“Who Is To Say That It Is Not Everything Else That Is The Dream…?”
Opening against the likes of Scorsese and Assassin’s Creed, A Monster Calls, the latest from impressive director J. A. Bayona, ultimately offers more of family-friendly adventure then perhaps others on show at the start of 2017, a family-friendly adventure boasting a CGI’d Liam Neeson-shaped tree, one which bears a striking resemblance to the Ents from The Lord of the Rings, who forms part of an impressive cast featuring the likes of Rogue One’s Felicity Jones and cult favourite, Sigourney Weaver. With Bayona’s career beginning in a solidly admirable manner with his directorial craft stamped on both the Guillermo Del Toro produced horror The Orphanage and the disaster drama The Impossible, A Monster Calls is a melancholic and poignant tale of one boy’s capacity to cope with the horrors which wait for him in the future, featuring a superb performance from young Lewis MacDougall and a screenplay which admirably attempts to be something much more mature and complex than your average fantasy romp.
If being based solely from the trailers, it would be obvious to assume that A Monster Calls primarily shouts out to the younger viewers out there, and whilst an element of fantasy is ripe throughout the movie, the true nature of A Monster Calls is so much more understated than one might expect, particularly with a gigantic digital tree at the heart of the film, with Bayona taking full effect of Patrick Ness’s adapted screenplay of his own novel in creating a film which will strangely appeal more to an adult audience than one might expect. Furthermore, the ominous and ambiguous nature of The Orphanage is relevant once again, with Bayona choosing to use the sensual appeal of silence to follow our hero to full effect and only using background music when absolutely necessary, creating that eerie atmosphere present within the director’s earlier works. What we have with A Monster Calls therefore is the creepy, cold nature of The Orphanage mixed together with the tough examination of humanity from The Impossible. Does it work? Yes, and although there are moments of slight wanderings, A Monster Calls is a poignant and overtly eye-watering success, only continuing the reputation of director Bayona many-fold.
Overall Score: 7/10
“You Don’t Have To Make Us Feel Safe, Because You’ve Made Us Feel Brave…”
Tim Burton is back with his latest project, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, based on the novel of the same name by author Ransom Riggs, and whilst Mr. Burton hasn’t exactly hit the high notes of what he can accomplish in recent years, a mediocre Burton film is at least better than most things released in the calendar year of film. With Miss Peregrine’s, the typical tropes and traits of what makes Burton’s films his own are unashamedly there to see from the offset and whilst we are treated to a two hour plus marathon of sub-gothic horror, all with a teenage friendly 12A rating, which includes invisible monsters, Alice In Wonderland type parallel time zones and the removal of a hell lot of eyes, Burton’s latest is an undeniable snooze-fest, one that has the baseline of a good idea but one that is orchestrated in a tedious and rather unconvincing fashion, concluding with a final act which can only be regarded as the physical definition of anticlimax.
As we follow Jacob (Asa Butterfield) into the titular home, ruled over by the strict, yet caring, Miss Peregrine, portrayed in an overtly scene-chewingly fashion by Eva Green, the film begins in a compelling air of mystery, particularly when we are introduced to the notion of the Hollows, their origins and the plans of the evil Dr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson). Unfortunately for the film, as soon as we are swayed away from the charming introductions to the residents of the titular home and into the bigger picture involving the Jack Skellington-esque Hollows, the film totally collapses under the weight of attempting to get as much plot in its’ two-hour runtime, resulting in a messy narrative which doesn’t allow the concluding act to have the impact and sense of closure it of course is meant to have. Although the film boasts some good performance from the likes of its’ younger cast, with Ella Purnell arguably being the standout, Miss Peregrine’s is a poor attempt for Burton to get back on form and therefore can only be regarded as a undeniable let down.
