Monday, 27 June 2016

'Finding Dory' Review (2016): Just Keep Feeling

Full Price: Worth the full price of admission, and a must see in the theatre.
I've now reached a point in my life where the unnecessary sequels that are being made are based off of movies that I saw in their initial release. The feeling of a beloved story that may be muddled by the cash grab disguised as the next chapter no one asked for, I now understand. Still, Pixar is Pixar and despite not being as perfect as they once were, the name inspires confidence. Although, since their last attempt at a revival of a long property was the decent, yet forgettable Monsters University, I went into this one cautious to say the least.

As I learned in the first film though, I can't go through life being afraid of everything. No need to in this case because 'Finding Dory' is nothing to fear, in fact, it's simply sublime. After having striking new memory about her parents, 'Finding Dory' follows the adventure of Dory, Marlin and Nemo as they embark across the ocean to find Dory's long lost parents. Rather than a strict repeat of the first film however, 'Finding Dory' surprised and delighted me.

Much like Dory when she learns the same thing twice. 
While it's been 13 years since the 'Finding Nemo' hit theatres, (Yeah. You're old) the movie takes place just one year after Nemo was found. It remarkably doesn't feel awkward or forced at all. The characters immediately fall back into place and it's almost as if you never left them. At the same time, the movie isn't afraid to show growth. Finding Dory does the best any sequel can do. Keep it familiar but also show a little more the second time around. 

That little more also comes in the form of new characters. Just like the first film, the adventure is helped along by a series of friendly fish. Instead of strangers across the ocean though, these friends are found in Dory's home, the Marine Life Institute. It doesn't give quite the wild and diverse environments of the first film, but having a centralized location provides for a more focused film.

Ironic considering Dory is...what is she again? I forget. 
Whether it's Ed O'Neil as a curmudgeonly Octopus with a heart of gold, or Kaitlin Olson as a near sighted whale shark, the new cast has plenty of the entertaining yet heartwarming stories the first film was known for. It's amazing how much character the movie was able to get out of them with the little screen time they were given. It's inspiring considering most animated films use their cast as one bit jokes that do nothing but irritate the viewer by the time the movie is over.

Animation has come a long way since 2003. 'Finding Nemo' is still an amazingly fluid, gorgeous film to this date, but 'Finding Dory' highlights just how far the medium has come. Nothing shows this more than the character of Hank. The way his individual tentacles move so rapidly, shows an immense amount of work put into making the character seem as lifelike as possible. Usually when they try this with humans, it's alienating rather than immersive.

You might not think Tom Hanks could give you nightmares. You'd be wrong.
There's a lot to love about the 'Finding Dory'. It has everything to love about the original and more. The best thing about it is the dialogue. Like the first movie it emphasizes extreme normalcy, giving the characters little phrases that people use everyday. It humanizes them and gives credence to this underwater society it's trying to sell. Plus it's really clever, so when it makes jokes, the jokes really land. 

I really liked 'Finding Dory'. It finds a very sweet balance with its tone, weaving in the more heartfelt moments among the levity. Its creativity is only matched by its technical prowess. While it plays the same beat as the original, 'Finding Dory' is its own song. It's more focused and energized, much like Dory herself. It's far from disappointing and a very good film by its own right, and definitely worth Full Price.

Thanks for reading and as always you can check out my podcast in the link below. This weeks episode was on the best and worst movie dads so naturally, 'Finding Nemo' was discussed.

Friday, 24 June 2016

'Me Before You' Review (2016): Love and Tragedy

Half Price: Good enough to go out to the theatre for, but not worth the full ticket. 
Reviewing movies as a hobby, or a career, if you take it seriously enough, sometimes means seeing movies you don’t want to see. To date, I’ve only had about one or two experiences which made me rethink my choice to do this as consistently as I am. Many of the movies that I dread seeing end up with something redeemable about them. Still though, there are times when I’m standing in that lobby, looking at my ticket, having spent my hard earned money where I say, “Why am I here”. ‘Me Before You’ was one such time.

Like all those other times though, I was pleasantly surprised that ‘Me Before You’ was not the banal run of the mill, overtly cheesy romance film its trailer suggests. The movie follows the story of one Louisa Clarke and Will Traynor. Louisa is Will’s caretaker, after Will suffers an accident that leaves him without the use of his arms or legs. As the movie goes on the two start to develop feelings for each other, and the movie explores the questions of what it means to be alive, and how to live a life worth living.

