Isle of Dogs (2018)

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4 years after the sublime, (and one of my favourite movies) ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, director Wes Anderson returns with a wonderfully told stop-motion tale, centred around one boy and many dogs.

In a dystopian Japan, where all pooches have been exiled to an island away from Megasaki City, because of an outbreak of dog flu, is where we follow runaway boy and makeshift pilot Atari (Koyu Rankin). He crash lands on the Isle of Dogs, hoping to find his lost dog Spots (Liev Schreiber) and is helped by a pack of five, though one named Chief (Bryan Cranston) really doesn’t want to aid the quest.

Coming back to the amazing world of stop-motion, after his 2009 foray with ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ is the man who hands such detail and a clear stamp of identity to his work. Wes Anderson utilises the craftsmanship of this art form to great effect, in a way that never distracts from the wit and gorgeousness of the storytelling. Split up into numbered parts, this movie owes a lot to rich Japanese culture and director of ‘Seven Samurai’. The dystopian world and the adventure story of finding a dog is well realised and easy to follow for all.

There is so much incredible detail, even in the backgrounds, where so many must have tirelessly put great time and effort in ensuring all parts of the frame are filled with loving attention. Trash Island is literally littered with stunning scenery of coloured bottles, rubbish, an abandoned athletics centre and amusement park all gift the visuals, a grimy yet playful stroke. The dogs themselves shuffle along and move with the lovely manoeuvring as we see the stop-motion in effect. This feature film is further proof of my love for stop-motion as a beautiful means of telling stories, deserving of acclaim creating these textual landscapes and characters.

It can’t be a film solely judged on the means of how the visuals are presented though, story is of course a massive factor and though it’s fun, interesting in many points and screams Anderson, it isn’t an out and out success for me. There isn’t the same charm resonating in this, that can be found in ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ or ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’. The grounded, dirty look thanks to the Island is somewhat cold and therefore leaves the story feeling vaguely dark and cold, I’d expect it to be uninviting for young children hoping to watch something parading cutesy dogs but I’d be lying if I said this film wasn’t mostly delightful to watch.

I wouldn’t be as harsh to say it was boring, but I did become disinterested in the middle of the narrative, Part 3 – The Rendezvous felt like a weak point and was a blip in the movie where I slightly switched off; thinking the plot was dragging but aside from that, this is a fully realised, smart and witty story thanks to the quirky genius of Anderson and fellow story gurus; Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura.

Cranston is ruff, sorry roughly irritable and brilliant as the naysayer and distant mangy mutt, hoping to eat scraps and have nothing to do with the little boy pilot. Jeff Goldblum wonderfully spiels off rumours his dog persona of Duke has heard. Scarlett Johansson uses her distinctive voice to suitably play enigmatic and mysterious show-dog Nutmeg. Edward Norton, in fact gets a lot more say than the Chief of the pack and in his usual Norton way, delivers an Anderson script with perfect execution. Courtney B. Vance is a solid casting choice with a soothing narration that guides us in places.

This comedy stop-motion animation is no bad dog and sits close to being a perfect pup. I wasn’t fully engrossed constantly but my interest peaked enough to label this worthy pedigree chum; a movie with a talented cast and enjoyable quirkiness.

7.5/10

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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

 

Loving Vincent (2017)

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Like walking into a gallery and experiencing all the portraits coming alive in front of your very eyes; this biographical movie which is the first fully painted one, is a beautifully realised work of art that is incredibly special to see.

A year after the death of struggling artist Vincent van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk), we follow Armand (Douglas Booth) as he tries to deliver a letter from the artist himself to Van Gogh’s brother. Along the way he meets a host of different people that make him start questioning the lead up to the man’s untimely passing.

Diving straight into the rich oil textures of the film, I have to comment and commend the artists that trained to capture van Gogh’s style and then also become animators to make this film the truly wonderful and stunning product it is. There are 65’000 frames and each one was an actual oil painting on canvas, this staggering amount of work really make the visuals something you’ve never seen before. Seeing the actors as shifting painted faces is definitely unique and they roam in a finely accomplished world of animated scenery that plays with form and perspective.

Also the lines, shapes and swirls of the brush strokes in motion was amazing to see, the flickering of lights in the background or the shaky blobs of paint you watch pulsating help the scenes look like the works of Gogh come to colourful life. I know some of his paintings and recognising them in the movie was interesting but the end credits with a page turning book reveals more about the attention to detail that went into this love letter about a very talented man.

One sad truth is the standard style over substance idea and this film does play its style card and never really finds the substance it needs. I couldn’t shake the notion that the entire narrative; backed by Clint Mansell’s tinkling score, was akin to a Columbo detective mystery as we watch the yellow jacketed Armand keep to his delivery task. Yes, the plot is interesting to a point, as I found out more about the life and times of this Dutch Post-Impressionist but the flashback storytelling with characters spieling off amounts of expositional information is a bit safe and uninspired.

