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Film Review: How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

“I Am Who I Am Today Because Of You…”

Whilst it may be slightly harsh walking into a concluding chapter of a franchise after failing to see the previous two entries, my own personal admission as a failure of film criticism due to somehow missing the critically acclaimed opening chapter’s before heading into How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World was aptly fixed with a quick Wikipedia search and a clear confirmation that dragons had indeed been trained effectively and that there really wasn’t that much to catch up on. Directed and written once again by Canadian filmmaker, Dean DeBlois, whose continued service throughout the franchise has indeed placed him in good stead in the land of DreamWorks animation, The Hidden World reunites the merry band of heroic and dragon loving Vikings as they continue their fight in attempting to rescue as many captured flying beasts as humanly possible from the grasps of the insidious and cold hearted dragon hunters. Led by the good natured figure of Hiccup and his dedicated flying follower, Toothless, the loss of his father in the previous installment still fleetingly haunts the young leader, resulting him in remembering the myth of “The Hidden World”, a utopian world for dragon kind which Hiccup attempts to locate in order to not only save his own race, but his ever expanding race of flying friends who continue to overpopulate his land.

For someone entering the movie with only a faint knowledge of the characters and the overarching set up from the past two installments, it is undoubtedly to The Hidden World’s credit that even with only ten minutes into the action, the characterisation of each of the primary players within the narrative is very much easy to establish, and whilst the pacing does take a good while to fully get going into second year, there is a clear commitment from the filmmakers that the movie is very much a solidified end point to the franchise, with a central screenplay which pretty much relies on a whole lot of filler, albeit interesting filler, before getting to the inevitable conclusion. Whilst there are elements of weariness throughout the one hundred minute runtime, the simply gorgeous animation means that when you do become slightly disconnected from the narrative, the design of the movie is so staggeringly wonderful that you take the time instead to inspect every single frame of the picture and oggle at its’ technical brilliance, with shots of soaring horizons, spectacular armies upon both land and sea, and of course, the sight of hundred upon hundreds of dragons taking to the skies really magnificent to behold. With an array of superb voice acting talent, with F. Murray Abraham (The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Grimmel the Grisly the standout performance, and a final act which even made this cold hearted cinephile wipe away a flu induced tear, The Hidden World may not be as amazing as it might have been with the added involvement I may have got from a complete dedication to the series, but it is indeed a movie which has more than enough to sustain an interest for both children and adults as it rounds off in a rather pleasant manner indeed.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: The House with a Clock in Its Walls

“There’s A Clock In The Walls. We Don’t Know What It Does, Except… Something Horrible…”

Primarily known for being best buds with Quentin Tarantino which has helped establish a directing back catalogue which is seeped in R-rated nastiness, with Hostel and Cabin Fever being the ugliest standout releases thus far, Eli Roth returns for a second cinematic swing this year after Death Wish with The House with a Clock in Its Walls, a 12A rated adaptation of the 1973 novel of the same name from American author John Bellairs which sees Owen Vaccaro’s (Daddy’s Home 2) Lewis move to Michigan in order to live with Jack Black’s (School of Rock) flamboyant uncle type, Jonathan Barnavelt, in the confines of the titular creaky, gothic inspired mansion after the sudden death of his loving parents. Mixing Spielberg-esque moments of fantasy adventure with elements of witchcraft and wizardry in the ilk of the Christopher Columbus directed entries in the Harry Potter series, Roth’s latest is a rather awkward cinematic piece, a movie which although slapped with a 12A rating seems too childish for adults but similarly too freaky for the youngest of audiences, and even with Jack Black giving his most School of Rock performance since, well, School of Rock, Eli Roth’s trip into family friendly escapism just isn’t worth shouting about.

With an opening half hour in which the audience is slowly introduced to the sparkling wonder of Jack Black’s Jonathan, a mediocre warlock blessed with magical tricks and the current incumbent of a free-spirited, spooky and clock-filled household, the opening act of the movie is fairly entertaining as the narrative balances Lewis’ discovery of not only his new residence and family, but school-time friends and foes who are eager to pick on his strange existence and penchant for wearing over-sized ski goggles. As the movie slowly shows its’ hand however, the venture into the central plot involving Kyle MacLachlan’s (Twin Peaks) aptly named Issac Izard, a evil alternative to Jack Black’s good-natured father figure, results in Roth’s movie swiftly falling into the trap of becoming yet another generic and wildly predictable fantastical ride, emphasised by a concluding set piece featuring a complete absence of threat or engagement which makes you stare at your own ticking watch as you count down the minutes before the credits finally roll. Even with the added inclusion of the always reliable Cate Blanchett as Black’s well-spoken, neighbouring witch, one bound with a reluctance to utilise her powerful abilities, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is not original enough to stand the test the time or engaging enough to be a throwaway fun ride and ultimately fails to live up to the brilliance you would expect from such a wonderfully reliable leading cast.

