Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

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Slinging into cinemas is an animated take on the New York web flying hero we know and love and whilst the MCU may have dusted off Parker for now, this superhero outing is well and truly alive with comedy, colour and creative heart.

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) is a teenager in the Big Apple wanting to follow his artistic side and on a graffiti adventure he’s bitten by a radioactive spider making him a second Spider-Man in the city. As a super collider threatens his world, Morales is faced with a host of other Spidey heroes and learns to be one himself thanks to the teachings of multi-verse Peter B. Parker (Nick Johnson).

It’s this multi (or Spider) verse setup which makes for fun blends of different animation. The artists and illustrators have amazingly captured the details of quirks from the likes of ‘Looney Tunes’ inspired slapstick, brooding noir shades of black and grey and cutesy anime amongst the normal world of circled crosshatching to reflect the patterned texture of real-life comic books. The animation across the board is stunning and some of the best example of computer-animated graphic I’ve ever watched.

The story makes time for great team ups between the meeting heroes and they’re never messy or confused, each version of Spider-Man gets their time to shine and the story is totally engaging and cleverly thought through. Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman add great layers of darkness, humour and heroic morals into the screenplay whilst never losing the central beating heart of Miles and his world.

Vibrancy feels like too weak a word to describe this colourful comic-book flick, which just explodes off the page with flashes of bright visuals and gorgeous style. It’s a darn art masterpiece which takes the breath away and should win every award that goes its way. In all honesty it’s an incredible wonder of workmanship and the whole thing from start to finish is insanely enjoyable. The impending glitch of the villains’ plan gives the film great drive and Morales’ learning curve lends the film that “with great power comes great responsibility” ideal but marvellously riffs on that and a couple of other Spider-Man moments.

Into the Spider-Verse’ is a lively and immensely entertaining animated superhero movie. It’s backed by a cracking soundtrack, spot-on voice performances, sensational style and a unique mirage of shifting shapes makes for one of the best final acts you’ll see. This is no doubt the best ‘Spider-Man’ film and it’s quite possibly one of the best comic book movies.

9/10

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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

Outlaw King (2018)

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“The English are coming…” and so is Chris Pine adopting a Scottish lilt as the lead in Netflix’s latest original feature. As has often been the case, the streaming giant’s release of originals have been hit or miss, so with director of ‘Hell or High Water’ behind this historical drama, which side does this one fall on?

1304 and Scotland hope that Edward I (Stephen Dillane), the King of England can help them select a new successor but instead he takes control of their country. It isn’t long until Robert Bruce (Pine) starts mastering a revolt against the English but with only some men willing to stand with him against a might army, it could prove to be a difficult task.

It is true to say that this is a film that takes a while to get into the sword swing of things but the final 20 minutes make up for a so-so opening 30 minutes. The introductions to Bruce, Edward, the Prince of Wales and other characters are explained in little detail adding no weighted history to a movie clearly happy to be more loosely based on fact than providing rich interest to its audience.

Along the way of rebellion, there are some odd camera shots where they enhance and zoom into certain scenes which just felt off; especially for the period of this story. They felt too modern, too stylish for the context but Barry Ackroyd’s cinematography makes up for these minor quibbles. He’s most definitely a DoP who knows how to capture the gritty dramatics of tension and conflict, from ‘The Hurt Locker’ to ‘Detroit’, this recent offering is no exception as the soiled lands of English’s northern neighbours carry a grounded beauty.

As mentioned, the last spell of this film whacks with medieval carnage, a bold and exhilarating melee of mud and blood which sees the possible hope of Bruce and his Scots carrying out a clever plan. Throughout the film there are a number of other mini battles where daggers and swords provide plenty of maroon-soaked damage and director David Mackenzie doesn’t hide away from the brutality of the actions of these men. ‘Outlaw King’ proudly wears its macho quality but it’s devoid of major heart and would be more memorable on a big screen, left to Netflix it serves as a forgettable distraction.

