“Deep in the forest, dragons will be.” – Film Review (Pete’s Dragon)

Continuing Disney’s newest trend of releasing big budget live action remakes of their extensive back catalogue is Pete’s Dragon (though the original Pete’s Dragon was mostly live-action apart from the eponymous dragon). Following Cinderella and The Jungle Book, which were both very well received, and with numerous other projects already in production, including next year’s Beauty and the Beast adaptation, it seems this will be a common occurrence in the decade to come. However with Pete’s Dragon receiving a lot less media attention than the previously released live action remakes and also not being as popular originally is there much to like about this new take on the story.

Short answer, yes there is. Long answer, I was shocked by how enjoyable this turned to be. Cinderella and The Jungle Book were helmed by highly experienced directors in Kenneth Branagh and John Favreau and the stories long standing popularity made them a much less risky venture. Pete’s Dragon director David Lowery has a lot less experience, with his last film; the very well received Ain’t them Bodies Saints, being a romantic-drama with a $4 million budget. So to leap from that to a big budget feature like this under the watchful gaze of one of the largest film studios in the world and deliver such a beautiful, coherent film is quite astounding. The locations used within the movie are breath-taking making use of the scenic New Zealand landscape with cinematographer Bojan Bazelli capturing a soulful backdrop that is just a pleasure to take view of. Elliot the dragon is beautifully designed and animated, a gorgeous advertisement of what wonders CGI can create. In a year where Favreau’s The Jungle Book took digital animating to a new level of detail and execution to see yet another film reach such heady heights with nowhere near the budget is an incredible piece of work. Pete’s Dragon’s budget of just $65 million (I know that’s a lot of money, but in context Jungle Book had a $175 million budget) is put to great effect and in young lead actor Oakes Fegley they have unearthed a highly talented individual whose outstanding performance, especially considering a lot of his scenes are two-handers with a CGI dragon, elevates the film into position as one of the summers most delightful films. Bryce Dallas Howard’s performance is her most nuanced in years and you truly believe in the connection that develops between her character and Pete. There are also great supporting turns from the ensemble including Wes Bentley, Karl Urban and young Oona Laurence and a fantastic display of charisma from Robert Redford who brings an authenticity to the film with his decades of experience. His voice is calm, collected and without a hint of fallacy. Whilst other actors may extempore and gesticulate Redford oozes control and is as delightful a presence on screen as ever.

It would be hard to describe Pete’s Dragon as being thoroughly original and it’s perfectly happy to ride the coattails of the films that came before it. It owes a spiritual debt to E.T, as many films do, and is almost flawless in its execution. As astoundingly beautiful as The Jungle Book, more magical than Spielberg’s BFG and as heartfelt as Finding Dory this story may have the scent of familiarity about it but it is in the execution that Pete’s Dragon excels itself. David Lowery has been announced as the director of a live action remake of Peter Pan, which he will co-write with Toby Halbrooks as he did on Pete’s Dragon. I look forward to what else he can achieve following this very impressive piece of work, a late summer treat that I highly recommend.

4/5

Dir: David Lowery

Scr: David Lowery, Toby Halbrooks

Cast: Oakes Fegley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Oona Laurence, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, Robert Redford

Prd: James Whitaker

DOP: Bojan Bazelli

Music: Daniel Hart

Country: USA

Running time: 102 minutes

 

Pete’s Dragon is out now in UK cinemas.

 

“I’m Not Dying Here!” – The Shallows (Film Review)

Sharks used to be one of the scourges of the cinema screen. Back in 1975 Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Jaws, from the Peter Benchley novel of the same name, turned the ocean into something fearful and frightening. When I first saw Jaws as a child my next steps into the ocean, on a holiday in France, were far from intrepid. The water barely made it up to my knees before I scurried back to the safety of land. However since then sharks have dissipated from the mainstream consciousness and have become a primarily B-Movie feature, like giant spiders or Tara Reid. Instead of the dread of seeing a fin carving through the water we watch as cheap digital tornados spin sharks round and fling them across green screens towards David Hasselhoff. So imagine my excitement at the prospect of seeing the shark return to the big screen with experienced horror director Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax, Orphan) behind the camera for what looked like an interesting survival thriller.

