Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

Image is property of TriStar Pictures

Terminator 2: Judgement Day  – Film Review

Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick, Joe Morton

Director: James Cameron

Synopsis: Having failed with their mission to assassinate Sarah Connor, the machines send a new and much more advanced lethal to go after John Connor as a child. However, the adult John Connor counteracts this by sending the same cyborg that tried to kill his mother, to protect him.

Review: “I’ll be back,” said the T-800 before he rammed his car through a police station during a climatic event of the first Terminator movie as he ruthlessly hunted down his prey, Sarah Connor, in a bid to kill her to prevent a deadly war between man and the machines from ever taking place. It’s a line that has become one of the most quoted lines of dialogue in cinematic history. Though he did not succeed in said mission, he was true to his word, and came back with an almighty bang to help create what many feel is one of the greatest sequels ever made in the history of film.

The first Terminator film was revolutionary and it managed this feat on quite the remarkably small budget. Hence for the sequel, as sequels should do it upped the ante and in considerable style too, including quite the higher budget. With the war against the Machines still raging, and having failed to eliminate Sarah, Skynet sends an advanced Terminator, the T-1000 back in time to eliminate John Connor as a child to prevent him from leading humanity to victory against the machines. Yet to counteract this, the adult John sends back a reprogrammed T-800 that was originally sent to kill his mother, back to protect him at all costs.

Having shown himself to be a ruthless badass killing machine in the first film, to see Arnie flip that on its head, and be a little bit more compassionate this time around was a masterstroke in terms of storytelling. Yet at the same time, he still remains an absolute badass that you wouldn’t want to find yourself up against. And once again, he has some terrific one liners that he delivers with such charisma. The role of the Terminator is what perhaps Arnie has become best known for, and he absolutely bosses every minute of screen time that he has.

With Sarah Connor as well you also have a character who has gone through some shit, and it’s made her a much tougher individual in this film than compared to the rather timid waitress she was in the first film. Taking the characters from the first film and developing them is what sequels should do, and this film does it perfectly, as Sarah is a transformed woman in this film. On the other hand the T-1000, played by Robert Patrick, is one of the most persistent relentless antagonists ever put to film. To watch him scrap with Arnie, two very well matched forces, it makes for some pulsating action. By doing this it makes it that so much more compelling, given that in the first film it was Arnie VS Sarah and Kyle, not exactly the most even of match ups.

With the budget now considerably enhanced, much like The Terminator himself, Cameron manages to create just as compelling, if not more compelling action sequences. he manages to top those action sequences here. The film is paced perfectly with plenty of tremendous action scenes to keep the energy going, including perhaps the best chase scene that has ever been put to film. However, though there are a lot of these chase sequences, it crucially allows those personal moments between the characters particularly between John and Sarah, and indeed the whole plot surrounding the war between man and machines and the dreaded Judgement Day.

It’s the perfect blend of upping the ante in terms of action and the drama, whilst crucially giving moments for the central characters to develop.  It’s one of the finest examples of a sequel that some might argue is better than the original. It is a film that has helped shape science fiction and indeed action films in the years that followed, and will in all likelihood, continue to be a staple of both genres for many more years to come.

He said he’d be back, and he certainly was a man (?) of his word. With much more developed characters and some breathtaking action set pieces, this is the perfect example of a sequel done perfectly. Hasta la Vista Baby indeed!

 

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Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Se7en (1995)

Image is property of New Line Cinema

Se7en – Film Review

Cast: Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey

Director: David Fincher

Synopsis: Two detectives are assigned to a case in which the killer is brutally murdering his victims, based on the seven deadly sins.

Review: Sometimes, it just seems that there is just no escaping from the brutality and horrors life can sometimes be. On any given day, you tend to come across stories of horrific violence committed against all sorts of people, brutal murders and the like all seem to have become just so common for us to hear about. As such, there is something almost generally disturbing and unsettling about the second directorial effort of David Fincher, because it depicts events that could very well happen in the world today.

