Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Luca (2021)

© Disney and Pixar Animation Studios

Luca  – Film Review

Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Saverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph, Marco Barricelli, Jim Gaffigan, Sacha Baron Cohen

Directors: Enrico Casarosa

Synopsis:  In a picturesque town on the Italian Riviera, two young sea monsters go on a sun filled summer adventure above the waves…

Review: The summer, the time of year that promises super long days (depending on where you live), gloriously warm weather, and the prospect of making new friends and having an experience that you will never forget. However, what if say you’re a creature who lives beneath the waves, who desires to break free from his overly protective parents, and who yearns to experience live on the land that we humans dwell on? The answer lies in the form of the 24th feature film from Pixar Animation Studios.

Set in the picturesque town of Portorosso on the Italian Riviera, there are stories of terrifying sea monsters that lurk beneath the waves that have the residents of this town spooked. One such sea monster is Luca (Tremblay), who is categorically forbidden by his parents from ever venturing to the surface. His parents do not trusts those creatures that dwell on the land, and as it turns out, the feeling is mutual as the humans have a distrust for sea creatures. However, when Luca meets another young adventurous sea monster named Alberto (Grazer), the two of them form a friendship and head for the town for an adventure unlike anything that they have ever experienced before.

In any adventure/coming-of-age type story that features two characters going on a life-changing journey, the dynamic the two lead characters is fundamental as to whether this adventure sinks or swims. Fortunately, it’s the former as the voice performances of Jacob Tremblay and Jack Dylan Grazer are perfect, as they help to establish the friendship that quickly forms between these two young friends. These two are merely out to have the best time of their lives whilst they are living with the humans, and away from all they have ever known in their lives beneath the big ocean blue. Through all of this adventure, Luca and Alberto have their eyes on one prize, to own a Vespa, and this dream leads to Giulia (Berman), one of Portorosso’s residents who befriends Luca and Alberto. Instantaneously, there’s a connection between the three of them, as she is someone who is looked down by certain sections of the town.

Throughout all of their films, Pixar’s animation style has always been tremendous, and that streak continues with Luca. As Pixar has taken audiences on a couple of trips beneath the waves before, one could almost expect a similar style of animation when compared to those two films. Yet, the animation style feels much more different than not just the two Finding films, but rather any previous Pixar film in general. In many respects, what director Enrico Casarosa has crafted feels more reminiscent of Studio Ghibli than it does Pixar. The ensuing adventure that takes place between Luca, Alberto and Giulia is one that audiences will enjoy. The film is awash with plenty of laughter, emotion and familiar beats of not being afraid to be who you are. However, given that this studio has become known for those moments that pack the strongest of emotional punches to leave the audience’s emotions in pieces, there’s nothing of that nature to be found in this Italian Riviera themed adventure.

There is perhaps an assumption that any film that carries the Pixar name will have deeply philosophical themes throughout. Furthermore, given many of their prior films have for instance, touched on deep questions about life and the passions we have, our deep connection with life and music, or the emotions that guide us through life. Indeed, when their films attempt to answer these philosophical questions, is arguably where Pixar have excelled the most, whilst reducing audiences to emotional wrecks. On the one hand, it is the case that due to this lack of emotional depth, Luca is unable to surpass those films that have come before it. Yet on the other hand, it is perhaps a bit unfair to expect every Pixar film to tackle these existential themes every time is perhaps a bit unfair. Luca promises a sun soaked adventure filled with laughs, friendship and, yes, dreams about one day owning a Vespa, and that’s what it delivers. Magnifico!

