Sunday, 13 August 2017

The Emoji Movie Review

The Emoji Movie, Certificate: U, 87 mins, Sony Pictures Animation.

The majority of 2017’s been a very dicey year for animation. Sing was absolutely excellent: Stunningly animated, stirringly plotted, and had universally well-judged performances and fantastic soundtrack choices.
  But alas, the real comedic purple-patch of smarts in Moana, Trolls and Zootropolis wasn’t to last.
  Despecible Me 3 was yet another noisy test of patience, Cars 3 trod more retread in narrative than any tread generated by those iconic red and black tyres - and I thought the current shameless endorsement of mega-hit Lego conversions (Lego Movie, Lego Batman, and forthcoming Ninjago) couldn’t descend into becoming any more cynical…
  However, it seems I’ve been franchising under a pixelated mis‘app’rehension. Deliberately arriving just in time for the summer holidays, is the trudging Emoji Movie. Those horribly addictive squares, faces and symbols of pointless vacuousness that occupy and manipulate our every single second, now it seems occupy and manipulate the multiplexes.
  Pixar made what was reportedly one of their in 2015: Inside Out, a Technicolour dreamscape of a little girl’s subconscious scene through the corporate prism of emotion. Personally I found it to be drawn-out and needlessly over-sentimentalised.
  At least this - tedious and product-placed to within a data-stream of its digitally collated life though it is - feels lighter in tone.
  Although never in its erratic pacing, as we dawdle with Gene (voiced with pep by TJ Miller), a ‘meh’ Emoji who feels he’s lost his identity. Though how he’ll find it in this not-at-all surprisingly unfunny mess which features a knight of the realm (Sir Patrick Stewart), voicing virtual excrement - I’ll luckily never know.
  Some performances however are fantastic. It’s completely stolen by the Bridesmaids character who had similar toileting emergencies of her own - Maya Rudolph - as a great villain. Smiler is a face with an unrelentingly eternal grin and a taste for metal instruments like the dentist in Marathon Man. She deletes futile emojis…
The vast range of their assortment, could’ve been pushed far more, with Ice-Cream on every poster; barely getting a line. The voice cast are great, including Christina Aguleria, doing a song too, but none of the young audience laughed! 

Rating: * * 

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Wednesday, 2 August 2017

England Is Mine

England Is Mine - Certificate 15, 94 mins, Entertainment One / Hanway Films.

Starring: Jack Lowden, Jessica Brown-Findley, Graeme Hawley, Adam Lawrence, Finney Cassidy, Simone Kirby and Laurie Kynaston.

When Control, the audacious, starkly black-and-white, uncompromisingly fragmented account of Joy Division front-man Ian Curtis; proved to be the refreshing British sleeper-hit of 2007, this was thanks largely to Sam Riley’s completely transcendent performance as Curtis.
  That film, not only firmly established Riley (Maleficent, the BBC’s brilliant SS-GB, and Jack Kerouac in Walter Sallis’s brilliantly observed On The Road) as one of the most excellent, unique screen-presences of any generation, but it was also produced by Orian Williams.
  Williams, also produces England Is Mine, a much-anticipated biopic of another similarly enigmatic and troubled iconoclast - the eponymous Morrisey.
  Jack Lowden stars as the drably disparaging teenager. Director Mark Gill firmly posits Morrisey as an outcast, an idiosyncratic misfit, longing silently to break free from seventies socialism and the omnipresent orange of kitchen wallpaper and menial domesticity.
  Stuck in a life unfulfilled by paper-pushing and a total lack of pro-active drive, the equally direction-less, somewhat meandering structure of the film (although maybe that was the meta-intention; of form mirroring content to reflect his conflicted state of mind), - is represented from Morrisey’s perspective - through which, we meet an array of characters who’re intermittant throughout his adolescence in seventies Manchester.
  These include some excellent performances from Coronation Street’s serial killing English teacher John Stape - Graeme Hawley - brilliant as Morrisey’s by-the-book but sympathetic and dryly funny boss.
  The film’s casting is also an excellent showcase for breakthrough talent: Finney Cassidy (brother of Tomorrowland’s Raffey) adds greatly effortless comic levity as one of Morrisey’s inescapably jeering co-workers. Adam Lawrence is superb as Billy - by turns mentor, then peer, then rival.
  Speaking of stars on the rise, it’s of great testament to Jack Lowden that he is in two of the years most eagerly awaited historical accounts - both released within a fortnight of each-other: this, as well as Collins, a courageous pilot in Christopher Nolan’s blistering Dunkirk - and he was also very impressive in a pivotal role in another of 2017’s very best and underrated of films and third true-life accounts: Denial - with Rachel Weisz as a holocaust professor. He’s obviously drawn to true-life projects; look out for him as Lord Darnley in the Donmar Warehouse theatre’s artistic director Josie Rourke’s film of Mary Queen Of Scots.
  The screenplay, never quite allows Lowden to really obtain the ambiguous, lost heart of the reluctant protagonist, but with a body of work as eclectic as that behind him, the film is surely in the running for the double BAFTA-nomination of the public-voted Rising Star for Lowden, as well as Best British film (just as Riley and Control did before it). Not all of the dialogue or pacing convinces, and oddly, all but two of Morrisey’s monotone songs are deliberately absent - but it’s a fascinating interpretation of an illusive talent.