Overall Score: 5/10

Film Review: Ocean’s 8

“We Will Not Be The Prime Suspects…”

With Steven Soderbergh’s ice-cool Oceans Eleven back at the start of the twentieth a contemporary remake of the 1960 Rat Pack-led movie of the same name which managed to not only work exceptionally well to both critics and audiences alike, but managed to create a further two big-screen releases with its’ staggeringly star-studded cast, the release of Ocean’s 8 follows the blueprint of 2016’s Ghostbusters by being a franchise spin-off/remake which modifies the primary gender of the film’s preceding it from predominantly male to female. With the notion of gender-modification on-screen something of which I’m entirely supportive of, with the film industry still way behind in terms of equal pay and equal opportunities even in a post-Weinstein cinematic era, the real question remains whether the final product is good enough to warrant a continuation of the franchise in the first place, and with a stellar, starry cast, an abundance of flashy style and some interesting plot developments, Ocean’s 8 is an enjoyable caper-based romp, one which although sacrifices deep characterisation in favour of simply getting on with the job at hand, is a more than capable treading of old ground which harmlessly passes the time but still does not hit the gold standard of the original remake which still remains the best in the franchise thus far.

Directed by Gary Ross of The Hunger Games fame, Ocean’s 8 follows Sandra Bullock’s (Gravity) Debbie Ocean, the freshly released ex-con whose family tree burdens her with a pre-conception of her immediate return to crime as soon as she gets back on her feet in the outside world. Surprise, surprise therefore that with the help of a merry band of fellow criminals including Cate Blanchett’s (Thor: Ragnarok) leather jacket wearing Lou and Sarah Paulson’s (The Post) suburban housewife turned profiteer, Tammy, Ocean immediately plans to steal a staggeringly expensive necklace from Anne Hathaway’s (Interstellar) air-headed Daphne Kluger during the annual star-studded Met Gala. With a silly, plot-hole ridden screenplay, one which disregards any meaningful character backstory whatsoever and one which leans too heavily on a reliance that the audience will agree to leave their brain at the door, Ocean’s 8 is the cinematic equivalent of an episode of Hustle, a sometimes sharp, quip laden flash-a-thon which is bolstered by a fundamentally appealing cast who simply are there to get the job done and have fun whilst doing it, and whether or not you can bypass the sheer stupidity of the central heist is the real measure of how you may or may not enjoy the film, but for a harmless slice of popcorn entertainment, Ocean’s 8 is far from the worst entry in the franchise and passed the time rather solidly.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Thor: Ragnarok

“We Have To Stop Her Here And Now, And Prevent Ragnarok, The End Of Everything…”

With arguably two of the weakest entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far, the return of Chris Hemsworth’s Thor marks the seventeenth entry in the gargantuan comic franchise, and whilst the character is awash with charisma and undeniable charm, it seems Hemsworth’s God of thunder has been the recipient of being better served when mixed in with the collective Marvel characters rather than being free to fight battles on his lonesome. Inevitably therefore, Ragnarok, directed by New Zealand’s Taika Waititi, manages to follow in the footsteps of Captain America: Civil War by for all intents and purposes being an Avengers movie, just without the titular phrasing slapped across it, with Hemsworth’s character this time being surrounded by the likes of Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner and the return of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki in his battle against Cate Blanchett’s evil goddess of death, Hela. With Waititi’s previous works including the likes of What We Do In The Shadows and last year’s critically acclaimed independent groundbreaker, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, the Kiwi’s ascent into Hollywood stardom continues the MCU’s usage of interesting, promising directors after Shane Black’s Iron Man 3 and Jon Watt’s take on Spiderman: Homecoming earlier this year, and what Waititi has managed to achieve with Ragnarok is undeniably create the best of the Thor standalone releases so far, but with a aching sense of inconsequentiality running through it, the latest MCU release is supercharged in style but lacking wholly in any sense of prolonging substance.

Faced with the passing of father Odin, Thor heeds the warning of the coming of Cate Blanchett’s Hela, the Goddess of Death, whose desire to overthrow the Asgardian kingdom could potentially lead to the coming of Ragnarok, a prophetic armageddon which eradicates the existence of Asgard from the face of the universe, but with the God of Thunder’s preoccupied exile onto the planet of Sakaar, Thor must first overcome the greatest gladiator battle of all time before returning to save his home planet from certain destruction. With the chugging riffs of Led Zeppelin and a colourful, sparkly tone which made Guardians of the Galaxy so joyous throughout, Ragnarok is a movie which soaks up the fundamental ridiculousness of Thor’s character and simply hands the audience an undeniably entertaining comic adventure on a multi-coloured plate, and whilst the rib tickling comedy and likeable characters, both old and new, keep the audience chuckling and the lengthy running time manageable, the latest Marvel adventure does suffer at times from having almost too much to say without any of it having any real consequence. With a emo-inflicted villain who is too camp to take seriously, strangely jarring cameos from particular Hollywood stars and a limited screen presence from the likes of Jeff Goldblum and Idris Elba, Ragnarok suffers where the likes of Civil War prevailed, with the latter working with each pieces of the chess board onto something of consequence, and considering the future which lies ahead for the fate of the MCU, Ragnarok is indeed a highly enjoyable addition to the Marvel universe but ultimately doesn’t seem exactly necessary.

