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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: American Assassin

“I Like Your Agenda. I Know Exactly What To Do With You…”

Based upon Vince Flynn’s 2010 novel of the same name, American Assassin presents itself within the realm of 21st century spy thrillers which take on both the ethos of the Bourne franchise and the direction of Paul Greengrass, with the filmmaking tactics deployed in The Bourne Supremacy onwards having a widespread influence on a vast spectrum of cinema ranging from the gargantuan Bond series to the more B-Movie approach of the Taken franchise. Brought to the big screen by Kill the Messenger director Michael Cuesta, this first entry into an anticipated string of Flynn-based releases features Dylan O’Brien as civilian-turned-killer Mitch Rapp and Michael Keaton as veteran training agent Stan Hurley, and whilst many audiences fall under the spell of money-grabbing action cash-ins due to a underlying love of anything with extravagant explosions and expletive-ridden dialogue, American Assassin is a prime example of an action movie so lazy and plodding in its’ creation, it is actually harder to comprehend its’ existence than it is to actually enjoy it.

With a lifeless, growling and utterly dull leading performance from O’Brien as the titular stone-cold killer, one who uses the cranked in and wholly exploitative plot point of a particular death as reasoning for murderous rampaging, American Assassin falls under the old chestnut of simply not being clever or eager enough to add any sense of depth to proceedings, resulting in a vacuum of space where the utter lack of either sympathy or empathy resides and is replaced by a severe level of tedium which in turn results in a much more enjoyable sleep-induced coma which the audience falls into in order to pass the time. Slapped with an 18 certificate, American Assassin contains a simply undeserved level of sadistic, awkward violence which has no reasoning for its inclusion and just results in a total sense of alienation from characters who are hard to distinguish between friend and foe, and with a conclusion which ranks up there with the most jump-the-shark scenes I have ever seen, Cuesta’s movie is the sort of tripe which brings absolutely nothing new to the overpopulated realm of action movies and is simply there for monetary issues. On this evidence, I can’t see that being a winner either.

Overall Score: 3/10

Film Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

“Can’t You Just Be A Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man..?”

As we all are well aware, with great power comes great responsibility, and although it only seems like yesterday when the Sam Raimi/Tobey Maguire led Spider-Man films graced the big screen, here we are this week with the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming, the sixteenth film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, starring Tom Holland in a leading role which swiftly follows on from the likes of Maguire and Andrew Garfield after his cameo appearance within the superbly entertaining Captain America: Civil War. Perhaps not holding as much expectation as other MCU entries, Homecoming’s main reason for existence arguably rests on the shoulders of young Holland, with his own feature film giving him utmost freedom to exact his own take on the character of Peter Parker to a larger extent than was offered back in Civil War, and with the rather unknown figure of director Jon Watts at the helm, Homecoming could be regarded as a much more experimental MCU than one might first expect. With a charming lead performance from Tom Holland, an excellent villainous turn from Michael Keaton and enough jokes to poke fun at so many so-called contemporary comedies, I’m happy to report that Homecoming is a crowd-pleasing success, if suffering from a slight linger of cliche and a strain of superhero fatigue.

Forgetting any means of backstory and heading straight into a mildly trained Peter Parker, Homecoming mixes the 80’s sensibility of movies such as The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, with the latter making a brief appearance halfway through the action, with the flashy, sharp-witted action that has come to encompass many Marvel releases, and with Tom Holland, his youth and puppy-esque, wide-eyed curiosity is arguably the most definitive version of Peter Parker to date. Although sometimes the performance does become slightly grating, with the Aaron Sorkin-esque way in which his lines are spoken come across too fast at times to keep up, the innocence of youth is effectively balanced by the faux leather wearing Vulture, a villain who not only is one of the more memorable of the entire MCU, actually has a deep sense of characterisation and is welded effectively into the narrative enough to feel for for both his actions and the actions of the titular hero. Whilst the overall narrative is somewhat disposable and highly obvious at times, the array of side-splitting jokes and flashy secondary characters keep the film entertaining enough to just deserve its’ two hour plus runtime and with a sequel destined to arrive in the near future, Homecoming is indeed an effective reboot of the Spider-Man franchise.

