Archive for Stanley Tucci

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.

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Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2014 by Tom Austin-Morgan

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Hunger games fever hit the nation again as the latest instalment of the juggernaut franchise hit cinemas for the third time. Mockingjay – Part 1 is, obviously, the first part of the final book, which is roundly regarded as the weakest of the trilogy. However, the book warrants being split into two parts as it feels like two different novels smashed together.

Part 1 revolves around the build up of the revolution. As such, it is a very different film from either of the first two films. For a start, there is no Hunger Games, as it carries on directly from the end of the second film and the fallout from the actions of the contestants and the revelation that district 13 is alive and well and ready to launch a war against the Capitol.

The first Hunger Games film was a reflection on reality TV and how far it could go, much in the same way Battle Royale did in the 1990s, the second film expanded on this theme while also fleshing out the world in which the film was set. Mockingjay – Part 1 doesn’t really have to deal with too much of that, apart from giving you an insight into how the citizens of District 13 have survived and are thriving underground after being – seemingly – obliterated by the Captiol years ago.

The look of the subterranean bunker they live and work in is very utilitarian, grey and concrete and this is also extended to the uniforms everyone wears. Something Elizabeth Banks’ character, Effie Trinket (Katniss’ stylist who was ‘liberated’ from the Capitol), is  utterly bereft about, though she makes do with changing the style of her head scarf  which gets increasingly bizarre in every scene.

The tone of the movie is equally grey. It is a slow burner with a few scenes of action, rather than an out-and-out actioner like the previous films. Mockingjay – Part 1 focusses on the art of producing propaganda and how both the rebels and the Capitol use their films to attempt to win the hearts and moods of the citizens of the other districts. The rebels are, obviously, using Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) as their figurehead and it’s a struggle trying to get her to act or follow a script… or to even be likable. President Snow (Donald Sutherland), of the Capitol, uses Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) to appeal to Katniss to stand down. Really, this film is a satire on how news media presents its bias to the public in an effort to sway their decisions – both for good and bad.

As stated, it is a slow burner with some big set pieces, but I wonder if its slower pace may turn off those who haven’t read the books and who are used to the fast-paced tension of the previous instalments. This is the muted calm before the storm that Mockingjay – Part 2 will inevitably be and, if you’ve not read the books, there are some real shocks coming up in the second part.

Mockingjay – Part 1 does what it needs to to get us through to the finale and has a brilliant central performance from Jennifer Lawrence. Liam Hemsworth has slightly more to do this time round and more is seen of the late and dearly missed Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Julianne Moore is introduced as President Coin, but doesn’t give a notable performance and there’s not a lot for Donald Sutherland to do, though it’s clear he’s relishing playing the pantomime villain. Equally, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks are marginalised and there’s no showing for Toby Jones this time, which is a shame. But the film is called Mockingjay, so it really is Jennifer Lawrence’s film.

The film could have ended a few minutes earlier and the impact of the cliff-hanger ending would have been greater. However, those who have not read the book probably needed the explanation for the actions of the character involved.

This is a serviceable film and it’s hard to know what could have been added to make it more engaging, but it does feel as though it’s lacking something. However, Part 1 will make a great contrast to Part 2 – not to mention a breather between the second and fourth films when watched in sequence. It makes you wonder if they could have cut some out of both parts to make one film that has everything. Time will tell.

This is a lukewarm review because this film genuinely feels like nothing but an intro, which it is. It’s likely this will be better when you can watch both parts one after the other.

Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 26, 2013 by Tom Austin-Morgan

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The second of, what will be, four films in the Hunger Games trilogy (quadrilogy?) came out this week amid frenzied anticipation. The first film set up the history behind The Hunger Games and the utter devastation it causes among the population of Panem, especially the outlying, poorer Districts like District 12, where our heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Laurence), is from.

The story in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire picks up under a year since Katniss and Peeta Mellark managed to cheat the odds and both win the Games. Since then they have been living in the Victor’s Village, in mansions – separate ones – on the outskirts of… wherever it is in District 12 they came from – this is the first time I’ve thought about the fact that each District only seems to have one small settlement! The problem is that the relationship they displayed on camera and which won the hearts of the Capitol’s population was just that; a display. The reality is that Katniss’ affections lie with her friend, Gale (Liam Hemsworth).

