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

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Black Panther (2018)

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We’re into the second half of MCU’s Phase Three and what a way to enter it. The King of Wakanda doesn’t just step onto the big screen but pounces. This is a film rife with character and importantly; culture.

After ‘Civil War’ saw the death of T’Chaka, his son returns to his hugely advanced home of Wakanda, where he takes the path to become the new king and rightful Black Panther. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has the support of most around him but returning baddie Klaue (Andy Serkis) and some stolen vibranium doesn’t help. Moreover his crimes introduce T’Challa to Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), a soldier hell-bent on taking over Wakanda.

Marvel and its cinematic world have done spectacularly well thus far in creating hype and fun escapism, but admittedly they quite often miss the mark with their characters and villains, gladly both work very well in this movie. The community of Wakandans feel real and a lot of the forefront officials are fleshed out with enough dialogue and/or screen-time to ensure that it isn’t solely the titular hero that nabs the focus. In regards to the villain; this film gives us two big ones, the first is the resurgence of OTT but deliciously snarly Klaue, the second is Stevens who works brilliantly because, as an audience member you can feel for him and buy into his cause, at least when he’s not taking these notions too far.

Ryan Coogler; in what is just his third film, directs a powerful film that feels right within the comic book world but also throws in such interesting dynamics of globe shattering consequences, self beliefs and the bigger picture of black people and personal struggles which of course is undeniably vital within this day and age and state of the world. There’s a gleeful fun within tie-ins and action sequences but better than this, director Coogler with Joe Robert Cole, as a fellow writer manage to gift this feature a drive and political motivated subtext.

Seeing it on the glorious IMAX screen of course makes the entire film a thing of beauty and massive spectacle but I just know that it would still have the same impact however it is seen. There is an unmistakable rich quality to the production value; the colours, fabrics and fashions, the settings, the music all come together and culminate with a force of life and soul. It’s a film that had my skin buzzing with excitement and the eye is taken by almost every scene and frame.

There’s a slight DC and yes, Marvel weakness of the CGI overload these films can so often swerve towards, which is what worries me about the sprawl of generated figures and Thanos in the ‘Infinity War’ trailer. No more can this be seen in a battle on some grassy fields and some CG rhinos that appear, which slightly lost me from the film, but that’s pretty much the only negative I had.

Boseman is an amazing hero and plays the demanding role of king and leader with gravitas. There’s great emotion behind his eyes that shows he can also see the problems with his place and people, which makes a superhero, human. Lupita Nyong’o plays the ex of T’Challa but she isn’t as one dimensional as that. The actor packs a punch and effortless spy magnitude to her role. Letitia Wright is Shuri; Black Panther’s sister. She scatters the movie with great humour and tech know-how that makes her like a more capable Q persona. Jordan almost rivals Boseman and Wright by stealing the majority of the show with a charismatic and deeply engaging turn as the hopeful throne taker. He too ensures to not just be panto villainy and adds remarkable layers to his character. I would be writing for a long time more if I commented on all the other terrific actors in this film, who all unite with a crackling sense of energy and seriousness that helps make this more than just a comic book movie.

Long live the King…and Coogler, let us hope he returns because he has masterfully given the MCU a breath of fresh air and stunning culture.

8.5/10

 

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

 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

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The saga returns and the 2nd of the new Star Wars trilogy whams into the cinema with director Rian Johnson ensuring he gives fans a lot to be pleased about whilst gifting the starry sci-fi blockbuster some neat stylish additions of his own.

Continuing on from Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) island meet up with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), she hopes to learn the ways of the Jedi. Meanwhile Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) is desperately trying to evacuate the Rebel base as the First Order try and diminish hope from the galaxy and wipe out the chance of Luke’s return. As they keep trying to escape, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is at odds with his place in all this, not helped by visions that unwillingly connect him to someone else.

Rian Johnson ensures the Star Wars aficionados can enjoy seeing certain characters, screen wipes and the charm of space opera good versus bad as the ever central theme. Hope and the notion of crushing that ideal is what drives the franchise and this is no exception but gladly the director after J.J. Abrams hands this outing some stylistic moments; ones that almost step out of the comfortable SW bubble, that I thoroughly enjoyed. These choices keep the film fresh and help it look exciting but more brooding than ‘The Force Awakens’. A sequence with endlessly mirroring a character, the salted planet of red surface and crystal critters and an extremely amazing breathtaking snappy edit of a soundless explosion are some examples of the visual splendour Johnson and his huge crew have created, which keep the galaxy alive with big screen wonder.

There are some points, mostly that lay within the story, that can feel utterly safe and predictable. Obviously I’m not wanting to spoil anything in this review so I’ll keep hush on the negatives I had but sufficed to say there are space filled deus ex machinas abounds and little character events that I expected straight away which sort of took me out of the immersive thrill. Also, some writing choices they give the action and/or characters felt cheap or not wholly unnecessary and without spoilers I really felt no need for a kiss that comes at one time.

Luke’s island hideout is rife with creatures and one species is the well advertised and product placed Porgs that clearly strike for the kids and the cute factor. Granted they can be quite fun but the clear merchandise cash in that they are and their constant gaping mouth wide eyed shtick becomes less amusing and ever tiring. Aside from a couple of story gripes and these puffin-esque beasties this movie has a good amount of twists and turns that keep the narrative interesting, a mission on a casino centred Canto Bight is rich with wealth, class differences and a couple of fun cameos. Another positive is John Williams returning with a score that’s safe but swells and simmers with the fan buzz of familiar sounds to satisfy all. I also love that a lot of the creatures you see are handled with animatronics which look much better and charming than the sheen of CGI.

Mark Hamill gets his teeth into much more screen time and it’s nice to see Luke Skywalker back, though he’s getting to play well with the bitter side of things. Hamill delivers enough emotion into his journey of who he is now and why he’s left the Jedi Master qualities behind with a tinge of will he/won’t he be a bad egg. Both Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher lift the film with an explainable grace that probably stems from the nostalgia of their presence amongst the whirlwind of desperate escape tactics. Fisher herself still carries Leia as a beacon of hope and strength, she’s good and efficient and Fisher performs this effortlessly filling the General shoes with ease. Adam Driver gets to slowly break away from his angsty teen fits and dramatics and the conflict in his path is nicely evident in the performance. Daisy Ridley manages to keep up the brave and strong qualities of Rey, a hero through and through but one where Ridley nicely plays with the pressure of balancing her place in the Force and the pull of the dark side. Domhnall Gleeson amps up the villainous panto switch with sneers aplenty. Supreme Leader Snoke gets more screen time and has more depth and a constant creepy shadowy presence thanks to the mo-cap work from Andy Serkis.

It’s definitely a long film and this is a long review to almost reflect that. It’s the longest one yet but luckily it never feels a slog; it may not zip on by but it’s a well handled and well paced space adventure that feels like a grand step up from Episode 7 and one that has humour and stakes around every corner.

8/10

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

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