One of the four top Hollywood Chris sports a crown and beard as Robert the Bruce and his accent is good, which is always nice compared to some Americans trying to don accents from our side of the pond. Pine ensures there’s an honesty and swagger to his performance which helps to keep us on side with his plight. The strongest most memorable turns come from Aaron Taylor-Johnson; as a ballsy, aggressive man desiring his home back and Florence Pugh who is sworn to marriage with Robert but isn’t simply left as the dull wife indoors. Pugh carries likeability and emotion as Elizabeth.

So whilst this may not be a film that really captures your attention, it’s got a strong cast and an excellent final set-piece which keeps this Netflix Original from being one to skip over.

6.5/10

Stronger (2017)

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Unlike the usual and therefore, cliched biographical dramas, this film based on a true story of a terrorist attack survivor is mature and involving and raw.

Costco worker and Red Sox fan Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) lives at home in Boston with his mum, Patty (Miranda Richardson). Desperately trying to win back his on/off girlfriend, Jeff ensures he’ll see Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany) at the finish line of the Boston Marathon but he’s caught in the blast and loses both his legs. The following weeks see him try to come to terms with this tragic change in his life.

A lot of films that adapt or take from real life accounts seem to run along with over sentimentality and hope to force their audiences into gushing with sad tears, which of course works on the most part for people but I’ve always been one to find this tactic false and misleading. Gladly, this movie doesn’t push the emotional side of proceedings and lets the devastating tragedy of Jeff’s drama come across in a more genuine and bitterly angry way.

It’s in the relationship between Jeff and Erin that the film feels alive or most real. You see both sides and this film does set up the human flaws in Jeff from before and after the bombing. He’s a figure that never seems wholly scared of commitment just shies away from it, this becomes even more of a realisation once he’s reliant on his wheelchair and the help of Erin. Their journey is very much up and down and the film doesn’t gloss over the troubling but expected anger and self-hatred aspect Jeff faces, which he turn takes out on his girlfriend.

There are some well delivered scenes amongst the relationship angle of this inspirational hero narrative. The way the camera keeps his disabled legs out of focus in keeping with Jeff’s understandable decision to not look as they remove the bandages and gauze is a tough moment. A screaming match in the car may be a certain cliche but it’s a heated and close framed scene that packs a punch. In a dangerous but comedic way, Jeff and his brothers leave a bar and Jeff attempts driving back which is done in a light hearted free spirited way that works quite well.

Certain moments throughout, like the continual patriotic vibe and this hero pedestal he’s been thrown onto feel like a bit too much. The pitching at a baseball game, his flag waving and so on, he’s set up as a hero which the film at times questions how he is for just being there when a bomb went off and having his legs lost, but then at times it truly buys into this hero arc and feels like the only cliche of the movie.

Jake Gyllenhaal is sensational in this, the quite vulnerable child-like eyes he demonstrates from before attending the marathon continue throughout. There’s a crackling damaged intensity in his core that he acts with such outstanding detail. Tatiana Maslany is on par with the acting talents of Gyllenhaal, she releases hugely affecting emotion in the light of her world being turned upside down. As Erin says, Jeff isn’t the only one hurt, there’s a circle all around him of people changed by what happened. It’s not a selfish outburst and thanks to the likable and genuinely deep rooted care and heart she brings, Maslany ensures the connection between the pair is believable.

It’s not a tear-jerker and thankfully it’s not trying to be that kind of weepy picture. It may make you cry just a little but it’s a strong and inspirational film that is carried more by it’s two leads than the way the story is told.

7.5/10

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017)

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This was a film that likely would have passed be my; I hadn’t seen a trailer or knew anything about this, but I’d call it a hidden gem because it’s just wonderfully made harking to the Hollywood of old.

After falling ill before a stage performance, former silver screen actress Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) wishes to stay at the house of Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) and his kin. Turner and Grahame had been in a relationship for the last two years or so and we see their up and down romance throughout the movie.

Based on a memoir from Peter Turner himself, this romantically themed drama is extremely engaging. Firstly I must comment on the utterly believable relationship between Bening and Bell. This old/young romance never feels wrong, strange or make believe, there’s a genuine affection and attraction built between the actors that helps the film along. The film delves back and forth between her at the house in 1981 and her meeting Turner in 1979, the transitions to and from these moments in time are quite clever and give it an almost one take theatrical vibe as if moving scenes forward on a stage.