Booth is a charismatic fellow to have lead the film from place to place. Jerome Flynn is an uncannily good choice as the try hard artist/physician Gachet, the look of him compared to the painting is incredibly similar. Helen McCrory is a God-abiding housekeeper who plays stern and uncaring for Gogh with great believable ease. Saoirse Ronan and Eleanor Tomlinson are perfect as two women close to the tortured soul of the title. They add intriguing elements of character not only in the roles they play but how they saw Vincent van Gogh. I must also mention Bill Thomas who plays eccentric Doctor  Mazery.

It may be such a cliche to say, but this is a paint by numbers story and account of a dynamic individual. Yet, even with the simple method of plot delivery, the craftsmanship and labour of heart etched into this film is something else. The film looks vivid, exceptional and shimmers with breath-taking style.

7.5/10

 

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?!

A Monster Calls (2017)

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Thematically powerful with a strong emotional message, this is not a typical fantasy film. It’s better than that, cleverly balancing a talking tree with stunning animation sequences whilst retaining the necessary coming of age narrative.

Artistic Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) tries coping with his terminally ill mum Lizzie (Felicity Jones), being beaten up at school and now a huge yew tree (voiced by Liam Neeson) is arriving at specific times to deliver three stories to him. These tales may eventually help Conor in revealing his own truth and understanding more.

Patrick Ness’ novel written from an idea by Siobhan Dowd who died of cancer before completing the book, is a fabulously rich story with a central tug of grief that is handled very well. Ness who also wrote this screenplay ensures the interpretation of the Monster’s stories are clear enough to transfer to Conor’s real life. It’s just a really smartly told plot that keeps you interested and attached.

The water colour animations that arrive with each story are creative, bold and quite dark too. This weaving of human complexity within these sequences are engaging and lifts the film even higher. The CGI and mo-cap of the tree monster is great also, thin branches or wisps of wood curling round items add to the fantastical element, he’s an interesting coach for Conor, looking brutish and menacing but having a kind heart within his trunk.

I’ll openly admit that I found the movie emotional, it never reached that overly sentimental try-hard point. Yes it does go towards that area but the way director and writer handle the subject matter keeps it from being soppy drivel. I will also go further to say that I cried from watching this movie, the film is very affecting because you get wrapped up in the vivid world and it’s certainly a more adult feature than you’d think.

Felicity Jones is gripping during the movie, her condition gets bleak and she becomes a paler gaunter figure but still keeps hold of a hopeful glint in her eye, making her a likeable and strong mother figure. Sigourney Weaver like the witch in the first tale is a see-saw of characteristics but one, ultimately that you know will be good. Liam Neeson’s work playing the booming monster is perfectly cast and he adds gravely gravitas to the part. The show is truly Lewis MacDougall’s though as he carries fear, courage, sadness, confusion and anger through the entire picture with spellbinding conviction.

Only the very ending featuring a book felt like a twee moment, aside from that this is a movie to kick off 2017 in fantastic fashion. The emotional vein running through the story is constant, touching and intelligent.

7.5/10

Ten from the Bottom ’16

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Well thank goodness 2016 is nearly over. What an eventful year, iconic celebrities passing away, politics around the world going crazy, Stranger Things deservedly soaring, Trump undeservedly soaring and movies of the past 12 months missing the mark more than usual. It truly was a disappointing year for film with a lot of the feature’s I’d seen scoring average marks at best.

This easily could have been a Top 20 list…I’ve even had to be cheeky enough to tie a couple of films just to squeeze them into the running order. I’m also sick of this year and looking forward to a joyful experience of 2017 that here’s the bad movies that just missed out from pride of place in the final countdown:

Ghostbusters….The Legend of Tarzan….A Bigger Splash….Bad Neighbors 2….X-Men: Apocalypse….Office Christmas Party….Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children….The Big Short….Bad Moms….Keeping up with the Joneses….The Girl on the Train….Finding Dory….Passengers….The BFG and The Huntsman: Winters War. 

On with the main show then —

10) SUICIDE SQUAD…AND SAUSAGE PARTY

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Yes it’s cheating the system slightly but just call it the Troy Review Electoral College and this is why they both win (or lose by being in the list). Firstly with Suicide Squad, an eagerly awaiting fun looking film with a punchy trailer that actually had a poor script, poorer execution, a soundtrack like an epileptic record player and a bad Joker. Squad review.

Sausage Party had a good if not great premise but is such a film catered to guffawing teenagers with smut layered on every scene that eventually the sex jokes wear thin and there’s nothing left to offer…that food orgy scene is OTT, a lame sequel set up comes about and well…read more in my full review —> SP

9) ME BEFORE YOU

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Not my type of film anyway but on top of this is the near constant cheesiness involved. It’s also a film pushing into trying to be that sad movie that girls wipe away stains of mascara after watching it. More than this, the problem lies with the main disability and how forced it becomes. Me B4 U review

8) ALLIED

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The so-called passion between Cotillard and Pitt is more wet than a Christmassy brussel sprout fart, the story-line is absurdly dull with no clever turn and the boredom factor reaches near Spinal Tap levels of 11. Don’t be a traitor, read the full review here.

