Film Review: Dumbo (2019)

Last year I wrote about why I wasn’t looking forward to this movie, so I need to be honest here and admit that I was wrong, and this movie worked rather well. It’s probably the Tim Burton movie I’ve enjoyed most in years, landing with me in a way that many of his other films haven’t with me.

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The original movie, is Disney’s shortest animated movie, and so there’s a lot that has been added to this version. Set in 1919, we see Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returning from the war, it’s been a rough few years, with Holt’s wife passing away while he was in Europe and him having lost an arm during the fighting. He discovers that his old job at the circus isn’t waiting for him, as the horses he performed stunts on have been sold by his boss Max Medici (Danny DeVito).

Holt struggles to connect with his kids, Milly and Joe (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins, respectively) as he finds it hard to be emotional and is trying to find a practical way to survive. Max gives him a new job tending to the elephants, including Mrs Jumbo, his latest acquisition who is due to give birth soon.

The baby is born with unnaturally large ears and is mocked by audiences, who dub him Dumbo. The mockery, and cruel treatment by one of the elephant handlers, leads Mrs Jumbo to rush to her calf’s aid, creating havoc and inadvertently killing the handler. Max sells Mrs Jumbo to get away from the bad publicity and decides to put Dumbo with the clowns. The kids are devastated by this, and angry that Holt can’t do anything to stop it.

Milly and Joe form an attachment to Dumbo, and discover that his ears enable him to fly and glide. They realise that this will allow him to become a success and if they earn enough money they can buy Mrs Jumbo back. Dumbo flies and the crowd are amazed.

At this point V. A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), who runs an amusement park in New York takes an interest and approaches Medici with an offer, he will pay for Dumbo and the entire troupe to perform at his park, with Max as his partner. Max agrees and they relocate, but Vandevere announces that Dumbo will fly with his star performer, French trapeze artist Colette Marchant (Eva Green).

Can Dumbo perform under pressure? Is Vandevere on the up-and-up? Will Dumbo be reunited with his mother? Can Holt salvage a relationship with his children and build a new life for them?

I really liked that the movie introduced a more human element, and did away with the talking animals, which helps ground the fantasy in reality a little bit.

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Of course, there’s plenty of magic along the way and the flying elephant is done rather well, with real lightness and a sense of joy. The animation of Dumbo also makes him emotive and extremely cute.

The human side of the story is carried by Colin Farrell, who gives a quiet, understated performance as a wounded, vulnerable man who is struggling to adapt to his new life. It’s not showy in any way and Farrell does well, especially as at times the script lets him down. Likewise, the two child performers are solid and avoid  being irritating, especially Parker as Milly, a clever and strongwilled character who works a lot of things out and who stands up for what’s right. Her clashing with her father is one of the major themes in the movie, the distance between them and Holt’s struggles, but they’re never fully developed.

The movie has just enough heart and charm to pull off the fantastical plot, and there are some great moments of wonder and adventure along the way. Unfortunately, there are a few flaws too.

One of the major ones is that there feels like there are a few story beats missing along the way. Characters come out in support of Dumbo with very little build up, and the Farrier family make up without a really satisfying moment to cap it off. You get the feeling that maybe one or two more scenes between father and children would have solidified the story a bit more. In fact, while there is a happy ending to it all, it feels a little thrown together and quick, with some of the resolutions being unsatisfying due to a lack of build up.

The supporting cast have very little to do, but handle their roles well enough- Danny DeVito is predictably great, Michael Keaton does the baddie well and Green does a good job with a fairly underwritten part. The rest of the troupe are an engaging band of misfits, but don’t get much development.

When the film hits the mark it becomes an entertaining and rather sweet treat, but some of the emotional elements don’t quite ring true and there are a few cheesy parts.

Burton reins in most of his excesses, which is good, but it seems the writers felt they had to get in as many nods to the original as they could and some feel painfully shoehorned in.

The human part of the story grounds the narrative in reality, but the film fumbles this slightly, not giving the characters enough room to breathe or a truly satisfying and convincing conclusion. Luckily, however, Dumbo’s own story has a wonderful ending, an improvement on the original and produces a moment of genuine joy and warmth.

It’s a bit hit and miss, but there’s just enough charm for it to work, and Dumbo himself is adorable enough to get you on side. For me, it’s better than the original, even if it’s still far from Disney’s best.

Verdict: 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Film Review: Moana

Disney have been in fine form the last few years and their latest continues that trend being a delightful, charming adventure which even raised MWF’s spirits during a weekend she was suffering with “man flu”.

The story follows Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) the daughter of the chief of a small Polynesian island. Despite her father trying to guide her towards her responsibilities as future chief, she is bewitched by the sea and longs to explore it, despite the tribal law of never leaving the safety of the reef. When the fish supplies start to dwindle and the coconut harvest is rotten the island is in trouble. 

