Posted in 1990-1999, 2000-2009, 2010-2019, Ranking

Pixar Films: Ranked

When you think of animation studios that combines superb animation and compelling well-rounded characters who come in all sorts of lifeforms, there aren’t many studios out there who do it better than Pixar Animation Studios. Ever since they released their first film to the world in 1995, they have consistently crafted breath-taking and emotional stories that almost never fail to tug on the heartstrings of audience members everywhere. Furthermore, it would be fair to say that Pixar revolutionised the animation industry, as their debut feature film was the first entirely computer animated featured film. In the years since, the studio has only gone from strength to strength, crafting some of the finest animated films to have graced the big screen over the last three decades.

Earlier this year, the studio celebrated its 35th birthday this year. And in honour of that occasion, and with their new film Luca now out on Disney+, I’m going to take a look at all of their feature films that they have released thus far, and rank them all from worst to best. To Infinity and Beyond!

23. Cars 2

The only film on this list that is truly terrible. Was anyone really asking for a sequel to a film that, even at the time, was one of the studio’s lesser efforts? To give the film the tiniest minuscule of credit, it did try to do something different with an international espionage side plot, that felt like something out of James Bond or Mission Impossible. However, this is decidedly ruined by numerous jokes that seemed to be primarily aimed at younger audiences. But, by far and away, the biggest misstep is the filmmakers’ baffling decision to make Tow Mater a central part of this premise. As a supporting character, he was just about bearable, but as the main character, the hazard lights should have been blinking from word go. Even with Sir Michael Caine lending his voice to a British secret agent, that is not nearly enough to save this severely lacklustre sequel from its place on the scrapheap.

22. Cars

Speaking of the studio’s lesser efforts, comes the first film in a franchise that somehow spawned two sequels. Sentient cars seems an extremely bizarre concept on paper, but in the hands of Pixar, it just about worked. By this point, the studio hadn’t really put a foot wrong, but it had to come to a point when one film that didn’t quite hit those lofty standards, and Cars is very much that film. It is your average run-of-the-mill story about an egotistical character, in this case, Lightning McQueen, who is brought back into the slow lane when he comes across a down-on-its-luck town. The film is not nearly as memorable as those that came before it, yet, it does the of keeping you entertained. Though this is one of those films that, like this film’s sequel definitely felt as though it was geared more towards the younger generation.

21. Monsters University

Before they became best friends and co-workers at Monsters Inc, there was a time before Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan were rivals, as they learnt the ropes of how to become a top scarer at Monsters University. This uni’s modus operandi is to teach budding young monsters how to become a good scarer, so that they’re ready for life at Monsters Inc. The only prequel that the studio has thus far created, it is fun and enjoyable enough, with some good ideas in concept. Unfortunately, while seeing Billy Crystal and John Goodman return to their iconic roles is a joy, the plot, and the majority of the supporting characters, are pretty forgettable.

20. Cars 3

After the horror story that was this film’s predecessor, the bar was set very low for the third adventure featuring Lightning McQueen. Thankfully, this was a step up from Cars 2, but then again, that wasn’t too hard. The film takes the decision to stick more closely to the first entry into the franchise, where instead of looking at McQueen’s early journey into the world of racing, it goes the opposite direction. When a younger and newer race car starts to compete and become a serious threat to McQueen’s chances of success, McQueen has to reinvent himself to stay relevant. There’s plenty of familiar tropes found in lots of sports movies here, but it’s decent enough entertainment, and easily the best film in the franchise.

19. The Good Dinosaur

It’s common knowledge that several million years ago, an asteroid caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. But what might have happened had that asteroid instead missed the planet and dinosaurs continued to roam the Earth? When he gets separated from his family, young dinosaur Arlo must find his way home, and finds himself accompanied by a Neanderthal human child whom Arlo must try to reunite with his family. The Good Dinosaur boasts some spectacular animation, but given that just about every other film on this list also boasts stellar animation, that isn’t nearly enough. The film has a sweet sentiment about the importance of one’s family, but when you look at the film, and certain events that take place, it’s hard to not see the very obvious similarities between this and a certain Disney film involving lions.

18. Brave

After seeing Disney Animation Studios great success with the Princess genre over the years, Pixar clearly fancied taking a leaf out of their sister studio’s book, with their own version of a Princess tale. The results were decidedly a mixed bag. What Brave has going in its favour is the feisty, flaming haired protagonist Merida, a Princess who is a dab hand with a bow and arrow and definitely does not conform to what society expects from her, which puts her on a collision course with her mother. The big creative direction that the film chooses to go in, is an odd choice for sure, and while it does provide for some laughs, and a touching look at the relationship between mother and daughter, it sadly feels like too much of a creative misstep.

17. A Bug’s Life

If you’re a studio that absolutely revolutionises the animation industry with your very first film, whatever your next film happens to be instantly has an uphill task to match those lofty heights. Following in the wake Toy Story was always going to be a tough act for any film to follow, but A Bug’s Life has plenty of things going for it that make it a strong film in its own right. The story about about an underdog (or should that be under-ant?) who has to prove his worth to his people has admittedly been done numerous times. However, there’s lots to like about lead protagonist Flik, as well as the leader of the colony Princess Atta. Additionally, there’s plenty of humour to be found with the colourful troupe of Circus bugs that enter on the scene to defeat those dastardly grasshoppers.

16. Finding Dory

After playing her part to reunite Marlin with Nemo in Finding Nemo, for the sequel to Pixar’s adventure through the big ocean blue, the loveable Blue Tang Dory became the centrepiece of the sequel. Which, thankfully, was not just a cynical cash grab. When Dory remembers something of her past that could lead her to her long lost parents, she sets off on another adventure in a bid to reunite with them. There aren’t any appearances from Bruce and co, and those pesky (yet hilarious) seagulls are only given the most fleeting appearances. Though in their place, are an equally amusing collection of characters, including a hilarious pair of sea lions and a grumpy but loveable octopus. Note to Cars 2, this is how you take a supporting character from one film, and successfully utilise them as a main character in a sequel film that is not extremely annoying.

