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Film Review: Dumbo

“Hi, Baby Dumbo, Welcome To The Circus. We’re All Family Here, No Matter How Small…”

With the world currently in a cinematic state of affairs where Walt Disney Studios have decided to take it upon themselves to remake every single famous animated classic from the past century or so, one could argue that the impact and timelessness of the originals means re-hashing them again for live-action cash grabs isn’t exactly worth the hassle. However, with the excellent Cinderella, the very good The Jungle Book and the middling solidness of Beauty and the Beast showing that sometimes remakes or “reimaginings” do ultimately work on a critical level, here we are once again with Dumbo, the latest big screen adaptation of the 1941 film of the same which famously came into fruition in order to recoup the financial losses of one of my favourite Disney releases; Fantasia. Directed by the Gothic wackiness of Tim Burton (Beetlejuice, Batman) and featuring a screenplay from American screenwriter, Ehren Kruger, whose eclectic back catalogue unfortunately contains the likes of Transformers: Age of Extinction and The Ring Two, Dumbo circa 2019 follows a very familiar holding pattern to the live-action predecessors that have come before it, a movie which is obviously designed to open a new generation into the well-versed tale of the large-eared elephant but a movie too which is undoubtedly the weakest example of the Disney remakes to grace the big screen thus far.

With Burton’s last movie in the form of Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children one of the most tonally awkward films in recent history, the American’s approach to Dumbo sort of falls upon familiar ground, where although the basic storyline from the 1941 original remains the same, the decision to add on nearly an hour of running time results in expansion for the sake of expansion without any real depth or substance to any of the major characters aside from the titular elephant who through the miracle of digital effects is rightfully cutesy and undeniably adorable. With the film managing to come off more depressing than fun for the majority of the action, the simple fact remains that not one human character manages to evoke any sense of sympathy throughout the drama, with the dwindling accented Colin Farrell (In Bruges) and Eva Green (Casino Royale) both left to hang by the one dimensional waste-side, the young actors not entirely captivating nor memorable, and the rather geeky reunion of Michael Keaton (Birdman) and Danny DeVito (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) after their work together on Burton’s, Batman Returns, ultimately a massive let down. Decent digital effects and a couple of giggle-inducing comments aside, Tim Burton continues his dwindling career path with a remake which is neither interesting or worthy of existence. At least the racist birds aren’t there this time.

Overall Score: 5/10

Film Review: Widows

“What I’ve Learnt From Men Like Your Late Husband And My Father Is That You Reap What You Sow…”

For a director who already holds widespread acclaim and critical pedigree with so few releases, even with only his fourth release, Oscar winning director, Steve McQueen, unfortunately already bears the pressure of making sure every release is made with the similar style and pedigree of the multi Academy award winning, 12 Years a Slave, back in 2013, following on from the equally impressive one-two of the Michael Fassbender led, Hunger and Shame. With Fassbender surprisingly not on the guest list for McQueen’s latest, the Brit teams up with the brilliant Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl and the recently adapted Sharp Objects, for a contemporary adaptation of Lynda La Plante’s Widows, a subverted crime thriller first brought to the small screen on ITV during the mid 1980’s and now transferred to modern day Chicago which sees Viola Davis (Fences) as the mournful Veronica Rawlins, who after the death of her husband and his thieving band of criminals, orchestrates a heist of her own alongside the widowing wives of her husband’s deceased gang in order to pay back the seething crime boss who her husband had previously ripped off. Boasting one of the most impressive ensemble casts of the year, McQueen’s latest is a expertly crafted, if slightly conventional, heist thriller, one which blends a top notch screenplay with top of their game performers and a movie proves that even when hitting particular genre conventions, some filmmakers just have the natural knack to create brilliant pieces of cinema.

