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.

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Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

inglourious_basterds
Image is property of The Weinstein Company, A Band Apart, and Universal Studios

Inglourious Basterds – Film Review

Cast:  Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz,  Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Melanie Laurent, Daniel Brühl

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Synopsis: A group of Jewish American soldiers set out with the intention of killing Nazis in the heart of Nazi occupied France, all the while, a plot to assassinate Nazi High Command is being devised by a cinema owner with a tragic past.

Review: The Second World War, a truly dark and troubling part of European History in the 20th century. The rise of Fascism and Communism and a continent that was seemingly on the brink of tearing itself to pieces. A period that has been the subject of many textbooks. Therefore presenting a perfect opportunity it would seem for writer and director Quentin Tarantino, a chance to make a fun and violent movie during the period that quite literally throws the history textbook out of the window, and shoot it a couple, or maybe ten times.

Set in 1944 with the war raging across the continent, enter the Basterds lead by Lt Aldo Raine (Pitt)  a group of Allied soldiers who are killing Nazi soldiers with with a large amount of glee as they do. Meanwhile a cinema in Paris becomes the centre of a plot by the owner (Melanie Laurent) who is after one thing only, vengeance. The perfect ingredients for a three hour Tarantino flick filled with violence and superbly written dialogue and some truly memorable characters, and it sure is bloody entertaining stuff!

With what is without doubt one of the finest opening scenes in cinema history, we meet Colonel Hans Landa, played wonderfully by Christoph Waltz who’s on his way to meet a farmer, about the whereabouts of some missing Jews.  Although this conversation is initially warm and hospitable, it isn’t long before things go cold, unwelcoming and becoming all the more tense with each passing scene. On this scene alone, Waltz deserved the many accolades that came his way for this performance, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Tarantino has created many memorable characters in his filmography, but Landa is right up there with the best of them. Laurent is also spectacular as the cinema owner, Tarantino knows how to make compelling female characters, and he does so yet again as both Shoshanna (Laurent) and Bridget (Kruger) are intriguing and well developed characters, the former more so than the latter though. Brad Pitt as the gruff Aldo Raine is also on spectacular form as the leader of the Basterds, with Michael Fassbender also lending his tremendous talents as a British Double Agent in what is a very talented cast.

Tarantino is one of the finest writers and directors working in the industry, and there are more than a few scenes that are just flawless in terms of the writing, the actors performances and the execution of the scenes are all just exceptional. The aforementioned beginning sequence jumps to mind, but so too does the quite brilliant restaurant scene, which has potential to be one of the finest Mexican stand off scenes ever put to film. The tension is almost unbearable at some points. Whoever knew that a scene where two characters eat strudel could be so tense? This being a Tarantino flick means that there will be violence, and there is plenty of that indeed, and it’s glorious to watch. The script also manages to fuse a perfect amount of comedy in there as well, watching Pitt try and mask his thick American accent to masquerade as an Italian is just extremely entertaining.

The length is often a gripe with some of Tarantino’s work, and yes at and at just over 2 and a half hours, Basterds is certainly a movie you need to sit down and invest your time in. Yet it’s a worthy investment when the climax is reached and the credits begin to roll. “This might just be my masterpiece,” says one character as the film reaches its conclusion. It almost feels as though that dialogue was from Tarantino himself direct to the audience, and on the evidence of this film, it is kind of hard to disagree with him.

With exceptional writing, tremendous acting, and a bloody exciting story set in the heart of the Second World War. This is vintage Tarantino, and one of his best.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

tarzan
Image is property of Warner Bros, Village Roadshow Pictures, RatPac Entertainment.

The Legend of Tarzan – Film Review

Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L Jackson, Djimon Hounsou

Director: David Yates

Synopsis: Tarzan, now going under the name John Clayton, lives in London with his wife Jane, until he is forced to return to his roots as plans for a mining colony threaten the wildlife.

Review: For many people of the younger generation, their first introduction to the character of Tarzan was Disney’s 1999 animated movie, but he is in fact a character who first appeared in the novel Tarzan of the Apes, which was first published over 100 years ago. He has been represented many times and now director David Yates, famed for his sterling work in bringing the Harry Potter franchise some of its best films, now attempts to give his take on the Lord of Apes for a new generation, and well Tarzan certainly knows how to swing from branch to branch effortlessly, but this retelling of Tarzan’s story does not come out swinging, instead falling somewhat flat on its face after missing its aim.

Tarzan has moved on from his jungle days by the time we meet him and has settled down with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie) and living in rather comfortable quarters in London. He is determined to move on, but of course, he is forced to revert to his animal like mannerisms when the area where he was raised comes under attack, principally from Ernest Rom. (Christoph Waltz) So off comes the shirt and Tarzan is reborn!