Overall Score: 5/10
“Never Go To The Window, Never Look Behind The Curtain…”
Who doesn’t love Roald Dahl? Not only have countless cinematic works been based upon his literary catalogue over the course of over half a century, but his presence is still continuing to this very day, with Hollywood understanding that re-imaginings and reboots of his works on the big screen will always guarantee to bring in the masses, whilst hardcore Bond fans will know his influence on the script for You Only Live Twice, the first Bond film in which we see the ominous presence of Donald Pleasence’s Blofeld and his evil looking Persian cat. Anyhow, this time around it’s The BFG which gets the reboot treatment, directed this time by Steven Spielberg and continuing the successful collaboration of Bridge of Spies by placing Oscar winner Mark Rylance in the lead role. Whilst the CGI and design of Rylance’s titular BFG is a fantastic achievement in itself, the film as a whole is one that is surprisingly mediocre, one in which suffers from a wide range of pacing issues, a yawn-inducing first half and a lacklustre plot thread based around the intent of our beloved heroine, Sophie.
Although Spielberg is a director whom I appreciate highly, The BFG is a surprisingly empty and rather shallow fantasy, one that focuses entirely on the structure and creation of Rylance’s BFG and seemingly forgets to include any real sense of direction whatsoever. Beginning with a first act in which we are taken to Giant Country, the film descends into a rather slow slew of tedious pacing issues, in which the introduction of Rylance’s character is overshadowed by such and subsequently becomes something you quickly get bored with. After a good drawn out 90 minutes, the film does improve when we are taken into the halls of Buckingham Palace, a final act which seemingly woke up the entirety of the audience in my particular screening, with the laughs and quickfire jokes swiftly erasing the pain of the film so far before it. With Spielberg at the reigns and Rylance in command of his beloved character, The BFG should have been something spectacular. Instead, Spielberg’s latest is surprisingly mediocre, a word rarely associated with talent of such a kind.
Overall Score: 5/10
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Have we possibly found the worst film of 2016? Even more so, the worst film of the decade? Gods of Egypt, the latest creation from the mind of Alex Proyas, director of cult classics such as The Crow and Dark City, is indeed a shocker of a movie, a film so inherently terrible, it makes last years’ Jupiter Ascending look like The Godfather, and begs the question how on earth such a flop ever managed to get past the cutting room. With a 140 million dollar treasure chest at his disposal, Alex Proyas has succeeded in presenting the biggest waste of a budget since Newcastle United in the January transfer window and in a time where big budget movies are the norm in gaining financial gain, Gods of Egypt may hopefully emphasise the notion that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. Want to know how bad Gods of Egypt is? Gerard Butler is the best thing in it. That’s right. Gerard frickin’ Butler.
In regards to the plot, of which is somewhat ludicrous and inherently stupid, after murdering his brother and taking the reign of power across Egypt, Gerard Butler’s Set banishes nephew Horus, played in an awfully camp fashion by Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, whom is regarded as the rightful heir to the throne of power but is left blind and abandoned in the wastelands, unable to seek revenge and claim back his rightful title as king. After the intervention of a mortal however, Horus is given the opportunity he seeks and sets about reclaiming the throne of Egypt and to return his lands to peace, finally ending the reign of his power-hungry uncle. Think Exodus: Gods and Kings meets Barney the Dinosaur and that would be a telling review of Gods of Egypt, a film so flimsy, so ear-cripplingly awful when it comes to dialogue, and a film so woodenly acted it could be mistaken for a foreign ad on TV where its’ main star in the form of Coster-Waldau is so out of his depth it begs belief why on earth he doesn’t just stick to Game of Thrones, a series in which he is very good in yet when placed upon the big screen, gets acted out of the park by the one-man shouting army that is Gerard Butler. It just makes me cringe thinking about it.
If Coster-Waldau could be forgiven in any sense, then Chadwick Boseman most certainly cannot, with his performance so unintentionally both terrible and laughable at the same time, it would be hard not to see him be invited to the Razzies come awards season. It is perhaps the single worst performance I have ever seen in a movie, a performance so cringey, it gave me the shakes every time he spoke, particularly in one scene where there is not one, but thousands of Chadwick Boseman’s, all of whom are utterly, utterly terrible. Aside from the masterclass of shoddy acting, the effects are borderline offensive, something you could expect on a Nintendo 64 cartridge, the jokes fall flat on every occasion, and worst of all, everyone in my screening knew how bad it was. Looking around during the film’s unholy two-hour run-time, I began to take bets on who would leave first with myself being 11/10 on to leave before the credits rolled. Gods of Egypt isn’t just bad, it’s a monstrosity of blockbuster proportions and easily the worst film of the year so far. By. A. Mile.
