Monday, 17 April 2017

The Boss Baby Review

The Boss Baby - Certificate PG, 97 mins, Dreamworks Animation.

Moana, Trolls, Zootropolis, Kubo and The Two Strings, The Secret Life Of Pets - 2016 was the crème-da-la-creme year for inventive animation (with the exception of Finding Dory, a middling retread, sucked down into its own current of over-hyped mediocrity). 2017 had an excellent start too, with Sing!, a zany, astutely allegorical take on the saturation of talent/reality television.
  The Boss Baby is another, less overtly political satire of sorts (the much-publicised similarity between the appearance of the titular toddler and a certain extreme political polariser is notable, but most likely coincidental). Many reviews have also rightly made immediate comparisons with the recent Storks, the animated feature from Warner Bros. last autumn. However, whereas that had its cheery cherubs delivered by carrier-pigeon, here it’s via the prolific mode of multiplicity: automated, factory-line infancy through means of corporate manufacture. This is amusingly rendered in an early sequence, where each is customarily equipped with dummy (sorry, pacifier) and a liberal sprinkling of talcum powder, before being categorised into either: ‘Family’ or ‘Business’ - fondly reminiscent of the same studio’s soldier/worker scenario in 1998’s Antz. When a mix-up sends the slick ‘bundle of ploy’ to the apparent normality of the Templeton’s dappled suburbia, his cutesy act fools everyone but his older brother Tim, especially as his most secret is rumbled: he can talk! He’s a ruthless dolly-dictator, with the dulcet tones of Alec Baldwin, in the midst of a career resurgence, again playing a character who revels in moral ambivalence; it’s a gleefully sarcastic performance. Also very strong and funny are Lisa Kudrow (Friends’ Phoebe, also making a comeback of interesting supporting choices - this and Girl On The Train), and this year’s fated Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel, as Tim’s parents, by turns oblivious and flustered. The script is strewn with clever in-jokes of self-referentiality, spoofing everything from Fellowship Of The Ring to Raiders Of The Lost Ark, with an aesthetic which, at its most fantastical is straight out of The Incredibles. It’s a Dreamworks animation - those trademark, expressive, inimitably plastic faces. The film it reminded me the most of theirs, was 2010’s far better superhero-centric Megamind. But, this is light, bright fun, with powerhouse Hans Zimmer’s heartfelt arrangement of Lennon and McCartney’s Blackbird.

Rating: * * *

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Saturday, 8 April 2017

Power Rangers

Power Rangers, 12A, 124 mins. Approx, Lionsgate.

Blockbusters either based on, or as a result of the synergy of toy merchandising are a prolific, if not always lucrative, cinematic staple. Transformers, G.I. Joe, not to mention Disney characters and Marvel and DC’s innumerable gaggle of superheros. Is it the factory-production of money-spinning cynicism, or simply the desire of filmmakers to re-imagine established franchises in a new way for each generation?
  For this latest entry into the canonical pantheon, Power Rangers, popular consensus seems to favour the former. The vast majority of reviews have been terrible, dismissing it as a shallow, cookie-cutter cash-in. But the reason the notion of these remakes appeals to me so much, is to see how they’re interpreted and refreshed in terms of tone, stylistic choices, ideas and invention - how different are they from previous versions - if possible, even original?
  I thought this was a fun, bright revisionist update of one of my favourite TV series as a nineties child. These reboots always work best when they encapsulate an evocation of childhood. So for reasons of nostalgic posterity, it worked for me - I had a figurine of the Blue Ranger years ago!
 It takes a long time (almost three-quarters of the film) for the characters to become those florescent, publicity-adorned heroes, and actually put the suits on. Up until then, it’s mainly the U.S. high-school teen mixture of camaraderie and angst, (but, this happens to be one of my favourite sub-genres, particularly in nineties comedies). Also, the flip-side of this is that several relevant, contemporary issues for the characters are allowed to be raised liberally, without being treated as too heavy-handed.
The young cast are promising, if a little soapy (Dacre Montgomery as Jason, The Red Ranger, is a doppelganger for a young Zac Efron). There are some great supporting performances - Elizabeth Banks is wonderfully evil as the aptly named megalomaniac space-villain, Rita Repulsa, and a digitally enhanced Bryan Cranston lends his inspirationally dulcet tones. The climactic action and effects are well-staged (with an occasional burst of the original theme-tune), but it does descend into a rather overblown Transformers battle towards the end. Enjoyable, and left open for a sequel…

Rating: * * *

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