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

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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

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

Paddington 2 (2017)

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Hurrah! A sequel that’s just as wonderful as the first time around. Peruvian bear Paddington is back for some more misadventures in this great family friendly film that cleverly mixes fun, heart and a sweet marmalade helping of entertainment.

Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) is used to his Windsor Garden lifestyle at home with the nicer than nice Browns but his Aunt Lucy’s (voiced by Imelda Staunton) birthday is imminent and he’d like to earn enough money to get her a special pop up book of London. This same book gains the attention of actor and thief Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) who wants it for his own greedy gain.

This film isn’t just about the delightfully British storytelling that leaves you with a glow in your heart, there’s plenty of splendid visual glory to aid this narrative along. One example of this brilliance is within the section where the pop up book becomes a fully realised London and we swoop through the 3D paper landmarks, it’s just beautiful. There is an evidently Wes Anderson-esque style to some of the movie, but it isn’t a cheap copy and within the very ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ prison scenes there’s a delightful quirkiness to the plot development emphasised by the similar way in which the 1st Paddington flick opened up a dolls house like building to peer through.

The microcosm of the street that the Browns live on, surviving and flourishing due to the kindness and politeness of Paddington is a great example of his lovely influence for the rest of London and beyond. The family are still a wonderful dynamic each with their characteristics that are nicely set up in the opening narration by Pad-Bear. It’s a funny and yet warming touch as we catch up with how the family is doing since last time we saw them.

As villains go, Hugh Grant’s turn as the dastardly fading actor clinging to any spotlight he can is a marvellous one. The writers Paul King and Simon Farnaby have ensured that his drive propels the plot along but they don’t neglect the humour in setting up wickedly barmy antics of a self indulgent actor. On the slightly poorer side I was hoping the clue hunt idea could have been fleshed out more and been more engaging but they spent more time obviously on Paddington and his hipster prison which I’m sure many would try and break into to experience!

Slapstick is just as present a tool within this movie and it’s not entirely grating like it can so often be. It is admittedly the weaker side of the film aimed at the younger audience goers and yet all the excessive falling doesn’t take the front seat which is a relief. It’s gladly a movie directed with such care and attention, to making a wonderfully cosy feature fun for every age and author Michael Bond’s grizzly creation comes back to the big screen and Blighty’s capital in such a way that you don’t want him to ever leave it.

Whishaw is just as innocently naive yet comfortably good natured as he was before. He brings emotive realness to a bear that you’d be happy to bear in your home. Grant as Buchanan is amazing, his thespian theatrics are turned up to 11 for OTT heaven and stay tuned during the credits for some am dram campy goodness. Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins are just as nice as ever, there continual care to be there for Pad-Bear is believably felt. Julie Walters gets more time to shine this time which is good and she delivers an amazing line about the evilness of acting as a profession. Peter Capaldi is a great grouch assigning himself undeserved power in the street. Both Richard Ayoade and Farnaby threaten to steal the show in their cameo roles, the latter back again as Barry; the amusing and mildly sleazy guard.

‘Paddington 2’ splash lands with a window cleaning bucket of charm, leaves you smiling and perhaps teary eyed at times. It’s an adorable and lovely family treat, that I found as enjoyable as Paddington likes the orange stuff.

8.5/10

The Glass Castle (2017)

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Based on the real life growing up of Jeanette Walls and her free spirited and quite unorthodox parents, this indie feeling film has some good moments that stem mostly from the performances of the actors involved. Aside from that I cannot shake the feeling that the core of the story never seems to click.

Raised by artist Rose Walls (Naomi Watts) and Rex Walls (Woody Harrelson) who can’t stick to one job or place; are four children. Throughout their upbringing they are taken along for the ride with their impoverished folks. Eventually as they all get older, Jeanette (Brie Larson) truly wants to move on and out and we see her living in New York with wealthy fiance David (Max Greenfield), but her parents may have followed her to the Big Apple.

This is certainly an interesting tale to turn into a biographical film and the heart does certainly strain to be felt from time to time but it’s clouded by a faint mishandling by director, Destin Daniel Cretton, who never seems to keep a pattern or pace to his structure. The Glass Castle uses flashbacks in it’s storytelling but a lot of the time it jumps to and fro, lingers longer in the past or comes back to the present with no real connection to tie the plot together with any interest or style.

