A Monster Calls (2017)

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Thematically powerful with a strong emotional message, this is not a typical fantasy film. It’s better than that, cleverly balancing a talking tree with stunning animation sequences whilst retaining the necessary coming of age narrative.

Artistic Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougall) tries coping with his terminally ill mum Lizzie (Felicity Jones), being beaten up at school and now a huge yew tree (voiced by Liam Neeson) is arriving at specific times to deliver three stories to him. These tales may eventually help Conor in revealing his own truth and understanding more.

Patrick Ness’ novel written from an idea by Siobhan Dowd who died of cancer before completing the book, is a fabulously rich story with a central tug of grief that is handled very well. Ness who also wrote this screenplay ensures the interpretation of the Monster’s stories are clear enough to transfer to Conor’s real life. It’s just a really smartly told plot that keeps you interested and attached.

The water colour animations that arrive with each story are creative, bold and quite dark too. This weaving of human complexity within these sequences are engaging and lifts the film even higher. The CGI and mo-cap of the tree monster is great also, thin branches or wisps of wood curling round items add to the fantastical element, he’s an interesting coach for Conor, looking brutish and menacing but having a kind heart within his trunk.

I’ll openly admit that I found the movie emotional, it never reached that overly sentimental try-hard point. Yes it does go towards that area but the way director and writer handle the subject matter keeps it from being soppy drivel. I will also go further to say that I cried from watching this movie, the film is very affecting because you get wrapped up in the vivid world and it’s certainly a more adult feature than you’d think.

Felicity Jones is gripping during the movie, her condition gets bleak and she becomes a paler gaunter figure but still keeps hold of a hopeful glint in her eye, making her a likeable and strong mother figure. Sigourney Weaver like the witch in the first tale is a see-saw of characteristics but one, ultimately that you know will be good. Liam Neeson’s work playing the booming monster is perfectly cast and he adds gravely gravitas to the part. The show is truly Lewis MacDougall’s though as he carries fear, courage, sadness, confusion and anger through the entire picture with spellbinding conviction.

Only the very ending featuring a book felt like a twee moment, aside from that this is a movie to kick off 2017 in fantastic fashion. The emotional vein running through the story is constant, touching and intelligent.

7.5/10

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Finding Dory (2016)

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Thirteen years after the watery world of ‘Finding Nemo’, we’re back under the sea with the recognisable clown-fish and blue tang. This time around the story shifts into following forgetful Dory and though there are distractions of new characters, stunning animation and some fun moments, this doesn’t make you forget that you’re watching something familiar and predictable.

Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) is still with father and son pair Marlin and Nemo (Albert Brooks & Hayden Rolence) but she feels she’s forgetting something important. Flashbacks and tid-bits of her past and parents come and go and she ends up in a Marine Life Institute hoping to finally remember something and find her family.

Now, I must say I wasn’t a huge fan of the 2003 aquatic adventure but I admit it was and still is colourful and quite poignant in places. This sequel, directed again by Andrew Stanton has the same watery wonder but feels very samey and for a Pixar movie, that’s a trend I’m starting to worry about now…what with the less than inspiring ‘The Good Dinosaur’.

Animation speaking, this is one of the finest movies out there. I say this because the detail in every shot that must have been ached over in story boarding meetings come to fantastic life. I can imagine water is hard to get right but they pull it off mightily. This feature and the sweet Piper short beforehand excel in texture and shading. The grains of sand, waves of water, foam, sea-life and plants all look beautifully real.

What I found a little bum aching about this film is that it begins stretching out and even the children of the audience were restless before the third act had kicked in. Maybe it’s because it’s following the most annoying character from the first flick or perhaps it’s that thing after thing keeps happening stopping Dory getting to her goal, which as you’d expect her to get to it anyway it all begins dawning to a yawn fest as she’s tested time and time again.

The memory loss idea is fine to a point and endearingly cute when handled by the bug eyed baby Dory, but then it just keeps going, just keeps going, going, going. Hey, even silly is okay in my books, more so for animations but there’s points in this film that ideas become a tad too over the top and the whole Marine location doesn’t feel as special as it could be. It’s generally the knack of repeatedly telling us about memory, life and being good even if you’re missing of something, i.e memory that don’t need to be so often and so obvious.

I did like the weird yet well written use of Sigourney Weaver as some unseen goddess aiding the forgetful fish. The animation as mentioned is superb, the new characters are fun, from a cool camouflaging octopus to a struggling beluga whale. The moments of darkness are done well and make you near emotional as the film questions Dory’s existence but I can’t help thinking that I’ll forget this pretty soon and remember that Piper was much better than the actual full length Pixar creation.

