Friday, 17 March 2017

'Beauty and the Beast' (2017) Review: Magic Brought To Life

Big Screen Watch: I got enough new material out of the new Beauty and the Beast that made it worth seeing on the big screen.
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is the latest animated classic to get the live action treatment. While some might see it as a soulless cash in on nostalgia, others will revel in the chance to see a new spin on the tale as old as time. Personally, I’m not offended by Disney’s live action remakes. I see them as cinematic stage plays, giving a story I once knew, new life.

‘Beauty and the Beast’ is not the riskiest of remakes. Much of the film is a loving recreation of its source material. That love can be overbearing at times, as you sit in the theatre wondering what you’re getting that you couldn’t with the original picture. The places where it does make changes are a welcome break from its slavish adaptation, that is at best, a touching reminder of what you once knew, and at worst, an embarrassing imitation.

Embarrassing, and slightly unnerving.
The most consistent part of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, is how stunning it is to look at. Particularly the Beast’s enchanted castle, and all its inhabitants. The characters lose their animated charm, but what they gain is an impressive amount of heart. When the objects talk of the lives they led before they became furniture, it rings truer coming from what looks like a candlestick, than a cartoon.

The translation isn’t always effective. Most notably in the part of Gaston, played by Luke Evans, whose larger than life character is underserved by Evans’ humanity. That’s not the fault of Evans, it’s just, there’s no one quite like Gaston. Still, humanity is the key to this adaptation, as the film adds a touching connection to the characters that dare I say improved upon the original.

Yeah I said it. I'll be outside. Waiting. 
Kevin Kline's role as Belle's father Maurice is the chief example of this. A man who seemed insane even before his ramblings of a monstrous beast. Under Kline's care, he became a genuine character. One with heart, quirks, and identity. If only the same could be said for the depiction of Lefou.

Played by Josh Gad, Lefou is Disney's first depiction of an openly gay character in a major motion picture. Josh Gad is charming as Gaston's most loyal friend, and sidekick. He makes you laugh, and when seen in live action, the sheer abuse he takes has a certain dark humour to it. Unfortunately, his over the top performance is a faithful one, but considering the character's newly revealed identity, can be uncomfortable, bordering on stereotype at times.

Of course, the main attractions are the Beauty, played by Harry Potter’s Emma Watson, and the Beast, played by Legion’s Dan Stevens. Watson carries the frustration of her character’s plight beautifully and gives Belle an admirable strength. Stevens gives the Beast the one thing he’d been missing all along. A character to care about. The remake does one thing remarkably well and gives the somewhat questionable romance an air of legitimacy.

Less of the Stockholm Syndrome vibes. Way more Beastiality vibes. It's a trade off. 
Was ‘Beauty and the Beast’ worth the price of admission? I’m inclined to say yes. It’ll take you back to how you felt the first time you watched it, and pepper in a few new things to keep it feeling fresh. Watching Belle talk to her horse was charming in a cartoon, but laughable in this version. Still, gaffes like that are minor and don't take away from the overall joy of watching magic come to life.

Rating: Big Screen Watch

Saturday, 11 March 2017

'Kong Skull Island' (2017) Review: The Bigger The Better

Half Price: Excellent for what it is, and it never aims higher than that. A fun summer movie before the summer.
The eighth wonder of the world is back in theatres this week. I can’t count the number of times King Kong has graced the silver screen, but ‘Kong Skull Island’ is his latest, but not the greatest. This modern take on the classic film is set in a post-Vietnam war 1973. The perfect time period to find military presence in the south pacific. The very same region of Skull Island. Scientist and opportunist Bill Randa, played by John Goodman, decides to make use of that presence, and charter a "research expedition" on Skull Island itself. Once they get there, they must survive the land of monsters, and chief of all, Kong himself.