Overall Score: 7/10

Film Review: The Founder

 “If I Saw A Competitor Drowning, I’d Shove A Hose Down His Throat…”

Whilst not a huge fan of McDonald’s selection of economically priced fast-food personally, with it tending to come out quicker than it seems to have gone in, a film regarding its’ elusive early success isn’t something I would immediately choose to lap up either, with the most strikingly interesting movie depiction of the multi-billion fast-food franchise being Super Size Me, a documentary which put off everyone who saw it from ever buying a McDonald’s again. However, with a leading man in the form of the modern incarnation of Michael Keaton, a man whose career is most definitely at the peak of its’ powers after successful turns in both Birdman and the superb Spotlight, both of which picked up Oscar wins for Best Picture, as well as Saving Mr. Banks director John Lee Hancock in the armchair, The Founder is a surprisingly enjoyable comedic drama which utilises the abilities of Keaton in the leading role to the extreme, adding a much deeper and interesting level to a movie of which’s narrative doesn’t exactly have the same stopping or selling power as the man in which the movie attempts to portray.

Whilst not privy to the history of McDonald’s in any format at all on a personal level, the titular “founder” of the fast-food giants at the heart of the film is a character many cine-literate audiences may have seen many times before, one which has featured in the likes of Wall Street and more recently The Wolf of Wall Street, with Keaton’s magnetic portrayal of Ray Kroc being one of greed-inflicted determination, resembling fictional portrayals of similarly hateful white-collar figures including Jordan Belfort in Scorsese’s three hour orgy of vomit-inducing sleaziness. Whilst Keaton’s Kroc doesn’t hit the the heavy heights of hatred which others before him have mustered, The Founder doesn’t exactly adhere to a strictly balanced POV in terms of the historical elements of the company either, settling for a portrayal of a character which is seeped in shady sliminess. Whilst the movie does feel anti-climactic at times, Keaton manages to worm his way into holding the movie together in a fashion better than my stomach manages to hold a Big Mac on a cold Saturday evening.

Overall Score: 7/10

Film Review: Spotlight

“I Know There’s Things You Can’t Tell People, But I Also Know There’s A Story Here People Will Hear About…”

Before we begin, let us look back at the year of 2015 in film, a film in which Spotlight director Tom McCarthy decided it was best to embrace us with a continuation of one Adam Sandler’s career with the release of The Cobbler, a film so inept in quality and clouded with sheer hatefulness, one could argue it was set to ignite the downfall of McCarthy’s career, a career that so far had included critical successes with directorial credits on films such as The Station Agent featuring Peter Dinklage, and writing credits for being the mastermind behind the script of Disney Pixar’s Up, a film which generated similar critical acclaim. So the question remains, how on earth did the fundamental talent of Mr. McCarthy end up creating one of the real stinkers of 2015, a film so terrible it holds the distinction of being placed on this sites’ worst films of last year, pulling in at a wholly unremarkable third place? Do I have the answer? No, but thankfully with a new year there is always new surprises, and with the release of Spotlight, a biographical drama focusing on the investigation into the widespread cases of child sex abuse in the Boston area in 2002, it can be safely said that McCarthy is back in the good books. And some.

After being blacklisted in 2013 as one of the many unproduced screenplays around Hollywood, Spotlight attempts to portray the investigation from the Boston Globe’s titular Spotlight team into the seedy truths behind one of the worlds most hideous and horrific crimes within recent memory and with its’ core narrative based around the true-life tales of child sex abuse and rape, it is completely understandable why so many may have been put off by bringing such a terrible tale to the big screen. Within the hands of Tom McCarthy however, a man hell bent on cinematic redemption, Spotlight disregards the dramatic tendencies it may have resorted to and instead focuses primarily on the dying art of investigatory journalism, a decision that proves key when outlining the films’ many successes. In a similar fashion to Lenny Abrahamson’s Room, a film with a similar dark plot at its’ core, Spotlight refuses flat out to present dramatic representations of the many startling acts that took place within the Boston area and instead encompasses the point of view entirely from that of our characters within the Spotlight team, a cinematic trope that shares parallels with Room, a film in which we see the events of the film from the point of view of young Jack who unbeknownst to the terrible events that occur in the film, save the audience from a full understanding and instead leave the terrible events in a state of ambiguity, a key decision that ultimately has worked for both films, both of which share horrendous events within its’ DNA.

