FILM: Pokémon the Movie 3: Spell of the Unown (2000, Kunihiko Yuyama)

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Originally a Japanese anime film, which was dubbed into English, Pokémon the Movie 3: Spell of the Unown is a companion piece to the Pokémon anime series, distributed originally by Toho. Ash (Veronica Taylor) and the gang arrive in Greenfield, only to find that the town is being coated in crystal by the psychic energy of a number of Unown, who have invaded the mansion of Spencer Hale (Dan Green) and his daughter Molly (Amy Birnbaum). Spencer is missing, and the Unown are responding to Molly’s imagination, and in doing so created an Entei (Green) to be a father to her. Entei later kidnaps Ash’s mother (Taylor), so Ash and the gang set out to rescue his mother, and stop the Unown.

PROS

  • While it was ultimately just fan service, the return of Ash’s Charizard (Shin’ichirō Miki) is a welcome aspect of the narrative. This is because the showdown between Charizard and Entei is one of the most epic battles that the franchise had ever seen up until that point, with some quite exciting moments and fast-paced action.
  • The infiltration of the crystalised mansion emphasises well the franchise’s core themes of family and teamwork, as Ash, Misty (Rachael Lillis) and Brock (Eric Stuart) use a number of their Pokémon, and work well together as a team.

CONS

  • At this point in the franchise’s Johto saga, the quality of the anime took on a lesser quality, and likewise the animation quality of this film is noticeably lesser than its two predecessors.
  • Yes, there were a lot of Unown to animate, but the fact that they were made with CG was not the way that they should have been made, with the CG Unown standing out like a sore thumb, a fact that infuriated me even when I first watched this film sixteen years ago at aged nine.
  • Sure, the battle between Charizard and Entei was pretty exciting (if a little short), but the full six-on-six battle in the opening credits between Ash and Lisa (Lisa Ortiz) is easily one of the worst battles the franchise has ever had. It is very rushed, and the various Pokémon are all defeated with ease, making it a frustrating experience for fan and critic alike.
  • Credit where it is due to the screenwriters for showing some imagination, but ultimately they have far too many ideas for the film’s seventy minute running time, with a considerable amount of ideas needing fleshing out and being quite rushed.
  • The screenwriters clearly were unsure what they were doing with Molly, as she is written to be a character to be sympathised with, despite the fact that she is created to be an antagonist, the end result being a weak character whose presence in the film is simply irritating.

VERDICT: 2/10

FILM: Alien (1979, Ridley Scott)

A large egg-shaped object that is cracked and emits a yellow-ish light hovers in mid-air against a black background and above a waffle-like floor. The title "ALIEN" appears in block letters above the egg, and just below it in smaller type appears the tagline "in space no one can hear you scream".

Alien is a science-fiction/horror film, which was distributed by 20th Century Fox. The crew of space-tug Nostromo go to a desolate planet to answer a distress call, where they discover a deadly alien life form that breeds within a human host. Once upon the ship, the Alien (Bolaji Badego) begins to pick off the crew one-by-one, with Lieutenant Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) leading the effort to kill it.

PROS

  • A unanimously excellent cast, with each member of the ensemble getting a real chance to shine. Sigourney Weaver is an outstanding lead in the film that launched her to stardom, while Ian Holm and John Hurt put terrific amounts of energy into what are arguably the most unique parts of their entire respective careers.
  • Ridley Scott proves himself to be nothing short of outstanding as a director, with Alien being the film that really launched his career, displaying great maturity and vision as a director. One of the most notable examples of this is the fact that he took a very risky decision with the iconic chest-burster scene, putting his faith in the cast’s natural, instinctive reactions. Nearly forty years later, and nobody has ever questioned whether it was the right decision, for it really paid off.
  • The screenplay features some very exciting action sequences, but is also a very suspenseful narrative that sees the viewer in the dark as much as the characters. It is a clever screenplay, which gives each of the seven members of the ensemble a purpose for being there, with each of them being engaging to watch. Most notably, however, is the fact that the narrative tackles a serious science-fiction theme of man’s relationship with technology in a fresh, unique way that had never been done before.
  • Visually this film is outstanding, with the pre-CGI visual effects still holding up really well almost four decades later. The production design is excellent, with beautifully detailed sets; while the cinematography is very successful in drawing the viewer into this powerful narrative, and the use of shadows makes a number of sequences even more suspenseful. Most of all, however, this film is a testament to how good practical effects can truly be, the chest-burster scene being a prime example; while the Alien (or Xenomorph) is a 6″10 actor in a costume, and is far more convincing than any CGI alien of the past quarter-century.
  • The film has the bare minimum use of a score, with Ridley Scott opting to rely on diegetic sound in the majority of the scenes, with said diegetic sound making the film that bit more suspenseful, as well as successful in drawing in the viewer.