As per pretty much all of McQueen’s previous work, the focus of Widows is undoubtedly on the individual players which carry Flynn’s words from paper to screen, and with a healthy abundance of depth and substance given to the film’s primarily female leading force, the storytelling begins at a perfect, precise pace, using the early dramatic set piece in which we see the criminal gang led by Liam Neeson’s (The Commuter) Harry Rawlins both enter and exit the story in dramatic fashion as a opening into the world of the wives left behind. Supported by the likes of the excellent double act of Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby) and Michelle Rodriguez (The Fast and the Furious), the plot is primarily seen through the eyes of the simply magnanimous Viola Davis as the headstrong and independently ferocious widower who is caught in the crossfires of Brian Tyree Henry’s (Hotel Artemis) crime boss turned political aspirer and the ominous presence of Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) as the merciless gang enforcer. Whilst McQueen understands the nature of the genre in which Widows ultimately sits, the Heat-esque crime procedural feel of the film takes cues from the work of Michael Mann by portraying the landscape of a city with obvious purpose, summed up particularly in one superb one-take tracking shot in which we see Colin Farrell’s (The Beguiled) slippery politician be driven from an area riddled with poverty and famine to another plated in excess and wealth in the space of a few, short minutes, a take which reminds everyone of the one-shot conversation between Michael Fassbender and Liam Cunningham in McQueen’s first feature, Hunger. Whilst the concluding act does feature a rather anticlimactic central heist and an alarming sense of rushness as the credits begin to roll, Widows is stylish cinema made by people who understand how film’s should be made for audiences after something more than your average blockbuster, and when you have this much talent on just one film set, the outcome was always going to be something rather special.

Overall Score: 8/10

Film Review: The Beguiled

“You’re Our Most Unwelcome Visitor, And We Do Not Propose To Entertain You…”

Although the inevitably of almost always being regarded as the daughter of legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola more than anything else, Sofia Coppola has more than done enough to earn her stripes as an effective creator of film in her own right, with the Bill Murray starring Lost in Translation always being the first movie which really kicked off the critical plaudits for art and something which has continued through the likes of Marie Antoinette, The Bling Ring and this week’s release of The Beguiled, a somewhat eclectic collection of previously used Coppola stars including Elle Fanning and Kirsten Dunst, all set within the confines of a Civil War-ridden Virginian school for girls which features Nicole Kidman’s Miss Martha Farnsworth as headteacher. Featuring the smoky, charcoal cinematography of Philippe Le Sourd and some top-notch performances from its’ wonderfully selected cast, The Beguiled is an interesting and wholly entertaining claustrophobic drama, one which dwells on the presence of the outsider and the battling nature of fundamental human emotions.

After allowing the recovery of the wounded Irish mercenary, Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) within the confines of her school, Farnsworth (Kidman) attempts to balance the safety of her fellow residents with the emotions brought up by the inclusion of McBurney’s charming, elegant mannerisms and ways, emotions which are shared also by fellow teacher Edwina Morrow (Kirsten Dunst) and the youth infused innocence of Elle Fanning’s Alicia. With an opening title sequence which completely sets the tone for the classic feel of Coppola’s latest, The Beguiled mixes seething sexual tensions with a thrilling twist of ambiguity, bringing to light recent releases such as My Cousin Rachel and even It Comes at Night as obvious reference points, even when Coppola’s script is wholly based upon the 1966 original novel by Thomas P. Cullinan and the 1971 Don Siegel movie of the same name. With brilliantly measured performances from Farrell, Kidman and the ever-radiant presence of Elle Fanning, The Beguiled culminates in a final act which is as juicy in its’ execution as it is suitably fulfilling, something which could serve as a pithy review for the film as a whole, and whilst the drama is rather televisual at times, The Beguiled is a well-played, short and sweet drama which proves that not all remakes are destined for the bargain bin.

Overall Score: 7/10

Film Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

“This Is Mr. Scamander, He’s Lost Something, I’m Going To Help Him…”

Being of an age in which the two main film franchises entwined with my youth was Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, the knowledge of an extended glance into the land of the former was an interesting premise, albeit a premise which included zero of the franchises’ earlier cast members and a premise which undoubtedly was a huge risk after the success of the earlier movies. Stealing David Yates as director, the man responsible for the last few HP movies, and having J. K. Rowling herself as screenwriter, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, inspired by the book of the same name by Rowling back in 2001, is a completely new view of the Potterverse, one which takes place in 1920’s New York and follows the menacing tribulations of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) who, much like the title says, loses a substantial amount of his fantastical beasts en route to Arizona and is then tasked with locating such creatures alongside the “no-maj” baker-to-be Jacob (Dan Fogler) and former Aura, Tina (Katherine Waterston).