The opening credits along let the viewer know the sort of ride that they are in for, and it sure as heck won’t be pretty. In an unnamed US city,  Detective William Somerset is a veteran at the job, and is just a week shy of retirement when he gets assigned to this deeply disturbing case of a killer who is using the seven deadly sins as a basis for his crimes. With each respective murder representing each of the seven sins: gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, wrath, pride and lust. Also assigned to the case is the recently reassigned Detective David Mills who’s a bit brash, polar opposite to the calm and methodical William Somerset. Together these two must piece together the clues of the crimes to catch the killer. Except this mystery killer always seems to be one step ahead of the game.

Even from the opening credits, there’s something just so deeply unsettling about the events that we see on screen. The weather is almost always drab and bleak, which mirrors the tone of the film, extremely sombre and just downright macabre. The film-making is gritty and realistic to the point that it and almost makes you feel like the events you’re witnessing are real life events, but the film doesn’t go all out with the gore, it all just feels very realistic. With each murder that takes place, it keeps the plot moving along at a very steady pace. You want to turn away as the events, and more specifically the murders are so disturbingly gruesome, but the quality of the writing keeps your interest glued to the screen.

In a story that feels like it could be something you see in real life, the performances from everyone, in particular Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman are tremendous. Their relationship is not exactly harmonious, and indeed the crime scenes they’re investigating understandably take their toll on the duo, but they remain committed in their efforts to bring down the killer. Gwyneth Paltrow as Mills’s wife Tracy also gives a very vulnerable performance, a woman who is hiding something quite important from her husband, something that plays great significance when we reach the final act of the film.

Speaking of said final act, though there is tension right right throughout the film, particularly during a gritty gun battle in a residential block. The finale is where the tension is really turned up to maximum and the whole story comes to a head. Right up to this point, you had never actually witnessed the murders be carried out on screen, only the very bloody and unpleasant aftermath of each crime scene. Yet all that changes, and the whole plan of our mystery serial killer comes full circle. It’s so unexpected, delivering one of the best twists in cinematic history and providing the viewer with an ending that is more than likely to leave them reeling.

It’s shocking and bold storytelling combined with meticulously crafted film-making. Thus, credit where credit is due to Fincher and screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker for creating not just an ending that surely ranks up there with one of the very best ever put to screen. For creating a chilling tale that won’t be leaving your mind in any hurry, and one that ensures you will never hear the sentence “what’s in the box?” in the same way ever again.

Dark, brutal and uncompromising storytelling, with great performances from Pitt and Freeman, and a masterfully executed ending all equal one of the best films of all time.

Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Toy Story 2 (1999)

Image is property of Walt Disney Studios and Pixar Animation Studios

Toy Story 2 – Film Review

Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammar, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wayne Knight, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, John Morris

Directors: John Lasseter and Lee Unkrich

Synopsis: When a toy collector steals Woody, Buzz leads the gang on a mission to rescue their rootin’ tootin’ cowboy friend.

Review: Creating a sequel to anything that enjoyed incredible success is always an extremely tough act to follow, because well what you make is inevitably going to be judged on what preceded it. Sometimes though a sequel does improve upon its predecessor, but give that 1995’s Toy Story was in many ways revolutionary for the animation movie business,  that was always going to be a challenge for Pixar. Yet despite that enormous challenge, it is one they rose to and delivered another wonderfully animated, funny  and heartfelt story concerning Andy’s (and indeed everyone’s) favourite toys.

Instead of dealing with a new arrival among them, the toys are thrown into disarray when the leader of the gang Woody is pinched by a toy collector who happens to reunite Woody with some past associates of his. His toyknapper plans to sell Woody and co to a museum in Japan, which Woody greets with initial dismay. For Woody, who spent the majority of the first movie berating Buzz for his delusions of grandeur of not being a space ranger but simply a child’s play thing, now faces his own dilemma as to what a toy’s purpose is, and where does he really belong, given that Andy will not be a kid forever. While all this is going on, Buzz is taking the lead on a mission to find Woody and bring him back to Andy’s Room, with the help of a few of the other toys. Though it takes a bit of time to get going, once Woody is toy-knapped, it really picks up the pace.