Of course, resting the films’ drama entirely on that of journalists, lawyers and other white collar characters as well as countless scenes of characters talking within office spaces, meetings, town halls and a wide range of other suit-and-tie surroundings, the film needed to have a equal balance between script and acting, and with acting pedigree such as Micheal Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams, it is unsurprising that that is exactly what Spotlight achieves. Spotlight is a film about something, something terrible, something that will stay with people for years to come, and the way in which each and every actor embraces their role on-screen is a true work of art. Never before have I seen a drama so powerful and startling it could be mistaken for a horror film, with one scene in which a priest completely confesses his crimes entirely straight-faced and without one shred of remorse particularly frightening, a credit to the films’ underlying stance on squeezing tension from the most remote of scenes without resorting to melodrama. If Spotlight brings with it a sense of redemption for director Tom McCarthy, then it verges on the level of Shawshank, with Spotlight being a highly intelligent, engrossing and fundamentally nightmarish cinematic experience that will no doubt leave viewers reeling from a wide range of emotions that the movie evokes. One week ago, The Revenant was top form for Best Picture at the Oscars. Move over Alejandro, Tom McCarthy has just made his masterpiece.

Overall Score: 10/10 

Film Review: Minions

And It Was All Yellow…

One of the many benefits of heading into my local cinema is to experience a wide range of movies which jump from one completely different genre to the next with my experience of watching Universal’s Minions being a prime example, with it undoubtedly unlocking the 7 year old child that is still inside of me and seemingly transforming all the bad energy in the world to a charming and quite bonkers 80 minutes. The fundamental existence of the minion character has always managed to make me crack a smile, regardless of how I felt at that certain time, meaning before even entering the cinema I was bound to at least like Pierre Coffin’s spin-off from the Despicable Me series, yet unfortunately for the cute little freaks, “like” seems to be the key word after watching Minions with it yes, being rather heartwarming and funny, but altogether not being pretty spectacular whatsoever.

After years of isolation from both the world and a evil leader to follow, Minions Kevin, Stuart and Bob are tasked with leaving the confines of their cave in order to seek a new leader to follow in order to bring back the long-lost sense of purpose which has been taken from their race. During their journey, they are taken up by crime-lord Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock, Gravity), who tasks them with stealing the crown jewels in return for the race of Minions to serve once again. In terms of the plot of Minions, not only does it lack originality and freshness, but it is also completely bonkers and thriving with quite huge plot holes, but hey, it’s a kid’s film with bald, yellow alien things, what do you expect? Yet the fact that such plot holes were even picked up reinforces my sadness at how just un-engaging Minions actually was, with an over-reliance of the Minions either falling over or making a complete tit of themselves wearing off and becoming rather quite tedious after the first 15 minutes or so.

On the upside of Minions, in places, it was rather funny, with the scenes in a rather rib-tickling overly stereotyped 1960’s London being the highlight of the film, with every English character seemingly all having exactly the same traits including drinking tea, eating scones, and shouting “cor blimey,” of which I found rather enjoyable. Overall, if a film such as Minions can just about hold a 21 year old’s attention for its’ short 80 minute run-time, then I’m pretty sure the kids will love it. Charming and funny in places, but lacking in originality and engagement in most, Minions passes the time, but don’t expect it to be loved as much as you would like.

Overall Score: 6/10

87th Academy Awards: Best Actor

Oscars 2015: Best Actor

Second on this Oscar blog, is the Best Actor category, which features some brilliant performances, particularly from the two British representatives, Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne (Or benedict XCuebrvatch and Eddie Redmaybe, as the Guardian call them*) portraying the iconic Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking respectively. In terms of bookies favourite, Michael Keaton is top of the list for this years gong, for his portrayal of Riggan Thompson in Birdman. In terms of my own particular choice, it’s hard to shy away from Eddie Redmayne, whose transformative performance as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything is just a wonder to behold, and after winning the Golden Globe, where for the last three years the winner has gone on to win the Oscar, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him lift the golden guy next month. In the category of “overlooked”, is Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Brendan Gleeson in Calvary, and unbelievably Jake Gyllenhaal, for both Enemy and Nightcrawler. Don’t worry Jake, I thing you’re fab. Anyway, we have:

Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game

Bradley Cooper – American Sniper

Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything

Michael Keaton – Birdman

Steve Carell – Foxcatcher

Next… Best Actress

Film Review: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

The Phoenix Rises

 

When it comes to films, I try and stay hidden from advance reviews in order to always go into the cinema with an open mind and thus, be unaware of what anyone has said about the film before I have seen it. Unfortunately for the case of Birdman, this was unavoidable. After seeing a range of films in the cinema over Christmas, a Birdman trailer was always guaranteed along with the many 5 star reviews that are presented to you during its’ run-time. Because of this, I went into the screening of Birdman with my expectation level moderately high yet, once the film had finished, it is fair to say I wasn’t disappointed.

