The Mummy – “Welcome to a new World of Gods and Monsters” (Film Review)

(Sigh)…… You know, I don’t like being negative about movies? It doesn’t always come across but I would rather rave about the great films I’ve been checking out recently than meander on about how two hours of my life has been snatched away by another soulless money-sucking blockbuster. Sadly I find it pertinent to write about the biggest releases of any given week, as others are more likely to be invested in an opinion, and as we are in the middle of the summer release schedule when every film release is a sequel, spin off or looking to start a franchise there is a general air of cynicism to the movies being made, which in turn creates a cynicism in my brain, which in turn makes my fingers type words like “The Mummy is a boring turd” or “Russell Crowe’s English accent sounds like Ray Winstone performing panto”. It’s not healthy for anyone really.

Anyway, the movie. Universal is looking to relaunch the O.G of film universes (The Universal Monster series). They tried this a few years ago with Dracula Untold which made some money, but not enough money, so they’ve waited a few years, assumed everyone forgot, and are now trying again with The Mummy. I’m not against a new Universal Monsters Universe (Or Dark Universe as they have branded it). I like the classic movies from the 30’s and 40’s and enjoy the Brendon Fraser and Rachel Weisz starring mummy movies from the late 90’s and early 2000s. But what I didn’t want was a two-hour step-by-step guide in how to build a film universe occasionally featuring a mummy. That’s what we got though.

The original Mummy film from 1933 is one of the weaker of the Universal series. It’s hasn’t aged as kindly as Frankenstein or The Invisible Man have. In fact, the definitive Mummy film remains the 1999 version which melded solid action, a few scares, a great comic sensibility and, at the time, state of the art visual effects to become one of the most memorable blockbusters of the late 90s. This newest incarnation is closer to the 1999 version, looking to balance horror, action and comedy. The balance, however, is not right. It’s basically the equivalent of eating three singular cornflakes with a gallon of milk, but without the sustenance. Tom Cruise’s character (Whose name I can’t be bothered googling due to my apathy) is similar to the charming rogue Rick O’Connell (played by Brendan Fraser in 1999) however they’ve taken the charming part out and left him as simply a rogue (A rogue Antiques Dealer no less), who isn’t funny, or interesting and spends the entire movie standing in rooms with a derpy face having the plot explained to him by other people. It’s an interesting plot twist to have a lead character who is as captivating as a particularly mellow shade of beige. I like Tom Cruise, he’s a really good actor, with lots of experience at injecting charisma and energy into pretty much every film he’s in. It takes quite a shit storm to drag him down, but drag him down it does. Everyone else is in the same boat, the boat in this case being a really heavy rock that sinks to the depths so quickly it’s kind of impressive in a moronically inept kind of way. There are a couple of decent laughs to be had, whilst the CG is also very capably integrated with the action. There is even a nice little riff stolen from American Werewolf in London that is kind of chuckle worthy, but it’s not enough to hold a film together. This is Alex Kurtzman’s first directorial feature, having worked predominantly as a writer for the last couple of decades. I’ve never been a fan but his direction isn’t an issue, he appears quite capable, perhaps serviceable is the right word. With a better script he could possibly have made this work, and perhaps in the future he will move into direction full time.

The Mummy is an intro to a new film universe that forgot that the key feature of getting people to come and see the next instalment is actually making a good movie. Instead this is compromised by adding so much set up to future films that the mummy itself becomes something of a background character in its own feature. Boutella seems game for the role but isn’t given enough screen time to make more of an impact and frankly the idea of listening to Russell Crowe speaking in a cockney accent again makes me want to pour glue in my ears. It’s a mediocre action movie, only check it out if you’re a big Tom Cruise fan, or you have a limitless card.

2/5

“Is that a Monkey?” – Kong: Skull Island (Film Review)

In 2014 Godzilla made his reappearance to a western cinematic audience in Gareth Edwards eponymous film. It was a commercial success and prompted Legendary Pictures to greenlight a reboot of one of cinemas oldest and most beloved characters, who debuted over eighty years ago, King Kong. Godzilla and Kong previously clashed in 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla, but with the surge in technology over the last fifty years it is not surprising that there are plans to bring the gargantuan duo together once again meaning Kong himself needs to be reintroduced with Kong: Skull Island.

