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.
  • Ultimately this film relies far too much on nostalgia for Disney’s animated film from 1991, with the few original ideas that are brought to the table being altogether quite underwhelming.

VERDICT: 7/10

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)

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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 (not least due to over-reliance on negative, exaggerated stereotypes), 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, 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: 4/10

FILM: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006, Gore Verbinski)

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest is a swashbuckling fantasy adventure, distributed by Disney, and is the sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) are arrested on their wedding day for their role in the escape of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). However, Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander) makes a deal with Will – they shall both be released if Will can find Jack, and bring back his compass to Beckett. Will agrees, but little does he know that Jack is also in hot water, as the fact that he has not repaid a decade old debt to Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) means that Jones wants his soul.

PROS

  • Overall good visual effects, plus some well edited action sequences.
  • Johnny Depp brings real energy to the role of Captain Jack Sparrow, a role that he clearly enjoys playing in this film.
  • Character designs for Davy Jones and the crew of The Flying Dutchman have good potential, and are interesting.

CONS

  • The potential in a number of the character designs is ruined by an overabundance of CGI.
  • A poorly paced, convoluted narrative, with an unnecessary amount of ideas.
  • Poorly utilised characters, a number of whom are poorly realised, with Davy Jones being one not used to his full potential unfortunately.
  • Action sequences are well crafted, but frankly get quite ridiculous.
  • The whole film ends up simply being a plot device for its sequel, whereas this film would be more redeemable had it ended the franchise.

VERDICT: 3/10

VIDEO GAMES: Pokémon Blue Version (1996, Game Freak), Pokémon Red Version (1996, Game Freak)

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Pokémon Blue Version and Pokémon Red Version are role-playing games for the Game Boy, which were published by Nintendo, and kicked off the phenomenally successful Pokémon franchise. In the game you are the playable character, who is just starting his Pokémon journey. For your journey you are given a starter Pokémon by Professor Oak, who tasks you with capturing all 151 Pokémon in order to gather data for the Pokédex. Upon capturing Pokémon, you train them in order for them to be used in battle against other trainers, the eight Gym Leaders of the Kanto region, and eventually the Elite Four. This will not be easy, not least as all of this has to be done on top of also defeating the villainous Team Rocket.

PROS

  • Pokémon saved handheld gaming with these games, providing a highly original, unique gaming experience, the like of which had never been done before, and one that is highly addictive.
  • The games utilise an overworld perspective, making it far easier to navigate around the (highly detailed) Kanto region than it is to navigate around many other role-playing game worlds.
  • For 1996 games, the graphics are nothing short of outstanding, with lots of detail and a very good quality brought to this video game world.
  • The designs of the 151 Pokémon are each unique in their own way, while the visions of the concept artists are clearly realised, thanks to the graphics and the hard work done by the programmers.
  • Due to the fact that Pokémon types are such a big deal, these are games which encourage tactical gameplay, as you have to think carefully about which Pokémon you will use in battle, and what moves said Pokémon will need to know in order to stand a good chance of success.
  • The only way to complete the Pokédex is to trade from Blue to Red and vice versa, therefore this is the first handheld console game to have encouraged gamers to game with their friends. This is something that the franchise has been renowned for, which I can testify to having spent countless hours of my youth playing various Pokémon games with my good friend Paul.

NITPICKS

  • A couple of minor glitches, something that was inevitable given the size of this video game world.
  • A couple of Pokémon are slightly different in their concept art than they are in the games (which was amended for the sequels), most notably Koffing (see below), which never fails to amuse my nostalgic side to be fair.
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Koffing concept art
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Koffing in-game sprite

VERDICT: 10/10

FILM: Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016, James Bobin)

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Alice Through the Looking Glass is a fantasy film, distributed by Disney, and is the sequel to Alice in Wonderland. Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returns to England after three years at sea, and is devastated to learn that her ex-fiancee Hamish (Leo Bill) has bought her family home, leverage with which he tries to blackmail her. However, Alice is led back to Wonderland by Absolem (Alan Rickman), where the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is dangerously ill, and his family missing. Alice then travels through time, thanks to Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) himself, with the goal of saving Hatter, by piecing together the mystery of where his family went. However, with the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) serving as another obstacle, this will be easier said than done.