President Snow (Donald Sutherland) visits Katniss just before she and Peeta are to go on a victory tour of the Districts, he demonstrates his knowledge of her deceit and her true feelings for Gale. With all the understated malevolence and actor like Sutherland can muster he tells Katniss she must convince the country that her relationship with Peeta is true. He then lets her in on the fact that she has become a symbol of a resistance that has started to rise in the Districts after her trick with the poison berries, effectively showing the president’s regime as weak.

Things on the tour don’t go completely as planned and a new Gamesmaker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) colludes with President Snow to devise a new Games that would surely put an end to Katniss and quash the fledgling rebellion. His plan is to put one male and female victor from each of the Districts into the games to fight to the death and, as Katniss is the only female victor from District 12, she would have to be entered.

As you can tell from this huge set up, there is a lot of hunger before you get to the games. This is a long film, clocking in at just under two and a half hours, and the majority of the plot takes place before the games. This is much like the book and actually give you a wider understanding of the political and social make up of the country you only saw brief glimpses of in the first film.

This also gives the supporting cast a chance to shine. We all know Jennifer Lawrence can act, but Donald Sutherland gets to be overbearing and scary, Philip Seymour Hoffman gets to be slimy, Woody Harrelson gets to be hilarious as the permanently plastered mentor to Katniss and Peeta,  Haymitch and Elizabeth Banks’ character, Effie Trinket gets to evolve from the distant social-climbing Capitalist into a person realising the horror the Capital puts the Districts through in order to control them.

The minor characters are also back; Lenny Kravitz as the costume designer, Cinna, provides Katniss with a grounded character from the Capitol she can trust, Stanley Tucci’s maniacal game show host, Caesar Flickerman, is even more of a caricature of modern-day TV presenters, even Toby Jones returns as Flickerman’s co-host, even if he is reduced to a single-lined blink-and-you’ll-miss-it performance. There are also the past victors, the most prominent of these being Finick, Mags, Johanna Beetee and Wiress, played with various levels of sympathy and mistrust.

There’s a great set-up to the games arena this time round, which I won’t spoil. I had a fear that a specific aspect to it wouldn’t work, but was put at ease by the handling of it. In fact, the whole story stays very close to the source material, which is a nice surprise. However, I do feel that parts could have been cut out to save on time.

This is not the action packed thrill ride the first film was. Even the fact the contestants in the games this time round are older, in some cases middle-aged, the shock value of the violence isn’t as bad. But this is made up for by the widening of the world and the progression of the characters in it. I would also argue that the theme is just as dark, if not more so, thanks to the tone coming from the events set in motion by president Snow right from the beginning of the film onwards. A nice twist at the end of the film sets up the next movie perfectly, just as the book did, and as with all book-to-film adaptations of late, the final (most tricky) book will be split across two films. *Sigh*

With acting as brilliant as that on display here the slower pace of the plot is easily forgiven and further cements Lawrence’s credentials as a grade-A leading lady who can do everything from violent action to tender understatement. This is a perfect central film that gives a lull in a series that is about to go all-out, off the chain crazy! Roll on The Mockingjay.

Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2011 by Tom Austin-Morgan

‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ is the final installment of introductions to the characters appearing in ‘The Avengers’ next Summer. Chris Evans, whose last superhero role was as The Human Torch in the ‘Fantastic 4’ movies (also a Marvel comic adaptation), takes to another famous spandex-clad role as the red-white-and-blue-est good guy this side of DC’s Superman.

Steve Rogers is a small, thin, asthmatic, weedy kid who wants to join the army to fight the Nazis as he dislikes bullying (’cause that’s what the Nazis were, right?!). After being turned down time and again at various recruiting stations he is spotted by a German doctor, Dr Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who signs him up for an experimental project which might see him signed up and on the front line.

During training he stands out, much to the disapproval of Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), by displaying less-than-adequate physical ability. But his ability to think outside of the box, as well as selflessness, bravery, determination and his sense of right and wrong mark him out to be selected for a revolutionary scientific procedure to produce the perfect soldier to uphold America’s ideals.

