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.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Image is property of Columbia Pictures, Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures

Spider-Man: Homecoming – Film Review

Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Zendaya

Director: Jon Watts

Synopsis: Having played his part during the Avengers’ Civil War, Peter Parker balances school with his superhero duties. When a new threat emerges in the shape of the villainous Vulture, Peter seeks to use this as a chance to prove himself…

Review: As a character and a superhero, Spider-Man has unquestionably enjoyed a lot of popularity ever since his first comic book came out. Indeed, it’s highly likely that many see him as one of their favourite superheros. Therefore it would surely seem to be an easy task to translate the friendly neighbourhood web crawler to the big screen to make a film that Spidey fans across the world can enjoy, but that is a task that has posed its challenges for Hollywood. One trilogy of his big screen adventures had two gems but then squandered it all with a messy third chapter. A reboot then followed, which produced two more pretty lacklustre outings, and consequently poor Spidey got a third reboot, which this time has thankfully got the character back on course.

Of course, this third reboot only came about after Sony and Marvel struck a deal which enabled Spidey to crop up in the MCU. His MCU foray began with a tremendous turn in last year’s Civil War, and now with both Sony and Marvel’s input, the webhead has a new adventure. As Peter battles with the mundane school life, he yearns for something more and despite his tutelage from Tony Stark, Stark does not believe Peter to be ready. All the while, a new threat is emerging in the shape of the Vulture, a man whose plans turn nasty after seeing something slip out of his hands, and of course he clashes with Peter.

Tom Holland remains excellent as both Peter and Spider-Man, carrying on from his sublime turn in Civil War. The previous films really didn’t for the most part capture Peter as a high school kid, and all of the problems that high school kids go through. Though it is kind of ironic for Keaton starring as a bird-esque villain given his Oscar nominated performance a few years ago in Birdman, he is by far one of the most refreshing villains the MCU has seen, given that the MCU has had some well documented problems in terms of nailing down a villain to match the calibre of say Loki. His character is fleshed out and though he’s not taking the title of the best MCU villain, he’s not the sort of disposable bad-guy that past MCU flicks have given us.

After directing 2015’s Cop Car, Jon Watts calls the shots here, and while some of the action scenes that he helms here are certainly very enjoyable to watch at times, there are moments where it does falter a little bit. It’s not exactly weaving any new webs but it does manage to be for the most part a lot of fun to watch. However, you never come close to feeling the anxiety or the tension of the situation in the ways that Raimi’s first two films in particular pulled off so spectacularly. The rest of the cast do a fine job and as you might expect RDJ is there to provide a considerable proportion of the laughs, a role he shares with Peter’s best mate in high school Ned (Jacob Batalon). Concerns that Iron Man’s appearance would be overbearing are thankfully wide of the mark, as he is used sparingly, but when he has screen time, it’s used to great effect.

After the lull that was the Amazing Spider-Man films, to see Spidey back on track will undoubtedly be pleasing to long time fans of the character be back in a really entertaining film that really explores his high school years in ways that perhaps hasn’t been seen before. Yet at the same time, offering nothing really new and or innovative in terms of what has come before it, both in terms of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and indeed, previous Spider-Man movies.

A familiar premise and characters, but with a refreshingly interesting villain and some well filmed action scenes, but at the same time, not breaking any new ground.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Toy Story 3 (2010)

Image is property of Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios

Toy Story 3 – Film Review

Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Blake Clark, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Ned Beatty, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Michael Keaton, John Morris

Director: Lee Unkrich

Synopsis: With Andy now grown up and heading off to college, having not been played with for several years, the toys face a tricky decision, whether to remain in the attic or move on to pastures new, or more specifically: Daycare.

Review: When you have made two films, the first of which redefined the genre of animated movies, and then you followed that up with another supremely well made and heartfelt sequel that built so successfully on the world that its predecessor established, that is quite the feat. Therefore, when you decide to complete the trilogy, let’s just say that you have an almighty task ahead of you to try and top what came before it. Leave it then to the animation powerhouses Pixar to complete their Toy-tastic trilogy in tremendous style!

Toy Story 2 had quite the superb intro scene, but here they somehow top it with an incredible action scene of sorts that immediately reminds the audience that there is no limit to the imagination when it comes to a child and the toys they have, whilst immediately hitting you in the feels with the “You Got a Friend in Me!” tune, arguably one of the finest songs ever written for a Pixar film. Though Pixar continues to make their films that work on both levels, it’s evident that this is a film that is geared towards those grew up with the first two movies, as they more than others will relate to the feeling of growing up and having that dilemma of what to do with the toys you once cherished more than anything else in your life. Yet as time progresses, that undying love, just slowly just fades away.

