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

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The Little Prince (2016)

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Thank goodness for Netflix, because otherwise I doubt I and many other people would have seen this glorious and gorgeous animation. Mixing computer animated scenes with the true art of stop-motion sequences, this French-Canadian movie is colourful, stirring and magical.

Single Mother (Rachel McAdams) is a busy worker and wants her daughter to follow suit by attending the prestigious Werth Academy. However The Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy) befriends the much talked about nutty man next door leading her down a more adventurous fun path. The Aviator (Jeff Bridges) has stories to tell and interests the girl with a tale about a Little Prince (Riley Osborne) who he met in the Sahara Desert.

In a way, the 3D graphics of the animated world featuring the girl and her older neighbour reminded me of the look ‘The Incredibles’ provided. The shape of people and their faces harking to that sort of visual. The way this grey and busy landscape is seen is brilliant, just the times we zoom out to see ant sized cars all leaving on the dot for work shows how professional and disengaged to a more fun life these adults are.

The special moments are in the papery looking but also wooden style design of the stop-motion characters. I’ve always said that the whole process of stop-motion animation is something admirable and rewarding and I stick by it ever more so due to this beautiful exploration of the medium. There’s a great charm in seeing The Little Prince stories come into the fold during this film and it gives the story an extra fancy touch.

Having never read the source material myself, I couldn’t comment on what the treatment of the novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupery is like. They me quite faithful or changed a lot but I enjoyed the story presented here a lot. His tale is moulded nicely and Irena Brignull and Bob Persichetti create a lovely screenplay that fits for all ages, centred around the idea of growing up and forgetting childhood. At times, this theme gets dealt an emotional hand and I felt a little tingly at the ideas being put across.

Only one portion of this movie kind of felt off and that’s annoyingly the third act as the Little Girl decides to take action and flies off in the hope of seeing the much talked about prince. It could be viewed as an act that loses people because it gets off track from the better grounded narrative scenes that come before, which is exactly how I see it. I guess you could say that at the time the girl falls, what comes after can be interpreted how you like which makes more sense but still doesn’t stop the last act being slightly iffy.

The music gives you chills, with a wonderful score from Hans Zimmer accompanying the on screen action with suitable bounce and heart. Camille provides lush vocals during the film, in a way that echoes of the enchanting yet haunting sounds from ‘Coraline’. Another positive is the light comedy that hits well, the sad notes of loss and looking to the stars for laughter provides a lovely notion and the pairing of the girl and aviator are fun to watch.

All I can really say is, it’s a massive shame this won’t be up for an Academy Best Animated Feature award due to it not being theatrically released. If it was it’d certainly give Disney and Pixar a severe run for their money because it’s stunning, emotional and special.

8.5/10

Interstellar (2014)

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Christopher Nolan returns after his ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy duties, with probably the grandest big screen event release this year. It might be a slight pushy to compare it as this movie calendar’s ‘Gravity’ but it certainly fits in that realm. Stunning sci-fi, outstanding performances and the long dark quiet of space to shock you into awe. At nearly three hours long, it can certainly be said that this is an epic tale, there are moments that lull or stretch scientific imagination a tad far but it’s great to see something so bold be conveyed on the screen it deserves to live on.

Living in a bleak and dusty future is widowed Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his children Tom and Murph (Timothee Chalamet & Mackenzie Foy). Crops are dying and the only profession left to aspire to is being a farmer to try and save humanity. Though after stumbling on a secret building Cooper realises to try and help Earth he must leave it. A wormhole has opened up leading to the chance of interstellar travel and the hope to find a planet habitable for the world’s population.

That’s as far as I can really go in terms of detail, that’s the bare bones without spoiling more of the inner workings of the plot and the science backdrop. Sufficed to say, on the whole this script by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan is filled with gorgeous sci-fi material, it’s very intelligent in places too and can definitely be classed as one of the cleverer blockbusters to be released in a long while. Saying that, some of the terminology may lose audiences and non fans of sci-fi may not enjoy the film. It also loses itself in places just because the movie length is long, moments yawn out too much and one significant twist to do with dimensions feels drawn out and glossed over in reasoning of how. There’s know how there but it will 100% lose quite a lot of people.

As with all of Nolan’s recent films, you can go in expecting glorious spectacle. The landscapes they discover are beautiful and worrying. The feel of the craft spinning or just floating in space leaves you watching with a powerful sense of wonder. After quite a non-impactful opening set up of character and location, the true art of Nolan’s mastery is revealed up in the inky magic of space. Icy sheets, wave ridden worlds and rippled wormhole delights truly engage you, the IMAX is the best way of seeing these images. The 70mm photography is majestic and though it probably looks alright on a standard screen, IMAX is Nolan’s area, picture and sound quality are amplified to perfection and truly immerse you into this crisp new solar system.

In keeping with the sound, Hans Zimmer conjures up a brilliant score to accompany the visuals of this film. Striking out with more tense ridden dramatic sounds that pile on pressure and suspense in relation to docking on a ship or lovingly crafting more slowed down eerily filled blurs of guitar and strings that encapsulate the amazement yet hollow scariness of space. There’s no ‘Inception’-esque big drums to shudder the seats, the more relaxed score works better than that, lovingly contributing to this brave new world.

All performances are unshakable in this film. Matthew and McConaissance are still in great flow with his leading role sticking more in the calm side of things yet he excels in his grand moments of teary scenes and panicked uncertainty. A scene featuring Matthew McConaughey will no doubt bring some audience members to tears as it nearly did with me, it’s a stunningly real scene, no CGI or sweeping visuals needed. Family and love thrive throughout and he truly shows that in this scene. Anne Hathaway gets more in touch with emotions of the human heart and her interactions with McConaughey are greatly acted, she’s a counter balance to Cooper’s sturdier relaxed manner yet she has moments to shine in realising where they should go. Michael Caine is the man to explain integral parts of the plot, as he so often does and throughout this film he expands on the broken mentality of scientific exploration, becoming even more fragile and weary than his Alfred was in ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. Other cast members play just as important roles in the film, Mackenzie Foy is an actress with superb emotional weight and one performer to keep an eye on. Casey Affleck and Jessica Chastain get differing moments to tell their stories but both are solid actors and Chastain really shines. This isn’t even mentioning the splendour of Jon Lithgow, David Gyasi and some humourous work from robot voices Bill Irwin and Josh Stewart. A magnificent cast to match the magnificence of the film’s visual dazzle and one nicely masked guest spot works fantastically in the story and wow moment.

A very thought provoking drama that serves as a love story more than the clearly obvious science fiction setting. Family, togetherness and instincts of the heart keep cropping up and they make this film more than an average space journey. Even if some of the story tries going places it maybe shouldn’t have and can sometimes feel slightly stuffed with bewildering talk, the majority of Christopher Nolan’s directing feat works rather than not.

‘Interstellar’ will probably only be hugely loved by Nolan or sci-fi fans but I think others can and will like or appreciate that the daring aspects of the adventure are worth it and it scratches ever so near to being a flat out masterpiece.

8/10