It may be more simplistic and formulaic than many of previous Pixar films, yet thanks to the performances of its three leads, and a vibrant style of animation, this sun-soaked adventure will warm your heart.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021)

© Netflix, Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation

The Mitchells vs. the Machines  – Film Review

Cast: Danny McBride, Abbi Jacobson, Maya Rudolph, Michael Rianda, Eric Andre, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, John Legend, Chrissy Teigen, Blake Griffin, Conan O’Brien

Directors: Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe

Synopsis: When a robot uprising occurs during a family road trip, one dysfunctional family becomes the last hope for humanity…

Review: It isn’t exactly news that humanity as a species have become rather obsessed with all gadgets of various shapes and sizes that have a screen in them. Whether it be phones, laptops, tablets or TVs, if we’re not working, chances are high that we will have our eyes glued to those gadgets that are “bathed in ghoulish blue light”. But what if those machines that we are so dependent on, instead decided to do away with humanity as a species and rule this planet for themselves? While humanity’s over-reliance on technology is far from an original concept, in the hands of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the duo who helped to bring the visual wizardry of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to life, they’ve turned that concept into this bonkers, but uproariously entertaining adventure.

Katie (Jacobson) is as an aspiring filmmaker, who is one step closer to her dream job after being accepted into a film school. Her ambitions don’t sit well with her technophobe father Rick (McBride). Due to her ambitions and his own issues with technology, he struggles to connect with Katie. Fearing that they may drift apart for good once Katie has settled into college, Rick decides to take the entire the family go on a cross-country road trip, which is meant to be in theory one last family outing. Unfortunately for the Mitchell family, their family trip coincides with the beginning of a robot uprising determined to eradicate humanity from the face of the Earth. Consequently, this quirky, oddball family find themselves as the last hope for humanity to stop the robot apocalypse.

While many may well see Disney and its subsidiary Pixar as the top dogs of animation movie making, there are certainly plenty of studios that are producing some stellar animation flicks that are certainly capable of challenging Disney and Pixar’s status as animation top dogs. For Sony Pictures Animation, Into The Spider-Verse was the perfect example of an innovative, unique stunningly crafted piece of film-making that really pushed the boundaries of what this medium could accomplish. Under the direction of first time directors Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe, this enthralling adventure continues that trajectory with a unique and exhilarating blend of 2D and 3D animation styles.

As with the animation, the voice work of the cast is exceptional across the board. As the film’s central protagonist, much is resting on Katie’s shoulders and through the excellent voice work by Abbi Jacobsen, she carries the film marvellously well. There will be many out there who empathise with Katie as a quiet somewhat introverted individual who’s passionate about what she does, and Jacobson imbues Katie with a fiercely independent, yet extremely likeable personality. Due to his difficult relationship, and his immense disdain for technology, the strained relationship between Rick and Katie features at the centre of the film. McBride excels as a father who strives to find the balance between being the stern parent trying to steer his children away from the allure of the screens, whilst simultaneously trying to do his best for his daughter.

While the voice talents of Jacobsen and McBride are given most of the spotlight, the performances of Maya Rudolph and co-director Michael Rianda are perfect as mother Lin and Katie’s brother Aaron, are given plenty of screen time to flesh out their characters. Though, like with any film that features a robot apocalypse, the need for a strong villain is imperative. In this instance, that antagonist is PAL, a super intelligent AI who’s basically like if the personal assistant in your phone went rogue and tried to kill you and all of humanity in the process. Proving that the no one plays an antagonist better than the British, the casting of Olivia Colman in this menacingly evil, and simultaneously hilarious role, is an absolute masterstroke.

At 113 minutes, the film is certainly longer than average when compared to most animated adventures. However, from the word go, the momentum that’s generated from the film’s wild and exhilarating story ensures that at no point does the film lose the momentum that it has generated. It moves from fun road trip film to a battle for humanity’s survival with effortless ease, as a wild mixture of hilarious gags and thrilling action help to keep the plot going at a frenetic and exhilarating pace. Furthermore, it packs plenty of heart-warming character moments in between absolutely thrilling action scenes that will definitely be appreciated by man and machine-kind alike in equal measure.

With its perfect combination of bonkers and hilarious action and sincere heartfelt character moments, the latest Lord/Miller collaboration sets the bar high for the rest of 2021’s animated offerings.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

Image is property of Disney Animation Studios

Raya and the Last Dragon – Film Review

Cast: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh, Benedict Wong, Izaac Wang, Thalia Tran, Alan Tudyk

Directors: Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada

Synopsis: In the ancient land that was once known as Kumandra, a warrior princess goes in search of what is believed to be the last dragon….