Blissfully unaware of what’s coming…

Indeed, this is the very situation Andy finds himself in, what with being off to college and all. Despite a last ditch effort to get attention, Woody and the gang realise that maybe now is the time to find a new life for themselves or risk never getting played with ever again. through a mixture of unfortunate events sees the gang end up at a children’s daycare. Their excitement at a new lease of life quickly turns to horror though as these kids have a VERY different take on the word playtime, and life with Andy is a distant memory now.

In Michael Arndt’s capable hands, the screenplay continues down the path that the first two films walked down. The characters continue to be well developed and compelling, including all of the gang you know and love with a couple of significant new additions. These being a Ken doll (voiced brilliantly by Michael Keaton) and Ned Beatty as Lots-O’-Huggin’ Bear (AKA Lotso) who is the leader if you will of the Daycare. Smell of strawberries he might, but he’s not as sweet as he comes across. The humour is also maintained throughout the film with a truly hilarious moment in which Buzz is once again convinced he’s a Space Ranger, except he’s gone a bit European! The dialogue is all vintage Pixar and it’s simply joyous to watch.

Though the first two movies had plenty of emotion in them, there’s a couple of scenes here that really pack the emotion in such quantities that if it does not generate an emotional reaction among the watching audience, in which they’re fighting back the tears, one would have to question whether they are indeed human. Pixar films are littered with such moments, but two in particular here, might just be the best of the best. With a superb ending that continues to pack that emotional weight and one that wraps up this trilogy in just about the best way possible. Trilogies tend to have the one film that trips them up, but when a trilogy comes along, with each film being about as close to perfect as it could, that is a rare feat, and kudos to Disney and Pixar for pulling it off.

It’s been quite the journey with Woody, Buzz and co, but as third films in trilogies go, this is one of those rare films that is as good, if not better than what preceded it. Another masterpiece from the brain boxes at Pixar.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Spotlight (2015)

spotlight-poster
Image rights belong to Anonymous Content, First Look Media, Participant Media, Rocklin/Faust and Open Road Films

Spotlight – Film Review

Cast: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, Liev Schreiber, Brian D’Arcy James

Director: Tom McCarthy

Synopsis:  Telling the true story of a group of journalists working for the Boston Globe newspaper who uncover the horrific details of child molestation at the hands of Catholic priests and the subsequent attempts to hush everything up.

Review: Every so often in the world of news and current affairs, along comes a story that is so shocking and galling for a number of reasons, it would cause you to read your newspaper, watch your television, or listen to the radio with just disbelief and horror that such an event came to pass. Many stories revealing such wickedness often slip under the radar, and do not see the light of day, and that may have been the case for the subject of this powerful drama of the scandal that rocked not only the Catholic Church, but the entire world to its core. It may well have not reached the public’s attention, if it wasn’t for the grit and graft of some brave journalists.

The screenplay, penned by McCarthy and Josh Singer, which was on the 2013 Black List of unproduced screenplays pulls no punches whatsoever. The story is gripping, and disturbing at the same time. When nudged by an incoming new editor in the direction of the scandal, the team of journalists quickly begin to find something deeply disturbing, and as the film goes on, interview after interview, the full extent of the scandal emerges on the team and the full realisation of the crimes that have been committed come into view.  The dialogue scene to scene keeps the attention of the viewer transfixed on the screen. With each conversation, whether with a lawyer, some victims, some people within the church, or whoever it may be, the team show great tenacity to dig deeper and deeper scratching every surface they can until there’s a story for them to run. It’s a dialogue driven film, but when it’s written this well, it’s riveting to watch.

The ensemble cast each deliver truly excellent performances, but it’s the performances of the Spotlight team in particular that shine the brightest. After his Oscar nominated turn as a washed up superhero in Birdman, Michael Keaton delivers another excellent performance as the editor of the team that comprises of Rachel McAdams’s Sacha Pfeiffer, Mark Ruffalo’s Michael Rezendes and Brian D’Arcy James’s Matt Carroll with John Slattery’s Ben Bradlee Jr. and Liev Schreiber’s newly appointed editor Marty Baron keeping a watchful eye over things. All excel but the standout performances are that of Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams, who have both gained well earned Oscar nominations for the Best Supporting Actor and Actress respectively. Ruffalo in particular has an almost Hulk-esque moment at one point when the full depravity of the scandal comes becomes very crystal clear.

