Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Turning Red (2022)

© Disney and Pixar Animation Studios

Turning Red  – Film Review

Cast: Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Hyein Park, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, James Hong

Director: Domee Shi

Synopsis: The life of 13-year-old girl life is turned upside down when she discovers that whenever she experiences increased levels of emotion, she turns into a giant red panda…

Review: No matter who you are, growing up is tough. Making that transition from childhood to those teenage years, there is an awful lot to contend with. There are changes to your body that you’ve got to contend with, but also changes to your life as you take on increased responsibilities and gradually gain more and more independence from your parents as the years go by. Pixar Animation Studios have often enjoyed phenomenal success in exploring some of the many changes that life throws at us, such as moving house, the loss of a loved one or the massive existential question of what we were put on this Earth to do. The studio’s 25th feature film doesn’t quite go that existential, but it explores a beast that we all have to contend with at some point in our lives.

The year is 2002 and Meilin “Mei” Lee (Chang) is a bright and determined 13-year-old living in Toronto. She excels in school, gets top grades and has a great group of friends. As it is the early 2000s, the boyband craze is thriving as Mei and her friends share a deep and passionate adoration for popular boyband 4*Town. Despite being a very confident and outgoing person, Mei is experiencing a substantial internal conflict, in that she wants to be herself, but her mother Ming’s (Sandra Oh) expectations of her to be the perfect daughter give her considerable anxiety, to the extent that she has to hide certain aspects of her personality. On the cusp of those chaotic teenage years, Meilin realises that whenever she experiences a heightened state of emotion, be it positive or negative, she turns into a giant, fluffy red panda.

Coming-of-age stories have often explored the concept of puberty, but it is so often from the perspective of male characters. Therefore, it is extremely refreshing to see this topic approached entirely from the perspective of a female character, particularly because there’s still a bizarre stigma when it comes to the topics of periods and menstruation, which is completely absurd. However, this isn’t to say that the film is exclusively aimed at women and girls, because as they so often do, Pixar give their films a universal appeal. What makes Domee Shi and Julia Chao’s screenplay so effective to appeal to a universal audience, irrespective of gender, is the thorough examination of the changes that go on in your life when puberty strikes, and we make that transition from childhood into your utterly mental teenage years.

These are years which can be completely chaotic and full of awkward interactions, as you begin to potentially form the friendships you hope to make for life. It’s the time in your life when you find yourself wanting to rebel more and more against your parents. Whether you begin to develop feelings for someone or take up a new hobby, above all, these are the years where your life really begins to take shape as you become your own person. Rosalie Chiang’s brilliant voice performance encapsulates this perfectly. She thinks knows herself and her personality (at least until the transformation into the red panda enters the picture) and that puts her on a direct collision course with her mother. Ming struggles to accept that Mei is not the perfect daughter that Ming wants her to be.

Having won an Oscar for the adorable short film Bao, becoming the first woman to direct a short for Pixar in the process, Domee Shi continues her trailblazing legacy by becoming the first woman to solely direct a feature-length film for the studio. The quality of the animation never disappoints when it comes to Pixar, with the scenes involving the red panda transformations being particular standouts. However, the visuals have an unmistakable anime inspiration to them, which in turn helps give them a certain visual uniqueness that’s unlike anything else in the studio’s catalogue. Pixar films can so often reduce the audience to blubbering messes. Their latest doesn’t have that emotional gut-punching moment, but it took a risk by tackling subject matter that’s still weirdly taboo in the hope of eliminating that stigma, which deserves to be celebrated.

A hilarious and heartfelt tribute to those chaotic pre-teenage years. Breaking new ground in its approach with its approach to its subject matter ensures that Turning Red is a furry triumph for Domee Shi and Pixar.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Belle (2022)

© Studio Chizu and Toho

Belle  – Film Review

Cast: Kaho Nakamura, Ryō Narita, Shōta Sometani, Tina Tamashiro, Lilas Ikuta, Kōji Yakusho, Takeru Satoh

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Synopsis: When a shy teenage high school student discovers the online world of “U”, she disappears under her online persona of talented singer Bell, where she soon becomes a viral sensation…

Review: Life in the 21st-century has very much become a society where the internet and social media has become entrenched in just about every aspect of modern life. Having a presence on social media is of paramount importance, especially for younger generations. Social media can be a wonderful place, giving any individual the chance to connect with like-minded individuals and to offer an escape from the madness of the real world. While this vast digital platform does offer plentiful opportunities, it is not without its perils. For his latest film, Mamoru Hosada has crafted an exquisite piece of storytelling that examines this digital universe, whilst also providing a modern update for the tale as old as time.

