film, forming its spaceship high above the streets, soon leaving Earth to return home as many citizens watch in awe. It's a combination of rich visuals, beautiful cinematography, and strong performances, all of which is then complemented by Michael Giacchino's superb musical score. It's a film I hadn't watched in quite a long time, and although much of it I didn't remember too well, the ending always sticks with me as a beautifully structured and fitting conclusion to the overall story.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday 19 May 2020

30 Day Film Challenge - April 2020 - Part 2

Last week I began my first post regarding the 30 day film challenge I did in April, covering my thoughts on the first 10 films watched. You can find that post here.

Now we continue with the next batch...

#11 - A film you like from your least favourite genre
          The Fly (1986)

Body horror is certainly my least favourite genre within film; frequently gruesome mutations of the body I just don't find overly appealing and so it's not really my thing. Regardless, the 1986 adaptation of The Fly is definitely a compelling watch, balancing drama and frightening horror within a tragic story that offers thought provoking themes and complex character relationships. Jeff Goldblum went on to earn universal acclaim for his compelling lead performance, and deserved it without a doubt. While The Fly is very unsettling and gruesome, its engaging narrative makes it one of the few body horrors I can not only tolerate, but also greatly enjoy.

#12 - A film you hate from your favourite genre
          Eragon (2006)

The Inheritance book series by Christopher Paolini has always received extensive criticism for its derivative nature when it comes to the overall narrative as well as its setting, with The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars often cited as the most obvious sources of Paolini's "inspiration". The film adapted from the first book of course inherits these flaws, before combining them with a number of new ones unique to film; the end result is an uninspired, poorly acted, and dreadfully plotted fantasy flick that's cringeworthy throughout and riddled with tired clichés. Fantasy is one of my favourite genres, with Eragon quite easily being one of the worst films to ever disgrace it.

#13 - A film that put you in deep thoughts
          Harry Brown (2009)

Harry Brown isn't a film for those put off by violence; it hosts plenty of it to the point where it becomes incredibly frightening and extremely graphic (though thankfully not as intense as the most diehard gory horror flicks). This thrilling story of a vigilante pensioner and decorated Royal Marine, portrayed remarkably by Michael Caine, offers a degree of social commentary toward some the darkest elements of corrupt human society, with graphic portrayals of gun crime, sexual abuse, drug dealing, and repeated accounts of murder. Law and order is of course harder to maintain in larger cities like London, and so stories like this do leave that reluctant part of your mind wondering about how many sinister crimes go unnoticed in a city's more secluded areas. Of course such films will overplay these concepts for dramatic appeal, but still, you can't help but ponder over how much of it is indeed relatively accurate. Disturbing...

#14 - A film that gave you depression
          5 Centimeters per Second (2007)

While I don't think any film has truly given me depression, there are always ones you wouldn't want to watch when you're not in the best of moods: 5 Centimeters per Second would fit that criteria for me. Though beautifully drawn and not without its touching moments, the film's efforts to offer complex themes and emotional resonance just too often result in a series of increasingly moody sequences that fail to offer any real enjoyment. This is a story that has a lot of dramatic weight, but also one without any real sense of fun; you can only take so much narrative misery before it becomes more dull and repetitive than engaging and heartfelt.

#15 - A film that makes you feel happy
          Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)

This was another category where countless films were eligible, but Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey has always been one of the highlights within Disney's enormous library for myself. This remake of 1963's The Incredible Journey tells the story of three household pets who become separated from their owners during a move across the United States, and are thus forced to venture out together and safely make their way back home. It's a story both short and sweet yet not without a healthy degree of depth, and so one that can easily be embraced by viewers of all ages. It's funny, charming, and full of heart, and so quite easily fits this criteria.

#16 - A film that is personal to you
          The Pagemaster (1994)

While The Pagemaster is highly flawed, wasting away its decent concept on a formulaic storyline overstuffed with disposable literary references, it's still a film I've always had a soft spot for since childhood. My parents taped it off the TV one night, and soon enough I became incredibly attached to it; my mother has home video recordings of my 3 year old self watching it back in 1997, excitedly yelling "It's Pagemaster!" when asked what it is. It's definitely a weird film, no questions asked; many strange and creepy moments spring up with no real consistency in the story's overall tone, which certainly left my younger self bemused and somewhat freaked out on numerous occasions. Still, when it comes to sheer nostalgia, this a film I happily greet with open arms.