Review: Throughout the many decades of animated films to emerge from Walt Disney Animation Studios, stories of fairy tales and Princesses have been plentiful. It is after all, one of the many things that they do best. The early Disney Princess stories might have leaned into the more traditional aspects of fairytales and princesses. Yet, from the Renaissance years onwards, the studio’s Disney Princess outings have all had an element of striving to something that does not stick to the norm, and breaks substantial new ground in terms of story-telling and representation. With what is their 59th film, they’ve taken a massive step forward in terms of representation by creating for the very first time, a South-East Asian heroine.

Many centuries ago, in the land of Kumandra, humanity and dragons co-existed in harmony. However, when the land comes under attack from a vicious evil spirt known as the Druun, an all powerful artefact that repels the Druun is created to repel them forever. Flash forward to the present, and with the dragons now believed to be long gone, the people are now divided into five warring tribes, all seeking possession of this artefact. When the conflict boils over, and this deadly evil spirit returns, the burden falls on Raya’s shoulders to seek out the Last Dragon, before this evil spirit consumes the entire world as they know it.

It’s practicality a formality that whenever one comes to watch an animated film from the House of Mouse, that the animation is going to be the best that it could possibly be. It is to the immense credit of the animators, that not only is the animation absolute breath-taking to look at, but it seems to be somehow getting even better with each passing film. For each territory of this civilisation, there’s a considerable change in the terrain, and this shift provides numerous opportunities for the animators to explore the richness and the diversity of the terrain. Through their wonderful work, they do not disappoint as each territory enables the animators to demonstrate their animation wizardry, which helps to bring so much vividness and beauty to this world.

After having endured an absolutely ridiculous and completely undeserved amount of flak for her work in the Star Wars franchise, seeing Kelly Marie Tran given a leading role as a Disney Princess is just wonderful, and she absolutely crushes it with her performance as Raya. Through her excellent voice work, she imbues this character with a sense of courage, honour, and duty to her family and her people. While this may all be familiar beats for a Disney film, what Raya also has in her favour is that she is a fearless warrior who boasts excellent skills with a sword, which should ensure Raya adds her name to the ever growing list of fierce, strong and badass heroines that Disney films have produced.

Alongside her, Awkwafina, an actress who has been excelling in recent years, almost steals the show as the voice of the dragon Sisu. Being the last of her kind, there’s an understandable element of seriousness given how integral this character is to the film’s story. However, the film’s script by Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim, allows Awkwafina to use her comedic talents to wonderful effect, and through the voice talents of both actresses, the characters form a deep bond that helps to drive the film forward. Furthermore, the cast is further enhanced with excellent contributions from the talents of Gemma Chan, Sandra Oh, Benedict Wong, and Alan Tudyk as Tuk Tuk, one of the most adorable animal side characters this studio has ever created.

The film can sometimes get a bit bogged down by the sheer amount of lore and backstory that it tries to fill in its runtime. While there’s some familiarity with some of the story’s beats, the film packs plenty of heart and emotional weight. In many ways, Raya and The Last Dragon is a film that feels tailor made for these divisive and troubled times that the world has been living through for the last year or so. As a society that feels broken, bereft of trust and compassion for those around us, as we collectively struggle to deal with a crisis that has shaken society to its very core, leaving a heart-breaking amount of pain, and loss in its wake. In the year 2021, the world could learn a thing or two from a hero like Raya.