CONS

  • A very poorly paced screenplay, with ‘real world’ scenes that progress slowly, while most Wonderland scenes are quite frenetic, with the emotional impact of serious scenes thereby being lost, and the narrative a headache to follow.
  • Some very irritating voice performances, the most redeemable being Alan Rickman, who is sadly underused in what turned out to be his final film role.
  • Poor acting by the live action actors, due to the fact that they frankly cannot interact with the CGI characters to save their lives, therefore their dialogue feels forced and unrealistically conveyed.
  • TOO MUCH CGI!!! The film is a visual mess, a true eyesore, worsened by a garish colour palette, and is frankly revolting to look at in the narrative’s ghastly climax.

PROS

  • Okay, it was tacked on as an afterthought, but there is nevertheless a well meaning and substantial message at the end, about how friendship, happiness and being true to yourself is more important than wealth, status and how others think of you.

VERDICT: 1/10

 

TELEVISION: The Inbetweeners (2008-2010)

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The Inbetweeners is a British sitcom that originally aired on E4, with a total of eighteen episodes during its run. Will McKenzie (Simon Bird) is starting at the sixth form of Rudge Park Comprehensive, following his parents’ divorce. His upper-middle class upbringing and social awkwardness immediately results in his alienation from the majority of his peers, bar three – Simon (Joe Thomas), Jay (James Buckley) and Neil (Blake Harrison). Together they are the titular Inbetweeners, a little too cool to fit in with the school’s outcasts, but not quite cool enough to fit in with the most popular pupils.

PROS

  • All four leads play their character types perfectly, with Simon Bird nailing social awkwardness, and Blake Harrison being convincingly gullible as Neil.
  • Co-creators and co-writers Iain Morris and Damon Beesley craft a number of mad situations and moments over the course of the series, several of which are quite memorable and one cannot help but laugh at in a cringy way. There are also several hilarious moments of slapstick throughout the series’ run as well.

CONS

  • While the four leads play their character types perfectly, they are simply too old to be doing this type of programme. The four characters are sixteen-years-old in the first episode, but the actors are all aged twenty to twenty-four, meaning that by the final episode, two and a half years later, they look far too old to be believable as sixth formers.
  • A large number of the jokes revolve around bullying, prejudices, narrow-minded attitudes and the nerves surrounding relationships. These are not at all appropriate topics for a sitcom to deal with in a humorous way, the fact that these are dealt with jokingly being nothing short of despicable. These are topics that should be dealt with in a teenage drama instead.
  • While a number of gags are amusing in a cringy type of way, a number of them are so cringy that one cannot help but stare at the screen in disbelief at the fact that jokes of that ilk could be considered funny.
  • As a whole, the four main characters are dislikeable, which is a recipe for disaster with regards to a sitcom. The only one who is close to being genuinely likeable is Will, as despite his peculiarities, he does have morals, and points out to his friends the absurdity of what they are thinking of doing.

VERDICT: 3/10

FILM: Logan (2017, James Mangold)

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Logan is a superhero film, distributed by 20th Century Fox, and is the tenth film in the expanded X-Men franchise. Mutantkind is near extinction, and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is back to being plain old Logan, working as a limo driver in order to fund Charles Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) medical care, the latter now being in his nineties. Logan, however, also feels the effect of age, his regenerative abilities far slower than they previously were, and his body covered in scars. When a small child called Laura (Dafne Keen) comes into their lives, they discover that she is a mutant with similar powers to Logan. What they do not realise is how complicated her backstory is, and they end up going cross-country in order to protect her from Transigen.

PROS

  • A beautiful screenplay, with a very serious overall tone, and far more grit and substance to it than previous instalments of the franchise, dealing with themes of mortality and honour in greater depth than ever before. There are nevertheless some lovely moments of humour also, which do come as welcome light relief.
  • The fact that we are given an antagonistic force with several prominent characters adds an interesting dynamic to the whole film.
  • Hugh Jackman gives one of the best performances of his career, giving a really multilayered turn as Logan, a number of his scenes proving to be very moving indeed. He is well supported by a sensitive turn from Patrick Stewart and an engaging performance by Dafne Keen.
  • On a technical level this film is altogether excellent, with most of the fight scenes being beautifully choreographed, excellent practical effects and production design, and consistently detailed makeup.

CONS

  • While exciting, the climax does get a little over the top, while the use of shaky cam is unnecessary.
  • Given the importance of the group of mutant children in the final third of the film, it is slightly disappointing that so many of them are little more than extras, there solely to be used as a plot device.

VERDICT: 8/10