Mama’s grandmother (Rachel House) shows her a hidden cave where Moana discovers the ships used by the tribe when they had roamed the seas generations before, but stopped as monsters and storms claimed their ships. These monsters were the result of Te Fiti, an island goddess and bringer of life having her heart stolen by the demigod Maui. The heart was lost but found it’s way to Moana as a small child as the ocean had chosen her to help restore the heart.

Moana sets out to find Maui and get him to return the heart and stop the darkness which threatens her island. However, she has little experience at sea and discovers that Maui (Dwayne Johnson) is a self centred braggart who is powerless without the hook which carries his divine abilities.

She convinces him to aid her by playing on his ego and need to be the hero and they set off to find his hook so that they can complete their mission. On the way they must face a giant, treasure hoarding crab and coconut pirates.

Can they return the heart? Or will the powerful lava god that defeated Maui before be too much for him again? And when things get hard can she count on the selfish demigod?
What I love about this film is that the heroine and her quest is genuinely captivating and Moana is a strong, believable protagonist. She is driven and determined, but also fallible and doubts herself. Out of her depth she nonetheless shows grit and resourcefulness and pushes onwards. 

This all stems from a sense of duty to her people, and her responsible attitude means that she is at odds with Maui from the get go. Maui, voiced with easy charisma and overblown swagger by Dwayne Johnson steals the show somewhat thanks to his showy posturing. It’s a testament to Johnson that even removed from the physicality that made him famous his natural charisma still shines through. 

His moving tattoos are a nice touch and he is developed over the course of the film, developing nicely into the hero he proclaims himself to be at the start.

His first song “You’re Welcome” is a boastful delight and his moving tattoos, depicting his past deeds are a nice touch, especially his bickering relationship with one of them. He’s a hugely memorable character and his unwilling partnership with Moana is handled well. 

They spark off each other and his repeated attempts to ditch her are quite amusing. Their developing affection is done well, feeling natural and never clunky, and they play off each other well with her quiet determination contrasting nicely with his loud bravado.

The supporting cast don’t have much to do, although the character of Gramma Tala is very amusing and loveable. Confessing to be the village’s “crazy old lady” she is the only person who encourages and understands Moana’s desire to leave the island and guides her quest. Despite filling the “wise elder” role she is a fun presence and some of the scenes between her and her granddaughter really hit home emotionally.

Gramma Tala captures the warmth that is at the heart of this film, and which comes jumping from the screen. I was utterly charmed and loved every second.

The film looks gorgeous and the characters are designed beautifully and there is plenty of visual humour from Moana’s pet chicken and Maui’s tattoos, and plenty in a clever, charming script. 

It’s laugh out loud funny, gripping and filled with wonderful characters. It’s not the best Disney film ever, but it’s pretty damn high on the list.

Verdict: Simply amazing. Fun, fast paced and full of character, this is a great family movie with a great heroine and a scene stealing Dwayne Johnson. Disney knock this one out of the park and produce another superb movie. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Alice Through The Looking Glass

When I saw the trailer for this film I took away two major positives; it used the awesome “White Rabbit” as backing and it presented what might be the last chance to hear the late Alan Rickman’s marvellous voice.

“White Rabbit” isn’t used in the film and Rickman’s Absolem is barely in it.

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Alice talks to Absolem

The film picks up three years after the original and Alice (Mia Wasikowska) has spent the time aboard her ship The Wonder exploring the world. Returning to England she finds that much has changed, her mother (Lindsay Duncan) has sold their shares and their house is in jeopardy, their fate in the hands of Hamish (Leo Bill), last seen having his proposal rejected by Alice.

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Upset she storms off and sees a butterfly, who she identifies as Absolem. He flies through a mirror and she follows, arriving back in Wonderland where she meets her old friends and discovers that the Hatter (Johnny Depp) is ill.

Having found the first hat he made, long thought destroyed, he believes this means that his family may have survived the attack of the Jabberwocky. When Alice is skeptical he loses his temper and throws her out. She decides to go back in time to save the Hatter’s family and goes to visit Time (Sasha Baron Cohen) to borrow the chronosphere.

Time argues that it is dangerous and you can’t change the past, only learn from it, so Alice steals it and heads off to find out what happened to the Hatter’s family. Time gives chase and Alice learns more about the history of Wonderland and a whole mess of timey-wimey bollocks ensues.

I saw this because MWF loved the first film and loves Alice in Wonderland in general. She enjoyed herself, which is good.

I, however, hated it.

There were a couple of laughs, but you could count them on your fingers. The first movie was alright, if a little overdone, but this is insufferable.

