Film Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

2015’s Jurassic World was an enjoyable adventure which rebooted a franchise that had been dead for over a decade. Part of the appeal was that it went back to the theme park roots, upped the dinosaurs and ensuing carnage, and featured a likeable lead performance from Chris Pratt.

Of course, the success meant that we would be seeing more of Pratt’s Owen Grady and the dinosaurs. But with the park closed down, and the island having become the land that time forgot, what would be the story.

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Well, we kinda go down the same route as the very first sequel, 1997’s The Lost World. Reluctant hero returning to dino country? Check. Dodgy hunters? Check. Dinosaurs running wild in the US? Check.

Owen is drawn back to Isla Nubar by his ex Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the former manager of Jurassic World who wants to save all the giant lizards (I’m getting sick of typing “dinosaurs”, okay?) before the island’s volcano Pompeiis them all. She’s been trying to win over influential people, but the US government has decided not to intervene. This is because someone has finally realised that the best course of action in a Jurassic movie is to just listen to Dr Ian Malcolm (a returning, if underused Jeff Goldblum). He argues that as mankind subverted natural law they should just let Mother Nature sort it all out with sweet lava justice.

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Goldblum’s back. Unfortunately he doesn’t do much

Unfortunately, while common sense is prevailing elsewhere, Claire gleefully accepts the offer of help from Rafe Spall’s Eli Mills, a slick business man who’s employer was involved in setting up the original park before falling out with John Hammond (Richard Attenborough). They travel to the island to rescue 11 species, with Owen needed to bring in Blue, the Velociraptor he trained from birth.

At the island they meet Ted Levine’s mercenary who may as well be named Dodgy McJudas because as soon as he rocks up you know he’s a wrong ‘un. Owen finds Blue, but holy double cross, Batman! The mercenaries take the raptor, leaving Owen, Claire and the comic relief behind. They leg it from the exploding island, and discover that Eli Mills is planning to sell Barney and friends in order to fund their experiments in creating hybrids, having forgotten how badly that went down last time.

Can Owen save Blue? Can they free the dinos and get them a new home? And what exactly have those mad scientists cooked up this time?

Here’s the thing, some of this movie is rather good fun, and kudos has to go to Pratt and BDH, who do well as our plucky heroes and have good chemistry once more. Unfortunately, BDH’s Claire seems a little confused here, motivation wise. She’s massively invested in the dinosaurs and as the villain points out, she exploited the lizards firsts, so her outrage is odd.

jwfk pratt blue

Personally, I was with Malcolm and felt they should have let the lava take care of these abominations, but there’s no movie there.

There are very few surprises here, apart from a couple of moments when logic jumps ship. You can see a lot of the plot points coming, and one of the big reveals was so obvious that I clicked what was happening in the first scene it looms up.

It delivers a few decent action sequences, but the new Big Bad is a little underwhelming. Compared to the raptors of the first two movies, or the Indominus Rex in the second movie, this new dinosaur doesn’t chill the blood or exude an aura of danger. In fact, it’s the sequences elsewhere in the movie that are more enjoyable, which is not good. The big villain is supposed to be the main event, and here it’s overshadowed by supporting players.

This is fun enough, and is okay to pass the time, and a few sequences are quite gripping, but this is definitely a weaker addition to the series. The trouble is they’ve still hooked me in for the next movie, as this ends hinting at a far more enjoyable story. It passes the time, but it feels a tad underwhelming.

Verdict: Pratt and Howard are decent enough, but the story is uninspired and easy to predict. A few decent action sequences aren’t enough, and it doesn’t deliver on its promise. Meh. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Film Review: The Week Of

I liked the look of this Netflix Original and despite his hit-and-miss output, I still find Adam Sandler quite a funny on screen presence (Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer and The Longest Yard being favourites of mine). Throw in Chris Rock and the premise of a large, chaotic family wedding, and I thought this might be a decent watch.