15. Soul

After going deep into the emotions of the emotions that define who we are as people for his last film, Pete Docter went one step further with his next film. Taking a deep psychological look at humanity, the essence of what makes us who we are and our existence as human beings, and asking what is it we were put on this Earth to do? Focusing on Joe Gardner, the very first Pixar film to feature a Black lead character, who is deeply passionate about jazz music. After suffering a fatal accident right after landing his dream gig, Joe ends up at the Great Beyond, where souls who have lived their lives ascend.

Convinced though he has more to give, he ends up at The Great Before, where fledgling souls get their personalities before heading to Earth. The film is bold in its attempts to tell a very existential story, that will surely speak to anyone who has a passion for something, and for that it is to be commended. However, the film lacks that emotional punch that so many films before it have. Furthermore, what positive steps forward it makes for representation is hindered somewhat by a problematic creative decision that could have very easily been avoided.

14. Incredibles 2

Another sequel a long time in the making. The Incredibles was a game changer for the superhero genre, as it came out at a time when superheroes and superhero films were not quite the dominating force that they have since become. Hence, the sequel to Pixar’s answer to Marvel’s first family wasn’t quite as revolutionary. Nevertheless, it proved to be a worthy successor to the ingenuity of the first film. It took a risk by picking up straight after the events of the first film, but it was a risk that paid off. With superheroes still unable to come out of hiding, a corporation offers superheroes the chance to regain the public’s trust, which has Elastigirl front and centre, leaving Mr Incredible on parenting duties. And little baby Jack Jack almost steals the entire show.

13. Toy Story 4

After the third instalment of Pixar’s most lucrative franchise wrapped everything up in a beautiful and emotional manner, questions would have undoubtedly been to whether there was really any need for a fourth entry into this franchise. Would this be a worthwhile sequel that earnt its place, or a cynical cash grab of the nostalgia of fans who grew up with these characters? Thankfully, it was definitely the former as it earnt its place as a worthy continuation of this beloved franchise. While the majority of the old gang were side-lined, the film tells a story worth telling, most notably for Woody as he has an important decision to make, after having been reunited with Bo Peep. While it was a shame to see the rest of the old gang side-lined, the film introduces a bright and memorable collection of new characters including the voice talents of Keanu Reeves, Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele, and yes, even a loveable plastic fork named Forky.

12. Monsters, Inc.

Every night before bed as children, we may have been told of a story by our parents about the supposed monster that was hiding under our beds. Well what if there was, and these monsters were just looking to utilise the screams of terrified children as a means to power the city that the monsters live in? On that description, that does sound completely terrifying, but leave it to Pixar to take that premise and turn it into a winning formula. Focusing on the small and not very intimidating Mike Wazowski and his best friend, the much more intimidating James P. Sullivan. These two are together are the top scarers at Monsters Inc. Everything is going well for them, this is until an adorable little child named Boo comes along to challenge the perception that these monsters have about human children. Much like Woody and Buzz, what makes Monsters, Inc. roar is the winning dynamic between Mike and Sully, which is no small part due to the excellent voice work of Billy Crystal and John Goodman.

11. Onward

Imagine a world where the wonder of wizardry and magic, co-exist with the modern technology that we have in the world today. When two brothers receive a gift from their late father that they barely got to know before he passed away, they set off on a magical quest to bring him back to life for a day via some magical wizardry. The ensuing adventure is extremely funny and exciting, but the heart of the film lies in the relationship dynamic between the brothers (wonderfully voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt) that really pulls on the heartstrings. Even in the face of such devastating personal tragedy, such as the loss of a parent at a young age, the love and support that one can find from a brother can be an emotional and unbreakable bond, especially for an older sibling that they looked up to and relied on to get them through those difficult years. This film wonderfully celebrates that.

And so we come to the top 10, and believe me when I say that ranking these movies was extremely hard. As in all honestly, all these films are as close to perfect as a film can get, but as this is a ranking list, they must be ranked, and so on we go with….

10. Ratatouille

There’s some extremely satisfying about tucking into a delicious meal that was lovingly prepared by someone. Yet it takes a certain kind of skill to take ingredients of a dish and turn it into a culinary masterpiece. We may go to fancy restaurants to have the pleasure of the finest chefs in the world serve up a delicious meal. So the idea of one of those chefs being a rat that has a real culinary talent, sounds like a repulsive idea in real life. Yet, under the vision of Brad Bird, it works an absolute treat.

Inspired by his hero Gusteau, Remy dreams of becoming a world renowned chef. The problem is that given who he is, it seems an impossible goal. This is until he meets Linguini, a bumbling garbage boy at a nearby restaurant who works with Remy to help them both achieve their goals.  It may be a familiar story of not being afraid to be who you are, but with under Bird’s direction, and a wonderful Michael Giacchino score, the end result is Chef’s kiss, a five star delight. Bonus points for the extremely clever pun in its title.

9. Toy Story 2

Given the phenomenal success that Toy Story enjoyed, a sequel was bound to happen at some point, and it really set the benchmark for the studio on how to craft a sequel that goes very very close to matching its predecessor. When Woody is toy-napped by a collector, he finds out he was once the star of a much beloved children’s TV show, along with a handful of new toys, namely Jessie the Cowgirl, Stinky Pete the Prospector, and Bullseye the Horse. With plans for Woody and his new friends to be sold to a museum in Japan, Woody’s loyalty is torn in two directions, between his new gang, or being loyal to his beloved owner Andy.

Picking up on the first film’s themes of what is the true purpose of a toy, whilst continuing to explore Woody’s relationships with his friends, both old and new. The film is once again filled with plenty of heart, emotion (see Jessie’s When She Loved Me moment) and brilliantly humorous moments, such as the traffic cone sequence, and of course the wonderful references to The Empire Strikes Back. And to think, originally, the film was planned to be a straight to home video release!

8. Up

There’s no way anyone can talk about this film without talking about the opening 10 minutes. Without a single word of dialogue, and just that beautiful score from Michael Giacchino, the heart-breaking montage captures blissful young love and marriage, before transitioning into the devastation of miscarriage, and the sobering fact of mortality. And that’s just the first ten minutes!

