Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

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Slinging into cinemas is an animated take on the New York web flying hero we know and love and whilst the MCU may have dusted off Parker for now, this superhero outing is well and truly alive with comedy, colour and creative heart.

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is a teenager in the Big Apple wanting to follow his artistic side and on a graffiti adventure he’s bitten by a radioactive spider making him a second Spider-Man in the city. As a super collider threatens his world, Morales is faced with a host of other Spidey heroes and learns to be one himself thanks to the teachings of multi-verse Peter B. Parker (Nick Johnson).

It’s this multi (or Spider) verse setup which makes for fun blends of different animation. The artists and illustrators have amazingly captured the details of quirks from the likes of ‘Looney Tunes’ inspired slapstick, brooding noir shades of black and grey and cutesy anime amongst the normal world of circled crosshatching to reflect the patterned texture of real-life comic books. The animation across the board is stunning and some of the best example of computer-animated graphic I’ve ever watched.

The story makes time for great team ups between the meeting heroes and they’re never messy or confused, each version of Spider-Man gets their time to shine and the story is totally engaging and cleverly thought through. Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman add great layers of darkness, humour and heroic morals into the screenplay whilst never losing the central beating heart of Miles and his world.

Vibrancy feels like too weak a word to describe this colourful comic-book flick, which just explodes off the page with flashes of bright visuals and gorgeous style. It’s a darn art masterpiece which takes the breath away and should win every award that goes its way. In all honesty it’s an incredible wonder of workmanship and the whole thing from start to finish is insanely enjoyable. The impending glitch of the villains’ plan gives the film great drive and Morales’ learning curve lends the film that “with great power comes great responsibility” ideal but marvellously riffs on that and a couple of other Spider-Man moments.

Into the Spider-Verse’ is a lively and immensely entertaining animated superhero movie. It’s backed by a cracking soundtrack, spot-on voice performances, sensational style and a unique mirage of shifting shapes makes for one of the best final acts you’ll see. This is no doubt the best ‘Spider-Man’ film and it’s quite possibly one of the best comic book movies.

9/10

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Outlaw King (2018)

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“The English are coming…” and so is Chris Pine adopting a Scottish lilt as the lead in Netflix’s latest original feature. As has often been the case, the streaming giant’s release of originals have been hit or miss, so with director of ‘Hell or High Water’ behind this historical drama, which side does this one fall on?

1304 and Scotland hope that Edward I (Stephen Dillane), the King of England can help them select a new successor but instead he takes control of their country. It isn’t long until Robert Bruce (Pine) starts mastering a revolt against the English but with only some men willing to stand with him against a might army, it could prove to be a difficult task.

It is true to say that this is a film that takes a while to get into the sword swing of things but the final 20 minutes make up for a so-so opening 30 minutes. The introductions to Bruce, Edward, the Prince of Wales and other characters are explained in little detail adding no weighted history to a movie clearly happy to be more loosely based on fact than providing rich interest to its audience.

Along the way of rebellion, there are some odd camera shots where they enhance and zoom into certain scenes which just felt off; especially for the period of this story. They felt too modern, too stylish for the context but Barry Ackroyd’s cinematography makes up for these minor quibbles. He’s most definitely a DoP who knows how to capture the gritty dramatics of tension and conflict, from ‘The Hurt Locker’ to ‘Detroit’, this recent offering is no exception as the soiled lands of English’s northern neighbours carry a grounded beauty.

As mentioned, the last spell of this film whacks with medieval carnage, a bold and exhilarating melee of mud and blood which sees the possible hope of Bruce and his Scots carrying out a clever plan. Throughout the film there are a number of other mini battles where daggers and swords provide plenty of maroon-soaked damage and director David Mackenzie doesn’t hide away from the brutality of the actions of these men. ‘Outlaw King’ proudly wears its macho quality but it’s devoid of major heart and would be more memorable on a big screen, left to Netflix it serves as a forgettable distraction.

