Film Review: Toy Story 4

I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong. Back in 2014 when Pixar announced that they were making a film to follow Toy Story 3, a movie I absolutely loved, I thought it was a mistake. The first three Toy Story movies existed as one of those rare trilogies without any missteps. There was no Temple of Doom drop in quality, there were just three amazing movies, culminating in a heartbreaking finale which seemed like the perfect send off.

When Andy gives Bonnie his toys it was the end of an era, it was the end of a childhood. Woody (Tom Hanks) let go, realised he had done all he could for Andy and that while he still loved his kid, Andy was going places he couldn’t follow him. He’d found a new purpose and home for himself and his friends. With such an emotional and satisfying ending, we were in the perfect place to bid farewell to a group of beloved characters.

The follow up shorts worked for me, they were funny little extras. But I worried that going for a fourth feature length adventure would diminish the trilogy, that a weaker new ending could undo Pixar’s triumph. Fortunately, they manage to produce a funny, warm and satisfying addition to the series.

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Woody and co. are happy at Bonnie’s, but having been the favourite toy and leader at Andy’s Woody finds himself at a loss. Bonnie has other toys she prefers, and Woody is regularly left in the closet while she plays with others. Dolly (Bonnie Hunt) is the toybox chief here, and Woody occasionally steps on her toes as he forgets that he’s not in charge anymore. When Bonnie starts kindergarten Woody thinks a toy should go with her, but Dolly follows the lead of the parents, worried that taking a toy where they’re not allowed may get Bonnie in trouble.

Woody, however, stows away in her bag, so that he can look after her and help if needs be. Seeing a nervous and shy Bonnie he intervenes, and Bonnie enjoys the craft portion of the day. She makes a crude figure out of a spork and other bits of rubbish and craft equipment, dubbing him Forky, Bonnie enjoys the rest of her day.

Woody is happy, but in the bag on the way home Forky (Tony Hale) comes to life as Bonnie views him as a toy. Forky is less thrilled about this and sees himself as trash, constantly trying to throw himself away. Woody, eager to find meaning and purpose, devotes himself to keeping Forky safe and with the child.

With their family on a road trip in an RV this task becomes harder and eventually Woody and Forky are stranded and have to get back to Bonnie. Woody begins to explain to Forky the important role and duty he has a toy, and all the good things he can do for Bonnie, winning the homemade toy around. However, when they arrive at the town where Bonnie’s family is staying, Woody leads Forky into an antique store after seeing the night light which was home to Bo (Annie Potts), a porcelain figure that belonged to Andy’s little sister before being given away.

The store is also home to Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks), a vintage talking doll who’s voicebox is broken. She realises Woody has a working one and wants it for herself, taking Forky as a hostage.

Woody winds up at a nearby park and carnival, where a group of lost toys eagerly wait for the day’s visitors to play with them. Here he finds Bo, who helps the other toys by fixing them up and who enjoys the freedom of her new life without a kid. Woody is overjoyed to see her, and their bond remains strong, although Woody wants to get back to Bonnie.

Can Woody save Forky and get back to Bonnie? Will he pick life in the closet over freedom with Bo? Can Buzz (Tim Allen) track down his lost friend and get him home safely? How far will Gabby go to get her voicebox?

I loved this movie because even more than the others we see Woody front and centre here. In each of the earlier films Woody has been the major hero, but one of his defining qualities was a fierce loyalty and faith in Andy. The other toys feared that Andy had thrown them out, but Woody knew it was an accident, and so his decision to donate them to Bonnie was a big deal. Here, we see Woody at a loss, not able to fulfil the job he did for Andy and fearing that he is useless now.

It’s sad to see a character we love in hard times, and I found myself irrationally annoyed with Bonnie for not playing with the sheriff. It’s completely understandable that Woody becomes obsessed with keeping Forky safe, barely resting and exhausting himself as he finds something which makes him feel needed and useful once again.

Reuiniting with Bo we get to see him struggle with a difficult choice, the choice of staying with the toy he loves and lost once before clashing with his loyalty and belief that helping a kid is what he was made for and the best thing a toy can do. It’s handled well, with our hero conflicted over his desire for his own happiness against his sense of duty.