Bursting with gorgeous, colourful animation, and a ground-breaking Warrior Princess heroine, Raya and The Last Dragon is another House of Mouse gem that feels tailor-made for the times we’re living in.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2020

Wolfwalkers (2020)

Image is property of Cartoon Saloon, WildCard Productions and Apple TV+

Wolfwalkers – Film Review

Cast: Honor Kneafsey, Sean Bean, Eva Whittaker, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Simon McBurney, Tommy Tiernan

Directors: Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart

Synopsis: After moving from England to Ireland with her father, a young girl discovers a remarkable secret when she meets a fierce girl who lives in the woods with a pack of wolves…

Review: There are animated studios that everyone will likely instinctively think of when it comes to producing wonderful works of animated magic. With animation being an art form that offers endless possibilities of worlds to explore, and characters to create, many studios have had numerous decades to cement their reputations as animated movie maestros. However, one name that may not be as familiar to many, but have been consistently producing some absolutely marvellous films, is that of Cartoon Saloon. With what is only their fourth animated feature, the studio are continuing to enhance their reputation as the next big name in feature film animation, as well as being the Irish answer to Studio Ghibli.

Robyn Goodfellowe (Kneafsey) is a fiercely independent girl living with her father Bill (Bean) in 17th century Ireland. Her father works as a hunter tasked with hunting down a pack of wolves living in the nearby forest, that have the town’s residents in a panic. Her curious nature, and desire to become a hunter like her father, leads her to the forest. By chance, she meets and befriends a free-spirited girl Mebh (Whittaker) who lives with the wolves in question. As the two build up a friendship, Robyn uncovers a revelatory secret about a rumoured extraordinary ability that Mebh possesses, which will change the way Robyn views the world forever.

In an era that sees many studios use fully enhanced computer animation to make their films, it is wonderfully refreshing and endearing to see a studio opt for the more traditional, pencil drawn style of animation, which Cartoon Saloon have mastered. This wonderfully unique story is a vibrant combination of a fairytale, spliced together with a Celtic myth, with the added element of a tale that’s akin to The Legend of Zelda. It is clear that the filmmakers have put in considerable amounts of effort into establishing the historical setting of 17th Century Ireland, which adds considerable levels of authenticity to the animation. By marrying this up with the more fascinating and mystical elements of this wonderful story, that are equally stunning and detailed, it creates something truly unique. Every single aspect of the animation is breath-taking to watch and visually mesmerising.

With excellent and sincere voice work across the board, the characters are all extremely well-rounded and developed. Robyn is an immensely likeable heroine, and Kneafsay’s excellent performance gives her a fierce and independent streak. This helps her to connect with Mebh who’s even more fierce than Robyn, and Whittaker’s voice work is equally impressive. The mutual desire between these two like-minded young people to forge their own destinies in life helps to solidify that strong bond between the two of them. This strong bond, that beats at the heart of this magical adventure, only goes from strength to strength as the film progresses. Though this desire to not want to conform to what would be expected of women, puts Robyn into a difficult situation, with her stern, but loving father. Sean Bean’s familiar voice helps to lend an Eddard Stark-esque fatherly presence to Bill, a man who is also fiercely protective of his daughter.

Yet, as Bill works to protect his beloved daughter, it gets in the way of his work, putting him at odds with the town’s dastardly ruler Lord Protector, voiced with fittingly evil menace by Simon McBurney. While comparisons between this film and a certain Pixar adventure may well be drawn, there’s more than enough meat on its bones that enables Wolfwalkers to stand tall on its own paws. The wonderfully magical nature of this adventure will help the film to connect with audiences of all ages. Furthermore, with the perfect use of Aurora’s soaring vocals, this marvellously captivating tale lets its imagination, and the wolves run wild, and the end result is, simply put, perfection.

Packed with glowing, gorgeous animation and a vibrant exciting story, this enchanting and affectionate tale will charm and delight you, before howling its way into your heart.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

Image is property of Paramount Pictures and Sega

Sonic the Hedgehog – Film Review

Cast: James Marsden, Ben Schwartz, Tika Sumpter, Jim Carrey

Director: Jeff Fowler

Synopsis: When a police offer finds a small, speedy blue hedgehog, he must do all he can to prevent him from falling into the hands of the nefarious Dr Robotnik..