Set in 1973, just after the U.S announces it will be leaving Vietnam, Bill Randa (John Goodman), a senior official at MONARCH, convinces the US government to fund his expedition to the uncharted Skull Island. He is given a military escort led by Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and hires former SAS Captain and renowned tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) to assist them, also along for the ride is Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) a renowned photo-journalist and peace activist. Upon reaching the Island the group drop seismic charges to, allegedly, map the terrain, but by doing so they provoke the wrath of Kong (Terry Notary) who brings down their helicopters leaving them stranded on Skull Island.

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Kong: Skull Island opens with a strong first act, introducing a parade of characters who are swatted down by the almighty Kong. The opening brawl between Kong and the military is enthralling, and showcases the presence of the gigantic beast. It’s easy to make something look large on screen but it’s a challenge to communicate such scale to the audience and to make Kong feel like a living, breathing animal. The motion capture work is fantastic and Kong is beautifully transposed into the world of the movie, in part due to the performance of Notary as the creature. Less compelling are the people surrounding Kong, despite being well introduced few of the characters develop beyond the periphery of two dimensions. Hiddleston is supposedly the male lead, but you could remove him from the film and it would make little difference. Hiddleston’s performance isn’t the problem, his natural charisma stops him from becoming unwatchable, but his lack of personality or insight makes him an issue, especially as the lead character. Larson suffers the same issue, Mason Weaver is never fully realised beyond having the obligatory sequence in which Kong shares a semi-intimate moment with a woman because, well, he does in all Kong movies. The ensemble flare between promising and underutilised. Jackson and Goodman bring the heft of their experience to the movie and manage to make even the most expositional dialogue scenes interesting through their fine work. Jackson is the most fully realised of any of the characters, a man whose lost so much that to surrender would be an insult to those who sacrificed their lives. The scene stealer though is John C Reilly as Hank Marlow, a WWII pilot who has been stranded on the Island for twenty-eight years leaving him a peculiarly eccentric figure.

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This film feels like a battleground. Between the director’s vision of making Apocalypse Now but with a massive ape, and the studios hopes of starting a franchise. The actors battle for screen time, with each other and Kong. It has some astonishing effects and clever visual motifs, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts clearly has an eye for spectacle, but the screenplay can’t match his ambitions leaving most of the characters adrift of interest. Solid, but not quite worthy of the King.

3/5

Dir: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Scr: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Toby Kebbell, Terry Notary, Jing Tian, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, John C. Reilly

Prd: Thomas Tull, John Jashni, Mary Parent, Alex Garcia

DOP: Larry Fong

Music: Henry Jackman

Country: USA

Year: 2017

Runtime: 118 Minutes

Kong: Skull Island is out now in UK cinemas.

 

 

“Kill the Queen, or we all die” – The Great Wall (Film Review)

The latest action blockbuster starring Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal, Andy Lau, Jing Tian and Willem Defoe has a slightly different background than your regular popcorn movie. The most expensive Chinese film ever produced The Great Wall could be the first of numerous attempts from China to assert their dominance on the global film industry. Many US produced mainstream movies now live or die on their international gross revenue and China is the most important market for films of the highest budget. This rise now sees China attempting to beat Hollywood at their own game by producing their own content. They’ve enlisted a top dollar American star in Matt Damon, numerous talented Chinese actors such as Jing Tian and the highly bankable Andy Lau whilst Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers) is in the director’s chair. If the producers see a reasonable return on their investment then the peculiar image of Matt Damon in the midst of an Asian ensemble may seem less strange in the future as others attempt to imitate its success.

If only The Great Wall was as fascinating on screen as the series of circumstances that have willed it into being. A thoughtless blaze of CGI descends upon the great wall of China and only Matt Damon and his strange array of accents can stop them. A lot of the actors in The Great Wall speak English as a second language so it’s a wonder that Damon talks like it’s also his second tongue. At one point his voice affects an Irish lilt that makes it even harder to take his scenes seriously. The whole concept is silly so it’s not like his accent breaks the believability of the film, this isn’t exactly Oscar Wilde, but it does highlight the ridiculousness that this movie, boasting some of the finest talent China has to offer, includes Damon as a co-lead to make the movie more marketable to a Western audience. The ensemble are all game at least, committed to playing their parts with a straight face. Pascal is fun as a Spanish rogue, Lau demonstrates the kind of effortless charisma that has made him a staple of Asian cinema for the past few decades and up and comer Jing Tian has a natural screen presence that makes it likely we will see plenty of her in the future. The Great Wall is at its best when given over to the exuberant excess of Zhang Yimou, his lush colourful eye and bombastic approach give the set pieces an eye-catching glimmer. However, any sequence that requires more than three lines of dialogue quickly falls to shreds specifically in the opening act with an overuse of close-ups decimating any rhythm to the scenes.