“The force is with you young Lightyear, but you are not a Space Ranger yet!”

The original movie established these characters that audiences everywhere grew to love, not just the likes of Woody and Buzz, but all of the toys in Andy’s collection too. Impressive then, that there are a handful of new characters here as well that are so well developed and well realised, that it’s almost impossible not to love them too, namely Jessie the yodelling Cowgirl, Stinky Pete the Prospector, and Bullseye, Woody’s trusted noble steed. The voice talent is truly of a very high order. On top of this, there’s a great villain, clearly inspired by everyone’s favourite Dark Lord, Darth Vader, this being the Evil Emperor Zurg, with a hilarious parody of an iconic Star Wars line thrown in for good measure. The story, much like its predecessor, is again a wonderful piece of work, much like its predecessor, it explores themes and ideas that will make an impact on anyone who has ever owned a toy in their lifetime, and if you’ve ever had to part company with said toy, it hits you where you live, kids and adults alike.

As well as the emotional tone, there is a great vibe of adventure and humour as we watch these toys go an exciting new adventure. An adventure where plenty of the toys really learn one or two things about themselves and also undertake some rather daring but hilarious ventures, like using traffic cones to cross a road, and mayhem ensues. As to be expected, there’s a handful of really good jokes aimed at the adults watching, in signature Pixar style. Initially, the studio planned for this to be a straight to video feature, but an eleventh hour decision meant that this thankfully got a cinematic release. It doesn’t quite live up to its predecessors lofty standards, but with that movie being one of the best animated films ever made, that was always going to be a tough act to follow. The studio reinforced their, at the time growing, reputation as a powerhouse of animated cinema, that would only continue to grow in the subsequent years.

Continuing on the path set by its predecessor, this superb sequel offers more well developed characters, tremendous voice animation, and a story with real emotional weight behind it.

 

Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

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Image is property of Walt Disney Animation Studios

Beauty and the Beast– Film Review

Cast: Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury, Bradley Michael Pierce, Rex Everhart, Jesse Corti

Directors: Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise

Synopsis: A young woman offers to take the place of her father who has been captured by a horrible beast who unbeknown to her, is a prince who has been cursed by a terrible spell.

Review: Walt Disney Animation Studios, synonymous with making the most magical movies that exist on Planet Earth, probably. How fitting then, that they would bring to life what is perhaps the most magical fairytale of them all, and what is perhaps the most well known adaptation. Based on the French fairytale of the same name, published in 1740, focusing on Belle, a beautiful young woman who lives with her father. When her father stumbles upon a dark and mysterious castle and becomes imprisoned by the beastly owner of the castle, she offers to take his place, and what follows is without doubt one of the finest animated movies to ever grace the silver screen, and one that despite being released over a quarter of century ago, has stood the test of time remarkably well.

The third film to be produced as part of the Disney Renaissance, it really in many ways set the benchmark for the films that followed it to reach in terms of making a Disney Princess movie that has had a lasting effect on pop culture, and will undoubtedly continue to do so in the coming years. What makes this film so great is not only its superb animation, which particularly for the time is remarkable. But even more than that are the characters, both leading and support, they are all just so memorable. Belle of course, clue in the name, is a beautiful princess but she’s also intelligent and compassionate, with a great singing voice. Gaston is in many ways Belle’s opposite, brash and rather arrogant who thinks he’s just the best, and that women should just fall at his feet, but of course Belle isn’t buying it.

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There are plenty of memorable tunes, right from the opening number to perhaps the most memorable tune, Be Our Guest, to the beautiful titular song, as performed by the great Angela Lansbury, which indeed won the Oscar for Best Song, which when you listen is easy to see why. The voice acting is flawless from everybody, and the singing too, every note that is sung is perfect, whether it’s Belle’s beautiful voice, or Gaston’s song about being the best man Belle could dream of, pompous to the maximum! Every song does its bit for the story, to move it along, and each of them have become some of the most iconic music, that’s perhaps ever been written for film. In addition, Disney’s films have become synonymous with producing magical fairytales, and this might just be the most magical of them all.