Review: For anyone who grew up in the 90s, the video gaming industry was, by and large, dominated by two very prominent characters, that of an Italian plumber with a red hat, and a super-fast blue hedgehog. While the former has been brought to the big screen once before, albeit not very successfully, the latter’s journey to the big screen has at last arrived, and while it has been far from the speedy one he would have liked, it’s one that has defied the odds and delivered the goods.

When Sonic is forced to flee his home world, using the power of his magical rings, he arrives on Earth. Initially, his existence is completely unknown to everyone for a significant period of time. Though, when Sonic accidentally reveals his presence to local police officer Tom Wachowski (Marsden), the pair strike up a friendship. This puts Tom on a collision course with the Government, as they recruit the dastardly Dr Robotnik (Carrey), to pursue and capture Sonic for experimentation, which forces the two of them to flee for their lives.

Catch him if you can…

It’s no secret that when the first trailer for the film came out and the design of this iconic character was unveiled, it was to put it mildly, not well received at all. Fans gawped in horror at the design of Sonic. Hence, the film’s release was delayed so the design of Sonic could be re-jigged. A decision that paid dividends, as the revamped design of the titular character feels much more authentic, and less like some ungodly abomination that would have given viewers endless nightmares. Voiced and motion captured by Ben Schwartz, this redesign has the personality and the traits that make him feel like a version of the character that has been drawn from the games.

It wouldn’t be a Sonic film without his classic nemesis, and Jim Carrey gives everything he has into the role of Dr. Robotnik. This works a treat as he’s clearly having a tonne of fun playing such an eccentric antagonist, especially one that that enjoys twirling his moustache in the most hilarious cartoonishly evil manner. Carrey goes all in with his performance and it ensures that every moment he’s on screen is delightfully entertaining, and he’s easily the best aspect of the human cast. Aside from Carrey, Marsden is solid as the cop who must do all he can to prevent Sonic from falling into Robotnik’s hands. While the accompanying story of two unlikely individuals forming a friendship is nothing new, it serves the story of this little Blue ball of energy and how he strives to find his place on our world, very effectively.

While the action scenes are nothing particularly ground-breaking, seeing Sonic whizz across the globe duelling with Robotnik, with the iconic sound of Sonic’s rings as the perfect nostalgia boost for good measure, is undeniably entertaining. Though, there is one scene that, while you can understand why they would use a scene like it, feels like it’s a bit too similar to the iconic Quicksilver scene from Days of Future Past. Films based off video game franchises have often struggled to deliver the goods, and while it took time, eventually this adaptation has delivered a film worthy of bearing the name of one of the most beloved characters in video game history.

The story is cliched, but with a thankfully re-designed titular character and a pitch perfect villain, the film collects all the rings to deliver a worthwhile adaptation of a much beloved video game franchise.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

The Aeronauts (2019)

Image is property of Amazon Studios

The Aeronauts – Film Review

Cast: Felicity Jones, Eddie Redmayne, Himesh Patel, Rebecca Front

Director: Tom Harper

Synopsis: Using a only a hot air balloon, a pilot and a meteorologist attempt to go higher than anyone in history, in the pursuit of making groundbreaking discoveries….

Review: Every day, our daily lives can be dictated by this unpredictable phenomenon known as the weather. Though we now have the capabilities to predict the weather, it was not always so.  As a species humanity is on a seemingly never expanding quest for scientific knowledge and truth. But, how far does one go to make new scientific discoveries? The answer for two people, is to hop on a hot air balloon and go to unprecedented, exceedingly dangerous heights, higher than anyone in history.

Meteorologist James Glaisher (Redmayne) is convinced that humanity has the capability to predict the weather. The only problem is, none of his peers see this as even remotely possible. Determined to prove his theory, whilst simultaneously making ground-breaking scientific discoveries, he seeks a hot air balloon to go into the heavens and to confirm his theories. However, the person capable of taking him to such heights is Amelia Rennes (Jones), a woman who due to a tragic incident in her past, is initially, a little reluctant to get back into a hot air balloon.