As dreamy people look at each other dreamily, thinking "You're so dreamy :)"
As grim as that sounds, fear not. The movie’s tone is so light it makes a feather blush. I wish it had taken a hard left turned and really delved into the darkness it flirts with. Most of that flirtation comes from Will’s character. He’s someone who would water ski on Thursday and bungee jump on Tuesday, so his accident takes a considerable toll on him. I did wish more of that misery was explored though. Sam Caflin more or less plays will as a smug grouch, but you get the sense that that’s not too far from who he was before his accident.

The other side of the coupling fares a little better. Emelia Clarke’s Louisa Clark delightfully plays against type in this movie. I’m used to her as a take no prisoners femme fatale, but here she’s a ball of awkward quirk. A burst of positivity to crack the hardened demeanor of her male counterpart. It’s a character that could have been completely obnoxious, but manages to delight rather than annoy.

The battle cry of the hopelessly awkward.
Not that they matter but the supporting cast is a mixed bag of really dull and really great. On the dull side you have Clive Owen Jr, Matthew Lewis, who plays the unlikable boyfriend of Louisa who only exists to momentarily prevent the two leads from getting together. On the great side, you have Will’s parents. That darker tone I wished the movie had delved into came through with their performances. Charles Dance and Janet McTeer were excellent as parents coming to terms with a child in pain.

I don’t expect too much from romance movies, in the same way that I don’t expect too much from action movies. I more or less think they’ll follow the same basic structure as the films that came before it. The saving grace of these movies is whether or not you actually like the characters it puts together. To that end, ‘Me Before You’ does this well. Will’s smarmy arrogance transforms into charm, and works well with Louisa’s naivety. In my eyes, the mark of a good romance film is whether or not I can remember the lead character’s names by the end of it, so, good job ‘Me Before You’. It’s an all right date movie, and if you’re not afraid of being seen as a cheap date, maybe go check it out at Half Price. 

'Kingston Paradise' Review (2016): Glory and Grit

Half Price: Good enough to go out to the theatre for, but not worth the full ticket. 

The Jamaican film industry is not overburdened by choice. The adage best equipped to describe it is quality over quantity. With such a small group to choose from, it's not difficult for viewers to set one film as the standard of all Jamaican cinema. For some it's 'Shottas', the 2002 film about the violent drug trade and its effect on the larger society. For others, myself included, it's 'The Harder They Come', the story of a musician turned drug lord in an effort to make a name for himself. However, regardless of your choice, you're bound to come across the same themes and story lines. The protagonist will try to escape the harsh reality of his situation, at first by legitimate means, but then circumstances will lead him to turn to the very criminal activity that made his reality so harsh in the first place.

The latest Jamaican film, 'Kingston Paradise' is no different, but it's by no means a bad film. The movie follows the plight of one 'Rocksy' played by Christopher 'Johnny' Daley. Rocksy is a taxi driver who finds his side business of selling phone cards and condoms to his passengers isn't enough to aid him in his escape from the brutality that is downtown Kingston. Down on his luck, Rocksy takes to a life of crime. Of course, this being a cautionary tale, next to nothing goes his way. Some people just aren't cut out for the life of a bad man.

Run Rocksy run!
With a film like this the thing you have to establish right off the bat is the tone. The audience needs to feel that, were they in the situation, they might've done the same. To that end, 'Kingston Paradise' does this in spades. It's filled with moments that show just how grim of a place Rocksy lives in. This is true from the opening scene where Rocksy is woken to a barrage of gunshots through his bedroom window, to the scene where his companion 'Rosie', played by Camille Small, is raising awareness for her friend suffering from AIDS.

As bleak as 'Kingston Paradise' can be, it's not without its moments of levity. As the story gets going, you're caught up in the adventure of it all. Much like the characters themselves, you're distracted from the grime and are even treated to moments of genuine humour. The dialogue I felt was never stilted. Conversation always felt like it just clever enough for a screenplay, but not too clever to be insincere.