Much like Godzilla in the 2014 film of the same name, Kong is more or less a force of nature in this film. His savagery is what comes across in this iteration. There are still hints of humanity to the giant ape, especially since Kong spends most of his time on two legs instead of four. However, even that is used to juxtapose Kong’s brutal nature against the very humans who fear him. There’s a running theme of “who are the real monsters?” running through the film. For those seeking a deep dissertation, search elsewhere. The film doesn't want to be anything more than a fun popcorn movie.

Introspective Kong is so 2005.

There are other ideas at play, even using the adventure as an allegory for the United States mentality after losing the Vietnam War. Samuel Jackson’s character ‘Preston Packard’ is the avatar for this idea, but it’s never developed organically. Instead, characters in ‘Kong Skull Island’ react to things like no human genuinely would. There’s no sense of genuine shock and awe when they’re made aware of giant monstrous creatures, and if there is it’s short lived. I was taken out of the movie several times by the characters, whose behaviour in the situation felt less probable than the 100-foot ape fighting lizard monsters.

Thankfully said fights are indeed epic and save the film from its less than compelling characters. I wouldn't say the entire cast is wasted, but the ones who we deal with for the majority of the film are the most grating. Tom Hiddleston plays a badass as boring as he is brutal, and Samuel L Jackson is a caricature. Every time I wanted to be done with them, the monsters would fight again. And all was well. A lesson is learned from 2014's 'Godzilla' as the monster v monster action is treated as the main course, rather than a side dish.

Let them fight....away from us so we can't see it.
Kong Skull Island grapples between just the right amount of cheese, to enough to make you wish you were lactose intolerant. It reminded me of Jurassic World. A sci-fi monster B movie, with a AAA budget. Which, if you ask me is a winning combination. Especially with a movie as artful as this one. Allegory aside, the film makes great use of scale and is content to let the camera do what it's supposed to. There aren't a lot of cuts to the action scenes, just sweeping shots and pans that give the film's most captivating moments a sense of fluidity.

Credit should also go to the film's cinematographer and sound team. The visuals are striking, with colour grading that makes the film pop, and uses the dense jungle and 70s aesthetic perfectly. The sound was also used creatively, with physical objects in the film synchronised with musical cues. At certain points, it was like an OK GO music video, which sounds like it would be out of place, but 'Kong Skull Island' makes it work.

Of course, this scene set the bar for it
Last night, within the first 20 minutes of the film, I saw a giant ape throw helicopters into each other, to a 1970s classic rock soundtrack. I also saw characters that made me laugh, both with them and at them. It is a monster movie with light scares, moments that thrill, and at its worst, it’s the type of bad that’s easy to have fun with. I can’t imagine a better way to watch this film, than at half price, with a huge crowd, cheering on as giant monsters fight each other.

Rating: Half-Price

Monday, 6 March 2017

Movie Money: Episode 14

This week saw the release of the biggest film of the year so far. While Lego Batman and John Wick duked it out for as long as they could, it was 'Logan' that truly dominated the weekend box office, pulling in a whopping $88.4 million dollars. That's more than half of the domestic takings of the last Wolverine solo film and has already made nearly a quarter of a billion worldwide. The swan song of the most violent X-Man is certainly a hit.

The rest of the box office did not do as well, but still faired decently. Especially in the case of Jordan Peele's 'Get Out', which only dropped one slot in its second weekend. Coming in at number 2, and bringing its gross to $78 million, with a budget of only $4.5. It's the second horror movie this year to continuously hold its own, with 'Split' having a very similar trajectory. Continuing with the top 5, number 3 was held by 'The Shack', a movie you've either never heard of or forgot about completely, but had an audience somewhere, since it brought in $16 million. Finally 'The Lego Batman Movie' at number 4, and 'John Wick Chapter Two' at number 5, continue to be contenders, with $11 million and $4 million respectively.

