“It’s A Story About Journeys, The Journeys We Take To Prove Ourselves. It’s About Adventures…”
If Led Zeppelin arguably brought The Lord of the Rings to the big screen by mixing the fantastical mythology of Tolkien with good old fashioned rock and roll, then in a roundabout sort of way, we can all thank the South African born writer for influencing the greatest band of all time in the first place, and whilst there is unsurprisingly a significant lack of Robert Plant or Jimmy Page in the aptly named, Tolkien, this week, such a film would have actually suitably benefitted from the rock god wails of the latter or the chunky, heavy guitar riffs of the former. Directed by Finnish filmmaker, Dome Karukoski, the early life of J. R. R Tolkien marks his first venture into English language film, and whilst the experiences of one of the world’s most revered writers makes some sort of sense to be idolised in a cinematic capacity, Tolkien unfortunately fails to hold a candle to the incredible life of the titular war hero, a movie filled to the brim with many interesting ideas but one which ultimately fails to balance the weight of them effectively enough to be labelled a success, resulting in a jumbled mess of a drama which can’t make the executive decision to stay on one set path and thus annoyingly becomes stranded in no man’s land in a last ditch attempt to bring some sort of memorability to proceedings. Unfortunately for Karukoski and co, Tolkien is anything but memorable.
Planting the youthful, straight-headed figure of Nicholas Hoult (The Favourite) in the leading role, Karukoski’s movie begins proceedings by placing Tolkien in the heart of battle as he attempts to survive the disease and blood-ridden wastelands of trench warfare during the Battle of the Somme, and whilst the film’s trailers promised an intriguing blend of fantasy and biographical drama, the constant transition and wavering throughout Tolkien’s own early life chapters means that the movie can never really set its’ mind on what it ultimately wants to be. With the drama setting up early moments of loss and hardship as we witness the Tolkien brothers move into the confines of adoption, we are soon introduced to both fellow members of the Tolkien coined Tea Club and Barrovian Society and fellow orphan, Edith Bratt, as played by the wonderfully talented Lily Collins (Rules Don’t Apply) who continues to evoke her inner Audrey Hepburn with the best performance in the movie, one which radiates beauty and undeniable charm. Annoyingly however, the film takes these two differing subplots and puts them to battle against each other, and as we move through elements of coming-of-age style drama, romance and war, Tolkien doesn’t expand on any enough effectively to leave you feeling adequately rewarded, and add into the mix a yawn-inducing pace and a complete editorial nightmare, Karukoski’s movie is unfortunately not enjoyable enough as a standalone biographical drama or pleasing enough for those after an insight into anything The Hobbit related, and even with the excellence of Collins in one of the leading roles, Tolkien is unfortunately an opportunity missed.
Overall Score: 5/10
“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
“And Now For The Million Dollar Question: Do People Assume All Your Problems Got Solved Because A Big Strong Man Showed Up..?”
Continuing on from 2012’s highly entertaining animated spectacle, Wreck-It Ralph, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ latest venture sees the return of the titular well-meaning and reluctant arcade game villain, voiced once again by the one and only John C. Reilly (We Need To Talk About Kevin), who continues his blossoming relationship with Sarah Silverman’s (Battle of the Sexes) bubblegum racing princess, Vanellope von Schweetz, in an adventure which follows the atypical cliche of most movie sequels by offering something bigger, bolder and particularly in the case of Ralph Breaks the Internet, a movie which thrives on being rather quite barmy. Directed by the working couple of the returning Rich Moore and Zootropolis screenwriter, Phil Johnston, the second installment in the Ralphverse pretty much continues on from where its’ predecessor ended, with Ralph, Vanellope and the motley crew of arcade game characters carrying on with their wildly colourful existence within the confines of a universe full of retro throwbacks and particular designs which seem to make certain fanbases in the world giggle with utmost joy when seeing their favourite characters appear on the big screen. Wowed by the introduction of the unpronounceable “WiFi” plug which is brought into the arcade by the aged, behind-with-the-times owner, Ralph and Vanellope soon journey into the the new area after the latter’s game, Sugar Rush, is unplugged due to an accident indirectly caused by Ralph himself.
