The Florida Project (2017)

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The sunshine state looks so colourful and yet so grotty at the same time throughout this drama, which is a fair representation of the weirdly wonderful way Florida does actually look. Amongst these bold shots there’s a fantastically realistic tone to watching a set of children independently finding themselves and friendships.

Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) resides at an extended stay motel with her less than present mother Halley (Bria Vinaite). From spitting on cars to claiming free food she has a ball, spending her time with a couple of other kids, much to the annoyance of motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) despite his protective nature.

Straight away, we’re faced with the bright palette of this film; a purple wall backdrops the opening credits and during this movie we see wacky and loud colours of Florida state outlets and buildings. Kissimmee is the perfect setting because it looks touristy enough to have the children revel in their fun but neglected in a serious way as we watch them roam unattended through a place that seems stuck in a rut.

It’s this set up of America that may prove to be the biggest moral idea of the film. The screenplay lands us amongst a group of people not often represented and seeing their lives, however grim they might appear, gives the story its openly empathetic quality. Moonee’s mum Halley may have her faults but we still see that she cares for her daughter. Bobby is a moaner, a grouch even, but he genuinely becomes a caring figure through the film, he for me was the character I was most interested in. There was a believable good guy attitude he carried, no more evident than when he gets some old geezer to follow him for some soda.

Every scene directed in this by Sean Baker is one that leaves you to sit back and almost breathe in the growing up of Moonee and her friends. Certain films have that big moment in a scene where you can tell the impact is being driven home but in this feature there’s a collection of moments and none feel forced, instead the director invites us to observe the dramatic unraveling in an attentive not showy way. It’s as if Baker is inviting the audience to monitor Moonee’s life, not in a judging kind of way but more in a manner that feels life affirming. Halley is someone to slightly frown upon but the focus truly is on Moonee and her kingdom so to speak; her Magic Kingdom within the Magic Castle motel and beyond.

I must say that even with all these positives, the ending didn’t agree with me. It swiftly arrives after a brilliantly emotional scene where I admit I shed a tear, or three. Then the camera kookily speeds up and transfers to an obvious mobile device. The music over the top may have been right for the scene but feels slightly kitsch and it ends any of that overwhelming heartbreaking drama we just witnessed. I was also taken right out of the drama by the ease of access to the finale with no money or security to stop them!

Prince steals the show with a genuine glee and boundless energy. She runs, grins and leads her merry troops with chemistry but can downplay that childlike wonder when sitting back and looking on at the adult world around her, felt heavily when she questions her mum from time to time. Also, as said, a framing of her near the end got me right in the feels as she acts her socks off. Dafoe was a great presence in this, I could actually imagine him as the manager of this tackily painted cheap Floridian motel. I would have liked him in it slightly more right at the end but at the end of the day the film is about the fun and innocent frivolity of childhood. Vinaite is a gripping disturbance throughout and acts in such a way that you can’t help but shake your head at her behaviour.

The happiest place on Earth may reside just a hop, skip and frenzied run away but this film sees us find the happiest place through the eyes of a confident and legitimate star.

7.5/10

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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?!

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

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

Sausage Party (2016)

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Sizzling with offensive gags aplenty, this animated creation from the minds of Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Jonah Hill has a fun colourful look taking a nice punt at the world of Disney characters, there’s a fair amount of laughs too but for me I felt this film was hardly memorable and insanely dumb.

Living in the supermarket Shopwell’s are a packet of sausages, one of these hot-dogs is Frank (Rogen) who only has eyes for bun Brenda (Kristen Wiig) as they hope to picked and taken to the Great Beyond; a magical place where human shoppers carry them off to. Soon Frank begins a quest to seek the truth and find out if people aren’t nice and really do eat them but he’s hunted down by a pumped up douche (Nick Kroll) that makes travelling the shop harder.

Story wise, there is a reasonable plot to follow, as easy to watch as you’d expect from the folk behind ‘This Is The End’ and ‘Bad Neighbours’. It begins interesting and a fun concept as we see the food living in joy but really blind to the fact that we human beings buy, cut, cook and devour them. The journey story isn’t new and annoyingly isn’t done in any exciting way, which is a trend this film goes on making me think the whole picture was a rather disengaging product.

