Archive for review

Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 1, 2017 by Tom Austin-Morgan

The fifth instalment of the Pirates franchise hit the screen this week, the big question is: Did anyone other than Johnny Depp really ask for this film?

This is the second of the series not to be directed by Gore Verbinski, the fourth – On Stranger Tides – having been directed by Rob Marshall, who really pared back a lot of the extravagance that Verbinski packed into the bloated Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s EndSalazar’s Revenge has two directors, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, and as much as there is no real sense of different ‘voices’, it’s not entirely coherent either.

As far as these films go, this is basically ticks all the boxes: Johnny Depp doing his drunken Keith Richards/David Bowie as a pirate impression, implausible CG galleon battles, cursed pirate crews, a score that beats you into submission during the action set-pieces, returning characters, risqué jokes, basically everything you expect. The problem with Salazar’s Revenge is that nothing is quite right.

The CG is a bit ropey, especially the zombie sharks, the film was shot for 3D (which I didn’t even realise was still a thing) so there are lots of pointy things and explody things shooting towards you, and it always stands out when you watch in 2D. The jokes are more suggestive than ever, and the gender politics in the franchises universe are more draconian than ever (anyone remember there were women in high-ranking positions in the previous films? Even Knightly managed to become Queen of the Pirates! Here the single female character is branded a witch time and time again) the cameo from a famous pop star is even more clumsily shoe-horned-in than Keith Richards’ – which actually made sense. And Johnny Depp seems to have been given free-reign to basically just do whatever he wants while having fewer and fewer lines of dialogue. In fact, the dialogue he does manage to spit out is now virtually unintelligible as his drunken slurring has been turned up to 11 in this film, especially during the opening scenes.

Luckily, the talents of Geoffrey Rush and Javier Bardem manage to serve as balance to Depp’s mad ramblings, although Bardem is basically playing a pantomime villain. Newcomer Kaya Scodelariois a breath of fresh air as Carina Smyth, the woman of science trying to track down her absent father. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for Brenton Thwaites as Henry Turner, the son of Bloom and Knightly’s characters, he’s just as wet and weak as Bloom and Sam Claflin’s character from On Stranger Tides. This franchise really has a thing for tepid male supporting characters.

The plot centres around a cursed crew of Spanish pirates(?) who are set free after years being confined to some sort of cave and who are out to get the person who put them there in the first place: Sparrow. Various characters are looking for the Trident of Poseidon (which, the more it’s said, the stupider it sounds) that will break the curse. The list of people included in tracking down the Trident of Poseidon (see?!) includes the English, who want to use its power to rule the sea… but even though they’re set up to be powerful secondary protagonists they seem to get forgotten by the writers halfway through the film. Adventure ensues, a central character is killed-off and that’s about it.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge – and the franchise in general – is the movie equivalent of popcorn. It has no real calorific content, it’s probably not good for you, but it tastes quite nice at the time until you have too much of it and you start feeling sick, however you start to feel hungry again soon after finishing. Th film passes a couple of hours, but is completely forgettable and not very good. But at least Mr Depp will be able to pay some of his legal fees with the earnings, if the press is to be believed he’s going to need it, so expect many more adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow in the coming years.

Advertisements

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2017 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Guardians of the Galaxy proved to be the sleeper hit of Marvel Studios’ prolific output from the last 12 years because it came completely out of left field, with no huge stars (on-screen at least) and about characters very few had ever heard of. However, the mix of a hilarious script, irreverent soundtrack and the chemistry of the cast came together to blow audiences and critics away.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 doesn’t have that same luxury, people know what to expect from it. So, how does Vol. 2 go about replicating, if not building of the success of Vol. 1? As with so many sequels – especially in the comic-book genre – Vol. 2 goes bigger right from the jump.

The opening five to 10 minutes looks like it cost more money than any opening scene ever. But what the film does is focus on a very small, cute detail rather than the massive action set-piece happening in the background. And, in a way, that’s kind of the point of this particular franchise: the first film was about finding family, this film is about being a family – while also being a team that saves the galaxy.

Almost all the characters in Vol. 2 have been fleshed out and given more depth, rather than sticking with the templates that were sketched out in the fist film. Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Yondu (Michael Drucker) have been given deeper issues to work through, Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) is more playful, the relationship between Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) has been deepened with Nebula giving the real reason for her hatred of her stronger sister. Drax (Dave Bautista) continues to be a scene stealer with all the best lines, but his character has even been given more depth. Instead of being a character that takes things completely literally, he is now trying to use sarcasm, though he still doesn’t understand it.