One of the four top Hollywood Chris sports a crown and beard as Robert the Bruce and his accent is good, which is always nice compared to some Americans trying to don accents from our side of the pond. Pine ensures there’s an honesty and swagger to his performance which helps to keep us on side with his plight. The strongest most memorable turns come from Aaron Taylor-Johnson; as a ballsy, aggressive man desiring his home back and Florence Pugh who is sworn to marriage with Robert but isn’t simply left as the dull wife indoors. Pugh carries likeability and emotion as Elizabeth.

So whilst this may not be a film that really captures your attention, it’s got a strong cast and an excellent final set-piece which keeps this Netflix Original from being one to skip over.

6.5/10

A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

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Universe travelling and diverse storytelling are on show in Ava DuVernay’s big budget Disney film, but the grand visual pleasantries to look at don’t override the ambitious scope and its ineffectual handling of the subtext.

Distracted and struggling student Meg Murry (Storm Reid) misses her father, after he randomly disappeared four years ago. Dr. Murry (Chris Pine) was a brilliant scientist and had possibly cracked the notion of teleportation and our existence. One day, three powerful travellers of the universe appear and take Meg, her brother and a school friend to Uriel in the hope of finding Dr. Murry.

I’ll begin with the positives because there’s a lot of negatives I wish to cover. Firstly, the visuals are splendidly colourful and some of the landscapes the characters visit, are lush and rife with stunning cinematography that looks great on the big screen. I liked or perhaps appreciate the bold ideas stemming from the 1962 novel; these themes of family, spreading love and ridding hate are nice enough and espicially with the state of things currently, I found those ideals hold up well but they did feel forced and/or twee. A sequence on a beach with Michael Pena was pretty good with the most tension I absorbed but, alas it was short-lived.

The main issue, I feel, is that the movie never seems sure of what it’s projecting and it heavily flits between moments of science mumbo jumbo that most children wouldn’t grasp and saccharine annoyance that adults will tire of. It’s as if the writers and director were trying to mix childhood fantasy with profound statements on life and love together, which never succeeds, sadly.

Attempts at humour fall massively flat and again feel forced, costume and make up on display from the three astral beings are impressive but they change without reason anytime they shift location, like the movie is shooting for an Oscar nod for Costume Design and Make Up and Hairstyling next year. Meg’s adoptive brother Charles Wallace is mega annoying plus the fact they can’t ever just say Charles becomes grating. CGI in places is less than inspired and wholly distracting in a cheap way, which is odd considering the nine figure budget behind this production.

Generally, I was never by hooked any of the film. Scenes that were obviously going for tension never felt like they were raising stakes. Even with the dramatic altering of the sibling relationship, I still felt bored with the story. I for sure lost my patience fairly early on with this movie which is a shame because there could have been something very special and triumphant about it all, instead of the restrained, sickly sweet and messy feature it turns out to be.

Reid is by and large another one of the only other positives I got from this film, she’s a powerful performer with an evident understanding of this hard subject material and how to portray Meg as a difficult, somewhat stubborn but loving and brave character. Oprah Winfrey delivers messages of hope, light and typical Disney fortune cookie tid-bits in a way that stirs quite nicely. Reese Witherspoon plays Mrs Whatsit, someone without much tact and still learning, she showcases that well but is another annoying factor, as is the performance from Deric McCabe as Charles. Just Charles. Mindy Kaling plays Mrs Who, but is all but pointless in a turn that mainly has her spouting quotes from scholars, playwrights and Chris Rock. Levi Miller is Meg’s friend Calvin who is extremely pointless and I never understood why he was there.

This is a Disney dud that I’ll try and forget in a hurry. There’s only tiny wrinkles in the run-time that kept me engaged but the majority is frustratingly bad.

4.5/10

Z for Zachariah (2015)

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Nicely brimming with anxiety, this science fiction apocalyptic-like drama is further helped by the performances and an interesting magnifying glass placed over strained bonds.

