Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Molly’s Game (2017)

Image is property of STXfilms

Molly’s Game – Film Review

Cast: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Michael Cera, Kevin Costner

Director: Aaron Sorkin

Synopsis: After her professional sports career lies in tatters, a young woman named Molly Bloom sets up and runs high stakes poker games, but it isn’t long before she finds herself at risk of running into trouble with the law…

Review: When it comes to a screenplay that is written by the one and only Aaron Sorkin, you’re going to get extremely well written and extremely engaging dialogue. In addition, the characters on screen will be talking in a fast pace that keeps you completely focused on the words that they are saying, whilst moving the plot forward in a timely manner. With Sorkin he can take almost any aspect such as the inner workings of baseball, or the lives behind the founders of Apple and Facebook and turn them into extremely entertaining, very character driven pieces that yield exceptional performances. Except this time, having for so long been the master of the screenplay, he makes his first venture in the world of directing.

His debut feature tells the story of Molly Bloom, a budding young athlete in her early life with dreams of going professional. This was until a horrendous incident ruined those dreams for good. Seeking a new venture, she finds herself working as for want of a better word, a secretary for a man who runs poker games. After acquiring the experience and developing the skills, she becomes extremely good at this, to the point where she decides to set up her own business running extremely high stakes poker games for some A list celebrities. However it isn’t long before she finds herself dealing with some much more scary sort of clientele that soon lands her in some hot water.

Sorkin chooses to tell Molly’s story by focusing on her fraught meetings with her lawyer (Idris Elba) and then flashes back to her past and how she went from an athlete with shattered dreams to running high stakes poker games for some truly A list clients. Among these clients include some very high calibre Hollywood actors, though the real identities of these people have been deliberately obscured. The script is filled with Sorkin’s familiar sort of very fast paced dialogue, with extremely watchable characters who definitely have a story to tell, and in the case of Molly Bloom, hers is certainly one that will have your interest in from the word go.

As she so often is Chastain is fantastic in this role that has already bagged her a few award nominations. She displays dogged determination to succeed in spite of some people giving her some rough treatment, whilst crucially giving the character strong emotional weight when she’s tussling and arguing with her lawyer, and even more so when the effects of her glamourous lifestyle really begin to take their toll on her. Elba, as said lawyer is also excellent as he tries his best to determine the best course of action for Molly to take in this precarious situation.

Sorkin is undeniably a master when it comes to screenwriting, as a director he shows himself to be equally adept combining his signature dialogue and making the film cohesive and structurally on point. The weaving together of two timelines can lead to a messy outcome, but thankfully the film doesn’t collapse and fall apart like a poker player might if they had a terrible hand.  Even if you have no clue whatsoever when it comes to poker, the story is told in such a way that keeps you engaged and interested in this woman and her truly fascinating story from the depth of despair to a remarkable rise to riches, and back again.

Anchored by an electric performance from Chastain, with superb work from Elba, Molly’s Game ensures that Sorkin’s directorial debut has plenty of aces up its sleeve.

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Finding Dory (2016)

finding dory
Image is property of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures

Finding Dory – Film Review

Cast: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olsen, Ty Burrell, Idris Elba

Directors: Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane

Synopsis: Set one year after the events of Finding NemoDory begins to get flashbacks about her past and her parents. Determined to find answers, she sets off on a quest to reunite with her long lost family.

Review: It has been thirteen years since we were introduced to a bunch of lovable fish that swam their way into the hearts of audiences in Finding Nemo. It could be argued that of those group of fish, there was one who perhaps swam her way into the hearts and minds of viewers more than most, this of course being the blue tang Dory. So of course it was only natural that this phenomenal piece of storytelling would get a sequel. Sequels for Pixar are generally a mixed bag, for every Toy Story 3, there’s a Cars 2. However, given Dory’s immense popularity, the head honchos of Pixar decided to make this movie about her, and what an inspired decision that turned out to be.

Nemo director Stanton, along with Angus MacLane, with a scripted penned by Stanton and Victoria Strouse take us back to the big blue, and one year after Dory has helped Marlin reunite with Nemo after the latter went somewhat astray. Seemingly content with life, and still a bit forgetful, she begins to have flashbacks about her past and believing that somewhere out there she has a family, Dory goes off on her own adventure with Marlin and Nemo in tow. Pixar certainly knows how to give its audiences full on emotional punches, as last year’s brilliant Inside Out demonstrated, and once again, they have delivered a heartfelt worthwhile story with a great new batch of characters and a script that is packed with plenty of laughs.