So Blake Lively has found her way to a secret and highly secluded beach that holds a deep sentimental value for her. She spends the day surfing and on her last wave before heading to shore she is toppled by a Great White Shark and left stranded on a small rock. Thus begins her character’s struggle to stay alive and not become shark chow whilst occasionally talking to a nearby seagull. The first hour of The Shallows is refreshingly interesting and although the film is set almost entirely in a single location the natural beauty of the area is exploited to great effect by Collet-Serra and DOP Flavio Labiano. Blake Lively delivers a terrifically fraught, physical performance and having been entrusted with carrying an entire film on her shoulders she is more than up to the challenge. There was a realistic quality to the films treatment of its high concept design. Woman stranded on rock with a shark circling is an intriguing sentence but not enough to carry a 90 minute movie without some clever nuances to expand the plot. What Collet-Serra and screenwriter Anthony Jaswinski do cleverly is raise the stakes in a very controlled, convincing manner. The shark becomes almost an inconsequential spectator to the action needing to do little else but sit and wait as Blake Lively’s Nancy has to contend with the exposure to the elements, treating her own injuries with the few items she has at her disposal and maintaining her mental strength throughout as her odds of survival slowly but inevitably decrease making for a taut and impressive thriller.

However the last act takes a rather drastic turn and if you wish to avoid minor spoilers feel free to skip to the next paragraph to get my overall summation of the film. I’m not going to spoil what exactly happens but rather describe the tonal and thematic shift The Shallows makes in its final half hour. Basically having set its stall out as a tense thriller in a thematically similar vein as Rodrigo Cortes’s Buried (which stars Lively’s husband Ryan Reynolds in a similarly demanding lead role) The Shallows suddenly flips into a B-Movie-esque woman vs shark action film. The shark began the film as simply a force of nature, an unseen predator in a domain where humans do not rule, only to turn into a sentient serial killer, a conscious villain who wishes to attack Nancy not out of primal instinct but because the script needs the shark to do so. The film-makers might aswell have given the shark a twirly moustache and an English accent.

The Shallows boasts a highly impressive performance from Blake Lively and an engaging first hour that is just a final act away from being one of the year’s best thrillers. Flavio Labinio’s beautiful photography captures the natural beauty of the exotic locations which contrasts perfectly with the rigours of surviving outside of our controlled environments. A gorgeous looking film, with a few issues towards the end, still worth checking out if you like a good thriller, or watching sharks eating people if you’re into that sort of thing.

3/5

Dir: Jaume Collet-Serra

Scr: Anthony Jaswinski

Cast: Blake Lively

Prd: Lynn Harris, Matti Leshern

DOP: Flavio Labiano

Music: Marco Beltrami

Country: USA

Year: 2016

Run time: 86 Minutes

The Shallows is out now in UK cinemas

 

“Because I Hears your Lonely Heart, in all the Secret Whisperings of the World.” – BFG (Film Review)

So having bombed rather cataclysmically in the USA Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s acclaimed book got its UK release and last weekend I got the chance to go and see whether this live action adaptation could live up to its source material.

And the result is, well, fine. In the hands of such an experienced blockbuster director there was very little threat of the film being a disaster of Pan-esque proportions (There’s no Garrett Hedlund chewing the scenery with an atrocious accent). Spielberg has a gift of creating visual flair in moments where other directors would struggle and his management over certain scenes in the BFG is reminiscent of his previous, better work. However there is undoubtedly a pacing issue in the BFG that grinds the action to a half on numerous occasions and the structure of the original novel has had a somewhat detrimental effect on this adaptation. As pleasing as the sequence that takes place in Buckingham Palace is within the film its timing within the overall narrative creates a feeling of disjointedness when watching the movie. Mark Rylance is atypically wonderful as the eponymous giant capturing his good natured silliness and mastering his peculiar vocal rhythms to great effect. Ruby Barnhill also delivers a terrific performance as the young heroine Sophie, a demanding, fierce, young orphan who witnesses the BFG late one night and is whisked away to giant country. The friendship between the BFG and Sophie is what carries the heart of the film and even though at times it feels like the developing relationship stalls repetitively for the benefit of the plot the eventual thematic pay-off is highly worthwhile and filled with pathos. There are also welcome performances from the ensemble including Penelope Wilton, Rafe Spall, Rebecca Hall and Jemaine Clement.