#17 - A bad sequel
          The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea (2000)

Almost all of Disney's direct to video sequels are ideal for a condition like this, let's be honest. The Little Mermaid II, like most of the others, is a weak follow up to an animated classic, recycling many aspects of its predecessor's story and adjusting them ever so slightly to try and make things look original and fresh. It has all the principle Disney sequel flaws: bland animation, forgettable music, and a largely uninspired (and often annoying) cast of characters, be they new or returning from the original. The voice cast perform well enough considering the weak material, particularly Samuel E. Wright as comic relief Sebastian, but overall this is nothing more than disposable kids entertainment.

And the amount of fish puns you will be listening to...good lord. Maddening.

#18 - A film that stars your favourite actor/actress
          Cast Away (2000)

Tom Hanks easily ranks as one of the best actors in history, having flawlessly performed a number of drastically different roles across multiple genres over the years. Cast Away is a film widely acclaimed by many for its unique premise and complex themes, and of course for Hanks' performance, which ultimately earned him a well deserved Oscar nomination. It's largely an engrossing watch, with an interesting exploration of a character's psychological distress as he remains trapped on a lone island, though not quite totally devoid of flaws, with a number of scenes feeling overlong and thus relatively boring. Still, considering that such a concept must've been hard to fully realise, Cast Away still manages to impress in many ways and remains worthy of your time.

#19 - A film made by your favourite director
          E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982)

I'm unsure on my favourite director in all honesty, so I just went with the cliché yet fitting choice of Steven Spielberg, who stands tall as one of the most influential and renowned filmmakers of all time. E.T. then stands tall as one of his most acclaimed films, opening to widespread critical praise and box office success and ultimately becoming one of the most popular films in the industry. A heartfelt story about the friendship between a young boy and an alien stranded on Earth, E.T. deserves praise for many things, from its impressive visual effects to the outstanding lead performances from a talented young cast. Its more sentimental moments may feel a bit cheesy to some, but it's still a story that'll tug on the heartstrings and leave viewers in awe during its more dramatic and visually refined moments.

#20 - A film that changed your life
          Johnny English Reborn (2011)

A strange choice, I know. I'll just keep it brief: Johnny English Reborn was the first film I saw in the cinema with my current girlfriend. At the time we'd been dating for around 2 weeks, and now of course are approaching nine years. We then kissed for the very first time when outside the cinema afterward; thus the day I saw this film remains a huge moment of my life, bringing back many heartfelt memories. Despite this, when looking at the film itself, it really isn't much more than a predictable and repetitive comedy flick with little creativity. Ah well.

Sappy I know. Part 3 with the final 10 films will be coming soon.

Thanks for reading!

Monday 11 May 2020

30 Day Film Challenge - April 2020 - Part 1

Many people are finding all sorts of things to help pass the time in this ongoing state of lockdown; one such example I stumbled across was the 30 day movie challenge. Across a period of, funnily enough, 30 days, one must watch a film each day that conforms to a series of conditions.

I had a go with it throughout April, and in these upcoming posts will provide my opinion on all the films watched. It's been ages since I've posted something here so let's get on with it...

#1 - A film you loved as a kid, but not as an adult
        Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999)

The Star Wars prequels were met with very mixed feedback amongst most audiences, diehard fans or not. It was noble of George Lucas to try and establish further backstory for many of the original trilogy's key characters but in the end his storytelling largely relied on tired clichés that failed to offer any interesting surprises. The Phantom Menace kickstarts the trilogy with some exciting set pieces, but this isn't enough to combat many of its biggest flaws, be it the dull and predictable story, the bloated run time, or the hideous abomination that is Jar Jar Binks. I was fond of this sort of stuff as a kid, like many others my age; epic sci-fi action with aliens and cool laser sword fights was always great fun. But alas, many years later, my adult self is simply left more bored than entertained.

#2 - A title that begins with the first letter of your name
        Aquaman (2018)

I couldn't think of many films beginning with A that I hadn't watched recently, so I went with the only major success within DC's shared universe thus far. Aquaman's global earnings of over $1 billion show that audiences were truly won over from the beginning, and while it wins points for its visual effects and some impressive set pieces, I otherwise found it to be a fairly generic, dramatically uneven, and overlong action flick that doesn't offer anything truly memorable by the time the end credits roll. The production design clearly had a lot of effort put into it, and while it's nice to see it not adopting an unnecessarily dark and moody atmosphere, it's also hard to deny that some of the comic book aesthetics just don't always blend in with the live action environment; I know Black Manta's design mirrors his original one from the comics, but he still looks absolutely ridiculous, as just one example. A decent film overall, but nothing truly spectacular.