With a director of the quality of David Yates behind the camera, fans of the character must have been optimistic for a solid portrayal of the titular character. There’s no question that Alexander Skarsgard got his physique but his performance is painfully wooden in more than a few places. Naturally you root for him as he’s the protagonist but he’s not exactly a hero to get your blood pumping, in a way that a character like Tarzan very easily could. Margot Robbie gives everything she has as Jane but the script is on the whole a bit weak, with character development being on the scarce side including the main antagonist Rom. Waltz has shown he can be a really compelling villain to watch in the past, but here, not so much as his villain is just bland and uninteresting. The bright spot is by far and away Sam Jackson’s character, as he brings some much needed humour to the story, but it’s not enough to save the movie from its slow, dreary pace.

Yates certainly manages to bring some nice visuals to the story here, with some very impressive sweeping shots of the landscape, but these are negated by some less than impressive visuals of the animals. It’s rather obvious that these are CG creations, and it takes you out of the experience, as with today’s technology, it’s very possible to make CG creations look genuine and authentic but its almost as if the production had reached its budget and had to make the CG animals at the last minute. As such, the action scenes, while they are very well handled, certainly do not engage the viewer as much as they could and maybe should.

Rupert Gregson Williams’s score is decent enough, but it is not enough to save this latest retelling of the tale of Tarzan from its mediocrity. It is baffling how a quality director like Yates, who gave us some of the best Harry Potter movies, can’t take a character like Tarzan and make him a lot more compelling. Tarzan remains a loved literary figure, yet one can only hope that this retelling of his story is a “Legend” that will be forgotten soon enough.

A thoroughly uninteresting retelling for the Lord of the Apes, with a poor script, bland characters and some inexcusably bad CGI, this is certainly not a Legend, in any sense of the word. 

C-

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Spectre (2015)

Image rights belong to Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Columbia Pictures
Image rights belong to Eon Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Columbia Pictures

Spectre – Film Review

Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Naomi Harris, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Monica Belluci, Andrew Scott

Director: Sam Mendes

Synopsis: With a clue left behind by the recently deceased M, Bond uncovers a link to a sinister organisation known as Spectre. While the new M battles to keep MI6 afloat from sources at home, Bond must go it alone and uncover the dark truth behind Spectre and its leader, Franz Oberhauser.

Review: How do you top a film that smashed box office records for the franchise, won two Oscars and was hailed by many as one of the best Bond films ever made? Well quite simply, you rehire the same director who brought us Skyfall and ensure that the steely blue eyed Daniel Craig is back on board as the man with the license to kill, globe-trot like never before and up the stakes considerably. Skyfall certainly raised the bar after the less than stellar effort from 2008 (which shall not be named) but with this newest addition into the long running franchise, it proves once again that the accuracy of this franchise is right on point once more, and with this new film we may have our best film of the franchise, certainly the best film of Daniel Craig’s tenure as Bond. If this is his final run as Bond, then he can certainly say he went out on a massive high note.

Carrying on from the events of Skyfallfrom the wreckage of Bond’s childhood home comes a dark clue and it is one that leads Bond to the dangerous organisation known as SPECTRE, making its triumphant return to the franchise after a lengthy absence. Events that were set in motion from the previous films have come full circle for Bond, and now Bond has to face off against this menacing organisation and its all powerful leader, Franz Oberhauser, who has some close personal connections to Bond and in typical Bond fashion, there is a plan that needs to be foiled, by forces both at home and abroad.

The exact same team that wrote Skyfall, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, again joined by John Logan must have thought how on earth could they beat what they achieved in 2012? Well whatever were the results of their  super secret script meetings, they pulled it off and in some style with one of the best Bond scripts in recent times.  With an incredible opening scene set in Mexico, that surely ranks amongst the series best, to an intense finale in North Africa. The film boasts ar remarkable set of locations. Sam Mendes knew what worked with his previous Bond picture, and upped the style and then some. The dialogue is sharp, witty when it needs to be, but most importantly of all, keeps the audience engaged, which in no small part helps due to the magnificent cinematography, this time by Hoyte van Hoyetma. Like Skyfall, visually the film is breathtaking with some more excellent directing by Mendes.

With the great story comes great characters, Craig remains electric as Bond, and the rest of his ensemble cast all bring their best performances to their respective roles. Having taken over the role as M, Ralph Fiennes shows he is more than capable of filling the role that Judi Dench played so magnificently for so many years. He had enormous shoes to fill, but he filled them and then some! With Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris both impressing in their roles once again as Q and Moneypenny respectively.

