Film Review: Aquaman

It’s weird that the DC movie that hit home for me the most is based around a character that I’ve never had a lot of time for. Perhaps it’s the talking to fish thing, or the orange and green colour scheme, but Aquaman has always been the butt of plenty of jokes and is possibly the lamest of DC’s big 7 (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, The Flash and Green Lantern being the other six).

What this movie does well is lean into the goofiness and absurdity, eschewing traditional superheroism and opting for more of a fantasy movie vibe, and sheds the moody, brooding style of the DCEU so far. This is a film that is unapologetically fun, and all the better for it.

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We get the backstory of Arthur Curry (Jason Mamoa), the child of two star crossed lovers, the Atlantean Queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) and lighthouse keeper, Tom (Temuera Morrison). Gifted with the ability to breathe underwater along with increased strength, using his powers for good.

When a submarine is attacked he stops the pirates, but leaves the leader to die. The captain’s son, David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen III) vows revenge and escapes to his stealth submarine.

Back on land Arthur drinks with his father and questions what his role in the world is, as he feels apart from the regular people on the surface and harbours ill will for his underwater kin after they executed his mother because of her relationship with his father, Arthur feeling guilty for this.

Arthur’s half brother, King Orm (Patrick Wilson) plans to wage war on the surface dwellers, but needs to get four of the other underwater kingdoms to back his play. The first leader he approaches is Nereus (Dolph Lundgren), who commands the biggest army, Nereus is reluctant but their meeting is attacked by a submarine, and Orm convinces him that war is inevitable.

Orm attacks the surface, almost killing Tom. Arthur rescues him thanks to the aid of Mera (Amber Heard), Nereus’ daughter and Orm’s betrothed. Mera, who knew Atlanna, doesn’t want war and believes that Arthur’s claim to the throne is strong, but as an outsider Arthur may not be accepted. To win their acceptance he must retrieve the legendary Trident of Atlan, the first king of Atlantis.

And so, Arthur and Mera head off on a treasure hunt, while Orm recruits Kane, aka Black Manta, to hunt them down and keeps trying to recruit the other nations. Can Arthur find the Trident? Can he find his place in the world and overcome his doubts? Is war between Atlantis and the surface inevitable?

As you can see from the synopsis, this is a traditional fantasy quest adventure, the Trident standing in for Excalibur. The story moves along at a decent pace, with some well executed action sequences, particularly a scrap in Sicily.

The climactic battle is suitably epic, and the Orm vs Arthur smackdowns are handled very well, and I really liked some of the nice touches like the differences between the undersea realms- we get super evolved mermen, weird crab men and some creepy creatures that live in the dark depths. Not being a massive comic book fan I’m not sure how much of this is in the books or newly invented, it doesn’t matter, because it’s a wonderful colourful world of rival factions.

You know what it reminded me of? Flash Gordon. And I love that flick.

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There’s the same vibe of a world made up of distinct and interesting peoples, and a playful, slightly tongue in cheek tone. It doesn’t go all out camp, and it could do with a few more Queen songs, but that’s the film it reminded to me the most.

It also has a similar hero. Arthur isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, more of a brawler than a strategic genius, and the film gets plenty of humour from the fact that half the time he’s just winging it. This impetuous nature and quick temper is contrasted nicely with Heard’s Mera, who is more thoughtful and knowledgeable. Heard is really good, carrying herself with a regal air, but with softer touches and a sense of fun.

In fact the whole cast are great, especially Patrick Wilson as the villain, who is humanised just enough to give depth without going too far and making it difficult to really root against him (see: Ant-Man and the Wasp). Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Black Manta because, frankly, I get why he’s got it in for Arthur, who could have easily rescued his dad.

It’s weird seeing Nicole Kidman in such a small role, but she does it well, although part of me couldn’t shake the fact that they should have gone for Daryl Hannah.

And I loved seeing Dolph Lundgren back on the big screen again. Dolph Lundgren is awesome.

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But the film belongs to Jason Momoa, who carries himself with real swagger and charisma, making Arthur a very likeable and watchable presence on screen. WoM says “extremely watchable” and I suspect that there are plenty of viewers who will enjoy purely because he spends quite a lot of the film with his shirt off.

This will hopefully be the big breakthrough for Mamoa, who has the makings of the next big action hero. I’ve enjoyed his work before, but it never really landed, but here he knocks it out of the park. He embraces the silliness without lurching into parody, and shows good comic timing along with his physical attributes.

For the first time in the current cycle of DC films I’ve actually come out really wanting to see more, for me this is the strongest film they’ve made and I hope we get more of Arthur’s adventures in the future.

8.5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

 

 

 

 

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Film Review: Mary Poppins Returns

The 1964 movie Mary Poppins is a much loved classic, the kind of film that most people will have seen at least once as a kid, and has been loved by successive generations. My parents saw it as kids, I watched it as a kid and I’m sure at some point my nieces and nephews will sit down to watch it. And I’m sure they’ll love it too.

Making a sequel over half a century later is a risky proposition, and Emily Blunt is stepping into the firing line as she takes on the role filled by Julie Andrews, who is practically perfect in the original. She must have known that she’d always be compared to Andrews, and that’s a big ask of a performer. So, how does she do?