It clocks in at less than two hours but feels much, much longer and there’s so much green screen and animation you wonder why they didn’t just do a cartoon.

The visuals are like the work of an art student trying too hard to be quirky and weird, and it is not a fun place to spend your time. I found myself happily greeting the real world sequences, for as dull as they were, at least I wasn’t getting slapped in the face by a tsunami of overblown design and colour.

The plot is your basic “meddling with time travel” stuff and Mia Wasikowska is likeable enough, but she is let down by a stupid script and the fact that the movie tries to pull off the same tricks as part one. Obviously people loved Helena Bonham Carter’s hammy Queen of Hearts because she’s back, as is Anne Hathaway as her sister. Hathaway seems to be phoning it in, and probably regrets signing the sequel clause, while HBC just does the “aren’t I mad?!” OTT stuff that she’s done a thousand times before.

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Johnny Depp’s Hatter mopes about and still has the unexplained lapses into a Scottish accent which makes even less sense now as his family are not Scots. It’s an annoying performance, feeling overly worked in a way that Depp never has before. He seems to have chosen mannerisms and flourishes and finds himself stuck with them, stifling anything close to a portrayal of a rounded character.

The rest of the cast are clearly picking up cheques, and have little to do. Rhys Ifans plays the Hatter’s dad and just adds another name to the list of people who deserve to be in a far better film.

The one bright spark is Sasha Baron Cohen as Time. He plays the character with genuine comic skill, and captures a sense of a egotistical ruler who has plenty of quirks and flaws.

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He’s also clearly set up to not be a villain. In fact, he’s the one trying to fix things after Alice cocks them up spectacularly. SBC is over the top like everything else in this movie, but it seems less forced and he carries it off better than anyone else.

The only problem is the accent he picks, which I couldn’t quite place. French in places, but then more Germanic. At times he even veered towards Arnie territory and I found myself thinking of Schwarzenegger’s campy nadir in Batman and Robin.

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I thought about this, about the steroid Bane, the Bat-Card, Chris O’Donnell, all those ice puns. I thought about these and I realised that given the choice, I’d happily have left the cinema and gone and watched Batman and Robin again. And there can be no more damning criticism than that.

Verdict: Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp deliver overdone performances that are all camp excess and no substance. The rest of the cast is poorly served, with Sasha Baron Cohen being the only one who does anything with his part. It drags and the CGI onslaught is tiresome. Can’t see this being unseated as my worst film of 2016. 2/10.

(The two being for the presence of several favourites of mine- Rickman, Stephen Fry, Barbara Windsor, Timothy Spall and for Cohen’s role as Time.)

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Deadpool

The marketing for this movie has been so good that I feared that when I finally settled in to watch it yesterday witg MWF and my youngest sister we’d all be in for a disappointment. Thankfully however it delivers.

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The movie whips along at a great pace and both the humour and action deliver throughout. The title sequence alone is hilarious and sets the tone for the irreverent and violent movie to follow. The laughs come thick and fast and Ryan Reynolds is in his element as the wise cracking title character. This is great for the audience as Reynolds has made no secret of how much the failure to use the character in X-Men: Origins: Wolverine hurt him, it irked a lot of nerds and I’ve written about it once or twice.

Reynolds owns the movie, narrating the tale with knowing gags and allusions. The breaking of the fourth role is something the character does in the books and it works here, making it a little different to your average Marvel hero movie.

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Breaking the walls down

It’s not a massive breakaway though as the origin story and revenge aspect is familiar turf, but it’s still a raucous and funny flick. The plot concerns mercenary Wade Wilson (Reynolds), who meets and falls for Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) who can match him sarky comment for sarky comment. All is good until Wade is diagnosed with inoperable cancer. Clutching at straws he joins a shady program that will make him a superhero.

It turns out this is a lie and the leader is Ajax (Ed Skrein) a mutant who can feel no pain and is bringing dormant mutations to the surface to create super slaves. Wade’s mutation kicks in and he develops enhanced healing abilities but is left scarred and disfigured, fearing that he can’t return to Vanessa he dons a mask and heads after Ajax to get his face fixed and some payback.

Along the way he is assisted by X-Men Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). Colossus feels that Deadpool is wasting his powers and should join the team to help the world.

This led to one of my favourite fourth wall breaks as Wade points out that he visits the X-mansion but only sees two “as though the studio couldn’t afford a third X-Man”. Colossus is different from his previous on screen portrayals, here a cheesy goody-two-shoes and Russian as he is in the comics, NTW is a traditional moody teen.

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Desdpool and his mutant allies

What follows are some wonderful OTT fight scenes that vary from cartoony to bone crunchingly vicious and there are some ace sight gags, including a gross bit mid healing. The jokes never let up and there was consistent and loud laughter from the audience I was with yesterday.