Being a solid fan of anything remotely Harry Potter, it comes as a deep disappointment that Fantastic Beasts for me was a resounding mess of a movie, a film which had very little engagement in terms of its characters alongside a strange sense of nonexistence in terms of any sort of narrative which made the film rather tedious at times, particularly during its’ sloggish first hour and the movie’s cop-out conclusion which seemed to have more endings than Return of the King. With the wasting of prestigious talent such as Jon Voight, Ezra Miller and Colin Farrell, the movie focuses most of its’ attention on Redmayne in the movies’ lead role, a performance which takes the fundamental kooky nature of Redmayne and ranks it up to eleven, resulting in a character which was actually rather boring to be with. Whilst the film does boast some creative digital effects and a cute loot-obsessed niffler, Fantastic Beasts can only be described as a mildly inconsequential addition to the lore of Harry Potter, a film which begins the cycle of FOUR more movies with a whimper rather than a bang, and a film which really nosedives with the most obvious twist since Inferno, in the addition of Johnny Depp as the real protagonist of the series. Shame really, as Colin Farrell was one of the film’s positives. For every cloud I suppose…

Overall Score: 5/10

TV Review: True Detective – Season Two Episode Eight “Omega Station” SPOILER ALERT

A Truer Detective?

This week brought an end to the second season of Nic Pizzolatto’s highly addictive crime sage True Detective, a show that this year has been rife with criticism and finger-pointing with many arguing that aside from being wholly unsubstantial to its’ predecessor, it has also been an utter disaster with many being critical of its over-elaborate plot, cliched characters, and the ability of lead-writer Pizzolatto who has come under much scrutiny for this season’s attempt to diverge from the occult-ridden themes of the first and move into a noir-fueled epic, featuring a bundle of new characters and a range of different plot threads in order to make up its’ eight episode run. In terms of my own personal viewpoint on this season of True Detective, I am seemingly one of the few in believing that this series offered the opportunity for Pizzolatto to expand his horizons in regards to what can be achieved with such a format that True Detective holds, resulting in a season that yes, did have a wide range of flaws and weaknesses, but was also highly enjoyable with moments of sheer greatness which distinguished itself from anything else on TV at this particular moment of time. And I salute it.

In a rather ironic sort of way, “Omega Station”, the concluding episode of this years’ series, pretty much epitomised everything that True Detective stood for this time around, with the beautiful cinematography, including the wonderful overhead shots of California’s vast landscape, and heart-pounding scenes of tension, particularly in regards to Velcoro’s tragic last stand, being the highlights of the episode. These particular highlights were traits that although were absent slightly from the first three episodes of the series in which time seemed to go rather slowly with not much actually happening in regards to the overall plot, came to form the basis of the second half of the series in which the story finally managed to take a step forward, resulting in the last three episodes of the series being undoubtedly the best in a string of episodes that began with a drag yet concluded with an almighty band. And what a bang it was. If Frank and Ray’s raid on Agranov’s cash deal wasn’t thrilling enough, “Omega Station” left us with a range of memorable scenes, ranging from Velcoro’s redemption to Semyon’s hallucinatory last-breath, something of which was straight out of the Lynch-school for dramatic weirdness.

 In typical noir-esque fashion, the fate of our three heroes in this years’ season, as well as Vince Vaughn’s Frank Semyon, was rather depressing to say the least, with only Rachel McAdam’s Ana Bezzerides coming out alive, albeit on-the-run from the corrupt power structure that has overtaken our beloved heroes’ home, following the now-famous Game of Thrones policy that sometimes that bad guys have to win. In regards to out main band of heroes, it was obvious that Colin Farrell’s Ray Velcoro was indeed the most interesting of the bunch, with Farrell’s acting being on top-notch from the start, whilst Vince Vaughn must also take credit for embodying a role which so easily could have gone majorly wrong due to Vaughn’s capacity for cringe-worthy comedic acting, yet ended up being one of the better points of this years’ season resulting in a true sense of redemption for an actor so easily laughed at for his involvement in a string of rather questionable movies more recently. So, where did it all go wrong? In my own opinion, most of the backlash in regards to this years’ series simply came from people jumping on the True Detective-bashing bandwagon, with it seemingly being hip and cool to add to the growing list of haters for this years series, whilst many simply couldn’t deal with the fact that this years’ series was nothing at all like the first, something of which I was impressed by, with this season offering a truer and more down-to-earth take on the crime genre than the occult-ridden themes of the first.