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In fairness to Blunt she does admirably in the title role, and while she’s not quite up there with Andrews, she comes pretty close. She manages to capture the haughty, prim and proper exterior and the underlying mischief within, and she shows a bit more sneakiness than in the original, while still being the same character at heart.

Here it’s obvious from the get go that she’s there to help the Banks family with more than just childcare and she’s very proactive in sorting out all their problems. As a kid, the fact that she was there to help Mr Banks as much as Michael and Jane kinda passed me by until the end of the movie, when he cracks and moves away from his workaholic ways, but I suspect kids will know early doors that Mary Poppins is there to help the fully grown Michael (Ben Whishaw) get back on track.

We meet Michael in dire straits, recently widowed he is alone raising his three children, aided by his sister Jane (Emily Mortimer) and scatterbrained housekeeper Ellen (Julie Walters). A painter he has had to take a job as a bank teller, and having taken a loan is now at risk of losing the family home. He has five days to find the shares his father has in the bank which will save the house.

At the same time, the elder two children Annabel and John (Pixie Davies and Nathaniel Saleh) are overly serious and grown up for their ages, and the younger son, Georgie (Joel Dawson), has his playfulness and imagination stifled. Into this comes Mary Poppins, who announces that she has returned to help the Banks children, and she soon has Annabel, John and George joining her on various adventures into fantastical worlds.

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The children learn to embrace their imaginations and have fun, as well as come to terms with the loss of their mother. This in turn helps Michael and Mary helps to try and save the house. Meanwhile, Mary Poppins plays matchmaker to Jane and Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a cockney lamplighter who previously worked as apprentice to Mary’s old friend Bert. Jack is the children and Mary’s companion on their travels, and he and his fellow lamplighters come to the rescue a couple of times.

Jack is essentially filling the Bert role, a working class Londoner who helps out the characters and knows of Mary Poppins’ magical abilities. LMM’s cockney accent is better than Dick Van Dyke’s and he is a charming, likeable presence throughout. His love story with Jane is handled well and is quite endearing. He serves as out introduction to the film, singing the opening number and offering advice to the kids and to Mary Poppins. LMM is probably one of the film’s strongest assets, and his performance is great. I’d heard the name but wasn’t familiar with him, but he is the standout here and I’ll keep an eye out for him in future.

It helps that the entire cast is on fine form. The child actors are pretty good by kid standards, managing to be cute without being cutesy, and their performances don’t feel forced which is rare for child performers (see all the kids in the first two Harry Potter movies).

The adult cast are solid across the board, with Julie Walters in comfortable territory as the eccentric housekeeper and Colin Firth relishing the chance to step into villain country again. In a cameo as an eccentric relative of Mary Poppins, Meryl Streep is having a ball, and is quite funny, if over the top. Emily Mortimer is charming as Jane Banks, even if she is rather underwritten in places.

Ben Whishaw gives the movie it’s emotional heart as Michael Banks, the brokenhearted widower left hopelessly adrift. His solo number near the beginning is extremely moving and the biggest emotional clout comes when he finally breaks towards the end, the pressure finally crashing down on him as he cracks in front of his kids. It’s a performance of quiet, sadness and desperation, and when he finally breaks down it has a genuine power and realism to it.

I’m not ashamed to say that at this moment I got rather emotional myself.

It’s interesting that like the original, this is a kid’s film where the real emotional focus of the story is actually the parent, not the kids. Sure, we feel for the kids and their loss, but this is definitely more about Michael’s journey.

This story about the father figure needing rescuing is one of many areas that the movie resembles the original, and throughout you find that the film is toeing a fine line in terms of nostalgia. It’d be impossible, and daft, not to have nods and similarities to the old film, and some of these work rather well. There are returning characters in the form of Ellen the housekeeper and Admiral Boom, the eccentric neighbour, who’s habit of firing a cannon on the hour is here given slightly more resonance and importance.

The best use of callbacks comes in the music and artwork, the opening titles being very similar to the original and making the film feel more connected, and the music which uses the old familiar tunes is a great way to set the tone. They provide a sense of continuity between the films, and the familiar melodies stir old memories and affection. It’s one of the ways the film is clever in it’s use of nostalgia while still trying to forge it’s own place and story.

Some of the elements don’t quite work as well, particularly Jack and the lamplighters, while the character is fantastic and LMM gives a spirited performance it does feel like them trying to get Bert into the movie without being able to have Bert be in the movie. Similarly, some of the plot points are similar as are the musical numbers, which while good fun can’t quite match the old favourites.

But this is a minor quibble, and for the most part the nostalgia is handled well. It’s unavoidable, and the film does it’s well to honour the original movie. There’s a brief appearance from Angela Lansbury, one of Disney’s legends, and it’s wonderful to see her on screen again, but you sense the filmmakers probably wanted Andrews for the part. Andrews wisely felt her presence would throw the movie off, and wanted this to be Blunt’s movie, which is extremely gracious.

While fans lose out on seeing Andrews her former costar Dick Van Dyke does make an appearance, and frankly, I lost it a bit when he turned up. When he makes his entrance is a massive moment of joy and nostalgic glee, but what tops it all is when he performs a dance. Seeing him on the big screen, dancing once again was a bit too much for me and I got a bit choked up, I was just so bloody happy.