Overall Score: 7/10

88th Academy Awards: Best Actress

Best Actress

After last years’ predetermination at the BAFTA’s, with Julianne Moore winning the prestigious Best Actress award for Still Alice, a film that hadn’t hit UK cinemas at the time of the ceremony leaving the choice of winner solely in the hands of preview-screened critics, the Oscar’s soon followed suit and awarded Moore with her first award after many nominations for films such as Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights and Far From Heaven. Completing this years’ nominations is a variety of talent ranging from rising stars to cinematic gems with each film definitely getting the vote of confidence from here at Black Ribbon, even Joy, the newest release from David O. Russell, which although features a riveting leading performance from Jennifer Lawrence has been regarded by many as a limp entry into the impressive canon Russell has already established, with The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook doing particularly well at the prestigious ceremony in previous years. Could his and Lawrence’s success at the Oscar’s continue this year? Let’s ask the people in the know.

In the wise eyes of the bookies, Brie Larson is set to carry on her success at the BAFTA’s with her being odds on to pick up the Oscar for Best Actress in Lenny Abrahamson’s simply brilliant Room, a film which manages to carry the balance of the dark and the twisted yet ultimately proclaims itself as a life-affirming drama, featuring a world-class performance from young Jacob Tremblay who along with Larson brings the brilliance of the film to light, resulting in the rare occasion whereby I completely agree with the Academy. Sure, Cate Blanchett is rather flawless in Todd Haynes’ Carol and Saoirse Ronan continues her streak of being perfect in every way possible (CRUSH INCOMING) within the beautiful Brooklyn, but Larson is the stand-out, pulling in a performance that those at the Oscar voting table love; no make-up and a lot of crying. It might just be the start of something magical. Cringe.

Next Time: Best Director

Film Review: Cinderella

The Little Glass Slipper

“Not another remake of a Disney classic in order to tear the little money we have away from us”, I hear you all scream! And to be fair, before watching Kenneth Branagh’s “re-imagining” of the well-known fairy tale, I had that exact view, even after being pleasantly surprised of it having a cast that includes Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett, Stellan Skarsgård and the always brilliant Helena Bonham Carter. My pretty pessimistic view of Cinderella was soon put to bed however, with the film succeeding in being everything that I wanted it to be, whilst simultaneously reminding me of my childhood where Disney films played a constant, and important, part of my early cinematic years. 

As everyone knows the story behind Cinderella there is really not much point in giving a plot synopsis, but I will say how happy I was at seeing how much the film stuck to the original telling from the 1950’s animated classic, something of which has seen to sway away from “re-tellings” recently such as within Into the Woods, which although wasn’t terrible, didn’t really do it for me in attempting to do something a slightly bit different. Sometimes sticking to your roots isn’t such a bad thing, and I think that is one of the reasons the new Cinderella is so strong. Yes, everyone knows the story, but I would rather the film stuck to the story everyone knew instead of heading in a completely different direction, particularly when it is such a beloved fairy tale such as this. Bonus points for that then.

Even more bonus points for the casting too, with Lily James doing a rather grand job in such an iconic role, supported by the ever-smiling Richard Madden as the spouse-searching Prince Kit, and the ever-evil Cate Blanchett who once again shines as an actress, chewing up the scenery as the evil stepmother, Lady Tremaine. For the short time she is on screen, Helena Bonham Carter as the Fairy Godmother (of course) also shows why she is the go-to kooky character actress too, shoving down the scenery instead of chewing it, only adding more evidence to my opinion that she should just move to a world ran by Tim Burton and Disney. To be honest, I would probably move there too. 

In conclusion, Cinderella beat all my previous expectations of it hands-down, proving that if done correctly, a story as strong as Ella and her glass slipper, can never be broken. Not only is the casting spot on, but the pretty much perfect runtime maintains its’ sense of sheer wonder throughout, ending on a note that can only make you leave the cinema smiling. If there ever was a blueprint for future live-action Disney remakes, then Cinderella has surely secured itself as just that. Cinderella, you can go to the ball.

Overall Score: 8/10