Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Birds of Prey (2020)

Image is property of Warner Bros and DC

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)– Film Review

Cast: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong, Ewan McGregor

Director: Cathy Yan

Synopsis: Following a split from The Joker, Harley Quinn is determined to start fresh and get back on her feet. However, she soon realises that a number of people in Gotham want her dead…

Review: 2016, a year that promised so much for the DC Extended Universe. Two massive flagship blockbusters in the shape of Batman V Superman, and Suicide Squad were lined up. These were the two films that were supposed to kick-start their cinematic universe to the next level. Unfortunately, that hype soon turned to disappointment as neither lived up to those lofty expectations. Yet through that disappointment,  Margot Robbie’s performance bringing the much loved Harley Quinn to life proved to be one of the few rays of light. Subsequently along with a certain Amazonian warrior, a platform for the DCEU to build on going forward.

Following a brief recap of the events of Suicide Squad, Harley Quinn’s relationship with The Joker is over, something she announces in quite the dramatic fashion. Seeking to put this behind her and move on, it dawns on her that being with The Joker offered her protection from some of Gotham’s underworld. With that gone, a lot of these people are now baying for her blood, and they sense an opportunity to exact revenge on Harley for past grievances. Soon enough, Harley comes to the attention of crime boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) who’s seeking possession of a rare artefact that would enable him to take control of Gotham’s Underworld, putting him on a collision course with Harley and an array of other badass ladies.

Margot Robbie continues to prove that she was perfectly cast to bring the one of the most beloved comic book characters to life. She might (read probably) be a complete psychopath, but Robbie imbues Harley such charisma that it’s impossible not to get on her side. Gone are her Suicide Squad associates and in their place we are introduced to an exciting crop of badass heroines. We have Black Canary (Smollett-Bell), Cassandra Cain (Basco), Huntress (Winstead) and Renee Montaya (Perez). Though they all get a moment to shine, the most compelling character of the new crop is Huntress, an archer who is on a deeply personal mission of revenge, and who could definitely use her bow to kill you one hand tied behind her back.

For her first foray into the realm of super-hero film-making, Cathy Yan brings a vibrant, colourful energy to the action scenes, which never fail to be consistently entertaining. However, with the exception of one enthralling showdown in the second act, there’s a majority of these don’t take place until the film arrives at its concluding act, and all the pieces have fallen into place. Consequently, while they are consistently entertaining, there’s a distinct dearth of punch-the-air-in-delight moments, to really get the adrenaline pumping. With female empowerment beating at at the heart of the film, screenwriter Christina Hodson certainly captures that strong camaraderie and teamwork between the titular Birds of Prey. In spite of this being their first time on screen together, there’s a real feeling of sisterhood between the women, and it helps each of their performances shine.

Ewan McGregor as Roman Sionis was certainly a strong piece of casting and while he’s clearly having fun with playing a villain, he frustratingly doesn’t get enough material to sink his teeth into. While he’s certainly far from the least interesting to villain to have emerged from the DC Cinematic Universe, there’s just not enough material for him to create a lasting impression, which is a shame when you think of the calibre of dastardly villains that DC have in their repertoire, feels like a missed opportunity. Birds of Prey may not have been the home run DC wanted it to be, but with Harley and her baseball bat in hand, it’s certainly a solid swing in the right direction.

There’s vibrancy and entertainment to be found, but even with another pitch-perfect performance from Robbie, the screenplay frustratingly gives the titular team little time to shine.

Posted in 2010-2019

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Image is property of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Beauty and the Beast (2017) – Film Review

Cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad, Kevin Kline, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Stanley Tucci,

Director: Bill Condon

Synopsis: A live action retelling of the story of a young woman who becomes the prisoner of a terrifying beast in a frightening castle, who’s running out of time to lift a terrible curse placed upon him…

Review:  When as a studio you have made an extremely successful bunch of animated films, many of which truly are timeless classics, where do you go from there? The answer is simple really, bring said classics back to the big screen by retelling them via the magic of live action movie making. For Disney Studios, that certainly is the plan and they’re certainly going full steam ahead. First came Maleficent,  then CinderellaThe Jungle Book, and now the tale as old as time has received the live action treatment. Disney’s 1991 animated classic is beloved by just about everyone with a pulse (probably) so the challenge facing the filmmakers cannot have been an easy one, but it is one that they rose to in magnifique style!

Given how beloved the animated version is, there’s much here that they have wisely decided not to alter with things too much. The story is essentially the same as the beautiful Belle, who’s not much liked by the other people in her sleepy little French village, except for Gaston (Evans) of course,  who lusts after her. However Belle’s feelings for Gaston are not mutual, understandable given he’s an extremely pompous idiot. But when Belle’s father ends up imprisoned by the Beast, she offers to take his place, and of course they fall in love in true Disney fashion. The script written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos does follow its predecessor for the most part, but does make the brave but inspired choice to add some new material, which adds just that little bit more depth to the story.