It makes for an engaging central story, and is framed by an action packed and consistently entertaining movie. There’s a real sense of fun here, with thrills and laughs coming fast and some nice touches. Gabby Gabby, the movie’s major antagonist is a fantastic creation, with a slightly creepy vibe and a backstory which adds depth. The story goes in directions I didn’t expect and highlights the major theme, present throughout the series, that toys derive joy from being played with.

Her ventriloquist dummy henchmen are utterly terrifying too.

There are quite a few new characters introduced, and they all work well, adding to the story. There’s a pair of aggressive, loud mouthed carnival prizes Ducky and Bunny (Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele) who add lots of humour particularly in a section where they try to come up with a plan to get a key from a  human.

Forky is entertaining too, managing to be annoying in an amusing way and slowly becoming more likeable as the film progresses and his character develops.

The standout for me was Duke Caboom, a Canadian stuntman toy haunted by being rejected after failing to live up to the advert’s hype. Voiced by Keanu Reeves, Duke is a wonderful creation, a posing, swaggering toy who’s not the brightest and has to face his demons and fears. I loved the ’70s styling and Reeves’ voice work is top notch.

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It’s cool to see that Bo gets a bit more development, and her fresh perspective and independent spirit makes her an interesting character. We see her reasons for striking out on her own and the attractiveness of her new life, and why Woody would be drawn to her.

Unfortunately some of the other established characters get short shrift- Jessie (Joan Cusack) is barely present but still a likeable presence, stepping up to the sheriff role when Woody is indisposed. The rest of Andy’s toys don’t get much to do, but it’s still nice to be reunited with some old friends.

Buzz Lightyear’s story is largely played for laughs as he tries to rescue Woody. Woody tells him that his inner voice tells him he has to keep looking after Forky and from then on, not fully understanding, Buzz turns to his prerecorded speech buttons for advice when facing difficult decisions. It’s a nice gag and works well throughout the movie, but he’s relegated to second fiddle here. As I said, Woody has always been the heart of the series, but it’s even more obvious this time around.

Buzz does however clock on to what Woody needs earlier than his best friend, and his actions in the closing stages lead to an ending which while not as heartbreaking as Toy Story 3 still got me rather choked up. And it’s to Pixar’s credit that they manage to add on a satisfying epilogue to the series and succeed in creating a second satisfying ending. It’s a testament to the innovation, skill and storytelling abilities of the team they have that this is an absolute belter of a movie. It’s not the strongest of the four, but it’s yet another home run for the series and a great watch.

Verdict: 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Film Review: Godzilla: King of the Monsters

I was massively disappointed with 2014’s Godzilla reboot. I didn’t engage with the characters and, even worse, was bored by it all. I slated it and haven’t felt compelled to give it a second look. Recently I watched 2016’s Shin Godzilla, and if anything that was even worse and I didn’t even make it to the end credits. With the big guy returning to the silver screen again, and with plenty of monsters for him to face off with, would I finally be entertained by a Godzilla movie again?

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The answer is, kinda.

The good news is that the human aspect is a bit more engaging with a family at the centre of the drama. The separated parents, both reeling from the death of their son at the hands, or feet, of Godzilla back in ’14 and their young daughter, are involved in much of the story thanks to the parents being scientists associated with Monarch, the monster containment organisation. Throw in some eco-terrorists led by the charismatic Charles Dance who believe that the monsters, or “titans” as they’re named here, are the key to restoring balance in nature and helping cure some of the ills mankind has caused the planet.

Of course, the main draw is that Godzilla is going to throw down against some other beasties. This happened in the 2014 movie but the monsters there were slightly underwhelming, here we learn that Monarch know of 17 titans, which is kinda exciting, as you wonder who’s gonna show up, and we get to see a fair few of them. These include Mothra, Rodan and the big bad of the movie, Ghidorah.

Ghidorah is the standout of the trio, with three heads, giant wings and the ability to spit lightning and create storms, he’s the obvious enemy to Godzilla. I also liked that the whole movie is based around the fact that Monarch scientists have developed ways to control the titans by broadcasting an alpha frequency and that Ghidorah has his own signal, similarly the theory that the titans will restore natural balance is undermined when they realise that while Godzilla, Mothra and co are natives, Ghidorah is actually an invasive species and so this isn’t the natural order but the three headed bastard trying to transform Earth to be like his home world, which is bad news for mankind who have to deal with the titans running amok, natural disasters and general chaos.

The titans soon line up in good vs evil tag teams with Rodan backing Ghidorah up while Mothra partners with Godzilla. The rest of the titans are seen on news broadcasts following Ghidorah’s orders and wreaking havoc.

