“If You’re Nothing Without the suit, then you Shouldn’t have it” – Spider-Man: Homecoming (Film Review)

Here we are again. Another Spider-Man. Tom Holland is the man/boy in the suit this time as a co-operative partnership between Sony and Marvel means this Spider-Man is part of the MCU. As someone who felt the Amazing Spider-Man series was a little bit mediocre at best I approached this fresh entry with optimism that rookie director John Watt could integrate everyone’s favourite wall crawler into the MCU successfully.

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So the gist this time is that Peter Parker is still just a kid, fifteen to be exact, and this is more a coming of age high school comedy than a straight superhero film. Tom Holland makes a wonderful Parker/Spider-Man carrying on the great work from his debut in Civil War. His energy and enthusiasm as the eager to prove himself teenager is an endearing portrayal, and Holland is adept for both the dramatic and comedic requirements of the part. Speaking of comedic, this is the most joke heavy entry of any Spider-Man movie, with lots of great one-liners, physical humour and an ensemble who seem to revel in the films funnier scenes. Newcomer Jacob Batalan is the scene stealer as Ned Leeds (Peter’s best friend), the self-described “Man in the Chair”, who assists Peter in both fighting criminals and building Death Stars out of Lego. When the movie balances it’s John Hughes-esque high school drama with Peter’s struggle to maintain his dual identity it excels, his desperation to prove himself to Tony Stark impacting his judgement severely. Robert Downey Jnr is used sparingly in his role as Peter’s mentor and their developing father/son bond is a highlight of the feature. Peter’s foil in this film is the Vulture, a low-level thug underneath the Avengers radar, who wants to provide for his family. Casting Michael Keaton is rarely a bad idea, and he takes a rather run of the mill part and imbues it with a ruthlessness and callous menace the makes him far more interesting than the script alone would suggest. Whilst the character work of the film is superb (I didn’t have time to gush about the fine work of actors Zendaya, Marisa Tomei, Donald Glover and Tony Revelori) and the films comedy is pretty damn exceptional it’s the action scenes that are the let-down. Spider-Man has a larger variety of firepower thanks to a Stark designed Spider-suit but the clashes between Spider-Man and Vulture lack intensity and inventiveness, especially at the movies climax. This could possibly owe to director John Watt’s inexperience, this being his first big budget film. Homecoming is also a bit too long (For some reason Marvel like the majority of their movies to come in at the 2hr 20min mark regardless of content) and could do with shaving off fifteen minutes.

Spider-Man: Homecoming ranks around the same as Wonder Woman, a solid if unspectacular entry that nevertheless leaves the franchise in a promising position for the future. Holland is certainly right for the part, and the so-called world building means that in a sequel we can leap straight into Peter’s world without introductions. Not quite up to the standard set by the best films of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy but it’s certainly an upgrade on The Amazing Spider-Man series.

3/5

“Your name’s Baby? B-A-B-Y Baby?” – Baby Driver (Film Review)

Edgar Wright is basically a nerd God of filmmaking. Not much debate about that, right? Taking traditional genre movies and orchestrating them with the kind of skill worthy of the so-called academy elite but without the acclaim of awards following it up. Whether deconstructing genres with his cornetto trilogy, or bringing a comic book to life in Scott Pilgrim vs The World, Wright has shown his talents time and time again with the kind of devastating consistency few other filmmakers have managed. Having spent a decade developing Ant-Man, with Joe Cornish, Wright left the project as he couldn’t compromise with Marvel’s producer driven approach to the filmmaking process. Baby Driver, being Wright’s first released feature in four years, feels like an explosion of creativity from a director who has been restrained from doing what he loves most.

Following such a stifling period it’s great to see Wright back on the proverbial pedestal with an action/comedy/heist/sort of musical about a young getaway driver named Baby who is trying to leave his criminal life behind, with some difficulty. Cue a magnitude of wonderfully eclectic action set pieces shot with the virtuoso skill that Wright has made a trademark of his movies. Whether it be a high-octane car chase, two young lovers listening to music in a laundromat or Baby walking down the street to get coffee everything feels eventful and wonderfully vibrant. Seriously, Ansel Elgort ordering four coffees and retrieving them for his fellow cronies is far more engaging and inventive than some other films I’ve witnessed this summer. Ansel Elgort is our young protagonist, the charming music obsessed getaway driver, with a smile so irritatingly cutesy that makes you just want to punch him in his perfect face (Perhaps more a reflection on me than Elgort). Elgort’s chemistry with Lily James is instantaneously obvious. Their conversations swift, sensitive and filled with humour and heart. The ensemble is a mix of great talents. Spacey provides the gravitas and authority as the man who won’t let Baby escape his driving exploits, Jon Hamm and Eisa Gonzalez as a pair of Spacey’s favourite go to bank robbers and an explosive Jamie Foxx as the hot-headed Bats. For all the acting greats on display it is Wright who stands front and centre, keeping the action fast and fluent. Choreographed like a musical, all the action is phenomenally intricate and plays out with a rhythmic glee that keeps the heart pumping thoroughly throughout. In the final act the tightly woven narrative begins to unravel slightly with a few questionable character choices that seem out of….erm… character? And it’s definitely not as funny a movie as any of the cornetto trilogy but it speaks to Wright’s talent that this movie, which is basically just Wright blowing off some steam following a difficult spell with Ant-Man, is easily one of the best films of the year.