#3 - A title with 5 or more words
        Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007)

Though I still have a lot of appreciation for the first three films of the Pirates of the Caribbean series, I can't really defend many of their biggest flaws. At World's End offers a storyline with a surprising amount of dramatic depth, but sadly this dramatic depth is joined by some major plot contrivances and an excessive usage of retroactive continuity. Johnny Depp's iconic role as Jack Sparrow is once again the source of many of the film's best jokes, but the script doesn't always know when to cut back on the silliness; many scenes that demand a more serious tone aren't always gifted with it. The film's top notch cast largely deliver without fault, and it's fair to say that the visuals bringing the various settings and characters to life are just as refined as one would expect. While it may be burdened by its tonal shifts and bloated length, I still think At World's End offers a decent level of entertainment.

#4 - A title that includes a number
        Back to the Future Part II (1989)

The first Back to the Future film is widely considered flawless for all the right reasons: it's inventive, engaging, and was brought to life with some remarkable visual effects for its time. Sequels were always welcome, but their efforts to replicate the original's formula were significantly less memorable. Part II certainly has a good concept, but the central storyline just becomes too convoluted the more it goes on, with its attempts to be clever and complex often resulting in unwanted confusion. It's a film that still boasts plenty of charm, largely thanks to our leading stars Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd once again, but the narrative simply feels too overstuffed to be consistently engaging. A good film, but one that doesn't quite live up the high standards set by its predecessor.

#5 - A film featuring a character with a job you want
        The Disaster Artist (2017)

I was unsure over what I wanted to do with my life for a long time. One of my first ambitions was simply to be a train driver, but only because I had an obsession with Thomas & Friends and railway modelling as a kid; interests bestowed onto me by my late grandfather. It was in 2010 that I settled more on becoming a film editor, having made all sorts of small videos about my model railway, as well as many video game reviews for my YouTube account at the time. Now I'd love to be able to make my own films in the industry, or at least work professionally editing others. 

But I wouldn't quite like to end up in the same shoes as Tommy Wiseau. The Disaster Artist depicts the bizarre filmmaker's production of his independent dramatic feature The Room, adapting its story from Greg Sestero's memoir regarding the film's production. James Franco performs the main role of Wiseau himself, and does an excellent job throughout a compelling and engaging narrative; the end result is an infectious blend of comedy and drama, and an insightful look into how a terrible yet hysterical cult classic came to be.

#6 - The worst animated film you've ever seen
        Titanic: The Legend Goes On (2000)

Most people who haven't heard of this film are never quite sure if I'm joking or not when I mention it to them, though its reputation precedes it for many others. An animated take on the story of the RMS Titanic originating from both Spain and Italy, this is a film with no redeeming factors whatsoever, and one that will just leave you shocked and confused for so many reasons. The animation is lazy and ugly, and subsequently joined by atrocious voice acting, horrendous storytelling, and countless moments of bad taste that completely mock what was a huge tragedy in human history. From a rapping dog to stereotypical Mexican mice, it's something that tries to turn a dark and sensitive premise into a cute story for the whole family to enjoy, with utterly dreadful and disgraceful results. Stay away.

Also stay away from the other one...yeah, there's another animated Titanic film. Do not watch either of these abominations.

#7 - A film you'll never get tired of
        The Lion King (1994)

There were multiple films I watched for this condition, but my favourite film of all time is obviously going to be the top choice. For me, The Lion King succeeds in every aspect, with gorgeous animation, incredible music, and an engrossing yet approachable storyline with plenty of memorable characters, themselves brought to life by the efforts of a fantastic cast. I've rambled on in many other blog posts (and in countless tweets) over why I love it all to pieces, and although I may be a bit tired of doing that, I'll certainly never get tired of watching this.

#8 - The soundtrack is better than the film
        The Lorax (2012)

The only good film I feel Illumination have made thus far is the original Despicable Me; it's flawed, but still very entertaining and surprisingly heartfelt. The rest of their works leave much to be desired, and The Lorax is a prime example. A pop culture craving twist on Dahl's classic story, The Lorax repeatedly milks a disposable, generic sense of humour to the point where it just feels like a parody of the original tale rather than a direct adaptation, and so ranks as little more than forgettable entertainment for the very young.

But with that said, the film's musical aspects were handled quite well, and so the soundtrack has a decent lineup of catchy songs on offer. How Bad Can I Be? by Ed Helms and the concluding ensemble Let It Grow were my favourites; in the end, the music was the only thing I actually wanted to remember when leaving the cinema.