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The premise is simple, dealing with the week of the wedding of Kenny Lustig’s (Sandler) daughter to the son of Kirby Cordice (Rock). Kenny is financially strapped, but determined to deliver the best wedding he can for his daughter, what he sees as his last proper action as a parent and his responsibility. However, this causes problems such as the fact that the venue they have chosen is beset by problems due to the cost cutting decisions of the manager, who ignored all of Kenny’s recommendations when renovating.

This leads to Kenny having to put up a massive number of guests in his own house, which becomes full and cramped with a colourful, eccentric band of family members from both sides. Kenny is the patriarch of the family, and constantly having to put out fires and being asked to solve issues.

Kirby, meanwhile, is not the centre of his family, indeed he is slightly ostracised. A successful and ambitious surgeon, he sacrificed his family life for his career and was a poor husband and father in the past. He is clearly troubled by this and his relationship with his children is distant and awkward, despite his best efforts.

Where the film works is in ramping up the farcical elements, from a diabetes effected uncle who is mistaken for a war hero, to an unhinged nephew constantly at risk of snapping, to attempts to save money by ridiculous schemes, the overwhelming family is constructed well, with Kenny constantly under pressure. Sandler does very well here as the regular Joe and nice guy placed under massive stress, doing his shtick of barely suppressed rage rather well. Rock is likeable too, as the normal man thrust into this mad situation.

While there are plenty of decent lines and some big laughs, the whole movie feels lacking in some way. It took me a while to figure out why, but I finally put my finger on it. There’s a massive lack of conflict or resolution here.

Kenny’s rage, slowly bubbling away, never boils over. It deprives the film of a big emotional blow out, and some crowd pleasing ranting from Sandler. He doesn’t lose it with his irritating relatives, the hotel manager who jeopardises the wedding or anyone else along the way.

Similarly, while Kirby scores a minor victory over his judgemental former mother-in-law, the rest of the family are still dismissive of him and despite him loosening up we don’t see much sign of his relationship with his family softening. One dance with his estranged daughter doesn’t feel enough.

And there are other factors that never pay off- the maid of honour is painted as insecure and nervous, but doesn’t get a moment of triumph over the critical bridesmaids. The troubled teen doesn’t get any saving grace other than being shown dancing at the wedding.

One area that may have saved it is a bit more drama on the daughter front. While there are glimpses that Kenny’s daughter is angry at his refusal to allow Kirby to help or embarrassed by the wedding he is putting on it never comes to much. It means that when Kenny talks about his fear of losing her it feels less powerful than had it been delivered following a heated argument.

The central couple are massively forgettable. In fact, I can’t credit the actors here as I’ve forgotten their character names so don’t want to put the wrong people here. They get one scene alone together that I remember, which is rather sweet as they joke about barely seeing each other due to the manic preparations, and the groom is shown to be a decent chap in his interactions with other family members, but they barely feature. It’s a massive shame as this could have strengthened the film and provided a nice contrast to the unending farce and OTT-ness of the rest of the movie.

Chaos is fine, but better with small, sweeter moments to break it up. And also, had they been fleshed out more we may have cared more about how the wedding turned out. But of course, the story here is really about the fathers of the bride and groom.

It’ll make you laugh, but it won’t really stick with you and it feels like some zealous editing might have helped. In order to keep the laughs flowing, the filmmakers have sacrificed story and heart, which are the things which make the best comedies work. As it is, this is merely alright.

Verdict: It delivers on plenty of laughs, but lacks focus and chooses silliness over emotion far too often. This means the attempts to add feeling seem rushed and it doesn’t resonate as much as it should. It’ll pass the time, but it’s hit and miss. 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

Someone else has probably used this, but what the heck…. ahem. The problem with Solo is that it’s very so-so.

The problem with the prequel in general is that we all know where this is going. And while it can be fun to see how characters get there sometimes it just feels like ticking the boxes of familiar touches being added or lazy forshadowing. Both are on display here.