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Deadpool in action

I loved it and the cast are great, even if Reynolds owns the movie. The standouts for me are TJ Miller as Wade’s mate who gets some fantastic jokes and with whom Reynolds bounces off brilliantly. The scene where he reacts to his friend’s scarred face is a bad taste masterpiece.

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Miller

Skrein is decent enough as the villain, aided by Gina Carano’s Angel who is a bruising, tough henchwoman who has an entertaining smackdown with Colossus.

It’s gleefully stupid and crude in places, but that works for me and I thoroughly enjoyed. It probably won’t stand up to many repeat viewings but it’s a whole lotta fun and Reynolds is such a good fit as Deadpool it’s up there with Reeve as Superman and Ledger as Joker for excellent comic book casting.

I eagerly await the sequel and wholeheartedly recommend this to all Marvel fans and anyone who likes violent, cheeky comedy.

Verdict: Not as revolutionary as it might lead you to believe but still a fresh approach to superhero movies. The laughs and fights flow freely and Reynolds is sensational. For some it might be too crude and bloody, but it works for me. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Lava

Last week I saw Inside Out and loved it, and before the film there was a short film. Being a short movie, this will be a short review.

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The cute, adorable short follows a lonely volcano who, witnessing other couples being happy sings a song, hoping for a love of his own.
As the years pass he loses his hope and his lava and size dwindles, however, an underwater volcano hears his song and decides to go to the surface to meet him.

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Is she too late? Or will they find happiness together?
Based around a simple, glorious Hawaiian style song which puts a grin on your face. The animation is typical of Pixar, full of warmth and character and in a few minutes it manages to be more heartwarming and genuinely affecting than many features manage.
I loved it, making me smile like an idiot and appealed to me as a soft git. It’s full of charm and an easy, light touch which stops it from being too sickly.
Verdict: Brilliantly cheerful and the right kind of sweet, it’ll warm the cockles of your heart. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Inside Out

This might have been the year I turned 30, but so far my top movies of the year list is topped by cartoons. This movie joins Big Hero 6 as one of the best cinematic experiences I’ve had this year.

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As with most Pixar movies this is based on a simple, but clever premise, taking us inside the head of a young girl, Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), and showing us the emotions who run the show in there.
First and foremost is Joy (Amy Poehler), who’s usually in charge of keeping the others in line and Riley happy.

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Joy at work

The others are Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Anger (Lewis Black). Joy accepts they all have a place, apart from Sadness, who she can’t quite work out.
So far Riley’s life has been happy and simple, and the happy core memories she’s formed have helped form the islands of personality that make her who she is.
But when Riley’s dad gets a new job and they have to move to San Francisco things start to get harder and Joy reacts badly to the fact Sadness causes Riley’s first sad core memory. Joy, Sadness and the core memories wind up thrown out of HQ and lost in the memory banks. Realising that if they don’t get back Riley will never be happy and that her personality can’t stay the same without her memories to inform them they set out across Riley’s mind to get back to HQ.
Can they survive and make it back? How will Fear, Anger and Disgust manage? And what will happen to Riley?
This movie is just flat out great, and should be really cool in helping kids (and adults) understand emotion better. It shows how each emotion can effect us and why they are there.
It’s also, like most Pixar movies, chock full of invention. The design of Riley’s mindscape is glorious, with HQ and the memory banks clearly designed on different parts of the brain. It also reflects how our minds work in clever visual ways, like a Train of thought that meanders and changes route frequently or the fact the memory workers who clear the forgotten ones and delight in randomly sending up an advertising jingle to HQ.
But there’s real substance here amidst the crazy visuals and a consistent stream of laugh-out-loud jokes. For one Riley is an engaging character and believable, with the writers capturing genuine emotions and relatable situations. From embarrassment over well meaning parents to the desire to be cool, there’s lots here that most of us will have experienced.

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Embarrassing parents, familiar for many of us

The emotions, despite having one major characteristic are well done and involving, especially Joy who over the course of the film gains new perspective and understanding. The movie shows us that each emotion serves a purpose and that Sadness isn’t always a bad thing.
What I especially liked were glimpses into different characters heads and their emotions, particularly a boy who meets Riley and who’s emotions we’re shown being thrown into utter panic as a “Girl” alarm sounds. It felt painfully real remembering my own experiences in my early teens.
And it wouldn’t be Pixar without an emotional body blow and a sequence about Riley’s almost forgotten imaginary friend, Bing Bong (Richard Kind), had me a little bit teary.

