Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)

© Illumination, Universal and Nintendo

The Super Mario Bros. Movie – Film Review

Cast: Chris Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy,  Charlie Day, Jack Black, Keegan Michael-Key, Seth Rogen, Fred Armisen

Directors: Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic

Synopsis: After being transported to the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario must join forces with Princess Peach to stop Bowser from conquering the world…

Review: With his signature red cap, overalls and signature moustache, it is not an exaggeration to say that ever since he made his first appearance in a Donkey Kong arcade video game in 1981, the character of Mario has become one of, if not the, most famous video game character of all time. Given his enormous influence in video games, it is perhaps somewhat surprising that the legendary Italian plumber has crossed over to the cinematic realm, only once. Then again, given how poorly received both critically and commercially the 1993 film was, it is little wonder Nintendo exhibited uncertainty before giving another cinematic adventure with Mario the green pipe, sorry, green light. Now, 30 years after that unmitigated disaster, Nintendo has teamed up with Illumination to bring us a new cinematic incarnation which certainly captures the essence of the games, but sadly falls short of landing the gold star it would have hoped for.

Mario (Pratt) and Luigi (Day) are brothers who have started a plumbing business in New York City. While out on a job, the duo stumble across a pipe which transports Mario to the Mushroom Kingdom, and Luigi to a realm controlled by the evil Bowser (Black). Determined to rescue his brother, Mario must team up with Princess Peach (Taylor-Joy) to save him and stop Bowser’s plans from taking over the Mushroom Kingdom.  Such a plot feels ripped straight from a Mario game, and the film endeavours to feel as authentic to the games as possible, which will undoubtedly please long-time fans of the franchise. Yet, while such a strive for authenticity is to be commended, it also comes at a cost. Matthew Fogel’s screenplay opts for a simplistic approach of throwing as many recognisable elements we have seen from iconic Mario games of the past into the film such as the racing, or Luigi’s Mansion, with seemingly little thought of a plot or a fully developed story. The use of these Easter Eggs will please long-time fans, but the world of Mario is so vast and rich, the opportunity was there to come up with a story which is not severely lacking, and could not even be fixed with the help of a magic mushroom.

The subject of the voice casting was, to put it mildly, the topic of much discussion, with Chris Pratt’s casting as the voice of Mario the decision which was by far and away the most debated. Pratt is an actor who has proven he has the potential to be a voice actor in comedies (The Lego Movie) and in more heartfelt emotional roles (Onward). The decision to have Mario and Luigi as brothers who hail from Brooklyn is a smart one and it makes for an easy adjustment for fans who might have been worried about Pratt attempting the familiar exaggerated Italian accent, though there is a fun little nod to that at the beginning of the film. The voice work across the board is functional towards the film’s paper-thin plot. Furthermore, since there’s barely a scintilla of character development on the majority of the characters, with the exceptions of Princess Peach and Bowser, it results in no emotional stakes in the ensuing adventure at all.  Peach’s character is often reduced to the role of a damsel-in-distress in the games, yet she is thankfully proactive and asserts her leadership over the Mushroom Kingdom while Jack Black’s portrayal of the King of the Koopas injects some much-needed personality and humour into the film, but it all counts for very little.

The animation is impressive in its detail as it perfectly captures the look and feel of a typical Mario game. However, the bar for animated films continues to be raised by studios across the board in recent years, and consequently, in spite of its phenomenal success at the box office with its Despicable Me franchise, Illuminiation’s efforts still pale in comparison to the efforts of its rival studios. Given the immense popularity of these characters, which have stood the test of time over multiple decades, there was so much potential for a proper big-screen adaptation which has successfully introduces him to a new generation and satisfy the audience members who grew up with the video games. It certainly accomplishes the former, but really misses the mark with the latter. Mamma Mia, what a missed opportunity!

Impressively animated, but a paper-thin story and severely undeveloped characters ensure this latest adaptation of the Nintendo franchise is devoid of any emotional stakes which made the games so iconic.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Fall (2022)

© Lionsgate and Signature Entertainment

Fall – Film Review

Cast: Grace Caroline Currey, Virginia Gardner, Mason Gooding, Jeffrey Dean Morgan

Director: Scott Mann

Synopsis: Two friends find themselves stranded atop a 2,000ft tall radio tower…

Review: As human beings going about our day-to-day lives, we are accustomed to having our feet on terra firma for most of the time. However, there are those daredevils out there who love to be adventurous/out of their minds (delete where appropriate), and climb exceedingly tall structures all in the name of thrill-seeking and adventure. Such individuals form the basis for this simple, but undeniably extremely tense and nerve-shredding thriller which is exhilarating and positively terrifying for those who are utterly terrified of heights.

Becky (Currey) and Hunter (Gardner) are two best friends who love to go rock climbing. On one particular day, they are out climbing a mountain one day, with Becky’s husband Dan (Gooding), when tragedy strikes. Fast forward nearly a year, and Becky’s life has spiralled where she is in a deep depression and battling alcoholism. Upon encouragement from Hunter, the two of them set out to climb the 2,000 ft B67 TV tower in the middle of nowhere, so the two can rediscover their passion for adventure and enable Becky can finally move on from the tragic events one year prior. The adventure goes to plan when the two of them are, for a brief moment, on top of the world for a brief moment. However, as they begin to make their descent, disaster strikes as the ladder they used to climb up breaks apart, leaving them stranded atop the tower, with no way down and with very little in the way of supplies.

To put it into perspective, standing at 2,000ft, the B67 TV tower would be the fourth tallest building in the world behind only the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the Merdeka 118 in Malaysia and the Shanghai Tower, which is all sorts of terrifying. While the actors were not actually at such extraordinarily unnerving heights, the decision by the filmmakers to shoot on a practical location in the California desert, and construct the upper part of the tower on top of a mountain, is extremely effective as it adds a great of authenticity to the suspense. Mann’s direction, with the vertiginous cinematography and a very effective score, all combine to sell the peril of their situation and are guaranteed to make anyone sweat profusely with anxiety as the horror of the situation unfolds as these two battle the elements, and more, in their bid to stay alive.

The script by Mann and Jonathan Frank wastes little time establishing the core events which prompt Becky and Hunter to make this perilous ascent up to the top of this abandoned TV tower. To make matters worse for them, the platform at the top of the tower is exceedingly narrow, giving Becky and Hunter little room for manoeuvre as they must find a way to ensure they avoid that terrifying 2,000 ft drop back down to earth and alert the authorities to their plight. While the script does veer a bit into the overly dramatic with some of the dialogue between the two of them, it serves to develop the relationship between them, and the performances of both Currey and Gardner remain strong as the desperation of their plight means drastic action may well have to be taken sooner or later.

The seemingly hopeless nature of these two poor souls’ plight enables Mann to keep the audience on their toes throughout the film’s 97-minute run time, while retaining the nail-biting tension. Yet by the time it reaches the culmination of the third act, the ending does feel a little bit rushed. However, it is a refreshingly original and extremely effective tale of survival in the most perilous circumstances. By the time the credits begin to roll, and your heart rate has returned to normal,  you may be eternally thankful you’ve got those two feet on the ground and will almost certainly have no plans to scale such heights now, or at any point in the future.

The premise is totally absurd, but due to extremely compelling film-making, Fall is an enthralling and simultaneously terrifying white-knuckle ride.