The opening montage is undoubtedly the film’s strongest asset, and if someone makes it through that montage without sobbing their eyes out, I would genuinely worry that their soul is missing. The ensuing adventure that follows after the montage is also extremely entertaining. Focusing on an elderly Carl who’s determined to fulfil his last wish to his beloved Ellie by fulfilling their dream to relocate to the picturesque Paradise Falls in South America. Throw in an eccentric collection of creatures, the plucky young Wilderness Explorer Russell, and the late Christopher Plummer in the role of the villain, and you have the only film on this list that secured a Best Picture nomination!

7. Finding Nemo

The ocean, a vast, deep, dark, terrifying, and seemingly never-ending place. It’s not the sort of place that you would want to have to venture across to try and find your son. However, that’s exactly the task that clownfish Marlin faces. As a single father due to a traumatic incident in his past, he’s overly-protective of his son Nemo. However, after he’s fish-napped by scuba divers he must venture across the ocean to reunite with him. Thankfully, for him he’s not alone in this task as he’s accompanied by Dory, the forgetful Blue Tang fish.

Pixar’s animation is almost always on point, but the work that is accomplished to capture the depth and vastness of the ocean is an extraordinary accomplishment. As well as Marlin and Dory, the film is filled with an eclectic bunch of characters, from friendly(ish) sharks, to super laid-back sea turtles, to those ominous seagulls (mine!). The film demonstrates the unshakable love that a parent has for their child, and one who will stop at nothing to be reunited with them, the love of a parent who will stop at nothing to be reunited with their child. But most of all, you must remember: “Fish are friends, not food!”

6. WALL-E

It says a lot about any film that if it can absorb its audience into the world its created, all without any character uttering a single word of dialogue, at least for the first 30 minutes or so, that is an extremely impressive achievement. In the far future, Planet Earth has been long abandoned by humanity due to excessive consumerism and climate change. One of the last beings left to clean what has been left behind is a Waste Allocation Load-Lifter: Earth-class robot (or WALL-E).

This bot’s existence is a very lonely one, until a very sleek futuristic looking robot named EVE shows up, looking for signs of life on the surface of the planet. As the two central characters, WALL-E and EVE sharing such heart-warming chemistry, the film is proof that any love story, even if it is one about two robots, can melt your heart if done well. Despite being released in 2008, the film has only become more relevant in recent years with the acceleration of climate change that represents an existential threat to our planet, and our very way of life.

5. The Incredibles

Cast your minds back to 2004, a time before the landscape of superheroes and Hollywood was forever changed by the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the gigantic money making behemoth that it is today. Superhero films were being made, but they didn’t quite enjoy the popularity they do now. So in many ways writer/director Brad Bird was ahead of the curve, with this thrilling superhero flick, that one could argue is the best un-official Fantastic Four film that has been made to date.

When superheroes are declared illegal and must adopt regular lives, the lives of the Parr family are forever changed. This is until Bob (AKA Mr Incredible) gets a chance to don his superhero outfit for a secret mission, in the hopes that it will enable supers, like his family to come out of retirement. Though behind the scenes, the dastardly plans of arguably Pixar’s best villain Syndrome, force this super-family to suit up to save the world. Thanks to its exhilarating action scenes, an entertaining dynamic between the titular family and a fantastic array of supporting characters, this is one of the best superhero films ever made. Incredible by name, incredible by nature.

3= Toy Story 3

It is a rare feat for a third film in a franchise that can lay a legitimate claim to be the best film in the franchise, but it’s a testament to the magic that director Lee Unkrich brought to the table for this entry into the studios’ most successful franchise, that no one could really argue if anyone said this is the best of the franchise.

After an 11 year absence, Woody, Buzz and all of the gang returned for what was meant to be the last hurrah for these beloved characters. With Andy now soon heading off to college, having long moved on from playing with his toys, they are all left are left with a heart-breaking dilemma as to what to do. Believing that they’ll be better off at a day care where toys are constantly played with find themselves, life appears to be rosy for them, until it decidedly isn’t. This culminates in a thrilling Shawshank Redemption-esque prison break, and the hilariousness of Spanish Buzz. And to cap it all off, not one but two extremely tear-jerking moments that should have had anyone who grew up with this franchise sobbing their eyes out.

3= Toy Story

The one that started it all, and the film that made history as the first fully computer animated film, and it certainly set the bar very high for the franchise and for animated films in general. We may have always wondered as kids what happens to our toys when we leave the room, what if they came alive? Working on that genius premise of the lives our toys live when we’re not at home, the film is filled to the brim with an array of colourful characters, and the studio arguably created their most memorable characters in the lovable cowboy doll Woody (voiced wonderfully by Tom Hanks) who gets jealous when his owner Andy, gets a shiny new toy, Buzz Lightyear, to usurp him as Andy’s favourite toy.

The lovable nature of Woody may or may not be down to the man that lends his voice to him, but just about every character here is memorable, and the dynamic between Woody and Buzz cemented these two as one of the most iconic duos in cinematic history. Even decades and multiple films later, the one that started it all off, is still one of the best films that Pixar has made.

2. Inside Out

The human brain is a wonderful thing, and as we go about our lives, the emotions we feel at any given moment, make us who we are. But what if the emotions in our brains also had emotions? Focusing on the five emotions in the head of 11 year old Riley as she is uprooted from her cosy Minnesota life to California, and the adjustment that she, and her emotions go through during this time. The premise of this film is quite simply, from the mind of Pete Docter, is a work of absolute genius. Furthermore, it matches that extraordinary innovation with an extremely witty, and emotional story.

Furthermore, with one of Pixar’s most memorable voice cast including Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader and Lewis Black as Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger respectively. Each actor perfectly brings their emotion to life in a hilarious and emotional manner. While these five are great, one must not forgetting Richard Kind’s beautiful performance as Bing Bong. It’s a film that definitely feels more geared to older audiences with some of its ideas, whilst serving an important reminder to us all that while we may dislike feeling sad, it is acceptable to let that emotion overwhelm you, because it’s an emotion that plays an integral role in our lives.