Once again, Ellen DeGeneres is on outstanding form as Dory, her humour ensured she was one of the funniest movie sidekicks of the 2000s but now she is front and centre and she absolutely holds her own. Brooks returning as Marlin is his usual somewhat grump self and Hayden Rolence replaces Alexander Gould as the voice of Nemo. Adding them on their quest are a great bunch of new characters, the standout by far though is Ed O’Neill’s Hank the Octopus. He may be a bit grumpy too, but he certainly adds a lot of humour to the story. Ty Burrell as a beluga whale and Kaitlin Olsen as a clumsy whale also add a great deal to the plot. The seagulls were another highlight of Nemo, yet they have been replaced by a pair of equally amusing sea lions voiced by Idris Elba and Dominic West.

Pixar has certainly shown in the past that they’re not afraid to go deep (pun absolutely intended) with their films. They tug at your emotional heart-string and it’s one of the many reasons why they have cemented their reputation as an animation powerhouse. There is no real villain here, but it’s not a hindrance to the plot in any way, as the struggles of family life and finding your place in the world are themes that almost anyone out there can resonate with. A debate could rage all day about whether Pixar or parent company Disney make the better movies. However it cannot be argued that both have put out tremendous pieces of work so far this year, and both of these are centred around animals.  This particular Pixar sequel was not out of its depth, but instead swam its way to success, and that bodes well for the sequels that are currently in the works. The price of a ticket is worth it if just to see perhaps the cutest animated short you will ever see in your life too.

Pixar produces another superb piece of storytelling, beautiful animation, with more well developed characters, and another superb performance from DeGeneres, a worthy sequel to Finding Nemo. 

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

startrekbeyondposter
Image rights belong to Paramount Pictures, Bad Robot Productions, Skydance Productions and Alibaba Pictures

Star Trek Beyond – Film Review

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Idris Elba, Karl Urban, Sofia Boutella, John Cho, Anton Yelchin

Director: Justin Lin

Synopsis: In the middle of their five year mission, the Enterprise is lured into a trap by a deadly alien threat by the villainous Krall, who threatens to tear the Enterprise, and indeed Starfleet apart.

Review: It has been an incredible fifty years since Gene Roddenberry’s first television series carrying the title Star Trek burst onto small screens. Since then, thirteen feature films have made their way onto the big screen, and we have had plenty of spin-off TV shows. While not all of these have endured the kindest of reactions from Trekkies and critics alike, one thing cannot be disputed, the franchise has prospered through this half a century, making its mark on popular culture. When it came to the third installment of the rebooted franchise, with its golden anniversary on the horizon, fans were surely hoping that the franchise would strike gold once again, and well they are in luck, as its thirteenth feature film has done exactly that.

With the man behind Star Trek and Into Darkness, a certain Mr JJ Abrams going off to a galaxy far far away, a number of directors were in the frame to take over the responsibility of the director’s chair, with producer Roberto Orci at one stage at the helm. However, that responsibility ultimately went to Justin Lin, of Fast and Furious fame. When the first trailer dropped many feared that this would be Fast and Furious but in space. However, credit where credit is due, as Lin has put together a very enjoyable and extremely well made movie that feels like a Star Trek movie should. With Scotty himself, Simon Pegg helping to write the script, they certainly aimed for a film that would please fans, given how Into Darkness was not very well received by some sections of the Trekkie community. The action here is once again of a very high quality with more than a few pulse racing sequences, the best of these scenes are by far on the hostile alien world that the Enterprise crew find themselves on. A few shaky cam scenes aside the action is put together very well and there are more than a few very funny moments packed into the movie’s run time.

JJ Abrams may have returned in a producer capacity only, but full credit must go to him for putting together this amazing ensemble because once again, each and every one of them deliver great performances. Yet again it is Chris Pine who really shines the brightest, with major kudos also going to Quinto and Karl Urban as Spock and Bones respectively. The latter duo in particular share a lot more screen time in this installment, and all the better for it as they make an effective duo! In terms of new arrivals, the standout by a considerable distance is Sofia Boutella’s Jaylah. Her work in Kingsman showed how much of a badass she could be and likewise here. The real let down here is the villain played by Idris Elba, an actor of immense talent, but his character could have been a little bit more fleshed out, and given a little bit more to do. He’s better than Nero from the 2009 reboot, but he’s by no means on the level of Cumberbatch as Khan, not even close.

That being said, those who may have feared that this film would fall out of warp and crash and burn were proven to be very wrong indeed. The score by Michael Giacchino is once again of a very high quality. Thirteen maybe an unlucky number for some, but not for Star Trek, Star Trek is showing no signs of slowing down, and indeed, a fourth film is already in the works. Mr Roddenberry would undoubtedly be pleased to see the prosperity the franchise has enjoyed, and is continuing to boldly go where no franchise has gone before!