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The Great Wall is an overblown cascade that never manages to meet the expectations set upon it by its luscious production design. More of an ardent curiosity than an actual success, The Great Wall has spectacle but little soul.

2/5

Dir: Zhang Yimou
Scr: Carlo Bernard, Tony Gilroy, Doug Miro
Cast: Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Andy Lau, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe, Zhang Hanyu, Eddie Peng
Prd: Thomas Tull, Charles Roven, Jon Jashni, Peter Loehr
Music: Ramin Djawadi
Country: USA, China
Year: 2017
Run time: 104 minutes

The Great Wall is out now in UK cinemas.

 

“How far I’ll go” – Moana (Film Review)

2016 has been a bit of a bust, right? The constant deaths of famous individuals, conflict in Syria and Donald Trump have got a fair few people down. A shining light has been an impressive film year which has constantly delivered a strew of impressive cinematic treats. What have you got to kick off December then cinema? A Polynesian themed, Disney animated, musical directed by the pair behind The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Princess and the Frog starring Dwayne Johnson with music composed by Mark Mancina, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa’i. Good answer.

Disney are on a bit of a roll right now. In-fact following Pixar’s domination of post millennial animated cinema they have adapted and come back as possibly the strongest studio in CG animation. Pixar continue to make outstanding cinema, though the output has become slightly less consistent, and Illumination have potential but are yet to produce anything of the level of Disney or Pixar. Since Disney’s 2010’s Tangled they have been on a streak that I would argue surpasses the famed Disney renaissance of the 90’s. Moana confirms this. After the wonderful Zootropolis from earlier this year Moana is a beautiful, funny, charming film.

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Moana (Newcomer Auli’i Cravalho) is an adventurous teenager with a natural affinity for exploration. She wishes to travel across the sea, however her father (Temuera Morrison) forbids travel of any kind fearing the dangers of the deeper ocean. The Island’s coconuts begin to rot, and the fish have all but vanished from the shallows. Moana’s free spirited grandmother (Rachel House) claims this is due to the Demi-God Maui (Dwayne Johnson) stealing the heart of the Goddess Te Feti. To restore the island Moana must find Maui and get him to put the heart back where it belongs.

With veteran directors Ron Clements and John Musker at the helm it’s no surprise that the film is a visual delight and is structured in an almost textbook Disney fashion. Speaking of textbook Disney, the music of Moana is truly wonderful with contemporary Pacific music band Opetaia Foa’i, acclaimed Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda and experienced film composer Mark Mancina collaborating to produce a set of wonderfully catchy musical numbers and a terrific orchestral score that complement the movie to wonderful effect. Moana rests heavily on the shoulders of 16-year-old Auli’i Cravalho and, the slightly larger shoulders of, Dwayne Johnson with the pairs chemistry and boisterous energy making Moana infectiously delightful. Cravalho is quite the discovery with an astonishing singing voice while Dwayne Johnson shows off some of his lesser known qualities with a song of his own (You’re Welcome) holding his own against the talented teenager. Supporting the two leads is a colourful ensemble of characters, voiced by Jermaine Clement, Rachel House and Temuera Morrison, who are wonderfully animated and brought to life by the actors. Special shout out to whomever oversaw the animating of Maui’s tattoos which are both visually impressive and hilarious.

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The problem with Moana isn’t in its technical prowess or performances but just that sense of familiarity. Unlike its main character, it never strays from the path, and earlier I mentioned that the presence of Clements and Musker gave Moana a textbook Disney feeling and I believe this is both a positive and a negative. It’s a modern updating of the kind of classic tale Disney would have spun sixty years ago, and fits as a great companion piece to their other modern features such as Tangled and Frozen.