Suzu is a high school student living in a rural village with her father. She has a passion for singing, but ever since an extremely traumatic incident when she was a child, she has struggled to rediscover that passion that she once had for singing and song-writing. Despite his best efforts, Suzu’s father is unable to connect with her, and their relationship has become extremely distant. When she discovers the vast virtual world of “U”, it’s a place that enables Suzu to disappear into a brand new digital world. In this world, she is able to rediscover her voice and adopts the online persona of Belle, where she quickly becomes a viral sensation with her incredible singing talent, attracting the attention of the entire population of “U”. Whilst enjoying the adulation and the spotlight, Belle discovers the mystery of another avatar, known only as The Dragon. She becomes intrigued and strives to know more about him.

The vast digital world that we have at our fingertips today is an incredible one that offers anyone a plethora of opportunities to follow and meet like-minded people and to express themselves creatively. This can be a positive outlet for people, which can help boost their creative sparks. However, it can also be an exceedingly dangerous place where people can be subjected to unspeakable cruelty and callousness. Hosoda’s screenplay is hugely ambitious in this respect, as it attempts to take a thorough exploration of both the positives and negatives when it comes to this vast digital platform. Marvelling at the power that such a digital world can do for a person’s morale, whilst simultaneously highlighting the dangers and dark sides that come with internet fame and popularity, such as trolls and cyberbullying.

However, this is merely scratching the surface of the story that Hosoda has penned. It is also a profound examination of the effect that bereavement can have on a child. Not only that, but it explores the adverse effect that this can have when it comes to a child’s creative outlets and how they want to express themselves. As if that wasn’t ambitious enough, the reinvention of the classic fairy-tale of Beauty and The Beast for a 21st-century audience, adds another fascinating layer to the story. In this world of “U”, Belle strives to understand who this beastly character is. Is he really is the terrible, and evil monster that the world of U portrays him as? Or could it be that he’s just misunderstood? With such an ambitious screenplay that has numerous different concurrent plot threads being weaved together, the film could have got convoluted very quickly. However, Hosada’s expertise shines through, and his screenplay weaves them all together in a thoroughly profound and emotionally resonant manner.

When it comes to modern animation, the technology that animators have at their disposal is so advanced that audiences have come to expect the best quality animation every time. Yet such effort takes a lot of work, and even with that weight of expectation, the work that the animation team accomplishes to make the world of “U” feels like a fully realised place is absolutely astounding. Using a perfect combination of more traditional hand-drawn animation, with CG animation, the work done by every animator is absolutely astounding. On top of which, the character designs for each of the avatars in “U” is absolutely extraordinary. From Belle’s long pink hair, to her freckles, to the extraordinary detail on the Dragon. Every character in this world feels less like they are an online persona, and more like a real person. If at the mere touch of a button, there was such a vast digital world that offers a wealth of opportunities for individuals to reinvent themselves, it’s surely an opportunity that anyone would surely seize with both hands.

 An emotional and profound examination of the wonders and perils of the digital age, intertwined with a beautiful reimagining of a classic fairy-tale. Mamoru Hosoda has crafted a stunning and heart-wrenching masterpiece.

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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

Onward (2020)

Image is property of Disney and Pixar

Onward – Film Review

Cast: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer

Director: Dan Scanlon

Synopsis: After receiving a gift in the shape of a magical staff, two young brothers set off an exciting quest to discover if the power of magic could give them one last day with their late father….

Review: A world steeped in fantasy is something that human beings seem to be intrinsically drawn to because regrettably they are worlds that we will never get to experience for ourselves. Perhaps this is why stories set in places such as Middle Earth have that everlasting appeal. But what if you took a modern day metropolis and mixed in some fantasy elements, and add in a society that has consigned such elements to the past be just as enthralling? Thanks to the brilliant wizards at Pixar, the answer to that is a resounding yes.

