Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Toy Story 4 (2019)

Image is property of Disney and Pixar

Toy Story 4 – Film Review

Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Joan Cusack, Blake Clark, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Jordan Peele, Keegan Michael Key, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks

Director: Josh Cooley

Synopsis: When Bonnie brings a new toy named Forky home, the new toy is unsure of himself and when he gets lost in an amusement park, Woody and the gang set out to save their friend.

Review: “So long, partner” as those words were uttered by everyone’s favourite rootin’ tootin’ cowboy Woody at the end of Toy Story 3, it was the perfect ending to a near perfect trilogy, or so we thought. Amid the waterworks that many audiences likely experienced at the time, we were led to believe it was the final bow for Woody and the gang. Yet those folks at Pixar clearly had other ideas, and while the news of a fourth film was greeted with initial scepticism, Pixar once again proved that they still have that magic touch.

In the years since Toy Story 3, Woody has very much fallen down the pecking order among the gang, with new owner Bonnie preferring to fill her playtime with the other toys. This is until Bonnie makes a new toy out of a fork, and appropriately dubs him “Forky.” It doesn’t take long for this little utensil becomes Bonnie’s most valued possession and so Woody takes it upon himself to look after him and teach Forky what it means to be a toy. Though matters are complicated when Forky gets lost in an amusement park, and Woody decides to go after him in an attempt to bring him back to Bonnie.

With each of the previous three films, they all developed the narrative in a significant manner. New, and memorable toys were introduced, and the toys themselves were put in emotionally investing predicaments, situations where the audience could relate to the dilemmas these toys were going through. This time around, though it is a it’s a story that does merit being told, it’s doesn’t quite feel as well developed as its predecessors, nor as emotionally charged as the three films that came before it. Though once again, Woody is very much at the centre of this new adventure, as is a very different Bo Peep, who makes a welcome return to the franchise.

Though Bo’s return is a welcome one, Woody’s old gang of toys such as Buzz, Jessie, Ham, Slinky and the Potato Heads are given very little to do and so they are frustratingly sidelined. However, this gives Woody and Bo a chance to rekindle an old friendship, whilst letting a new crop of toys to take centre stage. Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele, bring the hilarity you would expect from them as a fluffy duck and bunny respectively. Meanwhile, Keanu Reeves lends his charm and talents to the super cool Duke Caboom, a toy who’s clearly not shy of charisma or confidence, and who loves to strike a pose. It’s these three new additions that give the film bulk of the laughs, with Key and Peele’s comedy background definitely coming to the fore.

To follow in the wake of what Pixar achieved all those years ago, was always going to be a tall order. Though the themes that have been at the heart of this franchise from the very first time we met Woody and the gang all those years ago remain very much present in this new adventure. There are elements of this story that feel a little underdeveloped, and consequently they don’t quite recapture those glorious highs of the first trilogy. Going back to this franchise could have backfired, but as they so often do, Pixar reached for the sky to give those who grew up with these toys another worthwhile, immaculately animated film that earns its place in the Toy Story toy-box.

It doesn’t pack the emotional punch of its predecessors, but with a story worth telling and a delightful mix of old and new characters alike, you’ll be glad to go to Infinity and Beyond with these guys all over again.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

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

Image is property of Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Animation and Marvel Entertainment

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – Film Review

Cast: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn
Nicolas Cage, Liev Schreiber

Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman

Synopsis: When teenager Miles Morales gets bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes the hero known as Spider-Man, he begins to discover he isn’t the only individual with these abilities out in the world…

Review: When you think of the hero Spider-Man, and his alter ego, there is usually one name that comes to mind, Peter Parker. After all, his story is one that has been told once or twice in Hollywood in the last decade or so. Yet he is not the only one to have these powers, and the responsibility that comes with it, as there have been numerous other instances of other people like Peter donning the mask and becoming the web-crawling hero. Now, it these other heroes have finally been given their moment in the spotlight.

Though Peter does show up here, the MVP in this tale of Spider-Man is Miles Morales (Moore), a teenager who is not entirely happy with his life after being transferred to a brand new, school. Though while out and about in New York City,  he gets bitten by a radioactive spider and starts to experience things he can’t explain. However, while all this is happening, a nefarious plan by the dastardly Kingpin that involves the opening up of other dimensions, brings several other web-crawlers into play, all from different dimensions. Together these Spider-people must work together to prevent Kingpin from unleash irreparable damage to this dimension and all the dimensions beyond.

Multiple spider senses be tingling…

In terms of the visuals, it’s so unique in comparison to any of the adventures of Peter Parker that we have seen prior. The animation is astonishing in its terms of the colour palette and how vivid it is. It feels like someone took the pages of the comic book itself and translated it onto the big screen, and the results are marvellous. Though the animation is so high paced and stylistic it can be a little jarring upon first glance, once you get used to it, it’s extremely innovative and fits perfectly with the fast paced, high energy style of the film.