For a conversation on the weekend box office, here's this week's show:
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Wednesday, 1 March 2017

'Logan' Review: A Superhero Movie Your Dad Will Like

Very High Big Screen Watch: Go see it. Right now. Not for kids.
2009 saw the release of 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine'. A movie that has been called one of the worst superhero movies of all time. By me. Several times. Despite that movie's critical failure, there was the release of 'The Wolverine' back in 2013. James Mangold was in the director's chair, and it marked true detachment from the rest of the X-Men franchise. It seemed like a step in the right direction, albeit a half step, with a third act that brings down an otherwise stellar film. If a mostly bad movie and a mostly good movie is what had to happen to bring 'Logan' to life, the world is much better for it.

Set in the not too distant future of 2029, 'Logan' is an X-Men movie quite unlike any other. Gone are the black jumpsuits and supersonic jets. All that remains is Hugh Jackman, playing Logan for the 8th and final time. Logan must come to terms with his own mortality, something that's eluded him for the last century or so. Despite wanting nothing more than to be left alone, he's forced back into acts of heroism, when a young girl, the first mutant to be born in decades, shows up at his doorstep. Logan must take her to a place safe for their kind. One that may or may not exist.

Hopefully, it ends differently than in Mad Max Fury Road.
On that journey, you'll also find an aged and decrepit Professor Xavier, played once again by Patrick Stewart. Stewart's been playing Charles Xavier for 17 years, over the course of 6 films. It's only in this film that both he gets to show their true strengths. He's always been one of the best elements of the franchise, but his role in this movie digs a little deeper than the all knowing Professor X. The most drastic thing about 'Logan' is how much more mature it is than the other films in the franchise. It's the second X-Men film to get an R rating, but it uses it for a different kind of brutality than 2016's 'Deadpool'. 

With 'Logan' you don't root for violence. Every time Wolverine's claws come out, there's a disappointment that it couldn't be avoided. Every act of rage has weight to it. A weight which the movie takes its time to make you feel. The movie is a slow burn at times, but it's far from paced poorly. Every down moment is one where the movie serves the characters. 

You see Wolverine with a level of vulnerability not often afforded to indestructible men. Hugh Jackman plays the role with more subtlety than he ever has. He gives it an authenticity, with micro expressions that seem to just come to him naturally, and go a long way in making Logan feel real. Speaking of understated performances, 'Logan' also features a chilling performance by young Dafne Keen. She plays the young mutant under Logan's protection. Much of the movie rests on her young shoulders, but damn does she carry it. 

Her acting is as bad ass as her character. 
I was floored at several points, something usually achieved by an actions sequence. This time it was the way the movie treated its mature content. With potency that demanded sincere attention and respect. 'Logan' handles ideas of mortality, immigration, drug use and refuge with absolute class. It has a resonance that is unmatched in its field, with a story that heartbreakingly feels so close to our own reality at times. 
Although now is the perfect opportunity to have an over the top cartoon villain in your movie and call it true to life.
'Logan' is a superhero movie that almost feels like it doesn't want to be one. It's not concerned with sequels, merchandising, or continuity for that matter. It simply wants to be a good film. It's not riddled with explosions, or an end of the world plot. Its characters might be supernatural, but they feel utterly human. It's jaw-droppingly good at the things it does, and uncannily what it does is join the ranks of the greatest superhero movies of all time.  

Rating: Very High Big Screen Watch

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Most Snubbed: 7 Movies I Thought Deserved Oscars (2017 Edition)

It's time once again for the Oscars! In a historic year too. 'La La Land' has a whopping 14 nominations. Dev Patel is making genuinely great movies again. Amy Adams...wasn't nominated? Well one thing that's not historic is there are a few movies that didn't get the attention they deserved. Granted, this list was harder to curate this year because I actually think the nominations are pretty solid. Still, there are a few that I'd like to see get that golden statue. Most of these are long shots but hey, a kid can dream.

Like many people, I had no idea who Chris Pine was before Kirk. Back then, he seemed like a perfectly good actor. Maybe he'd get a superhero role, and that'd be the end of it. In the years since I didn't exactly see him breaking that mold, but he was always solid. He always seemed like he could maybe do something great. Then Hell or High Water happened. By far, his best performance and a real show of his strengths. I was hoping he'd at least get a nomination this year.