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Disney’s gamble pays off and this is a charming, fun and engaging family film. While it doesn’t quite match the original for me, I suspect for younger viewers this will become a beloved favourite. It uses nostalgia effectively, but it’s a story in it’s own right. The performances are uniformly solid. Blunt doesn’t quite match Andrews, but she still gives a wonderful performance.

I think it manages to pull off the tricky proposition of pleasing old fans and a new generation. A lovely, old fashioned, feel good movie.

8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #34: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

I remember going to see this in the cinema and it being the first Disney movie that didn’t impress me, aside from Pinocchio and for years I carried residual bad feeling about it and didn’t rate it. However, WoM and several other people have raved about it, I gave this another watch a couple of years back and was pleasantly surprised, although I can kinda see why it didn’t work for me as a kid.

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At eleven years old, my major interest was football. I was obsessed and didn’t have much time for anything else, geekdom not yet having claimed me. I was also in that awkward phase when you’re starting to get judged for what you like, and this wasn’t going to earn me much credibility.

Also, at the time I think the slightly dark tone of the movie wouldn’t have won me over and I’ve had viewed it as a bit dull. This is ridiculous as I’ve grown to quite like gothy, moody stuff in moderation and this film massively lightens the source material. Not that I’ve read the Victor Hugo novel but a read of the Wikipedia summary makes it sound grim as all hell. What turned me off as a kid is actually what I really dig about it now.

The darkness starts early when villainous Frollo (voiced by Tony Jay) chases a gypsy woman through the streets, finally catching her outside of the eponymous cathedral. He snatches her bundle away and she falls, cracking heer head and dying. Cheery.

The bundle is actually her young child, who has severe deformities (apologies if deformities isn’t the correct term here, but that’s the only word I can think of. If you suggest one politely in the comments, I’ll switch it). Frollo, being a top guy decides that he should drown the baby in a well, but fortunately, the Archdeacon is on hand to lay some serious Catholic guilt on him, reminding him that “the eyes of Notre Dame” have seen his actions. We then get treated to the staring, hard faced gothic statues of saints and kings staring down at Frollo ending with JC himself.

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Creepy

The Catholic theme is strong throughout, and not just because it takes part in the cathedral. We see characters praying to Mary for help and it’s evident that religion is behind the motivations and issues of the antagonist. Frollo is incredibly dark and far more human than most Disney villains, a raging man who believes himself just and righteous. He hates the gypsies of the city with a manic fervour, decrying them as heathens and corrupt, and placing himself above them morally.

He’s manipulative and bullying to Quasimodo (Tom Hulce), the deformed child he took responsibility for, drilling into him that he is a monster and that the world is cruel. He demands obedience and gratitude from Quasimodo, despite constantly insulting and lecturing him. But the darkest part, and one I didn’t fully understand as a kid is Frollo’s interaction with Esmeralda (Demi Moore), the gypsy dancing girl who captures the attention of all the male characters. Despite his hatred of gypsies and his moral posturing, he is deeply attracted to her, and this obsessive desire, which threatens his image of himself as a pure, virtuous man drives him towards madness.

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Frollo’s lust conjures Esmeralda in the flames of his fire

It’s a very adult angle for the villain, with the repressed desire, guilt and hatred all bubbling away within, a far more psychological motivation than the the average kids’ movie villain. As a kid I probably missed all of this, as I definitely hadn’t clocked what Esmeralda was talking about where she angrily replies “I know what you’re imagining” when Frollo grabs her and talks about imagining a rope around her neck. She sees through his facade, and recognises the urges he has.

When his desires are frustrated Frollo erupts in a storm of violence, ordering houses burned and the gypsies rounded up. It’s racial hatred presented plainly as horrible, unfair and cruel, and the film should be applauded for addressing this head on. Similarly it shows the ugliness of mob mentality, the way the crowds jeer and humiliate Quasimodo the character who the audience know to be sweet, kind and innocent.

Quasimodo’s attraction to Esmeralda is far more innocent than Frollo’s, based largely on the fact that she is the first person to be genuinely kind to him. And yet, when he realises that she cares for Phoebus (Kevin Kline) he reacts by going in a self pitying sulk and initially refuses to help Phoebus warn the gypsies of Frollo’s impending rampage. It’s the only moment that Quasimodo’s heroic character cracks, the moment he deals with the sting of rejection. His own petty hurt almost pushing him to ignore doing the right thing.

Of course, he comes good in the end, allying himself Phoebus and Esmeralda in winning the day, giving the couple his blessing. The central characters are well done here, with Esmeralda being a fiery, strong willed heroine who stands up for herself. She rallies the people against the injustice of Frollo’s rules and also shows kindness to others throughout. She’s also given a bit more of a sexier vibe than the traditional Disney heroines, which works for the character who knows that she is desirable and uses this for her own gain.

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The best looking Disney heroine?

Kline’s Phoebus almost steals the show, however. Phoebus looks every inch the hero with his gleaming armour and dashing looks, but there’s a knowing humour to Kline’s performance which stops him from being a cheesy archetype. He’s sarcastic and somewhat overconfident, but charming and heroic, to such an extent that he threatens to overshadow the hero.