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Bing Bong, Sadness and Joy

All in all this movie is an utter delight, funny, moving and clever, it manages to both show how we grow as people and a simplified way of how our minds work with real wit and an engaging, captivating story. It easily ranks among the best of Pixar’s movies which is saying a lot.
Verdict: Pixar knock it out of the park with a movie that bursts at the seams with clever touches, invention and warmth. Over the course of the movie it had me laughing loudly, almost in tears and thinking about pretty big concepts. A gem of a movie and I already want to watch it again. 9/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Ted 2

I really dug the first Ted movie (review here), liking the combination of the Disney premise, cute title character and the foul mouthed, crude and edgy humour that’s Seth MacFarlane’s trademark. I also liked that under the swearing and close-to-the-bone gags, it was quite a sweet flick about friendship and growing up, with John (Mark Wahlberg) having to take some responsibility and move forward in order to develop his relationship with Lori (Mila Kunis).
So, I was looking forward to checking out the sequel with MWG and some mates this week.

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Unfortunately for me, early on John and Lori’s relationship is shown to have died off screen. This seems a bit rushed and poor considering the first relied on you buying into the relationship and because Wahlberg and Kunis had good chemistry.
While John is now divorced Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) is tying the knot with Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth). But a year in and their marriage is struggling, Ted follows the questionable advice that a baby will save their relationship.
The problem, as a Toy bear come alive is that he can’t actually have kids. So they decide on a sperm donor, first choosing Flash Gordon star Sam J. Jones before going for NFL player Tom Brady, both attempts go awry as does a disastrous attempt by John to visit a sperm bank.
Going for adoption poses problems, as Ted is not technically a “person” in the eyes of the law and the his life unravels quickly. With John in support they decide to fight it and enlist the services of Samantha “Sam” Jackson (Amanda Seyfried) to challenge the ruling.
When this fails the three decide to go to New York to meet a famous civil rights lawyer (Morgan Freeman) who’s interested in their case. Unbeknownst to them Ted’s obsessive fan Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) wants to use Ted’s new status to steal him and find out while he’s magic and try to make more Teds.
Can they evade Donny? Will the famous lawyer take their case? If he does can he win it? And is Sam the answer to John’s prolonged dry spell since his divorce?
First of all, this is the kind of movie where it all hinges on how you felt about the original. If Ted made you laugh, then you’ll most likely enjoy this, but it won’t win over folks who weren’t fussed on the first outing.
The humour is still a mix of the profane, stupid and shocking, with a few jokes that prompt shocked gasps before the laugh arrives. For me, it worked and I laughed pretty consistently throughout, even if some stuff doesn’t quite work (a running gag about Patrick Warburton’s angry, violent gay friend didn’t work at all for me).
Most of the jokes hit the mark however and the plot is simple but handled well. The strongest asset is the chemistry between John and Ted, their friendship feels natural and relaxed, and Wahlberg impresses again with his comedic chops.

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Seth MacFarlane’s voice work is on point and Ted continues to be an oddly likable character, and the contrast between his cuddly appearance and what comes out of his mouth continues to amuse.
The rest of the cast do their jobs well, and their are plenty of cameos along the way.
Replacing Mila Kunis as the female lead Amanda Seyfried is sweet and funny as their pop culture illiterate lawyer. Her interplay with the others works, but her character is a bit underwritten and the relationship with John is rushed. It also doesn’t feel as real or involving as the relationship in the first, and the casual away this is cast aside in the movie is a real sore spot for me.
But this aside it’s still a very successful comedy that had me chuckling throughout and has some genuinely shocking lines in. May be too rude and crude for some, but it worked for me.
Verdict: Not as good as the first, with a less involving plot, but MacFarlane, Wahlberg and Seyfried all do well. Not for all tastes but for those who like their comedy a bit more risqué this won’t disappoint. 7/10.
Any thoughts? You know what go do. BETEO.


Film Review: Ex Machina

This is a movie I really wanted to see in the cinema but missed out on, so I was stoked that I got to catch it recently.

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Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), a programmer at Bluebook, a tech company wins a staff lottery. The prize is to travel to the secluded research facility of the CEO Nathan (Oscar Isaac), a reclusive genius. Despite initial awkwardness Nathan encourages Caleb not to view him as his boss, just as a guy. He also reveals that he wants Caleb’s help in performing the Turing test on a robot he has made.
The Turing test is basically a way of testing an artificial intelligence to see if it can convince as a human. Normally performed anonymously so the person doesn’t know who or what they’re talking to. Here, Caleb knows its a robot, but can it still convince him it has proper intelligence.
Caleb then begins a series of sessions with Ava (Alicia Vikander), and is impresses. Their meetings continue, with Nathan observing, and over time Caleb finds himself oddly attracted to Ava. She seems flirtatious at times and Caleb struggles to work out how she operates.