NITPICKS

  • While its role is necessary for some of the same reasons that HAL-9000 was necessary in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the ship’s computer Mother (Helen Horton) simply is not memorable.

VERDICT: 10/10

FILM: Beauty and the Beast (2017, Bill Condon)

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Beauty and the Beast is a fantasy film, and is Disney’s live-action remake of their iconic animated film of the same title. When an Enchantress (Hattie Morahan) curses a Prince (Dan Stevens), he turns into a Beast, and must find true love before the last petal of an enchanted rose falls in order for the curse to be broken. Ten years later, a villager called Belle (Emma Watson) arrives at his castle, where she becomes his prisoner in exchange for her father’s (Kevin Kline) freedom. Belle and the Beast, however, end up bonding, but can she fall in love with him in time for the curse to be broken?

PROS

  • Excellent motion capture work is done in creating the Beast, with Dan Stevens’s performance shining through the CGI creature that he is made into. As well as this, the live-action and motion capture actors interact very well with the purely CGI characters, with Emma Watson in particular being a natural at it (no doubt a decade of Harry Potter is part of the reason why). The two leads also develop an excellent chemistry on screen with each other, which is very engaging for the viewer.
  • Wonderful production design, with a tremendous amount of detail brought to the village that Belle lives in, but most especially the Beast’s castle, which has a stunning gothic quality and real texture to it. Equally the characters are designed with great detail, and the CGI brings real texture to the Beast, while also retaining that much needed human quality.
  • The songs may be the exact same songs as the ones in the original animation, but the musical sequences are wonderfully choreographed, with Bill Condon’s direction shining through. Emma Watson’s singing is nothing short of outstanding, and comes over so naturally. Also, Luke Evans (who plays antagonist Gaston) sings magnificently, and brings real energy to his musical sequences, and the passion that started with his background in musical theatre stands out.
  • With the purely CGI characters, two voice performances stand out in memory after leaving the cinema – Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, and Ian McKellen as Cogsworth. Ewan McGregor’s voice performance comes across as really passionate, the native Scot clearly having a lot of fun with the role; while Ian McKellen’s voice performance conveys Cogsworth’s pomp and superiority complex perfectly.

CONS

  • There is nothing memorable about the other voice performances, the notable example being that Emma Thompson’s turn as Mrs Potts has no difference to that of Angela Lansbury’s twenty-six years ago.
  • The purely CGI characters may be well designed, and Emma Watson and Dan Stevens interact very well with them, but the CGI is to a noticeably lesser quality than that of the CGI that creates the Beast, which is a bit disappointing.

VERDICT: 8/10

PREVIEW: May 2017

Well, it has been twenty-seven days since this blog first began, and I have to say that it is one of the best decisions that I have made in a while. My previous blogs failed, as my lack of free time meant that I did not have time to review everything that I wanted to, and it always managed to get to me. Writing reviews in the manner that I have for this blog has been very rewarding, and I have been that little bit more relaxed in myself.

Great, with that bit of seriousness out of the way, I shall now let you know what content to expect in May 2017. The main theme of my blogging next month shall be Threequels. This year is the year of the Threequel, with Despicable Me 3 and Cars 3 premiering in June, and then The Lego Ninjago MovieThor: RagnarokWar for the Planet of the Apes and Pitch Perfect 3 all out in subsequent months. As such, I am going to be reviewing a number of threequels of varying quality during May.

As ever, I shall also be reviewing films that are new releases in cinemas. However, among other older, non-threequel films, I shall also be reviewing the Alien franchise. This is only the main series though, as I will not be reviewing the Alien vs. Predator films (just yet). This is, of course, due to the release of Alien: Covenant on May 12 (in British cinemas), and also because it gives me an excuse to rewatch the Alien franchise, which I have not done since 2013.

That is my plan for the blog for May 2017, with which I wish you all Happy Reading!

FILM: A Hard Day’s Night (1964, Richard Lester)

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A Hard Day’s Night is a musical comedy, and the feature film debut of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr – a.k.a. The Beatles – as themselves! It is the height of Beatlemania, and the boys have a show in London, which will be televised live. While the show is important to them, the boys nevertheless want to have a good time, which is made harder by the crowds of fans that are everywhere and a somewhat uptight manager (Norman Rossington). Add into the equation the presence of Paul’s troublemaking grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell), and it is fair to say that this trip to London will be far from smooth sailing.

