Coco (2018)

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Bursting with music and magic; Pixar are back with a triumph of animated art and festival folklore that is smart, spirited and pure pleasure.

Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) has grown up in a family solely (pun intended) focused on making shoes. Frustratingly for him, his passion is with music but that is extremely frowned upon by those around him. On Dia de Muertos also known as The Day of the Dead, Miguel races to his idol’s resting place. Inside de la Cruz’s (Benjamin Bratt) mausoleum the young hopeful musician takes a guitar and finds himself on the other side with the throngs of the dead travelling back to see their families.

The huge Mexican holiday is brought to vivid and stunning life in this colourful and utterly beautiful animation. Pixar have always been a studio that I’ve loved following and after a large dip in quality and tired couple of years with sequels, it’s fantastic to see them release something original and back to the heights they’ve hit with films such as ‘Toy Story 3’ and ‘Wall-E’.

The team of animators deserve infinity applause because how they’ve taken storyboards to the finished product is breathtaking. The detail in not just the characters faces but in the plentiful lush backgrounds of the scenes; especially in the Land of the Dead are exceptional. There is such intense colour and warmth festive culture to be felt bursting from the screen. The Day of the Dead is a rich fruit ripe for the picking and after the musical and underrated ‘The Book of Life’, Pixar have also struck gold in finding a poignant and expressive coming of age story within this vibrant Mexican holiday.

‘Remember Me’ is the anthem of this film and it finds itself sung a few times and each one is presented differently in light of the tone within that current scene. It’s no surprise it has been collecting nominations during awards season as one version of this track; coming quite close to the end of the movie, is tear-jerking and filled with heart and soul that gladly made me forget the simplistic Disney-fied outings of ‘The Good Dinosaur’ or ‘Finding Dory’. Throughout this animated fantasy adventure; the music hits toe-tapping heights and soars through the narrative like another character.

What I enjoy most about this film, is that it doesn’t dumb down to it’s younger audience goers, it portrays a gloriously moving and celebratory tradition with thought provoking effect in such a way that children and families can all enjoy and understand the world presented to them. The emotional idea of being forgotten is such a powerful message and directed by Lee Unkrich and written by Matthew Aldrich & Adrian Molina, this strong core is never mishandled.

The great days of Pixar are here again and fingers crossed they remain, because this is a colourful and joyful movie that made me hope, dream, laugh and cry. There may be some predictable moments the story goes to but it doesn’t take away from how thoroughly engaging and spectacular this film is.

8.5/10

 

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Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

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Here come the drums! Here come the drums! 22 years after the original; and a childhood favourite of mine, this sequel comes stampeding into cinemas and I was more than a little apprehensive but happily I came out the other side with a smile on my face as this jungle set action adventure is a great entertaining ride.

Whilst stuck in detention doing the most mundane task of removing staples, nerdy Spencer, social media obsessed Bethany, studious, shy Martha and football hero Fridge come across a retro games console with a Jumanji cartridge inside. Before they know it the four of them are sucked into the game and a dangerous jungle environment where they have to save the place as their pre-selected video game avatars.

Jake Kasdan directs this romp with a clear wink and nudge to the fun of the 1995 flick. The story isn’t exactly ingenious and the plot does trod along a checkpoint of expected moments but this simplicity is what keeps the movie soaring along at enjoyable breakneck speed and Kasdan realises the selling factor of his film is within his wonderful cast. Therefore he utilises on their oddball comradery and twists what could have been a run of the mill family action tale into a comedic one.

There are some nasty looking uses of CGI in places but maybe it’s some grand plan to hark back to that clunky charm of the original film. The villain isn’t exactly someone you ever fear and their story is bland and the grand climax of everything they have raced across the jungle for isn’t exactly as exciting as you’d hope, but it’s the four heroes of the narrative that drive the movie and they bring enough humour and heart to push the few negatives into your peripherals. Oh and a couple of teeny nods to the original are well placed too.