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Scene stealing Phoebus

While the human characters are brilliant one of the movie’s missteps is the inclusion of three talking gargoyles who serve as Quasimodo’s friends within the bell tower. While the vocal work of Charles Kimbrough, Jason Alexander and Mary Wickes is fine and they have some funny moments, they jar against the heavier, darker tone of the rest of the film. I appreciate that the filmmakers probably felt they needed to inject some humour into proceedings but this is done better through the dialogue of Phoebus and Esmeralda. Perhaps it was just a way to allow us insight into Quasimodo’s thoughts, which it achieves, but it could have been better.

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Funny but feel out of place at times

The disjointed tone is one of the things that hampers this film, as is the fact that Quasimodo is a rather dull protagonist. He’s likeable to a point, but he’s so consistently nice for much of the film that he doesn’t feel like a real person.

The gothic touches and human aspects are probably a bit too dark for kids, but some of the humour is a bit lazy for adults. There are moments when it really gets going, but it fails to maintain this over the course of the whole movie, which is a shame. It’s a lot better than how I remembered it as a kid and I’m glad I gave it a second chance, but it’s still a distinctly second tier Disney movie, due to it’s inconsistency.

Disney Score: 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Favourite Films 2018

Thanks to WOM and I getting Limitless cards I’ve seen a lot more movies this year, the current total (on 21st of December) is 32. The majority have been at the cinema, but I’ve also watched a couple of Netflix and Sky movies, although none of these are troubling this list.

Normally the end of the year list is quite easily put together but this year I struggled a little, while the top 5 contain my runaway favourites a lot of the movies I saw fell into the 6-7 out of ten range, and that’s made it hard to fill out the rest of the top ten. But after a lot of thought, here we go with my favourite films of the year.

10. The Meg

I was sold as soon as I heard “Jason Statham vs a giant shark”. Embraced it’s silliness and was a lot of fun. Review.

9. Black Panther

Another solid entry into the MCU, and in Michael B Jordan’s Killmonger boasted a great villain, but there was so much hype before it’s release that it didn’t meet my expectations. Decent enough, but not Marvel’s best. Review here.

8. Christopher Robin

A charming and sweet story of regaining childlike joy, taking time for your family and that you work to live, not the other way around. It veers close to cheese throughout, but I’ve a lot of affection for the characters, and what can I say, I’m a soft git. Review.

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7. Mission: Impossible: Fallout

A thrill ride from start to finish, Tom Cruise is great as the super spy Ethan Hunt and the relentless action, double crosses and danger ensure this is a lot of fun, kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. Review.

6. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Rebooting a long dormant series is always risky, but this one did so with invention and humour. Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan play the computer game avatars possessed by teenage players in a goofily fun action adventure. Johnson is always great, and Jack Black is better here than he has been in years. Laughed like a drain and it still charms on repeat viewings. Review here.

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5. Deadpool 2

The only film on the list I saw twice in the cinema, Ryan Reynolds returns as the foul mouthed, fourth wall breaking mercenary in a profane, over the top movie that revels in it’s gore and filth. I loved it, there are plenty of big laughs along the way and the new characters introduced are fantastic, especially Josh Brolin as Cable. Not for everyone, but worked for me. Review.

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4. The Greatest Showman

Historically accurate? Almost definitely not, but for the story this wants to tell it works well. Loaded with irritatingy catchy songs and a majestic lead performance from Hugh Jackman this is an old fashioned musical that delivers both musically and emotionally. The supporting cast, especially Zac Efron, are great too. Wonderful stuff. Review.

3. Avengers: Infinity War

The MCU nails it’s first major event movie, uniting characters from across it’s universe for a superhero epic that packs a massive emotional punch. Robert Downey Jr is the standout for me, but the whole cast do great work and the scale is immense. I can not wait for Endgame now. Review.

2. Coco

While the animated sequels released this year fell short of their predecessors, this original movie from Disney and Pixar won through because of a strong story and beautiful visuals. The city of the dead is glorious, and the character design bold, striking and used well. The movie’s themes of loss, remembrance and family really struck a chord with me and reduced me to tears at the end, even on a second viewing I was sniffling. An utter delight of a movie, one of the best Pixar movies in recent years and a testament to what they can do when they strike out into new territory. Review here.

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1. Bohemian Rhapsody

I loved this movie. It made me laugh, it made me rock out, it made me cry, and it did each one more than once. Rami Malek delivers a towering performance as Freddie Mercury, capturing the showmanship and swagger, but also an inner vulnerability. Have events been changed for the movie? Yes, but I wasn’t expecting a documentary and the story the filmmakers tell of an individual struggling with himself and embracing his individuality resonates. Malek should get a bunch of awards for this, and it reminded me how amazing Queen were. Superb. Review here.

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Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #26: The Great Mouse Detective

I have been writing these Disney Classic blogs in order, but it’s slowed the whole thing up, so I thought I’d write about the movies as I rewatch them, meaning that I jump from The Jungle Book in 1967 to this film, almost twenty years later.

This movie comes right in the middle of what is widely regarded as a weaker era for Disney, with a string of lesser works being produced. I have to admit, this movie wasn’t one I loved as a kid, I dimly remember seeing it as a little kid, but it didn’t make an impact, and if we had it on video it wasn’t dusted off often.