Rating: * * *

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Monday, 31 July 2017

Dunkirk Review

Dunkirk - 12A, 106 Mins, Warner Bros/Syncopy.

Starring: Fionn Whitehead, Aneurin Barnard, Tom Glynn-Carney, Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden, Sir Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles, Billy Howle, Sir Micheal Caine, and Sir Mark Rylance.

Christopher Nolan’s use of minimal GCI, no green/blue-screen, 70mm film as opposed to digital, all on gargantuan IMAX cameras - always achieves an epic scale; glossy, crisp, striking authenticity which is now the hallmark of his work - and instantly recognisable.
  Even when he’s operating within the most elaborate narratological perametres: memory (Memento), murder (Insomnia), magic (The Prestige), seminal, heroic sagas (The Dark Knight Trilogy), the human subconscious (Inception), or Interstellar: Structure, tone, time, and perspective, are either foregrounded or subverted - without ever being overshadowed by the innovative techniques implemented.
  In many ways, Dunkirk, is his most avuncular work: stripped-down, back-to-basics, viscerally intense, extremely immersive and authentic - his most conventional, risky, and both utterly subjective and objective, simultainiously - without ever losing that customary quality of being superbly mounted and staged.
  As a writer, his polished screenplay remains as knowingly sparse and cut-to-the-quick as ever. Nolan’s stated his intention was to make a suspenseful survival story - not a war film.
  Instead, Nolan frames a stunningly realised technical achievement of placing the audience on those fateful dunes, in the frenetic cockpit, or on a submerging ship - with land, air and sea each being represented through their increasingly tense timelines - to absolutely stunning effect.
  All performances are excellent. Fionn Whitehead infuses integrity as the lead soldier, the much-hyped casting of a solid Harry Styles completes the trio; it’s Aneurin Barnard’s almost mute Gibson, who really stands out. Barnard, has such a depth of soulful intensity of pathos in his eyes - (ITV’s Cilla, and BBC’s brilliant SS-GB).
  Tom Glynn-Carney is especially gripping as Peter, the eldest son of the unassuming Mr. Dawson (subtly, exceptionally played by the king of humble humility in acting classicism: Mark Rylance). Rylance may end up fighting it out with a precise Kenneth Branagh, or conflicted PTSD soldier Cillian Murphy for Supporting Actor accolades.
  As should Hoyte Van Hoytema’s peerless cinematography. Blistering aerial set-pieces, mean real spitfires fill the screen, with Tom Hardy’s pilot adding gravitas as always.
Image result for dunkirk landscape poster  This is all enhanced tenfold, by Hans Zimmer’s inimitably propulsive, perpetual thrum of score; ratcheting up the tension even further. Fantastic, extremely slickly assured, profoundly emotionally prescient - a leviathan piece of bravura filmmaking. 

Rating: * * * * *

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Thursday, 13 July 2017

Spider-Man 6: Homecoming

Spider-Man Homecoming, 12A, 133 mins. Marvel Studios.

Starring: Tom Holland, Micheal Keaton, Robert Downey Jr, Marisa Tomei, Donald Glover, Logan Marshall-Green, John Favreau, Chris Evans, Tony Revolli & Gwyneth Paltrow.