The action sequences are quite well done and it swithces focus between the clashing titans and the people on the ground. These stretch your suspension of disbelief to breaking point as the main characters survive countless near misses as the monsters level half a city.

The only problem is that much of the supporting cast are largely anonymous so it’s hard to care too much as they run around. There’s a team of Monarch soldier types, but aside from a guy with a beard I’d struggle to vaguely describe them.

Similarly the Monarch scientists do very little other than spout exposition and theories. The exception is the sarky comic relief played by Bradley Whitford who gets some decent moments.

Kyle Chandler does a decent job as the hero, but his part is a rather generic good guy. I’d like to see a bit more colour in the films going forward, both in the characters and the largely grey tones of the movie.

It’s more fun than the last movie, the humans are a smidge more interesting and the monsters are more memorable. It has its flaws, but it mainly works as a passable blockbuster.

It teases Kong vs Godzilla, but if they want that to work it needs to be more like Kong: Skull Island.

7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Murder Mystery

This is the second of Adam Sandler’s Netflix movies I’ve watched and similar to last year’s The Week Of this suffers from just being a bit average and forgettable. This is a shame as there’s a decent supporting cast and a good premise which is squandered.
New York copper Nick Spitz (Sandler) promised his wife Audrey (Jennifer Aniston) that one day they’d vacation to Europe, but after 15 years of marriage he’s yet to deliver. He’s also recently failed his detective exam once again, but has lied to Audrey saying that he is a detective. Confronted about how he never delivers Nick throws together a trip and they fly out.

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On their flight Audrey meets Charles Cavendish (Luke Evans), a suave billionaire who is flying first class. He invites the couple to join him aboard his uncle’s yacht. Cavendish confesses that his relationship with his uncle has soured after the older man married his former ex-fiancee. The Spitz’ meet the rest of the group before the Uncle Malcolm (Terrence Stamp) arrives, stating that he is writing a new will cutting everyone off apart from his new bride. Before he can sign the will the lights go out and Malcolm is killed.

Nick takes over the scene until they can reach land and Audrey is excited as she appears to be in one of the mystery novels she loves so much. Malcolm’s son Toby (David Walliams) is found dead, seemingly having killed himself, leaving a typed note confessing to his father’s murder but neither of the Spitz’ believe he did it. Unfortunately for them, they soon become the prime suspects.

As the bodies pile up the Spitz’ try to work out who the real killer is and what their motivation is, and have to go on the run to prove their innocence. This is the part where the movie starts to fall apart, relying more on some slapsticky chase sequences and action moments, where it probably would have been better off sticking as a spoof of a traditional murder mystery.

Some things work, with Sandler and Aniston working rather well as an older, tired couple who have lost that spark. Sandler’s Nick is a slobbish, sarcastic guy who gets some of the best lines and isn’t a bad dude, but you can understand why Audrey is a bit fed up with him. There’s a kind of sadness to the character too, that he has to lie to his wife and that he’s never managed to succeed in his career.

It’s quite cool that when the murder happens he takes charge and I feel they missed an opportunity here for Audrey to appreciate his skills more, and to see him take charge. Similarly, they make him a ridiculously poor shot, to such an extent that it doesn’t even work as a gag. I just found myself thinking “They’ve overdone this”, and it’s too exaggerated a flaw.

The writing does have some smart points, such as the way they layer in some of the clues, but the drawing room scene at the end is unsatisfying and a final twist is daft too. It would have benefited from being a bit simpler and smaller in scale, and if we’d seen the Spitz’ work together to solve the case rather than a lot of it being blind luck.

There are a few decent lines and gags throughout, and some nice touches with the supporting characters, but on the whole this just feels a bit disappointing. It passes the time, but I was mainly left with the feeling that the script could have done with one more polish to improve some of the shakier parts.

Meh.

6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Rocketman

You know that this movie isn’t going to be a straight forward music biopic when it begins with Taron Egerton’s Elton John strides into an AA meeting dressed as a giant orange devil. The rehab framing device is used extremely well, not only explaining why Elton is telling us his whole story but also showing how he comes to reflect and respond to what’s happened to his life.