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In a summer filled with sequels, reboots and spin-offs it’s important to champion the original content, especially when it’s this good. Inspired by seminal car based action classics, such as Walter Hill’s The Driver, Edgar Wright has made the car chase movie of the year (Soz Vin Diesel), with a moderately cheap budget. So get down to your local cinema and check it out.

4/5

“Everyone in the city gets a shot at Being a star” – Sing (Film Review)

The latest film from Illumination Studios, the team behind Despicable me, Minions and The Secret Life of Pets, combines talking animals with a singing competition in what is basically Zootropolis meets the X Factor. It’s astounding that no one has thought of this concept earlier, it’s guaranteed to make millions, but is the movie any good?

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Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), the owner of a rundown theatre, decides to try and turn his business around by advertising a singing contest for everyday people with a one-thousand-dollar prize. However, due to a typing error by Ms. Crawley (Garth Jennings), a clumsy Iguana with a glass eye, the flyers advertise a cash prize of one-hundred-thousand-dollars instead. The contest gathers lots of attention, including housewife Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), troubled Johnny (Taron Egerton), nervous Meena (Tori Kelly) and a Sinatra-esque mouse named Mike (Seth McFarlane). Seeing the hype surrounding the contest Buster decides to conceal the fact he doesn’t have the money so the show can go on.

Talent shows, especially in the age of reality TV, have evolved into something of a soap opera posing as real life. The allusion to the X Factor that was made above is actually not very accurate as Sing is a homage to the idea of why we loved talent shows to begin with and want to see “ordinary” people succeed. In an age where the authenticity of shows such as X Factor, The Voice and Britain’s Got Talent are oft questioned Sing is devoid of the cynicism that these shows promote. It’s a joyful romp expressing the inner desires of people who dream of stardom, and may never reach those heights, but want to show what they are capable of if given the chance. Illumination’s CG animation is wonderfully detailed and moves with a pace and drive that fits the madcap speed of it’s narrative. Director Garth Jennings, whose previous work includes The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Son of Rambow, builds a large, complex world filled with characters that, for the most part, balances its ensemble with panache. Every arc gets plenty of focus and although some play out in a cliché fashion you may expect, there are times of unexpected heart in the movie. Sing’s climax is a spectacular blowout that even the hardest cynic would have to try hard to dislike, even if it does result in some of the film’s plot threads being unresolved.

Despite a messy, yet thoroughly jubilant, landing in the third act Sing is full of wit and charm, so wholly joyful that it’s difficult not to nod along with its tune. Filled with nearly a hundred popular music tracks (though some feature for a matter of seconds) there is a pleasant range to the songs on display, and even a couple of original pieces that are solid bits of work, if unspectacular. Fun for all ages, the kids in the screening I was in certainly enjoyed it, this one is definitely worth your time.

4/5

Dir: Garth Jennings, Christophe Lourdelet
Scr: Garth Jennings
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Taron Egerton, Matthew McConaughey, Tori Kelly, John C. Reilly, Scarlett Johansson, Seth McFarlane, Nick Kroll
Prd: Chris Meledandri, Janet Healy
Music: Joby Talbot
Country: USA
Year: 2017
Run time: 110 minutes

Sing 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.

The Secret Life of Pets

Illumination Entertainment has had a highly successful last few years courtesy of the Despicable me series and its Minions spin-off which was released last year grossing over $1 billion worldwide. Now looking to consolidate that success with their newest venture The Secret Life of Pets which revolves around what the pets get up to when their owners leave for the day.