In terms of plot, Micheal Keaton plays Riggan Thompson, a washed-up Hollywood star famous for playing the role of superhero ‘Birdman’ who, at an attempt to get his career back on track, takes a shot at Broadway by means of writing, directing, and starring in an adaptation of the short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love  by Raymond Carver, an idol of Thompson’s. Unbeknownst to anyone else, Thompson is plagued by the subconscious voice of Birdman, who, along with a faltering family and disruptive cast, place Thompson’s life and career firmly in the balance.

Firstly, it is fair to say that Birdman is something unlike anything else I think I have ever seen before within cinematic history, with its’ mix of genres, (Is it a drama? Black comedy? Satire? Superhero movie?) fantastic cinematography, (by Oscar-winning Emmanuel Lubezki who won the award for Gravity) and a brilliantly barmy plot performed perfectly by an equally superb ensemble cast. Secondly, Keaton is excellent (I am running out of superlatives) as Thompson and should easily be recognised within the upcoming awards season, even if I couldn’t help but draw parallels between his character’s life and his own (Keaton played Batman in the Tim Burton films). Lastly, the satirical notions regarding cinema in today’s society were greatly emphhasised and executed throughout the film, particularly the scene with a fancy dress Iron Man fighting Spider-Man which, in my opinion, was rather splendid. The films’ two hour running time, in general, went quickly, although I felt there seemed to be too many scenes where the film was set to end and then quickly carried on, yet this didn’t deter the utter joy I felt whilst watching it.

Overall, Birdman is a brilliant, barmy, and bonkers piece of cinema which no doubt will end up somewhere in my Top Ten films of 2015. Keaton is superb. The visuals are stunning. The plot is splendid.  RIP Batman, long live Birdman.

Overall Score: 9/10

Robocop – Quicky Review – SPOILERS

RobocopA remake of a hugely popular trilogy that plummeted harder that a rock from the top of the Empire State Building as time went on has just been released. The re-envisioned Robocop pays homage to a much loved franchise that many of my generation remember from childhood but in a new light. Seeing that I probably watched them 15+ years ago, I’ve lost a lot of memory of the films so I can’t credit the films that far.

So jumping straight in, consider that the movie is built upon a sci-fi action classic and desires to follow the trend, however, the movie doesn’t feel to much like a sci-fi. Understandably, the idea of a robotic human seems very sci-fi but set 20 odd years from now, the world hasn’t really changed. People are still driving Fiat 500’s and Volkswagen station wagons. With the advancement in human biotics and robotics, none of the potential has moved into any other industry and actually aid the entire world. It’s hard to get a real feeling that the world has developed and I’m in a futuristic setting when cars have replaced stylish alloy wheels for bin lids. In all honesty, I wouldn’t class this as science fiction, simply an action movie. But once again, an action movie is trying to create sub plots and stories to create emotions and it is well out of it’s depth. To convey emotion, it takes a good script, good acting and a good narrative. Action movies can’t provide these. It began with the partnership with his cop buddy who was just shot and then trying to create a family bond between Alex Murphey (Joel Kinnaman) and his son but then completely abandoning them later down the line. The son only appears 3 times and nothing concrete is done to show a connection.

Looking at the action, it is alright. Nothing truely wowing. At points questionable, such as the explosion that in reality would have killed Murphey but immediately after, left him with all of his limbs with minor burning to then have them all removed! His condition was that of a minor burn victim and after a giant explosion, no one battered an eyelid. The wife walked down and then ran back in a few minutes later, the son never appeared in the first vision and neighbours just thought their partners had ripped a rather large one in bed. The rest of the action was simply mediocre.

I’m lacking much enthusiasm for the movie. Pumped to be reintroduced to a childhood hero, I felt rather let down. The incessant need to create connections, is truly useless. Paying Samuel L. Jackson to play a role that isn’t even necessary and use Kinnaman for the major role when his acting leaves you wondering if he’s always that boring, not to mention that they needed to use Jackson and his iconic “motherfucker” to grab a laugh from the audience. Then casting Jay Baruchel, who I don’t like very much and just want to poke him with a stick while repeating “Hey, awkward”. Probably the only sufficient actor was Gary Oldman but he looked rushed and looked to have only been given his lines 2 minutes before. All together it tried too hard on so many levels that shouldn’t have been the primary focus, thus neglecting the others that truly needed the work.

Although a shoddy movie with a poor character development and acting, the visual aspect of the movie was gorgeous and action had moments in which it was enjoyable to watch. Sticking with the lower end of reviews, I feel the 6/10 is a good representation.

Robocop 1