Janusz Kaminski does a great job in capturing the scale of the giant’s world and his work with Spielberg often makes the optical illusions truly spellbinding however the film’s reliance on CGI does at times make the artificiality of the landscapes rather underwhelming. Following John Favreau’s terrific Jungle Book adaptation earlier this year the bar for creating detailed virtual plateaus has been raised and Spielberg’s film, though at times beautiful, is undercut by its inability to be truly uniquely striking. John William’s music is suitable for the film without being outstanding and will be something of a footnote in his library of terrific work.

The BFG is a charming, fun frolic and an inoffensive translation of Roald Dahl’s novel. It will neither be remembered as a travesty or a classic, but a film of potential, occasional beauty, terrific performances and a handful of well derived laughs. Perhaps most noteworthy of all is Spielberg’s ability to turn flatulence into a form of terrific comedy in the films funniest sequence without it feeling cheap and immature (Well, too immature). All in all, a fun time for all ages. Just not one I’ll be revisiting anytime soon.

3/5

Dir: Steven Spielberg

Scr: Melissa Mathison

Cast: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Rafe Spall, Bill Hader 

Prd: Steven Spielberg, Frank Marshall, Sam Mercer

DOP: Janusz Kaminski

Music: John Williams

Country: USA

Year: 2016

Run time: 117 mins

 

BFG is out now in UK cinemas.

“To the Enterprise… and to Absent Friends.” – Star Trek: Beyond (Film Review)

I’ve never been the biggest Star Trek fan; my knowledge of the old movies and TV shows is severely limited. That being said when J.J Abrams rebooted the series in 2009 I was surprised by how enjoyable the film turned out to be. A great cast, some slick direction and a light, jocular tone endeared the film to me somewhat. The sequel Star Trek: Into Darkness had a somewhat opposite effect, with me going in expectant of great things and instead getting a mediocre Wrath of Khan remake. Because of this my initial expectations going into Star Trek: Beyond were quite low. Abrams has stepped back into a producer role, Justin Lin (of The Fast and Furious series) has taken over the reins and the trailers marketing of the film were highly underwhelming to say the least.

So imagine how pleased I am to report that Star Trek Beyond is one of the best movies of the summer. Seriously this one wasn’t really on anyone’s radar a couple of months ago and it’s the blockbuster I’ve been waiting for all summer. With a killer script courtesy of Simon Pegg and Doug Jung that focuses much more on the ensemble than the two previous Trek films, and frenetic, highly entertaining action set-pieces from the impressive Justin Lin, Star Trek: Beyond is just the good time you want from a summer movie.

So the setup is this, the Enterprise is half way through a five year deep space mission and Kirk is having mid expedition life crisis questioning his role within Starfleet. During a rescue mission the Enterprise is blown a new one by an unidentified group of aliens and the crew is split off and stranded across an unknown planet. Kirk and Chekov in one spot, Uhura and Sulu captured, Bones and an injured Spock elsewhere and Scotty meets up with the alien humanoid Jaylah whose been stranded on the planet for years. By breaking the crew apart this allows the actors the space to shine in their roles. Chris Pine continues his fine work as Kirk, and Sofia Boutella makes a lasting impression as Jaylah showcasing a comic range and a welcome charismatic screen presence. However the standouts are Karl Urban and Zachary Quinto as Bones and Spock respectively. Quinto’s always done a great job in his performance as Spock managing to pay respect to the characters past while simultaneously developing his own unique take on the role. Urban on the other hand has always been underutilised in the previous Trek films. One of the most underrated actors working in cinema Urban revealed recently that he almost dropped out of the film after feeling underused in Into Darkness and it took assurances from Justin Lin that the character would be given the opportunity to shine in Beyond to get him back on board, and shine he does. Pairing the ultra-rational Spock with the world weary pragmatism of Bones creates one of the year’s finest comic partnerships and Urban owns the part delivering laughs at a regular pace courtesy in part to Pegg and Jung’s fabulous dialogue. It would be remiss of me not to mention the great work Anton Yelchin does in this film as Chekov, imbuing the film with a mixture of urgency and humour that was gratefully received. He was one of the finest actors of his generation and that his life should be ended in such a freakish accident at such a young age is a truly devastating loss for both his family and friends, and fans of cinema worldwide. On the other side of that coin Star Trek Beyond also pays tribute to the late great Leonard Nimoy another cinematic icon, sorely missed.