Having proved that they have wonderful chemistry together in The Theory of Everything, it’s a pleasure to see Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne back on screen together. Once again, they make a very effective on screen duo. Redmayne is no stranger to playing a man with a brilliant scientific mind and once again, he does an admirable job portraying a scientist who is driven to make new discoveries. However, his ambition is just not possible without Amelia Rennes. Due to that horrible moment in her past, she very much represents the heart and soul of the film. In that situation, it takes incredible courage to take that step back into a balloon, and thanks to Jones’s fantastic performance, her journey is a critical component of their daring feat.

Lovely view up here, just don’t look down…

Visually, as the pair of them make their ascent through the sky to frightening heights, every technical aspect of the film-making soars. From the breathtaking visuals, to the phenomenal cinematography combined with Harper’s meticulous direction, and a superb score from Steven Price. It’s all executed perfectly, and it puts the audience right in the basket of the balloon with these two people direction, going to heights that you could never have even imagined, all while maybe raising the heart-rate especially if you have a fear of heights. However, the tension begins to build as the risk of catastrophe striking rises the higher up into the atmosphere they go.

What frustratingly threatens to burst the balloon of this story is the film’s narrative structure. It chooses to jumps backwards and forwards between their pulsating balloon adventure, and events in the past that led the pair of them to attempt this daring feat.  Though the flashbacks are not without moments of intrigue and drama, such as the tragic incident in Amelia’s past. The decision to tell the story in this manner, hampers the the film’s ability to build and maintain the enthralling momentum that their journey generates. Though when it is focused on the balloon’s ascent, descent, and the subsequent fight for survival, is when the film soars the highest.

Like with any film that is based on a true story, certain liberties are taken with the true to life events. The most notable being, that Amelia Wren as a character is fictitious and has been incorporated into this story. While this could be problematic for some viewers, it does not serve as an overwhelmingly troublesome distraction. Principally because, at a time when women were seldom involved in the world of science, to have a strong female who takes charge in such an escapade sends a positive message. Even in today’s society, the sky is the limit and nothing should stop any woman from wanting to pursue a career in science.

Breathtaking visuals and a solid pair of performances from Redmayne, and especially Jones, is when the films soars the highest. However, it’s prevented from reaching the spectacular heights it was aiming for due to its problematic narrative structure.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Dumbo (2019)

Image is property of Walt Disney Pictures and Tim Burton Productions

Dumbo – Film Review

Cast: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins

Director: Tim Burton

Synopsis: When an elephant in the care of a struggling circus gives birth, the young creature is born with rather large ears. When it’s discovered that he can fly, the circus makes him its newest attraction to turn around its fortunes…

Review: It is very hard not to look at most of these live action re-imaginings of classic animated Disney films of yesteryear as nothing more than cynical cash grabs. For some of these films, you look at them and just think, there is no reason for these films to be remade. However, in the case of Dumbo, since the original film came out over seventy years ago, a remake does seem warranted.  However, with three live action remakes set to grace the big screen this year, Disney is only just getting started, and everyone’s favourite big eared elephant is the first one in its sights.

It is 1919, and Holt (Farrell) has just come home from the First World War, a war that has taken a heavy toll on him. In his absence, his kids Millie (Parker) and Joe (Hobbins) have been enduring a difficult time, with their circus, led by Max Medici (DeVito) really falling on hard times. However an opportunity to revive their ailing fortunes presents itself with the arrival of an adorable young elephant, who happens to be born with unusually large ears. Initially the subject of much derision and ridicule, most notably from Medici, this turns to awe when it’s revealed that this young creatures’s ears give him the ability to fly. This soon attracts the attention of V. A. Vandevere (Keaton), the owner of a much bigger circus/theme park.

