Coco (2018)

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Bursting with music and magic; Pixar are back with a triumph of animated art and festival folklore that is smart, spirited and pure pleasure.

Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) has grown up in a family solely (pun intended) focused on making shoes. Frustratingly for him, his passion is with music but that is extremely frowned upon by those around him. On Dia de Muertos also known as The Day of the Dead, Miguel races to his idol’s resting place. Inside de la Cruz’s (Benjamin Bratt) mausoleum the young hopeful musician takes a guitar and finds himself on the other side with the throngs of the dead travelling back to see their families.

The huge Mexican holiday is brought to vivid and stunning life in this colourful and utterly beautiful animation. Pixar have always been a studio that I’ve loved following and after a large dip in quality and tired couple of years with sequels, it’s fantastic to see them release something original and back to the heights they’ve hit with films such as ‘Toy Story 3’ and ‘Wall-E’.

The team of animators deserve infinity applause because how they’ve taken storyboards to the finished product is breathtaking. The detail in not just the characters faces but in the plentiful lush backgrounds of the scenes; especially in the Land of the Dead are exceptional. There is such intense colour and warmth festive culture to be felt bursting from the screen. The Day of the Dead is a rich fruit ripe for the picking and after the musical and underrated ‘The Book of Life’, Pixar have also struck gold in finding a poignant and expressive coming of age story within this vibrant Mexican holiday.

‘Remember Me’ is the anthem of this film and it finds itself sung a few times and each one is presented differently in light of the tone within that current scene. It’s no surprise it has been collecting nominations during awards season as one version of this track; coming quite close to the end of the movie, is tear-jerking and filled with heart and soul that gladly made me forget the simplistic Disney-fied outings of ‘The Good Dinosaur’ or ‘Finding Dory’. Throughout this animated fantasy adventure; the music hits toe-tapping heights and soars through the narrative like another character.

What I enjoy most about this film, is that it doesn’t dumb down to it’s younger audience goers, it portrays a gloriously moving and celebratory tradition with thought provoking effect in such a way that children and families can all enjoy and understand the world presented to them. The emotional idea of being forgotten is such a powerful message and directed by Lee Unkrich and written by Matthew Aldrich & Adrian Molina, this strong core is never mishandled.

The great days of Pixar are here again and fingers crossed they remain, because this is a colourful and joyful movie that made me hope, dream, laugh and cry. There may be some predictable moments the story goes to but it doesn’t take away from how thoroughly engaging and spectacular this film is.

8.5/10

 

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The Greatest Showman (2017)

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Pulling out all the stops, this movie tries shooting for the ol’ razzle dazzle and though there is a definite amount of flair and showbiz style through transitions and musical numbers, it all feels empty and try hard. The story of the man himself; Mr. P.T Barnum is glossed over to make way for a post Christmas family feature that requires no smarts.

As a child, Phineas Barnum was less well off but a dreamer and he finally got the girl he’d loved. Now residing in New York with their two daughters, Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and Charity (Michelle Williams) seem happier than ever, but Barnum wants more and he eventually creates a ‘circus’ of sideshows and freaks to sell tickets and give his family all they could ever wish.

Riding on the success of Academy darling and theatrical luvvie of late 2016/early 2017 ‘La La Land’, this musical drama employs the writing talents of Pasek and Paul to conjure up a bunch of songs. They certainly come under the ear-worm label as I’m still annoyingly humming them as I write this. Saying that, they’re nowhere near as close as subtle or stylishly cool as the songs in the Gosling/Stone led runaway hit. To be honest, there came a time when a character began to sing that I audibly groaned because they just appear almost consistently. I know it’s a musical but they are irritating hokey songs that strive for the stars but end up somewhere amongst bland superficial lyrics of being special – whoever you are – yeah that old chestnut.

Certain elements in this just stood out like cheap distractions at a local funfair. The alarming dubbing of an older man speaking for the clunky walking dwarf. The ‘Siamese Act’ who were clearly two performers standing side by side and the ‘Bearded Lady’ who’s facial fuzz looked like glued on hair a couple of times. I know Barnum revelled in fooling audiences and providing fake attractions but this film doesn’t even show us this as it makes him seem like an idol of blossoming variety entertainment.