#9 - A film you dislike that everyone loves
        Captain America: Civil War (2016)

With over $1 billion earned at the box office as well as universal acclaim from critics and audiences alike, Captain America: Civil War is one of those films that you can't dislike without potentially triggering a war of any sort amongst the most diehard fans. Its bold exploration of some complex political themes is impressive for a superhero film, but with that aside, I just wasn't consistently impressed with how it handled its premise as a whole. The oversized ensemble cast with numerous other heroes awkwardly shoved into the story lead to an occasionally messy plot and pace, with Spider-Man's inclusion during the end climax being the best example. His integration is incredibly forced and desperate, and in the end Civil War just too often felt like an excuse to show off all these badass heroes within the franchise instead of offering an engaging update on a classic comic book story. It's not terrible, but just often boring, and so I didn't conform to the consensus of it being one of the MCU's finest.

Have mercy.

#10 - Your favourite superhero film
          Iron Man (2008)

Iron Man I knew very little about as a kid compared to the likes of Spider-Man or Batman, but his feature film debut remains a favourite of mine for countless reasons: superb performances, incredible visuals, and a strong, character driven origin story that doesn't solely rely on action to keep audiences hooked. The focus is just as much on the principle narrative and its characters as it is on the lineup of set pieces with our leading hero, all of which are brilliantly crafted with some remarkable visual effects. The end result is an entertaining film deftly balancing humour, drama, and fast paced thrills, and it still remains my favourite installment of the MCU.

Part two of this post, featuring films 11 to 20, will be coming soon. Stay safe all of you.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday 26 February 2020

Movie Review - Sonic the Hedgehog

Video games and movies don't often go hand in hand, history has taught us well. Indeed, some of the biggest embarrassments to blemish cinema have been influenced by even the best video game franchises, ranging from Super Mario Bros. to Street Fighter to Assassin's Creed. However, following a surprising amount of studio acknowledgement toward initial fan backlash, this year's Sonic the Hedgehog has thankfully evaded the same tragic fate; the end result is a film that can offer enjoyment to those even outside of the key demographic.

Our eponymous blue bur, voiced by Ben Schwartz, finds himself stranded on Earth after fleeing from those who seek to harness his supersonic powers back on his distant homeworld. Hiding away for many years, Sonic is eventually discovered by police officer Tom Wachowski (James Marsden), who reluctantly aids him on a quest to escape the clutches of sinister roboticist Ivo Robotnik (Jim Carrey) and hopefully find a new homeworld along the way.

Sonic the Hedgehog is a film that follows a typical buddy comedy formula; two key characters go on a lengthy adventure, their own friendship evolving as they learn countless new lessons and provide an array of hit or miss humour along the way. The common clichés and corny morals are visible from the get-go, but there's still a decent structure here to make for some consistent entertainment. Ben Schwartz delivers a charming and funny vocal performance as Sonic himself, whose personality is relatively faithful to the one we've come to know over the years. His colourful, cartoony appearance can inadvertently look awkward alongside the realistic world around him, but some impressive special effects still make it work in the long run. As almost everyone will say, the studio's revised design for our leading hero is miles superior to the hideous disgrace seen from early trailers.

The many human characters surrounding Sonic are likeable, but for the most part lack any real depth. James Marsden's performance as Tom is appealing, and while he's definitely the source of some great humour, his overall character arc is thin and predictable; of course, Jim Carrey as Robotnik is the character that will easily grab the attention of most audiences. Funny and suitably sinister, if still a bit bland, Robotnik is arguably one the film's most entertaining aspects, often surpassing Sonic himself. His integration into the story is somewhat forced and a tad bizarre, but the film's zany premise as a whole prevents this from becoming a major distraction. What we have here is a formulaic story that younger audiences and the most dedicated Sonic fans will embrace the most, but one that again has the potential to offer harmless and enjoyable family fun for those not amongst the franchises diehards.

Tuesday 4 February 2020

Movie Review - The Lighthouse

Back in the late 19th century, two men find themselves stranded on a remote island, left forced to dwell within their lighthouse workplace when a vicious storm soon prevents them from returning home. Experienced elderly sailor Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) is accompanied by lightkeeper for hire Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson); dwelling in the lighthouse with naught but their own unwanted company slowly takes its toll, deteriorating them within as time progresses.