Whilst the central storyline to Ralph Breaks the Internet undoubtedly fails to be as straightforward, streamlined and easy to follow as its’ predecessor, moving from one plot point to another and then to another again in the spirit of George Lucas at his insufferable worst, the most surprising aspect of the movie is the almost uncanny similarity to the truly awful, The Emoji Movie, with varying familiar themes regarding on-the-nose product placement and the darker, seedier side of the world wide web all bringing to mind how terribly wrong everything involved with that particularly movie ultimately became. Fortunately for Ralph and co, Disney’s attempt proves much more successful, blending the wide range of internet-based notions to a much more effective degree which even manages to suppress the annoying factor of the obvious advertisement, and with crisp, well designed and admirable animation to soak up, Ralph volume two is rife with astronomical levels of detail including numerous, off-centre comedic asides which in a similar vein to The Lego Batman Movie, will undoubtedly require subsequent viewings in order to locate every single easter egg on offer. With effective guest voice actors including Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) as a Death Race inspired, super-cool racing driver and Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures) as a social media obsessed entrepreneur, a trippy final act filled with animation spectacle at its’ finest and a particular scene involving Disney Princesses which is the finest animated comedic set piece since everything involving Jack-Jack in The Incredibles 2, Ralph Breaks the Internet is a more than adequate sequel which ticks all the boxes for all-round family friendly animated adventure.
Overall Score: 7/10
“Let Me Give You Some Advice. Assume Everyone Will Betray You And You Will Never Be Disappointed…”
Within the space of just one blockbusting cinematic month, audiences across the globe have been joyously rewarded with big release after big release, with Infinity War and Deadpool 2 both hotly anticipated franchise follow ups which have seemingly succeeded to staggering degrees in terms of both their critical appeal and eye-watering box office figures, particular in regards to the former which has managed to cement its’ place quite rightly into the top five highest grossing films of all time. Another week therefore brings with it yet another Disney backed big budget extravaganza in the form of Solo: A Star Wars Story, the second spin-off in the ever expanding space opera franchise after 2016’s Rogue One and a movie which explores the early undertakings of Alden Ehrenreich’s (Hail, Caesar!) young, cocky and confident take on the titular space pilot. With high-profile production issues, including the firing of original director’s Phil Lord and Christopher Miller of 21 and 22 Jump Street fame after “creative differences” and mumbling’s regarding Ehrenreich’s on-set acting ability, a strange rumour if ever there was one considering his superb performance in Hail, Caesar!, Solo seemed doomed to fail from the outset, and with fan expectation an all-time low for a cinematic release with the Star Wars branding after mixed responses to its’ fundamental existence, does Solo manage to fend off its’ many steely-eyed critics?
Thankfully, and somewhat surprisingly, the film does exactly just that, swapping the melancholic and controversially bold tones of Rogue One and The Last Jedi respectively for a more conventional science fiction romp, one stuffed full of exhilarating action set pieces, interesting new characters and a youth-infused charm thanks to the steady handed nature of its’ well-formed cast who have gripped tightly the chance to step into the shoes of iconic franchise personas. With Ron Howard taking over directorial duties halfway through the filming process and capturing a reported seventy percent of the finished article on his own say, for a man whose back catalogue varies from greatness (Rush, Frost/Nixon) to outright blandness (Inferno, In The Heart of the Sea), the “steady handed” approach of Howard’s film-making abilities isn’t exactly the first name to spring to mind when attempting to rebuild a reportedly sunken ship, but credit of course should be handed when its’ due and whilst its’ hard to gauge perhaps Howard’s stamp on the final product, Solo is undeniably well made and makes up for its’ somewhat straightforward hero narrative by having the most fun possible with its’ strong points, akin to say the more low-key Marvel releases such as Ant-Man and Doctor Strange which play to a sense of familiarity but succeed due to the commitment showed by all involved.