In the town of New Mushroomton, where magical beings have very much settled for a life of the ordinary routine, reside the Lightfoot brothers, Barley (Pratt) and Ian (Holland) living with their mother Laurel (Louis-Dreyfus). Barley is the typical emo/grunge type who’s just a little bit too much into into his fantasy board games, who pines for a return to the bygone fantastical era. Meanwhile, Ian is someone who isn’t quite sure of himself yet. As a gift from their late father, they’re given a staff that was not to be opened until Ian’s 16th birthday. When they discover the staff has magical capabilities, the two brothers set off on a quest to discover if the magical staff could be used to bring their late father back to life for one day only.

Having spent the last few years mostly focused on sequels, it’s always exciting to see the Pixar Brain Trust turn their creative minds into something fresh and original. As their previous films such as Inside Out and Coco demonstrate, when creating original content is usually when they strike gold. Yet again, their streak continues as Onward is further proof that they still have that magic touch, quite literally. As the two brothers at the centre of this quest, the voice work of Tom Holland and Chris Pratt is exceptional. Due to the strength of the voice work, the brotherly relationship that these two have immediately comes to the fore, and it helps to flesh both of them out as layered characters that you can empathise with.

The argument could definitely be made that there’s perhaps a formulaic nature to this story of two siblings going on a quest to establish and develop a great understanding between themselves. However, the screenplay by Scanlon and co-written by Jason Headley and Keith Bunin tell it in a manner that brilliantly utilises the modern aspects of our society, and simultaneously the elements of a fantasy world to drive the story forward. This also provides scope for them to brilliantly weave some humour, into what is yet another emotional story from this studio that has an everlasting knack to tug on your heartstrings.

With so much focus being on the brothers and their quest, it does mean that the supporting characters, such as their mother Laurel and a legendary former magical creature (Octavia Spencer), are relegated to sideline roles. However, the main quest and its impactful messages of the significance of brotherhood, will certainly not be lost on those who grew up with a brother in their lives. Even more so for those who have a brother that they look up to, and whose support when growing up can be of immeasurable value as they reach the adult years of their life.

Bolstered by excellent voice work, and a humorous blend of modern and fantasy ensure that those wizards at Pixar produce yet another magical and touching piece of storytelling.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Hellboy (2019)

Image is property of Lionsgate, Summit Entertainment and Millennium Media

Hellboy – Film Review

Cast: David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim, Thomas Haden Church

Director: Neil Marshall

Synopsis: When an Ancient evil sorceress seeks to establish a dark and terrible dominion over humanity, the task of stopping her falls to the one and only Hellboy…

Review: Reboots are all the rage in Hollywood these days, but when any effort is made to reboot a franchise, it can be a very tricky minefield to negotiate. If done right, there’s potential to win an army of new fans to a franchise. On the other hand, when done badly, it serves as a painful reminder to why sometimes a reboot should never have come to fruition, and instead should have stayed in (development) hell where it belongs.

Having been previously brought to the screen on two occasions by Guillermo del Toro, the opportunity for the visionary director to complete his trilogy never materialised. As a result, we now have a new iteration of the half man, half demon, with David Harbour stepping into the horns, vacated by Ron Perlman. We find ourselves in present day with the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) under the stewardship of Professor Bruttenholm (McShane) who, along with Hellboy find themselves in the middle of a supernatural war. The villainous Blood Queen (Jovovich) seeks to subject humanity to the darkness under her tyrannical rule, and of course, the task of stepping up and taking her down, falls to our Demon friend.

“Not even a gun this big can save this shitshow!”

By far and away, the saving (of sorts) grace of this film is David Harbour’s take on Hellboy. He tries his best, through all his red make-up, to be charismatic and humorous. It’s just a shame then than that the film surrounding him is just a complete catastrophe. From the get go, the screenplay is shambolic, with seemingly no thought whatsoever given to structuring it in a coherent manner. We’re introduced to this supernatural conflict, via some exposition of the quite vulgar variety. From there, the plot just zips along from scene to scene with no time to actually work out what is even happening and why. Furthermore, for the overwhelming majority of the dialogue, the delivery is completely atrocious. The writers seemed to have been playing a game of how many times can we say the word “fuck”, with no nuance, or any particular reason why. It becomes very tiresome very quickly, and this is all within the first act of the film!

