Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Roma (2018)

Image is property of Netflix, Participant Media and Esperanto Filmoj

Roma – Film Review

Cast: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira , Fernando Grediaga, Jorge Antonio Guerrero, Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Synopsis: Charting the life of a middle class family and their two maids, living in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City in the 1970s, as social turmoil threatens to tear their peaceful lives apart…

Review: The name Alfonso Cuarón, much like his other two compatriots Alejandro G Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro, is so synonymous with the big budget Hollywood productions. This particular side of Hollywood is one that all of the three Amigos have dabbled in at one point in their careers,a nd all have achieved remarkable success in doing so, with some remarkable films. However, rather than continue on that trajectory for his next film, Cuarón goes much more personal and humane in his latest feature film, and once again, he has made something rather special.

There is a beating heart at the centre of the latest film, but it is not Cuarón’s, it is that of his main character Cleo (Aparicio), a character loosely based on Cuaron’s own nanny as a child. In many respects, this is a film is very much autobiographical as the events seen on screen are based on Cuaron’s own experiences growing up in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City. Cleo’s life is very much grounded in the routine of her job, looking after the children of a wealthy middle class family, tending to the kids’ needs, and being that figure of support in . This is until a dramatic change of events turns Cleo’s life upside down, and ensuing turmoil in the area runs the risk of tearing her life, and the lives of this family apart.

For someone who has never acted before, Yalitza Aparicio is nothing short of astonishing as Cleo. Her performance is so raw and emotional (as is just about every performance) that it feels like you are not watching a film, but real life, which in many ways you kind of are. With each scene, the work that must have gone on behind the scenes to recreate 1970s Mexico, and the way that Cuarón shoots these scenes brings such authenticity, as well as incredible humanity to this film. Granted, the pacing of the film can be a little sluggish at times, but there is a moment when everything changes. You will know it when it happens.

Shooting entirely in black and white enables Cuarón to add a layer of authenticity to the events on screen, again capturing that affectionate feel to them, and grounding them in reality. Cuarón served as both cinematographer and director, and through it, his skills in both crafts to really come to the fore. It feels as though every frame here was worked on intensely like a rare exquisite piece of artwork, and it pays serious dividends. His direction is breath-taking, with a couple of one take moments in a few scenes that will just leave you speechless in shock, and will also likely to reduce you to a blubbering wreck.

There are certain moments in life that just make you stop and think about the things that are most important to you, and Cuarón captures these moments with so much emotional weight. Going on this extremely emotional journey with these characters is one that everyone should experience, simply due to the profound impact that it should have on the audience. With Hollywood awash with prequels, sequels and the like, such rare and outstandingly beautiful pieces of art like this need to be watched, and above all, they need to be celebrated for what they bring to the medium of film.

With an outstanding central performance at its core, Cuaron has crafted one of his finest films and something truly special in Roma. A personal and profound masterpiece.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Bumblebee (2018)

Image is property of Paramount Pictures, Di Bonaventura Pictures and Allspark Pictures

Bumblebee – Film Review

Cast:  Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr, John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon, Dylan O’Brien, Peter Cullen, Angela Bassett, Justin Theroux

Director: Travis Knight

Synopsis: With war ravaging Cybertron, the Autobot Bumblebee arrives on Earth in 1987, where he comes into contact with Charlie (Steinfeld) a young woman who is desperately to adapt and find her place in the world in the wake of personal tragedy….

Review: Flash your minds back to 2007, when for the very first time, a film that featured cars transforming into giant robots ready to do battle, made its way onto the big screen. The expectation was sky high, and though it started out fairly promisingly, the live action Transformers franchise quickly deteriorated. With each new entry, it was starting to feel this series had run out of fuel (and ideas). It was time for some much needed new blood and metal.

For as long as he was in charge of these films, Michael Bay certainly knew one thing, how to blow a lot of shit up. Though there were some undeniably entertaining moments, the familiarity with which Bay told each of his films became extremely tiresome. Thankfully, new director Travis Knight of Kubo and the Two Strings fame comes in , making his first foray into live action film-making. Right from the opening moments of this prequel, you just know that this is going to be a completely different and refreshing experience when compared to the previous films.

For one thing, Knight has significantly dialled back the action scenes (and the explosions) in favour of more heart and character. For a bot that cannot talk Bumblebee certainly showed plenty of heart, and here once again he is brimming with that friendly personality that makes Bumblebee the lovable Autobot that he is. Right in the middle of all this is Charlie, a teenager trying to get her life together and in desperate need of a car. When she stumbles across what she suspects is your run of the mill VW Beetle, she gets caught up in a devastating and deadly conflict between the Autobots and the Decepticons.

