Sunday, 25 November 2018

Ralph Breaks the Internet (Movie Review)


There have been quite a few movies in recent years that were heavily influenced by video game culture. Some were decent enough (like Ready Player One earlier this year), while others were not so much (I'm looking at you, Pixels starring Adam Sandler). But none of them were as successful at creating that perfect blend of nostalgia and humor as 2012's Wreck-It Ralph. The fact that it managed to tell a heartfelt story about a video game baddie that wanted more than the hand that he had been dealt while doing so was an accomplishment on its own.

Set 6 years after the events of the first movie, Ralph Breaks the Internet centers upon the friendship between the titular baddie turned hero (John C. Reilley) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman), a bratty but adorable go-cart racer and ruler of the video game kingdom, Sugar Rush. This time around, it is Vanellope that begins to desire more from their life of routine. Her wish comes true when she and Ralph are forced to leave the safety of the arcade and journey to the Internet, where they hope to get a replacement part for the Sugar Rush arcade cabinet before it is unplugged.

The duo would soon find out that the Internet is not for the fainthearted, with its busy highways and aggressive popup ads. This is especially so when they venture into the online racing game, Slaughter Race, where they hope to earn enough money to buy the part they need by stealing a car owned by Shank (Gal Gadot), a hotshot racer and leader of a crew of street racers. Vanellope is immediately attracted by the high-speed thrills of racing in Slaughter Race, and this would serve as a catalyst for a series of events that would test her friendship with Ralph to its limits.

As much as I loved Wreck-It Ralph, I have to admit that that love pales in comparison to my love for its sequel. Ralph Breaks the Internet takes everything that made the first movie great and expands upon it, scratching my nostalgia and fanboy itches in the process. Much like the first movie, the sequel is chuck full of cameos and pop culture references. These included characters from Star Wars, the Marvel Cinematic Universe and, in my favorite bit, Disney's own stable of Disney Princesses. The fact that they were all voiced by their original voice actors lent a level of authenticity to their inclusion that made them feel integral to the story.

And in the midst of all that fun and humor, the writing team still manages to tell a cautionary tale that explores our overdependence on technology and our obsession with social media trends. Put simply, the movie is not only one of the best-made animated films in recent memory, it is also one of the most important, and as such, deserves a Best Animated Feature nomination at the forthcoming 91st Academy Awards. Hopefully it doesn't get robbed of the award like the original was.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (Movie Review)


I confess, I wasn't particularly keen on the first Fantastic Beasts movie, even though I am a Potterhead and I loved all the books and movies that preceded it. The idea of spawning an entire film series out of what was essentially a fictional textbook sounded too much like a cash grab to me. Thankfully, we had J.K. Rowling herself penning the screenplay, lending some much-needed authenticity to the project. And she returns along with veteran series director, David Yates, to give fans another glimpse into her "Wizarding World" in the second installment of what is now a 5-part series.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald opens with the titular dark wizard (Johnny Depp), who'd been imprisoned at the end of the previous movie, escaping captivity during a transfer to Azkaban prison. We soon learn that he is still after Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), the powerful Obscurial who was responsible for much of the death and destruction in the first film. Also searching for Credence is Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), a Hogwarts professor who enlists the help of one of his former students, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), to find him.

To do so, Newt must travel to Paris through unconventional means, having been banned from traveling by the Ministry of Magic, following his involvement in the events of the previous film. He is accompanied by his good friend, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a Muggle (No-Maj? Can't-Spell?) whose memory was wiped at the end of the last film but has since been regained. They run into Tina (Katherine Waterston), Newt's love interest, and Yusuf (William Nadylam), a mysterious wizard, and they must all work together to find Credence before Grindelwald finds and uses him to bring about his vision of a new world order.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald attempts to deepen the Harry Potter lore while also setting up events for the subsequent parts yet to come, but in so doing, it fails to capture the imagination in the same way its predecessors did. Much like the first film, the movie lacks that "magic" that made the Harry Potter books and movies so great to begin with. It tries to make up for this with callbacks to those movies, and I'll admit, it was nice seeing a young Dumbledore teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts. But those moments were few and far between.

The fact that it felt like there was so much setup going on also didn't help. This is one area where I wish the story had been told in the form of books instead, to allow its various characters and plot lines room to breathe and develop. In its current form, the whole thing feels like a heavily convoluted race towards a finish line that is still at least three movies away. All that said, the movie still offers enough of the high production values and great performances that fans have come to expect, so it is definitely worth checking out if you happen to be one.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Venom (Movie Review)


Sony Pictures takes another stab at its Spider-Man license with Venom, a movie based on the titular antihero last seen on the big screen in 2007's Spider-Man 3. But with Spider-Man currently being licensed out by the studio to Marvel's own Marvel Studios, it was clear going in that we wouldn't be seeing much of the beloved webslinger in this particular movie. What we have instead is a standalone movie that is expected to lay the groundwork required to jump start a new connected universe. And with a more than capable cast that includes heavy hitters like Tom Hardy, it would look like Sony might be on to something here, right? Well, not quite.