Overall Score: 1/10
“Is War The Only Answer?”
When it comes to past live-action video game adaptations that have made it on to the big screen within the past, let’s say the record has not been the best so far. I mean look at Hitman: Agent 47 last year, what a load of rubbish that was and whilst others have trembled in the wake of mediocrity or downright awfulness, 2016 was tapped as the year for the reinvention of the genre with not only Assassins Creed hitting the big screen but Warcraft too, helmed by self-proclaimed fan Duncan Jones, director of sci-fi greats such as Moon and Source Code. Although I can admit to never playing a single second of Warcraft in the past, Jones’ behemoth of a summer blockbuster was a surprising popcorn romp, one that indeed has a wide range of flaws and weaknesses, but one that was never challenging or seemed to be verging on the edge of boredom throughout its’ questionable two-hour plus runtime. CGI galore and Flash Gordon esque costume design. What more does one want?
Amidst unpronounceable locations and names, Warcraft essentially focuses on the battle between Orcs and humans, coincided with some pretty funky CGI magic and featuring warlocks, wizards and flying eagle bird things within the realm of what is essentially a rip-off of Middle Earth. The Lord of the Rings comparisons do not stop there however, with similar themes and even similar characters resulting in a fundamental likeness on the surface but Warcraft falters on the scale of the latter’s depth where even though there were some characters worth caring about, others simply acted either as canon fodder for giant hammers or as a tent-pole for extraordinarily polished suits of armour. Warcraft is set to be the starter pistol for another heavy-hitter of a blockbuster series and although it is indeed not perfect, far off in fact, Warcraft does the job and does it solidly, smashing humans to pieces as it traverses the world of humans in the 21st century. Over to you Assassins Creed, let’s see if you can do better.
Overall Score: 6/10
“I Am Mowgli, And This Is My Home..!”
Of all the Live-Action Disney remakes that have graced our screens over the course of the past few years or so, the latest from Iron Man’s Jon Favreau could easily be regarded as perhaps the best of the lot, with Kenneth Branagh’s take on Cinderella last year arguably being the closest Disney re-imagining that manages to at least rival and in some areas, better, the latest take on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, a film featuring an impressive foray of CGI inflicted animals, each with their own personalities, aided by a stellar voice cast featuring the likes of Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley and of course, Idris Elba as the terrifying figure of Shere Kan, an enemy completely parallel to the one featured in the 1967 Disney animated classic, highlighting the darker and scarier direction Favreau’s film has decided to go in. The real question still remains though; does the latest incarnation of Mowgli and Baloo’s story give justice to both Kipling and the 1967 animation? It does indeed, although, perhaps inevitably, probably won’t be as endearing as the latter has been in terms of longevity and legacy.
Of the film’s many successes, the CGI animals throughout the entirety of the film are a sheer wonder to behold, with flawless design and an incredibly voice cast accomplishing the incredible feat of forgetting the animals’ fictionalised reality and entirely believing in them from the outset. A dour joke at the beginning that fell flat on its’ face aside, the CGI through the course of the film is easily the best use of the technology in recent memory, perfectly realising the characters of Kipling, particularly that of the stand-out trio in Bill Murray’s charismatic Baloo, Idris Elba’s sinister Shere Kan and finally, Christopher Walken’s King Louie, harbouring a comical updated version of “I Wan’na Be Like You”. Letting the team down rather comprehensively however is Scarlett Johansson’s Kaa, a involvement way too short to have any impact whatsoever. Of course, being the only real-life actor within the film, Neel Sethi’s portrayal of Mowgli is one of depth and interest, a testament to the young acting abilities of Sethi, a previously unheard actor. Not any more I would think. Disney does it again, congratulations, The Jungle Book is a easy-going family treat, one that will please everyone that intends to see it. With a sequel already in the works, it is safe to say the story of Mowgli has a very strong future indeed. Any news on Star Wars now?