Harbour’s performance is the best of a very bad bunch, which is frustrating because there are actors here who have proven themselves to be better than this diabolical material, but when the screenplay is this atrocious, that doesn’t help matters. For instance, Ian McShane has proven himself capable in franchises like John Wick, here you can just tell how much he is phoning it in, likewise for Milla Jovovich’s villain who’s as generic as they come, and there’s a monstrous villain with a Liverpudlian accent. It all just makes no sense whatsoever and defies logic how all of it got approved in the first place. Sasha Lane is another talented actor who has proven her talents in other projects. There is intrigue to her character, but when the execution is just so extremely sloppy across the board and there’s next to no development to these characters, you don’t give a salty shit whether they live or die.

There’s various different ways that violence in films can be accomplished, you can go for the aesthetic route (see the works of Quentin Tarantino) or you could do what the filmmakers here do and go horror film-esque gore, with copious amounts of blood and limbs getting severed left, right and centre. They seemingly making the decision to see just how many people they can kill in two hours and in the most gruesome fashions. It’s just gratuitous and serves no purpose to the advancement of the story, and neither does some of the abysmal CGI. Extremely choppy editing, and the action scenes are migraine inducing, which given Neil Marshall’s portfolio, including two masterfully directed episodes of Game of Thrones, leaves so much to be desired.

Everything about this film should serve as a strong reminder studios that if you’re going to take on a reboot, make sure that you do it right, because otherwise the world is going to be filled with more grotesque abominations like this. For fans of this character, there’s always del Toro’s films to fall back on, and based on this monstrosity, it’s a hell of shame that he was never given the chance to complete his trilogy.

 A dreadful, incoherent screenplay combined with ridiculously excessive violence, ensures that this reboot is a mess of satanic proportions that belongs in the deepest depths of cinematic Hell.

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

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

The Shape of Water (2018)

Image is property of Fox Searchlight Pictures and TSG Entertainment

The Shape of Water – Film Review

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Michael Stuhlbarg

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Synopsis: In the middle of the Cold War, a mute woman working at a top secret research facility develops a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that has been brought in for testing.

Review: Hollywood is certainly no stranger to stories about love, but when you have a director like Guillermo del Toro, here’s a filmmaker who’s certainly no stranger to making a couple of films about some intriguing creatures. Hence, to merge these together for a film with themes of love and acceptance at its core, and fuse these with some fantasy elements, it’s a unique mishmash of genres, the latter of which is right up del Toro’s alley. It’s most definitely bold film-making, but it also happens to be exquisite and beautiful film-making at the same time.

Set in Cold War 1960s USA, Elisa (Hawkins) is a mute woman working at a top secret research facility as a cleaner. She goes about her shift as normal with close friend and co-worker Zelda (Spencer). Their job is very unremarkable, about as mundane as it gets. This is until the arrival of an extremely rare amphibian creature that has been brought in to give the USA an advantage in the Cold War arms race changes everything for Elisa as she forms a very close relationship with the creature.

Love at first sight

To have a leading role in a film and be a mute requires an actor to have extraordinary ability, and thankfully Sally Hawkins has that in abundance as she delivers a truly  remarkable performance. Without saying a word she manages to convey the trauma that her past has clearly inflicted on her. Yet through it all she shows such raw and powerful emotion, about her life and her feelings for those around her, which is an extraordinary accomplishment.  The way that del Toro builds the relationship with his leading lady and the creature (portrayed by GDT regular Doug Jones) is beautiful to watch and to do so without either character uttering a word is all the more remarkable. It serves as a timely reminder that love is such a powerful emotion that it transcends anything, be it disability, gender, race, religion.

Alongside Hawkins, Octavia Spencer provides excellent support as Elisa’s best friend and who also serves as her sign language translator. Likewise for Richard Jenkins as Elisa’s roommate who’s desperately trying to get back on the scene as an artist, who also has his own set of problems that he’s trying to fight. The two of them give Elisa the support she needs as she tries to build her romance with the creature. On the opposite side of that coin comes Michael Shannon’s Strickland, who definitely does not share the emotional connection that Elisa has for the creature. It’s a similar role for Shannon, this no nonsense mean-spirited bad guy, but he does it so well it’s undeniably intriguing to watch.