Ellen DeGeneres is much loved in America and here she must have her fans, so I can imagine they’re loving her non stop forgetful routine and energetic enthusiasm she voices, which I like to a point but there’s a line and it gets grating quite quickly. Albert Brooks is a great worrier as Marlin and it’s nice to hear him back as the parental clown-fish. Ed O’Neill is Hank the octopus and voices cranky very well but makes him a character to still like. Fellow Modern Family actor Ty Burrell is Bailey the beluga whale with echo location problems and though he’s underused he gets some funny nervous lines and excitement nearing the end. It’s nice to see that former Nemo voice artist Alexander Gould gets a role in this movie too.

Spectacularly animated and a decent sequel, but more of something that feels like an unoriginal continuation and nothing different.

6/10

Ghostbusters (1984)

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Just wonderfully captivating, silly but smart at the same time, this is a movie that deserves the long held praise and ‘classic’ title. I write this review because a) it’s remake has now hit our screens and b) because why not!?

Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) and Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) get a call to the New York Public Library after a librarian witnessed a paranormal activity. Soon the trio are out of their jobs but find work themselves as self titled ‘Ghostbusters’. More and more ghouls begin taunting the streets of New York as Zuul plagues an apartment. The trio gain the help of Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) as they hope to send the ghosts back to whence they came.

It’s a superbly 80’s feature and though it may have dated in certain visual places thanks to the fact we’re all so used to the rise of CGI, it gifts the movie an unmistakable charm and for the day I could imagine the destruction and ghost effects were something possibly impressive to see back in the day. What crackles the most is the energy between the Ghostbusters as they come to terms with their knowledge being right and their growing fame in the city. The four of them each get a time to shine and their comedy moments further boost the humorous quality of the film.

Ivan Reitman directs this ghoulish caper in a way that feels like a perfect buddy flick. The comradery is focused upon as is the maddening amount of carnage that unfolds. The screwball comedy doesn’t drag down the film, as even though there is a huge amount of zaniness to catch, there’s a touch of heart as they save the day and work together. Reitman does best in ensuring this movie can be enjoyed by all ages, there is 100% something in there for everyone.

Elmer Bernstein’s score trickles over the action in a suitably cheesy 80’s tense way, then you have the utterly brilliant Ray Parker, Jr. song of the same name to the movie which is funky and ridiculous but one of the best movie themed tracks of all time. It’s a shame the reboot decided to play around with the song with dance and then urban vibes.

The movie never seems to feel slow, it’s paced and edited well and yes even though a majority of the effects are clunky and there’s not as much tension in the plot like the new one has, you have to welcome the joy of the doofy ghosts as they crop up around the boroughs of NY. Slimer is a marvellously gloopy creation and stands as a very recognisable image from the film, he’s fun and outlandish and you want more from him.

It’s Bill Murray that totally steals the spotlight from everyone in this movie. He has such a brilliant deadpan tone to his performance, so when he delivers the dialogue, it’s drawled out in such a sarcastic monotone way that actually helps his character be even funnier. He’s unbelieving of the spirits, he’s a sleaze and he’s rude but Murray makes Venkman someone you want to know. The rest of the bustin’ team are all brilliant also, adding to the dynamics of the crew. Rick Moranis is great in playing the overly dweeby Louis and Sigourney Weaver gets some fun as she becomes possessed by the demon.

A thoroughly terrific comedy that is one of the bests still over 30 years later.

8.5/10

Ghostbusters (2016)

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After the hugely torn apart and heavily disliked YouTube promos, this was always going to be an interesting watch. Whether it’d be as bad as it looked or if the trailer guy needed firing because the movie is much better. It goes without saying that this reboot of the 1984 classic is nowhere near as good as the original.

Wanting to gain tenure, Erin (Kristen Wiig) needs to get rid of a book about ghosts she wrote with school friend Abby (Melissa McCarthy) as it could ruin her credentials. However after meeting Abby and science whizz Jillian (Kate McKinnon) she witnesses an actual ghost leading them to try and capture a spirit to prove their long time theories. Metro worker Patty (Leslie Jones) sees another malevolent apparition and joins the media coined ‘Ghostbusters’, in trying to stop someone bringing numerous ghosts into our world.

I truly don’t want to rip into this film because people may say that’s too easy and also too expected considering the amount of hate it gained before it was even close to release. Trust me when I say that it’s nothing to do with the fact the busting crew are female or that it’s a classic movie being rehashed…because I get it, films are remade all the time but this felt like a cheesy attempt at being 80’s and never really made me laugh much.

In fact the chemistry between the four women is strong and energetic, I liked the buzz they had. The moments when they’re in unison and coming up with plans to save the day are powerful and still lighthearted. What I didn’t enjoy as much was the lame humour in stupidity and slapstick. Goo and falls aplenty are Sandler fan appeal and I wanted better than that from this.