Moore leads the way in what is a ridiculously stacked and super super talented voice cast. He injects Miles with that vibrant youthful energy, whilst at the same time still acting like a teenager who’s very unsure of himself. The camaraderie between Miles and all of his fellow Spider-People especially Peter (Johnson) and Gwen (Steinfeld) is especially wonderful. Though without question, the biggest scene stealer of them all is Nicholas Cage as the witty and hilarious Spider-Noir, an absolute genius piece of casting. With so many spidery people in play, the film runs the risk of losing its focus but it strikes that balance superbly well.  Brian Tyree Henry and Mahershala Ali lend their talents to Miles’s father and uncle respectively, and Liev Schrieber gives Kingpin a suitably intimidating presence.

Given that the superhero genre has arguably never been more popular than what it is right now, it is hard to make a film that stands out from the crowd, but Into the Spider-Verse is exactly that. Familiar in terms of Spider-Man films that came before it though it may be, it is undoubtedly a wonderful breath of fresh air. A film that the genre has has been crying out for a film like this to reinvigorate itself. The world of superheroes on the big screen has been introduced to Miles Morales at long last, and with this innovative style of animation, there’s an endless web of possibilities to swing towards.

Meticulously animated combined with a wonderful story and a superb array of colourful and amusing characters, an invigorating breath of fresh air for the superhero genre.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Men in Black International (2019)

Image is property of Sony, Columbia Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

Men in Black International – Film Review

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Kumail Nanjiani, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Rebecca Ferguson,

Director: F. Gary Gray

Synopsis: When Earth comes under attack from an unknown hostile alien force, rookie agent M (Thompson) gets partnered up with the brash Agent H (Hemsworth) and together they must stop the impending attack…

Review: There comes a point in a franchise’s life when after a very successful first entry, the studio then decides to seize on that success and make one or two sequels. Though since it has been seven years since the last film in this franchise, it begs the question, was anyone asking for another Men in Black film? If a decision is going to be made to reboot or spin-off a franchise, give the audience a story worth telling. Because, once again, we have another film in a franchise that barely has a reason for justifying its existence.

As this is a spin-off, Will Smith’s and Tommy Lee Jones’s Agents J and K are now consigned to legend, and in their places come Chris Hemsworth Agent H (for hothead) and Tessa Thompson’s M (for marvellous). These two are recruited by the MiB London division to investigate some mysterious extraterrestrial occurrings, and the usual shenanigans involving aliens and men (and this time) women suiting up to take down these extraterrestrial nefarious evil doers.

By far and away, the best thing about this film is Tessa Thompson’s performance as Agent M, she is the most fleshed out person in the film and she adds some much needed charisma, something that is severely lacking in many of the other characters. Hemsworth is enjoyable as H, though this is far from his best work. These two have  proven themselves to have good chemistry due to their work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the camaraderie and banter between the two is one of the few delightful elements of the film. In addition, Kumail Nanjiani has a small but brilliant part that gives the movie the majority of its laughter.

For such an exciting cast, there’s barely an ounce of charisma on anyone else, save for Emma Thompson’s Head of the New York division of the MiB, who is not given enough screen time. On a similar note, in what could have been a very intriguing role, Rebecca Ferguson, who is sporting a very interesting wig, is reduced to a glorified cameo. The script from Iron Man duo Art Marcum and Matt Holloway gives them such inadequate material to work with, it’s a frustrating waste of the talents of these two fantastic actresses. It definitely doesn’t help that for the first act or so, the film is completely bereft of a discernible plot or a sense of direction that its moving in.

Though once things start to gather some pace, there are some exciting moments but these are really few and far between, and the addition of F Gary Gray as director adds nothing new. Don’t be surprised if after coming out of the film, you feel as though you yourself have been neuralised because there is nothing in this film that remotely stands out as memorable or exciting. The attachment of some new blood and a new director offered an opportunity for this franchise to start afresh and blast off in exciting new directions, but it’s an opportunity missed. No need to get suited and booted for this one, as those suits should have been left in the wardrobe, and hopefully the sunglasses and the neuralisers will be put into the drawer and never be seen again.

Hemsworth and Thompson’s are welcome additions to the cast, but an uninspired plot, bland storytelling and completely forgettable action scenes render this a complete damp (alien) squib.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Dark Phoenix (2019)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox, Marvel and TSG Entertainment

Dark Phoenix – Film Review

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Sophie Turner, Nicholas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp

Director: Simon Kinberg

Synopsis: After a mission in space goes awry, a deadly cosmic force connects with the powerful Jean Grey creating an unstoppable force that threatens to have deadly consequences for mutants and humanity alike…

Review: Fox’s X Men franchise was for a time, the pinnacle of superhero films in the 2000s, at least before the genesis of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yet even as the MCU grew, Fox remained undeterred and, even with a few misfires, produced some outstanding superhero showdowns. However, with the deal to bring Fox under the Disney/Marvel umbrella now officially complete, this franchise is now coming to its conclusion. Though there is one more entry to come before the passing of the torch, this represents one final opportunity for the franchise to go out with a bang, but unfortunately it fizzles out into nothing.