Since this is before the time of Samuel Witwicky and his annoying parents, Steinfeld as Charlie is a very warm and welcome presence. She isn’t exactly in the most comfortable or easiest of places in her life but with Bee by her side, he is there to be a figure of support for her when she needs it most. Christina Hodson’s screenplay gives plenty of time for their relationship to develop and to grow into something truly unique that the previous movies really struggled to capture. Though her parents and brother can get marginally annoying at times, John Cena’s portrayal as a Sector 7 gives him a chance to flex his military tough guy muscles, and he’s clearly having a lot of fun with this role.

Though of course, it wouldn’t be a Transformers film if there wasn’t a scrap between Autobots and Decepticons and we get a much more in depth look at that conflict, with Peter Cullen once again voicing Optimus Prime in all of his Generation 1 glory. As usual there are a few up-to-no-good Decepticons seeking to hunt down and destroy Bumblebee and put an end to the Cybertronian Civil War. Knight’s direction is a lot more refined, choosing his moments when it comes to the action, which is a refreshing change from Bay’s wanton appetite to just blow everything to smithereens, whilst giving little thought to anything else.

By adding a plethora of 80s pop culture references into the mix, Knight and Hodson have hit upon a winning formula that provides the franchise with the CPR it needed to ensure it didn’t end up on the scrapheap. This is the film that the long time fans of the series have been wanting to see. The “Bayhem” of the previous five films are hopefully now consigned to the past, the future of the franchise now looks a lot more promising, and hopefully more films of this calibre will be transforming and rolling out in the not too distant future.

Full to the brim with heart and emotion, and a superb performance from Steinfeld ensures gives this franchise a much need course correction, whilst ensuring it is the best film in the series by a considerable margin.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Aquaman (2018)

Image is property of Warner Bros and DC

Aquaman – Film Review

Cast:  Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison

Directors: James Wan

Synopsis: When the world of Atlantis seeks to declare war on the surface, the half human/half Atlantean Arthur Curry (Momoa) must confront his half-brother King Orm (Wilson) to save humanity…

Review: It would be far to say that it has not been plain sailing for the DC Extended Universe up until this point. Though it started promisingly, their big budget flagship team-ups ultimately fizzled into mediocrity and disappointment. If a certain Amazonian Warrior hadn’t restored some pride, this fledgling universe might have been perilously close to suffering from an early demise. However, the DCEU is here to stay at least for now, and it is the turn of  Khal Drogo Arthur Curry to get the solo movie treatment.

Much like Wonder Woman before him, Aquaman’s solo film jumps about in time as we watch the meeting of his parents, Queen Atlanna (Kidman) and his lighthouse keeper father Thomas (Morrison), and how two beings of two separate worlds brought Arthur into existence. In the wake of the events of Justice League, a visit from Mera (Heard) a resident of Atlantis informs Arthur of his half brother’s plan to bring a war to those of us who dwell on the surface, and how Arthur must take his place as King in order to prevent this coming conflict. If this sounds kinda familiar, it might be because a little film called Black Panther had a strikingly similar plot, except this time around, the hero and the antagonist have swapped roles.

Brothers (and tridents) in arms…

Carrying on from where he left off in Justice League, Momoa is excellent as Aquaman. His charisma and just sheer badassery just makes watching him so effortlessly enjoyable. Amber Heard as Mera also gets a lot more screen time as both she and Aquaman go on their merry adventure to retrieve something that they believe will be of immense importance for the upcoming conflict. Try as they might, unfortunately their chemistry just doesn’t flow. The screenplay is scattershot and completely all over the place, with some very wishy-washy dialogue. With so many different subplots going on, keeping up with it all can feel a bit exhausting, a little bit of refining would have been most welcome. Furthermore, while certain arcs are interesting enough, they definitely could have been removed from the film.

The film’s strengths really lie in the action scenes. Director James Wan brings a real visual swagger to them, and Rupert Gregson Williams’s score helps keep the film moving briskly along. For all the criticisms that have been hurled at previous DCEU films for being devoid of colour, Wan and his DP Don Burgess don’t hold back, ensuring that each frame is truly awash with colour and vibrancy. As well as being awash with colour, there’s a fair bit of CGI, which considering half the film takes place in a world under the see, isn’t that surprising. But damn, if Atlantis was a real place, you know you would just want to visit it.

The battle scenes feel a bit ridiculous at times, but sometimes you just gotta let it slide and sit back and enjoy the ride. Also, this is the second superhero film this year, featuring an animal performing a drum solo. Not sure when, or if this has become a thing, but if it has, then absolutely no arguments. For all the dour of some of the previous instalments, the fun factor is turned up to the maximum right from the off, and just about manages to keep that going right throughout its somewhat bloated run time. The DCEU hasn’t quite been the tidal wave of success the studio, and the fans would have wanted, but with this solid entry under its trident, the tide could hopefully be turning for DC.