Hugh Jackman is a charismatic actor and he certainly helps this film from totally falling flat but I feel he’s too much of a nice guy to play the role of someone who hoaxed the public. Michelle Williams is a glamorous wife and mother and gets to showcase some singing prowess and dancing ability but she has little to do, other than stand by and watch Jackman parade as the enigmatic showman he is. Rebecca Ferguson plays opera singer Jenny Lind but doesn’t even wow because she’s there as a cheap sideline narrative and her song is sung by someone else, plus she’s meant to be a pro opera performer but her song sounds like the typical X Factor winners track. Zendaya carries a believable amount of emotion in her role as acrobat and racially shunned figure for Zac Efron to fall in love with. For me, I found her to be the most engaging and interesting character to follow, with Efron close behind.

All the lights and stage magic never lit a spark in me and it just became a tiresome boringly told story, filled by ever irritating songs. It’s a mess of a musical but one that has just enough charm in places to keep the circus tent from falling down.

4.5/10

La La Land (2017)

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Well, not for a long while have I been eagerly anticipating a movie like the release of this musical drama. Add on top the record-breaking Golden Globes haul then you have a very excited chap. For the most part this film delivers, it’s stylish, fun, heartfelt but I don’t agree with all the souped up hype it’s received.

After a minor amount of road-rage where aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz musician Seb (Ryan Gosling) cross paths, they end up bumping into each other again and again which leads to a romance through the year. As they try following their dreams in LA it becomes a harder challenge to keep the love alive.

I have to say that I absolutely adored the first half or so of this film. It harks back to that classic glitz and glamour of Hollywood old with a neat dose of a modern touch thanks to the musical and confident direction from Damien Chazelle. Just from the sweeping opening on a Los Angeles highway to the delicate changes in lighting, the songs and story begin with a bang.

It helps that we get brilliant performances and a clear chemistry between the two main characters but also the style adds a neat note to the song-sheet that is this feature. There’s times that it looks and sounds like a studio set production and you’d expect Fred Astaire to come tap dancing in. The writing by Chazelle, is for the most part a well handled story that lends a two-sided coin to the LA lifestyle but with an obvious landing on dreams to follow and achieve.

As I sat in my seat I found myself hooked and smiling along to a wonderful series of scenes but then annoyingly, there came a specific moment where I even felt myself disengaging and from then on, the writing becomes very generic and almost cliched. It drifts into a romantic plot you’d expect to find in every other manically churned out rom-com. This frustrated me because I was expecting it to keep going with the gleeful whizz of CinemaScope delight but instead…it wains.

It is almost saved as we get a short burst of style near the end showing a quick run of events. So yes I agree it’s a fantastically well made and enchanting film, it deserved 3 perhaps 4 of the Globes it picked up out of 7. This is obviously, as I realised as they were winning, a case of the voters loving films that celebrate America or the US saving the day -(note Argo winning Best Picture)

Song wise, ‘Another of Day of Sun’ is jolly, sun-drenched and a perfect, literally perfect way to start a film of this genre. ‘City of Stars’ is sung well and has a melancholy yet magical sound but I don’t see how that gets the attention when Stone’s ‘Audition’ song is better performed and has better lyrics. Though it’s naff for jazz and a typical Top 40’s track, John Legend’s performance of ‘Start a Fire’ works well in showcasing the path Seb is taking away from his dream.

I’m not a total grouch because I did enjoy the majority of the film, I just don’t feel it should have broke GG records and I hope the Oscars gives some variety because ‘La La Land’ does swerve into a nearly boring not great second half.

7/10

Moana (2016)

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It’s the 53rd animated release from those Disney titans and this time we get a great new world and culture, a head-strong non princess type princess and that same old pleasurable House of Mouse fun for all the family.

