Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 (2018)

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Whilst Disney are retelling over their own classic material, it’s fair to say they aren’t adding many sequels to their films. Cue Ralph who smashes his way onto the big screen for a second time, the first Disney sequel in 7 years. Could this lumbering 8-bit character with good intentions capture the glorious magic again?

It’s been 6 years and Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is still best buds with Sugar Rush driver Vanellope (Sarah Silverman). They spend all their downtime together but she’s feeling slightly bored in her duty, matters aren’t helped when her game breaks. So when WiFi arrives, Ralph and Vanellope venture into a limitless new land to try and save Sugar Rush but both discover their own meanings in the expanse of the world wide web.

When Ralph and co. rocked up back in 2012, it was a video game delight with neat little nods to old school arcade games and the emotional core between the strained pairing of the hulk-like titular character and his sweeter companion worked nicely. This film follows up by adding more to what we know of the place where Fix-It Felix, Pac-Man and the rest hang out, in fact it adds a humongous amount more. In a way this serves the film well in giving a large scope to riff on but at times it feels like the creators are so preoccupied with this massive environment that the heart is lost.

Directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston hurl in a mass of references, whether game or internet based. Yes, the world wide web is a great platform to launch a new path for Ralph to travel down but it often has a vibe of shoving all its Easter eggs in one basket. The film is undoubtedly scattered with a stupendous run of playful background sightings and though it can detract from a better orchestrated narrative, there is joy to be had in the madness.

A mini Disney section is gleeful, mostly in the fun attempt to try and spot as many House of Mouse characters as possible. A princess slumber party scene is ace and it gives each doe eyed lass their own joke about the problems they have and face as Disney heroines. There are visual gags aplenty from their pyjama tops to outside Stormtroopers, Iron Man and a later princess sequence aided by powers and shifting musical cues is very enjoyable.

Amongst the sprawling carnage of an 80’s arcade figure exploring the likes of eBay, Pinterest and the Dark Web, there is this unshakeable feeling of it all being weird and that’s even before Alfred Molina slides in as some slug-like virus keeper. A surreal song and dance section, Miranda Sings and zany moments make you feel like you’re surfing the web with constant popups. The story was crafted by 5 people and sometimes it feels like the film is being tugged in all manner of directions. It would have benefited by having a proper villain and earlier introduced too.

The third act itself with a ‘King Kong’ inspired climax is underwhelming considering how big it all is and it’s a strange visual finale for a film about friendship and the pressures of insecurity, it makes sense but it goes overboard. Luckily the actual ending of the film with the main duo provides a touching moment as the journey reaches a conclusion you cannot help but get swept up by the candy sweet emotion, which is further enhanced by the fantastic vocals from Silverman and Reilly.

‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ is jam packed with references of all kinds and it’s a film warranting a second watch in terms of catching all the detail that’s littered about. In terms of plot however, this isn’t special or really that different to what the first film had. Less is more and this film goes way entertainingly over the top in a visual feast for the eyes but less of a delectable treat in terms of storytelling.

7/10

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Overlord (2018)

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Now this may not be the fourth instalment in the ‘Cloverfield’ world as people had speculated when word got around that J.J Abrams was behind this feature, but that’s truly for the best because this is a stonking great stand-alone movie that blows the roof off with tremendous energy and B-movie revelry.

It’s the day before D-Day and a squadron have orders to reach a church in a French village and destroy a German planted radio tower. A few of the men survive and band together, Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo) heads out and on his wanderings he uncovers a deadly secret concocted by a sinister doctor, who is carrying out a series of tests to produce a serum which could gift the Nazis some soldiers that can’t die.

This is only the second full length film to come from Australian director Julius Avery but it’s a blistering delight. The first steps of ‘Overlord’ are much more gripping and dramatic than you’d expect. The whole WW2 angle and the mission that these soldiers are given are dealt with by Avery with fantastic explosions of fear stemming from German-occupied France and amongst this you can find some softer moments in the script as the comradery grows and the humour rounds out the edges.

What works so well is the way the movie sort of reveals its true intentions as a zombie film, at first glance a spectator who’d seen no trailer, poster or any information would see the first half an hour as a solid war movie and it is. There is great mystery building amongst the horrors of this occupation, which culminates in a horror of a very different kind.

Once the gritty style of the war moves into the more gross out zombie-horror section you can expect large dollops of bloody prosthetics and gory VFX that might not shock but it certainly grabs the attention and pulls you into this extremely visceral genre piece. It is true to say that along the way the characters we follow are two-dimensional and their journeys are fairly predictable but these paper thin characteristics aren’t trying and in fact, the poor decision making and off character choices are very much the bread and butter of horrors so it can be forgiven.