But in all my fondness for the series, there were noticeable weaknesses and missteps, no more so than the ear-gratingly bad dialogue that our characters spoke at particular moments of the season, with our heroes’ hatred of E-Cigarettes being a personal favourite whilst Semyon’s attempt at being his own personal Gandhi with cringe-worthy anecdotes and “inspirational” speeches being draining at times, highlighting that perhaps all the critical praise Pizzolatto received first time around slightly going to his head. Also on the weaker side was the rather messy plot lines that although were rather hard to follow at times, also resulted in a sense of hollowness during the revelation of Caspere’s true murderer, which, in the end, was wholly anti-climatic and had only a slight relevance to the messy plot lines regarding corrupt police officers and business officials which Pizzolatto felt compelled to tell us about. But hey ho, I’d rather watch a series with flaws and weaknesses than anything else if that particular series has as much entertainment value as True Detective undoubtedly has. At the end of the day, Nic Pizzolatto’s crime sage may not have been for everyone this time around, but for me it was wholly refreshing and gave me a reason to wake up early on a Monday morning, and for those reasons alone I am going to miss it. I can only hope for Season Three this time next year.

Episode Score: 9/10

Overall Season Score: 8/10

TV Review: True Detective – Season Two Episode Seven “Black Maps and Motel Rooms” SPOILER ALERT

Death ‘Til Us Part

With the complex and sometimes baffling plot threads, questionable dialogue, and a desire to try and out-class its’ critically acclaimed predecessor this season, True Detective Mark II has had a wide range of detractors and naysayers, yet this weeks’ episode proved that when done correctly, True Detective has the fundamental genetic makeup to be a true great within the already brilliant HBO lineup whilst having the potential to match and rival anything on TV all across the globe. This weeks’ penultimate episode featured everything that made True Detective what it was last year with an increased level of threat and danger towards our main three heroes, solid acting from all involved, and twist and turns that solidified my anticipation for the concluding episode next week in which we are set to tie together the many loose ends that have been left by the complex nature of the overarching plot-line regarding the death of Ben Caspere. This week also handed us the first taste of death for one of our “True Detectives” with Taylor Kitsch’s Paul Woodrugh violently biting the dust at the hands of Ray Velcoro’s police chief. Lieutenant Burris, after narrowly escaping a confrontation with his blackmailers, all of whom seem to be privy to the events of last week’s drug infused orgy in the hillsides.

With Kitsch’s Woodrugh off  the payroll, one man who took the lead with some panache this week was Vince Vaughn, who although at times hasn’t had the best writing to work with, particularly in regards to his sometimes ear-grating dialogue, has proven to be one of this highlights of the season with this week’s episode allowing him to fully embrace the deceptive and seedy nature of Frank Semyon who once again escaped from bleeding out entirely and instead remained firmly on the ropes after destroying his two clubs after acknowledging the power struggle between him and Russian gangster, Osip Agranov. Following suit, Detectives Bezzerides and Velcoro also felt the heat this week by both turning to the other side of the law after a turn of events in which their one trusted source within the law department was found dead in their car with the blame firmly placed in the lap of Velcoro. With the walls falling in around our three remaining leads, next week’s conclusion of this year’s season of True Detective is one that shouldn’t be missed. See you then.