Beset by a messy screenplay that could have sunk the whole project, Wan’s confident direction, a reliable lead performance from Momoa, and some bonkers action keeps it all afloat.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Mortal Engines (2018)

Image is property of Universal Pictures, Media Rights Capital and WingNut Films

Mortal Engines – Film Review

Cast: Hera Hilmar, Hugo Weaving, Robert Sheehan, Jihae, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Lang

Director: Christian Rivers

Synopsis: In a post-apocalyptic world, society as we know it has fallen into ruin. Cities that have become civilisations on wheels, utilising smaller civilisations for their resources in order to survive…

Review: If you are looking to adapt a fantasy novel to the big screen, one man who would be extremely helpful to have on your team, would be visionary director Peter Jackson. The man who of course brilliantly brought the world of Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies to the big screen is once again behind the wheels of another dip into the world of fantasy of sorts, except this time, there’s no magic rings, elves or goblins to be found. This time around, it’s a bit more closer to home, sort of.

Set a thousand years into our future, in this time frame civilisation as we know it has collapsed. Resources are scarce, and cities have become meals-on-wheels that roam around the terrain, looking to prey on smaller territories. The leader, or Prime Minister if you will, of what has become London, is Valentine (Weaving) who is looking to establish London’s domination over all of the other territories. In his path, however stands Hester Shaw (Hilmar) a woman who is on her own mission, a deeply personal one at that, against Valentine.

For a directorial debut, Rivers’s direction shows signs of promise as he packs in some exhilarating action sequences, including one right from the opening moments of the film. Having worked extensively with Jackson crafting the magnificent visual effects for both his Middle Earth trilogies, it should come as little surprise that the visual effects are excellent. When it comes to these cities, you really feel the scale of them and just how absolutely enormous they are. The excellent production design also helps to provide a really futuristic feel to these cities.

Lovely scenery….

As the most well known name in this cast, Weaving as the lead antagonist is sadly functional at best. Hera Hilmar as Hester Shaw is the most compelling of the bunch as our main heroine. The film really strives to give her a compelling backstory to make you care about her. Unfortunately though, it’s just not as exciting as it wants to be, as there is a real dearth of personality on just about every character that you see on screen. Except for Stephen Lang’s character, who despite his nature, might just have more humanity than everyone else in the film, which is really saying a lot.

Given that the series of novels that the film is based on compromised of four novels, you would think that there is more than enough source material for the screenwriters to work with. Furthermore, when you have Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens writing the screenplay, you would think that there’s enough talent there to craft something compelling, but there is so much in this screenplay that is missing, most notably some heart.

Furthermore, it feels as though there is so more backstory that is just breezed over and barely explained just to squeeze into a two hour film. It feels that feels as though this, could and should, have been a TV show instead. There was a chance to craft the next big franchise, but alas, too many similarities to superior properties meant that the wheels came off, and that opportunity was completely squandered.

Visually impressive with some superb production design, but a pretty weak screenplay that overall fails to give its characters the charisma it needs to really give this story some momentum.  

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

Image is property of Walt Disney Animation Studios

Ralph Breaks the Internet – Film Review

Cast:  John C Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Alfred Molina, Ed O’Neill

Directors: Rich Moore and Phil Johnston

Synopsis: When her game Sugar Rush becomes at risk of being unplugged, Vanellope and her best friend Ralph must journey to the vast world of the internet in order to save her game…

Review: The great wonder of film-making, particularly when it comes to animation is that the possibilities are endless. There is no limit to what you can or cannot do, this is also very much applicable to this rather marvellous invention known as the internet. It is also a world of endless possibilities and a place where you can do literally just about anything you so desire. It seems fitting then that after a film that explored what video game characters get up to after their games close for the day, to go up a notch for the sequel and explore the crazy world that is the internet.

A few years have passed since the events of the first film, with Ralph (Reilly) and Vanellope (Silverman) enjoying a solid friendship hanging out together when their gaming duties for the day are done. However, for Vanellope, something is just not fulfilling enough, she strives for something more. When her game suffers a malfunction that puts its immediate future at risk, she and Ralph must journey to the centre of the conglomerate of the internet in order to save her game.

Sequels should always aim to broaden the scope of their predecessor, and so to make the jump from the inner workings of something as small as an arcade, to the never-ending maze that is the internet is a bold move on the part of Disney, but it turns out to be an inspired one as it makes for a very intriguing adventure. Given that the world of the internet offers users so much to explore, the way that the filmmakers concoct the internet is really quite clever. To be expected, there are a fair number of jokes centred around the internet and various phenomenons that have gone viral because of the internet, which provide plenty of humourous moments.