Frankly we’ve been spoilt by animation this year to the point where Moana is, in my estimation, the third best animated feature of the year (with Sing still to come out in the next couple of weeks). This isn’t a slight against Moana, but an appraisal of the golden age of animation that we currently find ourselves within. This is definitely one worth checking out with plenty of laughs, great music and beautiful animation, and a chicken called Heihei who is categorically the stupidest character in Disney history.

4/5

Dir: Ron Clements, John Musker

Scr: Jared Bush

Cast: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Temuera Morrison, Rachel House, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk, Jemaine Clement

Prd: Osnat Shurer

Music: Mark Mancina, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i

Country: USA

Year: 2016

Run Time: 107 minutes

Moana is out now in UK cinemas.

“I want to be a Wizard” – Fantastic Beasts and Where to find them (Film Review)

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of a multi-billion-pound enterprise the Harry Potter franchise returns to the big screen, sans Harry Potter. Following a five-year hiatus of magical misadventures Warner Brothers, like so many of us beforehand, have checked their bank account and had that sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach. Woah, is that how much I’ve spent this month? Looks like we need to reboot a franchise. I’m being facetious of course. Following a decade of phenomenally successful Harry Potter films it is natural for WB to want to make more films and the desire is definitely there on the behalf of the audience. Could I honestly say that I don’t want to be wowed and fall in love with new aspects of the magical universe to which I am a fan? No, I want to love this new series as much as the previous, but is it as good?

Newt Scamander (Played by Eddie Redmayne, doing an impression of Doctor Who) is a magical zoologist who has smuggled his case of magical creatures into New York on a conservation mission. During a mix-up with some muggles, or No-Maj as the yanks call them, the case winds up in the hands of Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler). The fantastic beasts then escape and it’s up to Newt, Jacob and disgraced former auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), to track them down and restore order to the city. This plot would probably be the singular drive of the film if it wasn’t in the interest of starting up a new film franchise. So on top of the magical creatures malarkey there is a separate plot thread in which a group of extremist No-Maj’s led by Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton), and her put upon adopted son Credence (Ezra Miller), attempt to convince the wider world, including for some reason Jon Voight, of the existence and danger of witches and wizards. Additionally, Credence is in cahoots with auror Percival Graves (Colin Farell), a mysterious man whose motives are unclear.

These two contrasting plot threads struggle to intertwine at any point. They flirt with one another, smiling suggestively across a crowded bar, but come the end of the night the part of the film revolving around recapturing the creatures decides to call it in early and head home. The result is a messy narrative that puts a huge strain on the movie’s structure. Fortunately the cast bring an enthusiasm and energy that saves the film from enveloping into a CG fest of immeasurable nothingness. I was once again being a bit facetious when describing Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Newt a bit Doctor Who-esque (Though as a quirky Englishman with an item that is bigger on the inside than the out, armed with a sonic screw… I mean wand and a couple of colourful companions it’s hard to avoid pointing out the similarities). However, he captures the introverted nature of Newt with great authenticity and his developing bond with Jacob is given a greater legitimacy because of this. Speaking of which Dan Fogler steals every scene he is in as the incredibly loveable Jacob, a No-Maj whose journey of discovery within the magical world is Fantastic Beast’s greatest strength. Even the romantic subplot involving Tina’s sister Queenie (Allison Sudol) plays, despite not being given any time to develop convincingly, thanks to their wonderful chemistry. Katherine Waterston is hopelessly underutilised, but is great in the scenes in which she is given things to, you know, do. Hopefully these characters will be given more room to expand in the future.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to find them promised more than it could deliver but thanks to some wonderful SFX work, a hard-working cast and the endlessly enticing world that J.K Rowling created all those years ago it is difficult to dislike. Perhaps it is time for David Yates to step aside from the series, having directed every Harry Potter film since Order of the Phoenix, and allow a new director the chance to put their spin on the franchise. Though I doubt that’s going to happen and I can only hope David Yates can make me retract that previous sentence with the next film in the series, whenever we should see it.

3/5

Dir: David Yates

Scr: J.K Rowling

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Kate Waterston, Dan Fogler, Allison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, Ron Perlman

Prd: Steve Kloves, J.K Rowling, David Heyman, Lionel Wigram

DOP: Phillipe Rousselot

Music: James Newton Howard

Country: United Kingdom

Year: 2016

Running Time: 133 mins

Fantastic Beasts and Where to find them is out now in UK cinemas.

“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.

 

“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.