What do we know about Han Solo’s life before the original trilogy. Well, his loyal companion is Chewbacca, he’s a smuggler in trouble with Jabba the Hutt and he won the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian. So, here we have him meet and rescue Chewie, hints of Jabba on the horizon and the card game where he wins the ship.

The winning of the ship is one of the film’s weak spots. In Empire we get the impression that Lando and Han are old buddies who have been through a lot, which is why Han trusts him and why his betrayal hurts him. While Donald Glover is wonderful as the swaggering, posturing Lando, their relationship is fleeting.

While Lando may reappear in the sequels this leaves itself wide open for, the fact he’s already lost the Falcon means that their relationship already has an edge to it. Why not have Han covet the ship here but only win it later?

Glover is one of many strong performers here, along with Woody Harrelson as Beckett, the outlaw who Han teams up with and serves as a sort of mentor. Paul Bettany chews the scenery as the villain and in the femme fatale role Emilia Clarke does well enough with a fairly standard part.

This is the problem. A lot of it is standard. There are double crosses you see from miles away, characters act predictably and the only real shock for me was the reappearance of a familiar, villainous face.

The film is entertaining enough but it’s decidedly average. While there are a couple of laughs and a few decent action sequences, there’s nothing that makes it really stand out. It passes the time but doesn’t really stay with you.

I feel as the lead Alden Ehrenreich may get some of the blame, and he doesn’t have Ford’s charisma, but few do. He does okay and does capture the character’s bluffing nature and reliance on luck, but the role he gets is painfully naive and lacks the sarcastic edge that made Solo eclipse Luke Skywalker. Perhaps the sequels will have him grow more cynical.

Sequels seem an inevitability given the way the movie ends, but frankly, I don’t really care. Personally? I’d rather just have a Lando movie come out, where we follow Glover’s character on various schemes as he styles and profiles across the universe.

Things this film gets right- the casting of Glover and Harrison, a chase through a cosmic storm, having fun with a hammy villain, one twist, the interplay between Han and Chewie. But mainly the inclusion of Lando’s droid L3, who rails against the injustices droids face, and wants rebellion, she also gets many of the laughs. I thought it was Gwendoline Christie on voiceover duties but it turns out to be Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who was in Broadchurch, apparently.

What does it get wrong? Han is written weakly, it’s predictable, they rush introducing the iconic Solo features, underwritten role for Clarke and the fact much of the film takes place in the gloom. We’ve seen the Falcon before, and it was lit decently, but here half the ship is in near darkness. Lighten up.

Verdict: Hit and miss, with the misses edging it. The film isn’t without it’s charms but it feels unnecessary, rushed and lazy. Definitely a lesser entry in the franchise. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Deadpool 2

The first Deadpool was a blast, a crude, rude romp of OTT violence, winks to camera and gags. Could they capture lightning in a bottle twice? I was hopeful, but apprehensive. Thankfully a few minutes in and the line “Hit it, Dolly!” settled my nerves. We were back and this was gonna be a whole lotta fun too.

Ryan Reynolds as the Merc with a Mouth is easily one of the best castings in comic book movie history (along with Patrick Stewart as Prof X, RDJ as Tony Stark and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian), and he’s on fine form here in a fast paced, foul mouthed adventure.

After a mistake leads to personal tragedy Deadpool finds himself at a low ebb and seeking redemption, leading him to join the X-Men as a trainee. On his first mission he deals with an angry teen mutant Russell (Julian Dennison) who wants vengeance on the people who run the centre he lives at and takes the name Fire Fist. After trying to talk him down Wade has to use force to subdue him but realizes Russell is being abused, prompting him to kill one of the staff, causing the anger of new teammates Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Stefan Kapicic and Briana Hildebrand, respectively). Russell and Wade are taken into custody, their powers negated, meaning that Wade is slowly dying from cancer which his healing factor was keeping at bay.