In addition to the Oscar for Best Song, a well deserved gong for Best Original Score, and the film also made movie history by becoming the first full length animated movie to get nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. It is a testament to the film’s quality that it was the first to achieve this honour, and this is before the Academy introduced a separate category for animated features, which is no mean achievement. Even more so that its legacy has endured for well over a quarter of a century now, and with the live action re-imagining shortly upon us, it should only ensure its legacy remains intact for generations to come, ensuring it will retain its status as a true timeless Disney classic, as if that was somehow ever in doubt.

Magical in every sense of the word, from story to characters to music. A truly wonderful piece of cinema that has been, and will continue to be adored for years to come. 

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Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

The Lion King (1994)

the-lion-king
Image is property of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures

The Lion King – Film Review

Cast:  Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Moira Kelly, Niketa Calame, Ernie Sabella, Nathan Lane, Robert Guillaume, Rowan Atkinson, Whoopi Goldberg

Directors: Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff

Synopsis: A young cub is being prepared by his father, the king of a pride of lions, to become the future king, while the King’s brother secretly plots to seize the throne for himself.

Review: If ever there was a studio that could perfectly demonstrate the enduring power and appeal of animated films that are almost universally adored for their brilliant characters, gorgeous animation and emotional scenes that really threaten to tug at your heartstrings to such an extent you become a big blubbering mess of happy and sad emotions, then Walt Disney Animation Studios and their extraordinary collection of films could be just the studio you were looking for. Yet, if there was one film that does all of the aforementioned things, and a film that has stood the test of time with flying colours, and has built itself an enduring legacy, loved universally by all generations, 1994’s The Lion King certainly ticks all of those boxes, in an emphatic manner.

A soaring and stirring musical number opens proceedings, and for the next ninety minutes or so, you are taken on an enthralling journey set in the heart of Africa, specifically on a pride of Lions, ruled over by Mufasa and his wife Sariba, and their young cub Simba. The young cub is taught all about life, and more specifically the great Circle of Life, via one of many absolutely brilliant and powerful songs, of which there are aplenty to be found here. Of course, life has its ups and downs and as Simba finds out, sometimes things can take a significant turn for the worse. Thus he goes on a journey that anyone watching can and will relate to in some way.

lion-king

The screenplay, inspired by the works of Shakespeare and more specifically Hamlet, packs plenty of powerful and emotive themes into it. It is profound and deeply moving, that will almost certainly leave a lasting impression on the viewer. the characters have a great many layers to them, perhaps none more so than Simba. Initially a brash, cocky cub, through time he becomes this wise, powerful Lion just like his father Mufasa, voiced by the one and only James Earl Jones. Like most animations, these days, there are more than a few scenes that get the audience emotional, and if you have seen this film, you certainly know what scene in particular here will ensure the audience will be looking for something to wipe away the tears. The voice cast is excellent from Matthew Broderick as Adult Simba, to Rowan Atkinson as Zazu, to Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella as Timone and Pumba. Jeremy Irons as the villainous Scar was another excellent casting choice. Last but not least is Robert Guillaume as the hilarious Rafiki (friend in Swahili).

Disney animations have certainly become known for their great and extremely effective use of music in scenes. From the soaring opening number, to the more jovial tunes like Hakuna Matata, to the powerful Can You Feel the Love Tonight, the great songs are aplenty and they’re all extremely memorable. The great songs are exquisitely matched by the score from Hans Zimmer, which as usual, is near enough perfect. Disney has for a while been what some may argue as the champion of animation in cinema, and for an animation that came out over two decades ago, the animation has stood the test of time, and still remains absolutely excellent and breath taking to watch.