The sixth movie, third reboot in 15 years, and third casting change (after intentionally meek Tobey Maguire with Sam Raimi (2000-2008) and the nervy, captivating Andrew Garfield (2010-2015 with the aptly named Marc Webb (500) Days Of Summer).
  Garfield still remains my favourite actor in the role, but crucially I think the original Raimi Trilogy (2002-2007) are far better films than any that have followed subsequently. This has very little to do with Maguire’s performance ironically enough, and has far more to to do with his always excellent, conflicted, soulful foil - James Franco as Harry Osbourne, who worked with Raimi again, playing the titular magician in 2013’s outstanding revisionist origin-reboot Oz: The Great And Powerful. Not to mention a maniacally-cackling Willem Dafoe as his father in that trilogy - the fantastic, gleefully vengeful father and junior of Green Goblins!
  Now, with Sony’s studio-head Amy Pascal and producers Matt Tolmach & Avi Arad to change up that iconic red-and-blue web-slinger who’s adorned many a bedroom wall, billboard or bus the world over, it’s 21 year-old Tom Holland (19 when he was cast).
  Holland is very strong in the role; performatively, emotionally and physically, without ever feeling nervous or phased at all by being the webbed figurehead, and not only playing the messy duality of Peter Parker/Spider-Man, but also joining as Marvel’s property for the first time, owing to Disney and Marvel not wanting their most iconoclastic character to lose his spun strand of comic-book credentials.
  As much as I love the universe crossover with the Avengers, post-credit Easter-egg cameos (Downey Jr - tired, and Paltrow - underused, Chris Evans - funny), Jon Watts’s film doesn't retain the grandiose potency of Raimi’s trilogy, which the character had tenfold when he was on his own. Its ratio of grand-scale set pieces to zippy comedy is frustratingly unbalanced. There’s too much high-school angst, not enough origin development or chance for Holland to show nearly enough pathos.
  Micheal Keaton is effortlessly terrific as the villainous Vulture, channeling his inner Buffalo Bill. My favourite scene has a huge, yet small-scale, domesticated twist with moody cinematography and tense revelation during a deceptively convivial exchange at traffic-lights.
  There’s a well-staged van-heist, a highlight scaled up Washington monument with Micheal Giacchino’s trademark tinkly, perpetual score. Slight, but very entertaining.

Rating: * * * 

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Monday, 3 July 2017

Despicable Me 3

Certificate: U, 90 mins. Approx - Illumination Entertainment.

Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Jenny Slate, Steve Coogan and Julie Andrews.

In 2010, two ostensibly similar computer-animations were released, less than six months apart. One was Despicable Me, a colourful, family-freindly, bubblegum-plastic, synergy-tied confection of super-villainy turned good.
  The other was DreamWorks’s Megamind, a florescence-filled delight of heroics, colour, and super-villainy turned…well, you get the very cynicism-orientated idea by now, I’m sure…
  But my cynicism is well-placed - never more so than here - in this heavy, languid, broadly-bogged-down third installment. The first song used lazily here - Micheal Jackson’s Bad - is in fact the last one used in Megamind, and to much the same effect - though it’s not nearly as charming.
  From here on in the narrative and stylistic similarity is so shamelessly staggering - I’m surprised DreamWorks don’t sue - I’m sure they’d have a good case. The main difference being of course, that where  Megamind was funny, inventive and light as the frothiest soufflĂ©, this feels increasingly tired and lumpen, a formula cooked up in those perpetually endless metallic corridors these characters are forever running down.
  This is a polarising opinion, but I just don’t find those awful yellow minions the slightest bit funny. Like the worst kind of hyperactive offspring, they never shut up! Not that this bothered the many delighted faces in my screening. Never before have I seen so many children so easily and simultainiously pleased, with every flatulence-gun fired or raspberry blown. I suppose the intention was to hark back to a cross between The Marx Bros. and Bananas in Pajarmas - if so, the filmmakers missed the mark widely.
  What works far better is the much needed lightness-of-touch from Pharrell Williams. Making everybody ‘Happy’ back in 2013, and ‘Frozen-out’ to an Oscar - (maybe he’s Let It Go) - he’s back here, with songs that cleverly help reference a slew of other films. His infectious anthem ‘Freedom’ is a great ode to The Shawshank Redemption - as well as an America’s Got Talent style sing-off of The Periodic Table Song. (It’s same studio that made Sing - infinitely better). Good performances from Kristen Wiig, Jenny Slate and Julie Andrews, can’t save it from its own gloopy brand of unoriginality.

Rating: * *

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Thursday, 22 June 2017

My Cousin Rachel

My Cousin Rachel, 12A, 106 mins, BBC Films.

Starring: Sam Claflin, Rachel Weisz, Iain Glen, Holliday Grainger, Vikki Pepperdine.