I wasn’t expecting to grin like a buffoon and in fact laugh so much, but I did. This is a film that is playful in its tone and keeps up that light-hearted manner with the idea of these teens trapped in older more restricted video game character moulds of strength and weaknesses. The weakness of Fridge aka Moose Finbar is a particular outlandish but hilarious highlight. Also the teachings of urinating standing up and sexy dance fighting become genuinely funny sequences.

Dwayne Johnson as the epically titled Dr. Smolder Bravestone is the same old pumped up cool presence he’s come to play in literally every other movie but he gets to play around a touch with the fear of his nerdy self inside. Jack Black steals the show, strutting around like the Insta-model girl he still feels he is. The pep talk he gives at one point is excellent and his role is also. Karen Gillan is kick-ass playing fighting expert Ruby Roundhouse, she sells the dominant action style and her charm fills the screen when trying to be more confident as the nervous Martha. Kevin Hart is zany and full of energy as the backpack wielding zoologist Finbar, he riffs off almost everyone with believable ease.

The jungle is a crazy, fun place to explore and as an audience there’s plenty of joy to be had in sitting back and watching the charm of the foursome do their thing. Sure it’s nothing special but it’s a damn good way guilty pleasure to end the year on.

7.5/10

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

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Number 17 in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and after two vaguely entertaining but wildly average Thor outings, I wasn’t entirely driven to see this third Asgardian centred feature but upon seeing the trailer and learning of Taika Waititi’s involvement I swiftly changed my mind.

With this comic book movie, we find Thor (Chris Hemsworth) unsuccessful in his Infinity Stones quest and he returns to Asgard. Unluckily for him and the planets’ people, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) reveals that a power seeking goddess of death named Hela (Cate Blanchett) will arrive imminently to take over the throne of Asgard. Thor needs to stop her but first has to overcome imprisonment on a trash filled planet where green Avenger Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) now thrives.

The tone of this ‘Thor’ adventure is vastly different to the previous two, at times his riffing and the comedic style feels misplaced because the muscled God isn’t someone we’ve been used to seeing cracking wise. Yet the film overcomes this and becomes the funniest Marvel flick behind ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1’. By now, I and I’d imagine plenty of others are growing tired of that MCU one liner shtick but ‘Thor 3’ is more than this, the humour is dry and unexpected.

Having Kiwi born Waititi on board was a stroke of genius. I love love both ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ and ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ and that zany kind of style/comedy is evident once more. He also almost steals the show voicing a silicon/rock based creature called Korg. The dialogue he comes out with are brilliant. Waititi doesn’t just focus on making this film a fun fest though, in fact it comes with the usual CGI action but some dark moments too.

These darker notes are in the threat of the pristine marvellous Asgard, deaths of some characters and the possibility of a super powerful thunder god failing. They do just enough to balance out the wacky flavour running throughout; what with Jeff Goldblum’s stellar campy Grandmaster, the work-mate jokes of Hulk and Thor and the Loki/Thor relationship too.

Hela as a character may be one of the strongest villains yet, which is something the Marvel franchise have struggled to get right for pretty much every film. She’s powerful, dynamic and has a root to the Asgardian lore that gives her character motive enough to buy into her evil fuelled plans. In an almost Guardians way, this bright space set movie has plenty of out there characters and they team up to create a cosmic delight.

Musically speaking, this score screams of synth and ‘Stranger Things’ like sounds. It once again makes the whole space set vibe feel more prominent. On top of this there’s a fantastic use of a Led Zeppelin song that punches through the speakers with awesome power, accompanied by stunning slow motion visuals and graphic novel looking battle poses.