The Lion King has ensured it will remain a staple of animated entertainment for a great many years to come. Having generated a very popular  production that has also been on for several years now. It is safe to say that through all of their spectacular and brilliant animated features, there may not be a film that has stood the test of time and left its mark on numerous aspects of popular culture to such an extent, like the Lion King has. Disney has made many movies since, and although their greatness is undoubted, it is worth considering if any since have reached the remarkable heights that have been set by the Lion King. Hakuna Matata indeed!

Beautifully animated, with rich and complex characters, with incredible music and a wonderful score, this is truly one of Disney’s most undisputed masterpieces.

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Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Mulan (1998)

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Mulan Film Review

Cast: Ming-Na Wen, Eddie Murphy, BD Wong, Miguel Ferrer, June Foray, Harvey Fierstein, Gedde Watanabe, James Hong, George Takei, Pat Morita

Director: Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook

Synopsis: After her elderly father is called up to serve in China’s army, his young daughter Mulan disguises her self as a man to serve in his place, to help defeat the invading Huns.

Review: For Walt Disney Animation Studios, the period between 1989 and 1999 is known as the Disney Renaissance. Having had something of a difficult time prior to this, the studio came back with a bang, making and releasing ten films during this booming period in animated films, many of which can be considered some of the most successful films the studio has made. The penultimate film of said era, released in 1998, is certainly a fine example of the brilliance and wonder that the studio brought to the big screen.

Set in Ancient China, with war having just been declared after the villainous Hun army invades, the Emperor responds by ordering that one man from every family must serve in the Chinese army. When her elderly father, having served previously is called up yet again, Mulan decides to take action. She will not fulfil the traditional female roles that is of expected of her, instead, she takes her father’s armour, disguises herself as a man, and goes off to join the army in order to protect him. Disney certainly does princess stories perhaps like no other, and here they pull of yet another incredible story. With strong themes of honour, duty and family surging throughout, the film also offers a great example of a strong independent female character who doesn’t bow what was expected, maybe even demanded of a woman at that time, and offers a great role model for all young females to aspire to.

Despite the war that is raging at its heart, Mulan also offers plenty of great humour, this is mostly down to the brilliant work of Eddie Murphy as Mulan’s pint sized sidekick Mushu the dragon, before he was Donkey in the Shrek franchise. The veteran comedian and actor is on superb form here as he attempts to guide Mulan on how to be and act like a man. His lucky accomplice Crickey also does his best to add the humour but the bulk of it comes from Mushu, with more than a few references that will fly over the heads of younger viewers, but will provide adults with a good laugh.

There are more than a few very memorable characters besides Mulan and Mushu of course, some of her recruits in the army are also extremely funny and a lot of fun to watch. The story is very well executed and the animation is of course splendid, with Disney you wouldn’t expect anything less. With superb supporting music by Jerry Goldsmith and Matthew Wilder, along with some really well written and performed songs, Mulan is the perfect blend of exciting and beautiful story telling that the whole family can sit down and enjoy immensely.

With a strong female protagonist at its core, fused with majestic animation and solid story telling and great music, Mulan was a further example of a studio at the very top of their game in the late 90s.

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Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Independence Day (1996)

independenceday
Image rights belong to Centropolis Entertainment and 20th Century Fox

Independence Day – Film Review

Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Vivicia A Fox, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch

Director: Roland Emmerich

Synopsis: After a wave of alien attacks obliterate several major cities of the world, the remaining human forces that survive prepare to launch an assault on the extra terrestrial invaders and fight back.

Review: When a movie features several recognisable landmarks such as the White House, or The Empire State Building being blown to smithereens, then you know what kind of movie you are in for, particularly if said movie is directed by one Roland Emmerich.  A director who has since gone on to make his name with a handful of disaster movies, many of which also feature big global destruction. Disaster movies are certainly his M.O and while sometimes it works, sometimes it really doesn’t (see Godzilla 1998.)