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Ava and Caleb having a chat

Things become even more complicated when during a power cut Ava warns him not to trust Nathan.
Who can Caleb trust? The eccentric and slightly creepy Nathan or Ava, a machine? What secrets does the remote house contain, and was Caleb really a random winner or has his presence been engineered? And if it has, why?
This movie really blew me away, essentially a three hander (there is one other, mute character in the house) it boasts three amazing performances. Gleeson impresses as the nerdy Caleb who finds himself out of his depth and struggling with how to proceed. He’s our eyes into the world, and like the audience he’s constantly trying to work out what’s going on.
Alex Garland proves himself an accomplished director, shooting this in a cold, detached way which enhances the feeling of being on the outside and makes everything eerie and tense. His script is wonderfully minimal, with long silent stretches capturing the isolation, but the dialogue sparkles, with the tension and unease building nicely throughout.
As Ava, Vikander impresses playing the role with disconcerting calmness, but with occasional flashes of humour, flirtation and character which leaves the audience trying to figure out what she is. Are the emotions she shows real? Or is it just mimicry to trick and manipulate Caleb?
She keeps you guessing throughout, and the “what is humanity” and “can a robot feel” themes, sci-fi tropes are done well. You start wondering about Ava, and watching her closely for clues as to what’s going on under the surface and it’s to her credit that under this scrutiny Vikander’s performance holds up.
As the third lead Oscar Isaac is a powerhouse as the weird, enigmatic Nathan.

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Powerhouse- Isaac as Nathan

You find yourself questioning his motives and his initial weirdness transforms into something more menacing, but is this because of him or Ava’s accusations. Are we being influenced by her just as much as Caleb is?
The weirdness continues, and Isaac is an unsettling presence. It seems that Nathan may have lost it in his isolation, and he takes part in a weird, incredibly awkward dance sequence, which only enhances the audience’s confusion and the sense of weirdness.

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Awkwardness

A few plot developments I guessed early, but for the most part it keeps you guessing and is an engaging movie and the ending is powerful and well done. Garland should be applauded for crafting a solid science fiction piece and the three leads are amazing.
Verdict: A wonderfully done sci-fi movie that boasts three great central performances. It treads familiar genre ground, but in a mesmerising, engaging way. It keeps you thinking and wondering right until the end, and doesn’t disappoint. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Pitch Perfect 2

The first Pitch Perfect was a massively entertaining comedy which included a career making turn from Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy. The story of the all female a capella group was well written, funny and featured a great ensemble cast, I’d loved it (it made #4 of my films of 2013 list) and so had MWG, so we were pretty keen to check out the sequel as part of my birthday weekend.

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The movie picks up the story of the Bellas two years later. They’re now three time national champions and there’s an end of an era vibe with many of the team including captain Beca (Anna Kendrick) and Fat Amy. They’re riding high until a disastrous performance for the President. The fall out leaves them banned from defending their title, auditioning new members and stripped of their national tour, which is given to world champions Das Sound Machine (DSM).

Das Sound Machine

Das Sound Machine

They decide to go to the world championships, despite being warned that no US team has ever won and gamble on winning in order to save the club. The only new Bella they can accept is Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), who’s the daughter of a former Bella and an awkward, nervous freshman who writes her own songs.

Beca’s focus is divided as she struggles to make an impact at her new internship at a record label and worries she isn’t talented enough to succeed. Meanwhile, the Bella’s problems are stressing out Chloe (Brittany Snow), who has deliberately failed graduating numerous times in order to stay in the club, and their attempts to outdo DSM cause more trouble, weakening the team unity and causing them to lose confidence.

Can the Bellas find their sound again? Will they be triumphant at the world championships? Will Emily ever feel like a true Bella and enjoy her time in the club? Does Beca have what it takes to succeed in the music industry?

The Bellas in action

The Bellas in action

I did enjoy this movie, and it does have several positives, but it falls far short of the original, which I feel maintains a more consistent gag-rate. The first movie also benefited from the relationship between Beca and Jesse (Skylar Astin), which was sweet and part of what helped Beca realize that she needed to open up and embrace the Bellas.

Luckily the filmmakers avoid the traditional sequel pitfall of throwing needless relationship drama into the mix, and Jesse is relegated to a minor, supporting and supportive character. This is quite refreshing as it allows the focus to remain on the ladies and I always find it annoying when a movie gets you to buy into a couple only to then mess with them in the sequel just for some drama.

With the ladies centre stage the major story is the Bellas and the friendship it creates. The team are breaking up as they all plan to go their separate ways after college and we also get to see it from a fresh perspective, with new character Emily arriving as things appear to be disintegrating and struggling to find her place in the group.

The movie is entertaining enough to keep it going and there are plenty of laugh out loud moments, but as is to be expected with a sequel it doesn’t feel quite as fresh as the original. The music is still good, full of catchy, toe-tapping versions of familiar songs and the villains, DSM, are a delight. Caricatures of ruthless German efficiency they’re not necessarily evil, just the Bellas’ rivals and it’s quite entertaining watching their ice queen leader Komissar (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) runs ring around the confused and intimidated Beca.