A terrier named Max (Louis C.K) has a perfect life with his owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) until one day she returns home with another dog, Duke (Eric Stonestreet), who threatens to upset the stability of Max’s life. Whilst out being walked the pair get lost and end up being captured by animal control but are freed by the psychotic bunny rabbit Snowball (Kevin Hart). With Max gone his friends the tabby cat Chloe (Lake Bell), the pug Mel (Bobby Moynihan), the dachshund Buddy (Hannibal Buress) and the Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate) set out to rescue him.

The immediate concern that comes to mind is that The Secret Life of Pets shares a similar concept with that of Toy Story, that when the owner isn’t present the pets/toys have a secret life of their own. The lead character Max/Woody lives an ideal existence with their owner Katie/Andy until a new arrival Duke/Buzz upsets the balance of their life. A lot of films follow similar narrative constructs but when you make an animated feature with such striking similarities to a movie as infamous as Toy Story then it is difficult to ignore the similarities. The films strengths lie mostly in its comedic energy with a fast paced multitude of gags flowing thick and fast. Not all of the jokes land but enough of them are amusing enough to keep you entertained throughout with the high energy levels of the voice actors playing a large part in the success of the comedy. Kevin Hart’s performance as Snowball is one of the more obvious examples and a lot of the films marketing has highlighted Hart’s role as the maniacal bunny rabbit. Equally worthy of praise are Jenny Slate’s boisterously fierce Gidget, Lake Bell’s obnoxiously arrogant Chloe and Albert Brooks as the hawk Tiberius who suffers from a lonely existence due to his tendency to eat all of the other animals he meets.

The problem with The Secret Life of Pets that stop it from reaching the levels of other animated fare like that of Pixar, Ghibli, Disney, Laika or even Illuminaton’s Despicable me series is that it lacks the dramatic cohesion and pathos of better films. Half way through an emotional subplot is introduced that threatens to tug at the heart strings but is shoddily mishandled, not given the time needed to develop the proper empathetic response.

There’s a lot of work clearly been put in the The Secret Life of Pets with a large ensemble cast who all bring a high level of enthusiasm to their roles imbuing their characters with zest and energy. The animation is sumptuous and slick with some gloriously designed wide shots of the cityscape and Alexandre Desplat’s musical score is vibrant and manages to compliment the energy of the film. The films plot is somewhat recognisable to older audiences and it doesn’t have the dramatic weight or clever subversions of the best animated features but as a  90 minute comedic romp it delivers enough laughs to keep you on leash.

Rating: 3/5

 

The Nice Guys

Shane Black’s newest feature is a spiritual successor to his previous noir film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang one of the finest films of the 2000’s. Having since then helmed Iron Man 3 he returns to the buddy cop/Private eye films of which he has been so successful in the past.

Set in 1977 a down on his luck P.I Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is searching for a lead in a missing person’s case that requires him to track down Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley). Amelia, however, doesn’t want to be found and hires enforcer Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) to intimidate March so he will stop following her. Healy breaks March’s arm and warns him to stay away. Following the encounter Healy is almost killed by two thugs questioning him about Amelia’s whereabouts. In order to track Amelia down again Healy teams up with Holland March, and his daughter Holly (Angourie Rice), this leads them into an ever deepening conspiracy.

Shane Black’s handling of this film is perfection as he captures the tone and feel of both his themes and setting. Having co-written the script with Anthony Bagarozzi I was continually caught up in hysterical laughing fits by the sharp wit of the material and the fantastic performances of both Gosling and Crowe, who get the measure of the films comic sensibilities to a tee. Gosling’s erratic Private Detective is a pleasure to watch as he continually fumbles his way into one idiotic venture after another. His chemistry with both Crowe and Rice is just a joy to watch as the characters inhabit their roles with the kind of natural ease that you just sit back and enjoy the spectacle that takes place. Angourie Rice is a real find as Holland March’s young daughter Holly with the kind of hilarious, mature, display that seemed evocative of Chloe Grace’s Moretz performance as Hit-girl from Kick Ass. She’s by no means as vulgar with her language or bloody in her action but the beyond her year’s performance is no less revelatory. Shane Black’s direction is slick, cohesive and masterfully composed. His sense of timing is flawless and is especially noticeable in the films fast paced action set-pieces which are wonderfully controlled and orchestrated in their composition. All of the supporting cast are terrific in their roles and Phillipe Rousselot’s fantastic cinematography captures the essence of the seventies with a style and swagger that is a joy to behold.

There’s little to surmise other than to say that you should definitely check out this fantastic film, Shane Black fan or not. It’s one of the best movies of the year and I hope you have the time to check out The Nice Guys.

5/5

Review by Alexander Halsall