Wade brushes off Russell’s attempts to create a partnership and advises him to find other prisoners to protect him. However, when the prison is attacked, Wade defends him and fights the attacker, Cable (Josh Brolin). It transpires that Cable is from the future where Russell has become a mass murderer, including killing Cable’s family. Cable plans to kill Russell in order to stop these events.

Russell hears Wade say he doesn’t care and seeks out a dangerous inmate for an ally, while Wade realises saving Russell may be the purpose he needs. To achieve this he puts a team together to save the kid and stop Cable, dubbing the team X-Force.

Can Wade find purpose? Will he be able to stop Cable and can he set Russell on a different path? And is he really cut out to lead a superhero team?

I loved this movie, which had me crying with laughter in places and is relentlessly entertaining. The action is bloody and wince inducing in places, but much of it is played for laughs. Also the story of redemption, destiny and “being better” is handled well without being preachy.

The relationship between the characters is handled quite well, particularly the wise cracking Wade having to deal with the stoic Cable, played with deadpan badassery by Brolin, who does well with the part.

It’s not going to be for everyone given the crude nature of many of the gags, the gore and the tone, but for me it works. The new characters who are introduced are an interesting bunch and a poorly used character from the X-movies gets a second chance to impress.

There are a few gags that probably won’t age well, but most work fine and Reynolds is charismatic as the lead, and seems utterly at home here. Here’s hoping we get more adventures.

A blast.

Verdict: Manages to match the original and keeps the laughs and action flowing. It misdirects the audience nicely a few times and there are several nice touches. Reynolds impresses again. Bloody, crass and delightfully postmodern this is a great ride. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Life of the Party

This was WoM’s pick as she’s a big fan of Melissa McCarthy, and I didn’t mind going as McCarthy has made some decent flicks, although the premise of a middle aged mother going back to university wasn’t that appealing.

Thankfully, the film is relentlessly funny and has a big heart. On the day that Deanna (McCarthy) drops off her daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) at the start of her third year at university, her husband Dan (Matt Walsh) announces he wants a divorce and is in love with someone else.

Left reeling, especially as Dan plans to sell their house which is solely in his name, Deanna visits her parents where she decides to finish the degree Dan convinced her to drop out of when she got pregnant with Maddie. Maddie is happy with this decision but less so when she discovers it means her mother will be living on campus.

Back in school Deanna becomes friendly with some of Maddie’s sorority sisters and excels in class, increasing her confidence. Maddie’s initial misgivings abate as she starts seeing the positive effects and encourages her mother to go out and enjoy her life.

While the story of the daughter embracing and helping her mother have fun is a nice touch and avoids the conflict that seemed the easier route. But it does make for some rather odd scenes where the dialogue doesn’t feel like how a mother and daughter would talk, especially when things get a little raunchier, especially as Deanna is introduced as a rather quiet, old fashioned housewife.

This is a minor quibble in a film that gets a lot right, especially in terms of feelgood story. McCarthy is massively likeable as the cheerful, relentlessly optimistic Deanna and does a good job of looking after her new younger friends as they experience insecurity. The problem is that some of this bonding feels rushed and there’s a sense of subplots which have been dropped.

The ending as well falls flat, with no real sense of where Deanna is going next. It’s not the sort of movie that needs a sequel, so it’s disappointing that it doesn’t tell us how Deanna plans to use her new degree. Just

There are some big laughs and hilarious moments, mainly thanks to McCarthy but also in supporting roles like Maya Rudolph as her best friend. There’s also a nice twist halfway through which sets up one of the best scenes.

The poor ending and nagging sense of there being more depth on the cutting room floor. There’s a good thread of encouraging women to pursue their goals, stand up for themselves and not yield to insecurities, but it feels watered down. Maybe a secondary plot would have fleshed it out.

Verdict: Carried by McCarthy’s charm and comic skills this is a rather sweet comedy that delivers plenty of laughs. A shame it ends in such an unsatisfactory manner and the supporting players remain two dimensional and underdeveloped. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Rampage

The Rock. A giant gorilla. I was in from that point.