It is on the eve of the Fourth of July and all of a sudden, these colossal sized alien spacecraft appear out of the sky and poise themselves above many of the world’s major cities. Of course, these alien beings aren’t here to play sports with us and be friendly, no they’re here for one purpose, global destruction. Soon enough, they pull the trigger and blow the aforementioned cities to hell, and what remains of the human race, led by the President Thomas Whitmore, must find a way to repel the hostile visitors, and it is certainly an entertaining, but bumpy ride!

white house boom

With these disaster films, you’re not here for brilliant Oscar winning performances and or well written, well developed characters with gripping dialogue. The main reason you are here is to watch shit get blown up, and Emmerich certainly brings that in abundance. Of course, this can be boring as hell to watch without any substance to it, but there is some substance to it. The iconic shot of The White House being blown to kingdom come has certainly become an iconic moment of cinema, and the action scenes that accompany the arrival of these big bad aliens are very well shot and well handled. The CGI for the alien ships, especially at the time of the release, is also very impressive. You really feel the scale of these ridiculously large ships as they hover over the cities of the world, with many fatalities once the trigger has been pulled.

That being said, you can have things getting blown to bits, and write some interesting characters in there as well. But sadly, these interesting characters are few and far between. By far the most developed, and most interesting characters are David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) a computer expert who may have the key information that is needed to defeat the alien invaders, and pilot Steven Hiller (Will Smith.) It is these two performances in particular that prevent the movie from slipping into just mind numbing action mediocrity, but they are by no means Oscar worthy. Bill Pullman also aids their cause as the President of the USA, but beyond these three, the rest of the characters are largely forgettable, and in some cases, just flat out annoying to watch.

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The film’s script does leave a lot to be desired and is a little bloated in places. Certain scenes could have been a lot shorter, and some could have been cut out of the movie altogether to reduce the 2 hour 20 minute run time. Yet the film serves its purpose as a big dumb action movie where the audience should just leave their brain at home, and throw popcorn in their face while they watch the action in all its ridiculousness unfold. The film knows what it is, and it plays on that to great extent. With a fair bit American patriotism thrown in there, as you would expect with a film revolving around an American holiday, you have yourself a cheesy and entertaining 90s action movie!

The action is cheesy but entertaining as hell with great CGI for the time, but a very paper thin script and largely weak characters prevent this from being one of the best action movies of the 1990s

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Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Toy Story (1995)

Image rights belong to Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Studios
Image rights belong to Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Studios

Toy Story – Film Review

Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, John Morris

Director: John Lasseter

Synopsis: Woody, a cowboy doll, is the leader of a group of toys that belong to a boy named Andy, but when a brand new Space toy called Buzz Lightyear arrives, and because a firm favourite of both Andy and the other toys, it creates a rift between the toys.

Review: Toys, we all played with them when we were kids, and chances are if you have had kids, or intend to, you will probably deal with toys all over again. And surely we have all wondered, what happened to our toys when we have left the room? Do they come alive and have thoughts of their own? Well if you have seen Toy Story, from the juggernauts of Disney and Pixar, chances are you might just have thought so at one point in your youth. This first collaboration between the two, with John Lasseter at the helm, was a match made in heaven, and while it was the first full length feature film to be fully computer animated, it has a claim to being the studio’s very best.

The story focuses on a group of toys, led by the jovial and upbeat Woody, who is the firm favourite of their owner Andy. This is until the arrival of the shiny and awesome Buzz Lightyear who becomes the centre of both Andy’s attention and the attention of all the other toys. Thus making Woody exceedingly jealous that he has been displaced as Andy’s favourite plaything. Even more so for poor Woody, is Buzz’s fixation that he’s not in fact a toy, but a Space Ranger charged with the protection of the Galaxy. It’s such a simple concept, but the story is outstanding with lots for kids to enjoy and plenty of adult references that will ensure watching parents get a good chuckle. What’s more, the voice acting is also first class.

Tom Hanks is sensational as the voice of Woody, providing calm and reason to the rest of the toys when they have an ever present fear of being replaced, whilst also showing authority over the other toys when he needs to. Tim Allen also is equally excellent as Buzz, Woody and Buzz are in many ways the polar opposites of toys, but this drives the movie on to the soaring heights that it does reach. The rest of the voice cast is also absolutely perfect from the somewhat aggressive Mr Potato Head, to the timid Rex.