With such a delicate and controversial subject matter, approaching this film cannot have been easy for McCarthy and Singer, yet it is handled tremendously well. The direction is subtle but it emphasises is firmly on the need for justice for the victims. The reporters are not patting themselves on the back and having a drink celebrating at such a big scoop, instead they’re just aghast at what they have observed during their investigation. It is uncompromisingly brutal when the penny drops and there is a need and a desire to print their story and bring the perpetrators to full justice. In this day and age when the internet is taking over the journalism and publishing industry, it just goes to show that through real grit, determination and hard work, shocking truths such as these, can be brought to the attention of the public, and full credit to the brave journalists who did so.

Uncompromisingly brutal when it comes to the subject matter, with terrific performances and excellent well written dialogue, Spotlight will shake you to your core.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Birdman (2014)

birdman 2
Image rights belong to Stephen Mirrione Production companies, Regency Enterprises, New Regency Productions, M Productions, Le Grisbi Productions, TSG Entertainment, Worldview Entertainment, Fox Searchlight Pictures

Birdman – Film Review 

Cast: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Naomi Watts

Director:  Alejandro González Iñárritu

Synopsis: When a former Hollywood actor seeks to re-establish his stagnating career in the form of a Broadway play, all sorts of things start to go wrong as he battles with family, career troubles and snobby critics…

Review: When hearing of the title of this film, you could be forgiven for thinking this is yet another Hollywood film about superheroes to go along with the domination of Marvel and DC films that we have witnessed in recent years . Yet you would be mistaken (sort of.) This is not an action movie based on a man with extraordinary powers. Instead this story finds itself depicting former Hollywood actor Riggan Thomson (Keaton) the once legendary star of the Birdman superhero franchise, who’s seeking to re-establish himself in the entertainment business via a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s play What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

He used to be all about the big bucks and the superhero genre, but not anymore. Yet his efforts are encountering road block after road block, with things going spectacularly wrong. The film has so much to say about superhero movies, actors, critics, life and modern technology among many other things.  Through a wonderful screenplay by Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo, the messages on the plethora of topics talked about in the film are rammed home in a way that really gets the audience thinking long and hard about who they are and where they stand in society.

Sniping at real life Hollywood events such as Robert Downey Jr in the Iron Man franchise, Ryan Gosling and Jeremy Renner. He sneers vehemently at the former, or rather his somewhat wacky alter ego does, “that clown doesn’t have half your talent” snarls the Birdman with such strong disdain. The contempt for the state of the modern movie industry he has is raw and although many modern superhero films are fantastic pieces of cinema loved by audiences the world over, the audience almost always connects with our lead man and his wing wearing alter ego. It delves deep into art, and what is art, how good an actor are you if you make over-the-top superhero movies? Or are you a better actor if you choose those smaller, not-so-big budget roles?

Michael Keaton, once the wearer of the great cape and cowl of the Batman, is on top form in a role that finally landed him his first Oscar nomination. His performance is invigorating and refreshing, like a phoenix rising from the ashes of what was once a stagnating career. Edward Norton, likewise is equally fascinating to watch. A method actor who really gets into the part he plays, in more ways than one. His back and forth with Keaton is some of the most enthralling dialogue that emerged from cinema in 2014. With two excellent male performances, one Emma Stone fights the ladies corner, and she definitely more than holds her own against these two accomplished actors, giving the performance of her career. The other key cast were all equally excellent in their roles, including a remarkably more laid back turn from Hangover funny man Zach Galifianakis. Keaton, Norton and Stone were well deserving of their nominations, with Stone arguably the most unlucky to lose out.

Visually, the film is extremely engaging and in many ways, revolutionary as it is made to look as if it is one single shot. The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is magnificent, following on from his magnificent work on the Oscar winning Gravity. Lubezki is again on form here, delivering another visual sensation, and deservedly added another Oscar on top of the one he bagged for Alfonso Cuaron’s space drama. Evocative and incredible imagery are packed throughout the two hour run time. There are more than a few scenes that will get your mind racing and leave you breathless with the incredible technical skill that is on show.

The theatre setting would make the audience believe that the film is taking a stance on the theatre industry, but the messages are without a doubt about the film industry. Birdman is a must see for any fans of film, as it is smart, intelligent, original and humorous. The script packs lots of punches and provides audiences with a film going experience like nothing else we have ever seen before, and may never see again.

Funny, original, emotional, visually mesmerising, acted and directed to perfection, Birdman takes flight and soars into cinematic history, and a significant amount of well deserved awards. 

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