Eight years after the events of the Apocalypse, the X-Men are summoned to a space mission that has gone badly wrong, leaving the lives of the astronauts in serious peril. During the rescue mission, a cosmic force of unknown power latches itself onto Jean Grey, creating the very powerful Dark Phoenix. Upon touching back down on Earth, though everything seems to initially be fine, trouble begins to brew and the X-Men must try and contain Jean’s power before she becomes too powerful for any of them to stop.

For every high that this franchise has experienced, there has always been a crushing disappointment, and sadly Dark Phoenix falls into the latter category, which given its troubled production, shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. Things started off brightly when we first met these characters, though in the wake of the underwhelming Apocalypse, this continues that downward trajectory. For a story that is very popular in the comics, and one that has already been attempted before in The Last Stand, writer/director Simon Kinberg efforts to translate it for the big screen fall completely flat. It has a promising start, but once the Phoenix is born, the plot meanders along, only occasionally perking up every now and again to deliver an action scene, which while exciting, is not nearly enough given what we know this series is capable of.

One thing these films absolutely got right was the casting of the younger versions of these characters. James McAvoy is once again excellent as Xavier, being that father figure presence. Though he doesn’t get nearly enough material to work with, Michael Fassbender is solid once again as Magneto. Though, Jennifer Lawrence has definitely had better moments in the blue of Mystique. The key player here is Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey, she does a sterling job conveying the pain and anguish that her character is experiencing at that moment in time, but her arc definitely had room for improvement.  Jessica Chastain’s presence  as a villain adds nothing substantial to the plot. Her motivations are threadbare and she’s just not intimidating enough to be taken seriously, a scandalous waste of her immense acting talents.

With the future of this franchise now in the hands of the folks running the Marvel Cinematic Universe, fans were probably hoping for the franchise to sign off in spectacular flaming glory. The potential was there, but even with the talents of all these actors, and another excellent score from Hans Zimmer, it’s just not realised. The great journey that we have been on these characters started off well, but they didn’t get the send off that they would have wanted. It’s a real shame that the penultimate entry in this iteration of the X-Men franchise flickers briefly before being extinguished with a whimper.

Another attempt at this iconic story is regretfully another misfire, thanks to some lacklustre performances, stilted dialogue and a very tedious plot. This is one phoenix that won’t be rising from the ashes any time soon.

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Rocketman (2019)

Image is property of Paramount Pictures, New Republic Pictures, Marv Films, Rocket Pictures

Rocketman – Film Review

Cast: Taron Egerton, Richard Madden, Jamie Bell, Bryce Dallas Howard, Stephen Graham

Director: Dexter Fletcher

Synopsis: A look at the life of musical icon Elton John from his first moments playing the piano as a youngster, to an international best selling superstar, and all the partying and drunken shenanigans that ensued…

Review: When two films about two icons of British music come out within a year of each other, comparisons between these two films are pretty much inevitable, especially since they share a director (kind of). However, while the first of these films ultimately chose to play things very safe with its source material about the life of its subject, Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. For Rocketman, and the life of its subject, Elton Hercules John, this is decidedly not the case.

The film covers quite the broad spectrum, but it mainly initially on Elton’s younger years, back when he was known as Reginald Kenneth Dwight. As a rather timid child being held back by his not-so-supporting parents. Until when given some helpful supporting nudges, he gets a spot at a prestigious music school and that leads him down the path of becoming a very eccentric entertainer. From there he meets lyricist Bernie Taupin (Bell) and together with Bernie providing the lyrics and Elton providing the vocals, they become an effective and cohesive team committed on the journey to super-stardom.

Dress down Fridays definitely didn’t catch on…

Every so often, there is a casting choice that just feels absolutely perfect, and for Taron Egerton as Elton John, this is one of those instances. In what may be his best performance of his career so far, Egerton goes all out with just about every aspect of the role. The bright and wacky costumes, the mannerisms of the great man himself and, yes he does all of his own singing. With just about every facet of this performance, he captures the drama that he has in his life with his romances and the hard and intense party lifestyle that he leads in his younger years, without sugar-coating any of it, not least the relationships he has, most notably with Richard Madden’s John Reid. The friendship between Elton and Bernie is very heartfelt, and Bell brings a level of sincerity to his performance, and Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton’s mum Sheila couldn’t have been more perfect.