Watson really fits the role of Belle perfectly, she’s sweet, beautiful and certainly isn’t afraid to speak her mind when she has to. Dan Stevens also puts in a really solid performance as the eponymous Beast. His beastly appearance is achieved via motion capture and though is a little jarring to look at first, it is overall very well done, and when he needs to be scary, he certainly is scary, which may frighten some of the younger viewers. The leading duo certainly have the chemistry that is needed to ensure that this remake didn’t end up being a monstrosity of hideous proportions. The rest of the supporting cast is impeccably cast, Evans is tremendous as Gaston, with Ian McKellen as Cogsworth, Emma Thompson as Mrs Potts, and Ewan McGregor as the scene stealing Lumiere, and the CG for these guys is for the most part, really well done. The controversy surrounding Josh Gad’s LeFou has certainly generated a lot of attention, and though his character is obviously that way inclined, its not in-your-face in the slightest.

It wouldn’t be a Disney film without the music, and though there are a few new additions in terms of musical numbers, the standout (again) is Lumiere’s rendition of Be Our Guest. Watson too is able to hold her own on the musical side of things and though her versions of songs like Something There don’t quite match up to the versions performed in the animated predecessor, indeed all of the songs from said version are much better, but the tunes are more than pleasant to listen to. What is recaptured tremendously well is the magical nature of the story, which is no small part down to the gorgeous production design and set decoration by Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer. Jacqueline Durran’s costumes too are just beautifully recreated and extremely award worthy. Sales of yellow dresses are likely to go through the roof!

Whatever inspired Disney and their mission to recreate their animated masterpieces into live action we may never know, but what we do know is they’re pulling it out of the bag time after time. The key job of a remake is to take a story that audiences are familiar with and breathe new life into said story, and while the animated feature is and will always be an animated masterpiece, this re-imagining of the tale as old as time, is certainly worth your time.

A charming and beautifully made retelling of a true animated classic that recaptures that magical fairytale feel to it, whilst breathing new life into these characters.

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Star Wars Episode III:Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Revenge f the sith
Image rights belong to Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith – Film Review

Cast: Hayden Christensen, Ewen McGregor, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Christopher Lee, Samuel L Jackson

Director: George Lucas

Synopsis: Set three years after Attack of the Clones,  after Chancellor Palpatine is abducted by the sinister General Greivous, Anakin and Obi-Wan set out on  a mission to rescue him. All the while, feelings of doubt and darkness are creeping into Anakin’s consciousness.

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

Review: It was the big selling point of the whole Prequel trilogy when it was first announced that three new films were going to be made. The selling point being the transformation of one character’s turn from good to really REALLY bad. Therefore, after two really poor first chapters that were almost devoid of the action and drama that made the original trilogy the much beloved films they are. Fans must have wondered if there was any hope for this final instalment and thankfully it wasn’t a hat-trick of complete disasters, although it could have gone that way.

Immediately, the film certainly offers A LOT more than the previous two almost put together, with the CGI being much improved, and the action and light sabre scenes in particular being much more efficiently handled. It is engaging and interesting to watch and for a change, there is a coherent plot and story for the viewer to absorb and watch with interest, as we watch one man transform himself into arguably the greatest villain cinema has ever seen. Although the process getting there is a little bumpy and is in some ways a bit rushed, one minute he’s Anakin and then bang it’s “Arise, Lord Vader!” It was an extremely sudden change although it’s clear it had been building in him for a long time.

One of the main problems with the prequel trilogy is a lack of a compelling villain. With Darth Vader it was demonstrated how to make a villain effective across a trilogy but here with three individual villains for each movie, something is missing. General Grievous, while he is arguably the best of the villains in the prequel trilogy with his sinister voice and presence, he is again horrendously underutilised before being abruptly killed off, although the fight leading up to his demise was some of the best scenes we got in the prequels. Indeed there are many action scenes packed throughout the film that certainly provide a lot more enjoyment than the previous two films, with the opening battle scene actually boasting some incredible CGI, or the battle with the Wookies and the Droids on the awesome sounding planet of Kashyyyk.

Yet unfortunately like its predecessors, this film is again bogged down by some poor dialogue/acting/ screen-writing (delete where appropriate.) The most guilty offender here is once again Hayden Christensen. His performance is much better than the previous film, and there are no nonsensical lines about sand or whatever, but there are still some horrifically bad moments that make you wonder how they even ended up in the finished film. In addition, while the final battle between Obi Wan and Anakin/Vader is undeniably cool, it is a little overlong and choreographed to a ridiculous amount of detail. The film isn’t completetely devoid of acting ability, but the likes of Ewan McGregor and Samuel L Jackson are the best of a bad bunch, with Natalie Portman again being a bit stilted in terms of her acting.