Overall Score: 9/10

TV Review: True Detective – Season Two Episode Six “Church In Ruins” SPOILER ALERT

Risky Business

Due to an enormous level of work and cinema constraints (Damn you Inside Out!), my rather punctual review of the week’s episode of True Detective has annoyingly come two days too late, but nevertheless, such a time period has allowed me to fully digest “Church In Ruins”, an episode in which events within the personal and overall plot-lines of our main heroes and heroines took a step up in an attempt to ready us for the roller-coaster ride that hopefully will be the series’ two concluding episodes. If one overall positive thing is to be taken away from this years’ series of True Detective, it is undeniably going to be Colin Farrell, who’s performance as troubled cop Ray Velcoro hit top-notch this week, particularly during the scene in which we relentlessly witness his descent back into drugs and drink in order to fully accept the notion of losing his son once and for all. On the opposite side of the law, Vince Vaughn continues to impress as Frank Semyon who continues to try and progress in his own investigation into the death of Ben Caspere whilst once again feeling the pressure from the depths of the criminal underworld with the return of the eerie, if rather out-of-place, sombrero wearing Mexican.

As for Detective Bezzerides, wow. The concluding scene in which we witness one of the weirdest undercover operations ever was not only difficult to watch in some places, but also brilliantly executed within all the madness and endless sexual intimacy that was presented on-screen. Kudos too to Bezzerides’ for her ninja skills in the inevitable, yet rather cool and badass knife-attack in which we finally see her expert knife-wielding tactics being but to good use. Oddly enough, with all the attention firmly on Velcoro and Bezzerides this week, Taylor Kitsch’s Paul Woodrugh decided to take a step back this week from the limelight and oddly enough, brought about a much better episode, with his own personal storyline definitely being the weakest of the trio’s throughout the series so far, yet his looming one-two of marriage and fatherhood may be the cause for his troubles to have finally stopped. This week’s episode of True Detective therefore definitely produced a high watermark for the series, propped up by Farrell’s magnificent performance and a scintillating final scene in which the bones of the overall storyline just got a little bit juicier.

Overall Score: 8/10 

TV Review: True Detective – Season Two Episode Five “Other Lives” SPOILER ALERT

Aftershocks

With the bloody, gunshot ridden conclusion that rounded off last week’s episode of True Detective, this week’s venture into Nic Pizzolatto’s noir-crime drama was bound to deal with the consequences of such, particularly in regards to the surviving trio of Velcoro, Bezzerides and Woodrugh who witnessed first hand a barrage of death and destruction. After a weird and ambiguous change to the show’s theme tune to start us off with, such consequences of the shootout are swiftly distinguished within “Other Lives” with Velcoro and Bezzerides seemingly ending up with the short change, with the latter now working under Frank Semyon and the former ending up in storage, whilst Woodrugh has seemingly taken all the plaudits and rewarded with the opportunity to have a go at being Detective. Of course being only halfway through the series, the fact that both Velcoro and Bezzerides are now out of the main picture, it has given them a chance to establish, low key, other inquiries into the ever-confusing death of Ben Caspere, much to the enjoyment of every True Detective fan with this particular episode diving deeper into the seedy backstory into his death, including a rather nasty looking hut with a rather bloody look to it in a scene that bears similarities to that of the first series.

Elsewhere, Frank Semyon attempted to reconnect with his human side in an attempt to rekindle his relationship with Mrs. Semyon whilst Velcoro was asked to look into his personal staff in an attempt to detect the blame in regards to his loss of finance which followed the death of Ben Caspere. With Velcoro well and truly under the thumb of Semyon, the rather shocking twist regarding the true fate of his wife’s rapist brought the episode to a mouthwatering close, in a confrontation that will ultimately have heavy repercussions heading into the final few episodes. With all the negativity regarding the snail-esque pace of this season’s main storyline, “Over Lives” fought back with a bang and offered a chance to delve deeper into the lives of all four of our main protagonists whilst moving forward with its’ underlying through point regarding the death of Ben Caspere at a rate which finally is leading Season Two of True Detective into a direction it deserves to be heading in.