Star Trek: Beyond is one of the best films of the summer, if you’re off to the cinema this weekend and you haven’t seen it then I recommend you check it out. It’s fun, vibrant, well directed, brilliantly written and wonderfully acted.

5/5

Dir: Justin Lin

Scr: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Anton Yelchin, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Simon Pegg, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Karl Urban, Deep Roy

Prd: J.J Abrams, Roberto Orci, Lindsey Weber, Justin Lin

DOP: Stephen F. Windon

Music: Michael Giacchino

Country: USA

Year: 2016

Run time: 122 mins

 

Star Trek: Beyond is out now in UK cinemas.

 

“You know what they say about the crazy ones…” – Suicide Squad (Film Review)

After a highly mixed response to BvS: Dawn of Justice the DCEU has gotten off to a rather stuttering start which has placed Suicide Squad in the unenviable position of being a flagship release rather than an offbeat niche cinematic offering. Therefore we’ve heard rumours of reshoots being administered to the project in an attempt to add more humour to the film and the marketing departments changed the tone from the original trailers dark and grungy take to a more pop based style adding more fun and colour.

Following the death of Superman from the end of BvS government operative Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) assembles a team of incarcerated criminals in an attempt to form an expendable tactical squad who could contend with a possible meta-human threat. She recruits the hit-man Deadshot (Will Smith), mentally unstable Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), possessed Witch June Moore/Enchantress (Cara Delevingne), pyrokinetic gangster (Jay Hernandez), Aussie bank-robber Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtenay), deformed man-beast Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and really good climber (There’s little else to say) Slipknot (Adam Beach). Waller puts the squad under the guidance of Col. Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman), a by the book military officer, and his bodyguard Katana (Karen Fukuhara). Following a suspected supernatural attack in Midway City the squad are sent out to retrieve a secret package all whilst Harley Quinn’s psychotic lover, the Joker (Jared Leto), attempts to rescue her.

Suicide Squad opens with a promising, energetic opening introducing the large array of characters with a high volume of pop song based montages. However following a relatively strong first act Suicide Squad sadly dissolves into a myriad of bland, uninteresting, action sequences occasionally highlighted by an interesting sequence or two all culminating in an anticlimactic third act finale. Needless to say I was monumentally disappointed by what was one of the most highly anticipated films of the year that despite a promising start stuttered to a halt forty minutes in and promptly self-destructed into a convoluted mess of poorly edited action, horrifically written dialogue and Cara Delevingne performing some sort of gyrating hula dance that opens portals to the sky.

Despite those shortcomings the cast, for the most part, do a good job. Will Smith delivers his most charismatic performance in years as Deadshot and Margot Robbie has an impressive screen presence though her performance is undercut by some poor writing in a lot of her scenes. As amusing as Robbie manages to be at times her dialogue is unfunny and conflictingly designed. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Robbie’s scenes with Jared Leto. Much has been made of Leto’s meticulous preparation in taking over the role of the Joker and he’s featured heavily in the promotional material for the film despite his role being minimal at most. With little more than five minutes of screen time Leto does manage to make a significant impact, a highly disappointing one at that. Leto’s Joker is a gangster, a career criminal, and it would have been interesting to see the character return to his golden age comic book routes with a modern twist. However this Joker is an impotent, posturing, flaccid man-child impossible to find interesting. Despite Leto’s silly voice affectation, his “quirky” mannerisms and David Ayer’s attempts to photograph him with faux artistic intent you never find him intimidating, amusing or anything at all beyond irritating. Perhaps the most ridiculous thing about suicide squad is watching a film in which Jai Courtenay playing a boomerang throwing bank robber is far more watchable than Jared Leto as a green haired gangster wannabe. The most impressive actor in Suicide squad, unsurprisingly, is Viola Davis as the terrifyingly fierce Amanda Waller who displays an air of vile disrepute none of the so called Suicide Squad can match. She’s an intimidating presence and owns every scene she’s in. Though they get little screen time Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Karen Fukuhara leave positive impressions while Joel Kinnaman and Cara Delevingne are somewhat lethargic in their roles lacking any real energy or charisma. There’s also a very funny brief appearance from Ike Barinholtz as a security guard and hopefully we will see more of him in a future film.