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I think the problem was that I saw this movie at the wrong time, had I seen it when I was a bit older, I would have got a lot more from it, even if it is a bit weak. When I was around ten I started reading the Sherlock Holmes stories, and loved them, similarly I would discover old horror movies and Vincent Price, but seeing this as a kid, neither Holmes nor Price meant anything to me, and thus the movie didn’t connect with me. Had I watched it knowing more about the star and the fictional sleuth it might have worked better for me.

Like The Rescuers, this film takes place in a world where rodents have their own society beneath mankind, often reflecting and mimicking the human world. Here, we get their version of Sherlock Holmes, Basil (Barrie Ingham), who is renowned as a great detective although he has never been able to stop Ratigan (Vincent Price), the master criminal.

Basil meets Doctor Dawson (Val Bettin), who has returned from Afghanistan and is looking for a place to live. The kindly Dawson finds the distressed and lost child Olivia, who’s father has been kidnapped by Ratigan’s henchbat Fidget. Dawson takes her to Basil and joins the hunt, trying to work out what Ratigan is up to and why he needs a toy maker.

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Ratigan’s plot is bonkers, involving a clockwork replica of the mouse queen in order to take over Britain, and the Empire. Even for a film about a mouse sleuth this is daft, and there’s not a lot of mystery solving needed. Basil is shown to have Holmes’ knack for deduction, but the case doesn’t need a lot of it, and his pomposity is irritating.

As a result the movie is stolen by the glorious vocal work of Vincent Price, who’s distinctive tones elevate the evil Ratigan. It’s the standout of the film, and the heroes appear dull in comparison.

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The action is okay, but the whole film is throwaway and the brief running time doesn’t help develop any of the characters. Still, it has a certain goofy charm and passes the time well enough. But it definitely doesn’t measure up against the great animations, and the rather prosaic animation means that this is definitely a lesser entry in the ranks.

Disney score: 4/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Ralph Breaks the Internet

It’s quite rare for Disney to go for a big screen sequel of one of their animated movies, usually relegating them straight to video, and this is only the third sequel in the Classics series, after The Rescuers Down Under and Fantasia 2000. While Frozen 2 makes sense given the success of the first movie, it’s a bit less obvious why there’s a sequel to 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph. While the first movie is fantastically charming, it wasn’t an absolute monster hit like Anna and Elsa’s adventure. And what new stories could be squeezed from the premise of video game characters living outside their games?

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In traditional sequel style, the answer here is to make everything bigger, with Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Princess Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) taking to cyberspace to find a replacement steering wheel for Vanellope’s game to stop it being shut down. However, they soon discover they need money, but how can they earn money on the internet?

The answer is stealing and selling artefacts from online games and viral videos. Bored of her repetitive game, Vanellope is entranced by the vast, exciting world of the online racing game Slaughter Race, and it’s cool character Shank (Gal Gadot), and is tempted to stay, much to Ralph’s dismay as he fears losing his best friend and views his arcade life as perfect.

Desperation to keep his friend leads Ralph to make a bad call, putting Slaughter Race, Vanellope and the internet itself in danger? Can he undo his mistake? Can their friendship survive and can he convince Vanellope to come home with him?

I was disappointed with this movie, which provides a few laughs and some good visuals, but lacks the heart of the original, and feels shallow in places. The design for the internet is immense, but I found myself distracted by noticing which online companies had given permission and which hadn’t. We don’t get real online games, at all, which feels odd given the variety of classic games which filled the original movie.

Similarly, while ebay, Google and Pinterest make the most of some publicity, You Tube is absent, replaced by BuzzzTube, where Ralph becomes an online sensation. There’s also a Disney fansite, featured heavily in the marketing, where Vanellope meets her fellow Disney Princesses. This is quite funny, and ensures plenty of nice allusions to other Disney movies, but it’s a bad sign that this is one of the movie’s strongest parts.

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The plot line feels muddled, and while the lesson of allowing friends to grow and develop freely, even if they move away from you, is a good thing to teach, but it never has the emotional power of the first film. And the message of not allowing your insecurities to destroy you is decent but dealt with quickly. I just didn’t find it that involving.

I enjoyed this film, but given the current Disney run of form this is a misstep, weaker by far than it’s predecessors and distinctly average. A shame, given that Wreck-It Ralph was the start of a five film run of exceptionally good movies.

Ralph doesn’t break the internet, but he does break Disney’s streak of great movies.

Verdict: Disappointingly average. It entertains enough, and has some good laughs and nice touches, but this falls short of it’s predecessors and Disney’s recent work. Not awful, but not amazing either. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (Some Spoilers)

Man, was this a huge let down.

I loved the first Fantastic Beasts movie, an entertaining magical adventure which was full of heart and charm. It won me over in a way that the Harry Potter movies never did, and I was pretty stoked to see this follow up. Unfortunately, it moves away from the tone of the first movie and feels more Potter-like.

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One of the major things I enjoyed the first time around was the central quartet of characters. Eddie Redmayne’s awkward animal loving wizard Newt Scamander teamed up with muggle Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and the Goldstein sisters, the intense Tina (Katherine Waterston) and the more flighty telepathic Queenie (Alison Sudol). They saved the day in New York and the film ended with the suggestion that the quartet was set to become two couples, with Newt and Tina tentatively attracted to each other and Queenie and Jacob falling for each other. Being a softie I loved the Jacob and Queenie story and was utterly enchanted by their story.