Paul Feig has proven he knows how to direct comic stars in comedies, but maybe tackling the well known name of this franchise was too daunting. It at times feels like an SNL sketch dragged out as the cast bicker and banter with each other. The pacing is awfully slow in the middle which is a shame because the beginning quarter of the movie is very good. As the busters sit with the mayor and go on about a ‘cat out the bag’ scenario you plead for the dull spiel and obvious ad-libbing to end.

Genuinely the opening of this comedy-action feature is spooky and engaging. A haunted museum and a nice little trick prop help play on the idea of ghost tours. All this leads to a rather well shot and built sequence of horror as the first ghoul appears, which I must say would have made for a better story than the severely underdeveloped threat of some guy placing devices around New York. The film could easily have had the Ghostbusters trying to stop the obviously dangerous killer ghost from the museum, but instead they cram in a loner villain and old jokes such as Oprah riffs or an Eat Pray Love line.

Times Square rolls in and this near ending sequence to be honest lights up the movie and brought a smile to my face thank God. It’s stuffed with lots of ghosts – iffy CGI but let it slide as the slow-mo of the gals kicking butt is pretty awesomely handled. Melissa McCarthy is manageable to tolerate in this, the original stars cameos are a treat to see and there is an undeniable silly charm in places.

McCarthy, who is fast pushing herself into the female Adam Sandler mould, is fine in this. Her chemistry with the others is good and she plays a scene of being something other than Abby very well. Kristen Wiig can do goofy comedy well and shows that off here, even in the moments when her character seems to shift motivations she is a wide eyed dose of humour. Leslie Jones adds an integral sprinkle of information and attitude to the group. She isn’t as shouty as the trailers make out. Kate McKinnon is for me the one that bugged me the most. She starts off being cool and different, her manic expressions and reeling off quick sentences being amusing but then it keeps on going and going…and going. To the point where I got tired of the act and wanted her to be like Rick Moranis in live-action movies nowadays. Chris Hemsworth is the one that steals the show, even if they paint a man as being a pretty face and dumb, his acting of this stupidity is ace and you can’t help but chuckle at the things he does or comes out with.

It may not be the top number in the phone book, but give this average film a call and you’ll see a mild entertainment flick. A true summer movie that’s not hilarious or amazing but really not shocking or as awful as people will have you believe.

5.5/10

 

Chappie (2015)

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Touching back down in South Africa and what he does well after the quite terrible ‘Elysium’, Neil Blomkamp deals with crime, humanity and technology in this shaky but gritty tale of robotics and the soul. There are script issues aplenty and some of the acting leaves a lot to be desired but by the time the kindergarten-esque credits roll, you feel you’ve watched something entertaining and put together well enough.

Problems are rife in the city of Johannesburg and to combat the many crimes, Tetravaal lead the way in robotics to stamp down on offenders of the law. One of their best and brightest is Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) who has invented fleets of police robots. His success is not a happy subject for ex-soldier and fellow inventor Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) who tries to tear apart Wilson’s work to get his own design on the streets. One of the police droids becomes tangled up with new software, a trio of criminals, including rap pair Die Antwoord, seemingly themselves, hilariously and the dangerous city. His name is Chappie.

The concept itself is running deliciously with big planned ideas and the themes of parental care, humanity versus artificial intelligence and differences in Jo-burg all come together agreeably. In fact, a good many of this movie’s stronger qualities can be found in the dealing of Chappie’s viewpoint of the world, seen through his eyes of the largest South African city. Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell’s script shines most when concerning the way Chappie grows in this troubling environment.

In keeping with the grand themes of the piece, the visuals are pretty spectacular and come with that treacherous and gritty style linked to Neil Blomkamp’s great directing flair. Credit too, has to be handed to Trent Opaloch who captures the dangers of the city streets with a keen eye. The ruined concrete home that belongs to Yolandi and Ninja of Die Antwoord fame is shot really well, sun glares bouncing off the crumbling edges giving the location a defined image. In general, the imagery can be overbearing with constant uses of graffiti being distracting but overall, the film at least looks the part.

One problem that I found upon watching this feature, was the forced manner in making us realise the main themes. After a while the bringing up baby like Chappie became like a barrage of, ‘Hey, get this metaphor about the way the world taints us all!’. The torn up city appears like a microcosm of our entire planet and how black sheep are treated poorly, another thing that gets gently rammed down our throats to try and keep us on side with the developing robot character. There’s nothing amazingly new in the struggles of the plot even though it seems like it’s acting that way.