 

Suicide Squad is a mixed bag and despite my admiration for the past work of David Ayer and his grungy style seeming a good fit for this project if there is a sequel (which after a massive box office opening there will be) I hope a different director comes on board with a more coherent vision than what he has managed to capture, or at the very least a different screenwriter. At times DOP Roman Vasyanov manages to capture a large variety of interesting plateaus however these too seem to vanish once act two kicks into gear. Despite my disappointment I have hopes for the future of the Suicide Squad, Jared Leto aside, and hopefully the DCEU can find its stride following the huge financial success of the film.

2/5

Dir: David Ayer

Scr: David Ayer

Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Viola Davis, Jai Courtenay, Jay Hernandez, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Joel Kinnaman, Karen Fukuhara, Cara Delevingne, Adam Beach, Ben Affleck, Ike Barinholtz, Scott Eastwood

Prd: Charles Roven, Richard Suckle

DOP: Roman Vasyanov

Music: Steven Price

Country: USA

Runtime: 123 minutes

Suicide Squad is out now in UK cinemas.

“What if I forget you? Would you ever forget me?” – Finding Dory (Film Review)

Finding Nemo is a modern animated classic, now 13 years old, it has stood the test of time and held true as one of Pixar’s finest feature films garnering massive critical acclaim and commercial success. So having already made sequels in the past of Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and Cars we finally return to the ocean for a sequel a long time in the making.

It’s been a year since the events of Finding Nemo and Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) now lives with Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence). During a class field trip she is assisting with Dory has a flashback to one of her childhood memories and has a brief recollection of her parents. This prompts her on a cross ocean journey to the Marine Life Institute to try and find her family.

Perhaps the major concern going into this Finding Dory is the idea of taking a popular supporting character and thrusting them into the focus of the sequel. In Finding Nemo Dory was a comic foil (A very fine one I might add) and there was some apprehension as to whether making her the lead in this movie was a sincere act of trying to tell an interesting story or whether Pixar were simply sticking the most commercially viable character front and centre as a marketing decision. I am happy to report it is the former. Taking Dory’s main comic trait, her short term memory loss, and making it the focus of the narrative was a wise decision as we begin to perceive her failure to recollect information as a form of disability rather than something comically appealing. Ellen Degeneres returns as the forgetful fish and her energetic performance makes her an endearing presence. Alongside the returning characters are some new faces including Kaitlin Olson as a near-sighted Whale Shark, Ty Burrell as a neurotic Beluga Whale and Idris Elba and Dominic West as a pair of possessive Sea Lions. However the stand out of the newcomers is Ed O’Neill as an introverted Octopus (Or Septopus if you will) who has to form  a partnership with Dory out of necessity and their burgeoning relationship is the highlight of the movie and provides the most amusing moments of comedy.

I don’t think Finding Dory manages to eclipse the work of its predecessor due to some slightly choppy pacing and the emotional pay off of the story doesn’t quite manage to achieve the same pathos as Finding Nemo. That being said it’s a really fun, touching film filled with a wide range of great vocal performances and invoking the same high quality animation design that was so astounding 13 years ago. It would also be amiss of me not to mention the fantastic short film that precedes the movie, Piper, that features some of the most breath-taking animation I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing in a cinema with incredible detail on both the animals and the locations. Finding Dory is another successful entry in the Pixar filmography and I’m sure it won’t be the last we see of Dory, if the box office has anything to say about it.

4/5

Dir: Andrew Stanton

Scr: Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse

Cast: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill, Ty Burrell, Kaitlin Olson, Idris Elba, Dominic West, Hayden Rolence, Eugene Levy, Diane Keaton

Prd: Lindsey Collins

DOP: Jeremy Lasky

Music: Thomas Newman

Country: USA

Runtime: 97 minutes

Finding Dory is out now in UK cinemas.