The animation is also crisp, detailed and provides glorious viewing. Pixar set the benchmark for animated movies, and they’ve hit this mark, and then some time after time with lots of their feature films since Toy Story.  The debate as to the best Pixar film is one that in all probability many people have had, and it could be debated all day till the cows come home, but what is an indisputable fact, is Pixar’s maiden feature film revolutionised the genre of animated movies, etched itself into popular culture. It has themes of friendship and respect that we can all relate to, and is one of the best animated movies ever made.  To Infinity and Beyond, indeed.

In a word, perfect. From the voice acting, to the screenplay, to the animation, to the story. One for kids and adults to adore in equal measure, and deservedly so.

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Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

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Image rights belong to Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace – Film Review

Cast: Liam Neeson, Ewen McGregor, Jake Lloyd, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker

Director: George Lucas

Synopsis: When the planet of Naboo comes under attack from the sinister Trade Federation, it falls to two Jedi Knights, and a mysterious young boy to try and solve the conflict.

SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Review: Back in the 1970s, in 1977 to be precise a film was released that would later go on to redefine not only the science fiction genre, but films in general. A film that would go on to have two successful sequels and remain insanely popular to this day.This film is of course Star Wars, and the man behind this remarkable feat of cinematic brilliance was George Lucas. Therefore when plans were announced to expand on this universe with a prequel trilogy, fans must have been overjoyed, and excitement built. However, ultimately their excitement and anticipation was misplaced.

The first film had the immediate sense of intrigue and excitement, and you would have thought that the creator of this universe would recapture that immediately. Yet right from the opening credit crawl, something just doesn’t feel right. This is not the Star Wars movie we were looking for, it is trying to be a part of the much loved franchise and although it technically is, it just feels hopelessly out of place. The first three films had great writing, some terrific characters, and some brilliant action scenes and combined great use of practical as well as visual effects, but virtually none of that is employed here, with some stilted dialogue and some horrendously written characters.

It is worth wondering when watching this film, is this the director who created this universe with his 1977 masterpiece? The main plot revolves around peace treaties, and political squabbling. It just doesn’t boast the excitement of the original trilogy, or have that emotional punch towards the climax, and the writing is absolutely nowhere near the level of quality that was on show in the original trilogy (for the most part.)It is almost painful to watch at times watching these characters devoid of any emotional connection to the audience. The film struggles to retain interest in the story, which in parts is down to the horrendous overuse of CGI. There is so much on show here it is once again painfully apparent that some shots were done on a computer, and the lack of quality written characters, despite some considerable talent in front of the camera, shows the real weaknesses in Lucas’ script, which is evident with what many believe is one of the worst characters ever put to film: JAR JAR BINKS!!!

Right from the off, this creature instantaneously irritates, with his nonsensical actions as well as his dialogue and he is just downright infuriating to watch. Also annoying, but not quite to the level of Mr Binks is the introduction of Anakin Skywalker, played by Jake Lloyd. The big selling point of the prequels is to watch Anakin turn from the good Anakin to the evil Darth Vader, but he spends the majority of the movie moaning and it’s just painful to watch, particularly because Jake Lloyd does not give a good performance at all, but then again with the script by Lucas being as bad as it is, it doesn’t help him shine. Vader is one of the most iconic villains in film history and his back story is just ruined by this terrible performance. The absence of the emotional connection for the film is seriously damaging and the overuse of the CGI particularly in some of the action sequences is so noticeable that it hurts your eyes while you watch. It’s like being fed with the same food day in and day out, after a while you’re going to get bored, and the effects are a bore at times. The effects do not hold up in parts and they add nothing of substance to the movie.