Tom Hardy stars as Eddie Brock, a hotshot reporter who loses everything after he attempts to bring down Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), the wealthy CEO of a bioengineering company with some shady practices. At the start of the movie, the company recovers a group of lifeforms called symbiotes from a comet in space, one of which escapes after their space vessel crashes during reentry into the Earth's atmosphere. They eventually begin conducting experiments with one of the remaining symbiotes in their possession, the titular Venom, looking for a perfect host for it in a bid to learn how we might better adapt for survival on other worlds.

During a convoluted break-in into the company's research facility, Eddie Brock comes in contact with the symbiote, becoming its ideal host. This imbues him with superhuman abilities as well as an insatiable hunger that is played to great comedic effect throughout the movie. They manage to escape from the facility, but are soon hunted down by a group of mercenaries, leaving Eddie with no choice but to seek help from his ex-girlfriend, Anne (Michelle Williams), and her new boyfriend, Dr. Dan Lewis (Reid Scott), with all this happening as the other escaped symbiote makes its way to the research facility for some sort of ultimate showdown.

It's been a while since I've seen a genuinely bad movie, and of the last few I remember, Venom is one of the more entertaining ones. The film felt like a throwback to a time when comic book movies didn't aspire to be anything more than CGI-laden adaptations of their source material, which could've worked on a purely nostalgic level of course, if only the finished product didn't feel slapped together. The movie's tone was all over the place, and it was clear that the director was just as conflicted as the title character, as he never quite seemed to decide if the movie he was making was a horror film, a superhero origin story or a straight-up comedy, ultimately failing on all three fronts.

The film's sole saving grace was its cast members, with Tom Hardy in particular giving a surprisingly comedic performance in the duel roles of Eddie Brock and Venom. But even that couldn't save what was essentially a missed opportunity, and its hard to imagine just how viable a connected universe filled with Spider-Man villains is going to be after this. Hopefully he gets a chance to put those acting chops to better use when (if?) we get the eventual crossover with Sony's next iteration of the webslinger and some of Marvel's better known properties.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Mission: Impossible - Fallout (Movie Review)


The 2018 summer blockbuster season is coming to an end, and what better way to end it than with what is arguably the best film of the entire season. Mission: Impossible - Fallout continues the high benchmark and current winning streak the franchise started with Ghost Protocol in 2011. Tom Cruise returns as the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) agent, Ethan Hunt, with Christopher McQuarrie also returning as director in what is effectively a direct sequel to his previous installment, Rogue Nation.

Set two years after Rogue Nation, Fallout finds Ethan Hunt and the IMF dealing with the aftermath of the criminal organization they took down in the previous film, The Syndicate. With their leader, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), captured, the remaining members of the organization form the terrorist group, The Apostles. The movie opens with the IMF and The Apostles butting heads, as the latter tries to secure three plutonium cores off the black market, and the former tries to stop them.

The IMF ultimately fails its mission, and the members of The Apostles escape with the plutonium, which they were acquiring for a mysterious client known as John Lark. This causes the Director of the CIA, Erica Slone (Angela Bassett), to insist on shadowing Hunt and the IMF on their mission to retrieve the plutonium with one of her agents, the trigger-happy operative, August Walker (played by Henry Cavill, and his infamous mustache). The plutonium is to be sold at a fundraiser in Paris, by a broker known as the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby).

Hunt and Walker infiltrate the fundraiser, where they hope to retrieve the plutonium from the White Widow by impersonating John Lark, the buyer. They succeed in gaining her trust when they save her from several assassination attempts. But things become decidedly more complicated when the Widow reveals the price for the plutonium cores: they must first help her extract The Syndicate leader, Solomon Lane, who it turns out had been pulling the strings as he strives to bring about his doomsday plot.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout is not only one of the best movies in the franchise, but one of the best action movies to grace cinemas in recent memory, period. Tom Cruise proves once again that he is ever the viable action hero, performing his own stunts in some of the most jaw-dropping set pieces to be seen in any film. One of the biggest ones in the movie is the breathtaking HALO jump over Paris, which is impeccably shot and edited to reproduce that sense of vertigo and tension.

The same tension carries through the other set pieces and quieter scenes alike. And while the movie itself might feel overlong at nearly two hours and thirty minutes, it never seems to lose any steam as things continue to stack up at a breakneck pace. It is hard to see any other action movie topping this anytime soon, as it joins the ranks of Mad Max: Fury Road as one of the finest the genre has to offer.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (Movie Review)


ABBA fans rejoice as the cast of the jukebox musical, Mamma Mia!, make a return to the Greek island of Kalokairi. Theirs is a bittersweet reunion though, as the story takes place one year after the death of Donna (Meryl Streep), frontwoman of the Dynamos and owner of the island's popular hotel villa, the Hotel Bella Donna. Much of the story is also told through flashbacks, and as such the movie functions as both a prequel and a sequel, with all the romance, comedy and musical numbers we've come to expect.