Overall Score: 7/10
A Seaside Rendezvous
With every passing year, the wide range of ingenious minds behind the art that is animation seem to be getting better and better with Tomm Moore’s Song of the Sea a prime example of the boundaries to which the animated feature can be explored upon and to what extent the endless opportunities such a genre of film can be used to create something simply beautiful to behold. In a time where “popcorn cinema” is seemingly taking the big bucks with the endless cycle of brainless, un-imaginative bore-fests, what a sheer pleasure it was to behold and admire Song of the Sea, a gorgeous, traditionally animated masterpiece that not only triggered a wide range of emotions inside, but left me with a sense of blissfulness that encapsulated to the full, the five year old child inside me.
After suffering the loss of both a mother and wife during childbirth, father Conor (Brendan Gleeson) and son Ben (David Rawle) are left to raise their seemingly mute new sibling Saoirse (Lucy O’Connell) within the confines of their lighthouse along with family pet Cu. After years of solitude, Conor’s mother forces the children to move with her into the city, leaving the lighthouse, the sea, their father and Cu for good in order to build a new life in the suburbs, much to the sadness of both brother and sister who quickly decide to find their way back to the one place they feel they belong. On their journey back home however, Ben becomes wary of his sister’s new-found abilities to not only communicate with creatures of folklore and legend, but to possibly be that of a Selkie, a mythical creature derived from the ocean and that of a seal, leading to an adventure of a lifetime with an overall goal to return home to their father once again.
In my review of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, I noted that each and every frame could easily be frozen and presented as a work of art in its’ own right, something of which can be said of Song of the Sea, a film that not only has layers upon layers of magical and mystical imagery in almost every scene, but has clearly taken the time to add the smaller and minute details that make its’ sense of wonder even greater, even if they aren’t that important in the context of the film. Many times I simply pointed at the screen in awe of its’ beauty and sheer charm, whether it be the image of buried, sleeping animals in the ground, or the mosaic-esque design of the woodland where we are treated to an almost x-ray vision of our character’s surroundings. Along with the overall design of the film, the writers’ brilliant imagination encompassed the underlying mystical traits of the film, with the scene in which we are introduced to the Owl Witch/Macha in particular being one of the many examples in which all the positive elements of the film came together in expertly fashion.
When it comes to the many positive elements of Song of the Sea, I could seriously and willingly go on all day about them as there is so much to love and so much to take away, with the film concluding with scenes that will most definitely want to make you grab for the nearest tissue box, even if you are too stubborn to admit it. If a film like Song of the Sea was released every week into a global audience, I strongly believe the world will be a much better place, but with its’ limited availability in UK cinemas, it’s a sure possibility that it may go under the radar, a sad fact to take in, yet if you do manage to find the chance to watch Song of the Sea, please do, as Tomm Moore’s animated masterpiece is a film that pulls on the heartstrings, embraces the magical, mystical elements of Irish folklore to the fullest and leaves you with a genuine feeling to experience it all again, a recipe for success if ever there was one.
Overall Score: 10/10
Long Live the King…
After ten glorious weeks of Game of Thrones, Season Five has now come to an end, and what an end it has left us with. The death of one of the programmes most beloved and sacred characters will inevitably produce shock-waves across the fandom whilst those conniving book-readers who knew such a fate was set to occur can laugh at us whilst our emotions completely pour out in front of them. Although there was also a sense of inevitably around the death of Jon Snow, the one shining bright light in the terrible realm of Westeros, his death was still incredibly hard to witness, topped off by young Olly, the killer of Snow’s lover Ygritte, landing the final blow. Of course, this is Game of Thrones, and not everything is always as it seems, particularly when you take the timely arrival of Melisandre into account who finally realised Stannis was not the King she and her Lord of Light had been looking for and instead, had maybe come to the realisation that Jon was that person all along. Whatever it means, the “death” of Jon Snow topped off a fantastic episode which carried all the elements of what makes Game of Thrones tick in a season which suffered from a range of difficulties amidst some exciting and memorable plot-lines that ultimately will lead into another exciting season next year.