On the island of Motunui, lives Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) who is the chief’s daughter. She dreams of what lies beyond the reef and wishes to explore the ocean. She finally gets her chance when a blight hits her home and a tale of ancestors and thievery drives her to find Maui (Dwayne Johnson), a demi-god and have him deliver a powerful stone back to its rightful place.

What is most enjoyable about this feature is the dimensions of character and the interesting Polynesian backdrop. The beautiful world we get to inhabit for an hour and 40 minutes is new and feels rich. It certainly helps that the creators make Moana a character with lots to do, say and she isn’t at all two-dimensional. The island villagers and the culture looks impressive and it’s this different setting and tone that gladly takes us away from the usual Disney saccharin vibes.

The music again is stepped up, like the Mickey Mouse maestros know to keep one step ahead when conjuring up the sound of their movies. Here they employ the help of Hamilton acclaimed Lin-Manuel Miranda who writes the songs with Opetaia Foa’i. There’s such a delicious texture to the songs, echoing with a sound that feels perfect for the setting. An Innocent Warrior raises hairs and sounds amazing in the cinema over the scenery. Where You Are is a jovial and tropical start to the introduction of the sunny island. How Far I’ll Go is the clear front-runner for Academy attention and is gorgeous to listen to. The less said about Shiny the better.

Ron Clements and John Musker are together again and this is their first CGI Disney film. They direct a stunning film about myth, mischief and might. They utilise a brilliant team of animators who have created a lush world to truly marvel at, not only is there the 3D styling, we get a fabric felt looking portion of animation during a song and the tattoo 2D moments featured on the torso of Maui.

I only have one big problem with the film and that is the story structure. The opening is exciting and the latter part is engaging, slightly dark and filled with eventual obvious hope and happiness. Annoyingly a large section of the middle is slow and drifts like Moana’s canoe into the land of boredom. As we settle in with Moana and Maui it’s like the plot sags into an attempt at a road-trip discovery without any of the perky coming of age drama. Also the chicken is not only the dumbest character in Disney history but the most pointless, the pig is severely underused and that makes me sad.

Overlooking the typical fairly tedious journey of ‘finding yourself’ that Disney love, this is a refreshing animated turn with a great soundtrack, a confident and interesting female protagonist and some stunning scenes that will delight many of varying ages.

7/10

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

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Coming up to being 20 years old, this Disney classic features some heavy adult ideas mixed with some uneven story choices but at the end of it all, the key theme of acceptance is well animated and a likable hero in the unlikely appearance of the bell ringer emerges.

After chasing down a gypsy mother, Judge Claude Frollo (Tony Jay) goes to rid her hideous baby but thankfully the Notre Dame Archdeacon makes him rectify his sin by keeping the boy alive. Quasimodo (Tom Hulce) is banished to the church belfry where he spends his days looking down at the Parisian courtyards wishing to be with the people and the beautiful gypsy dancer Esmeralda (Demi Moore).

Clearly the story is all about acceptance and having a message about acting with people the same no matter how they look. Here they have a perfect tool for that idea by Quasimodo being a deformed and hunchbacked individual. His soul and thoughts may be kind but sadly the people of Paris don’t look past the bulging eyes and stooped spine. It’s a great family film to have children learning early about the importance of treating others how you’d wish to be treated. Along the way, side stories of unrequited romance and comedy almost unravel the strong message but by the end, Quasimodo has become the symbol of good we’d expected he would.

The animation itself is rather good, the sweeping pass through the city in the opening gives good details to the stony buildings and the busy civilians. The grey and Gothic atmosphere is truly felt with the many scenes set around and in Notre Dame and there’s a lovely amount of colour to combat the tiredness of slates of grey, especially in the Festival of Fools sequence. There is a common feel of darkness amongst most of the story, the church, the fires and the secluded environment Quasi has to grow up in, it’s an almost Cinderella like slave space that helps us root for him and really dislike the equally spiteful villain.

