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

 

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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

 

The Greatest Showman (2017)

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Pulling out all the stops, this movie tries shooting for the ol’ razzle dazzle and though there is a definite amount of flair and showbiz style through transitions and musical numbers, it all feels empty and try hard. The story of the man himself; Mr. P.T Barnum is glossed over to make way for a post Christmas family feature that requires no smarts.

As a child, Phineas Barnum was less well off but a dreamer and he finally got the girl he’d loved. Now residing in New York with their two daughters, Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and Charity (Michelle Williams) seem happier than ever, but Barnum wants more and he eventually creates a ‘circus’ of sideshows and freaks to sell tickets and give his family all they could ever wish.

Riding on the success of Academy darling and theatrical luvvie of late 2016/early 2017 ‘La La Land’, this musical drama employs the writing talents of Pasek and Paul to conjure up a bunch of songs. They certainly come under the ear-worm label as I’m still annoyingly humming them as I write this. Saying that, they’re nowhere near as close as subtle or stylishly cool as the songs in the Gosling/Stone led runaway hit. To be honest, there came a time when a character began to sing that I audibly groaned because they just appear almost consistently. I know it’s a musical but they are irritating hokey songs that strive for the stars but end up somewhere amongst bland superficial lyrics of being special – whoever you are – yeah that old chestnut.

Certain elements in this just stood out like cheap distractions at a local funfair. The alarming dubbing of an older man speaking for the clunky walking dwarf. The ‘Siamese Act’ who were clearly two performers standing side by side and the ‘Bearded Lady’ who’s facial fuzz looked like glued on hair a couple of times. I know Barnum revelled in fooling audiences and providing fake attractions but this film doesn’t even show us this as it makes him seem like an idol of blossoming variety entertainment.

Hugh Jackman is a charismatic actor and he certainly helps this film from totally falling flat but I feel he’s too much of a nice guy to play the role of someone who hoaxed the public. Michelle Williams is a glamorous wife and mother and gets to showcase some singing prowess and dancing ability but she has little to do, other than stand by and watch Jackman parade as the enigmatic showman he is. Rebecca Ferguson plays opera singer Jenny Lind but doesn’t even wow because she’s there as a cheap sideline narrative and her song is sung by someone else, plus she’s meant to be a pro opera performer but her song sounds like the typical X Factor winners track. Zendaya carries a believable amount of emotion in her role as acrobat and racially shunned figure for Zac Efron to fall in love with. For me, I found her to be the most engaging and interesting character to follow, with Efron close behind.

All the lights and stage magic never lit a spark in me and it just became a tiresome boringly told story, filled by ever irritating songs. It’s a mess of a musical but one that has just enough charm in places to keep the circus tent from falling down.

4.5/10

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.5/10

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

Wonder (2017)

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I’d been hearing a lot of good and great things about this film recently, so I checked it out at the cinema and I can see where people are coming from most definitely, but I also am not fully on board the hype bus like the rest of them.

August Pullman aka Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) is about to have his first day at school, which is even more nerve-wracking because he has a condition called Treacher Collins syndrome, he fears how he looks will make him a target of bullying from the other children. Through the movie we see him and his supportive family take a stance and show that love and kindness are apparently all you need.

Directed by author and creator of his own adaptation with ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’, Stephen Chbosky should have a knack for taking novel material and spinning it for cinematic screens. On the whole he does have that skill and manages to run with the evident sentiment of Auggie’s world and his writing/creative aptitude helps us get on the same level as the young lad and truly feel his journey. The bonds between friends and family are what keep the film from truly dipping into sentimental overload.

Saying this I did find a lot of what I watched to be very contrived, the dialogue is extremely on the nose at points and there are some painfully obvious choices of songs at times that feel like you’re watching a tackily edited X Factor audition overlain with one of those power ballad sob stories. Another weak factor for me, was with the child actors who look and sound quite terrible opposite the brilliant Tremblay. Charlotte, for example is a cringey try hard stereotype and the bullies are kind of awkward. There is a lot of predictable storytelling to be found and it’s like the movie is nudging us to emotion which had the opposite effect on me.