WoM was less sure about it but taking advantage of our new Odeon Limitless memberships she agreed to take a chance on it. She wasn’t impressed, dismissing it as “stupid”. Me? Well, I love a big, dumb fun movie and this ticked all the boxes.

Dwayne Johnson plays Davis, a soldier turned primatoligist who works with George an albino gorilla he rescued from poachers. All is good until George is exposed to a gas contained in a pod which crashes into his enclosure. As a result he begins to grow ever larger and becomes more aggressive.

The gas is actually a weapon which genetically edits animals to turn them into weapons. The experiments were conducted aboard a space station but when a test subject gets loose the base is destroyed and the samples crash to earth. As well as George, a wolf and alligator are infected becoming vicious giants.

Davis is joined by Dr Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), the scientist who worked on genetic editing but was disgusted by how it was corrupted and used for weapons by the Wyden siblings, Claire and Brett (Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy, respectively). The Wyden’s want samples and lure the beasties to Chicago.

Can Davis and Kate stop the creatures before the army blow away half of the Windy City? Can Davis get through to George and stop his, um, rampage? Can our heroes trust the swaggering but secretive government agent Harvey Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan)?

I really dug this film because it’s got no pretensions or anything, just accepts it’s ludicrous premise and runs with it. The action is overblown and over the top, with very little basis in reality.

Johnson’s charisma carries the film and his friendship with George is handled well and engaging enough that you care. Johnson is so easily likeable and charming that the audience is on board with him pretty much right off the bat.

The Rock with a new tag team partner

It’s to his credit then that Jeffrey Dean Morgan more than holds his own as the cocky cowboy like Agent Russell. Oozing charisma and keeping the audience guessing as to whether he’s a good guy or not. JDM is one of my long term faves and always a winner.

The rest of the cast do their jobs well enough, with a special nod to Akerman who resists hamming it up too much as the uberbitch Claire.

Of course, this isn’t a character piece, and a blockbuster. And in that role it achieves, there are a few laughs, some big action sequences and it’s wonderfully, witlessly entertaining in places.

Sure, it’s daft, but sometimes that’s just what you need.

Verdict: A loud, dumb action movie which does what it sets out to- entertain. The Rock is his usual charismatic self and the action is well done and engaging. Great fun. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Avengers: Infinity War

In 2008 when Robert Downey Jr made his debut as Tony Stark in Iron Man, I don’t think anyone could predict just how successful the Marvel Cinematic Universe would become. Several cracking movies later, the main event arrives, the arrival of Thanos (Josh Brolin) which unites all the various strands into one story.

The movie kicks off with Thanos having attacked the Asgardian refugees (see Thor: Ragnarok). Here he defeats Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). The Hulk is transported to Earth, while Thanos having got his hands on the Space Stone destroys the ship.

This leaves Thanos with two of the six infinity stones he needs to gain supreme powers. The other four are scattered throughout the universe- the Mind Stone and Time Stone are on Earth, the Mind being part of the Vision (Paul Bettany), the synthetic Avenger while sorcerer supreme Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) posses the Time Stone. The Reality Stone is in the possesion of the Collector (Benicio Del Toro) on the planet Knowhere. The final one, the Soul Stone is missing.

Thanos’ minions head out to retrieve the stones. Thor, cast adrift is found by the Guardians of the Galaxy, who agree to help stop Thanos. The team splits into two- Rocket and Groot (Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively) join Thor to go and get a weapon powerful enough to kill Thanos. Meanwhile, Peter Quill aka Star Lord (Chris Pratt) leads the others to Knowhere. Before they leave Gamora (Zoe Saldana) reveals she has important information and that Peter must kill her if Thanos is about to take her captive.

Meanwhile, on Earth the two individuals with the stones are attacked. Doctor Strange, having been warned by the Hulk contacts Iron Man, who tells him to run. Spider-Man (Tom Holland) joins the fight, but they are unable to stop Strange from being captured. Iron Man and Spider-Man stow away aboard the space ship and attempt to rescue the Doctor as they head for Thanos’ homeworld Titan.