Farmer and apparent last human Ann Burden (Margot Robbie) has got used to her routine until one day she sees another person walking along in a radiation suit. After helping him out of a life endangering bathe, John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is invited back to the farm where they live together and a possible relationship grows until Caleb (Chris Pine) turns up and puts a tense spin on the dynamics.

What I liked about this film quite a lot is the grounded feel, it certainly inhabits a small scale of a bigger more devastated world and within this there’s a great focused intensity on character that is ripe for theatre set drama. To be honest, a lot of the story involved feels and sounds like something that would work extremely well on stage, just the 3 actors for a start gives it that impression.

Craig Zobel directs rather well, he makes sure that the story keeps ticking but all the while there’s burning moments of danger, these anxious steps speak volumes about the rivalry between the two men and the possible consequences that could arise. The parallel between Loomis on a teetering rock and Burden slowly shoving a glass of her table is a great moment of no dialogue but a lot is said, making you wonder what happens to Loomis during that point, this perfect touch of mystery also occurs in a better way surrounding Caleb.

The relationships between the 3 people are written strongly, each of the men are worrying figures that come into the innocent, religious life of Ann, and though Loomis may be kind at first he is not without flaws and his jealousy runs rife leading to the dramas that follow. It this trio of deconstructing human behaviour that becomes compelling, at least for me it did.

Margot Robbie provides a beautiful performance, lost by the welcoming of these new figures but still trying to be strong for her father, her faith and herself. She looks surprisingly plain which is something for Robbie and you feel sorry for her. Ejiofor can dominate the screen nicely and brings a brooding sense of unease during his jealous spells. Likewise Chris Pine, in his more Hollywood poster boy appearance, he plays arrogant well in thinking he can swoop in on Ann.

If you have patience and can appreciate slow burning character dramas, then this is a film I’d recommend. It has a fantastic cast, a quite alarming end and a great look on a world with and without hope.

6.5/10

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

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Yes, this latest in the Trekkie universe is entertaining and feels like it’s ticking boxes of the roots of the show but there’s numerous times where it felt either too campy or too boring. It’s most certainly a blockbuster movie but it ended up being quite loud, crashy and dumb.

3 years into their 5 year mission, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew land in Yorktown. Kirk goes for a promotion to Vice Admiral but whilst there he sees a distress signal out of the nebula. Once the escape pod figure is rescued the USS Enterprise is attacked by a swarm of ships and a powerful leader named Krall (Idris Elba). The Enterprise ensemble end up separated and then together as they try to take down the force of Krall’s plan and army.

Even though my opening paragraph may sound negative, there’s still a lot to enjoy in this film. The major thing being the look of it all. Each new planet and landscape is detailed to glorious colour, texture and ultimate perfection. The sleek quality of the ships, space and creatures are in full effect. It definitely has a sci-fi appeal and visually the movie strikes a neat balance between weird worlds and summer popcorn entertainment.

Jaylah; a new character and a unique looking scavenger is another great addition the film. She’s smart, strong and resourceful and hopefully she’ll stick around with the team. There are some funny moments also, but at times it’s this attempt at comedy that begins waning and feeling out of touch. The comradery is great though and I liked the different pairings the film goes for as the fleet end up separated. Bones and Spock are a highlight of the movie.

It’s really clear to see that Simon Pegg wrote this film, because with Doug Jung there is a quirky stab at comedy that sounds more Cornetto trilogy then Final Frontier. The most impressive piece of writing is having the Enterprise attacked so early on, it’s a cool moment to set up the conflict and the battle look of this sequence is glorious to watch unfold. I think that was the best set-piece of the movie meaning it could only go downwards from that point. Pegg injects perhaps too much jokey attitude in places that deserve to be more tense and the final showdown in Yorktown feels very silly indeed; from gravity streams to glass shard reflections it just appears quite cheesy.