Director Roger Michell, whose eclectic output ranges from culture-clash rom-com classic Notting Hill, to two sets of circumstances where strangers meeting turns deadly, in both Changing Lanes and Ian McEwan’s terrific chimera Enduring Love - the only role for me, that Daniel Craig ever suited - controversial I know! But true, I assure you.
 Strangers seemingly exuding a deceptive benevolence, is a thematic strand which carries through to this latest adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s classic. An author who revels in suggested and suggestive subtext, the phrase: ‘reading between the lines’ has never been more vitally important. This also applies particularly here, as the dialogue is far too modern for whenever the elusive period may be. Would sniping retorts of ‘God knows’ really have been repeated as both readily and casually as they are here?
  What is kept intact, is the continuous motif of sickness, poisoning, secret rendezvous by shadowy candlelight - and all-important pathetic fallacy.
  Rachel Weisz plays the morally capricious Mrs. Danvers figure, the titular Rachel - under suspicion, and soon a - severely underpowered - seduction from young Philip - played stoically by Sam Claflin.
Claflin’s having a huge year thanks to being excellent here, stealing the privileged show in the Posh adaptation, the exceptional The Riot Club in 2014, and receiving rave reviews for the redeemed reporter in Their Finest - surely a nomination for the only public-voted catagory of the EE Rising Star award in February 2018 is long-overdue?
  Speaking of nominations, Weisz is surely one of the earliest predictions for a statuette in awards season next year. She’s one of the most poised, precise, brilliant actresses of her generation - very underrated, a personal favourite of mine, also fantastic and similarly ‘wicked as they come’ as Evanora in 2013’s Oz, and Denial as holocaust Professor Deborah Lipschadt.
  She calibrates the camera to her changing gaze magnificently here. She is by turns obliging, nervy and keen-to-please, but as soon as Michell’s frame pans ominously around staircases or dimly lit rooms where endlessly suspicions cups of something horrible are sipped and served, she switches on a sixpence to conniving and coldly manipulative. But even the increasingly desperate Rachel couldn’t stoop to murdering her husband - could she…?

Rating: * * *

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Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Wonder Woman Review

Wonder Woman, 12A, 141 mins, DC/Warner Bros.

Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Danny Huston, David Thewlis, Lucy Davis.

Wonder Woman, immortalized by a spinning Lynda Carter in the seventies kitsch TV series, has now become the talk of Hollywood, after a much protracted, golden-lassoed quantum leap, into the twenty-first century.
  Director Patty Jenkins has already made history by being the first female director ever to oversee a multi-million dollar production.
  It’s a confident, rich, twisty, stylish, highly enjoyable addition to the superhero canon. Forget gods vs. humans, DC Vs. Marvel has been waging its own needless war for a couple of years now, thanks to DC’s latest incarnation, with the terrific Batman Vs. Superman - much maligned for its doomy posturing, but I thought it was hugely accomplished.
The reception wasn’t much better for Suicide Squad, perfectly enjoyable, but all over the place structurally. But I liked the riskier, edgier take both of these (reboots of sorts) took; albeit never hoping to reach the stirringly crescendoed heights of Nolan and Bale - or original multiplex-charm of Reeve.
  This structural meandering is jettisoned - but in creating a more streamlined screenplay - convention mostly - but doesn’t always, favour customary thrills.  
  Gal Gadot is a very strong choice for the role, but so much was made of the fact that its the first female superhero, that the more her back-story is revealed, the more earnest & rightfully empowering she becomes. The humour doesn't always work - with cliche not meaning irony. (Jasper Carrott’s daughter, Lucy Davis, is given the completely thankless comic relief).
  What works far better is the villainy. Danny Huston (brother of Angelica, uncle to Jack (Ben-Hur, American Hustle), son of John and grandson of Walter), is consistently convincing - from Hitchcock to Magic City and Origins: Wolverine. Here, he’s a gleefully maniacal antagonist, working with the disfigured, aptly named Dr. Poison - a genuinely unnerving, extraordinary performance from Elena Anaya - the Joker equivalent of WWI.
David Thewlis steals the show, playing moral ambiguity to the hilt, again (Lupin in Harry Potter, (Earthworm in James And The Giant Peach, Dragonheart).
The speed-ramped action and effects are very impressive, particularly in the first third - set on the Amazonian idyll.
Chris Pine always makes smart choices, and the incomparable Lindy Hemming’s costumes are a delight - similarly to the film - they’re a master-class in intricacy.

Rating: * * *
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