Chris Hemsworth is on point, adding more to his mythological based hero in the way of great comedy timing and yes he can still wield a hammer like a pro and punch monstrous swarms like the best of ’em. Tom Hiddleston inhabits the sneaky mischief maker like only he can once again, though I still feel like I’d rather he take a back seat in the Thor films. Cate Blanchett is a dominant presence, her spiky headdress accentuating her sharp features and cold stares. Karl Urban plays Skurge and gets some funny moments early on, but he has a path to go on and Urban portrays this journey well. Tessa Thompson is bad ass and holds her own against the might of Thor. She’s someone I look forward to seeing again in the MCU. Oh yeah, enjoy some sweet cameos in a Shakespearean-esque play on Asgard!

This stunningly out there film may not completely break the mould or formula for the Marvel world but it’s damn good fun, damn entertaining and packed with visual flair, comedic gold and enough action adventure to be a feast for the eyes.

8/10

2016 Top Ten

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‘We are Number One.’…and two, three and four, five and so on. It’s belated but I’ve finally found time to notch up my favourite 10 movies from last year. Surprisingly this was easier because there weren’t too many great films released in 2016! You could say most were Rotten! Ahaha…moving quickly on then to number 10….

…but quickly before that, here’s a few films that almost made the grade…The Neon Demon, Deadpool, The Witch, Moana, The Invitation, Captain America: Civil War, Eddie the Eagle, Midnight Special, The Girl with all the Gifts, The Danish Girl, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping then The Little Prince and Hush would have been on the list but didn’t gain theatrical releases so sadly, I didn’t include them.

So, in at ten –

10) GREEN ROOM…AND NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

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Enter the Green Room, a nightmarish small space in a neo-Nazi skinhead filled club. This movie brilliantly delivers on unsettling tension and dark turns as a band are menaced and killed. Full Review. Similarly, Tom Ford’s stylish Nocturnal Animals gives tension to the nth degree, the gritty story-within-a-story standing out as the best thing.

9) THE JUNGLE BOOK

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I don’t dislike the original Walt cartoon from yesteryear, but The Jungle Book isn’t my go to animation from them…so I was pleasantly surprised by this movie which looks incredible, the CGI landscape and animals are epic, Sethi as Mowgli blends into the darkly presented story very well and it zips along nicely as a well modernised tale. You wanna read my review-oo-oo? I know you do-oo-oo. Jungle Book

8) ARRIVAL

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Clever, gorgeous, intellectual, timey-wimey, language and love co-exist but with aliens. The story is always engaging, Adams’ performance is natural and affecting in her story that just happens to feature hovering space crafts and circular lingo. Arrive at my review.

7) ZOOTROPOLIS

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Fun but also incredibly on point about the very real politics of stero-typing and racial prejudice, this fluffy family flick is more in depth and smartly told than you’d think. Don’t be a sloth, quickly click on my review for Zootropolis.

6) 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

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Dropped on us from nowhere, the Cloverfield world is expanded with this shift of genre as we get a claustrophobic thriller centered on relationships, mystery and danger instead of the found footage device. It was such a surprise and a fantastic film to boot. Tension kicks into overdrive, music is used so well and Goodman is a scary monster. Cloverfield

5) KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS

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Laika have done it again by golly! This is such a rich and awesome stop-motion fantasy that goes over some very interesting and cultural textures whilst still featuring the humour and charm you’d expect. I want to see it again to just admire the work put into making this beautiful film. Kubo.

4) VICTORIA

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I am so so…so glad that I got to see this film. It isn’t just the sheer marvelling feature of shooting the entire movie in one-take but the performances are fascinating and believable, the story is engaging and you connect to the world as Victoria becomes involved more and more.

Well….we’ve reached the golden trio, the three musketeers, the tricycle of brilliance from last year. What’s in at number 3 then??

 

3) SING STREET

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Ah, what a charming and musically gorgeous film. The coming of age story is fun in itself but added with 80’s nostalgia, humour and songs, Sing Street becomes a movie to feel happy watching. I re-watched it recently and still found myself adoring every moment.

2) HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE

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Ricky Baker. Ricky Baker. A hero for the ages. This is a gem of a film with bittersweet moments, heartfelt tenderness, sharp comedy, coming of age and bonding adventures, randomness, lush locations and the ever reliable brilliance of Taika Waititi behind it all. Hunt the Wilderpeople down now…it’s so worth it if you haven’t seen it.

It’s here, Bully’s special prize. Iiiiiiin 1 –

 

 

1) THE HATEFUL EIGHT

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It had to be, as a Tarantino fan there was almost no question that this movie would hit the heights but it’d still have to be a good film and gladly it is. Three acts that all soar with incredible cinematic talent both behind and in front of the camera. Morricone on board for the score ensures the sound is perfect. Seeing it in 70mm also helped elevate the special sweeping look of this western blood soaked Quentin extravaganza. Dialogue, violence, humour and details are as crisp as ever and I loved every second. 8

Til next year…maybe…let’s see what 2017 has to give us hey?!

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

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Laugh inducing and off-beat, this adventure comedy from the zany mind behind the similarly brilliant ‘What We Do in the Shadows’, is a brilliant film with great performances and a welcome tone of heart and an affecting pairing charging the story forwards.

Young trouble-maker Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison) is offloaded to a couple out in the New Zealand bush. Not wanting to risk heading back into the arms of Child Protection he makes a break for it but ends up lost in the forests. He’s soon found by ‘uncle’ Hector (Sam Neill) and the pair of them have to stick together as the media begins hunting them in belief Hec has kidnapped the boy.

It’s an amazingly funny movie, if you’re not laughing you’re easily grinning from ear to ear at the splendid antics going on in front of you. It helps that the Kiwi accent adds a hilarious tone to the words being spoken, but of course it’s the script that ensures we get to watch an excellently paced movie with plenty of comical dialogue, farce and buddy-like adventure hyped up like a live-action ‘Up’.

Taika Waititi writes and directs this film with a great eye on the details of making the dynamics between Hec and Ricky an engaging thing to see play out. The lush greenery of the landscape they inhabit for the majority of the feature is both stunning yet it can also be alarming, as seen in the couple of well added moments of danger. Yet the way Waititi writes, with Ricky in particular, helps the movie bound along with an effortless energy and humour. Waititi also acts brilliantly in a small yet superb role as a confectionery jabbering minister.

It’s a blessing that you never really know where this film is going, or where it may end up. This unpredictably of circumstance and action helps keep the movie interesting. The film is made up of ten chapters and each one zips along nicely with the always guaranteed comedy but with the thankful addition of building the dramatic bond between the lad and his new uncle father figure. You really feel these two characters grow, change and learn and that’s a sign of a very well told story.

Sam Neill is so great in this, the gruff and bearded exterior is well performed as he demonstrates what a knack he has for the great outdoors but he gets to show a softer side, what with his relationship with the kid and his weakening side of being unable to read. Julian Dennison easily steals the show, his facial reactions in every scene are priceless and he walks with such a wannabe gangster swag that his character feels very much authentic. Rhys Darby shows off mega crazy very well as he dons a bush suit and conspiracy theories spew from his character. Rachel House deserves a mention too for her dead-pan serious portrayal of the stern Child Protection lady Paula, notably when appearing on a NZ morning TV show.

The truth of life and the way the world works for people and espicially this child Ricky is done extremely well. The mixture of cracking comedy, investing emotion and charming wackiness makes for a wonderful thing.

8/10

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

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Stop-motion. I just adore it, the way it looks, moves and tells a story is fascinating and a story such as this rich and mythical tale is enhanced even further thanks to the brilliant Laika Studios.

With an eye for telling stories, Kubo (Art Parkinson) is sure to adhere to his mother’s guidance of being home before dark. This is because his mum’s sisters (Rooney Mara) are out to steal an organ from him and stop his quest for 3 important pieces of armour. Kubo must keep going with the protective Monkey (Charlize Theron) and the excitable warrior Beetle (Matthew McConaughey).