Cuteness overload…

Given that humans didn’t feature in the original, and that the original film was just over an hour, Ehren Kruger’s screenplay has to expand on the source material. As such the human characters become the main focus of the film, and not the titular little elephant. Given that they’re the focus of the plot, the screenplay tries to give the humans something substantial to work with, and the results are mixed. DeVito is on reliably entertaining form as Medici, but it’s Holt’s daughter Millie who steals the spotlight as she is the most fleshed out character. She is a very strong willed young woman who has a keen interest in science, as well as taking care of Dumbo and helping him adapt to circus life, alongside her brother.

Parker’s performance shows that she has inherited those acting chops from her mother Thandie Newton. By contrast, none of the other human characters are really given much development, despite some of the stellar names in the cast. Michael Keaton’s character especially feels really out of place, with an accent so peculiar it’s hard to fathom what accent it is or why he’s speaking in that manner. One quick glance at the filmography of Tim Burton, and you would quickly realise that his imagination as a director is as dark and eccentric as they come. With that said, he doesn’t seem to be the most natural choice to bring Dumbo’s story to a new generation. Given the target market of the film, there’s obviously nothing as macabre or as freaky that Burton’s imagination has previously brought to the big screen.

Though, as one might expect with Burton, there are some dark undertones. Yet the direction for the most part feels very safe and doesn’t really take any risks, which feels like a missed opportunity as the scope was there to explore a dark side to the circus. The CGI for Dumbo is really well done and, as you would expect, Dumbo is completely adorable and above all else, in spite of the glittering array of talent in this cast, it’s this sweet little elephant that you find yourself rooting for the most, if only he had that little bit more screen time.

The cast try their hardest, but an indifferent script and the mismatch of tones prevent this live action re-imagining from soaring, but, thanks to the adorable titular elephant, it does get off the ground.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox

Alita: Battle Angel – Film Review

Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Keean Johnson

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Synopsis: Set in the 26th century,  a compassionate doctor finds an abandoned cyborg whom he names Alita (Salazar). Upon reawakening, Alita with no recollection or memories of her previous life, goes in search of answers…

Review: If you’re looking for a big name film-maker to get an ambitious project off the ground, James Cameron is not a bad choice to turn to. For here is a director who for a time, boasted the two highest grossing films of all time in his repertoire, as well as being the one of the two brains behind the Terminator franchise. But even with the involvement of such a talent as Cameron, and director Robert Rodriguez, sometimes, it just not enough to save the project.

After humanity has been seriously affected by a deadly war, Dr Dyson Ido (Waltz) finds the remains of a female cyborg in a scrapyard, brings her body back to his lab and restores her to life. However, Alita with no memory of who she was in her previous life, is determined to get some answers. Right away the film throws the audience head first into the thick of what is evidently a planet that has clearly been effected heavily by war. Yet the screenplay, penned by Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis, doesn’t really provide any context for the preceding war that has seemingly crippled this society. Furthermore, an overwhelming majority of the dialogue feels very stilted.

As the main character, Alita is certainly a likeable protagonist that you want to root for, even if the CGI on her is a little jarring to begin with. You want her to find out the answers that she’s seeking and it is extremely entertaining to watch her throw down against some of the slimy, nefarious people that inhabit this world. But of course, they had to add a romance into the mixture with Alita falling for Hugo (Keean Johnson). It’s functional to the plot as he helps Alita acclimatise to the new world she is discovering but, there’s not a great deal of chemistry between the two of them, and while not as laughable as some of the romantic dialogue that the Star Wars prequels served up, it’s still pretty cringey.

The rest of the cast are also functional at best, which is extremely frustrating when you have Oscar winning talents like Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali. It just feels like their considerable talents are wasted on what could have been a much better script. What’s more, the motivations/purposes of some characters for doing what they’re doing are extremely vague, with scope clearly being left for future instalments. The CGI on the whole is very hit or miss, sometimes it looks really impressive, and there are other instances where it looks extremely cheap. This is problematic for a big budget blockbuster, especially since Cameron’s Avatar, a film that came out a decade ago, showed the world what CGI could accomplish.