Anna Kendrick is on fine form, yet again, as the Bellas’ leader who’s still pursuing her dream of being a music producer, but who begins to struggle and worry about whether she’ll succeed. It’s an understated performance which captures the fears many people experience as they near the end of their time at university.

The rest of the Bellas do their jobs well, especially newcomer Steinfeld, who’s sweet and charming as the nervous new girl. Her budding romance with nerdy Benji (Ben Platt), is also rather adorable.

Emily with Benji

Emily with Benji

It’s also nice to have director Elizabeth Banks in front of the camera again as one half of the hilarious commentating duo, partnered with John Michael Higgins’ terribly un-PC chauvinist. This partnership gets some good laughs throughout the film as well, especially as Banks’ character Gail calls him on some of his comments.

The true star of the show is still Rebel Wilson, who delivers several of the best lines and gives the impression of having made up lots of things on the fly. Fat Amy is a fabulous creation, all sass and confidence, and one of the film’s strength is her relationship with Bumper (Adam DeVine), as the two share fantastic chemistry and bounce off each other to great effect.

Fat Amy in action

Fat Amy in action

It’s a solid movie, and it will keep you entertained but it never quite matches the original and there are a few gags that feel played out by the end. It’s predictable as well, but so is the first and so it never causes to many problems knowing how it’s going to end. Fun, but suffers in comparison with its predecessor.

Verdict: It’s great fun and Wilson is on fine form again, but it falls short of the original and lacks some of the freshness and charm. Still, it will keep you entertained and chuckling, and the music is rather well done. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

The first Avengers movie was such a success that you suspect afterwards Joss Whedon and Marvel might have been a bit scared, having built up their cinematic universe they delivered a grand slam which united several of their key characters for a team up and it won great reviews and took a bunch of cash. The movie was pretty much a flawless blockbuster which managed to include crowd pleasing action sequences with some great dialogue and characterization.

They’d raised the bar so high that a sequel was always going to be even more challenging.

avengers ultron pos

The bad news is that Age of Ultron isn’t as good as Earth’s mightiest heroes’ first outing, it’s still a hugely entertaining superhero flick, in fact, leaving the cinema MWG asked me what I intended to score it today and agreed with me on it being worth a “solid eight”.

But the script doesn’t have the same zing and some of the plot is a little convoluted. But these flaws aside it still manages to deliver action, laughs and jaw dropping spectacle while also succeeding in moving the Marvel cinematic universe onto it’s third stage.

The movie kicks off in some style with the Avengers in action against Hydra forces. It transpires that they’ve been chasing and dismantling Captain America’s (Chris Evans) old foes and are trying to reclaim the mind controlling sceptre previously wielded by Loki, brother of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the God of Thunder. During the mission the whole team represents, including a fantastic shot which seems like a comic book splash page come alive.

avengers ultron charge

During the attack two new superpowered enemies enter the fray, Hydra operatives referred to as “the Twins” Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, respectively). Pietro is gifted with extreme speed while Wanda has telekinetic powers and also the ability to mess with people’s minds, which she puts to good effect conjuring a nightmare scenario for Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) as he sees a world at the mercy of alien invasion and his teammates dead.

The Twins

The Twins

The Twins flee as the Avengers win the day, although Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is injured. We also see that Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) have formed a bond and it is her responsibility to calm him down after missions, returning him to Bruce Banner. Their bond is also shown to go beyond this and there’s a mutual attraction between the two.

Widow calms the Hulk

Widow calms the Hulk

Back at the Avengers HQ and in possesion of the sceptre, Stark talks to Banner about using its power and the Hydra tech to create an artificial intelligence that will govern Tony’s robotic legion and protect the world from future alien threats.

Before you can say “Terrible idea”, it’s all gone a bit wrong and the artificial intelligence Ultron (voiced by James Spade) has gone rogue, identifying the Avengers themselves as a threat and escaping online. Ultron begins building an army of robots, all of which are him in essence and teams up with the Twins, who have beef with Stark after his weapons killed their family, and they set about trying to eliminate the Avengers.

The first encounter in Africa goes wrong, with Thor, Black Widow and Captain America having their brain scrambled by Wanda. Ultron escapes with the rare metal he requires to “evolve” and Iron Man has to intervene against the Hulk, who has been sent into a rage by Wanda. They square off as Iron Man initiates his Hulkbuster suit and they smash about for a bit before the Hulk is subdued.

avengers ultron hulkbuster

On the run they have to work out what Ultron’s next move is and how they can hope to stop him. They also have to deal with the issues raised by the hallucinations Wanda gave them and also rebuild the trust which has been shattered by Stark’s secretive movements in creating Ultron.