Marc Haimes and Chris Butler have woven such a fantastic screenplay from the magical and Eastern flavoured story by Haimes himself with Shannon Tindle. Together, they ensure what we get is a brave and fully engaging adventure to follow. The narrative is driven beautifully and is heavily shaded with moments of sadness and a deepness into beliefs, memories and hope.

Laika, as they’ve proven with their other 3 releases, are leading the way for stop-motion features. This is no exception, the more papery filled imagery giving a great texture to the scenes as origami creations come to life, a fluffy monkey runs through the landscapes and twisted, evil witch-like sisters float like angelic harpies. Everything looks incredible and the little moments where items or faces flicker give it that truly lovely stop-motion effect that I marvel at.

It must be mentioned also, that the fight sequences in this movie are spectacular and knowing that it’s done in stop-motion is just a feat to behold. The effortless movements and the quickness involved between characters as the battles take place easily rivals and overtakes live action fight scenes. In contrast to the snappier points, the softer scenes have a melancholic aspect about them as we feel the weight of Kubo’s quest on his shoulders.

What I enjoyed most was the clever story-telling, it’d be easy to call them twists because things come to light but in a way they’re not exactly shocking. I’d use the word revelations instead, because as the plot progresses we learn more, whether it’s about characters or the object of Kubo’s adventure being the armour he needs to find. Everything all neatly fits together to make a smart and well thought through film about big topics like kindness, family and humanity.

Art Parkinson gives Kubo a bouncing enthusiasm, no more felt than we he delivers his stories to the villagers, but he makes sure that his protagonist is three dimensional and makes Kubo brave, vulnerable and believable. Charlize Theron is great as the guardian monkey, getting time to shine as she delivers truths and guides our hero along the way. Matthew McConaughey sort of sounds like George Clooney but with his recognisable drawl that is lifted with excitable glee as he brings life to a strange human/beetle hybrid.

With the way that Laika are going, they are giving Pixar and Disney a run for their money with inventive stories and stunning animation. ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ is a huge delight with a dazzling rich tapestry of narrative and visuals.

8/10

Turbo Kid (2015)

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As if ‘Mad Max’ has electrically melded with ‘Kung Fury’, this apocalyptic adventure flick is a gloriously fun watch. The story is engaging, the comedy works and the action is smart and the right amount of bloody.

Set in a dystopian 1997, where water is difficult to come by lives comic book fan The Kid (Munro Chambers) who ends up getting accompanied by chatty Apple (Laurence Leboeuf). At a pool party event, they stir up the wrath of overlord Zeus (Michael Ironside) who wants them found and killed.

The whole look of this film is brilliant, the scrapheap chic works very well for the whole dystopian vibe, flashes of colour from The Kid’s Turbo Rider discovery to Apple’s entire get up help make the movie exciting and set it apart from just another dirty, sandy wasteland. On top of this you get the joy of bike riding, which becomes the go to mode of transport in dangerous chases yet somehow still fun as if watching a crazier E.T.

Jean-Philippe Bernier and Jean-Nicolas Leupi bring this movie some spectacular music. A very expected but hugely welcome and perfect 80’s reel of tracks come with the scenes and lift the action even higher. The writing is sharp and ideas are neatly executed, ensuring we keep interest and laugh at the right moments, for example a man preparing to fight and tripping into his own weapon.

Death wise, this film is worth the watch alone, just to see all the ways guards and bikers are offed by the main characters. Guts, skulls and bodies are mowed down with gleeful abandon in such a way that it never feels sick or overly gory but fun and silly. I admit for a portion of the feature I found the character Apple annoying and hard to keep on side with but as her story develops it’s cleared up and I was happier.

It’s a movie that carries you along on a effective nostalgia trip, there’s nice effects, a simple but well told story and the always reliable synth to provide a great soundtrack. A huge smile was left on my face and I’d watch it again right now.

7.5/10