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The film uses John’s amazing back catalogue to move the story along, charting his development from shy kid Reg Dwight to the pop music colossus he would become. There’s debauchery, decadence and depression along the way, but in the end it’s an oddly uplifting tale of one man’s drive and talent elevating him. The musical aspect works especially well given that music seems to be a force for a good throughout Elton’s life. It’s what brings him out of his shell and improves his life, and his depression begins when all the other stuff, the drugs, the relationships start to get in the way of the music.

What I found really good about this movie is that it doesn’t shy away from the fact that Elton John was often a difficult person and that he is at times selfish, self indulgent and temperamental. The film doesn’t excuse this, but does give a reason for some of his behaviour. John is presented as a fragile guy, unhappy in childhood and pushed into the limelight, his desire for love and fear of being abandoned leads him to lash out, latch on to undesirable people and hide in a security blanket of drugs. The drugs are also used in some way to keep him going, providing the energy to keep him on a relentless treadmill of gigs and recordings.

Egerton’s performance is mesmerising work, totally engaging and at the centre of almost every scene he captures the fragility and sadness beautifully, while also managing to convey some of the swagger and character that made Elton John a star. There’s a scene where he sits morosely back stage and adopts a big, showy grin which then drops completely which is one of the standout moments for me, a perfect capturing of Elton John’s onstage facade.

He’s charming and likeable at the start but does also convey the less savoury aspects of the story, such as when he pushes aside his long term friend and musical partner Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). It’s a warped logic that fearing being abandoned by his best friend, Elton pushes him away.

It’s the relationship between John and Taupin which is the emotional heart of the movie, with their platonic love story being warm and engaging. Bell’s Taupin seems a much more grounded character, someone who realises earlier on than Elton that the drugs aren’t helping and that he needs to pull back, to return to the days when it was just them and the music. His support and friendship for Elton helps him to grow as a performer and he’s the one constant in his life, and the first to really have faith in Elton.  Their interactions are well done and Bell’s quiet, easygoing performance is extremely well done.

As for villains there are a couple in the mix, people who effect Elton negatively along the way. There are his parents who never fully engage with him and are distant and cold, his mother later benefiting from his riches but also delivering a heartbreaking moment when her son comes out to her over the phone. The scene is extremely moving as we watch John’s reaction to her comments.

But the major baddie is John Reid, John’s manager played by Richard Madden, it’s odd to see him so horrible here when you felt rather sorry for the same man in Bohemian Rhapsody when he’s double crossed and fired as Freddie’s manager.  Here however, he’s shown as being just as manipulative and abusive, controlling and milking John’s career. Their first meeting and sex scene shows his charm and attractiveness, but it soon becomes clear he’s less interested in Elton as a person and more in the potential cash earnings.

It’s a sad, sad situation that Elton finds himself in and the story is handled well, with Elton investing so much into the relationship as the first opportunity to find someone who loves him, of course, he’s so eager for this he ignores the signs that all is not well.

The film moved me several times, pushing me to the verge of tears at times but also being oddly heartwarming. John and Taupin’s friendship, the support from his nan, the gleeful love of music and the redemption arc at the end all left me feeling positive, but it’s a rough road to get there. It’s a wonderfully done musical biopic which should be commended for not shying away from the darker aspects of the story, but through a supreme performance by Egerton we are always invested and care about Elton.

Also, the songs are absolute belters and cleverly used throughout the movie. Fantastic stuff.

9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Aladdin (2019)

Disney’s Aladdin is one of my all time favourite movies, I remember seeing it as a kid and loving it, and my affection just grew for it over the years. A huge part of this is the superb performance by the late Robin Williams as Genie, one of my favourite Disney characters. Genie was like nothing I’d seen before, this manic ball of energy who could change shape and voice to inhabit a wealth of characters. It was a chaotic, constantly moving whirlwind of fun that was the film’s stand out. The movie is great, and has lots going for it, but it’s Genie that I, and probably many others, remember the most and have the greatest affection for.

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Williams as Genie, he definitely earns some applause

When the remake was announced all the rest of the cast didn’t matter. The big question was who was going to step into Williams’ shoes and whether they could match his anarchic, improvisational turn.

Will Smith was a surprising choice, how would he do?

The answer is that it’s a mixed bag. The script here has made several changes to the original, and one of the areas is that they’ve made the Genie more of a Will Smith type character, and his charisma and comedic ability carries it off well. The problem, however, is when the film swings back towards the familiar songs, lines and moments. Anything that gets too close to the Williams version just reminds you of how great Williams was. So, Smith gets a raw deal. He’s strong but because this is a remake they can’t just cut all of those callbacks.