With Ehrenreich easing into the inexperienced, swaggering nature of a hopeful Han Solo, the film begins by presenting the central relationship between Solo and Emilia Clarke’s (Game of Thrones) Qi’ra, a fellow low-born survivor who like Han himself, will do anything to survive the perilous world of slavers, gangsters and thieves which the film resides in. With Solo’s journey resulting in introductions to Woody Harrelson’s (Three Billboards) father figure, Tobias Beckett, Paul Bettany’s (Infinity War) scar-ridden criminal, Dryden Voss, and of course, Donald Glover’s (The Martian) charming interpretation of Lando Calrissian, the range of bright, fascinating characters allows the limited amount of time spent on deep, meaningful characterisation to be somewhat overlooked, with Howard at times more interested in a rapid, relentless editing pace which moves from one well designed planet to the the next without ever really having the chance to breathe. Whilst the relationship between Qi’ra and Solo is somewhat generic and functional, the real bromance of the piece is of course between Solo and Chewbacca, the furry, murderous Wookie who is as charming and fundamentally likeable as ever, and with the interactions between the cast effective and wickedly humorous, the Disney stamp which has made most of the entries in the MCU so great is vividly on show to see. With it meant to be the undisputed train wreck of the year, Solo: A Star Wars Story turns out to be anything but, a splendidly ludicrous popcorn fest which ties into the franchise’s space opera mantra with ease, a movie which will hopefully appease the fans left cold by The Last Jedi and one which proves that when in doubt, get the right guys in to get the job done.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Never Forget How Much Your Family Cares For You…”
With Disney currently monopolising the entire cinematic landscape with the likes of Star Wars, Marvel and live-action adaptations of classic animated tales being released on what seems a bi-monthly basis, one could argue that Pixar has somewhat been backtracked to a much lower priority when placed up against its’ behemoth, franchise existing brothers, yet with the likes of Inside Out and Zootropolis holding the torch of excellence for the studio it recent years, it comes at no surprise that from an audience perspective, the art of animation has arguably never been better. With the release of Coco therefore, Pixar’s hot streak successfully continues with a musically infused, heartbreaking tale of one boy’s quest for ancestral discovery during Mexico’s world famous Day of the Dead festival in a stunningly designed animated fashion. With an underlying narrative which bears more than a similarity to a few Disney Pixar predecessors, Coco thrives in a wide range of areas elsewhere, and with a beautiful acoustic-based soundtrack to make even the sternest of audience members shed a well-hidden tear, Disney’s first release of the year is a well-meaning and pleasantly played family adventure which can be admired and enjoyed by all.
Boasting arguably the most impressive and jaw-droppingly beautiful animation offered up by Pixar so far, Coco revels in its’ ability to add layers and layers of elements both comedic and emotive to prop up a underlying story which undeniably has an uncanny link to Inside Out, with both features primarily focused on their respective leading characters’ journey back home from an uncharted and unknown world, all the while learning a bit more about their purpose in life, but with a handful of stunningly designed props, including sparkling, rainbow coloured spirit animals and on-screen guitar work which relievingly looks genuinely authentic, Coco is much much more than just a continuation of a story many are well versed in already. With a Mexican Mariachi infused, guitar based soundtrack at the centre of the narrative and a genuinely startling twist to set up a rivetingly exciting concluding act, Coco is everything you would expect from a classic Disney outing, and by examining darker themes including the afterlife and the importance of family remembrance, Coco is an ideas laden animation which brings more to the table than one might expect, and for a movie to successfully connect with an audience filled with both adults and children, you can’t really ask for much more. The golden age of animated works joyously continues.
Overall Score: 8/10
“You’ll Never Be The Racer You Once Were. You Can’t Turn Back The Clock, Kid, But You Can Wind It Up, Again…”
With the likes of Inside Out and Zootropolis being superb recent examples of when Disney get it bang on in regards to releases from their animation platform, with the latter managing to proclaim itself as one of the few top marked films on this particular film review site, a healthy title if ever there was one, the release of Cars 3 is ultimately a bit of a downer, a sequel to one of Disney’s more middling franchises but too a film which undoubtedly will surpass many releases at the box office due to the nature of the prolonged six weeks summer holidays in which sweet-addicted children swarm your local cinema screening and make you cringe at their unwanted immaturity and annoying little booster seats. Bit harsh I know, but what we have with Cars 3 is ironically a solid entry into the ever-expanding Disney canon, a film which takes no time at all in laying the groundwork for the narrative ahead, with its’ sweet, harmless tone offering more than enough spectacle for the young at heart. whilst an effective array of jokes prove that there is more enough chewy material to satisfy the adults, even when the plot does fall into the realm of cliche and over-sentimentality at times.