The Vision is attacked while with Scarlet Witch (Emma Olsen), but they are helped by Captain America (Chris Evans) and his teammates Black Widow and Falcon (Scarlett Johansson and Anthony Mackie). They defeat the attackers and after linking up with War Machine (Don Cheadle) and the Hulk they decide to remove the stone from Vision, as he may survive without it. For help they travel to Wakanda, kingdom of the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).

Can they protect all the stones against a powerful foe and his army? Will they stop Thanos’ quest to restore balance to the universe by killing half of the population.

Thanos’ quest is of course utter madness, but it’s root is from a place of coldly logical thought and Brolin does well in the role, which has unexpected vulnerability and humanity. He’s still a fanatic, obsessed with his mission, but we do see he has real feelings and connections. He’s almost sympathetic at times while never stopping being the villain we want to see defeated.

With so many heroes in one film the film could have become muddled and rushed, but to the filmmakers’ credit the story unfolds at a decent pace and the idea to split up our heroes and having them fight on different fronts works very well. It adds a sense of scale and keeps the storylines separate, and allows different teams to form.

All the different characters have chances shine and the action sequences are impressive. There’s a real “event” feel to proceedings and the crossover works brilliantly.

Hugely entertaining and with high stakes this also packs an emotional punch. With such a formidable foe deaths are on the cards and I’ve been dodging spoilers, and will avoud them here.

There are a fair few bodies dropping in this movie and most land emotionally. Even after the first couple they don’t lose their edge and one of the last ones is the one that cut me deepest.

There’s a school of thought that dismisses the MCU as being too lighthearted, but for me the quips and gags have always been deliberate attempts by characters to mask fear or pain. It’s telling here that as the movie moves towards an Empire Strikes Back style of downbeat ending there is a stop to the jokes. In fact, dialogue stops all together as our heroes deal with the fallout.

After teases and hype Thanos finally hits the MCU and does so like a freight train. He delivers on all the threats and references, leaving our heroes reeling and damaged. And for the first time the villain is still standing at the end, and still a threat.

But you can’t keep a good hero or franchise down, and the post credits scene hints at a new player entering the fray. This isn’t the end for the MCU but does feel like a new chapter. And part of me dreads what comes next, especially as contracts run out.

For a young comic book fan the big universe shaking events were always a big deal (although partly because they were rarer then) and this movie manages to capture that excitement and scale, and gives most of the characters a chance to shine.

Marvel knocked this out of the park.

Verdict: A big blockbuster that actually feels big. All the planning plays off and with a legitimately threatening villain this has genuine peril. Amazinly it delivers on the hype and is a superhero epic. 9.5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: A Wrinkle in Time

I really wanted to enjoy this movie. Unfortunately, despite some cracking visuals this is a painfully dull and poorly written affair.

It’s been four years since Dr Alexander Murry (Chris Pine) vanished, leaving his family reeling. His thirteen year old daughter Meg (Storm Reid) has become directionless at school, isolated and angry. Her gifted younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) has befriended a strange trio women, Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs Which (Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and Oprah Winfrey, respectively). They reveal themselves to be cosmic beings who have come to help the Murry kids find their dad, who turned out to have been right about the idea of interstellar travel and has been cast into space.

They try tracking him down but it turns out he has been captured by the It, the evil force in the universe which corrupts life wherever it finds it. Can the Murrys, along with Meg’s classmate Calvin (Levi Miller), find him and rescue him? And can they resist the dark side?

What a load of cosmic twaddle. Not helped by weak child performances- Reid is bland, and oddly expressionless for long stretches, while Charles Wallace is the kind of brainy, precocious kid who is immensely slappable and unlike any kid you’ve ever met.

The visuals are impressive but the “love is the most powerful force in the universe” idea is cheesy beyond belief and there’s far too much talk for a kid’s movie. This would be fine if the action sequences were up to scratch but they’re uniformly limp and there’s never any real sense of peril.