With all that said, there are some, but not many plus points, namely the John Williams score remains as excellent as it always has been. There are some cool scenes such as the Pod racing sequence, and there is a very cool character in Darth Maul. In addition he is part of what is probably the best scene in the movie, the light sabre duel between him, Qui Gonn and Obi Wan. But yet again, there is frustration as Darth Maul has has very little screentime and is ultimately killed off before we had a chance to see what he could really do. It is ultimately a shame that after 3 near perfect movies, and a 16 year interval between Return of the Jedi and this, this is the end product. It’s a real shame because with the advancement in the effects at the time, there was scope for greatness, but this fritters away into a gigantic CGI and effects heavy mess.

With a poor script, and a frustrating over-reliance on CGI, as well as some truly atrocious acting and characters, this was such a missed opportunity to expand on the brilliance of the original trilogy, but instead chose a path of mind numbing mediocrity. 

C-

Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

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Image is property of Castle Rock Entertainment and Columbia Pictures

The Shawshank Redemption – Film Review

Cast: Morgan Freeman, Tim Robbins, Bob Gunton, William Sadler

Director:  Frank Darabont

Synopsis: When a banker (Robbins) is sent to prison for two brutal murders of his wife and new lover, he learns the true meaning of redemption whilst bonding with a fellow inmate (Freeman)

Review: When having a discussion about the greatest film of all time, you will undoubtedly have many outstanding pieces of entertainment thrown into the conversation. Masterpieces such as The Godfather, Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction and Lord of the Rings may come to mind. Yet for many lovers of film, one title that is almost always mentioned is the adaption of the Stephen King novel Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, appropriately named: The Shawshank Redemption.  

Written and directed by Frank Darabont in what was his first major motion picture, upon its release in 1994, the film suffered at the Box Office, returning only $28 million from a budget of $25.3 million. The year of 1994 was one that was stacked with great films like Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump, and when it came to the Academy Awards, it won a grand total of no awards. The low box office numbers is a subject that could well be covered by an undergraduate dissertation and yet it is a mystery that is more than likely never going to be solved. But what has been solved, and is very clear to millions of people, is the brilliance of this film has not been lost in the two decades since its release, in fact it has over time firmly established itself as a classic.

The film charts the journey of banker Andy Dufresne who is sent to the harsh environment of the Shawshank Penitentiary after he is convicted of the double murder of his somewhat unfaithful wife and her mystery new lover. He remains adamant he is innocent of the crime is convicted of, something that the other inmates all scorn at. “Send you here for life, and that’s exactly what they take,” utters one melancholic inmate. A brutal hell on Earth that can easily break a man at the first sign of wilting and weakness. Whilst inside he befriends the prison’s smuggler Ellis “Red” Redding (Freeman) whom procures a number of items for Andy whilst they serve their respective jail sentences.

Through their time together, they form a close and unbreakable friendship that teaches both men the real value of friendship. Throughout his time, Dufresne clings on to the notion of hope, hope that they will escape the hell on earth that they’re living in. “Fear can hold you prisoner, but hope can set you free” reads the tagline on the poster. The key theme of the movie is hope and while Red dismisses this notion as dangerous, it does not faze Andy who harbours an unbreakable determination to escape the doldrums of Shawshank.

Any number of superlatives may be used to describe the performances of the leading men, and just about any and every one would be appropriate. Both of their performances are tremendously powerful. You feel their emotions with every word that comes out of their mouths and for Dufresene in particular, no matter how many years of his life are lost in the pit of hell that is Shawshank prison, he WILL get out eventually. Freeman, with his usual sooth, calming voice that’s perfect for narration, guides the viewer from his perspective.

The story itself, while it does have its sad parts, is on the whole extremely inspiring and moving throughout. Any one who sits down to watch this masterpiece, be it for their very first time, tenth time, hundredth time or however many times, should always be uplifted whenever the movie stops playing. The film provides one of the most satisfying and heart warming endings ever put to screen and reminds the viewer that no matter what your circumstances in life, hope is something you must always cling on to and never let go.

Uplifting, wonderfully acted with an excellent screenplay, outstanding direction and two terrific leading performances, The Shawshank Redemption has rightfully sealed its place in film history and despite its shocking lack of Oscars, it is without question one of the best films ever made.

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