The only character that doesn’t seem to have been given more is Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), despite the fact he has become the leader of the group and is the lead human character that we’re supposed to empathise with. He’s found his biological father in Ego (Kurt Russell), a god of sorts that offers Quill the chance to become a god too. For some reason though, this his character doesn’t seem to have the spark or charisma that he did in the first film.

There are some decent, if not well-telegrahed, plot twists along the way and some great visuals. Some of the action sequences, especially towards the end of the film, can be a little hard to focus on because of the quick cutting and the fact that there is so much going on.

There are some interesting cameos including Sylvester Stallone (who is difficult to understand), Ving Rhames (fleetingly), the Hulk (possibly), Jeff Goldblum (buried in the credits) and David Hasselhoff (bizarrely)! But my personal favourite was Stan Lee’s double cameo that goes some way to addressing a fan theory about his cameos. In it he is communing with the Watchers, a race of aliens who oversee the Marvel universe, telling them about his various entanglements with superheros on Earth. It would have been truly mind-blowing had he referenced a cameo in one of the Fox or Sony films… but that’s me getting super-geeky about things. Is he a Watcher in human form, or just a human go-between, keeping them abreast of goings on they may have missed?

If anything, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a funnier film than it’s predecessor and has been given more substance. The few criticisms levelled at it are the abundance of characters muddying things, the lack of development of the central character and the fact that a lot of what happens in the film relies on your knowledge of the previous film, even more so than most of the other films Marvel puts out. But if you’re seeing a film with Vol. 2 in the title before seeing the first, you’re doing something wrong.

Review: Ghost in the Shell

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 13, 2017 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Yet another live action remake of a classic, iconic animation, this is something slightly more grown up than what Disney have been giving us for the last few years though.

Ghost in the Shell has an incredible following by those who enjoy Anime/Manga and as such expectations and fears have been running high. This has been especially apparent around the casting of non-Japanese actors, especially Scarlett Johansson as the Major. Personally, I don’t find this a problem as there are may difficulties when dealing with representations of race within Anime. Plus, the cast is incredibly diverse with actors from Japan, Singapore, Australia, Britain, America, Zimbabwe, Romania, Denmark and France.

The problem this film has is that it tries a bit too hard to explain the reason for the Major’s ethnicity when really it didn’t have to. It’s as though the filmmakers decided to answer the critics instead of having the courage of their convictions.

All that aside, we have a film that takes place over an hour and 47 minutes that is trying to condense the mythology of four previous feature films, three series, as well as books and video games. The live action film focuses on the plot of the 1995 film, with certain scenes and shots that are eerily close to those in the Anime.

Ghost in the Shell is a beautiful looking film. Everything looks like it belongs in the film’s post-cyberpunk world where people enhance themselves with bionic implants. Even though the cityscapes are epic in their scale and the gigantic multicoloured advertisements that tower over the skyscapers, you can tell that this futuristic society is broken. All the film’s characters are brooding and introverted with the Major, in particular, constantly questioning her place in the world. This gives the whole film a very existential and ponderous tone akin to The Matrix, which could be a bit grating to the uninitiated. But, as far as I can remember, this is part-and-parcel of Ghost in the Shell‘s mythology (it’s been a long time since I’ve watched the originals).

I’m almost certain that this will be part of a franchise if it does well enough, as so many films tend to be. This is also the reason I can forgive it being a little underwhelming, however I shouldn’t have to apologise for it’s shortcomings. This should have blown me away. Although it looks amazing and there are some brilliant set pieces, the whole seems a little distant, cold and unengaging… but, I did enjoy it.

Review: Beauty and the Beast

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 1, 2017 by Tom Austin-Morgan

What is there to say about Disney’s latest live action remake, other than it’s basically very very faithful to the original 1991 animated classic. And that makes it, disappointingly ordinary for such a magical film.

Don’t get me wrong, This film is a solid gold hit – the box office numbers prove that. But unlike The Jungle Book, which based its plot slightly more on the Rudyard Kipling stories and striped away all but two songs to make it stand apart, Beauty and the Beast doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself, much like Cindarella.

It’s quite possible that a child who has never seen the animated version will adore this version and I’m of a generation that can’t un-see the 1991 original – I was six years old when it came out, prime Disney age – because there’s an awful lot to like.