Aside from the death of Jon Snow, we also said goodbye to Selyse Baratheon who decided to hang herself after causing the death of her only child, whilst Myranda was murdered by the hand of Reek, who finally began to redeem himself in the eyes of Sansa who was subsequently aided in her escape from Ramsey and the Bolton’s. Although lost and defeated in the snow-ridden lands of Winterfell, Stannis’s supposed sentence to death from Brienne was not captured on-screen, meaning he could well have been saved, yet such a scenario is very unlikely with Brienne’s vengeful nature for the death of Renly obviously engulfing her, so much so that she missed Sansa’s call for aid. The rushing of the battle at Winterfell made the death of Stannis rather anti-climatic in all honesty, and although there was a lot the show-runners had to get through in a short space of time, I felt the episode could have handled that particular scene much, much better.
One scene that was handled terrifically well however was Cersei’s atonement in which she was forcefully made to walk stark naked through the streets of Kings’ Landing after committing her crimes to the High Sparrow. Although Cersei has been the evil Queen of Westeros since the beginning of the show, her bloodied feet and pained expression brought about the smallest amount of sympathy from me for her, whilst reinforcing Lena Headey’s sheer dedication to the role of one of Game of Thrones’ most hated, yet brilliantly thought out characters in the whole of the Seven Kingdoms. Elsewhere, the poisoning of Myrcella by the ever-vengeful Ellaria was rather predictable, whilst the return of the Dothraki left Daenerys in a rather ambiguous turn of events which left Tyrion, who was finally reunited with Varys, in charge of Meereen. Braavos once again was the platform for weird, eerie scene of the week with Arya finally getting her revenge against Meryn Trant whilst ever-further being trained by the masterful ways of Jaqen H’Gar who warned her against the use of a new face on someone that is “no-one”, resulting in Arya seemingly going blind.
Overall, Season Five of Game of Thrones has suffered at times from dragging its’ heels into the land of boredom whilst also offering scenes of sheer excitement and tension, particularly in the second half of the season with the battle at Hardhome and Daenerys’ dragon rescue in the previous episode being the highlights that first come to mind. The death of some major characters this season will inevitably have repercussions heading into the next season, as it always does, whilst the fact that the TV series has finally overtaken the books and heading into the unknown makes the future of Game of Thrones an exciting proposition to say the least. Until next year, Game of Thrones.
Overall Episode Score: 9/10
Overall Season Score: 8/10
Dungeons and Dragons
The curse that has befallen on the ninth episode of any Game of Thrones series has led to it having more expectation and hype than any other around it, even its successor, the season finale, which tends to deal with the aftermath of events that happen in the previous episode, a strange, if brilliant, way of managing a TV show. With the excellent quarter of an hour that concluded “Hardhome”, episode nine was bound to pick straight up from where we left off, and boy does it. In fact, “The Dance of Dragons” is hands down the most bloody, most intense, and simply the best episode of Season Five, with a final act that concocted a mixture of emotions beginning with sheer horror and concluded with tears of joy as I beheld the sheer awesomeness that was occurring on-screen. Game of Thrones, you’ve outdone yourself once again.
Before that final act is dissected and discussed, one of the most disturbing deaths in the entire Game of Thrones history must be recognised, with Stannis giving in to the wishes of Melisandre and handing over the life of daughter Shireen to the Lord of Light via a The Wicker Man-esque death by fire in order to gain a supposed military advantage in the fight against the Bolton’s at Winterfell. As soon as Stannis gave that heart-felt speech about saving Shireen’s life right back at the beginning of Season Five, something was bound to happen, particularly when Melisandre first asked for such a sacrifice and although at first, refusal was the clear option for Stannis, Ramsey’s attack on their food and supplies forced him into a decision that was indeed sinister, but in the long run, may be necessary. Don’t get me wrong, the death was incredibly horrific with kudos to Kerry Ingram whose final screams made the scene both ear-splitting and difficult to watch, but may also be the turning point for Stannis and co in their battle to obtain the Iron Throne. Unless Davos returns and kills him first, which would be justified to say the least.