For my sins, I had no clue that the glamorous performer in question was actually based on a real actress from the heyday of Hollywood. This only made the story more impacting as I came to realise the true account running through the narrative. I liked to think I know Oscars and actors but I obviously need to brush up on the glitz of 40’s/50’s stardom. It’s this pizzazz and studio based ideal of talent and fitting into a mould to sell pictures that gives Gloria real depth and vulnerability as you see her clinging on to youth and wanting to be loved.

There are some aspects in the film that are predictable and you know what someone may say or what characters will do and a sequence you see from one perspective gets re-shown from the other side with a healthy dose of melodramatic strings rising and clear emphasis on trying to make you emotional, almost cheesy I could say. There’s clear green screen in use for places like New York and beaches of California but they’re apt in a way for this film about acting, gifting the whole feature a movie look as if we’re seeing their memories as glances on a film reel.

Annette Bening better get recognised come awards season, if she’s not up for an Oscar then a Golden Globe at least because she is sublime in this. The mannerisms and the way she talks are an almost sweetly yet seductive Marilyn Monroe quality and she carries confidence and false confidence in equal measure. She completely buries herself into the role and I bought her turn as Grahame hook line and sinker. Jamie Bell gives Turner great care and love, you buy into this man that isn’t much of anything, a success or triumph but a funny, interesting and kind guy who cares deeply for this enigmatic presence in his life. He plays opposite Bening with convincing ease and they’re both fantastic together. It’s great seeing Bell reunite with Julie Walters who dons a Scouse accent rather well and brings that expected and needed heart and comedic touch. I also want to comment on the much too short but almost scene-stealing turn from Frances Barber who plays Gloria’s sister. The icy stares and sharp tongue were brilliant.

This is a film that doesn’t seem to acknowledge the intelligence of its audience with predictable moments and repeated scenes driving home points we’d already gathered but it’s a special movie with a fragile soul beautifully illustrated by the exceptional performances from Bening and Bell.

7/10

No Stranger Than Love (2015)

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Wow, after seeing the copious amounts of negative reviews for this apparently “disappointingly bland” romantic comedy movie, I expected something tiresome and bad. Instead I got something that however lacking of succeeding it’s aim, was still watchable and interesting.

Art teacher Lucy Sherrington (Alison Brie) is super sweet and nice, all the men in the town love her even if they don’t know her that well. Lucy shares a secret with gym teacher Clint Coburn (Colin Hanks). Together they declare strong feelings for one another which leads to a deep repercussion.

Without going into the aftermath of what saying “I love you” has in store for them both, I can say because I didn’t glance at the plot summary I’m glad I wasn’t in the know. Likewise I shall not say here what happens in case people reading haven’t seen the bio for what this movie is about, that way it won’t spoil what I thought was a unique and clever surprise.

Nick Wernham directs this sickly rom-com with a few neat shots and the capturing of this small town is done well. It feels like a place we all know from movies where everyone knows other people’s business or would like to. Having the character of Lucy not just a plain easy nice gal makes her more engaging, even if she isn’t stretched further in terms of characteristics. Wernham manages to land this film a quirky tone in the most part which does help.

Even if I don’t fully agree with the bad reviews, I must say that the film didn’t go anywhere once the thing that happens…happened. A shady character becomes boring as he goes on and the oddness of the town feels ever fainter as the plot progresses. It does then sadly become a usual suspect of the rom-com genre with cliches, lovey dovey writing and a wishy washy ending. Though I did like the admittedly pretentious poem recited on the hill before the credits hit.

Maybe it’s just my sort of thing, a weird premise and a kooky look at love but I quite enjoyed this movie and didn’t find it that terrible. It doesn’t work when trying to script the whole frailty of life, the workings of the human heart and love but it’s a cute indie film that delivered a cool surprise, a few laughs and a shot at affirming subtext. Also having Alison Brie in it probably helped too.