The first thing to notice in The Lighthouse is of course its unique cinematography. This film adopts a black and white colour palette with some high contrast ratios, coupled with a 4:3 aspect ratio, which all conveys a traditional feel that fits snuggly with the film's remote, claustrophobic setting and way back when time period. It may not win over the more casual cinemagoers, but it's still a unique and effective appearance that once again works with the film's premise, as well as its eerie atmosphere on numerous occasions. However, such eerie moments and visual charm don't always fight off the story's tonal inconsistencies, which even some of the more positive reviews seemed to have highlighted. Some consider it more of a dark comedy, despite its official branding as a psychological horror; it's not always sure what conventions to adopt and so perhaps its scarier moments aren't always as effective.

Of course another source of extensive praise are the leading performances from both Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, and such praise is definitely warranted. When it comes to their actual characters, they don't always have the most interesting chemistry; it's quite repetitive with their non stop bickering and sporadic drunken antics, but this certainly doesn't change the fact that both actors gave it their all from start to finish. Dafoe's performance is both witty and amusing, though also the source of some intimidating behaviour that the audience can feel just as much as Pattinson's character can. Less is more when it comes to Pattinson himself, and while his largely reserved performance may not always be the most compelling, he still does a good job of portraying his character's vulnerability and bottled frustration, which takes a darker turn as things progress.

But The Lighthouse has one major flaw that overwhelms many of its best merits: it's just boring. Clearly most people don't agree considering the universal acclaim it has earned, but this near two hour tale has a sluggish pace and many repetitive scenarios that fail to add any serious drama. Perhaps things do admittedly liven up as we approach the more climactic moments, but you may just find yourself waiting impatiently for such scenarios rather than remaining compelled by all that occurs beforehand. Dafoe and Pattinson's refined performances help to bring more life to their characters, but their actual development within the script is relatively bland. They argue and drink many times, to the point where it can feel like you're watching the same scenes over and over, albeit with slightly different settings and dialogue. It's a sizeable downside that makes many scenes relatively dull, and while the film as a whole once again wins marks for its artistic appeal, it sadly doesn't offer a huge amount of genuine entertainment.

Thursday 30 January 2020

Movie Review - 1917

The war genre is a difficult one. Some films adopt sincere approach to capture the horrific nature of it all, as was the case with the forever renowned Saving Private Ryan, whilst others perhaps milk the explosive potential to cater to action enthusiasts; products such as Pearl Harbour spring to mind. That said, Inglorious Basterds is an example of bringing comedy into the mix with admittedly successful results, crude as it may still seem to many. At the end of the day, such a sensitive subject means films within the genre may often be seen in an overly positive limelight; thankfully, this year's 1917 is a film that certainly deserves it.

1917 brings us into World War I, focusing on Lance Corporal soldiers William Schofield (George McKay) and Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman). Both find themselves tasked with delivering a crucial message to their fellow allies to call off an attack against the German army; an attack that would lead to the unnecessary deaths of countless soldiers and merely benefit the enemy in the long run.

Writer/director Sam Mendes' latest project is refined in many ways, be it the range of masterful performances or superb production design that aids in capturing the truly hideous nature of warfare as a whole. Leading actors George McKay and Dean-Charles Chapman deliver superb performances that depict their confidence yet clear vulnerability as they journey across no man's land and beyond. Many exciting set pieces are fluently integrated into the mix; ones that know when enough is enough, thus never detracting from the film's overall sense of tension and so never allowing things to steer down the route of a cliché action flick. It's something that keeps audiences thrilled whilst also portraying this grim stage of human history in suitable manner.

One notable aspect of 1917 when it comes to visuals is a refined style of cinematography from the likes of Roger Deakins, utilising a series of long takes blended together with seamless editing from the likes of Lee Smith to create an effective depiction of a single shot from start to finish, the camera following the soldiers throughout their lengthy journey. Usage of such a technique deserves further praise considering the locations these characters venture through, from confined trenches, to the eerie expanses of no man's land, to abandoned ruins surrounded by raging flames. It's not without some inevitable flaws, including a few overlong moments where characters simply wander to the next major scene, almost like a loading screen in disguise, but for the most part it's an effective and superbly executed piece of filmmaking.

One mustn't forget the fine lineup of supporting talent, featuring Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Mark Strong, all of whom perform their minor yet still meaningful roles with as much skill as you'd expect; though in the end, it's of course McKay and Chapman who truly steal the show. Such a polished cast ultimately find themselves within a heartfelt script with beautifully tender moments and a similar dose of surprisingly witty and crude humour, the latter of which actually fits nicely with the nature of the characters and never becomes too excessive. 1917 certainly ends up deserving its handsome array of award nominations, standing as a strong and thoughtful addition to a complex film genre.