1. Coco

As this list has demonstrated, Pixar have no shortage of incredible films that are filled with beautiful storytelling, excellent characters, and absolutely stunning animation. However, on a personal level, nothing has captured the beauty, and the wonder of their work, quite like this beautiful look at the culture of Mexico and the celebration of Día de Muertos, or The Day of the Dead festival. For young Miguel, he aspires to be a musician and play for the world, but due to an incident in his family’s past, music is outright banned. Determined to not let his family’s hatred of music stop him from pursuing his ambition, he mistakenly finds himself in the Land of the Dead, and must get home safely before it’s too late.

Touching on so many deep themes including, family, music, grief and the need to remember loved ones after they’ve moved on from this world, it’s all just captured with so much beauty and emotion. Pixar’s animation is often just absolutely mesmeric to look at, however the animation here, particularly in the Land of the Dead, is some of the best animation I’ve ever seen. And for a film where music is such an integral part of the story, the music is so immaculately beautiful and emotional. Just typing the words “Remember Me” is just making me want to break down crying. I genuinely don’t think I’ve cried quite as much whilst watching a film at the cinema, as I did with Coco. I adored this film so much but what makes it hit even harder is that just a week or so after seeing this film, my grandmother (the only grandparent I ever knew) passed away. Every time I watch this film, and hear those beautiful lyrics, I always think of her and my late mother. For these reasons, Coco holds such a special place in my heart and it is my favourite Pixar film.

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And that concludes my ranking for each and every Pixar film, thank you so very much for reading, especially if you read all the way through! What did you think of my list? Do you agree or disagree my choices? Please comment below and let me know.

You can connect with me on any of the following platforms: Twitter, Facebook or Letterbox’d, cos you’ve always got a friend in me!

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Chicken Run (2000)

Image is property of Pathe, Aardman Animations, and Dreamworks

Chicken Run – Film Review

Cast: Julia Sawalha, Mel Gibson, Miranda Richardson, Tony Haygarth, Benjamin Whitrow, Timothy Spall, Phil Daniels, Jane Horrocks, Imelda Staunton, Lynn Ferguson

Directors: Nick Park and Peter Lord

Synopsis: When a hot headed rooster seemingly flies into their lives, a desperate group of captive chickens see him as their best chance to escape their captivity…

Review: What is the first thing you think of when you hear the name Aardman Animations? It’s quite likely that one would think of a man, and his faithful canine accomplice. With several Wallace and Gromit shorts enhancing their reputation as the undisputed champs of stop-motion clay animation, the transition to full feature film-making for Aardman was bound to happen sooner or later. Yet the studio’s star duo would have to wait their turn for the full length feature treatment. Instead, a plan was hatched, to take a humorous spoof of The Great Escape, but switch Steve McQueen out for some plasticine chickens, and the end result is poultry perfection.

On a farm run by the cruel Mrs Tweedy and her bumbling husband, dwell a deeply unhappy group of chickens. The birds’ lives are dominated by the fact that the must lay a sufficient amount of eggs, else be taken to meet a rather grim fate. The leader of this flock is Ginger (Sawalha) whose determination isn’t quite matched by her flock of hens as their numerous attempts of escape all end in disappointment. However, when the charismatic Rocky, or Rocky the Rhode Island Red to give him his full title (Gibson) by chance flies into their coop, Ginger realises that the power of flight represents their best shot at seeing their dreams of freedom come to fruition.

Poultry plotting…

Aardman showed to the world what they were capable of with their Wallace and Gromit short films. As such they made a seamless transition into into feature length film-making seamlessly, and their debut feature proved that they are the champs of claymation film-making. With every frame, it’s crystal clear that a considerable amount of care and effort that has gone into the frame’s creation. Each moment of the film has a plethora of detail, serving as a real testament to those animators who help bring these films to life. This in turn, is made all the more impressive, considering the sheer amount of time consuming effort that is required to animate each scene.

Ginger is certainly the star of the show here, but she’s given plenty of support from an array of colourful supporting characters. Ginger’s best friend, (and flying the flag for Scotland) is Mac, who is the brains behind many of the escape attempts. The dim-witted yet lovable Babs definitely utters the film’s more memorable and hilarious lines. Rounding out the core group of hens is Bunty, a hen with a sometimes aggressive streak to her character, who’s not afraid to say what she thinks about the plans to escape. As for the cockerels, there’s Fowler, the coop’s leader who enjoys a good reminisce about his RAF days (what, what!) who is left rather peeved when Rocky, with all of his cockiness and charisma, bursts onto the scene. This can also be said for Ginger, who’s left notably unimpressed by Rocky’s charismatic charms, which by contrast gets all of the other hens in a flap.

The plot is straightforward. However, it’s told in a very entertaining manner and the script gives the core group of hens, roosters, and a lovable pair of crafty rats, considerable depth that you care about each and every one them, and will them to escape the confines of their coop/prison. The film never fails to be consistently hilarious with lots of witty jokes and a handful of really impressive action set pieces with no shortage of fun nods to some cinematic classics of the past. While Aardman have made numerous films since Chicken Run flew into cinemas, it’s a testament to their debut feature, that it remains their most egg-ceptional, as well as still being their most successful film to date.

Exquisite animation, combined with colourful array of characters mixed in with some witty dialogue. A poultry perfect feature film debut for Aardman.

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Image is property of Sony Pictures and Marvel

Spider-Man 2 Film Review

Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, Donna Murphy

Director: Sam Raimi

Synopsis: Now fully established as Spider-Man, Peter Parker struggles to balance his superhero duties, college and his personal life. All the while, after an experiment goes awry, the villainous Doctor Octopus is unleashed on New York City…

Review: When the line “with great power comes great responsibility” is uttered by Uncle Ben Parker around the middle of the first film in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, it was advice that Peter Parker brushed off at the time. However as the film’s events transpired and Peter became everyone’s friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, one of the last pieces of advice that Peter received from his beloved Uncle stuck with him, and transformed him into the wall-crawling badass. Furthermore, as a piece of advice that’s so powerful, it seems evident that it resonated the production team. As with the success that the first film enjoyed, the responsibility was on them to top that when it came to the sequel, and they absolutely delivered.