Suffering from the inevitability of old age and facing the threat of newer, faster racing vehicles including the likes of the Armie Hammer voiced, Jackson Storm, Owen Wilson’s Lightning McQueen begins to question his suitability on the race track, and with the legendary racer potentially facing the unwanted exposure of falling into past history, McQueen teams up with Cristela Alonzo’s wannabe-racer Cruz Ramirez and Chris Cooper’s legendary racing trainer, Smokey, in order to get back on track and finally overcome the presence of the egotistic Storm. With flashy colours and an explosion of jet-waxed colours from beginning to end, Cars 3 ticks all the boxes in what you would expect from a Disney animation sequel aimed primarily at kids, and whilst the narrative is somewhat obvious and cringey at times from an adult point of view, the smart-witted dialogue and joyous concluding act proves that the film’s existence does hold more than just being that film that you take your kids to see. Whilst the money will keep on rolling and the spin-off merchandise will keep on selling, the concluding edge of the narrative does suggest we have seen the last of the Cars franchise for good, but with Disney not exactly shying away from a quick buck at times, you can’t take anything at face value these days.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Think Of The One Thing That You’ve Always Wanted. See It In Your Mind’s Eye And Feel It In Your Heart…”
As per the norm of a well-spent 1990’s childhood, Disney movies were indeed the go-to method of escapism for a younger version of myself in which films like The Lion King and Fantasia were at the forefront of what was all and sacred in the world at that specific moment in time, and whilst the original 1991 animated Disney classic adaptation of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s famous fairy tale wasn’t exactly the top of my list of favourite animations as a young child, Beauty and the Beast has always been arguably one of the most iconic Disney movies to have ever been released, due mainly to the even more iconic soundtrack which even to this day is immediately quotable and enviously recognisable. Following on from the one-two success of both 2015’s Cinderella and Jon Favreau’s adaptation of The Jungle Book, this year’s Disney remake is indeed the famous tale of beauty and beast, this time portrayed by Emma Watson and Legion’s Dan Stevens respectively whilst being helmed by director Bill Condon whose previous directorial credits include the good, (Mr. Holmes) the bad, (Candyman 2) and the ugly (Twilight: Breaking Dawn), and whilst this latest version of the classic tale shines brightly in a wide range of different areas, the lack of originality and complete absence of threat reduce it to a movie which is solid but not exactly spectacular.
Whilst last year’s The Jungle Book was a movie which although was aware of the classic songs which encompassed the original Disney classic animation, it too was a film which instead of just rehashing them into a live-action scenario, developed and alternated them enough to both seem wholly organic yet still held a warm sense of appeal for those who loved the original so dearly. With Beauty and the Beast however, Condon’s decision to simply cordon the classic songs into his own adaptation does ultimately seem a slight cop out alongside a narrative which note-for-note follows the blueprint of the 1991 animation without ever having the nerve to swerve off-course and offer something utterly different. In the leading role of Belle, Emma Watson does ultimately seem the correct choice for the part, with her innocent and natural beaming sense of joy the epitome of a Disney princess’s genetic makeup yet the real fun of the movie is to be had with Luke Evan’s Gaston, the egotistic and arrogant killer who makes it his life’s duty to take Belle’s hand in marriage. Whilst the cast is impressive and the effects are magical in places, this adaptation of the famous tale is indeed beaming with beauty but ultimately lacking in substantial bite.
Overall Score: 6/10
“We Have Hope. Rebellions Are Built On Hope…”
In a year in which summer blockbusters have been somewhat below par, and that’s putting it nicely, we close 2016 with another venture into the galaxy far, far away, with Rogue One attempting to bridge the gap between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope with a merry mix of old and new characters and a storyline which delves into the theft of the infamous death star plans, the red herring-esque of a plot device which paved way for the entire Star Wars universe. With Gareth Edwards on directorial duty, the man behind Monsters and the rather awesome recent reinterpretation of Godzilla, Rogue One is a much darker and melancholic tale than perhaps we have seen previously in the Star Wars canon but one which also contains the adventurous thrill ride we have come to expect, culminating in a final act which ranks up there with the best visual experiences not only in the Star Wars universe but in the variety of blockbusters within the modern era of cinema.
Although narratively Rogue One begins in a striking sense of anti-climax in comparison to other Star Wars movies, we are swiftly introduced to Jyn Erso, a disconnected wanderer who is captured by the rebellion in order to help seek out her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) who is at the heart of a mysterious weapon development for the pre-A New Hope Galactic Empire, ruled over by the key figures of Ben Mendelsohn’s Director Krennic, a digital reincarnation of Peter Cushing’s Tarkin and of course, the menacing Sith Lord, Darth Vader, whose appearances are brief but terrifyingly effective. When Rogue One eventually kicks into gear around the half hour mark, the sense of joy many fans get from re-watching the classic original adventures fuels the journey into a truly classic tale of outlandish planets, wildly inventive alien beings and enough canon nods to leave fans beaming with joy. With Felicity Jones embracing the lead role of Jyn as a mix of Lara Croft and Princess Leia herself, she inevitably has the meatiest role of the movie alongside undeveloped performances from the likes of Mikkelsen, Whitaker and Diego Luna but the real magic of the movie is in its’ fan appreciation, answering questions the canon has had for decades and proving the Star Wars universe is an endless pit of cinematic possibilities, particularly when they are as successful as Rogue One.