For what is clearly striving to be a film that is trying to be its own franchise, it tries so hard to set up a sequel that it negates telling a worthwhile story to begin with. There are some entertaining scenes but again, there’s nothing here that really stands out to differentiate it from the plethora of films in this genre, that have been far more memorable. For any film that spends a long time stuck in development hell, it always feels like the odds are against it. Despite the best efforts of all concerned to bring this property to the big screen, and even with such star power, both in front of and behind the camera, this is a classic case of style over substance.

One cannot fault the ambition, but even with a solid lead performance from Salazar, the extremely corny dialogue and a rather messy plot just cannot save this film from its place on the scrapheap.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Mortal Engines (2018)

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

Mortal Engines – Film Review

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

Director: Christian Rivers

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

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

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

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

Lovely scenery….

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

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

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

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

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

Image is property of Universal, Amblin Entertainment and Legendary Pictures

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – Film Review

Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, Jeff Goldblum, B. D. Wong

Director: J.A. Bayona

Synopsis: Years after the destruction of the Jurassic World theme park, with the island’s volcano about to explode, a rescue operation is launched to save the island’s dinosaur population from almost certain extinction…

Review: There is a seemingly undying fascination that humanity as a species has with dinosaurs. With museums that boast fascinating old skeletons of these creatures to a series of films that began all the way back in 1993 with Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, a film that changed the movie industry forever as for the first time on the big screen, dinosaurs came to life. Though the 1997 and 2001 sequels never quite lived up to the majesty of the original, the fascination never died. Indeed, when Jurassic World came along in 2015 to try and reintroduce the franchise to a new generation, the box office roared accordingly, to the tune of $1.6 billion, and so this franchise finds a way to keep on going.

With the Jurassic World theme park having met a predictable fate, following some disastrous dino-experimentation, the dinosaurs that are still on Isla Nublar are in immediate danger due to the island’s volcano which is threatening to erupt. So Claire (Howard) re-teams with Owen (Pratt) to mount a rescue operation to save the pre-historic beasts. However, there is the question of whether these creatures should be saved, or should nature just take its course? With Colin Trevorrow now solely on writing credits along with Derek Connolly, in comes The Impossible director J.A.Bayona who injects some of his disaster movie expertise into the film. In doing so, providing some especially haunting shots of the now desolate park and one scene in particular that is especially melancholic.

Hold on to your butts, and run for your life!

Bayona does his best to replicate the visual majesty of the original, and while topping that is an almost impossible task, he does bring some really stellar action scenes to the mix. Yet the script could easily have done with having some of the DNA of the first film injected into it, as there is a severe lack of development on many of the humans. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard once again both give solid performances as our two main characters, but the development their characters is very limited. It is a similar story for those that are in the supporting roles, as they’re just not as memorable as say a John Hammond or Ian Malcolm. Speaking of, the Goldblum makes a welcome return, but his appearance is fleeting at best.

With Bayona bringing the visual splendour, Trevorrow and Connolly’s script doesn’t quite match up to that. The plot certainly goes in a very interesting direction, and it is very much a tale of two halves. One being the mission to the island, and the other being that mission’s aftermath. Plaudits must be given for them for trying something a bit different, but having said that, it is hard to ignore the similarities that this film has with its predecessors, and there are specific elements that you will look at think that you have seen this before, because we have.

What is cooked up by Bayona and Trevorrow delivers both what a sequel should do, but in other cases should not do. There is a much stronger attempt to bring a more coherent narrative to the story, which does bring more spectacle and emotion. What’s more, Bayona’s horror routes really shine through in a number of places. Yet the lack of development on many of the characters and the rehash of familiar plot elements is a massive frustration as we have seen franchises in the past take things in a brand new direction before. Blending classic Jurassic franchise tropes with some new elements, almost like trying to cook up the perfect dinosaur. The results are not catastrophic, but definitely nothing extraordinary.

The addition of Bayona as director provides some visual majesty that Spielberg would be proud of, but a tonally inconsistent script results in a dinosaur romp that will entertain, terrify and bemuse in equal measure.