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For the most part, the film in general works. The characters of Jasmine and Jafar (Naomi Scott and Marwan Kenzari) are beefed up a bit, and this works in it’s favour. We get more background for Jafar’s scheming nature and how he acquired his sorcery skills, and his motivation seems clearer. Similarly, Jasmine, who I liked in the animated version is given a bit more space to breathe. She was always strong willed and independent, but it’s expressed better here and her big song “Speechless” is one of the best moments of the film.

Scott is charming and likeable in the role, and shares an easy chemistry with Mena Massoud’s Aladdin, although I kinda felt that the hero gets a raw deal. There’s one part of the story where he has a change of heart and it just feels like there’s a missing scene somewhere. There’s no epiphany moment to explain why he changes his mind, and it jarred slightly.

Similarly, while Guy Ritchie does a good job, the “One Jump Ahead” sequence feels stilted and flat, which is a shame as this is our introduction to our hero. But it’s one only a few stumbles along the way, and for the most part Ritchie does a good job, particularly with the humour and the Genie is done in inventive ways with some nice sight gags and flourishes.

It’s a decent movie but it slips into the middle of Disney’s remake pack- a damn sight better than Maleficent and with more substance than Cinderella, but it lacks the charm and warmth of The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast.

It made me laugh a lot, and the songs are translated fairly well (“A Whole New World” the best), but as good as the cast are it never matches the original, or adds enough to really stand on it’s own too feet.

Good, but not great.

7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum

Some movies you just know what you’re gonna get. The third outing of dog avenging killing machine John Wick (Keanu Reeves) was always going to be a relentless action juggernaut moving from one set piece to the next. This ain’t a movie with a lot of nuance, or depth. This is a thrill ride, and a damn fine one.

It picks up just after Chapter 2. Wick has blown away an enemy within the Continental, the shady New York hotel which hosts the assassins and criminals who visit the Big Apple. The Continental, part of an organisation run by the mysterious High Table, is neutral ground and no violence is allowed. Having broken the rules, Wick is marked for death.

Manager of the hotel, Winston (Ian McShane) tells him there’s a bounty on his head but allows him an hour head start before the contract to kill goes live. John starts the film on the run with the clock ticking.

What follows is John having to defeat some of the folks looking to claim the cash, and calling in old favours to try and get out of town. He wants to meet the top man and see if he can do some kind of deal.

Of course, John isn’t gonna go down without a fight and since we saw him go out for justice on the scumbag who killed his dog, we know that he is a skilled ass kicker.

While John looks for a way out a mysterious Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) arrives in New York, to sort things for the High Table. Winston, and several others who helped John are on deadly ground, as they are forced to pay for breaking the rules which say John lost all his priviliges.

The action is bone crunching good fun with brutal brawls and some wonderfully OTT gunplay. Wick’s major strength seems to be that he’s hard to kill and takes a lot of punishment. Keanu Reeves is effortlessly cool in a role with sparse dialogue, wading into battle with a variety of weapons and leaving a trail of dead behind him.

Wick is driven by a resolve to survive even if this takes him into the belly of the beast.

Despite the ferocity of the violence (I winced a few times), the movie is largely just fun. Partly because it takes place in a sort of comic book world. The violence is extreme but there’s no moping or broodiness afterwards. It’s violence as entertainment and the slight unreality of the universe helps.

Secret societies, public shootouts without consequences and shady, omniscient cabals mean this never feels like the real world, meaning you never get distracted by thoughts of the fallout and or thoughts of realism. The executive decision to make it disconnected from the real world is a clever one. The over the top nature of the film works in this vaccuum, stopping any “oh, come on!” Moments that happen when grounded in reality movies push it too far.

The cast are great across the board and this is the best performance I’ve seen from Halle Berry in years, partly as its all surface.

Lawrence Fishburne, Angelica Huston and McShane all seem to be enjoying their supporting roles, especially McShane who plays Winston with an unflappable air who remains cool even when under siege by enemy forces. Fishburne’s swaggering, bombastic crime lord is a delight too.

There’s dark humour, quirky supporting characters and a seemingly endless series of inventive ways for henchmen to buy the farm. Sometimes you get action fatigue in movies, but this one didn’t do that thanks to a variety of different types of fights and creative violence.