The experiment succeeds, and a German spy steals some of the serum that has affected Rogers’ genetic make-up and kills Dr Erskine in the process. Rogers chases the spy down and takes back the serum. This is the first scene where he uses his new-found strength and provides a couple of slap-stick moments as he is finding his feet, being that he is a couple of feet taller and wider, and immeasurably stronger than before. It also sees him wielding a taxi door as a makeshift shield in the iconic pose of Captain America.

Despite all this, Colonel Phillips still denies him the chance to fight on the front line; instead he becomes the face of U.S. propaganda against the Nazis at home, performing in theatres in the garish Captain America suit from the comics and the awful 1990 film. While all this is happening an SS officer, Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), has found a religious artefact called the Tesseract which Schmidt describes as “the jewel of Odin’s treasure room”, linking it in with the Thor storyline. He and his assistant, Dr Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), decide to distance themselves from the Nazi party. Their scientific division, HYDRA, starts focusing its research into producing the ultimate weapon using the power of the Tesseract.

While on a tour of the forces, Rogers gets a fleeting chance to show exactly what he’s made of when he realises his brother has been captured by HYDRA, so he commandeers a plane with the help of love interest and  stiff-upper-lipped Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), Tony Stark’s dad, and parachutes behind enemy lines.

Rogers infiltrates the base, rescues the captured soldiers and brings them all back to the U.S. base after coming face-to-face with Schmidt, who reveals himself to be the Red Skull, the original experimental soldier created by Dr Erskine. Rogers is hailed a hero and is welcomed into the army by Colonel Phillips and straight into the role of Captain in his own elite division; talk about a backtrack!

Thus ensues a long montage of this group of soldiers fighting all across Europe against HYDRA’ s (not the Nazis) super-weaponary; his suit has now become a little more military-issue and less star-spangled, though the colours are still red, white and blue. This ends with what seems to be the final battle where our heroes infiltrate the mountain hideout of HYDRA in the biggest underground warehouse in cinematic history (it has a runway for the biggest bomber you’re ever imagined that has to be 5 miles long – it is ridiculous)! The sequence ends in a chase after the plane as it is taking off, a fight in a part of the plane with six HYDRA soldiers around massive bombs and then yet another fight – this time to the death with the Red Skull, who was planning to destroy America (not any of the other allied countries as we have been miraculously edited out of World War II by Hollywood).

Rogers cannot turn the plane from its course so ditches it somewhere in the freezing waters around the North Pole. He wakes up in a suspicious room somewhere in his native New York; when he realises he is being lied to he escapes and breaks out into modern-day New York where he is quickly apprehended by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and inducted into the Avenger programme whereupon the film ends. Talk about an anti-climax.

But then this is, as I said at the beginning of the article, an introduction to a character who will be expanded upon in ‘The Avengers’. But it would have been interesting to see how Steve Rogers adapts to his modern surroundings and what the impact of his situation has on his psyche. Somehow I get the feeling we will find out about this in ‘The Avengers’.

That movie aside, ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ is an interesting film. Its visuals are pretty good and the casting is top-notch; it far outstrips the rubbish 1990 straight-to-release outing. The supporting cast was outstanding; Toby Jones, Stanley Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones especially seem to relish the roles they are given by really hamming it up. Hayley Atwell however, was no good at all. A bit of a charisma vacuum really.  Hugo Weaving was brooding and sinister as the Red Skull, though quite why his head turned red, his hair fell out and his nose dropped off were never truly addressed other than his inner faults manifested themselves. This still doesn’t explain why Captain America didn’t have some sort of physical defect to do with being good, like an enormous chest to support his big heart or something. Chris Evans loves these kind of over-the-top roles and dials the cheesy lines up to 11.

I found the CG a little distressing at the start of the film where Chris Evans’ head is placed on top of a skinny man’s body. But probably because I know what he looks like in real proportions. The Red Skull effects, on the other hand, are flawless. But the big gripe I have with the film as a whole is the ending; it is far too abrupt and anti-climactic, though I do realise that it is merely an introduction to a character. I think the director, Joe Johnson, handled it well given that Captain America is a bit of a cartoon and previous outings have been panned. Now we just have to wait for ‘The Avengers’ next year, though if you stay ’til the end you get a teaser trailer for said film.