That’s the first thing this film does wrong. Early doors we see the quartet are estranged. The sisters have clashed over Queenie’s relationship, as the US doesn’t allow relationships between magical folk and No-Maj people, and Queenie could go to jail. Jacob himself is apprehensive, fearing for Queenie’s safety, which makes her do some pretty dumb things. Early doors in this film they have a bust up and Queenie storms off.

Queenie’s entire arc did my head in, as they made her far more stupid here, as evidenced in the fact that she’s pretty easily convinced/tricked to believe the villainous Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp). It doesn’t feel natural, and happens far too quickly, and I suspect in later films will be explained away by a magical loophole. As it stands, I can’t see anyway this story progresses in a satisfactory way. At some point Double G is gonna show his true colours at which point Queenie can go one of two ways- goes full heel and joins him, or otherwise objects and dies. Both are bollocks.

Similarly, there are obstacles thrown in the way for Tina and Newt, mainly through misunderstandings around Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz), a former friend and love interest of Newt who is now engaged to his brother Theseus (Callum Turner). These overlapping love triangles are set up and given far too much importance before being thrown out quite quickly. Leta, initially a complicated character and one who could be interesting going forward is squandered, instead turned into little more than an assistance to the plot and who’s death serves only to justify Newt taking a side in the upcoming conflict.

That is literally all the character adds to proceedings, and don’t even get me started on the return of Creedence played by Ezra Miller in an utterly dull performance which mainly consists of slouching and moping. Essentially a living weapon to be used by the other characters, I honestly don’t care about who his parents are or what becomes of him.

There’s also far too much of having all the action drawing towards certain characters, which leaves Newt and Co as peripheral players in a grander scheme. The obsession with a continuing arc and saga means that this feels less like it’s own film or story and just a stepping stone to other events. I would much rather have had a series of more fun almost self contained adventures.

Far too much of this film left me cold, and poorly executed subplots frustrated me as they went nowhere, or at least nowhere I particularly wanted to go. Characters act in stupid ways that don’t ring true given their histories, relationships are cast aside and the whole movie falls into the trap of thinking that darkness is the same as depth, and the tone felt more like the later Potter films which I find infuriating for their adolescent pouting and dull, colourless imagery.

What worked here were the moments of humour and the creatures, but we get far too little of the magical menagerie. A shame as I find the fantastic beasts far more interesting than any crimes Grindelwald commits.

In fairness to  Johnny Depp, he reins in most of his excesses here and is has a malevolent energy to his performance which I think worked. Similarly, as young Dumbledore, Jude Law does good work, although the film’s reluctance to explicitly show the nature of their relationship feels like a cop out.

Hugely disappointing it wastes some good characters, leans far too much into self conscious brooding and left me bored. A hard landing after the soaring joys of the first movie.

Verdict: Dull. Disappointing. Irritating. Fleeting moments of humour and charm aren’t enough to save this from being distinctly average. 4/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

 

 


Film Review: The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

I really tried with this film, but in the end, I just couldn’t get onboard with the fantasy adventure it was trying to be. The problems I had with it were numerous, but mainly boiled down to the fact that the filmmakers spent so much time on the visuals that they neglected character, plot and substance. It was like the very worst of Tim Burton’s Alice movies, lacking even that sense of an individual voice behind it.

nutcracker

Mackenzie Foy does her best as our heroine Clara, but the script lets her down. Set in the Victorian period, Clara is a bright young girl who is struggling in the wake of her mother’s death. On Christmas Eve, her father (Matthew Macfayden) gives her a gift from her mother, an ornate egg that is locked. There is no key, only a note stating that all she need inside, at this point if you don’t realise the note is referring to Clara as much as the egg then frankly, you’ve got rocks in your head.

At a party thrown by her godfather, Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman, looking like a steampunk Nick Fury) she takes part in the present hunt, following a string which takes her from his manor house to a fantasy world. There she finds the key for the egg, but it is stolen by a mouse. Giving chase, she encounters Captain Hoffman (Jayden Fowora-Knight), a nutcracker soldier who accompanies her into the dangerous Fourth Realm, where the mouse joins it’s fellows in making a giant mouse swarm which defeats them and they flee.

They go to the palace where Clara learns that her mother crafted the fantasy world and was their queen. The regents of the other three realms welcome her warmly and tell her they are at war with the Fourth Realm, formerly known as the Land of Amusements, as their regent Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) has gone rogue and wants to rule.

This is another sticking point for me, I get that this is fantasy but it’s hard to really lose yourself in a world where there are characters called Mother Ginger and Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley). It lurches into silliness territory early on, and suffers because the movie doesn’t embrace the ridiculousness and plays it all far too seriously. Knightley is infuriating as Sugar Plum, affecting French words and a high pitched voice which grate and almost instantly I suspected that the fairy wasn’t to be trusted.

It turns out this is true, and it’s actually Sugar Plum who wants to rule, after the key so she can create an army of tin soldiers to crush Mother Ginger and the other regents, and become Queen. She feels that she is owed this and that Clara’s mother abandoned them. Clara realises she must stop Sugar Plum to protect the world, her mother’s legacy while also learning some important lessons about the strength within, looking at things from new perspectives and other lame platitudes.