A rollercoaster of action that barely stops and entertains throughout.

Verdict: 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

P.S. I slipped in about half a dozen Steven Segal movie titles into this, how many did you spot?

P.P.S. Wrote this review on my phone on a train so apologies for spelling errors.


Film Review: Pokemon Detective Pikachu

I was a solid “in” on this movie as soon as I heard Ryan Reynolds was involved as he is right near the top of my man crush list and has made some flicks I’ve really dug. Sure, the premise was a little weird, Reynolds voicing a Pikachu who is also a detective, but I’d give it a go, and thankfully, it does work.

For those not up on Pokemon, they’re basically animals hat people capture to keep as pets or to fight in battles. Each Pokemon has special skills and moves, and most can only say their own names. But somehow, Tim (Justice Smith) can understand his deceased father’s Pikachu (voiced by Reynolds), unfortunately, the Pokemon has amnesia and can’t remember what happened to him.

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Tim has come to Ryme City, a place where humans and Pokemon live in partnership and where everyone has a Pokemon companion. Tim, however, doesn’t. As a child he wanted to be a Pokemon trainer, but has abandoned this dream for office work. He comes to the city following the death of his estranged father, Harry, a police detective.

Tim just wants to pack up his dad’s stuff and go home, but at his apartment he meets Pikachu and discovers a vial of purple gas. The gas sends nearby Aipom Pokemon into an aggressive frenzy before they calm down. Tim and Pikachu are then drawn into the case that Harry was working on, and begin to suspect that there may be more to his death than the official story.

The plot from then on is the duo putting together the conspiracy behind Harry’s death and Tim having to address his issues with his dad as well as reflect on the fact that he has lost his chance to put things right with him. Meanwhile, he starts to warm to Pikachu, slowly overcoming his issues with Pokemon.

Along the way they are aided by Lucy (Kathryn Newton), a junior reporter who is also suspicious about the circumstances of Harry’s death and her Psyduck.

The conspiracy seems to involve the purple gas that enrages Pokemon and Clifford Industries the company headed by Howard Clifford (Bill Nighy), the man who helped the city become a Pokemon-Human utopia.

The movie establishes a world where Pokemon are common place and part of the scenery, while the camera lingers on them for the audience, the characters just go on as normal, making the world feel more realistic. This means there’s no exposition and the truly remarkable things stand out, as the characters only react to the out of the ordinary. This sounds simple, but some films get it wrong, look at how Ron was impressed by every little piece of magic in Harry Potter, despite having grown up in the wizarding world.

And the interactions are well done, the animation is on point and the CGI has weight and gives the Pokemon a real personality.

Of course, the main Pokemon is our deerstalker wearing hero, and he is fantastic. He’s sarky, scatterbrained and constantly riding a caffeine high, which makes him jabber even more. It adds more humour that the sarcasm comes from the mouth of an unbelievably cute character. Mark Kermode described it as being a PG version of his Deadpool schtick, and it’s an accurate description. As a fan of the Deadpool movies, it’s unsurprising that Reynolds scores another winner with me.

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Pikachu and Tim make a good team, with Smith being likeable and engaging as the awkward human. He’s solid as a hero and does a good job showing how Tim slowly starts to loosen up and gain confidence as the movie continues. He’s the heart of the movie and while his little yellow buddy steals some scenes, it’s Tim’s story that anchors the film.

It’s a film with heart, warmth and plenty of humour. The plot isn’t earth shattering, but it’s involving enough to keep you engaged and there are a couple of nice twists thrown in. It’s all good fun, and while it will mainly be a hit with Pokemon fans it will probably also work for people less well versed in the pocket monsters.

Verdict: 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

This is one of those odd movies that features a really great performance which is unfortunately lost in a fug of mediocrity. Zac Efron shows off his dramatic chops as notorious serial killer Ted Bundy, and creates a compelling and charismatic performance. He nails the superficial charm that Bundy used to hide his dark nature, and does a very good job of showing flashes of the cold and calculating character he hid.

Efron is the beating heart of the movie, and dominates the screen time, which is odd given that the film is based on the memoir of his ex-girlfriend Liz Kendall, played by Lily Collins.