Speaking of which, Brie is captivating but doesn’t have much material to cope with aside from the Annie ‘Community’ appeal of being kind and objected. She plays the romantic interest to everybody well and you do feel for her as she tries coping with the fact she’s done something wrong. Colin Hanks utilises his voice well, in a way that makes him increasingly annoying which is just right for the development of this story. Justin Chatwin is an interesting man as Rydell. He’s clearly motivated and leering but there’s a well performed soft side to him as he opens up about his past.

Perhaps it isn’t a fantastic movie in terms of writing or directing, but I stand by the fact I liked it and what it tried to pull off.

6/10

Sisters (2015)

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Like the central party gone wrong, this film cranks up to fun drunken heights of sibling chemistry and silly smutty comedy but crashes down to the ultimate hangover of sparse laughs and predictable sisterly heart. It’s neither bad nor good, it’s entertaining as a whole and shows off just why Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are a fine double act.

After learning that her mother and father are selling the house they grew up in, wild non-child Kate (Tina Fey) and worrying square Maura (Amy Poehler) decide to throw a party to recapture their youth and see what it’s like in each others shoes. So as the house full of adults partying gets madder and madder, the sisters realise what the other puts up with.

It’s a fun enough comedy but not as snappy or perhaps sharp as I thought it may have been. Paula Pell lands her debut screenwriting job and hits all the marks you’d expect from an American comedy film. Her background for TV and links to Fey with scripting 30 Rock is felt with a scattering of well penned lines that zing really nicely. The idea of 40 somethings wanting to be youthful is nothing original but the chaotic proceedings written in the party distract from that clichéd basis for a narrative.

Jason Moore certainly knows how to direct a party. As drinks and pools overflow the home becomes a symbol of the damaging relationship the sisters have if they don’t both change. There’s nothing fancy either side of the party but it sets up the characters and that’s all you can really ask for. The manic throw-down of the Ellis Island reunion bash appears like a call back to ‘Animal House’ as total carnage ensues. Foam. Cocaine. Paint. Injury. Frat like behaviour, all of these features bash heads and swirl into a hazy mix to show off how insane this night is, this is where director and screenwriter have the most fun in giving more to not just the sisters but supporting characters also.

The whole predictable aspect of the romantic entanglement between Maura and neighbour James isn’t overly interesting as we know where’ll it end up but they do share perhaps the best scene of the film as they prepare to have sex and end up listening to a winding ballet doll which is rammed into the butt of nice guy James. We also get some laughs as a fat unfunny funny guy becomes the embodiment of Tony Montana with cocaine fuelling his spark. I may as well just put that the comedy mostly hits within the party as we see the adults behaving like teenagers.

It goes on a little too long, it’s almost forty minutes before any real laugh out loud moment happens and that’s close to when the party begins anyway. There are some places where it feels like Fey and Poehler are trying a little hard and then the resolution comes to a head so quickly that it feels like a tired writer wanting to wrap up the obvious threads of all involved. But that’s honestly the only big negatives, it’s an enjoyable film that suits as a lazy day watch.

Tina Fey lords it up as the woman-child of the piece, her squeals and tantrums are on point, she grimaces and scowls like an angsty adolescent but she shows off the softer almost Liz Lemon side she has when needed. Amy Poehler gets to have more fun in playing the dopier sister transitioning into the drunken reveller. As she becomes more intoxicated Poehler demonstrates how well she can play inebriated and what a ball she has with it. Ike Barinholtz has his best moment in the previously mentioned scene but apart from that he only serves as the potential new hope for Maura. Maya Rudolph appears now and then but almost steals the show as painfully dull and wannabe posh Brinda. The faces she pulls are just incredible. Oh and points to the film for the John Cena casting who appears like a brick-house of muscle and drug dealing comedy.

It has some fine moments but that doesn’t stop it from being quite weak and relying on a lengthy party to capture magic and laughs. To see Poehler and Fey on true form then witness their hosting of the Golden Globes, as here they fall a little short of the fantastic talent they both share.

5.5/10