Meanwhile, Ultron himself creates an android form, using the gem from the sceptre, which will grant him greater power, although Wanda begins to question his motives. When he tries to link with the android form she sees his true plan and the twins flee.

The Avengers head to South Korea get the android body, but Black Widow is taken prisoner. Returning to New York, Tony wants to implant Jarvis (voiced by Paul Bettany), his computer butler/assistant into the android to give them an extra weapon against Ultron, although Captain America opposes this and tensions flare.

Can the Avengers overcome their differences and stop Ultron? What is his plan? With the android in their possesion are they right to create another AI to attempt to stop Ultron, or is this a bad idea? What role will the twins play in the final showdown?

As you can tell the story jumps around the place quite a lot and there’s a fair amount going on. For the most part it’s easy to follow, but there are a few times when I had to take a beat to remind myself of what was going on and where. That being said, it is engaging once you remember where you are and the film has many strengths, most notably the cast.

Everyone seems more comfortable in their roles and it’s nice that the film takes the time to expand on certain things, and the relationship between Banner and Natasha is handled wonderfully and quite touching. Johansson does a great job of making the Black Widow believable and real, meaning that we understand why Banner appeals to her and their similarities, both haunted by their past and fearful of putting others in danger. Ruffalo is, as ever, extremely likable as the awkward, geeky Banner, haunted by having to unleash the beast within, even when it’s in a good cause and a scene where the human Banner threatens Wanda feels totally in keeping with the character. His rage at Wanda for causing his rampage reflecting his issues with the Hulk being used by others.

Best of all, for me, was the fact that Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye has a lot more to do this time around. Aware of his limitations compared to his superpowered teammates, Hawkeye’s background is fleshed out and we see his driving force- professionalism. He’s there to do a job, and he’s dedicated to it, almost fearless when confronted with danger and, barring Black Widow, the most vulnerable, he nevertheless joins the charge. It’s nice that they’ve expanded on the character, although I still doubt we’re going to get a Hawkeye movie, or even a Hawkeye/Black Widow movie.

Hawkeye in action

Hawkeye in action

Evans, Hemsworth and RDJ are all on top form, particularly RDJ, who continues to make Stark the most engaging character. The superficial suave air from the first Iron Man movie has been stripped away, and we see more of the man inside the suit, scared and worried for the future, even if he does still hide behind the quips (needless to say, he gets many of the best lines in the movie).

As for the newcomers, they do pretty well. The twins are pretty cool in the power stakes, and it’s a credit to Olsen and AT-J that they convince as being close, loving siblings. ATJ, after boring me senseless in Godzilla, is back on fine form here, conveying both sides of Pietro’s personality- the angry, vengeance seeking young man and also the big kid who revels and enjoys his powers.

Olsen is wonderfully cold as Wanda, single minded in her quest for revenge and remorseless in messing with the minds of others, although she does show flashes of decency and even at the start she and her brother believe themselves to be the good guys against the imperialist Americans.

Doing a wonderful job at the mic for Ultron, James Spade is a delight. The product of Tony Stark he has much the same sarky manner as his creator, and an even less secure grip on his ego. One of the things the movie does is have clear similarities between the two, they deliver the same quotes and make the same jokes. It’s all rather well done and Ultron is quite a menacing presence, especially given his unpredictability and rages.

Ultron

Ultron

The one downside with Ultron as a villain is that he’s made an army of Ultrons, meaning that some of the fight scenes, particularly with Iron Man, are a bit confusing and it almost tips into Transformers territory of metal hitting metal with no idea what’s what. The other problem is that despite their numerical advantage we see far too many Ultrons go down easily- if Thor or the Hulk smashes one, we’re impressed, but if they can also be taken down by a single arrow or shield throw they’re not massively intimidating.

It would help if the Ultron Prime was even more impressive, stronger and evolved than his minions, but the difference isn’t great enough and so his threat isn’t quite as pronounced. Still, his plan is fabulously OTT and the fight scenes do succeed in capturing that comic book feel, where everything is going on at once. Rather than cutting from one throwdown to another Whedon uses camera moves and flying debris to weave between the battle, picking out individual moments in the melee.

All in all, Whedon succeeds in making a sensational blockbuster and superhero movie, and the MCU continues to grow and impress (the final Avengers line-up looks pretty boss, and it’s nice to see some of the smaller characters get screen time). It doesn’t match the first, but that was always unlikely, but it’s still a solid movie and puts more pressure on DC’s Justice League reveal.

Verdict: Not as solid as the first, but still hugely entertaining and fun. The film expands on it’s characters and as with previous Marvel flicks leaves you eager for more. Roll on phase three! 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.