The adult characters are one note too. The Mrs characters are an interesting idea, and visually striking, like one of Jack Kirby’s cosmic creations filtered through RuPaul’s Drag Race, but other than exposition, weak philosophy and a few lame gags, they add little.

Weak. I can’t imagine this winning many fans- too talky and slow for kids, too twee, cheesy and poorly executed for adults.

Avoid.

Verdict: Some of the visuals are good. That’s all the positives I can manage. 2/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: The Greatest Showman

Okay, right off the bat I need to be clear; I know this is a highly fictionalized version of PT Barnum’s life and that it whitewashes more controversial and problematic parts of the tale. However, this is a review of the film, not a comparison with facts. Therefore I stress my enjoyment of the movie is not an endorsment of the real life Barnum.

So, yeah, I enjoyed this film. I went in slightly apprehensive as for some reason I thought it was a Baz Luhrman movie, but it’s actually directed by Michael Gracey who has Luhrman’s abilities with choreography and big sequences, without his more overblown excesses.

Hugh Jackman excels as Barnum, a poor boy desperate to succeed and win the posh girl he loves. He makes Barnum a likeable character, a showy individual who blags his way through life.

He sets up a museum of curiosities in New York and quickly assembles a cast of unique individuals.

The film paints the freak show in an empowering light, with Barnum giving the performers a family and a home and treating them fairly. It’s a leap from the real story and it feels a little bit of a cop out, but the performers do well. Keala Settle playing the Bearded Lady is the focal point for this, a woman blessed with a great singing voice who gains confidence through her role in Barnum’s show.

The problems arise when Barnum becomes obsessed with respectability and showing up his dismissive inlaws. The chip on his shoulder is understandable, and it adds conflict. Caught up in his first highbrow success, the singer Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) he places himself in a financial danger and drives a wedge between himself and those close to him.

He ignores the show, treats the performers as though he is ashamed of them and his marriage to Charity, fantastically played by Michelle Williams, is shaken.

Williams is solid throughout, in a quieter, more fragile role who attempts to curb Barnum’s excesses and get him to appreciate his life, to let go of his deep rooted grievances and merely enjoy the happy life he has built. She serves as the balance to him and her singing is on point, it’s not a showy role compared to others but it is a solid performance.

Jackman carries the weight brilliantly, his Barnum a charming individual with relatable, understandable flaws. Even as he becomes selfish and foolish he keeps audiences onside and pulls back from utter scoundrel territory.

It helps that Jackman is phenomenal in the song and dance numbers, especially a strong opening number and several big duets with Williams.

The songs are fantastic throughout and the direction creates many outstanding set pieces. The strongest are Settle’s defiant “This Is Me” and a heartfelt duet between Zac Efron and Zendaya, “Rewrite the Stars” is lush, romantic and beautiful filmmaking.

The Efron and Zendaya subplot which sees his upper class man join as Barnum’s apprentice and fall for the trapeze artist is well played, if slightly rushed. It feels as though one or two scenes more might have fleshed out the romance more, but both performers do their jobs well.

It’s especially good to see Efron back to exuding his early charm and talents, having been in a few dumb comedies. He may be second fiddle to Jackman, but he showcases charisma which proves he could and should be one of the leading men of his generation.

In fact, the cast is universally good and the effect is a fantastic musical which charmed me. Big, daring and striking this mixes old school musicals with modern tech and effects.

The subject matter, despite the efforts to clean it up and give it an empowering spin, can’t eliminate the exploitation entirely and the appearance of circus animals was for me a jolt out of my disbelief. But taken as a musical and a work of fiction it succeeded in impressing and entertaining me.

Fun and well made, but probably won’t bear up to much scrutiny or factual analysis.

Verdict: An enjoyable and beautifully crafted musical, if one checks reality at the door and just goes with it. Jackman and Efron are standouts in a cast who are all on form. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Coco

Ladies and gentlemen, we have an early challenger for my film of the year.