Having adopted his superhero mantra and doing a plethora of good deeds, not everything is going as Peter would want it to in terms of his personal life. He’s struggling at college and is struggling to connect with the love of his life MJ, whilst best friend Harry is still fuming with Spidey as believes Spider-Man was the man who killed his father. It’s a balancing act, and Peter just doesn’t quite have a hold on it. Things get even more tricky when brilliant scientist Dr Otto Octavius, who is aiming to change the world, sees an experiment go south and turns him into the villainous Doctor Octopus. It’s quite the job balancing all of these and not letting the plot get bogged down, but screenwriter Alvin Sargent balances all of these to keep the story moving swiftly along.

Maguire, Dunst and Franco are all once again tremendous in their roles. As the central characters you really feel for each of them, and the various situations they’re going through. Peter and MJ certainly made their feelings for each other known and you want to see them make it work. The very best superheroes have layers to them, that there’s so much more to them than the person behind the mask, and Maguire is very compelling as both Peter and the man behind the mask. Though Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin was a wonderful antagonist, he was sort of hampered by his costume. Fortunately there’s none of that here as Alfred Molina is superb in the dual role of the brilliant professor, Otto Octavius and the mad scientist super-villain with four mechanical arms, knock as Doc Ock after his experiment fails.

Raimi once again in the director’s web, and he does a tremendous job of fusing the injections of comedy that are peppered throughout the script, with some seriously dark and disturbing scenes. Much like its predecessor, there is one scene in particular that really pushes the boundary, and is perhaps a glorious nod to Raimi’s background in the horror genre. Though in terms of the action scenes, there’s absolutely nothing horrific here, just some crafted to perfection scenes that are pulsating to watch. Special mention to the battle on the train, which would surely rank as one of the best fight scenes in a superhero film without any question of a doubt.

There is an element of repeating the tropes of the first film for sure, but given that it worked a treat the first time, you can hardly blame Raimi and co for wanting to change up the formula, especially since what they produced here was an improvement on the first film.  With Danny Elfman again providing a superb accompanying score, Raimi hit all the right notes and ensured that Spidey swung his way to success once more, deservedly regarded by many as the best Spidey film that has graced the silver screen.

Improving on the foundations of the web that was weaved by the first film, adding great new layers and depth to the characters whilst delivering some truly jaw-dropping action scenes.

 

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

The Room (2003)

Image is property of Wiseau-Films

The Room  – Film Review

Cast:  Tommy Wiseau, Juliette Danielle, Greg Sestero, Philip Haldiman, Carolyn Minnott

Director: Tommy Wiseau

Synopsis: Johnny (Wiseau) and Lisa (Danielle) are engaged, but unbeknownst to Johnny, Lisa has grown tired of the relationship and wants out. When she tries to seduce Johnny’s best friend Mark (Sestero), it threatens to tear their lives apart…

Review: Of all the films to have acquired a cult following over the years, there’s hasn’t been a film quite like the bizarre concoction that is The Room. The “brainchild” if you will, of the mysterious Tommy Wiseau, who when trying to make it in Hollywood, chose to make a film, largely funded out of his own back pocket. In spite of earning a reputation as being “The Citizen Kane of bad films,” it has not prevented the film from gaining a passionate cult following, a following that has endured many years after the film’s release, in spite of just about every aspect of this film being, well, terrible.

When we first meet him, Johnny’s life is appearing to go splendidly with a great job, a lovely fiance in Lisa, and a best friend in Mark. But everything is not as happy as it seems as Lisa, in spite of being treated well by Johnny, has grown tired of him and plans to dump him, in favour of Mark. Though this doesn’t sit well with Mark initially, he succumbs to her advances and consequently a love triangle has formed. Now, based on that quite dramatic sounding premise, one would think that they’re about to be absorbed by a thrilling relationship drama. Though Wiseau clearly intended it to be perceived this way, it is anything but.

“Just up here, thinking y’know….”

Instead, due to the abysmal script, practically every line in this film is unintentionally hilarious. The writing is awful across the board, especially the romantic dialogue, which is so cheesy it makes George Lucas’s romantic dialogue feel like Shakespeare in comparison. Indeed, given that the script is filled with such poor writing, many scenes have become notorious for just how hilariously cringe-inducing they are. As a consequence of the inept script, it means that every member of the cast turns in hilariously awful performances across the board. Performances that in the age of the internet, have secured iconic status, but definitely for the wrong reasons. Furthermore, in a movie that’s got so many long and gratuitous sex scenes, it’s somewhat bemusing that the film was not marketed as a porno upon its release.

There’s so many things about this movie that really don’t make any sense (spoons anyone?), or the excessive establishing shots of San Francisco. In addition, it could not be more apparent where there’s a scene involving a green screen. Though in spite of everything being the dictionary definition of terrible, for one reason or another, this film’s popularity has endured, and it no signs of slowing down any time soon. Indeed, thanks to the 2017 film The Disaster Artist, that explored the behind the scenes making of The Room, the notoriety of the film was likely introduced to a whole new audience, and its legacy has almost certainly been enhanced.

Watching the hilarious atrocity that is this film with a group of people makes the viewing an infinitely more enjoyable experience, especially when it comes to the spoons being chucked at the screen. However, when when people talk about The Room being one of the worst movies ever made, they’re not wrong. The complete ineptitude on just about every level of the production ensures that the title of “The Citizen Kane of bad movies” is richly deserved.

Its cult status has undoubtedly endured throughout the years. However, the poor quality of every aspect of the production ensures that The Room is consistently hilarious, but for all the wrong reasons. 

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Image is property of Studio Canal and WT²

Shaun of the Dead  – Film Review

Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Jessica Stevenson, Peter Serafinowicz

Director: Edgar Wright

Synopsis: With his life going nowhere, stuck in a dead-end job and failing to win over his on-off girlfriend Liz, Shaun (Pegg) tries to get his life together, and must do all this, in the middle of a Zombie apocalypse…

Review: Like many fictional beings that don’t really exist in our world, humanity has seemingly always had an interest in all things Zombies. Ever since the first Zombie film debuted back in the 1930s, these horrifying creatures have been an ever present, creating their own sub-genre of horror films. But in the first film of what is now known, as the Cornetto trilogy, director Edgar Wright and his two leads Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, devoured this genre and blended a bit of romance and comedy, all while giving it a very uniquely British taste.