Musically, the 34th animated Disney movie triumphs in including grand adult ideals of fate, religion and tolerance/intolerance to difference. Alan Menken conducts a deep score that emanates like the bells themselves. The music swells and really dramatically adds to the seriousness of some of these songs, no more can that be found than in Frollo’s passionate ‘Hellfire’ track. With Menken is Stephen Schwartz who pens some amazingly rich lyrics that resonate about sin and the belief of good in the eyes of God. ‘Hellfire’ once again is a perfect example of power in what Frollo as a character believes. Also this review wouldn’t be worthwhile without commenting that the opening jester story, ‘The Bells of Notre Dame’ which is sung to us and some kiddies is engaging and brilliant.

I hadn’t seen this film for a very long time but always remembered most of the visuals and story points and that sticks as a great lasting impression a film can have on me. It’s broody with Frollo yet mischievous with Esmeralda, it’s beautiful in drawing and important for themes, so even though there’s talking gargoyles I’m sure Victor Hugo would have liked what this animation did to his novel. Tony Jay is a great vocal star as Frollo who is the great opposite to Hulce’s tortured admiration of a world that doesn’t see him as equal.

There’s joy at the end but Disney were brave in picking to transform such a religiously rooted story with a dark hopeless thread of love and acceptance. The bells and I ring out in admiration and enjoyment for this film.

7/10

Danny Collins (2015)

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Solidly delivering laughs in equal measure with more grounded thoughts on the topic of redemption, this comedy drama is great in taking into account; lessons of life, the big what if of how things may have been and Pacino with a thick tan.

A musical star now in his olden years without any original material recieves a possible life changing present on his birthday. Danny Collins (Al Pacino) cannot believe a letter penned by John Lennon was sent to him and now he starts trying to redo mistakes of his life, including his music and long lost son Tom (Bobby Cannavale).

This is a heartfelt movie more often than I expected, I knew the plot basis and guessed at it being a comedy, which it is with great success but it is rounded off with increased sentiment and emotion of rediscovery in a new chapter of someone’s life. The ageing figure is nothing fresh but this film gives it more heart and really gets you on Danny’s side that you will him to make these changes but still not lose who he is inside. It’s a clear note that this film packs a punch of family matters lessons of life, the central father-son bond is fraught but believable and it goes an obvious but nonetheless stirring way.

Dan Fogelman takes on directorial and scripting duties and succeeds in both departments. Considering this was his directing debut, Fogelman has a lot to be proud of. It’s a brilliant film with shine in all the right places and grounded character problems in between. The journey of the central mister is great, almost like a bio-pic of this Collins guy but with enough gloss that you know it isn’t. It’s a movie with heartfelt themes coursing through the veins, it may be leaning towards going down that road too much but I can forgive it for the fun it musters up too.

The script based on a real account of a folk singer named Steve Tilston getting the same positive type of letter from Lennon and Yoko Ono is fascinating and it really gets you thinking about what you yourself may have done differently if knowing something new. It’s obviously quite an important subject matter of how moments could have differed but on the flip side it shows how not to overthink things, change what you can now when your eyes are opened but don’t live in the past. Danny Collins is a flawed and broken man but his heart is present as Frank says to Tom.

The strongest aspect of this film was the appropriate balance between Danny’s new fixation in Hilton hotel manager Mary. The writing or perhaps improv between Pacino and Bening is spectacular. It’s involving patter that brings a genuine smile to the face. There’s smart one liners and funny back and forth material that gives depth and sparkle to this possible relationship.

The music, mostly songs by Lennon are apt for the certain scenes but ones actually concerning Collins as a movie character are a journey too. His style in the opening concert is rock and roll but dated like Daniel O’Donnell/Barry Manilow cheese suitable for the golden girls seen in the front row. By the time he’s changing his ways and living out of a hotel room, his first new song tinkling on the piano is gentle, poetic and beautiful. It also serves as a great musical cinematic tool of gripping the audience in a decision needed to be made by Collins.