Dexter Fletcher, who came into to complete Bohemian Rhapsody after the original director was fired, shows that he has got a real knack for these musical biopics. While he didn’t get the credit for BoRhap, this is completely his own movie, and with that he brings a great deal of visual flair to the film. There’s no jaw-dropping sequence like the Live Aid scene in BoRhap, but that doesn’t stop the musical numbers in Rocketman are entertaining and very unique in their own right. With the script from Lee Hall, Fletcher chooses to mesh the intense drama with some musical numbers that are interspersed throughout the film. Given that the life of someone in a business like this has its ups and downs, these can feel a little jarring at first, given how the film has moments in it which are really quite melancholic.

The film strives to avoid those familiar tropes of the musical biopic genre, but despite its best efforts, it does revert to some of these. Yet while Bohemian Rhapsody was a very safe, and (sometimes inaccurate) version of the man it was portraying, Rocketman is anything but by-the-numbers. There are some aspects of Elton’s life that are covered, but in such a fleeting manner that could have done with a bit more development. It’s above all else, a reminder that while such a career can be extremely rewarding, there are some dangerous pitfalls that can happen to anyone, no matter how rich, or famous, or popular they may be.

Visually striking and with a marvellous performance from Egerton, Rocketman blasts off but doesn’t quite stick the landing due to a tonally unevenly told story.

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

Image is property of Warner Bros and Legendary

Godzilla: King of the Monsters – Film Review

Cast: Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Thomas Middleditch, Aisha Hinds, O’Shea Jackson Jr., David Strathairn, Ken Watanabe, Zhang Ziyi

Directors: Michael Dougherty

Synopsis: Since the emergence of Godzilla, the monster organisation Monarch has uncovered several other titans hidden in locations around the world, and a battle ensues between man and titan for global supremacy…

Review: It was the major aspect of 2014’s Godzilla that left hardcore fans of the King of the Kaiju so disappointed. Namely that for a film called Godzilla, he was but a minor spectator for the most part. Though when he did atomically roar his way into the proceedings, it was marvellous movie Monster magic. Hence, for the third film in the MonsterVerse, after a trip to Skull Island, the King is back and there are quite a few new monsters who are challenging for his throne.

In the aftermath of the Godzilla VS MUTO battle that laid waste to San Francisco, humanity has found themselves recovering from the devastation and preparing themselves for the eventuality of Godzilla resurfacing. We see this primarily through the perspective of the Russell family, with Emma ( Farmiga) and her daughter Madison (Brown), who’s torn between her mum and her father (Chandler). Simultaneously, the Monster organisation Monarch, has been working to discover the locations of other gargantuan monsters that are in hidden locations on the planet, posing the very real risk of these titans being unleashed upon our world.

Definitely not a fan of the man upstairs it would seem…

As entertaining as it would be to just watch two uninterrupted hours of Godzilla scrapping it out with other monsters, a core component of these monsters movies is the accompanying human element. The previous film had a compelling human element that started off brightly, but was ultimately horrendously squandered. Here there is potential to recapture that promise, but in spite of a staggeringly large collection of human characters, very few really stand out. Millie Bobby Brown’s Madison and the emotion that her family is dealing with shows the most intrigue, and the ever reliable Charles Dance delivers some compelling moments. Yet for the most part, all these characters are basically just exposition mouthpieces to move the story along.

Though admittedly they are the secondary characters, it would have helped enormously if the script could have given these actors more, and in some cases better material to work with. The script leaves an awful lot to be desired as there’s no development on the vast majority of them, and nearly all of the attempts to cracks some jokes rarely get the laughter muscles moving. The bigger problem though is that there are far too many characters all vying for screen time, and it really bogs down the over-arching story, which could definitely have done with some refining.

However, the big selling point of these films is the throw-downs between Godzilla and the other titans. Director Michael Dougherty ensures that anyone who was left frustrated by the lack of Godzilla will not be disappointed this time around. These scenes are what these films are really about, giant monster mayhem, and it’s all edge-of-your-seat stuff. The epic scraps especially between Godzilla and his fellow titans are edge-of-your seat entertainment.  The design and CGI for these monsters is fantastic, and King Ghidorah makes for an extremely compelling villain.

Yet, in spite of the three films that the MonsterVerse has provided us, it simply hasn’t quite managed to capture that perfect balance between crafting compelling human characters, and the enthralling movie monster carnage. Though it definitely has, for the most part, got the latter right so far. It’s clear from what we have seen that all of the elements of the perfect monster movie are there within their reach. With the fourth film set to stomp onto the big screen, one can hope they can perfect that formula and unleash the mother of monster movies that pleases man and titan alike.

The scraps between Godzilla and his fellow monsters are glorious, but the film is hampered by mostly bland human characters and a shaky script that prevent this monster melee from soaring to great heights.