The  Beast (Dan Stevens) is scary, and in this case has been given a proper back story that makes you understand the curse put upon him and his household, although the facial design is somewhat ‘off’.

Emma Watson turns in a fine performance as Belle, although she has more of a girl-next-door vibe about her, rather than a classic Disney Princess. Also, the autotuning of her voice detracts from her musical numbers somewhat, especially the iconic ‘Provincial Life’.

The supporting cast is incredibly strong, especially Kevin Kline as Belle’s father, Maurice. The voice talents of Ewan McGregor, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson, Haydn Gwynne and the unrecognisable Stanley Tucci are perfect as are the animations of each character.

The absolute show-stealers though are Luke Evans and Josh Gadd as Gaston and LeFou. Originally the casting of Evans was a little underwhelming, but he really throws himself into the role of this brash, alpha male ad although much was made in the media about LeFou being Disney’s first overtly gay character, there was only very subtle evidence of this on-screen. Gadd’s comedic chops more than make up for this however. Their slightly-more-than-bromance is a delight to watch.

The songs are largely indestructible and feel required rather than shoe-horned in and the updated compositions and minor changes to some of the lyrics are brilliant, especially the additions to Gaston’s song. Even the added song that the Beast sings is a good addition, as are the scenes added to give a bit more depth to the characters. It all largely works. The problem is that nothing feels like it’s added overall.

If the original didn’t already exist this would be brilliant, but because it does and this adds nothing of substance it just feels ordinary. Still very much worth a watch though.

Review: Kong: Skull Island

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2017 by Tom Austin-Morgan

This is now the umpteenth version of the King Kong story, coming some seven years after the horribly boring Peter Jackson version. None of the previous films have managed to hold a candle to the brilliance of the original 1933 version, so how do you go about retelling this tired old story yet again? Set it during the Vietnam War and throw A-list film stars in it of course!

Kong Skull Island isn’t really retelling the tried and tested version of the King Kong mythology, it’s actually trying to do something a little different. Plus, it’s already a part of the upcoming monster-movie mashup series that includes 2014’s Godzilla reboot.

For starters, the 1970s makes sense as the most recent decade for the discovering the giant ape. It’s mentioned in the dialogue that there is a mythical island in the Pacific that is difficult to access due to unique weather systems that surround it, meaning the only way to really tell if it’s there is from satellite surveillance, something the US has and the Russians are developing, so it’s another race in the Cold War, akin to the arms race, the space race and the race to get the first man on the Moon.

Also, different from previous versions, this is the biggest and scariest Kong so far and apparently he’s still growing! It turns out that Kong is all that stands between us and a load of reptilian monster that want to wipe out humankind. (See how they might pit Kong against Godzilla in a future film?!) So, rather than dinosaur this time round there are a plethora of mega-fauna roaming ‘Skull Island’ that have had managed to grow so large thanks to the island’s ecosystem and their low levels of exposure to humans, presumably.

There’s the standard rag-tag band of adventurers, scientists and soldiers who all have their own agendas. The latter group has been plucked straight from the end of the Vietnam War under the command of Samuel L. Jackson’s character who basically doesn’t want the war to stop. The scientists are led by John Goodman’s character who managed to sneak in this last expedition under the guise of finding fuel but who seems to know a bit more about the islands inhabitants than he’s letting on, Brie Larson’s character is a photographer along for the thrill of shooting never-before-seen landscapes after being disillusioned with the way the War had unfolded. And Tom Hiddleston is there as a former SAS tracker. Cue lots of paranoia and scheming.

 Essentially, Sam Jackson plays a typical Sam Jackson character (even down to the point that he repeats a line word for word that he said in Jurassic Park), Tom Hiddleston plays a typical Tom Hiddleston character suave and threatening, in a slightly unbelievable way), Kong is Kong (can’t help but save the girl)and John C. Reilly plays everything for laughs as usual.

The elements of Kong: Skull Island that are really cool and different are the creature designs, how cine-literate it is (with references to films from The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now to Cannibal Holocaust – really!) and the fact that during one fight scene Kong is given a weapon to use! He was also never caught and showcased in New York.