Considering the amount of colour, music and visual madness, that’s an odd thing to be almost forgettable and faintly gripping. The whole villain arc of the juiced douche is increasingly vulgar and I even forgot he was an antagonist until he came back into a scene later in the movie. There are some fun scenes; like the food war-zone after a trolley crash, the last hurrah as the food tries fighting and the moment they travel into what could be a dimensional shift and sequel.

A food filled sex orgy is stupidly excessive, amusing at times just to see the amount of detail going into bagels fornicating with a lavash or a taco going down on a bun, but it’s this type of over the top behaviour that makes the film less than out there shocking but tiresomely juvenile. Sex jokes, food themed racism and bad language are heavily dolloped on the menu and only a small amount of the time did it make me chuckle, asking me the question to why everyone around me was cackling so hard.

Seth Rogen is an alright meaty front man but at the same time Frank feels very thin and I couldn’t care for any of the characters, I know it’s a silly mature film about talking food but any good film just bring into effect the art of sympathy, empathy, interest or all three. Kristen Wiig brings Brenda some suitable sass and grounded debate when she finds herself on a different ideal to Frank. Scott Underwood gives a fun voice as the sweetly camp Twinkie. Edward Norton nails a Woody Allen impression as his Jewish bagel whilst Salma Hayek adds her expected sensual tones to a made-up taco with a lesbian tendency.

Instead of skewing anything smart or political like it could or thinks it’s doing, this ‘party’ is less healthy than a tower of junk food, leaving a calorific dose of E numbers as it’s Excessively Exaggerates and leaves an Empty taste, with only a few good moments preventing it from being a brain-dead comedy.

5.5/10

Finding Dory (2016)

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Thirteen years after the watery world of ‘Finding Nemo’, we’re back under the sea with the recognisable clown-fish and blue tang. This time around the story shifts into following forgetful Dory and though there are distractions of new characters, stunning animation and some fun moments, this doesn’t make you forget that you’re watching something familiar and predictable.

Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) is still with father and son pair Marlin and Nemo (Albert Brooks & Hayden Rolence) but she feels she’s forgetting something important. Flashbacks and tid-bits of her past and parents come and go and she ends up in a Marine Life Institute hoping to finally remember something and find her family.

Now, I must say I wasn’t a huge fan of the 2003 aquatic adventure but I admit it was and still is colourful and quite poignant in places. This sequel, directed again by Andrew Stanton has the same watery wonder but feels very samey and for a Pixar movie, that’s a trend I’m starting to worry about now…what with the less than inspiring ‘The Good Dinosaur’.

Animation speaking, this is one of the finest movies out there. I say this because the detail in every shot that must have been ached over in story boarding meetings come to fantastic life. I can imagine water is hard to get right but they pull it off mightily. This feature and the sweet Piper short beforehand excel in texture and shading. The grains of sand, waves of water, foam, sea-life and plants all look beautifully real.

What I found a little bum aching about this film is that it begins stretching out and even the children of the audience were restless before the third act had kicked in. Maybe it’s because it’s following the most annoying character from the first flick or perhaps it’s that thing after thing keeps happening stopping Dory getting to her goal, which as you’d expect her to get to it anyway it all begins dawning to a yawn fest as she’s tested time and time again.

The memory loss idea is fine to a point and endearingly cute when handled by the bug eyed baby Dory, but then it just keeps going, just keeps going, going, going. Hey, even silly is okay in my books, more so for animations but there’s points in this film that ideas become a tad too over the top and the whole Marine location doesn’t feel as special as it could be. It’s generally the knack of repeatedly telling us about memory, life and being good even if you’re missing of something, i.e memory that don’t need to be so often and so obvious.