Dialogue is important, yet natural. 
What the movie also gets right is its sense of hope. That very same opening scene is also peppered with seeds of aspiration. Rosie and Rocksy have a painting of the countryside that represents the ultimate goal of peace and tranquility. On the other hand, there's the fancy new car that Rocksy sees as another way out, but carries with it the danger in getting there. The movie is clear about the symbolism of these artifacts is, and I appreciated that I never felt as though I was being talked down to. Nothing was over explained in that regard.

In fact, if there's anything the movie doesn't do well is that it tends to make things not so clear. A few times I was unsure as to what exactly had transpired. The issue is that some of them are quite key to the narrative. It's frustrating because all the work done to establish not only the tone but also the characters, and the amount of investment and immersion the film earns is almost lost by these moments that break the illusion it had previously crafted so well. It doesn't ruin the film, but it does keep it from reaching the heights it could've. Rather than great, the movie is just good.

It does a lot of things right, but it's far from perfect.
Overall, I enjoyed 'Kingston Paradise'. It was a story finds a way to differentiate itself despite being something that has ultimately been seen before. There's a good number of chase scenes that were particularly well done, but there were also some that were unintentionally goofy, particularly in the third act. The landing isn't exactly stuck in 'Kingston Paradise'. As an experience, I would call 'Kingston Paradise' a good one, and worthy of, at the very least, a viewing at Half Price.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

'Warcraft' Review (2016): Not Bad At All

Just as 2015 seemed to be the year of the spy, 2016 is apparently the year of the video game movie. Already we've had an Angry Birds movie, and later on we're going to be treated to an Assassin's Creed film. Those two movies are made for audiences of a different age though, and somewhere in the middle you can find Warcraft. Based on the online game everyone and their little brother were addicted to years ago, and directed by near perfect director Duncan Jones of 'Source Code' and 'Moon' fame, Warcraft seemed prime to finally, FINALLY prove that there was a way to do movies based on games right.


21%? That's worse than 'Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice', which is barely even a movie. As I sit to write this review, I can't fathom a score that low. In fact, for all the hate 'Warcraft' is currently getting, I actually kinda liked it.

To get into it, 'Warcraft' starts off the same way every fantasy film does. A nice bit of narration to explain this vast and storied world to us. And as we all know, the only time it's okay to do narration, is fantasy films, Shane Black movies, and Fight Club. The narration tells us of a conflict between orcs and humans that doesn't really do much to contextualize the film. In fact, all you really need to know is Azeroth is your place, the home of the humans, and it's being invaded by Orcs who are looking to escape their dying world, but all is not as it seems. Like a tub of mystery meat.

Probably made with Orc.
As far as the story goes, 'Warcraft' definitely doesn't reinvent the wheel when it comes to fantasy. It's more than happy to give you an easily digestible tale where you don't have to worry about who is doing what. Its problem however is getting to that point where you actually know what's going on. For the first 1/2 hour, 'Warcraft' has so many scenes with characters traveling from point A to point B only to find out they need to get to point D by crossing the riverlands at point C. It's confusing since you're berated with fictional names of places I assume you're supposed to care about, but so little time is spent establishing the world we're in that you don't really know what's going on. At all.

The saving grace of this is the dialogue, the actors, and the pacing. Had I known what was happening it would've been one of the best openings to a summer blockbuster ever. It's paced extremely well and feels organic. Not a single actor feels like they're phoning in the performance, and the dialogue they're given is quite clever with really charming bits of character thrown in to keep you engaged until the movie finds its footing. Special props is given to Paula Patton and her character, whose concept screams cringe as she exists purely for an inter-species romance, but damned if I wasn't invested in her character by the end of it.

It's not as creepy as it looks...but at the same time it kind of is. 
When it does find its footing, it's a pretty fun ride. Once things become clear and not lost in the overcrowded mess of a first act, the elements of 'Warcraft' that work the best shine even brighter. This is also a gorgeous movie. It has a certain fluidity that makes it feel completely lived in. Like everything is working in tandem together. The character models especially were marvelous. The orcs are the biggest effect in the movie, and it was astonishing the level of humanity that was brought across. Simple things like the way an orc's hand moves when he's in a heated debate with someone else, really puts it a cut above the regular cg effect.

What really surprised me about 'Warcraft' was its sense of character. Everyone feels like they have a purpose, and it goes a long way in making the world feel lived in. All the establishment that was lost in the first act is aided by the character's interactions together. The fact that you know who they are aids the movie from feeling too derivative, as it is painfully generic sometimes. They all fill out roles you've seen time and time again, but their motivations are clear which makes them easy characters to get behind.

