“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?

Image result for sing film

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

Bad Neighbours 2

Following the success of Bad Neighbours, which grossed $270 million worldwide on just an $18 million budget, a sequel was something of an inevitability. When a film performs so well at the box office and is also as entertaining as Bad Neighbours managed to be the only question would be could the cast and crew create a sequel of superior or equal quality?

We re-join Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne), pregnant with their second child, a couple of years after the events of the first film. They have just agreed a deal to sell their house, under the obligation that the new buyers have a 30 day period to back out of the purchase should anything go array. At the same time Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz) and a group of her friends move into the house next door to form a hard-partying sorority, Kappa Nu. Things are complicated further when Teddy (Zac Efron), leader of the fraternity from the first film, returns to assist Shelby in forming a successful sorority as retribution for his past grievances with Mac and Kelly.

Whilst it is pleasant to see a film attempt to challenge the male-centric domination of certain establishments across the educational system, it is repeatedly brought up that fraternities are allowed to host parties whilst sororities cannot, the attempts to highlight sexism and prejudices within the collegial system are undermined by the limited scope of the movie. Bad Neighbours 2 can’t help but feel like a re-tread of the first film, only this time attempting to highlight certain unfair and unwarranted treatment that women can still face. This isn’t a negative but there isn’t enough new material to keep the action fresh. Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne are a pair of the most charming actors working today and I wish Byrne had been given more content with which to showcase her talents. As much as I enjoy Rogen’s energetic displays one of my favourite aspects of the first film was Byrne’s performance and I felt that with so many different characters now in the sequel she was given the short end of the stick whilst others got a more prominent focus. Zac Efron had something of a breakout role with the first film, establishing himself as a talented comedic actor, this time round having seen what he can do his performance is a little bit underwhelming though it may be that the material he is working with is somewhat limited. Whist the previous film felt very fluid this sequel feels like a series of sequences that were written first, with a connecting line constructed as an afterthought. The two writers from the previous feature (Andrew J. Cohen & Brendan O’Brien) are again credited, but with three other writers also receiving credit (Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg & director Nicholas Stoller) which may explain the sense of incoordination the movie has at times. The newcomers of the sorority are somewhat of a mixed bag humour wise. Moretz doesn’t really get much comedic material with her actions carrying the drama of the film, her constant battle to maintain a sorority without having to resort to conforming to male expectancy of what a sorority should be is admirable, but It would have been nice for her to have a few more comic moments that maybe defined her character a little more beyond her battle for individualism.

After all is said Bad Neighbours 2 has a few funny gags, and some charming characters, but is not as entertaining or prolific as its predecessor. As a passable 90 minute romp you could do worse, or if you haven’t seen the first Bad Neighbours just watch that instead as it’s a lot funnier.

2/5

Review by Alexander Halsall

Ratchet & Clank

Based on the popular video game series of the same name, revolving around a ‘somewhat fox like creature’ and his partnership with a robot. Ratchet and Clank is brought to the big screen by Rainmaker Entertainment, responsible for a lot of the straight to DVD/on demand Barbie films of the last decade. Having made the jump to cinematic releases in 2013’s Escape to Planet Earth, with reasonable financial success, their follow up is an attempt to adapt one of gaming’s most successful pairings of the 21st Century.

Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor), a Lombax, is a mechanic with dreams of achieving big things by joining the Galactic Rangers, led by his hero Captain Qwark (Jim Ward). However Chairmen Drek (Paul Giamatti), the leader of the Blarg, is destroying planets whilst building an unstoppable robot army led by his henchman Victor Von Ion (Slyvester Stallone), but due to a system error one of the robots created is Clank (David Kaye) a diminutive being who wishes to seek out and warn the Galactic Rangers of what is about to happen.

Immediately it becomes apparent that, despite some great efforts on the part of the design team, the budget impacts on the overall quality of the films aesthetic. Rather than feeling like a big screen adaptation of a videogame it feels like a high cost cut-scene, impressive on an XBOX one but not in a cinema. The film’s eponymous pair are likeable with the enthusiastic Ratchet contrasting charmingly with the robotic Clank, but they feel less like individualistic characters and come across as poor imitations of what we have seen before. As “cute” as Clank is he is not as funny or well designed as Baymax, or as emotive and endearing as Wall-e and he holds nothing like the depth and complexity of a character like The Iron Giant. With some marquee names in the cast, combined with veteran voice actors from the videogame series, the performances are large, enthusiastic and energetic, doing the maximum amount possible with the limited quality of the script and story. Co-written by Kevin Munroe, T.J Fixman and Gerry Swallow they attempt to draw humour through breaking the fourth wall but Sadly despite a few admittedly well written gags, the best of which younger children won’t enjoy anyway, Ratchet and Clank is a rather drab replay of better films.

In the age of animated brilliance we currently find ourselves within you can’t simply turn up with a few decent gags and an unoriginal plot and expect to get a return. The excuse of being “Just for Kids” doesn’t apply anymore when you consider how successful animation has been at appealing to all ages, something it should always aim to do. As proof the fantastic Zootropolis is currently the highest grossing film of 2016, sitting just shy of $1,000,000,000 worldwide gross. Should we expect an inexperienced studio, with a limited budget, to match the work of Disney? No, But is it wrong to want Ratchet and Clank to not take the easy options with its storytelling, to try and reach a little higher? The movie doesn’t completely lack humour; it’s got a colourful design, an inoffensive tone and charming lead characters to make it a passable experience. But in a world of Disney, Laika, Pixar, Dreamworks, Ghibli, Aardman, Illumination and countless other talented animation studios passable just isn’t enough.

2/5

Review by Alexander Halsall