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There’s probably a great film to be made about a woman dealing with the fact the man she loves is actually a serial killer. A woman having to deal with growing doubts, feelings of guilt that she should have spotted something sooner, fear and relief, the negative reactions of others, the impact on her future relationships, it’s all good stuff. Unfortunately, even if this movie had pursued this angle Collins never seems up to the challenge, delivering a painfully shallow and unremarkable performance. She never engages as a character, possibly because we don’t get to see her enough before Bundy, and so the entire story we’re told about her revolves around her erstwhile lover.

Liz stands by Ted at first, but eventually severs ties, although he continues trying to contact her. With Bundy’s trial becoming big news she watches the broadcasts and bulletins obsessively, and slides towards alcoholism. The problem is that these scenes play out between Efron’s moments as Bundy and Collins never hooked me in the way he does. It’s like they never fully commit to Liz’s story. We just see her staring intently at the TV or saving newspaper cuttings, and it would have worked better had she had more scenes where she talks or narrates about how she feels. “Show don’t tell” is the familiar refrain in screenwriting, but you have to do one, and this film often does neither.

It’s odd that while Efron is the best thing in this movie, the movie would have been better with less of him.

The focus on Liz really falls away in the final stages as we deal with Bundy’s trial, and aside from a bookend narrative device, her story is rendered the least interesting part of the story.

There are different ways to tell a serial killer story- a thriller as the cops close in on a suspect; a trial where the audience is never entirely sure of what the truth really is; an insight into the twisted mind of a killer and why they became the monster they grew into or one about the impact of their actions on the individuals in their orbit, which is what this halfheartedly tries to do.

It lacks the thrill of the chase. It shows restraint in the dealing of the crimes, stopping it from being one of those ‘can’t look away even though you want to’ movies, and while Efron shows the different sides of Bundy, and the way he manipulates others and played up for audiences, it never delves deeper. We never learn why Ted started killing women. We don’t know when it started.

It’s a distinctly lacklustre movie, interesting enough as you watch it, although you realise it’s limitations at the same time. Efron is very strong as Bundy, but you feel in a way that his performance and the story they initially try to tell don’t work. The filmmakers should either have told Liz’s story, keeping Bundy in the background, or made it all about Efron’s performance, but they seem unable to choose, and the film suffers as a result.

The ’70s soundtrack is pretty good though, and as someone who doesn’t know much about Bundy’s crimes it did interest me. But on the whole, it just feels a bit flat and muddled. Efron alone can’t quite carry it, and Collins is unconvincing and uninteresting as the female lead.

Verdict: 4/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Avengers: Endgame (Spoiler Free)

This isn’t a traditional review. I won’t talk plot because to do so runs the risk of spoilers. And frankly, I’ve just come out and I’m still reeling.

This movie is everything Marvel fans could have asked for. From the first scene to the last it didn’t put a foot wrong. It takes time to include small, touching character beats among the massive, living comic book spectacle moments.

I laughed frequently. My heart filled with geeky joy. It moved me to tears. Not many films have rocked me so emotionally.

It is the culmination of all the MCU has built and it delivers even when I had high expectations. There are moments that fans have longed for, moments with characters we’ve had years to get attached to which hit me square in the feels.

The cast are all on fine form, but for me the standout is Robert Downey Jr. His Tony Stark is what the MCU was built on, and he has been central in many of the films. Here, he is the heart of the film and if there was any justice, he’d wind up with a cupboard full of awards. It’s a performance that hits all the right notes, and highlights just how perfect RDJ is in the role.

Props also to Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth, who continue to do great work as Cap and Thor, respectively. The Avengers’ core trio are front and centre and get many of the films biggest and best moments.

The whole movie rocks. Seriously, I left the cinema absolutely buzzing.

I loved this movie. I can’t see anything moving this from my movie of the year.

Verdict: 10/10. And I don’t give many of them.

Any thoughts? You know what to do.


Film Review: Shazam!

For me, the DCEU stumbled with a few movies which just didn’t work for me (Batman Vs Superman, Suicide Squad, Justice League) but they’ve started to pull it back with a couple  of decent movies, Wonder Woman and Aquaman. This movie, however, surpasses all of them and is easily my favourite DCEU movie thus far.

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What makes this movie work is that it has a great sense of humour and a solid emotional core running through. There are big battles, monsters and superheroics along the way, but this is really a store about family and finding your place in the world. The hero and villain are given the same choice, but the hero prevails because he’s less selfish and receives support from others.