Elsewhere, Jon Snow returned to Castle Black after the battle at Hardhome with the wildlings, much to the disgust of pretty much everyone there, whilst Jamie and Bronn were released from captivity in Dorne, much to the horror of Ellaria Sand who was forced to yield to the wishes of her King. Although it has been great to finally see the surroundings of Dorne this season, it feels like that particular storyline has been one of the weakest with not much actually occurring when you think about it. But hey, we still have one more episode to go don’t we? Weird scene of the week went to Braavos where Meryn Trant highlighted his desire for seemingly underage girls, all while Arya was plotting her revenge against him, a scene which most definitely will occur next week. Bring it.
And now, that final scene. Wow. If Gladiator-esque battle scenes weren’t enough for you, then how about a massacre, redemption, and a flippin’ dragon? At first, I can safely say I was rather confused when Jorah decided to launch that blade in the direction of Daenerys, but to see it strike a member of the Sons of the Harpy, my expression was swiftly changed from confusion to, “oh s**t” with Dany and co, including Tyrion, being massively outnumbered by the murdering onslaught bearing down on them. Amidst all the madness however, we said goodbye to Hizdahr , and welcomed back Jorah into the land of the friend-zone, with Dany seemingly finally accepting his apology in a time when she definitely needed it most. As soon as Dany and co were surrounded however, it was inevitable Drogon was set to appear in proper Hollywood fashion, and that he did, spraying fire as he majestically flew down and air-lifted Daenerys to safety. And then, it was over. And breathe. Although “The Dance of Dragons” may not have lived up to the mouth-gasping efforts of previous episode nine entries such as “The Red Wedding” and “Baelor”, it was a masterpiece in its’ own right, with intense action sequences, heart-wrenching deaths, and dragons. What more do you need?
Overall Score: 10/10
Fight of the Living Dead
Oh yeah, that was the episode everyone has been waiting for. After weeks of not much going down aside from the soap-esque drama that we all have come to know and love in the land of Westeros, we were finally treated to one of Game of Thrones’ greatest and freakiest battle scenes ever in the history of the show so far. A battle between the living and the dead was always set to appear in the imminent future of GOT but I hardly expected it to come so soon or in such brilliant fashion, with the white walkers/zombified dead being both terribly frightening and relentless in their desire to kill everything that stood in their way, even Jon Snow. It comes to light how unforgiving a show GOT has become when every fight scene with the top-billed characters always carries a sense of unease with it, something of which I feel can not be attributed to any other show currently on television. If films like Lord of the Rings and most recently Interstellar are examples of the cinematic experience being pushed to the limits of what can be accomplished, then GOT is definitely the prime blueprint of what a show designated for a role on the television can become with its’ acting, sound, cinematography and effects all being pushed to the realm of excellency in the last twenty or so minutes in this latest episode of one of TV’s greatest ever programmes.
Aside from the battle of Hardhome, fans were finally treated to the forging of Lannister and Targaryen when the first official meeting between Tyrion and Daenerys took place in Meereen, with the latter accepting the former’s opportunity to provide her with aid during her rule as Queen, whilst we finally put the “break the wheel” speech seen in the trailers to context when Tyrion argued there was no true aid for Daenarys across the Narrow Sea. In Winterfell, preparations were beginning from House Bolton for Stannis’s inevitable invasion of the North which I suspect will be the basis of next week’s episode, whilst Reek finally let Sansa know that both Rickon and Bran were very much alive after admitting to killing two others during his taking of Winterfell back in Season Two. Finally. In other news, suffering continued for Cersei during her stay in one of those lovely looking (not) cells whilst Arya continued her training in Braavos. With storylines intertwining and impending battles gaining pace, the next two episodes of Game of Thrones are set to be as epic, if not more, than this week’s offering. Bring it.