I have to admit that a couple of scenes or montages are crafted lovingly, the way Chappie is taught at times, or how he learns notions himself are done in a heartfelt manner and along with the quite endearing behaviour of Chappie and the score of Hans Zimmer, you feel on his side, even if the three gangsters persist to try and make the robot bad, it’s alright at first as that’s who they are but after a while it honestly threatens the connection to Happy Chappie.

Dev Patel plays his part greatly, subtleties in his eyes and general facial movements make him stand out as a kind soul and the only character to root for and like at all. Hugh Jackman sports a spectacular mullet, is gruff and mean and he goes for broke when in control of his creation, but there’s never enough substance to his motive to make him more than just a flat villain. Sigourney Weaver is in the movie a little to scarce amount and does nothing of major note. Die Antwoord stars hit the silver screen big time and act as OTT as possible in squealing result of their casting. Ninja is horrific and never gets a redeeming chance even if the film tries to hand it to him, the gangster act is too much. Yolandi in all her out there get up has a couple of grounded moments and fares better than her musical partner. Sharlto Copley provides believable motion capture and his vocals are broken yet sweet and breathe life into this creation.

The film stumbles now and then like a reject robot in its quest to stand tall as a powerful thoughtful reminder of how society is treated. It does achieve some impressive and better moments too and it’s hard not to fall for Chappie but in the end a whole deal of over acting and too much happening gives this robot film a needed manufacturing job.

5/10

Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

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Obviously a Ridley Scott film from the get go, take that as you will. I could leave the review there but I must expand as one sentence doesn’t cut how pointless this film truly is. Surely everyone must know the story but yet Scott and his team go and remake it with no flair or intrigue to at least offer something exciting.

‘Exodus’ tells the biblical story of Moses (Christian Bale) and his raising in Egypt as prince alongside brother figure Ramesses II (Joel Edgerton). Slaves are subjected to horrific labour and soon Moses comes to realise he’s from a Hebrew background leading him to find God and send Ramesses an ultimatum to let his people go otherwise Egypt and the well off will be punished.

That’s the main factor, I mean you must know this story whether religious or not. Stemming from the Old Testament and the vengeful God, this sees the cruelty of man punished and the humanity of innocence tested but eventually restored, though they do omit the craziness of Moses descending from the mountain and killing his followers. This needn’t be made, a Biblical story of this grand scale looks good but that’s about it, it’s only justified if the director or creative team are plating something new to audiences but this is a typical brainless Scott outing. At least ‘Noah’ was inventive and blurred the lines of religion and Eco-warrior, this is just an out and out hashed job.

The music is suitably grand to to mirror the sweeping shots of Egypt and multitudes of slaves, it echoes with a Mediterranean sound, an almost haunting touch to make you feel the pain and subjection of the Hebrew masses. Though it never quite stirs as much as you might expect it to do, moments of emotional imagery forgone for battle sounds and sequences. The music concoct a high level of dread as the horrors of locusts and dying livestock befall the Egyptian land but it’s nothing new to see.

Just go and watch the classic DreamWorks production ‘Prince of Egypt’, it’s lovingly animated with beautiful songs and a religious edge that doesn’t pander or overwhelm but doesn’t rely on actors or fight scenes to entice people. This movie doesn’t have any spectacular moments that stay fresh in the memory, I will always remember the march of slaves fleeing in the cartoon or Moses challenged to ‘Playing with the Big Boys’ against the Pain and Panic like sorcerers. ‘Exodus’ doesn’t even use the parting of the Red Sea, it just pushed back one side!

The main problem this movie had before it was even released was the petitions and refusals to be watched by people based on the clear whitewashing it was utilising. Black or Egyptian race actors were left with minor roles as Welsh or Australian performers took the main seat, just in the name of making the film financially viable, which is a real utter shame of the way Hollywood works that they don’t think real life creeds can act as well as gravelly shouty Bale or slap head Edgerton. When you have Jesse Pinkman and Ellen Ripley cast as a Jew or an Egyptian you know something is skewiff.

Christian Bale is good enough as the mighty then fallen Moses, being broad and then sullen as he’s exiled from the city, though the Welsh accent doesn’t falter much and rubs major friction along with all the other shaky uncommon accents of the feature. Joel Edgerton looks the part actually but just grimaces and scowls to portray the evil ruler we’re meant to hate. Ben Kingsley has hardly anything to do which is a shame. Maria Valverde is one of the finer actors, exuding a precious and gentle air to proceedings. Everyone is just as expected really, plastered in fake tan and guy liner to convince us they’re the real deal.

I won’t even get started on the is he, isn’t he? aspect of God and his appearance as a boy, sufficed to say this epic film has a few more weaknesses than positives, mainly in not being meaty enough to get invested in, the substance is lacking and creativity is underused to tell a story told time and time again.

Entertaining to a little degree but the eleventh plague is this film itself.

5/10