Furthermore, given the vast array of properties that Disney now owns, there’s a vast array of Disney “Easter Eggs” to be found. The most notable example of this would be the appearances of all Disney’s most popular princesses. This could be problematic as it could have come across as egotistical on the studio’s part. However, their appearances provide the film with some of its best moments (including a rather ingenious Brave gag).

The voice work of Reilly and Silverman in particular once again shines brightest as we watch these two, who seem the unlikeliest of friends, try to make their friendship work. Which, while heart-warming to see given how likeable they both are, is a very familiar premise and therefore doesn’t really break any new ground in terms of story-telling. Gal Gadot, though not herself a Disney Princess, is also a welcome addition to the cast. Despite that, you cannot help but feel, though her character and world are interesting, that the themes explored are somewhat clichéd and could have been a bit more innovative in light of the brilliantly clever concept of exploring the world-wide web.

Though the film is somewhat lacking in terms of a fulfilling narrative, some choices in particular do really feel completely out of the blue. It makes up for this with plenty of heart and (to be expected) some marvellous animation. However, the inevitability of sequels is they are going to be compared to their predecessors, and unfortunately Ralph Breaks the Internet is just not as clever as its predecessor. What’s more, the filmmakers really missed a trick with the title of the film, surely Ralph Wrecks the Internet would have been better?

Retaining the heart and vibrancy of its predecessor, Ralph Breaks the Internet offers up an imaginative look at the Internet, but doesn’t use the cleverness of its concept in a completely fulfilling manner. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Creed II (2018)

Image is property of MGM and Warner Bros

Creed II – Film Review

Cast:  Michael B Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Wood Harris, Phylicia Rashad, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu

Director: Steven Caple Jr

Synopsis: With the World Heavyweight Championship title now under his belt, Adonis Creed faces a new threat to his title, in the form of Viktor Drago, the son of Ivan, the man who killed his father Apollo…

Review: Every so often, a film comes almost completely out of nowhere, with little fanfare and just absolutely blows audiences away. An example of this would be 2015’s Creed, the seventh entry in the Rocky franchise. It reinvigorated a series that hadn’t had an entry for almost a decade. As such many might have assumed that it had fought its last fight and was out for the count, this is until one Ryan Coogler came along, and a new champion of the franchise was born.

That champion is Adonis Creed, who has in the wake of his bout with Ricky Conlan, has gone on to enjoy a tremendous run of success that leads him to the World Heavyweight Championship title. However trouble is brewing as Viktor Drago the son of Ivan Drago, is emerging as a very credible threat to his newly won title. Complications further arise when after Adonis proposes to Bianca (Thompson), she becomes pregnant with their first child, leaving Adonis with a dilemma as to whether he should take this challenge on, given what happened the last time a Creed faced off against a Drago. To say there’s history and bad blood between the Creeds and the Dragos would be putting it mildly.

One significant factor that made the first film such the knockout success it was, was the trio of terrific performances from its three leads and the chemistry that they had with each other. Michael B Jordan is once again terrific in the lead role, with excellent support from the great Sly Stallone once more. Likewise for Tessa Thompson, although she is an integral figure in Adonis’s life, as they are both about to go on the most personal of journeys together. There is considerably less development on her own life and career when compared to the first film.  Though this is understandable considering the challenge Creed is facing from Viktor Drago, who is desperate to prove himself to his father, and as a fighter. There is an attempt to develop his character, but it falls short of making him a truly compelling character. He is built like a tank though, and that doesn’t bode well for Adonis.

Due to his involvement with some rather obscure Marvel property called Black Panther, Coogler stepped down from directing duties. Now merely on board as executive producer, with those gloves were passed to Steven Caple Jr. Though not as visually as impressive as the work that was accomplished with the first film (there’s no masterful one take fight scene), Caple fills his shoes admirably well, as the fight scenes are once again very raw and rough in their execution. The camerawork really makes you feel those punches as they fly in, though some more footage of the fights would have been most welcome as some fights are montage-d through rather quickly.

This being the eight film in this franchise, it does follow similar paths that previous films in the franchise have, which may lead to criticism from some quarters. However, if you walk into a Rocky/Creed film, or indeed almost any boxing film, the chances of seeing a good training montage, some well executed fight scenes, mixed in with some deeply moving and personal family drama, are quite high. What matters is if the film is done with care and continues the story in a compelling manner that was brought to life so effectively with Creed, which this film does like a champ.

Though not as impactful as its predecessor, this second round of a revitalised franchise continues to bring that heart and emotion, boosted by three superb performances from its three leads, and some well executed fight scenes.