Overall Score: 8/10

TV Review: True Detective – Season Two Episode Four “Down Will Come” SPOILER ALERT

To Live and Die In L.A

With the first series of True Detective declaring it’s sheer awesomeness during its’ fourth episode when we were treated to the now-famous one-take, gang-land escape scene, this week’s episode of series two was bound to include some sort of monumental set-piece in some form or another. And boy, wasn’t it just? The explicitly violent massacre that concluded “Down Will Come” not only was shocking as it was bloody, but also featured ten minutes of ramped-up action that had been absent from this season so far, concluding with Officers Velcoro, Bezzerides, and Woodrugh physically repelled at the sheer carnage they had just all witnessed after a search and seizure on a potential suspect was turned completely on its’ head. Although such a scene was downright epic in its’ own right, parallels to the first series was inevitable. regardless of how good such a scene was going to be, yet I think it’s time to move away from comparisons to the first series and just enjoy True Detective for what its’ attempting to be this year; a dark and brooding noir crime thriller that is trying it’s hardest to shake off the plaudits of its’ predecessor by not being just more of the same.

Of course, the argument that its’ attempting to not be “more of the same” can be easily criticised due in part to the way in which such a set piece in this week’s episode was pretty much expected, but on the whole, the concluding shootout worked and I believe if such a scene was placed into another, bog-standard crime show, it would be applauded. I know True Detective, you just can’t win. Although the final scene was something to take away from this week’s episode, in terms of the overall plot, not much was entirely expanded upon, with Frank Semyon still attempting to rebuild his legacy in the crime underworld, whilst the depth of the case was only focused on within the last ten minutes or so, aside from some rather confusing plot lines regarding spiritual seminars and land development, making this week’s episode memorable in places, but overall, just filler in the overall context of the seasons overarching plot threads.

Overall Score: 7/10 

TV Review: True Detective – Season Two Episode Three “Maybe Tomorrow” SPOILER ALERT

May The Elvis Be With You

Last week’s episode of True Detective left us questioning whether the series had accomplished one of the most shocking deaths of recent times with the supposed murder of Detective Velcoro, a character portrayed majestically by everyone’s favourite Irish export Colin Farrell, yet such a mystery was immediately resolved in the first few minutes of “Maybe Tomorrow” when we established that the murderous bird-masked assailant had thankfully decided to load his shotgun with rubber bullets, much to the relief of Velcoro himself as well as most viewers I would assume who, like me, see Velcoro as one of the more interesting characters in this years’ series. One negative aspect of such a quick resurrection however was that all the fun and games of playing that one scene over and over in the week between the two episodes was quickly overshadowed with such an attempt on one of the leading characters life being brushed over rather instantaneously, a major shame in my opinion. Top marks however for the obvious Lynch/Twin Peaks inspired dream sequence that kicked this week’s episode off though. A good, retro, Lynch reference is always going to win me over. Well done.

With Velcoro’s swift resurrection, “Maybe Tomorrow” marched swiftly forward in an attempt to speed up the rather rambling plot lines that are starting to materialise, with the editing in this particular episode flying like a steam-train in order to keep us privy to not only dealings within the police force, but out of it, with Frank Semyon finally unleashing his inner evil after seeing one of his henchman being brutally murdered in manner not too dissimilar from that of Ben Caspere (Were his eyes not removed?). Furthermore, the obvious symbolism of sexual incapability between the two leads of the series in both Semyon and Woodrugh ties into the notion of both seemingly being absent from what they desire most, with Semyon reeling from the notion of leaving the criminal enterprise and Woodrugh’s obvious defiance from “coming out” as it were. This undercurrent sexual motif has been highly recurrent in this series so far, making me question whether lead writer Nic Pizzolatto is purposely fleshing out characters with such vices in order to have not one, but a whole range of potential suspects for the series’ main mystery on both sides of the law.

Weaknesses of the episode followed suit of the series’ overall weaknesses so far, with a few more examples of cringe-worthy dialogue, whilst the shallow, caricature-ridden portrayal of Mayor Chessani ‘s family, including his trophy wife and extremely annoying son was rather laughable in places. Furthermore, what is everyone’s problem with E-Cigarettes? I mean come on, there are much worse problems out there. In conclusion therefore, True Detective once again supplied another solid and intriguing slice of gritty, noir-esque mystery, stifled with sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, a winning recipe if ever there was one, if suffering from questionable dialogue and an all-too-quick resolution to the cliffhanger of the previous episode.

Overall Score: 8/10