Since her passing, the Hotel Bella Donna has fallen into a state of disrepair, a situation her daughter, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), seeks to rectify through a grand reopening she intends to dedicate to her memory. Things don't go according to plan of course, as the island is hit by a storm on the eve of the ceremony, undoing much of the preparations as well as preventing all the high-profile guests from being able to attend.

Sophie is also going through a rough patch in her marriage to Sky (Dominic Cooper). She receives counsel from her mother's best friends and bandmates, Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters), and through their tales, she learns much about her mother's misadventures as a young adult (played by Lily James) in the summer of 1979, and how she came to meet her three fathers, Sam (Pierce Brosnan), Harry (Colin Firth) and Bill (Stellan Skarsgård).

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is undeniably the best feel-good movie I have seen so far this year. The movie exudes the kind of charm that leaves a smile plastered on your face for the duration of its runtime. It doesn't hurt that I love ABBA and their incredible catalogue of hits. All that said, I must confess that I wasn't the biggest fan of the original film, which at the time of its 2008 release I found a little too campy for my tastes. Some of that campiness carries over into the sequel of course, but the musical numbers are so well executed here that you'd be hard pressed to find any reason to complain.

Friday, 6 July 2018

Ant-Man and the Wasp (Movie Review)


Much like they did in 2015, the folks at Marvel Studios have chosen to follow up another Avengers movie with an outing of their ant-sized heroes. And of course, after the gut-wrenching finale of Avengers: Infinity War two months ago, you can be sure that fans have been waiting for Ant-Man and the Wasp, looking for answers, or closure, or a bit of both. Except the filmmakers have their own story to tell, be it one that is on a smaller scale and with relatively smaller stakes.

Set following the events of Captain America: Civil War, the movie finds Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) undergoing house arrest for assisting Team Captain America in its fight against Team Iron Man. Scott is just days away from serving his sentence when he receives a message from Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), who has been trapped in the quantum realm for some thirty odd years. This leads him to contact Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), her husband and inventor of the Pym particle.

Scott is broken out of house arrest by Hope van Dyne (Evangelline Lilly), aka the Wasp, who you'll remember had assumed the mantle during the mid-credits scene of the last film. The two of them must work together with Hank to rescue Janet. Except they have to contend with not only the authorities (Randall Park) and a black market dealer (Walton Goggins), but also a mysterious masked woman known as Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), who can phase through walls and uses this ability to steal Hank's lab (yep, the entire lab) with hopes of also finding Janet for personal reasons.

If you're one of those expecting Ant-Man and the Wasp to provide answers to some of the questions you had after Avengers: Infinity War, then I'd have to say prepare yourself for some measure of disappointment. The movie is as self-contained as they come.There is not an Infinity Stone in sight. What we get instead is much talk about quantum realms and particle accelerators. Thankfully, the movie itself is just as funny as the first one, with Michael Peña once again stealing the show with his portrayal of the fast-talking ex-criminal, Luis.

The movie also boasts more of the inventive action sequences we saw in the first film, making great use of its heroes' abilities to switch sizes. But for those still wanting to know how all this ties into the greater ongoing drama of the MCU, I'll say this much: be sure to wait for the mid-credits scene. It might not provide all the answers, but at least it places the film within the context of that other movie.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

A Quiet Place (Movie Review)


One of the downsides of living in a country where there is little appreciation for anything outside what it considers mainstream is you tend to miss out on a lot of gems. So of course I wasn't surprised when the geniuses that run our local cinemas had elected not to show A Quiet Place all through its global theatrical run. And so I had no choice but to patiently await its release on digital download, even as news of its success filtered over to our shores. But man was it worth the wait.

The movie stars Emily Blunt and real-life husband John Krasinski (who also directs) as a couple struggling to keep their family safe in a post-apocalyptic world where much of the Earth's population has been decimated by vicious creatures that hunt by sound. Where did the creatures come from? A planet of angry librarians perhaps. The filmmakers don't even attempt to answer these sort of questions, choosing instead to focus on the plight of this one family stuck in this dire situation.

Much of the movie takes place on the rural farm the family calls home. They go about their day-to-day activities like any regular family would; they do laundry, help their kids with their homework, go out hunting and have dinner. Except they do all this in silence and with the knowledge that there are three of the creatures actively hunting in the surrounding area. It is quickly established that the creatures have no known weaknesses, other than the fact that they are totally blind. But things are about to get more complicated as the family prepares to welcome its newest member.

I know it is too early to call it, but A Quiet Place is quite possibly my favorite movie of 2018. Much like 10 Cloverfield Lane before it, the movie plays out like an intricate game of chess, and we get to watch as all the pieces are moved into place. It eschews traditional jump scares in favor of a deeper sense of dread that permeates every scene. It also boasts one of the most memorable and impressive sound designs since Gravity, as it makes good on its titular promise, with stretches of silence that make even the most mundane sounds sound scary and unwanted.

But the movie is as much a family drama as it is a brilliantly executed horror film. Ultimately, it is a movie about parenthood, and what it means to keep your loved ones safe in the face of clear and present danger. I couldn't recommended it highly enough.