It's also the dirtiest this pretty boy has ever looked, but that's an achievement for costume design.

I think I've been in love with Amy Adams since 'Enchanted'. How could I not be. She played a real life princess. That love has only grown since then as Adams has delivered again and again with several incredible performances. I loved her in 'The Fighter', 'American Hustle', 'Doubt', 'Julie & Julia'. The list goes on and on. I also loved her in one of my favourites of last year, 'Arrival'. This year is a tough category for actresses, but I'd like to see Amy Adams immortalized for her work, and finally get the award she deserves.

I can't think of anyone better suited to be the ambassador of earth. 

You can tell I kinda liked this movie right? As with Chris Pine, I thought Ben Foster could've easily snagged this award. In fact, in making this list I realized I couldn't put up one without the other. They play off each other so well. Foster plays a raw volatile force of nature, that his brother, played by Chris Pine, must keep in check. Their roles are so dependent on that relationship, and they both deliver in spades. To see them both accept awards for that would've been perfect in my eyes.

If there were an award for best onscreen duo it'd be these two. 

I wish Queen of Katwe hadn't been so forgotten. It sort of came and went. It's solid, moving, and features yet another fantastic performance by Lupita. A nomination would've solidified the movies place in history, and maybe garnered it the attention it deserved. Beyond that, N'yongo's role as the mother of a chess wiz is an important one. One that doesn't shy away from the harsh realities of living in poverty as a woman. For all the movies that came out last year, Queen of Katwe stuck with me, because it not only showed powerful women but also powerful women of colour. Breaking perceptions of themselves, without the aid of a white saviour.

One of the greatest living actresses. 

This was probably the most pleasant surprise of 2016. I absolutely adore 10 Cloverfield Lane. A movie that is delightfully tense, grimy and severely unnerving. Its one of the only times I would use the term Hitchcockian. It has all the classic suspense elements. It's claustrophobic. Mysterious. Damn if the cast isn't pitch perfect as well. Not for nothing but Damian Chazelle, director of 'La La Land' worked on the script for this film which was brought together by Dan Trachtenberg. Watching '10 Cloverfield Lane' in a dark theatre by myself was absolutely one of my favourite experiences of 2016. Definitely worth a nomination.

I was very much afraid of John Goodman after watching this movie.

Again, one of my favourite movie-going experiences last year. The Nice Guys is just a complete thrill. Shane Black delivers on his classic style of irreverent humour with enough profanity to make Tony Montana blush. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are excellent and playing almost parodies of themselves. It wasn't just another action movie. The movie felt fresh. It dispenses with so many tropes that bog down movies of this type. It was brimming with creativity. I never expected it to get an award, but damn that would have made me smile.

Shane Black has yet to disappoint me. Even his worst movies have moments of brilliance. 

Not one of my favourite movie-going experiences last year. My absolute favourite. 'Kubo and the Two Strings' is an absolutely astonishing movie. It's a story of a young boy caring for his disabled mother. Told through an epic adventure story, as Kubo comes to terms with the responsibility that rests on his young shoulders. It's about growing up and the difficulties that come with it. I wish more movies were like Kubo. Movies that felt like they came from a place of truth. It's easy to be cynical about film. Show business is a business after all. Watching Kubo was a reminder of what movies were for. Aside from all that, it looks phenomenal. It's an incredibly beautiful film which isn't afraid of colour, and the best stop-motion animation I've ever seen. If I could see one movie win the best picture award this year, it would be 'Kubo and the Two Strings'.

If you must blink, do it now. 
As I said, it wasn't a bad selection for this year's Academy Awards. This was a year where I actually saw plenty of the movies that were nominated. Denzel will probably get another one for Fences, but Dev Patel's turn in Lion is nothing to sneeze at. If it goes to Gosling, they should burn the building to the ground. Same goes for if Viola Davis doesn't get her trophy. Unlike last year, I'm more concerned with the ones that were nominated that the ones that weren't. That's a good sign.