Chris Pine is looking more and more like Kirk as the franchise goes on, he has a smarmy charm but a confident and likable approach to being the captain and as a hero he acts the part. Zachary Quinto is even more the doppelganger to a young Spock, his Vulcan appearance and demeanour providing logic and humour along the way. Idris Elba gets to perform under some admittedly heavy but cool villainous make-up, his usual dominant voice and stature aiding Krall very well. Sofia Boutella as Jaylah is brilliant, she can hold her own and feels right amongst the rest of the story. Pegg, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, John Cho and Anton Yelchin in one of his last feature roles are all fantastic, creating a sparkling chemistry and getting enough screen-time each to contribute something to the plot.

So yes, this is a fun film for the majority and it looks great, there’s just a heavy touch of dullness in places and the climactic scene feels totally the opposite. It may not live long and prosper but it’ll do until Rogue One comes along.

6/10

 

Into the Woods (2014)

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A gleeful and sometime dark look at fantasy and fairy tales through musicality and typical Disney glossy production value. It falls down in seemingly never ending happy or unhappy endings and the film does feel too long for underwhelming songs and nothing majorly special.

This musical has The Baker (James Corden) narrate and feature in an intertwining tale of fairy tale classics as he and his wife (Emily Blunt) need to find four items to try and reverse a curse placed by the Witch (Meryl Streep). Along the way in the woods is a wolf (Johnny Depp), Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and his cow, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) and dark twisted paths leading to unexpected conclusions.

The film does have some neat clever moments that stem from the original 1987 Broadway story, the intriguing and playful turns of children’s fairy tales make the Disney film a little less kiddy than it could have been and in fact the middling section of this screen adaptation is good for hitting that stride of Brothers Grimm territory. Sadly it doesn’t seem to linger on the darker endings of the actual fairy tales which is a shame.

Stephen Sondheim has a knack for creating music and lyrics but so too does he have a knack for creating a sense of similarity in all the work he does. This film begins to feel tiring as each song comes in sounding the same as every other. The music builds up the fantastical village and foreboding forest really well but the songs leave something to be desired. None of them, in my eyes, are astounding or wholly memorable which isn’t a great sign for a musical, perhaps it not being something I knew of didn’t get me giddy for hearing how big names would do the songs I’d never heard, but then it hasn’t opened a door to me wanting to find out more about this show.

The only singing success I felt the movie had was in the quick paced number titled, ‘Your Fault’, an inventive, overlapping and snappy ditty that is stuffed with fast accusations and brilliant harmonies. The quick paced style can’t be said for the movie itself though as it felt like the dinginess of the woods was magically slowing down time and dragging us through the mud. It could have benefited from a few slight chops of Jack’s axe as the near two hour run didn’t feel spritley like a musical should. The beginning did but it began to labour as the twisted tales unfurled.

It’s shot very well, Rob Marshall directing the ensemble cast with his talent of behind the camera musical sparkle. The cinematography is very believable and the gnarled woods really do feel intimidating, large and troublesome. The make believe of towers, castles and forests grab attention and the costume/make-up department have a lot to feel proud of because the vision of the entire piece is remarkable, as if Hollywood and Broadway have combined in hybrid fashion to make this stage show film.

Meryl Streep is as pretty much always a formidable talent on screen. Her portrayal of this bad yet good yet bad yet so on and so on witch is mischievous, wicked and thoroughly fun. The song ‘Stay with Me’ (not by Sam Smith) that she got specially from Sondheim is the only other number that stands out and it’s not even originally from the show, maybe Streep’s shine could see it featuring on stage from now on, that or it’s going for Original Song at the Oscars. I’m in no way a fan of James Corden, in fact I find him overly irritating but after a few sighs getting used to his voice and presence he’s not terrible, he holds his own and is down to earth figure in this kingdom of wolves, princesses and giants. His marriage to the beautiful Emily Blunt perhaps the most unbelievable aspect about this story! Blunt herself is kind and a warm actress that sells the good intentioned and often funny Baker’s wife, her singing is damn good too. Johnny Depp is a credit only, a pull for punters to see him being Johnny Depp as always. The creepy factor he exudes is turned up ever higher in a brief scene and song. Much applause from me goes to Lilla Crawford who makes Red Riding Hood bounce with naughtiness and charisma every time she appears. Anna Kendrick is mightily convincing as humble being turned gorgeous princess and her stage background benefits her singing moments. Chris Pine has fun and near evil delight as a mocking one dimensional Disney prince, cliched air grabs and all.