The foundations that were laid by Abrams have been greatly added to by Lin, the cast remain excellent, as does the chemistry between the leads, with the quality action sequences also being maintained. At this rate, the franchise is at full warp speed and nothing is going to stop it!

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Zootopia (2016)

Image rights belong to Walt Disney Animation Studios
Image rights belong to Walt Disney Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures

Zootopia – Film Review

Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate

Directors: Byron Howard and Rich Moore

Synopsis: Judy Hopps is a determined rabbit with ambitions of becoming Zootopia’s first rabbit police officer and making the world a better place, and she must put all of her skills to the test to crack a troubling case.

Review: When you do think of animated movies that have plenty to offer for viewers of all ages, young and old alike, the folks at Walt Disney Animation Studios certainly have a strong grip on this genre. Their last three films: Frozen, Big Hero 6 and Wreck it Ralph have all come along in this decade alone, grossing over two billion dollars combined, and thrilling audiences at the same time with heartfelt and very clever stories. Well for their latest adventure this decade, in almost a throwback to their roots of movies involving animals that talk, Wreck-It Ralph director Rich Moore teams up with Tangled co-director Byron Howard to give us a beautifully realised urban metropolis that happens to be full of animals, and once again, Disney delivers the goods in amusing and heartfelt style.

The centrepiece of this furry tale is a plucky bunny named Judy Hopps, who possess a fierce desire to buck the trend and become a police officer, the first bunny to do so, whilst at the same time she stubbornly refuses to conform to what’s expected of her which is become a carrot seller. She’s a very believable heroine that young female viewers can certainly look up to. Upon arrival in the big league, she is almost instantaneously looked down on by the other recruits, and given a pretty thankless task which stumbles her onto something quite substantial that will require all of her intelligence to help solve.

The story from Jared Bush and Phil Johnston is, somewhat surprisingly for a children’s film, really quite in depth. It is very apparent that the story’s inspiration is drawn from the crazy world we all inhabit, where everything should be a Utopia, but it really isn’t. Also as it often the case with Disney and Pixar films, there’s plenty of references that will fly over the heads of the younger viewers, but give adults watching a good chuckle, including some great references to some well known movies and TV shows.

The voice cast of these eccentric bunch of animals is also top of the range. Ginnifer Goodwin gives Judy that fierce determination so much so that you just cannot help but want her to succeed, with Jason Bateman also providing some great work as a crafty and devious fox. Their chemistry is perfect as they’re polar opposites in terms of the animals they are, but at the same time, there is a mutual understanding between the two, and it works to perfection There’s plenty of A list talent who lend their voices with the likes of Idris Elba, Octavia Spencer, J.K Simmons and somewhat surprisingly, Shakira all providing some tremendous work but is Goodwin and Bateman who definitely steal the show.

Most animated movies these days do cater for viewers of all generations, Pixar films have certainly got this nailed down but so too have their Disney Animated Studios counterparts. The themes and the message of this movie are surprisingly deep and thorough, and despite being a delightful work of fiction, will certainly give the older watching viewer plenty of food for thought when the credits begin to roll.

Superbly animated with some very sincere and well developed characters, added with excellent voice work. Another fine addition to the Disney animated collection. 

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)

Image rights belong to Pathe, Videovision Entertainment, Distant Horizon, Origin Pictures
Image rights belong to Pathe, Videovision Entertainment, Distant Horizon, Origin Pictures

Mandela: Walk to Freedom – Film Review

Cast: Idris Elba, Naomi Harris, Tony Kgoroge, Riaad Moosa, Jamie Bartlett, Lindiwe Matshikiza, Terry Pheto, Deon Lotz

Director: Justin Chadwick

Synopsis:  An account of the life and journey of South Africa’s first ever black President. From his early years as a lawyer to his rise to political prominence, to his time spent in prison and finally his accession to Presidency of South Africa and bringing the end of apartheid.

Review: As the great man once said “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.” One of the many powerful quotes of the legend that is Nelson Mandela.  The life and legacy of the man and the legend is brought to the big screen in a powerful and emotive way.

The timing of the release of this film could not have been more poignant as Mandela sadly passed away in December 2013. Thankfully Mandela saw the film before he passed away. In its 2 hour and 20 minute run time, the film captures Mandela’s entire life. From his early beginnings as a young boy to his rise to prominence, his time spent in jail and last but not least the making of history by becoming the first black President of South Africa and bringing about the end of apartheid. The scenes in his early years are among the most powerful as it is shown how he went from a lawyer to a strong political activist. He was a man with a voice and people stopped and listened to what he had to say. Whatever he said, he said it well and people listened to what he had to say.