I did like the weird yet well written use of Sigourney Weaver as some unseen goddess aiding the forgetful fish. The animation as mentioned is superb, the new characters are fun, from a cool camouflaging octopus to a struggling beluga whale. The moments of darkness are done well and make you near emotional as the film questions Dory’s existence but I can’t help thinking that I’ll forget this pretty soon and remember that Piper was much better than the actual full length Pixar creation.

Ellen DeGeneres is much loved in America and here she must have her fans, so I can imagine they’re loving her non stop forgetful routine and energetic enthusiasm she voices, which I like to a point but there’s a line and it gets grating quite quickly. Albert Brooks is a great worrier as Marlin and it’s nice to hear him back as the parental clown-fish. Ed O’Neill is Hank the octopus and voices cranky very well but makes him a character to still like. Fellow Modern Family actor Ty Burrell is Bailey the beluga whale with echo location problems and though he’s underused he gets some funny nervous lines and excitement nearing the end. It’s nice to see that former Nemo voice artist Alexander Gould gets a role in this movie too.

Spectacularly animated and a decent sequel, but more of something that feels like an unoriginal continuation and nothing different.

6/10

The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

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From the character by Edgar Rice Burroughs comes this newest feature, seeing the man known as ‘Tarzan’ head back into his ‘homeland’ and stop a nasty trade of ivory, diamonds and slavery. It’s a film that looks good but isn’t as epic as it probably thinks and it’s too slow in places.

The Congo has been divided, King Leopold of Belgium has sent Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) in search of Opar diamonds, but they’re up to more than that. John Clayton the 3rd aka Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard) is invited to see the developments in the Congo and is helped on by George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) who travels with him. Whilst there Tarzan and his wife Jane (Margot Robbie) see that Leopold and Rom are neck deep in slave trade and wanting Tarzan dead.

This whole idea of Tarzan as the spirit of the jungle, a son of Africa because of his feral upbringing is delivered well. It’s clear that the muscled presence of Skarsgard shows his dominance so in a weird way even as he’s fighting a huge ape, you can actually buy that he’d have some kind of chance against it. He knows the jungle so he can dance through it; swinging like the wild-man we all know with ease. These scenes as he trails the trees and flies on vines are captured well and I can imagine in IMAX would look very cool.

David Yates who directed the last four of the ‘Harry Potter’ franchise does an okay job here in putting across a fairly obvious story. The sunlit flashbacks are enticing and snip in and out of the present day narrative at the right places I’d say but it’s the main story-line that becomes extremely slow feeling in numerous places. Perhaps Yates from the family friendly Potter movies can quite handle building tension because this film centred in the dangerous depths of the jungle should be more gripping. Jon Favreau’s ‘The Jungle Book’ actually managed to create a darker sense of this eco-climate.

Being honest I wanted to see the story that flitted in and out. The past of Tarzan and how he grew up in the jungle around unknown beastly Mangani great apes is the film I wish I’d seen. Instead it focuses too much on a gentleman Tarzan of England travelling back into the jungle. There is at least some genuine comedy thanks to Samuel L. Jackson and the CGI of the animals, especially the lions is impressive. Watching this film though, just made me hungry to watch the 1999 Disney animation with the fun Tarzan experiencing the jungle through Phil Collins songs.

Alexander Skarsgard certainly looks the past, his ripped body and tall presence selling himself as the fabled Tarzan, but he acts a little blandly and doesn’t push past the brooding performance of Eric Northman. Samuel L. Jackson gives the movie a much needed comedic lift and helps take us through the jungle as an ordinary pair of eyes. Margot Robbie unlike the plain Jane acting of Skarsgard is a great Jane. She isn’t a damsel in distress and gets to save people, kick butt, look pretty and be a wise lady never showing fear. Christoph Waltz is a fun addition, he’s menacing and unflinching in his quest to take over the Congo and defeat Tarzan. He excels when on a boat dining with Jane, as a confined scene like that, as from ‘Inglourious Basterds’ he can pull of so well.

Trying to skew in a heavy backdrop of politics, this Tarzan film becomes one with too many ideas leading to a slow pace, but there’s a faint wonder in its adventure and it’s entertaining.

5.5/10