Shaun and his best mate Ed (Frost) are both aimless in their lives and careers, seemingly content with going nowhere, and more than happy to pass their time playing video games, and getting drunk at their favourite pub. However, when Liz (Ashfield) decides she has had enough with Shaun’s laziness, she dumps him.  Being jilted gives Shaun the kick up the backside he needs to get his act, and life together and win her back. To make matters even more complicated, the city of London is now experiencing a Zombie apocalypse that throws many undead obstacles in Shaun’s path, which Shaun and Ed must now do battle with, all while on a quest to win back Liz’s heart.

Impersonate a Zombie day was not a roaring success..

Right away, it’s clear that Shaun is not initially the most likeable of protagonists but, probably in no small part due to Simon Pegg’s charisma and charm, he has a good heart that ultimately brings you round to his cause. That being said, having Ed by his side definitely doesn’t help matters. Though Ed can be extremely entertaining in his own right, his lazy, reluctant attitude brings out the worst qualities in Shaun. Yet, despite the massive flaws in both their personalities, that there’s something that’s very sincere and hilarious about their friendship that you cannot help but want to see them succeed, even when Liz and her best friends Diane (Davis) and David (Moran) are less than supportive of Shaun’s efforts.

Edgar Wright and Pegg’s screenplay is consistently hilarious. From the very first shots of people on their commute, who already look like they are members of the undead, to the very first scuffle with a pair of zombies, to the moment where the Zombie Apocalypse has fully taken over the city. Much like a Zombie apocalypse, the comedy never lets up. Wright fuses the excellent comedy of the script and at the same time, turns on the style with the action. From a fight in a back garden to the climatic final showdown in a pub of all places, the comedy compliments the action, and vice versa.

Even in the midst of all the uproarious and absurd action scenes, there are quite a few moments of intense drama and emotion. In addition, of course it wouldn’t be a Zombie film, without its fair share of blood and guts, with a fair number of London’s citizens meeting some rather grim fates. However, having cut his teeth on A Fistful of Fingers and the Channel 4 TV show Spaced, it was just the start of an upward trajectory for Wright as a director, and likewise for Pegg and Frost as actors. Each of their careers, and indeed the Cornetto trilogy, would later go from strength to strength, whilst presumably giving sales of Cornettos an enormous boost at the same time.

Consistently hilarious, with an exciting blend of comedy, drama and horror, and an excellent ensemble cast ensured that the Cornetto trilogy got off to a tasty start.

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Memento (2000)

Image is property of Summit Entertainment

Memento – Film Review 

Cast:  Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano

Director: Christopher Nolan

Synopsis: A man tries to piece together clues as to who murdered his wife, whilst trying to overcome the fact that he has short term memory loss…

Review: The conventional way of telling a story: Beginning, middle, end. It is how most movies choose to tell their story. Of course, some directors have a habit of telling their stories in not exactly the right order. But for a film to elect to tell its story from the end to the beginning, is certainly bold to say the least, and could very easily backfire. However when you have a director like Christopher Nolan at the helm, it works an absolute treat!

With a screenplay adapted from a short story written by his brother Jonathan, focusing on Leonard Shelby, a guy who suffers from short-term memory loss, with not a single recollection of what he did 5 minutes ago. He’s certain of his identity and of the fact that someone killed his wife and during that incident something happened to him that gave him his condition. Through use of Polaroid pictures and tattoos on his body, he uses these as clues to what he hopes will lead him to the answers he’s desperately seeking. With some scenes playing back to front, and others playing in chronological order, it could have ended up as one convoluted mess, but under Nolan’s expert vision, it’s not a mess, it’s mindbogglingly brilliant and, at the same time, really perplexing.

“Can’t remember if this is my car…”

The way he tells the story is certainly unconventional, but it keeps you engaged. You know how the story went from point A to point B, but watching it go from point B back to point A, is just completely riveting to watch, and very unique. The riveting story is boosted significantly by the brilliant work of the case, especially Pearce. Given that the film focuses on Leonard and his condition, it was of critical importance that the actor gave a believable performance, and that is exactly what Pearce gives, you buy into this guy and his condition, and it remains perhaps the greatest performance of his career. Carrie Anne Moss is also superb as Natalie, a woman who is helping Leonard fit together the pieces of his puzzle and there’s Joe Pantoliano’s Teddy, a man who you’re never quite sure as to what his ulterior motive is.

Whenever you watch a thriller, a twist that the audience never sees coming is so often thrown in there so it can stun the audience when the penny drops and it’s revealed. Though Nolan doesn’t give himself that chance to shock the audience, the structure of the film ensures it remains a cinematic experience unlike anything else. With an excellent score from David Julyan, this was the film that made audiences really sit up and take note of Christopher Nolan and his considerable talents, which were duly recognised with an Oscar nomination for his screenplay. And as we all well know, it certainly wasn’t the last time audiences would hear of him, not a chance.

Original storytelling, told in a very innovative manager that will keep you hooked, anchored by a superb performance from Pearce.

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Spider-Man (2002)

 

Image is property of Columbia Pictures and Marvel

Spider-Man Film Review

Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Willem Dafoe, Rosemary Harris, Cliff Robertson, J.K. Simmons

Director: Sam Raimi

Synopsis: When a high school student called Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider and gains spider like powers, he becomes a super hero and adopts the identity of Spider-Man and fights crime in New York City.

Review: If you ask someone to name a popular superhero, chances are good that one of the ones they will mention would be that of the wall crawling superhero, otherwise known as Spider-Man. Right from his inception in 1962, to today, he has become a very popular character, and is indeed a fan favourite for many. The late 70s/early 80s saw a number of made-for-TV movies bring him to life, but after a two decade absence, he was finally brought to the big screen in 2002, and he certainly made an almighty impression.