As the film captures Mandela’s life in its entirety, there are some events that are breezed over rather quickly. His early life as a lawyer is not explored in great depth and did feel a bit rushed. In spite of this, it would be a hard ask to cover every event of the man’s life in great detail and achieve that running time. However, the film definitely captures the key moments that made Mandela one of the greatest people of the 20th century. The moment where he has been sentenced to jail and leaves his wife Winnie behind are heart breaking to watch. The fleeting visits that Winnie makes are also tough to watch as you feel your heart break for the both of them.

The role of Mandela needed an actor to represent the charismatic individual that he was, and in this respect Idris Elba was perfect in the lead role.  He captured Mandela perfectly and had the compelling presence and influence that Mandela had in his early years. His voice and accent were also on the money. Elba’s performance was so convincing that Mandela believed he had actually made an appearance in the film.    As his time in jail goes on, while his charisma never diminishes, he becomes a patient and peaceful individual as his campaign to bring the end of apartheid goes to even while he spends the best part of thirty years in captivity.  Alongside Elba in the leading role, Naomi Harris also gives a strong performance as Winnie Mandela. The chemistry between her and Elba was strong.  Harris also goes on a transformation from a loving wife to a  political figure of rebellion.

The film does its best to capture the man and the legend. While some aspects are slightly touched upon, the film touches on the important events well and in this respect it hits all the right notes. A solid portrayal of Mandela  is provided by Idris Elba in what is arguably the best performance of his career to date. With an equally strong performance by Harris, the end product is a fitting tribute to the man who  made a substantial mark on the world and who will be remembered for decades to come.

Anchored by two excellent lead performances ensures that this biopic of one of modern history’s most influential leaders is a story worth telling.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Pacific Rim (2013)

All image rights belong to Warner Bros and Legendary Entertainment
Image is property of Warner Bros and Legendary Entertainment

Pacific Rim – Film Review 

Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Max Martini, Robert Kazinsky, Ron Perlman, Burn Gorman,

DirectorGuillermo Del Toro

Synopsis: When a portal opens at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and huge alien monsters called Kaiju begin to attack human cities and wipe out thousands of lives. The leaders of the human race pit their resources together and construct huge robotic machines known as Jaegers in order to prevent the oncoming apocalypse

Review:  When the notion of a film’s plot line consists of big robots taking on huge alien monsters , it is a plot line that sounds strangely familiar and one that has been done to death. The likes of Godzilla and Transformers come to mind. However, under the guidance of the visually brilliant Guillermo del Toro, Pacific Rim is a fantastic blend of the two and is a terrific and thrilling ride.

The film sets the scene with a prologue in which these frightening Kaiju creatures have destroyed plenty of cities and slaughtered lives across the world. Humanity’s last line of defence against these creatures is the Jaeger program, headed by Marshal Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) who seeks the help of Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) to come out of retirement and pilot one of these machines.

The acting on show here is of a decent order with Charlie Hunnam proving to be a strong willed and determined protagonist. Alongside him we have Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi), a young and untested Jaeger pilot who is keen to prove herself to Marshal Penetecost. The two form a solid relationship as the film progresses and their relationship is a crucial element to the story as they must work together to build a solid neural link together to ensure humanity does not reach its doom at the hands of the Kaiju. Idris Elba is as awesome as he always is in everything he’s in and you can see the fuel in him that drives him to lead the ship through the difficult storm of mayhem and destruction that the Kaiju are bringing to the people of Earth. This desire is apparent within all of the leading characters and through it it drives the story forward.

On the other hand, the apocalyptic mood of the film is counteracted by the humour of the two scientists in the film with Dr Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman) and Dr Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) who whenever they are on screen always seem to be bickering and squabbling with one another as to how to best defeat the monstrous invaders. Their rivalry and differences of opinion is fun to watch but deep down their desire to ensure humanity’s survival is apparent within both of them.

While the relationship between the three leading characters is central to the story, the fight scenes on show are of monstrous proportions. The size of both the Kaiju and the Jaeger takes your breath away and you watch with glee and suspense as these two titanic monsters go head to head in jaw dropping and exhilarating fight scenes that are among the best that we have seen in this year’s selection of films. Cars get crushed and buildings are reduced to rubble as these great beasts do battle against these great machines of war.  An Oscar nomination for Best Special effects could definitely come Pacific Rim’s way next year.

Thus with interesting characters and some thrilling action sequences, Pacific Rim is certainly a fantastic adventure that gets the adrenaline pumping and leaves the viewer excited and wanting more. Combined with great action sequences and some interesting characters Pacific Rim is certainly one of the finest films that emerged from the Summer Movie season of 2013.

You come for Transformers VS Godzilla essentially and that is precisely what del Toro gives you, and it is nothing but damn good fun.

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