Al Pacino is in fine form as the prominent figure, he moves about with hammy actions but has a cheeky grin and investing flirty manner that sucks you in. He can deliver those necessary flecks of worry and emotion too though, so it is a fantastic performance, one that is needed for Pacino’s run of latest films. Annette Bening soars as the fun and quick-witted partner of Pacino’s flirting. She also has the wonder of being a love interest without giving too much away and being easy to get. Jennifer Garner is the soft yet cool pregnant daughter in law and has sharp moments when first meeting Danny. Bobby Cannavale brings back ‘Boardwalk Empire’ levels of acting talent to his role as unsure Tom. The way he wants to do right but has a devastating secret makes for a quite powerful take on the distance he wants to give to his selfish father.

A fine watch with a winning set of performances. It’s a film that does light hearted fun well and then goes on a turn to serious redemption factors that can become heavy handed but still hold you in the palm of its hand like a Baby Doll singing Danny Collins.

7/10

Home (2015)

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DreamWorks has a very uneven record, reveling in the swamp with Shrek and flying high with Hiccup and Toothless to racing snails and talking bees, it can’t be denied that they’re good animators and have peaks but ‘Home’ is not one of those. Catering much more so for the very young children of its audience, this movie fails to be stand out or impressive.

Doing what they do best, the Boov race escape the Gorgs to settle on the planet Earth. Once there, their leader Smek (Steve Martin) moves the humans Down Under so his kind can live in hopeful peace on our world. Though bumbling and much disliked Oh (Jim Parsons) quickly ruins that ideal and becomes a fugitive where he runs into left behind girl Tip (Rihanna). They must put aside their opposites to save Earth and find a feeling of family.

It really is more suited towards the kids and anyone over an age of double figures would surely predict pretty much everything that happens in this film. All good family films should have something for grown ups, subtle adult jokes or clever visual gags but this feature is devoid of those qualities. Silly is the main word to describe the movie, a huge amount of slapstick drives the plot and Oh’s impact on things around him. Dumb and colourful is how to sum up the film if it was a one sentence review.

The animation itself is actually really good, the bouncing curls of Tip’s hair, the many bubbles, the destruction of Earth, the Gorg ship and the scope of this buddy narrative is large and well put across. The slushious car is inventive and fun, the popping bubbles motif to serve as flashback is neat and as mentioned it’s a very colourful film, ever changing Boov skin to the wild journey these mismatched characters go on is packed with loud palettes and rainbow like distractions for the little ones.

Idea wise, this film isn’t majorly creative, the key themes of friendship, diversity and hope are done an awful lot and this film does them well but just doesn’t do anything grandly spectacular with a plot that could have been more surprising. The characterisation of the Boov aliens are something that infuriates from the trailer alone so watching their muddled sentences and lack of human understanding over 94 minutes threatens you to take your ears off. Kids may find it funny and cute but it grows tiresome darn fast.

The music is a big part of the film, sounding like it’s attempting to go for chart success with kiddy boppers wanting to hear the poppy tunes again and again. Obviously having modern icon Rihanna in your film calls on you to utilise her vocals but it becomes an overplay of her tracks, it feels like there’s an onslaught of Ri-Ri and it gets weird when she herself as Tip puts on her own song to groove out to. Her songs aren’t as distracting as when used in ‘Wreck-it Ralph’ but maybe one less could have benefited. There’s also an alarming use of bass drop as the Gorg drone ships arrive which is a highly odd villainous whomp even by then we know better about the story. The slower side of proceedings sounds like the opening melody of Latika’s Theme from ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and it does echo as beautiful and sort of haunting to make Tip’s loneliness seem more sad.

Jim Parsons is annoying as I very well expected, he does bring awkward life to Oh, but it’s a wholly grating character that you only ever feel slight sympathy for and near the end is when you feel better for his arc. Rihanna brings the grounded side to things opposite the flair of Oh and her human nature blows apart the Boov pamphlet as she sounds confident in her delivery of what she feels as a secluded child moving to America. Tip is very very good for giving young girls a new face and role model to aspire to be and for that DreamWorks always fares better than Disney who stick to the same looking ladies time and again. Steve Martin is stupid and over the top as this leader but it works to the case of knowing he’s not all what he should be and through.

Quite average and not much in the way of being fun for all the family but it’s not awful and it’s still rather enjoyable if not predictable, annoying and a broad stroke road trip animation.

5/10