Our hero is fourteen year old Billy Baston (Asher Angel), who lives in the foster system having getting lost as a small child. Billy has been struggling with his placements, frequently running off as he attempts to track down his mother. After his most recent attempt he is sent to a group home and finds himself in a rundown and crowded house, run by two former foster kids, Rosa and Victor Vasquez (Marta Milans and Cooper Andrews, respectively). Billy is a little overwhelmed by the rest of the kids, and tries to keep himself to himself, however, Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), a geeky boy around the same age, who is obsessed with superheroes attempts to befriend him.

After standing up to two of Freddy’s bullies, Billy legs it and is transported magically to the cave that is home of Shazam (Djimon Hounsou), a wizard. Shazam chooses Billy as his champion and he is transformed into a fully grown superhero played by Zachary Levi. While he now has superstrength, flight and other powers, he remains Billy inside his new body and alongside Freddy relishes his new abilities, becoming a viral sensation as they test his abilities and skip school.

However, trouble looms in the form of Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), who as a child was offered the chance to become Shazam’s champion but failed to resist temptation and was judged not to be pure of heart. Sivana has obsessively attempted to track down Shazam, and when he does, he unleashes the monstrous Seven Deadly Sins, who take up residence within his body and who render him equally powerful to Billy. The sins want him to steal Billy’s powers, enabling them to grow even more powerful and wreak havoc.

Can Billy step up as a hero? Can he find his real mother, and if he does, what will he find? Can Silvana be stopped?

There’s a lot of humour mined from the “kid in an adult’s body” plot device and there’s a lovely nod to Big. Like the Hanks classic this film shows that while this originally seems like a dream and lots of fun there are soon more serious consequences, and the superpowers just heighten this. Billy goofs off with his powers, blundering through his first attempts at heroism and enjoying the fun side of it. This causes conflict with Freddy, who while supportive also wants to exploit his new powers and is somewhat jealous and overzealous about it all.

From there on it’s all about Billy having to learn responsibility and courage, as well as addressing how he has been acting. Part of this is related to his new foster family and his feelings of abandonment and insecurities following losing his mother and ending up in foster care. This is why Silvana is a a great choice as villain, because he seems a dark mirror of Billy. Growing up in a cold and distant family where he never felt good enough, the rejection from Shazam has twisted him into an obsessive maniac, determined to get what he felt was unfairly denied him and gain powers to elevate himself.

Now superpowered, Silvana wreaks havoc and is blind to the fact that the Sins may be using him. His powers allow him to indulge all his darker impulses, to give into his lust for power and revenge, and Billy is shown to struggle to resist his less noble temptations now that he is Earth’s Mightiest Mortal. Billy, however, has the help of Freddy and his new family, and has an inner decency that pushes him to do better.

Zachary Levi is a delight as the adult Billy, looking every inch the hero but never losing the confused, scared and overwhelmed teenager within. He carries himself in such a way that makes him look awkward and unsure, and his attempts to swagger and show off remind you of every teenage boy who tries to look cool. There are plenty of laughs wrung from the disconnect, and his youthful glee at his powers.

Levi is superb, and the the cast around him are great. All the young actors do great work, especially Angel and Glazer, who have great chemistry and capture the slowly developing friendship between Billy and Freddy. Glazer’s Freddy, a snarky, geeky outsider is really funny and steals several scenes.

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Mark Strong can do a decent villain in his sleep, and he’s on exceptional form here, capturing the rage and bitterness of Silvana wonderfully, and also conveying the brutal glee he takes in his new powers, a dark reflection of how Billy enjoys his own powers.

The Seven Deadly Sins, his monstrous associates are impressive foes and the climactic smackdown includes Billy pulling some clever moves and tricks out of his hat, and had a nice twist. It sets up a wonderfully satisfying battle which sees Billy use his wits, heart and powers to tip the scales and realise his destiny as a hero.

The superheroics have a real fun, smashmouth style to them, with airborne brawls and some nice send ups of genre conventions, but what gives it the edge is the human story. I genuinely cared about Billy and Freddy, and the way it sets up their new family was done in a fun and sensitive way, successfully avoiding becoming too cheesy. Their growing friendship and Billy’s shift in outlook give the movie a really warm heart and that’s what the DCEU has missed in a lot of it’s movies.

This movie is a whole lot of fun, with wonderful characters, a tongue firmly in it’s cheek and an involving and entertaining story. I came out with a big, dumb grin on my face and a good feeling I carried for the rest of the day. An utter gem of a movie.

9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.