Disney and Pixar knock this one out of the park creating a beautiful, gorgeous world to tell a charming and affecting story of family, music and remembrance.

Set in Mexico and based around the Day of the Dead festivities this is probably Pixar’s best movie since Inside Out and one which takes a place with the very best the studio has produced.

The Rivera family have effectively banned music after an ancestor left to become a singer, never returning and meaning his wife had to work, creating a successful shoe making business. However, young boy Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is loves music and has adopted local musical legend Ernesto De La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) as his hero.

He wants to take part in a talent show but is forbidden by his grandmother, who insists he spends Day of the Dead with his family. As they set out the pictures of dead ancestors and relatives, the photo of his great-great-grandmother is dropped. The broken frame reveals that the photo has been folded. Miguel’s great-great-grandfather, the runaway musician, who’s face has been torn from the picture is revealed to be holding Ernesto’s famous guitar.

Miguel takes this as a sign, and argues that he his honouring his family’s traditions, but his grandmother smashes his guitar. Angry, Miguel storms out, announcing he doesn’t want to be part of the family. Desperate to find a guitar to compete he breaks into De La Cruz’s crypt and steals the car.

It is at this point the movie really kicks in, with the already charming and likeable film embracing the supernatural and introducing the ghostly ancestors who have come across to the land of the living to visit their family. The art here is great with the ghostly figures styled after sugar skulls and their skeletal figures retaining unique characteristics for each person.

Miguel can see them because having been cursed for stealing from the dead. He must break the curse by sunrise, by obtaining the blessing of a family member, however, his great-great-grandmother Imelda (Alanna Ubach) only offers a blessing with the condition that he never plays music. The rest of the family refuse to go against the matriarch and so Miguel decides to find De La Cruz.

Miguel travels through the city of the dead, a vibrant, strange world with his only guide Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) a scruffy, trickster who tries to trick his way across to the living. But nobody has put up a photo of him so he can not cross. He claims to know Ernesto and agrees to help Miguel on the condition that he takes his photo so he can cross once more and see his daughter one last time before she forgets him.

When the dead are forgotten they vanish forever, and Hector’s daughter is the only one who remembers him.

Can Miguel break the curse? Will his hero Ernesto help him? And will Hector get to see his daughter again?

This film is simply gloruous. The artwork is beautiful and the colourful, sprawling city of the dead and it’s residents are extremely well done.

The characters are fantastic too, with Miguel a charming, likeable hero. He has humour and courage, and it’s through his eyes we experience the wonderful world he enters.

Similarly, the swaggering De La Cruz and scruffy Hector are both engaging and interesting characters and their story unfolds nicely. One of the revelations is easy to see coming, but there are a few twists in the tale.

As Miguel tries to break the curse he comes to understand the importancr of family and how much they mean to him. It also serves as a powerful reminder of respecting our past and appreciating how it shapes us.

The film has raw emotional power, not just in the melancholic nature of the city of the dead but in the handling of Miguel’s great-grandmother, Mama Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguia), who is losing her memory and in confused moments still waiting for her father to return.

Sod it, I have to give a spoiler here, but to be fair, most grown up viewers will guess it during the movie.

Hector is Coco’s father, and he did know Ernesto, in fact he wrote many of his songs. Ernesto’s bombastic signature tune “Remember Me” is actually based on a quieter, more low key song Hector wrote and sang to his daughter.

The scene where Miguel returns home and sings this to her, reviving the long dormant memory is one of the most moving scenes I’ve seen in a long time, and reduced WoM and me to tears.

The moving scene, which captures all of the film’s themes is wonderful and caps the movie beautifully.

Loaded with charm, gorgeous to look at and profoundly moving, this one will be hard to beat in 2018.

Verdict: An utter delight. Some plot developments are easy to see coming, but it doesn’t rob the film of it’s ability to move you. A fun, emotional and beautiful film. 9.5.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.