Urgh.

This whole movie just felt like a mash up of elements of films I didn’t like. I’ve already mentioned there’s the style over substance of Burton’s Alice films, the garish visuals of Pan, the inane and “quirky” characters of A Wrinkle in Time complete with actors giving infuriating performances and there’s the preachy and heavy handed tone of Narnia as well. Woeful.

Foy and Fowora-Knight do their best but each suffers thanks to their poorly written parts. Fowora-Knight is likeable enough, but his character has no depth or real development beyond realising he’s lonely, and even this is only referenced in a couple of lines. The fact the film tells us this so bluntly is a recurring failing, with the film not showing us enough. Lacking nuance we instead get everything spelt out plainly.

We’re told Clara is bright repeatedly, but we only see brief moments of ingenuity, where she fixes machines with ease and no explanation. The other problem is that given her intelligence it takes an age for the penny to drop over the egg.

The rest of the cast in the fantasy world give the kind of painfully self aware showy performances which never feel like anything resembling real people, instead smacking of actors really trying to be quirky and weird. This self conscious weirdness is just off putting and quality actors like Mirren and Richard E. Grant are better than this.

Morgan Freeman’s role is so brief he’s clearly picking up a check and Macfayden’s understated performance as the dad includes more depth than anything else in the film, capturing a sense of a man lost in grief and unsure of his role as sole parent. It’s a shame that it’s wasted in a film this dire.

I appreciate that this has been quite negative, so I should include mentions of the things I did like about this film. There are a couple of laughs and nice little gags, and I did chuckle a couple of times, but not enough to keep me happy and these dry up long before the end.

While the visuals are often Burton-lite, there are a couple of nice touches. I particularly liked the Mouse King, the swirling, man shaped swarm of mice. That was kinda cool, visually and an interesting foe/ally. The ballet sequence is alright, I guess? And the use of Tchaikovsky’s music from the ballet is done well.

That’s about it.

In most years this would be the worst film of the year, but at least it wasn’t quite as awful as A Wrinkle in Time. I’m still mad about that, dammit.

Verdict: Showy in an irritating way, simplistic in plot, dull. A few nice visual touches and brief flickers of charm aren’t enough to save this film. 2.5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Slaughterhouse Rulez

I had high hopes for this movie going in because of the presence of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Michael Sheen and the fact that I love horror comedies. The problem is that this film, despite a few nice touches, is a big old mess.

slaughterhouserulez

The plot is simple, working class lad Don (Finn Cole), starts at the exclusive public school Slaughterhouse, renowned for producing leaders and famous figures. When he gets there he has to deal with rigid social hierarchies which keep him from being able to talk to Clemsie (Hermione Corfield), the object of his affection, and the sadistic prefect Clegg (Tom Rhys-Harries). His guide into this world is sarky misfit Willoughby (Asa Butterfield), who is an outsider at the school, bullied by Clegg and his goons, and still grieving the suicide of his former roommate.

The headmaster, nicknamed The Bat (Sheen) has done a deal with a fracking company to mine in the woods, and this drilling soon unleashes long dormant creatures. Can Don and Willoughby survive? Will Don get his girl?

Here’s the thing about this movie, there are a few good laughs along the way. There are some choice insults thrown around, a bit of slapstick, some ghoulishly gory deaths and some genuinely funny lines. The problem is that the film doesn’t quite get the horror part right, the creatures aren’t that scary when we see them and the film delays their arrival a bit too long. Perhaps having them pick off one or two minor players in the early stages would have worked better. As it is, the whole pacing of the movie is off and it could have done with an extra death near the end.

This death would have been easily slotted into the film as there are a couple of characters who contribute very little. Our heroic band near the end numbers seven, but they are far from magnificent. Finn Cole’s Don is our entrance into the world and rather likeable as the fish out of water and props to the film for making it’s female lead, Clemsie, confident and useful. The star amongst the kids is Butterfield, who injects genuine pathos into the character of Willoughby, and imbues the character with a louche charm.

The others however, are rather underdone, Clemsie’s best friend Kay, played by Isabella Laughland, is introduced as the clever character and is likeable enough, but doesn’t bring much to the table. Even villainous Clegg, despite being highly detestable feels like the actor doing an impression of Draco Malfoy crossed with Patrick Bateman.

That’s one issue, but there’s also the fact that several plot points are easy to spot from a mile away, and there are no real surprises along the way. This is a major problem for a horror comedy, as you despite the comedy aspect you still need a bit of suspense, and this doesn’t really build that well enough, preferring to go for gory gags instead. It does these rather well, but with the poorly rendered characters there’s not much to really hook you in.

The adult performers are far from their best, and while Sheen and Pegg deliver quite a few laughs along the way, Frost’s anti-fracking character is rather poorly done. It’s the actor, rather than the role that carries it off. There’s also a subplot about Pegg’s cricket obsessed teacher and his lover (Margot Robbie), which has no weight and goes nowhere.

Basically, this is a bit of a mediocre movie. There are just about enough laughs and OTT gory moments to carry it off, but it lacks a real cutting edge and goes for lazy gags far too often. Decidedly average.