Charting his origin story, we meet Peter Parker, a nerd in every sense of the word who happens to live next door to the girl who he has an immense crush on, Mary Jane Watson (Dunst). Whilst on a school trip Peter gets bitten by a radioactive spider, which coincidentally gives him spider-like powers and enhanced strength and speed. Emboldened by his new abilities, he goes on a quest to win MJ’s heart, but this quest leads to the callous murder of someone very close to him (you know who!) and this prompts him to become the titular hero and protect the Big Apple.

Certainly got a great view from up here!

Whenever you make a superhero film, it’s of paramount importance that you make the hero likeable and someone the audience can root for, and Tobey Maguire as Parker does just that. He’s a bit of a dork, but he’s a lovable dork, and when he becomes the wall-crawling hero, he really bosses it and gives a terrific dual performance. as Peter’s two best friends Kirsten Dunst and James Franco are excellent as Harry Osborn and Mary Jane, even if they were a little old to be playing high school students. On the flip side Willem Dafoe is also tremendous as Harry’s father Norman, and much like Maguire, also gives an excellent dual performance as the villainous Green Goblin, and yes, the great J.K Simmons as J Jonah Jameson, is one of the best casting choices for a comic book movie, ever.

Having been a fan of the comic book,  Sam Raimi was brought on to helm the project and he certainly does a terrific job. With experienced screenwriter David Koepp, the story is told in a very entertaining way. It’s humorous when it wants to be so and when it wants to be dark, it manages to completely flip that humorous tone on its head, and does so very successfully. There are more than a few scenes that really REALLY push the boundaries of its 12 rating. The action is directed masterfully too, when Spidey and the Goblin are throwing punches, or spinning webs, it’s really gripping to watch, and their final battle, is dark, psychological, mesmerising entertainment.

Though there are a few things such Goblin’s suit that can be a little bit irksome (we can see your mouth move mate!) Furthermore, certain sections of dialogue, particularly the scenes with MJ and Peter, are perhaps a little bit too cheesy. Overall, the journey to bring a live action iteration of the character to the big screen paid off enormously, and perhaps it paved the way for the dominance of superhero films that started towards the later half of the 2000s and continued well into the 2010s. With Danny Elfman’s majestic score to boot, the immortal words of Uncle Ben certainly ring true, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and with the power that was placed in Raimi’s hands, he undoubtedly delivered the goods.

Delightful blockbuster entertainment at its best with a likeable protagonist, a menacing and deeply troubled antagonist and brilliantly weaved action sequences.

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

Image is property of Hasbro Studios, Dreamworks Pictures and Paramount Pictures

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen – Film Review

Cast:  Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Ramón Rodríguez, John Turturro, Peter Cullen, Hugo Weaving, Tony Todd

Director:  Michael Bay

Synopsis: After saving the world from the Decepticons, Sam (LaBeouf) tries to leave all that behind and go to college. However, due to some clues that are in his possession, the Decepticons are ferociously hunting Sam once more…

Review: The first live action foray into the world of live action talking robots, was certainly if anything a noisy affair. Lots of explosions thrown in with robots fighting in a human metropolis. If that for whatever reason, didn’t provide you with a couple of hours of some mindless dumb popcorn entertainment, chances are this sequel to Bay’s Transformers mayhem probably won’t tickle your fancy much either, as it serves up more of the same in many ways, but the results this time, are not nearly as pleasing to the eye as the first instalment.

With the Decepticons seemingly defeated, Sam Witwicky now seems determined to lead a normal life, by going to college. Unfortunately for him, his role in the Transformers Civil War is not yet over, as a clue to another ancient artefact’s location on Earth sees him become the target for the Decepticons once again, and cue again lots of explosions and a Transformer Civil War reignites on Earth once more. What Bay does well is the visual effects are once again excellent, and for what it’s worth the opening sequence is for the most part, extremely entertaining to watch. These scenes are scattered throughout the film, and they, along with Steve Jablonsky’s score, are undoubtedly the high points of this expensive metal extravaganza.

Bruised and beaten, but still the ultimate badass…

The problematic dialogue has unfortunately not gone away, there are times when it is painful to just watch once again. The chemistry between the lead characters is not awful but its paper thin at best. The plot, once again is completely ridiculous and it seems was once again nothing more than an afterthought in production. You go into these movies to see Autobots fight Decepticons, but that is almost second fiddle here, as the humans are the centre of the attention. As such when those humans are front and centre for the majority of the run time, it’s really frustrating, especially since screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have proven themselves to be capable screenwriters.

As well as the bland humans, well they’re ably supported by some equally bland new Bots. Of course Optimus is his usual Peter Cullen-voiced badass self and the not so talkative Bumblebee. The rest apart from Ironhide are not nearly as developed as the aforementioned robots in disguise, thus rendering them big and uninteresting pieces of tin. Two robots that are not uninteresting, but for all the wrong reasons, are The Twins. Annoying and just offensive, it’s a pity they didn’t end up in the scrapheap of the editing room. In the Decepticon corner however, there is the eponymous Fallen who wants to do what Megatron did, and that is essentially destroy the human race, with a really absurd way of doing so. Bay’s style of editing is carried over from the first movie, and while it does have its merits to the way he frames his action scenes, it could quite possibly be migraine inducing.

It had its flaws but Bay had the platform to build on what he achieved from the first one and make a meaningful sequel. From quite the considerable production budget, the end result is certainly bigger in scale, but better it most certainly isn’t. There’s enjoyment to be had, as such it’s not a complete car crash, but  it’s not far off. Ultimately it is one colourful and noisy mess that doesn’t add anything new to the franchise. Instead it takes the problems of the first film, and just makes them that so much more noticeable.

Nothing more than meets the eye to be found here, a messy and absurd script is slightly compensated by some good effects, but even they become extremely tiresome after a while.

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Transformers (2007)

Image is property of Dreamworks Pictures and Paramount Pictures

Transformers – Film Review

Cast:  Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Jon Voight, Josh Duhamel, Rachael Taylor, John Turturro, Peter Cullen

Director:  Michael Bay

Synopsis: When a teenager buys his first car, which turns out to be a Transformer, he gets dragged into an ancient war between the Autobots and the Decepticons, and a battle for humanity’s survival.