Above all else it was a whole load of fun, I can’t wait to see Kong go toe to toe with Godzilla and a host of other Kaiju in future films! One of the rumours going round is that the relationship between the Japanese and American characters from the very beginning of he movie will mirror the way these two titans will get along in the next film. I for one can’t wait to see that match-up and what villainous Kaiju will force them into an alliance.

Review: T2 Trainspotting

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 20, 2017 by Tom Austin-Morgan

trainspotting

Twenty years on from what is widely regarded as a seminal film in both the career of Danny Boyle and the young Scottish cast but also for British film and the 90s in general, we get a sequel. Is it a cash-in, is it needed? I would say ‘no’ and ‘yes’ in that order.

Although not directly a film about drug use and abuse, drugs still play a large part in the story line and it’s still not glamorous. Just wait until Renton (Ewan McGregor) reunites with Spud (Ewen Bremner), you’ll see!

Yes, Renton is back after running off with the ill-gotten-gains at the end of the first film, his life has fallen apart after living for the last two decades in Holland. Upon his return, Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is in prison but, coincidentally, has planned an escape after being looked over for parole, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) is a coke addict attempting to set up a brothel above his family’s pub and Spud, as previously mentioned, is still a heroin addict.

Basically, all four of the main characters are still as dysfunctional as they were in the 80s and 90s. Sick Boy and Begbie still hold grudges against Renton for what he did and go about trying to screw him over in different ways: Renton in as violent a way as possible and Sick Boy plans to use his money to front the cash to develop his brothel. Spud is angry at Renton because he left him on his own to succumb to his addictions.

What follows is a brand new story that has very strong echoes from Trainspotting, in some cases some flashbacks to the original film and in others flash backs that predate the film, back to when the four were growing up together before the drugs. One of these even reveals why these films are called Trainspotting.

All the actors are on top form, but the absolute stand-out performance comes from Bremner as Spud who, with some encouragement from Renton, manages to turn his life around by focussing his addictive personality on to other activities, with some surprising results.

Rather than being a cynical cash-grab by the infinitely more famous cast and director who are revelling in nostalgia, T2 Trainspotting is like meeting up with old friends and immediately falling into old habits as if no time has passed at all. This film is not as uncomfortable to watch as the first, but it still retains a jet black tone underneath all the nostalgia and comical situations. If you’re a fan of the original film this is especially unmissable.

Review: The Lego Batman Movie

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2017 by Tom Austin-Morgan

lego-batman-poster

The popularity of the Batman character, played by the excellently tongue-in-cheek Will Arnett, in The Lego Movie and the popularity of the character itself as well as the Lego games made the idea of a spin-off film a no-brainer.

Rather than being a spin-off however, The Lego Batman Movie is a stand-alone film that exists in its own universe. And what a joyous universe it is. The Lego version of Gotham is the brightest version of the fictional city since the 1960s TV series, the characters are all fun which sets it apart from the live action films of the past few years.

In fact, this movie spoofs virtually every Batman property that has existed in the characters nearly 80 year history. It even references the 1940s black and white series! One of the biggest criticisms that I have of this film is that the break-neck speed with which the cuts are made means that you probably miss around 70% of all the visual gags. It feels as if there are so many things going on that you just want the ability to pause it to find all the references and jokes going on around the frame.

The basic story is that Batman is super self-obsessed and narcissistic to mask a deep-rooted loneliness that he has repressed since his parents died. Through the course of the film the other characters get him to start working with others, including some of the most unlikely characters.

There are so many laughs in this film that it’s impossible to cover them all, but suffice to say that there are some really interesting character deviations from the norm that work so well, you wonder why they haven’t been done before. For example, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) becoming Batgirl virtually as an aside to her being such a kick-ass police officer. Also, every version of Alfred since Michael Caine has been touted as the most hands-on and handy in a fight, but Ralph Feinnes’ version takes this to new levels.

What’s truly wonderful about The Lego Batman Movie is, because it’s an animation, it can go anywhere. The roster of villains is ludicrous, not just the actual Batman rogues gallery that really exist but also the extra bad guys that crop up.

As with The Lego Movie, The Lego Batman Movie has a deeper message hidden behind the jokes about the importance of working together and combatting loneliness, but it’s done in such a joyful way that you barely realise you’re being taught a lesson.

This film is supposed to be a children’s film, but it works so well as an adult – especially if you happen to be well versed in the lore of Batman. I would almost go so far as to say it’s the best Batman movie ever made… it’s even confident enough to take a pop at The Dark Knight, and survives!