There is a huge amount of fun to be had whilst watching ‘Overlord’, the entire feature may be brash but it’s brilliantly enjoyable and it feels like some science fuelled nightmare with moody Call of Duty visuals and twisted nastiness to boot.

8/10

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

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Halloween is done and dusted so that must mean we’re onto the next big holiday event, which is Christmas and here comes the first festive feature of the year. ‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ retells the 1816 story of ‘‘The Nutcracker and the Mouse King’ and the famous ballet composed by Tchaikovsky, so with Disney behind this, is the film a feast for the senses?

Just before her father makes her attend a high society ball, Clara (Mackenzie Foy) is gifted a present that her mother wished her to have. The present is a intricate egg but it’s locked and Clara needs the key which leads her out of the party into a fantasy land led by a regent trio in fear of Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) who resides in the Four Realms. Clara’s arrival could spell a hopeful change for the kingdom and she may just discover more than she bargained for.

A stellar cast and the usually reliable might of the House of Mouse aren’t strong enough qualities to save this film from feeling insanely lifeless and a less than encouraging early welcome to the Christmas season. It just feels like there is never enough time or care placed into any character and Clara herself becomes a less than engaging heroine. The script chugs along with no apparent desire to make you connect to what you are seeing.

There is a glorious amount of colour and pizzazz on show, lavish sets and fancy production design all look well and good but they aren’t enough to distract from a painful script and frequently irritating performances, Foy being dull a lot of the time and Keira Knightley going down the squeaky route in the same vein as the annoying presence of Michelle Williams in ‘I Feel Pretty’. The acting can be slightly forgiven as it fits the mould of a super child friendly fantasy flick but the abundance of horrendous cliches littering the entire screenplay would even make a 10 year old with little film knowledge roll their eyes.

This film does excel in the costume department and I have no doubt for that and Hair and Make-up it will pick up some Academy nominations. The attention to detail in these areas are exquisite and it does help the film at least look spectacular, it’s a shame they couldn’t have tried putting that effort in the storytelling because it’s all hollow and fairly sleep-inducing.

‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ feels like a lazy script transplant from 2010 Disney feature ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and with further lazy parallels to a Narnia like entrance to a snowy landscape and ‘The Wizard of Oz’ references including the yellow brick road and a riff on the “we’re not in Kansas anymore” line, it’s a movie that comes across like no real thought has gone into the process, making the whole thing less than a transporting experience to watch.

A grand costume affair but for a yuletide film, this leaves you feeling exceptionally cold.

3.5/10

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

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The show must go on. After ups and downs that would sink even the sturdiest ship, this production has survived lead actor changes and a fired director to keep its head afloat and finally see release. It was worth the wait because this biopic docks with dynamic delight and is a blast of fun.

‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ chronicles the birth of the band Queen up to their Live Aid performance in 1985. It mostly follows the life of lead singer Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), as he both deals with his sexuality and identity and the hopes that the group will achieve greatness for providing something different to the music landscape.

The story predominantly follows Freddie Mercury as his is the most captivating presence to observe. As a Queen affair, the other 3 members don’t play too much of a part, it’s mostly their music that does the talking and quickly this film sounds like a rock musical. Their incredible songs take over and though it would have been much better to let the film take some time in setting up their genesis, the sounds of their classic tunes can’t help but course through you and get your head nodding and your feet tapping.

This early rush of Mercury joining May and Taylor and before the audience knows it, the foursome are touring in America feels like a wasted opportunity for a gradual climb to their success but as the film progresses like the operatic vision in Freddie’s mind, it fills out with chords of fun brilliance and beats of more dramatic emotional moments. Though it plays fast and loose with a lot of facts, it’s a movie that gets better and better and when the credits roll you wish that it wasn’t over.

Bob Geldolf’s massive Live Aid concert bookends this film, the first scene is just a gorgeous snippet that tickles the senses to the arrival of a phenomenal band. It is the ending scene that plays out like a cinematic concert. The guitar riffs, drum smacks and Mercury’s vocals ring out and reverberate around the screen in the biggest and best possible way.

It isn’t solely their music that makes you go Radio Gaga, there could have been more to the privacy of Freddie and his band-mates but the brush strokes which paint us Freddie’s personal life are more included than you may expect. The LGBT scene of the period, his mannerisms and ultimately the disease which took his life at a cruelly young age aren’t flippantly tossed away, they were part of this icons magnificent character and the film ensures to include this side of him. The support of May, Taylor and John Deacon do come into play more as we see how supportive they are through thick and thin, without them Mercury would go on a full self-destructive crash.

Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury is inspired casting and though he felt unaware at first of Queen’s back catalogue, he quickly embodies the singer in such a way that there’s numerous times you think you are watching the real man in front of your very eyes. The movements of Malek are exceptional, he possesses an otherworldly electric grace that fires up the stage as Mercury did so well. These enigmatic and flamboyant touches are vibrantly sold by the actor. Lucy Boynton is a wonderful, sweet presence as Mary Austin, the woman behind Freddie. The actor can tell a thousand stories through her expressive eyes and the emotion she delivers shared with Malek are touching, you can really gauge their closeness despite everything. A semi-cameo from Mike Myers is amusing even just for his almost Shrek accent and ‘Wayne’s World’ reference.

This may definitely be a film that comes across like a self-congratulatory pat on the back to the band, with their hits zooming out of the speakers like a crazy stadium jukebox but it’s the most fun, energetic musical ride. At the end of the day, music is a universal language and Queen’s speaks volumes to how bold and visionary they were and will always be which the film very nearly reflects.

8/10

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

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All roads lead here, the poster states and this is a road I’d been eagerly travelling down as I looked forward to its release. The trailer captured a perfect sense of mystery, doom and humour which are all wonderfully present throughout the entire feature. ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’ is a mixed bag but never a bad movie.

The El Royale is a bi-state hotel situated between Nevada and California; a place that used to be hustlin’ and bustlin’ but is now a cheap stopover for random drifters. The film sees four people staying and each have their own reasons to why they’ve ended up there.

This is a film of two halves and you can really feel when the film switches up and becomes almost a very different product. A shady figure appears dripping from the rain and that’s when you could almost check out of this thriller. It’s a shame because all the subplots are captivating tales but this one spills over into the main event and lessens what had come before. It’s almost as if the movie somewhat loses its grip on the hotel as a character.

The El Royale most certainly is an interesting character and it’s glorious production design give it a great stamp of dated period visuals. The red line streaking through the middle as it splits up the pair of states is a fun starting point for this film to create a business with odd quirks. The mystery of what the hotel management may really be up to and the secrets it possesses are vaguely lost as the aforementioned subplot takes precedence.

You can definitely tell that the director and co-writer of ‘The Cabin in the Woods‘ is behind this, as he plays around with tropes of the thriller genre with gleeful skill as he did with comedy and horror in that 2012 flick. Drew Goddard doesn’t go as extreme with this movie and perhaps this is what the film lacks because there isn’t quite the desired oomph to the later stages of this feature. Goddard’s script kind of paces out in the last forty minutes very nearly making the film feel like a wasted opportunity.

All the customer interactions are ace though and the initial set up of this dual state establishment is solid. There’s a remarkable mysterious tone swirling around who these people might be and why they are there. Chapter title cards signalling the character subplots provide the film a TV serial identity and keeps the audience easily tracking the criss-cross narrative of these characters as their paths unite.

‘Bad Times’ is a great ensemble piece and a whole host of talented actors enjoy running amok in this bold story. Dakota Johnson, Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo and Chris Hemsworth are just a few of the names that round out a top tier cast. In the film there’s a nice tender moment between Bridges’ Father Flynn and Miles played by Lewis Pullman, the latter is really something throughout this film, he quivers with a knowing dissatisfaction to what the hotel can mean for people who enter. Jon Hamm is a hammy salesman with great comic delivery but he owns a serious side as his motives become clear and then there’s Erivo who has stunning vocals and balances her singing prowess with emotion and a resilient force to survive.

A thick layer of atmosphere and drip-feeding of mystery help this film feel positively original and a series of delectable performances keeps the investment at a high but ‘Bad Times’ cannot quite keep up momentum and becomes an almost vacant space.

7/10

Skyscraper (2018)

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Juggernaut action star Dwayne Johnson is back for his second blockbuster of the year, after ‘Rampage’. This time around he’s tackling terrorists, Hong Kong cops and a star-piercing blaze.

Former FBI Hostage Rescuer Will Sawyer (Johnson) now assesses security, which has landed him and his family a stay in the new residential section of the worlds tallest building. The Pearl is meant to be perfectly safe but whilst Will is out and about, a group of terrorists storm the skyscraper and start a fire in the hope of smoking out something valuable and Will’s children and wife Sarah (Neve Campbell) are also trapped inside.