It also doesn’t help too much that the parents, especially Rex, seem at times to be too aggressive, alcoholic or out there to redeem themselves as people. I know Rex is based on a real life figure but I just never connected to him and so the final stages of the movie didn’t grip or emotionally resonate with me in the way the director/writers probably intended. The whole bringing up of the family seems completely abusive, but the film seems to go about it in a way that says this way of life is kooky and educational because they’re experiencing life and not trapped in the grind of expected living, and that never sat right with myself.

I guess Cretton, Marti Noxon and Andrew Lanham were hoping to write a screenplay that left its audience uplifted but sadly they are far from that ideal. The flashback timing and abusive quality, as said don’t help but on top of this it feels like a fair-to-middling production you’d see on some network TV station. I know the family is unconventional but the movie comes across as extremely paint by numbers and conventional that the set-up becomes tiresome.

Brie Larson tries to be the glue that holds the film together, her 1980’s older version of Jeanette trying to escape and find a new life but also realising they are part of her family and therefore part of her, but she just can’t quite manage it and her performance though solid and strong isn’t her best. Naomi Watts is interesting to watch and she seems to go for her role with gusto helping her character, Rose, feel real. Woody Harrelson goes for broke playing his part, there are times when it feels over the top but he definitely makes Rex a character of continuous disturbance.

Ultimately, this isn’t a movie I’d watch again in a hurry, there are some vaguely alright moments but overall the entire product tries to be enlightening but only becomes overly sentimental and hokey.

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?!

Rogue One (2016)

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Jumping into hyperspace is this Star Wars story, slotting before ‘A New Hope’, it’s a fantastically expansive kick-start to the Lucasfilm and Disney anthology series, with the overall feel of this operatic space blockbuster being somewhat different to what has come before.

After being freed by Rebel Alliance officer Cassian (Diego Luna), Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) comes to realise her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) has been building a powerful weapon for the Imperial Army. Hoping to find some plans to destroy the Death Star, Jyn leads a troop of fighters to do just that and avoid the evil grasp of Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn).

A film such as this is obviously going to arrive with trumpets tooting and hype at an all time peak, so it’s always a task to live up to expectations. Mostly, this movie does succeed if not having a few minor weaknesses. The detail and visual splendour of every planet alone is enough to delight and even more so when seen on the IMAX screen. The new characters are engaging enough to take us on this rebel journey and they’re written with that classic Star Wars code of either bad or good to fit this standalone story snugly with the other movies.

What works so nicely and what I liked the most wasn’t just the impressive scale of the hero’s mission but the attempt at a different tone set up here. It’s not exactly darker but threat is certainly on the line and with everyone’s favourite masked baddie back again it’s clear that the good guys need to watch out. The narrative we receive is unique enough in not tripping fully down nostalgia lane and it has us thrown into a murkier spy-like sci-fi with lives very much on the line.

It’s a simple focused story which is why it’s easy to follow this film and immerse yourself amongst the new creatures, wonderful Michael Giacchino score and fan pleasing links to the Star Wars galaxy. Gareth Edwards directs confidently and with his team the structure of the movie is sound, it all works well, maybe too well because there’s times when the movie feels safe even when it’s treading down an unexplored road of danger and rebellion.

For me at least, the ending is orchestrated greatly, sky fights and ground battles combine in harmony but there comes a time when casualties of war become commonplace and drastically lose impact. Also a near end deus ex machina is totally cliched and felt lazy. Everything just comes to a head, it’s like they tried set up but it didn’t quite work and thinking on it the simple story is non-daring and tightropes the line of being not Star Wars but yet a thoroughly Star Wars picture.

Felicity Jones is brilliant in this, she portrays a gritty determination and hopeful look for a better Empire. The wavering teary eyes give great character emotion and then she can do steely Lara Croft action or engaging empathising smiles to round Jyn Erso as a cool addition to the Wars World. Ben Mendelsohn does a fine job in almost stealing the show, snarls and calm villainous stares make him a marvellous antagonist. Forest Whitaker is a believable guardian yet with a shaky moral core being good yet having a mean streak for intruders. Diego Luna pairs nicely with Jones, the writing of an affection is lame but he’s a rough and ready soldier and a capable male lead. It’s great to hear James Earl Jones voicing Vader once more and trust me, Darth does force choke his way to bad-assery during the film.

Mostly, Rogue One is an entertaining change to the galaxy we know, as it tries to conjure up something a bit different which is almost 100% successful and aside from a couple of near-end niggles, this is a movie to excite all ages and comfort you whilst blasting you with new faces and new worlds.

7.5/10