Review: Making an adaption of a popular toy franchise, one that has been around since the mid 1980s, would seem like a safe bet for cinematic greatness. After all, when said franchise has spawned a plethora of spin off TV shows and an animated movie among other things, that have had a very loyal fan-base down the years, it was always bound to get the live action film treatment, and a popular toy franchise fused with live action must equal greatness, right? Well, not quite.

As this is a tale of two factions of alien robots, disguising themselves as regular Earth vehicles, doing battle over a transformer cube artefact, this is very much a popcorn flick where you leave your brain at the door. No thought-provoking themes to be found here, just sit back and watch at the metallic mayhem that director Michael Bay throws at you, which should for the most part leave you very well entertained as it truly is breathless stuff at times. There is a plot, of sorts, but it’s all pretty much irrelevant once we arrive at what we signed up for. Basically, the Autobots and Decepticons battling for possession of this cube, set in human territory, and Sam Witwicky (LaBoeuf) is at the centre of this fight.

Not your regular bunch of vehicles…

Bay certainly likes to tell his stories with some explosions, or ten, and when its all out Transformer Battle Royale, in a scrappy fight to the death, it certainly is pulsating stuff. Bay certainly favours quick cut editing, and it is used to great effect here. What is also truly excellent is the CGI, especially when the robots are transforming, it all looks absolutely superb.  What’s not as interesting however is the bits in between with some of the human characters. LeBoeuf is interesting enough as the human lead, even if he is a bit of a dork. The chemistry between him and and Mikaela Banes (Fox) is shaky at first to say the least, it’s not the best it could be, but it’s not the worst that’s ever been put to screen, although some of the initial dialogue between the two is just uncomfortable to watch, for all concerned. Leading the military contingent is Josh Duhamel’s Major Lennox, who certainly carries the most charisma amongst all of the human contingent.

Despite a mixed bag of human characters, the action that Bay delivers is more than enough to leave the viewer satisfied. Casting the OG voice of Optimus Prime Peter Cullen to reprise his role was a smart move to win over the fans, as Cullen’s deep voice brings an aura of authority to Optimus which being the leader of the Autobots, is kind of important. Similarly, as he is no stranger to playing bad guys, Hugo Weaving as the voice of the Decepticon big gun Megatron, another superb choice. Many of the Decepticons are in many ways very disposable, but in terms of the Autobots, there’s a good contingent of memorable friendly bots that you definitely want to root for.

It may not be perfect, in fact some of it is extremely cheesy, but when the action is this good, that’s really what matters as that is precisely what you sign up for. For fans of the original, they might have some nitpicks, but it cannot be denied that Bay delivers the sort of dumb, loud popcorn entertainment that you want from this sort of film, and Steve Jablonsky’s brilliant score complements it perfectly. There’s nothing more than meets the eye about this,it is big, loud and ridiculous fun and it does what it exactly says on the tin.

The script was clearly not high on the agenda of the production team, and it didn’t need to be, as Bay delivers precisely the sort of popcorn entertainment that you signed up for.

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)

Image is property of Walt Disney Pictures, Jerry Bruckheimer Films and Buena Vista Pictures

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest – Film Review

Cast:  Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Stellan Skarsgård, Bill Nighy, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce, Tom Hollander, Kevin McNally

Director: Gore Verbinski

Synopsis: Captain Jack Sparrow and the crew of the Black Pearl set sail in search of a chest that contains an item belonging to the ominous Davy Jones, but this item is also sought after by several other people, all of whom want this item for their own ends…

Review: Pirates, there’s something about these scallywags that cinema audiences certainly seem to like, and enjoy watching, as was evident by the phenomenal critical and commercial success that the first film in this franchise enjoyed. A sequel (or two, or three) was always going to happen. Sequels, however can be the equivalent of cursed treasure, in that if you get them wrong, it can place upon the preceding film a terrible curse that’s hard to shake off. Or it can be like finding a glorious stash of treasure that makes everyone rich and happy. In the case of Dead Man’s Chest, this is perhaps somewhere in between it’s not a curse, but it’s not a perfect stash of treasure either.

We begin when the wedding of Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner is rudely interrupted by Lord Cutler Beckett (Hollander) who’s after one man, yes Captain Jack Sparrow of course! After the latter was allowed to escape by the hands of Will, Beckett condems the bride and groom to be to the hangman’s noose. Jack meanwhile is desperately seeking to avoid the debt that he owes Davy Jones (Nighy) and so begins a spiral of events that stretch out this film’s run time to an incredible two and a half hours, that really really could have been trimmed down in one or two places.

Screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio do ensure that there is some fun to be had of course, but there’s quite a lot of meandering as this ship steers its way through some very exposition filled waters that threaten to run the film aground. A common path for sequels to sail, is to make the tone that bit more darker, and this is the route that this film chooses to take, and in doing so much of the wackiness and the fun that the first film brought is replaced by a more serious ominous tone, though the film doesn’t lack some very entertaining sequences that returning captain Gore Verbinski helms to a similar standard as he did with the first film.

The ominous is perhaps best exemplified by Davy Jones, though we don’t find out much about him and why he looks the way he does. Nighy brings a very menacing presence, that is aided by some truly excellent CGI. Being in this creature’s presence could cause even the bravest of souls to quiver in fear.  Though the CGI for some of his crew aboard The Flying Dutchman is very obvious, it is for the most part very well done and the recipient of the Oscar for Visual Effects. Despite the meandering script, there are some rather splendid action sequences to enjoy, and the acting across the board remains at a solid standard.

Not someone you want to mess with…

With Depp again on splendid form as Captain Jack, and Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley also in fine form reprising their roles as Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. Newcomers Stellan Skarsgård and Tom Hollander give the most memorable performances of the newcomers as Will’s father Bootstrap Bill and the pesky Cutler Beckett.  It’s not the swashbuckling adventure its predecessor was, but there’s more than enough rum on this ship to ensure it has the right amount of wind in its sails.

A choppy plot, coupled with some clunky dialogue could have resulted in an unpleasant shipwreck, but an ample amount of fun action ensures it’s steered home to a satisfying conclusion.