7) ZOOLANDER 2

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Fashion is danger! So is this ‘comedy’ sequel sprawling with celebrity cameos, a very shaky script and an overwhelming disappointing feeling you get by seeing it. It tries too hard and fails harder…check out how hot my review is right now.

6) FRIEND REQUEST…AND THE 5TH WAVE

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Let’s begin with Friend Request which is like an unwanted invite you get after seeing Unfriended. This sort of follow up/remake film is terrible. There’s lame jump scares, things become unintentionally funny and it feels similar but badly so to the visual flair of Unfriended. Delete now.

Chloe Grace Moretz in this shocking young adult science fiction attempt is okay but stares into the distance a lot, like I did trying to watch this film. Cheap effects and a terrible twist don’t help the movie along. Review.

Into the Top 5 we go –

5) AMERICAN PASTORAL

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The directorial debut from Ewan McGregor but not one to remember. The one word that would describe this movie is boring. It could have been way more interesting and powerful but it’s overly sentimental and hard to get through. American Bore

4) WARCRAFT

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So much going on and none if it really any good is this mostly boring fantasy flick from the brilliant director Duncan Jones…though you wouldn’t think it watching this. Long, silly and a titled beginning which hopefully has no middle or end to come. Borecraft.

3) BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE

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Long. A ridiculous plot. Lex Luthor’s more ridiculous plan. Jesse Eisenberg’s even more ridiculous acting. Boring Cavill. Boring generally. MARTHA! Thank goodness for Batfleck. BvS review

2) WIENER-DOG

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A couple of laughs really really really don’t save this film. It’s dreary, striving to be artistic and/or pretentious. The comedy it does have becomes annoying as it gets drawn out to breaking point. The movie is disjointed and the ending of it all is so horrendous and of bad taste that it leaves the film with such a sour note making you hate it further. Wiener of a film

Well…after taking that depressing trip down movie memory lane, I’ve come to the end of the line. Numero uno, the big kahuna of bad…a film so utterly terrible, unfunny and disgraceful that I knew it would be the first placed worst movie as soon as I’d finished watching it, almost a year ago.

1) DIRTY GRANDPA

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What do you want?? Read my review. I don’t wish to waste time writing more about this film. Go away…see you (hopefully) in 2017!

Moana (2016)

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It’s the 53rd animated release from those Disney titans and this time we get a great new world and culture, a head-strong non princess type princess and that same old pleasurable House of Mouse fun for all the family.

On the island of Motunui, lives Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) who is the chief’s daughter. She dreams of what lies beyond the reef and wishes to explore the ocean. She finally gets her chance when a blight hits her home and a tale of ancestors and thievery drives her to find Maui (Dwayne Johnson), a demi-god and have him deliver a powerful stone back to its rightful place.

What is most enjoyable about this feature is the dimensions of character and the interesting Polynesian backdrop. The beautiful world we get to inhabit for an hour and 40 minutes is new and feels rich. It certainly helps that the creators make Moana a character with lots to do, say and she isn’t at all two-dimensional. The island villagers and the culture looks impressive and it’s this different setting and tone that gladly takes us away from the usual Disney saccharin vibes.

The music again is stepped up, like the Mickey Mouse maestros know to keep one step ahead when conjuring up the sound of their movies. Here they employ the help of Hamilton acclaimed Lin-Manuel Miranda who writes the songs with Opetaia Foa’i. There’s such a delicious texture to the songs, echoing with a sound that feels perfect for the setting. An Innocent Warrior raises hairs and sounds amazing in the cinema over the scenery. Where You Are is a jovial and tropical start to the introduction of the sunny island. How Far I’ll Go is the clear front-runner for Academy attention and is gorgeous to listen to. The less said about Shiny the better.

Ron Clements and John Musker are together again and this is their first CGI Disney film. They direct a stunning film about myth, mischief and might. They utilise a brilliant team of animators who have created a lush world to truly marvel at, not only is there the 3D styling, we get a fabric felt looking portion of animation during a song and the tattoo 2D moments featured on the torso of Maui.

I only have one big problem with the film and that is the story structure. The opening is exciting and the latter part is engaging, slightly dark and filled with eventual obvious hope and happiness. Annoyingly a large section of the middle is slow and drifts like Moana’s canoe into the land of boredom. As we settle in with Moana and Maui it’s like the plot sags into an attempt at a road-trip discovery without any of the perky coming of age drama. Also the chicken is not only the dumbest character in Disney history but the most pointless, the pig is severely underused and that makes me sad.

Overlooking the typical fairly tedious journey of ‘finding yourself’ that Disney love, this is a refreshing animated turn with a great soundtrack, a confident and interesting female protagonist and some stunning scenes that will delight many of varying ages.

7/10