The family home scenes were the stronger elements and in fact I found myself intrigued by their stories, the hope of having peeks into other characters kind of happens but not overly and Auggie’s sister is someone who had a story to tell that I was interested in and found more engaging truth be told. There are also some good, fun and quite creative touches in ‘Wonder’, such as the courageous lad imagining space of Chewbacca at school or the amusing imagery of ‘Scream’ Ghostface being left hanging from a high 5.

Owen ‘Wow’ Wilson is alright in this, nothing spectacular as the self believing cool father, he’s got some light relief to add and can go back to his ‘Marley and Me’ roots to act from again. Julia Roberts is superb and shines when she can, showing convincing tearful emotion and really gripping the narrative with her turn as the mum. Jacob Tremblay isn’t exactly a wonder, but he’s a fine young talent that marvellously plays this different but smart and huge hearted kid.

It’s a safe film with a constant drive of messaging us with the moral of being kind and tolerant and I don’t fully get the amazing love people have for it but it’s engaging and sweet nonetheless.

6/10

A Bad Moms Christmas (2017)

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I was relatively lukewarm but fine with the first film back in…oh, only last year. Yes, the moms are back and this time they’re cashing in early for the Christmas season in a so called comedy that is definitely not warranted and does more of the same with extra dirty jokes and baubles thrown in for good measure.

The nightmare of Christmas is around the corner and so comes the stress of being a perfect mother for Amy (Mila Kunis) who tries to make everything perfect for her children and keep this time of year under wraps and not go crazy. Alas her perfectionist mum is arriving and Ruth (Christine Baranski) won’t let her daughters’ wishes satisfy her. Amy can only break free with fellow stressed mums Kiki (Kristen Bell) and Carla (Kathryn Hahn) who also happen to be reunited with their maternal guardians in time for December 25th.

Just the convenience alone of all three mums coming home for Christmas was crazy stupid to suit the screenplay but topping off this with this trio also attending midnight mass because the script demands some redemption and forgiveness is insanely stupid. That is one issue with the writing, another huge one is the characters just aren’t likable; aside from maybe Hank, all of them feel like crudely drawn stereotypes and you can’t connect to them because they steal and lie. The only way the writers feel like they’re redeeming these factors is by constantly going on about how they’re tired mums who deserve fun. First time around though, there’s an interesting social aspect in them going against the grain of being so called super mums but this time they’re just kicking it against their own mums without any joy or clever storytelling.

Calling this a comedy film doesn’t feel right either as I didn’t laugh or even smile once throughout this boring ordeal. There’s aspects like having a character called Isis, nothing clever about it, just heck, call her that because it’s funny to have a name linked to terror. A young child also swears very near the beginning not to be cute or apt to her behaviour or anything intelligent, just to laugh at the fact they have a child swearing. This movie literally revels in ‘dicking around’ as they say umpteen times, with excessive swearing, sexual dirtiness and mums sticking it to the man/their mums in more of that 2016 slow mo chaos where they go to town on booze and profanity.

It’s a film with more of the same and further enforces my reasoning that this film really never needed to be thrust upon us. It being churned out so quickly really makes it clear this a desperate cash grab for the jolly holiday period. This and ‘Daddy’s Home’ swiping at the Christmas box office season is ridiculous as they’re both frankly unnecessary sequels. I guess I’ll try and be nice somewhere and say that the dodgeball scene at a trampoline park is quite good and squares off characters nicely but aside from this the film does nothing to dispel predictability and tedium.

Mila Kunis is more of the same as the capable yet quite plain lead, who has her mother to contend with. I was kind to Kathryn Hahn with my previous review but this time her rudeness and blindly drunken sexual naughtiness is dreary and too much. Kristen Bell is a likable presence again as the slightly kooky Kiki with an even kookier parent. Cheryl Hines is weirdly deranged and they wring this idea dry constantly leaving only her customised Kiki pyjamas as an amusing quality. It’s Christine Baranski who walks away as the almost saving grace, her brilliant sharp tongue and no nonsense rich granny attitude is perfectly played.

In all honesty, I zoned out of this film more than once. It’s a needless and unfunny sequel wrapped up in tinsel and it left me icy cold instead of festively fuzzy.

3.5/10