PROS

  • Although they are by no means Oscar worthy, the four Beatles give very natural performances that are highly engaging to watch, and bring a real sense of camaraderie to the film. They are highly likeable, and have very good comic timing and delivery, which is especially impressive given that none of them had had any formal acting training.
  • John, Paul, George and Ringo may prove to be natural talents on the big screen, but Wilfrid Brambell regularly steals the show, with outstanding comic timing and delivery, and a real sense of dry wit. He gets the most laughs, and is one of the most memorable aspects of the film – an impressive feat when you are a supporting star to The Beatles.
  • A very clever screenplay, with some fantastic farce, a real homage to the impact of Beatlemania in the 1960s, clever verbal gags, and an accurate recreation of the camaraderie of the era. One of the most clever moments, however, is when Grandad McCartney gets into Ringo’s head, as this part of the film puts a real emphasis on the fact that despite their musical genius and success, at this point in their lives the four Beatles were still young men, with a real sense of naive innocence to them.
  • Cinematographer Gilbert Taylor uses handheld cameras for much of the film, and does so perfectly. Said use of handheld camera gives an up-close capture of the hype that the fans felt for The Beatles back in 1964, emphasising the sense of unrestrained wildness that people would give in to at the prospect of seeing their four favourite musicians.
  • The number of cameos in this film is somewhat astounding, and upon rewatch, it is great fun to play a cheeky game of “Guess the Cameo.”

CONS

  • Early on in the film, there are a couple of brief moments where the visual and audio are not perfectly synced, and it is noticeable unfortunately.
  • The use of shaky cam in the first Can’t Buy Me Love sequence is unnecessary, and proves quite distracting from what is meant to be taking place on screen.

VERDICT: 9/10

FILM: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017, James Gunn)

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a superhero film, and the fifteenth instalment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Set several months after Guardians of the Galaxy, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is overwhelmed with a mixture of joy and curiosity when he finally meets Ego (Kurt Russell), his long-lost father. However, there is far more to Ego than meets the eye, a fact that the rest of the Guardians discover from Yondu (Michael Rooker), and soon they are having to save the Universe once again. This tough feat is also made harder by the fact that they are being pursued by the Sovereign race, after Rocket (Bradley Cooper) stole from them.

PROS

  • Good performances all round from the cast, with Chris Pratt proving a charismatic lead, Michael Rooker and Karen Gillan being engaging antiheroes, and Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel doing excellent voice performances as Rocket and Baby Groot respectively. As an ensemble, the Guardians have a believable chemistry with each other, which is key to the success of such a film.
  • Overall good visual effects, with the first two-thirds of the film boasting a rich colour palette that is stunning to look at, while the texture brought to Rocket and Baby Groot is exquisitely detailed.
  • Much of the film boasts a real sense of adventure, while the screenplay also boasts some very funny gags indeed, and the soundtrack is a lovely throwback to the music of the 1970s. It was also nice to see the relationship between Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) get more fleshed out.

CONS

  • The screenplay relies a little too much on comedy, which is clearly meant to distract the audience from the fact that the narrative is altogether quite convoluted, with a number of underdeveloped, unnecessary ideas, not least the Sovereign race. Also, those post-credit scenes proved a little disappointing…and there were five of them.
  • There are a number of running gags that are funny at first, but after a while it gets just a little too repetitive.
  • While the first two-thirds of the film boasts lovely visual effects, it all gets a bit much in the final third, with an over-reliance on CGI making the climax quite the eyesore, and the final fight being just as much of a mess as the showdown between Superman and Zod in the Man of Steel climax.

VERDICT: 6/10

TELEVISION: My Name is Earl (2005-2009)

My Name Is Earl title screen.jpg

My Name is Earl is an American sitcom, which originally aired on the NBC Network, and ran for a total of ninety-six episodes. The titular Earl (Jason Lee) is a lifelong loser and small-time criminal, who learns about Karma when he is in hospital. Determined to change his life, he makes a list of everything bad he has ever done, and sets out to make up for each of his mistakes one-by-one. Helping him on this journey is his little brother Randy (Ethan Suplee), as well as at various points their friend Catalina (Nadine Velazquez), his best friend Darnell, a.k.a. ‘Crabman’ (Eddie Steeples, and his ex-wife Joy (Jaime Pressly).

PROS

  • Earl is a protagonist to whom there is a real sense of relatability, as we all know what it is like to want to atone for our mistakes, and Jason Lee plays this very well, making Earl a very likeable character.
  • The co-stars all get moments to shine, but none more so than Ethan Suplee and Jaime Pressly, who have moments of comic gold in the first two seasons especially.
  • In Season 1 in particular, the humour was incredibly refreshing compared to that of most sitcoms, as it was simple, yet consistently witty in its simplicity.

CONS

  • The series peaked with Season 1, with Seasons 3-4 being bad, due to lesser gags, far less believability, poor ongoing storylines, and very dislikeable supporting characters, on top of many glaring continuity errors.
  • While they had some real moments to shine in Seasons 2 and 4 respectively, Nadine Velazquez and Eddie Steeples are very underused compared to their co-stars.
  • While it is not the fault of the screenwriters ultimately, the fact that the series ends with a ‘To be continued’ is highly disappointing. This is due to the series being cancelled less than a month after the end of Season 4, a fact made even more disappointing by the fact that creator Greg Garcia has since revealed the ending that he had envisioned for the series, which actually sounded pretty good.

VERDICT: 5/10