I haven’t seen the show but it retains that stage like quality and magical darkness which is a good thing, a worthy example of thumbs up adapting work. I only disliked Sondheim’s songs which blend boringly and the length begins feeling overly long. I would have desired more teasing of worrying dark ends to keep in with Grimm glory but it’s fun and looks amazing.

5.5/10

Horrible Bosses 2 (2014)

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More entertaining and stylish than the first time around I believe, it relies an awful lot on pratting about to gain the laughs but it’s not a stale idea as quite a few times the comedy lands with a genuine smack.

The same three buffoons from the 2011 movie are back and now have invented a multi purpose shower tool called the Shower Buddy. Dale (Charlie Day), Nick (Jason Bateman) and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) have the hope for the gadget to become big when Rex Hanson (Chris Pine) and his father Burt (Christoph Waltz) want 100’000 units. The Hanson’s are quick to reverse their offer screwing up NickKurtDale’s livelihood leaving them coming up with the option to kidnap Rex to get money back from Burt, though of course their incompetence and some unwanted attention from sexpot dentist Julia (Jennifer Aniston) doesn’t help things along.

It has some good laughable moments, perhaps not gut wrenching belly laughs unless you’re a solid hardcore fan of the original. It’s a style of comedy that does know it’s being funny because it’s so dumb and the biggest amount of it stems from moronic humour in the way the three leads are so inept at carrying out their crime wave. They’re squabbling, arguing frittering children in grown men’s bodies and some of the things they say as asides or juvenile mishaps they end up are quite funny to be honest.

The problem, or at least one of the problems this film has is in the waste of it’s amazing cast. Jennifer Aniston is actually very capable at comedy as we darn well know and she’s subjected to a sidelined role with obvious smutty humour as her main acting note. Christoph Waltz is hardly in it at all which is a shame because he’s an actor I love and he can do fun really well, his character is nothing of any villainous or entertaining interest. Kevin Spacey is back but gets a speck of screen time compared to the three main dudes and most of his stuff is sadly, not very funny.

It’s a film that centres on a trio of half-wits or at least morons in the scheme they’re up to their neck in, but a lot of the movie makes you begin to find them grating. The annoying thing is in Day’s repetitive screeching to provide funnies. Sudeikis has a character that bounces back and forth and clearly improvises a lot but it’s not always a hit, Bateman is the only one that has a character you can kind of empathise with. The stupid branch of the comedy tree is fully gripped by Chris Pine’s Rex though and he does look like he’s having a ball with the twisty turny character he’s been given.

This film felt better to me because it had a more heist genre glean to it. An ‘Oceans 11’ like style of split screens, wipes and plans being dreamed up are cool little ideas as the three think of how to pull off the kidnap ransom money being dropped their way. Thanks to this plot turn up it leads to more twists and I liked the comedy taking a slightly new angle in seeing how events would pan out. The film also has an awesomely unique spin on a car chase and the funniest moment of the film may square on a freight train and a fenced in vehicle.

This is being reviewed much harsher than I think is fair, I enjoyed it at the face value I think it should be taken with. Their may be some naff tries at comedy, some of the stars may be underused and it’s overly silly with over the top characters but there’s a good hand of fun to be had with it all and it not being as dark works in its favour. Just don’t go in expecting to laugh your socks off and have a stupid moronic time and you’ll love it otherwise it’s a comedy sequel that doesn’t do much to warrant it hitting cinema screens.

(A controversial?) 6/10