'Warcraft' is a movie that has its issues. It has an extremely chaotic first act, a charming second, and a rushed third. It has really well done dialogue, and at the same time a pretty derivative story. Its characters are cookie cutter generic, but also, very easy to root for, care about, and gave me some of the more heartfelt moments in a theatre this summer. It's a mixed bag of a movie, but personally, I thought it was a good time, so I'm gonna say if you see it, see it at Half-Price.

ANR = 7/10

Thanks for reading and for more of my thoughts on confusing and disorienting things, here's an episode of the 'Take 4' podcast on magic.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows' Review (2016): And Into The Trash

Of all the properties in the world, I can't imagine why this one has staying power. It's name alone is a jumbled mess of concepts, thrown at the viewer with the subtlety of a freight train. It seems like the type of thing that would have died years ago, maybe to be brought back as nostalgia passed like bad gas, but to consistently be present in every decade since the 80s feels...strange. For all that time the property seems largely unchanged from what it became in the old cartoon show, which I guess is impressive but also...kind of unheard of.

The latest from the heroes in a half-shell is 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows', a sequel to the 2014 reboot. Unlike that reboot, this film attempts to take a different approach. As the title suggests, 'Out of The Shadows' is a much brighter film that doesn't take itself quite as seriously as the first film. After all at the end of the day, it is a movie about giant turtles who fight ninjas.

Who apparently don't give a damn.
Part of that lightening of tone is in the inclusion of various elements of the TMNT canon. You have Bebop & Rocksteady, a pair of dimwitted henchmen turned into a giant Warthog & Rhinoceros respectively. Casey Jones, a hockey enthusiast pretty boy who for some reason despite being a cop, opts to use a hockey stick over a gun when fighting ninjas. And finally, there is Krang, which, to describe Krang would take more than I'm willing to write so here's all you need to know:

He's the pink thing. Got it? Good let's move on.
Despite the efforts to right the wrongs of the previous film, this movie is nonetheless bogged down by completely different problems. The dialogue is akin to that of an over the top anime. Characters explain their motivations in gratuitous detail, with exposition that is as unnecessary as it is boring. It's much better when it's not forcing information down your throat and actually becomes kind of fun at times.

That fun is found in the characters, which thankfully are the saving grace of this film. The four brothers in particular have a genuine sense of identity that plays well when you see them interact. It gives way to some of the more dramatic moments in the movie though, as there's a mysterious ooze which can grant the turtles the chance to look human and walk amongst the city they protect? How? Doesn't matter. Roll with it.

I mean if humans want to dress like turtles, why not.
That drama actually has some weight to it, as the internal struggle of this family team has always been, and remains a key element to this franchise. Of course when every film is beat for beat the same with a unified beginning, splitting up the team in the second half, and then reforming at the end, it does feel a little stale, but then the giant rhino exchanges quips with the giant turtle with an orange headband on, and you stop complaining about following a formula. 

The less said about the supporting human cast the better. New addition Casey Jones is played by Stephen Amell of Arrow fame. The only thing he brings to the table is another character to roll your eyes at when they open their mouth. Next in line are returning Megan Fox and Will Arnett who are doing the same as they did before, which is kind of just insulting to be honest. Oh well. At least Whoopi got out alive. 

Forgot she was in the first one? Good. She'd prefer it that way.
Yeah at the end of the movie I was definitely aware of the fact that I had not seen a very good film. In fact, I had seen a bad one. It's funny about...maybe 60% of the time which isn't bad, but the 40% when it's not is really bad. The action on the whole is actually pretty good, but it's all heavily CG so while it's not boring, it's kind of weightless. The characters are stupid so you don't really care about them at all, and the story was ripped out of a video game. (seriously this movie would make a great video game. Like how X-Men Origins Wolverine was a bad movie but a great video game).

Bad movie. Great game. 
Overall, it's a movie that kids will flock to. It has everything that I would've liked as a kid. It's loud, it's bright, it's got cool looking characters that would make great action figures. It's a stupid stupid film but, I can't say I didn't have fun with it. The key for a movie like this to work is for it to not ask me to take it seriously, and then spit in my face with a fart joke. It didn't ask me to take it seriously at any point, so that's why I'd say if you have to see it, I guess you should STREAM/RENT IT. 