Overall the prequel trilogy, even though there are those who defend them rigorously will go down in history as such a missed opportunity. With the advancement in effects, there was a chance to create more excellence, but overall they really missed the mark. Yet for all their faults, they made a lot of money and ensured the franchise survived, although it could have been very different. But Revenge of the Sith is without a doubt the best of the trilogy, a compelling story, much more interesting action sequences and we get to see the birth of one of cinema’s most iconic villains, even if we now know what a stroppy little brat he was in parts before his turn. Thank you very much Mr Lucas (!)

Much improved from Episode 2 with a considerably more interesting plot and some more developed characters, but poor writing, acting and dialogue, once again bogs down this from reaching the soaring heights of the original trilogy. 

b

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Attack of the clones
Image rights belong to Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones – Film Review

Cast: Hayden Christensen, Ewen McGregor, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Christopher Lee, Samuel L Jackson

Director: George Lucas

Synopsis: Set 10 years after The Phantom Menace, when a separatist movement  threatens to create trouble for the Republic, the Jedi Knights along with Senator Amidala move to ensure the Republic’s survival, but a growing threat is emerging in the form of a clone army…

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

Review: When it came to the creation of these prequels, surely every single Star Wars fan on the face of the planet must have been wondering what brilliance could the creator of this awesome universe throw at us? Our first answer was the horrendously disappointing The Phantom MenaceSo when a sequel came along, audiences possibly hoped that Lucas would realise his mistakes, listen to the feedback, and give us something much more closer to the original trilogy. But yet again, the hopes were dashed with another bloated CGI filled mess, with very little substance to it, and the standard of writing? Improve it did not.

In the first prequel, there was a lot of sitting around and talking, but not enough action to get the excitement going, it became hopelessly tedious with some horrific dialogue, and it’s unfortunate that this poorly written dialogue hasn’t gone away. The plot, of sorts, focuses on the Separatist movement and their plan to leave the Republic, led by the mysterious Count Dooku. Lucas really tries to make this plot really interesting but it doesn’t wash unfortunately, because it wasn’t the big selling point of the prequels, that being Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader. In addition to this less than interesting plot with the Separatists, we have an even less interesting love story between Anakin and Padme, and these scenes are just cringe worthy to the absolute maximum. What makes these scenes even worse is Hayden Christensen’s acting as a grown up Anakin and the delivery of some of his dialogue, is just horrendous. Once again Lucas’s poor script doesn’t help but it doesn’t take away from Christensen’s poor delivery of his lines, and while Natalie Portman isn’t much better, she does have an Academy Award to her name, Christensen does not. Go figure…

The emotion that ran throughout the original trilogy is again severely lacking in this film with the completely uninteresting plot and while interest does grow in the latter stages of the film, once the Jedi finally get off their bums and decide to do something to help. The action scenes in this film do offer more but they’re yet again mired by the ridiculous overuse of CGI which like the previous film is so ridiculously apparent it almost hurts your eyes while you watch. The absence of Star Wars sets sticks out like a sore thumb and Lucas once again tries to overload the viewer with CGI, forgetting that there’s a fine balance between great CGI and great storytelling, which again baffles as he mastered that with the very first film we got in the franchise! There are some decent characters in this film too, but again like with Phantom Menace, they’re barely utilised before we have a chance to explore their potential, namely one Jango Fett, father to the awesome Boba Fett, except here he’s not so awesome, he’s another whiny little brat kid, kind of like how Anakin was in the first movie, and in many ways like Anakin is here.

Also introduced is Count Dooku, played by the late and great Sir Christopher Lee. His performance was decent and his character is explored a bit more and there is a bit more action involved with his character to boost the excitement, but again it’s over before it really has a chance to get going. John Williams’ score remains as awesome as it always has been but the film is once again bogged down by poor writing, even poorer acting from certain individuals, and terrible TERRIBLE romantic dialogue, and more CGI overload that again does nothing to enhance and or improve upon the very weak story that we are presented with here, which was just not what audiences wanted to see. It was yet again a terrific opportunity squandered and resulted in CGI overkill.

Yet again weighed down by a poor script with some appallingly bad dialogue and even worse acting, lessons were not learnt from Episode I and the CGI is just as noticeable and dated as its predecessor, but it somehow manages to be worse, even with less Jar Jar Binks.

D+

 

Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

the-phantom-menace-poster
Image rights belong to Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace – Film Review

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

Director: George Lucas

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

C-