But it’s not out with the old and in with the new entirely as the new incoming cast certainly shine arguably the brightest. The identity of Waltz’s character has been the subject of much scrutiny (saying nothing…)  the two time Oscar winner certainly demonstrates his great ability in an extraordinary performance. Equally magnetic and brilliant is Lea Seydoux, one of our two Bond ladies, who shows she’s more than capable of being a badass whilst when wearing an evening dress, while Dave Bautista brings his strength and silent presence in the form of ruthless henchman Mr Hinx. Yet for all the greatness with the new characters, there are some frustrations with Monica Belluci’s Bond lady being almost criminally underutilised, while other characters feel somewhat underdeveloped and their plot lines left a tad unexplained as to their true motivations.

Yet take nothing away from Mendes and his team. The gauntlet they had set themselves after Bond’s 23rd outing was a big one, but they absolutely rose to the challenge and in terrific style.  The series has arguably never been stronger and firing on all cylinders, and it will take a brave soul to step up to the plate to take on Bond 25, cos the bar has been raised once again, almost higher than never before. Although next time, a better theme song would be most welcome!

With some stellar acting Craig, Waltz and Seydoux, whilst remaining visually beautiful with some extraordinary set pieces and some tremendous directing, the franchise is all guns blazing, and is not going to miss!

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Django Unchained (2012)

Image rights belong to Columbia Pictures and The Weinstein Company

Django Unchained – Film Review

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo Di Caprio, Kerry Washington and Samuel L Jackson

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Synopsis: A freed slave sets out on a mission to  rescue his wife from the clutches of a crooked slave owner, aided by a German dentist turned bounty hunter.

Review: In his latest work, director Quentin Tarantino again gives his audience another thrilling spectacle of blood and revenge. Like Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino sets his latest story in a historical context. With the former set in the World War II era, Django Unchained is set in the Deep South of the United States, with the slave trade and shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War.

All the film’s principal cast play their roles to perfection. Special mentions go out to Foxx and Waltz. Foxx delivers a powerful performance, as he goes from being a really timid and weak slave to a confident bounty hunter under the guidance of his German partner. Another stellar performance also comes from Waltz in his second film with Tarantino, the first being Inglorious Basterds. His performance here, like in Basterds, was one in the Austrian excelled and landed him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for the second time, a rare achievement in Hollywood. Waltz and Foxx have great chemistry on screen and as the film develops, their partnership only gets stronger. Leonardo DiCaprio also excels in his role as Calvin Candie, the cruel and brutal owner of the plantation on which Django’s wife is held in captivity. Similarly, Samuel L Jackson, plays Candie’s fiercely loyal house slave, Stephen, and again, the performance by Jackson was incredible.

While Candie, initially appears to be the film’s main villain, it could be said that it is Stephen who plays the main antagonist. His relationship, or lack of it with Django is almost instantaneously hostile and only worsens as the plot develops. Meanwhile, the camaraderie between Stephen and Candie is fascinating to watch as Stephen is forever lurking over his master’s shoulder like a predator that is lurking, waiting for the right moment to pounce on its prey. The dialogue between the main characters is outstanding.

In true Tarantino style, the film has some very violent moments, some of which may cause the viewer to wince in horror. Yet, at other times, the violence is at times somewhat over the top, or excessive. Yet the violence is Tarantino’s signature piece and he delivers in emphatic style with some great action sequences. Nevertheless, the films offers moments that will keep you glued to your seat, or maybe hiding behind the couch in fear. However, the film offers comedy value and it has its comedic moments that will get the audience laughing. The length of the film may put some people off, as Tarantino films have had tendencies to drag on for a little bit too long. However, with Django Unchained, every minute counts and is important to the plot.

Another top drawer aspect of this film, as with many Tarantino films, is the soundtrack. With the likes of John Legend, Jerry Goldsmith, 2pac and Luis Bacalov, the soundtrack delivers the tone of each scene perfectly and hats off to Mr Tarantino for that. However, along with some criticism over the violence, the constant use of the N word in this film is another aspect has attracted a lot of disapproval from some viewers. In spite of this, Django Unchained is a terrific film and in my opinion, is Tarantino’s best yet. The character development, particularly Django’s is just superb. Similarly, the acting is fantastic all round with some terrific action sequences and a superb soundtrack. Waltz deserved his second Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Tarantino deserved his second Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Without doubt, it is a film that breaks boundaries, and goes places where some directors would not dream to go. It is controversial of course, but controversy and Quentin Tarantino practically go hand in hand. The film delivers on all fronts and it is a must see.

With top notch performances, excellent directing, a funny and sharp script, with over the top violence, this is Tarantino at his very best. 

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