Verdict: Butterfield is the standout amongst the kids, but doesn’t get much competition. The script has a few nice lines, but the plot is formulaic and some of the gags are a bit easy. It passes the time, but won’t stay with you. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

By the end of this film I had tears streaming down my cheeks, and when the climactic sequence, a recreation of Queen’s iconic Live Aid performance, ended I almost joined in with the onscreen applause.

Basically, I loved this movie, as did WoM, who also got pretty emotional during the viewing, but as she cries over adverts that’s less impressive.

I’ve been a fan of Queen since before I was properly interested in music, having listened to a mate’s cassette of Live Magic and falling in love with it. Over the years I’ve maintained a solid love for their band and their back catalogue which contains several absolute classics. I also grew in appreciation for Freddie Mercury, their legendary lead singer. Mercury, who combined humour, swagger and theatrics on stage left behind some pretty big shoes to fill, but thankfully Rami Malek gives a superb performance here.

bohrap poster

The movie starts and ends at the same point, the Live Aid concert in 1985 where Mercury and Co knocked it out of the park. We get brief glimpses of Mercury as he makes his way to Wembley and then walks from the dressing room to the stage, before the movie jumps back to 1970, where Farrokh “Freddie” Bulsara works as a baggage handler at Heathrow Airport and, according to his father, wastes his time going out going to see bands.

At a gig he approaches Brian May and Roger Taylor (Gwilym Lee and Ben Hardy, respectively), who have just lost their lead singer and bassist. After impressing them Freddie joins and adding bass player John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello), the band becomes Queen and soon find success.

bohrap queen

While the band go from strength to strength, Freddie struggles to come to terms with his sexuality and disappears into a whirlwind of excess, manipulated by Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), his manager who isolates Mercury and uses booze and drugs to keep him out of it. Freddie leaves Queen to go solo, but struggles with the recording of his solo albums and descends into depression, while Prenter reaps the rewards. Finally, after a visit from an old friend, Mercury begins to pull himself together, reuniting the group with the hopes of performing at Live Aid. However, in the run up to the gig, Prenter goes public with damning criticisms and stories, and Mercury learns that he has AIDS.

Of course, the band performs sensationally and Queen were reunited to continue together until Mercury’s death in 1991. That’s the problem with biopics, you know how the story ends.

The movie does really well in charting the fifteen year period from Mercury joining May and Taylor to their Live Aid performance. There are a few sequences based around specific songs (the eponymous epic, “We Will Rock You”, “Love of my Life” and “Another One Bites the Dust”) and it just highlights how many kickass songs the band had, the recording studio sequences are fun, with bickering band mates and unusual recording sessions providing great entertainment. Praise has to go to the three actors playing the rest of the band as they are all solid support, and capture brief impressions of each member- the fiery Taylor, dry witted May and the likeable Deacon.

One of the elements throughout the film is Mercury’s relationship with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), which may seem unusual for a film about a gay man, but it works. Austin was Mercury’s girlfriend before fame, and the growing distance and Mercury’s concealed homosexuality are key points here, and the scene where they break up is heartbreaking. We see that Mercury does love her, that she is his support and rock, the first person to really believe in and accept him, but there is no sexual aspect by the end. Boynton gives a quiet performance that nonetheless captures her character’s sadness in losing her love and her distress at what he briefly becomes.

The film is really about Mercury’s journey towards some form of self acceptance, and feeling comfortable with himself. The swaggering bravado he shows in the early stages of the movie is clearly a mask, and it’s only when he faces up to who he has become and who he wants to be that he approaches happiness, making peace not only with his family and band mates, but also with himself. The movie ends, despite his AIDS diagnosis, on a positive note, with Mercury having reunited with Queen, rekindled his friendship with Mary and beginning a new romantic relationship.

In every stage of this progression Malek delivers a towering performance. He captures the on screen pomp beautifully, the dramatic poses and campy theatrics that made Mercury such a compelling performer. In fact, I can’t think of a movie which has so perfectly captured a band’s on stage energy, and there are several strong concert sequences, particularly the Live Aid section, which is magnificent.

bohrap liveaid

Off stage he captures the humour and swagger, but there’s always a sense of a hidden fragility behind the pretence, and Malek wonderfully conveys the inner turmoil with subtle changes in expression. He captures the insecurity and loneliness of Mercury, especially as the rest of the band’s lives diverge towards family and he finds himself alone, throwing parties for people he doesn’t really know.

Several times Malek’s performance moved me profoundly, quiet moments throughout that reduced me to tears in places, which is odd for a film which also made me laugh aloud and is inspiring. In the end Mercury stood before the world, boldly saying “This is who I am” and that’s wonderful, a man who forged a place for himself in the nation’s hearts despite growing up in a time when his ethnicity and sexuality meant he would encounter prejudice. Despite this he would become a rock legend and beloved figure.

I know some have said the movie is a bit neat, but it tells the story it wants excellently, in a captivating and moving way. Carrying this film are Malek’s performance, the band’s music and Mercury’s charismatic character.

Like Garth says in Wayne’s World (which gets a nice nod here), Bohemian Rhapsody is a good call.

Verdict: Funny, moving, utterly compelling. Malek is superb. The songs are belters. Film of the year? Probably. 10/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.