Overall Score: 8/10
“It’s Called A Hustle Sweetheart…”
And finally, here we are at last. The showdown between two heavyweights. The greatest battle ever to have graced this crazy world. That’s right guys, it’s Zootropolis against Batman V Superman. Disney against Warner. Bunny against Bat. See what I’m getting at? Good, I’ll stop now. Continuing the riveting success of movies of the animated variety over the course of the past few years or so is Disney’s latest pet project (No pun intended) Zootropolis, a film proud enough to stand toe-to-toe with BvS in hope of snatching that esteemed number one spot in the top ten list come the end of the Easter Holidays. If money doesn’t speak volumes to you however, then the critical concentration of the two films is the thing you may indeed be looking at, with Zootropolis being leagues ahead in terms of overall quality in comparison to the Batman behemoth, with laughs being rife all the way though it’s Chinatown-esque mystery themes and nods to the adult variety which will bound to leave all audiences leaving the cinema with a smile. And a new annoyingly catchy song to hum to.
Leaving the carrot-harvesting life of her surroundings, optimistic young rabbit Judy Hopps enrols within the Police Recruitment program whereby she is reassigned to the vast and sprawling city of Zootropolis after graduating top of her class and having the esteemed reputation of becoming the first rabbit to do so. Although beginning life as a lowly traffic warden, Judy soon becomes unravelled in a kidnapping plot and with the help of fox con-artist Nick Wilde, she attempts to uncover the deep, dark secrets surrounding the cities anthropomorphic lifestyle. Featuring fantastic visuals and a incredible voice cast including the likes of Jason Bateman, Idris Elba and Ginnifer Goodwin as the young Officer Hopps, Zootropolis manages to encapsulate all the things that make animated movies the success that they are, with well-timed jokes cracked left, right and centre whilst the well-designed characters are crafted with more-than-enough detail to keep all the little ones interested and engaged. Although it perhaps doesn’t include the same wonder factor of last years’ brilliant one-two of Inside Out and Song of the Sea, Zootropolis is indeed a brilliant addition to the Disney canon, one in which I could watch again and again and continue to smile. Oh yeah, and that Shakira song is damn catchy.
Overall Score: 8/10
“In The Coast Guard They Say You Go Out, They Don’t Say You Gotta Come Back…”
Based upon “The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue” by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman, Craig Gillespie’s The Finest Hours is a film that intends to be as gripping and wet-soaked as the shores of Cape Cod but ultimately comes off as more of a damp squib, with a cast including Captain Kirk himself, Chris Pine, Casey Affleck and Eric Bana not enough to save it from the pit of mediocrity it safely floats upon before inevitably sinking into the realms of history. Much like the true-life tale, an anecdote I’m sure incredibly popular and well versed between the secular, sea-wise clans of the U.S. Coast Guard, The Finest Hours is a movie that has somewhat been hidden under the radar and away from the cinematic masses, with not even a trailer being in sight within my many ventures to the world of cine over the course of the past few months or so, and with this in mind, the sheer lack of advertisement and press-hounding may indeed result in the film not exactly finding a key audience. Were it a more intriguing tale of survival in line with other sea-faring adventures such as Ang Lee’s The Life of Pi, The Perfect Storm and even, see it to believe it, Titanic, perhaps The Finest Hours could have been the riveting adventure it perhaps wanted to be seen as.
Adding to the mediocrity is the fundamental saccharin sweet nature of the movie, with the influence of Disney being particularly noticeable within scenes that not only encourage the burning sensation of a face-palm, but also result in either a painful palpitation of a cringe-induced stasis or a desire to swiftly stick fingers down your throat in order to release the sickly build-up of Disney-induced diseases. Aside from the land of over-sentimentality, award for most unintentional psycho, co-dependant girlfriend of the year has to go to Holliday Grainger for her role as Chris Pine love interest, Miriam Webber, a role which could easily be seen as a mid-20th century portrayal of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. Seriously, if you aren’t put off by the possibility of a creepy girlfriend by The Finest Hours, then nothing will. In a nutshell therefore, The Finest Hours sure ain’t the film it would love to be, with a sheer lack of threat or suspense killing the film stone dead, a film which requires such in order to be seen as truly worthwhile. See it in a Blockbuster near you. Oh wait, this isn’t 2003. Just catch it when you can, but don’t rush to see it.