Director of ‘We’re the Millers’ and writer/director for ‘Dodgeball’, Rawson Marshall Thurber is in charge of this summer action movie. He’s clearly handled comedies well before but this film feels like a strange combination of trying to be serious and gritty yet also self aware of it’s ridiculousness. Saying that, he manages to ensure the film which clearly echoes ‘Die Hard’ has some of it’s own cool set pieces to sell.

In terms of spectacle, ‘Skyscraper’ has a good couple of stand out examples. The crane sequence is finely executed if not totally unrealistic, a makeshift bridge within The Pearl racks up some fiery suspense and the inner workings of the spherical top to the building itself provides us a Truman Show-esque shot of Sawyer over a city skyline and this same venue becomes the backdrop for a genuinely great sense-meddling final act battle.

All the visual effects team deserve mention because they’ve made this humongous skyscraper feel somewhat believable, plus the cinematic quality of The Pearl’s design are massively sleek and hands the film an awesome visual flair. Even with this futuristic, gleaming quality I felt that the movie wasn’t anywhere near as exciting as I’d expected, it’s not overly fun or silly like it should have been. The attempts of tension and strained family drama never hooked me in. It’s almost like they were shooting for a genuine disaster movie with tongue in cheek aspects duct taped on, which feels a bit off for me.

The rocky mountain himself provides that expected charm that he’s proven over and over. It’s also nice to see Mr. Johnson playing a character with a physical flaw and being someone that can actually get hurt and pushed around instead of the usual indestructible roles he’s become the poster boy for.

Some flashy visuals and a handful of action don’t do enough to stop the film suffering from not being as heart poundingly engaging as it deserved to be. Turn your brain off and don’t turn it back on again to enjoy ‘Skyscraper’ to the fullest.

6/10

Tag (2018)

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Adulting can be tough, that’s life unfortunately but a bunch of mates playing a game of tag aka ‘it’ in their childhood and over 30 years later, putting aside realities of the real world to still catch each other sounds cool right? Well this actually happened and this comedy takes inspiration from that wacky true story.

Hoagie (Ed Helms) is keen to get his group of friends back together for one last hurrah in the hopes of tagging Jerry (Jeremy Renner); the only member whose never been caught. Every year in May, they play tag wherever and whenever. As the month ticks on and Jerry nears his wedding day, Hoagie and his trio of buddies try to finally get their friend.

The idea itself is a unique and amusing one, from the time I saw the trailer I was on board, because it looked like the film would be genuinely funny with a quirky story throughout. The comedy falls flat though and the actual juvenile witnessing of adults playing a child’s game, seen in some post credit videos are the light-hearted fun that the movie failed at entirely.

Tonally, this movie feels rather odd. It’s like a strange juggling act of typical American prat-falling with more serious elements of how they’re behaving and what they do no matter the cost. A narrative of playing this extensive game of tag to stay in contact could be endearing but it’s not explored enough. What we get instead, are excessive uses of swearing, slapstick violence and slow motion fights with a vaguely comic but over the top Renner voice over.

I will admit there are some funny moments, for example; three of them slapping each other in a small circle so they aren’t it or a house-break that goes beyond where you’d expect. Then there’s a genuinely unfunny joke made me seize up super-hard; a miscarriage strand that’s elongated, truly dark and wildly unfunny. The rest of the movie comes short of the premise and feels little like a comedy, thanks to my mind thinking that with just a tiny shift of direction and a change of score this feature could easily be a horror, Jerry and his dominance are almost sinister and the team are all fairly unlikable.

Helms helms the rag-tag group together nicely, he gives it his all as the competitive ringleader out to finally catch his distant compadre. Jake Johnson is amusing when believing the world is ‘The Truman Show’ and comes across like a stoner version of Nick Miller from ‘New Girl’. Renner drops his Hawkeye arrows but utilises his hero-like Avenger training as the fit and strongest tag player. Isla Fisher is a talented actor and usually funny but here she does little else than shout profanities aggressively. Jon Hamm also has little to do, he smoulders well and plays a tinge of arrogance but feels like the business bound chap to easily get the Wall Street Journal arc into play. Annabelle Wallis plays that journalist and like us is an onlooker to this madness, watching on in disbelief.

I feel like the true aspect itself is a dumb yet good idea but the film runs away with it too much and can’t handle the heavier story points. I was mildly entertained at times and some of the action is exciting but the cast look like they had more fun making it than I had watching them in it.

5/10