The work done by the make up team to create the creature is once again absolutely extraordinary, and with some absolutely mesmerising production design and cinematography. The film looks immaculately beautiful, which works to reflect the incredibly heartfelt and touching story that del Toro brings to the screen, which is boosted by an immaculate score provided by Alexandre Desplat. Not everything that you see on screen is pretty mind you, what with it being set in the Cold War, there’s a fair few agendas flying around.

The central themes that this film champions remain as relevant today as they did over half a century ago.  Pitching this film was probably not the easiest film to have been given the green light, but when you have a director like del Toro on board you’ve got enormous potential for greatness, and this is his drenched masterpiece.

A beautiful blend of genres results in a touching and powerful story, soaked with gorgeous visuals and an absolutely stunning turn from Hawkins, this is cinema at its most majestic and magical.

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.

 

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

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Image is property of Walt Disney Studio Motion Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl – Film Review

Cast:  Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Geoffrey Rush, Jack Davenport, Jonathan Pryce, Kevin McNally

Director: Gore Verbinski

Synopsis: When a dastardly band of Pirates seeks a valuable piece of treasure to lift a curse, a blacksmith and a rogue Pirate must unite to help save the daughter of a Governor who happens to be in the possession of said treasure.

Review: Pirates, for a very long time now, these swashbuckling individuals have been almost an ever present in popular culture for about as long as anyone can remember. Some of the most notable being of course Captain Hook from Peter Pan and  of course there’s Steven Spielberg’s Hook, but perhaps no other franchise in Hollywood as left such a lasting impression on Pirates in pop culture than the franchise that began all the way back in 2003, this of course being Pirates of the Caribbean, based on the popular Disneyland attraction.

Enter Jack Sparrow (Depp) a pirate who arrives in the Jamaican town of Port Royal, in rather dramatic and amusing style, on a mission to commandeer a ship in order to exact revenge on his former pirate comrades. During this mission however, his path crosses with Elizabeth Swann, the daughter of a Governor, and the Blacksmith Will Turner and the three become entangled in a mission that involves treasure, swordplay, action, romance, scheming and the supernatural all in one go. If nothing else it’s stylish entertainment at its absolute best.

ARR is it treasure ye be looking for????

Director Gore Verbinski is the captain of this vessel, and screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio are the first mates if you will, with the cast being their eccentric, and rather brilliant crew! In a role that has arguably become his most well known, Depp is absolutely electric as Captain Jack Sparrow, he’s humorous, witty and extremely charismatic and Depp’s fine work ensured he received a well deserved Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Of course Depp is the shining light of a cast that is packed with excellent performances, Geoffrey Rush is excellent as the wicked and treacherous Captain Barbossa is the primary target of Jack’s vengeance, with Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley completing the cream of the crop in terms of fantastic performances, the latter two certainly boast some excellent chemistry.

Verbinski steers this ship like a captain who has been sailing the seas for all eternity. The action is enthralling to watch and the effects are equally terrific, the resulting outcome of the curse that is placed on these pirates  transforms them into utterly terrifying beings that at times really push the 12A rating of the film, it is entirely possible that one or two people might have had nightmares. Throw in an excellent score to boot, composed by Klaus Badelt and Hans Zimmer, with a fantastic theme that is guaranteed to make you hum along to it every time you hear it,  you’ll be entertained right from the get go and will not have any desire or need to go and walk the plank.

When pitching this film, it is entirely possible that studio execs might have just looked at each other in utter bemusement as to how this could possibly mesh and work together. Fortunately Verbinski and crew make it work, and the results are just an utter blast. As one character says near the beginning of the film, during a rather daring heist, “This is either madness, or brilliance,” to which the other character responds “it’s remarkable how often those two traits coincide.” Certainly applicable in the case of this film, though it is certainly more a case of brilliance, but a bit of madness is thrown in there for good measure, and all the better for it, savvy?

Here be treasure alright! It is quite appropriate for a film to be based on a theme park attraction to be one hell of an entertaining ride, as that is precisely what this film takes you on. 

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