ANR 5/10

Thanks for reading and wouldn't you know it, Take 4 actually did an episode on movies which focused on brotherhood just like this one. Sure the turtles are literally brothers but eh, close enough. You can listen to that here.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

'The Nice Guys' Review (2016): Action Comedy At Its Finest

Being a big movie fan, you tend to hear certain names pop up now and again. There's the usual like Spielberg, Cameron, Kubrick, Tarantino. Those are sort of introductory level names. As you go a little deeper though, you hear names that are a little more obscure, whose work isn't exactly mainstream, but not exactly indie either. One of those names is Shane Black, who's known for visceral action, biting comedy, profanity, and of course, Christmas. I wasn't aware of his work when I was younger, and I wouldn't have been allowed to see any of it anyway, but now, at the tender age of 19, I was finally able to see a Shane Black movie. I just hoped he hadn't lost his touch while I was growing up.

Thank Christ he didn't. 'The Nice Guys' was easily my most anticipated film this year, and it far and away did not disappoint me. To get into the story, it's very simple. It's an old timey "Who dunnit" mystery, where a small crime ends up being connected to a larger conspiracy, and it's up to two unqualified heroes to stop it. The heroes in this case are the titular nice guys. Jackson Healy, an unofficial but capable muscle man for hire, played by Russel Crowe, and Holland March, a licensed, but largely ineffective, private investigator, played by Ryan Gosling. Both are morally grey characters who constantly battle with their conscience. Not to be great people, but just to not be assholes.

It's not easy, I've tried. 
The magic of 'The Nice Guys' comes from that same due of Gosling and Crowe. The dialogue they're given itself is pretty clever, but the delivery they bring to it really brings it across. They definitely seem in tune with their characters, and that's goes a long way when you see them interact. From the first time they meet, though working from opposing agendas, the two seem like characters that have that love/hate dynamic that is crucial to movies like this.

Gosling's character is very much a hapless screw up. He may quite possibly be one of the most pathetic characters I've ever seen on film. Gosling plays him so well that you forget that it's Ryan Gosling. By that I mean, when you think of Gosling, you think suave, charming, smooth, which is not what this feels like at all so good on him for such an effective performance. Crowe's character on the other hand is trying his damnest to do the right thing, and is playing a nicer version of himself. The fact that his character regularly batters and breaks the bones of people in this movie shows how mean real life Russel Crowe seems.

Probably thinking of murdering someone in this picture. 
So with a classic plot, a buddy cop-esque pairing, you might be inclined to think that 'The Nice Guys' doesn't have much original to offer. While in some regards that's true, there are moments where the movie gets up and kicks you in the face for even thinking that. It'll offer up something that you've seen a dozen times before and change it so that it's entirely new.

The best example of this is a scene where two characters who previously fought before bump into each other at a party. Having not expected to see each other, this scene would usually play out with a pair of reaction shots, some suspenseful music, and then as the music quiets, the guns start blazing. In this movie, they simple turn and pull out the guns. There's not a moments hesitation, therefore, the drama feels real, the characters feel in danger, and the characters feel like they're smart enough to realize that.

It's okay for characters to be smart now
It should also be mentioned that the movie is very funny. The banter between the leads carries the movie, but there are a number of visual gags that are really clever. It definitely rewards you for your attention. It just feels like a well thought out movie from start to finish. Right down to the way the characters fight. Crowe fights like a guy who beats people up for a living, very calculated and choreographed. Gosling fights like a guy who ran away from bullies and is making it up as he goes along.

I really enjoyed 'The Nice Guys'. It's smart. Its characters are well thought out. It has an excellent balance of comedy and drama, and never lets you forget the stakes of the action. The action then, feels purposeful. Things matter, even though they're making quips about the events that unfold left and right. It doesn't ever feel too long, and is paced brilliantly. After the last few movies I saw, it's good to see a definite Big Screen Watch.

ANR = 9/10

Thanks for reading and please leave a comment below, or let me know what you thought on twitter @damiansapple . The characters in this movie share a classic buddy cop bromance and would you look at that there's an epsiode on Bromances in the Take 4 archives. Give it a listen as we break down the guy friend dynamic in movies and tv shows.