“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.

 

Best Films of 2016

With 2017 well and truly underway I wanted to take one look back at the impressive body of work 2016 had to offer and put forward a selection of the films that I consider to be my favourites of the year. Firstly, I should make clear that I haven’t seen everything that I would have wished to from 2016, and I have some catching up to do on titles such as Green Room, Sing Street, The Neon Demon, The Assassin, High Rise and some others that I missed throughout the year. I’ve heard great things about these movies, but haven’t found the time to see them yet. Despite this it was still difficult to edit my list down to what I considered to be a reasonable 25 film shortlist of my personal favourites of 2016, leaving no room for movies I enjoyed like Deadpool, Finding Dory, Rogue One, Dr Strange or Nerve, amongst others, due to the high standard set this year. (Note: A couple of the films on this list were not released in the UK until 2017, but I caught preview screenings some weeks back which allowed me to slip them in on a technicality).

 

*      10 Cloverfield Lane

*      A Monster Calls

*      Arrival

*      Bone Tomahawk

*      Captain America: Civil War

*      Central Intelligence

*      The Conjuring 2

*      Deepwater Horizon

*      The Edge of Seventeen

*      Hail, Caesar!

*      Kubo and the Two Strings

*      Kung Fu Panda 3

*      I, Daniel Blake

*      The Jungle Book

*      Manchester by the Sea

*      The Mermaid

*      Midnight Special

*      Moana

*      The Nice Guys

*      Pete’s Dragon

*      Star Trek: Beyond

*      Sully

*      Tale of Tales

*      The Witch

*      Zootropolis

 

My final list contains a healthy contrast of genre and style that outlines the best of what this year had to offer. 18 of the films that made the cut were original movies, showing that despite a popular notion that original cinema has died there are still outstanding new ideas out there. Whilst the 7 remakes/sequels that made my list were creative and engaging, made with a passion to tell a new story using established characters. From socially conscious drama’s such as I, Daniel Blake to the bombastic spectacle of Star Trek: Beyond there was a lot to celebrate at the movies in 2016. I hope you found plenty to like, as I did, and that 2017 can live up to, and hopefully excel, this year in film.

“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.

Women in Cinema, or not as the case may be.

They say that a wise man knows what he knows and knows what he doesn’t know, and by “they” I mean Tywin Lannister whose quote I just paraphrased the shizz out of. Most of the time I consider it important to relegate my views if I am aware that my knowledge of a certain subject is limited. What do I think of the 1973 standoff at Wounded Knee? I don’t know, I’m not a Native American and I know little of their culture or history (Though if I was a Native American I’m fairly-confident my tribal name would be Tickles with Badgers). I know I’m not a woman, therefore I try and avoid gender politics like the plague. Do I have an opinion about women’s rights to an abortion? Yes, but it’s about as integral as a koala’s opinions about scuba diving. It’s flattering you’ve taken an interest in my view, but how does the perspective of anyone who doesn’t have a uterus really factor into this? However, something has been bothering me for a few years now and if you read the title of the article then I imagine you are already ahead of me on this, so well played. Women’s role in cinema, or the lack of it. If art reflects life, then the underrepresentation of women in critical roles within the film industry is worrying, right? It’s not just me?

The majority of producers, screenwriters, cinematographers and composers who work within film are men. Whereas the most worrying lack of female representation may be in the director’s chair, something which isn’t acceptable. If there is a symbol of creative power within film it is with that of the director. Their vision and interpretation is usually the most important, well at least in principal photography. So, you can imagine how supremely puzzled I am by the frankly alarming minority of female filmmakers in cinema. It’s a well-known piece of film trivia that Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, 2009) is the only woman to ever win an Oscar for best director, but I’m frankly more worried that only four women have ever been nominated for the prize period. Forty years ago Lina Wertmuller became the first female to be nominated in the category, and since then we have seen an average of one woman nominated per decade. It’s not just the Oscars that fail to nominate women, the Palme D’or a symbol of filmmaking that considers itself a supporter of the artist, of being a purer representation of cinematic brilliance than the more politically motivated Academy Awards, is guilty of falling short in honouring female directors. Only Jane Campion (The Piano, 1993) has won the prize. To put it in perspective Ken Loach (the winner of the Palme D’or, 2016) has won the award twice. On the dippy French award ceremony scoreboard it currently reads Ken Loach 2 – Women 1, and it’s not Ken Loach’s fault (He’s a lovely guy). Should we dismiss the Academy Awards as a frivolous exercise of film politics? Well, yes. But this award ceremony represents the face of mainstream western cinema and the lack of female recognition (and African-American for that matter, but that’s another issue to get really angry about in another article) is a symptom of cinema as a whole. If there are no female directors, then how do you nominate them?

To grasp how truly one sided the spectrum is I set myself the task of naming as many male directors as I could in fifteen minutes without the aid of the internet, and then replicated the task with female directors. My memory with names if pretty good and I have what I would consider to be a better than average knowledge of filmmakers. The result was a staggering 200 – 13 landslide victory to the guys, and frankly I struggled for 13. To get to that I had to include Madonna and Leni Riefenstahl on the list, meaning 15% of my female directors consisted of Madonna and Nazis. If anyone out there can perform the same task and get a more equal result to prove me wrong then please do so. Seriously, if you can name 100 female directors, in fact even 50, without the aid of the internet in 15 minutes then have a pint on me, you’ve earned it.

So how do we solve this problem? I haven’t got a definitive answer, and all I can say is that we support our filmmakers with pride. For all the depressing as balls statistics I’ve been throwing down there is still a phenomenal talent pool of great and aspiring female directors (Who aren’t Madonna, or a Nazi) and with their every success the likelihood of more women being given the opportunity to express themselves through cinema increases. In Britain we have the likes of Sam Taylor-Johnson (50 Shades of Grey) and Amma Asante (Belle), across the Atlantic there are Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation), Ava DuVernay (Selma) and the Wachowski’s (The Matrix). Jennifer Kent scared me silly with her debut feature The Babadook, whilst in animation women like Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda 2 & 3) and Jennifer lee (Frozen) have been given the opportunity to make their mark on cinema history and have done so by making some damn good movies. Actors such as Angelina Jolie (Unbroken) and Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 2) have taken their experience from working in front of the camera and have started to experiment as film-makers, hopefully more will join them. These are just a handful of the names out there, there are more but not as many as there should be.

What I wanted to highlight with all this was the current blight on the state of film, without coming off condescending. These filmmakers I’ve listed above have achieved amazing things and I don’t want to patronise their accomplishments, they don’t need me to tell them how fantastic they are. But I can’t ignore this problem and I don’t want others to do so either. Cinema has too long been a male enforced medium, catering to a male audience, which is extra stupid if you live in a country that has more women than men (Like I do), and it’s time for that to end. There clearly needs to be more opportunities for women to get behind the camera and show us what they can do because I am more than certain that the talent and the will to use it is there, and we need to create an environment that can allow them the chance to thrive. In the age of Trump, May and Brexit (No matter what your political affiliations may be) we can still be more diverse than in the past, we can still make progress, we can still change for the better. Now I’m off to watch Kung Fu Panda 2, A. Because it’s topical and B. Because it’s a damn fun movie.

This Wasn’t written, it was scribbled with style by Alexander Halsall