FILM: The Mummy (2017, Alex Kurtzman)

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The Mummy is an action/monster flick, which kicks off Universal Studio’s new Dark Universe franchise. Over 3000 years ago, Princess Ahmanet (Sophia Boutella) sold her soul to the God of Life and Death, Set (Javier Botet), who then put his own spirit into a dagger, with which she could put his spirit into a human host. For murdering her family, Ahmanet was mummified alive, and in the present day her tomb is discovered by archaeologist Jennifer (Annabelle Wallis), and soldiers Nick (Tom Cruise) and Chris (Jake Johnson), who take her body to London. There, she awakens, and sets her sights on putting Set’s spirit into Nick, leaving a trail of death and destruction in her wake.

CONS

  • A poor narrative, the screenplay especially proving to be a drag. Not only is there tonnes of exposition, but most of the scenes which are not action-based just drag, while the majority of the action sequences are convoluted and altogether poorly realised. Ultimately, however, the screenplay is too busy trying to set up this new cinematic universe, in particular any future Jekyll and Hyde projects.
  • The climax is not just convoluted, due to having far too many ideas thrown in, but it is a CGI mess that is frankly an eyesore to look at. A little less CGI, or perhaps some practical effects thrown in, and it would have been that bit more bearable to watch.
  • An altogether poor cast. Tom Cruise is a poor, unengaging lead in the majority of the more dialogue-heavy sequences, thanks to poor delivery of a number of his lines, and no real chemistry with co-star Annabelle Wallis. Wallis herself gives a very wooden, expressionless turn as Jennifer, her one-note turn having no range or variety. Meanwhile, Sophia Boutella is at best a pantomime villain, at worst a Razzie winner as Ahmanet, giving a truly shoddy performance, which is frankly irritating to watch. Oh, and Russell Crowe was quite underused as well

PROS

  • While his acting was not good, and the action convoluted, true to form Tom Cruise threw himself into the action sequences with real energy.
  • Some of the sets have quite interesting, detailed designs, even if said designs are not realised to their full potential, thanks not least to a lack of focus on them.

VERDICT: 2/10

FILM: Baby Driver (2017, Edgar Wright)

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Baby Driver is an action film, which debuted at the 2017 South by Southwest, before receiving cinematic distribution from TriStar Pictures. “Baby” (Ansel Elgort) is the ultimate getaway driver, thanks to great reflexes, and the ability to drive at high speeds in time to music. He listens to the music through his iPod Classic (for you kids who do not remember them, it is what we listened to music with before Apple launched touchscreen products), which drowns out the permanent ringing in his ears, which he has had since a car crash in his childhood. Baby is a getaway driver for dangerous gangster Doc (Kevin Spacey), to whom he is in debt, but with the debt almost paid in full, Baby sets his sights on making a fresh start with new love interest Debora (Lily Collins), which will be easier said than done, given who his boss is.

PROS

  • While it may not be a comedy, Baby Driver is an Edgar Wright film through and through. The narrative is ultimately about a protagonist who is not in the easiest of situations, but who gets more and more out of his depth, as the number of dangerous beings in his life grows. The tension gradually builds throughout the film, with Baby being given a fleshed out backstory and a multilayered personality, which makes him a protagonist whom we, the viewers, warm to, and by the climax, we are on the edge of our seats, transfixed to the screen, hoping that Baby will succeed.
  • On a technical level this is also classic Edgar Wright, under whose direction this is a very fast paced film, with never a dull moment. Like Hot Fuzz in particular, this film has excellent close up cinematography and tracking shots, crafted beautifully this time by Bill Pope. The editing department do an excellent job, using their skills to create a number of slick action sequences, all of which boast near flawless continuity editing.
  • There is not a single weak link in this cast, many of whom get a real chance to shine in this film. Ansel Elgort gives a nuanced, multilayered turn as Baby, conveying so much through expression. Elgort has an excellent chemistry with Lily Collins; while he also conveys a heartfelt bond with CJ Jones, who plays his foster father. Jamie Foxx and Jon Hamm both give chilling turns, giving their respective criminal characters a real sense of sadism and of being unhinged. Kevin Spacey, however, regularly steals the show, channelling his inner Frank Underwood in order to bring a real sense of danger to Doc, but balancing that with a caring, paternal side of the character.

CONS

  • Like all of Edgar Wright’s previous films, this gets altogether rather silly in the climax, but unlike Wright’s earlier films it does end up being quite predictable, not least because there are a number of moments which feature notable foreshadowing.
  • While there are no bad performances, some of the cast do get a disappointing amount of screen time, namely Jon Bernthal and Flea, who portray criminals who work for Doc. Equally, some of the supporting characters are rather one-sided, namely Darling (Eiza González), who is given very little personality, while her rapport with husband Buddy (Jon Hamm) does get irritating.

VERDICT: 8/10

PREVIEW: July 2017

Good day to you, readers.

First of all, I must apologise for the lack of content this month. In the first half of the month I was having a very busy time at work, and frankly by the time I was getting home of an evening, I was too tired to do anything really. In the latter half of the month I had some time off, but as there were a lot of people who I needed to catch up with in that time, blogging kind of was not my priority. Nevertheless, I should have a couple of new reviews up before the month is over.

Anyway, looking ahead to July 2017, another month of regular reviews should be coming. I have a number of cinema visits lined up for July, including Transformers: The Last KnightCars 3Spider-Man: HomecomingWar for the Planet of the Apes and Dunkirk. As ever I will also watch/rewatch films on DVD and/or Netflix, so will get reviews for any of those up.

Also to commemorate the franchise’s 20th birthday, and because the titular protagonist has his birthday in the same month as me, I will be reviewing all of the Harry Potter films and books, not including the recent spin-off film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I will be reviewing as regularly as I can, but weddings, anniversary parties and preparing for my house move in August will be eating up a fair chunk of my free time, hence I will not be posting daily.

Regardless, I look forward to bringing the blog and you, my readers, new content in July, so keep your eyes peeled, and happy reading!

FILM: A Monster Calls (2016, J.A. Bayona)

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A Monster Calls is a dark fantasy film, which was distributed internationally by Summit Entertainment. Twelve-year-old Conor O’Malley (Lewis MacDougal) is going through a difficult time. He is being bullied at school, his mother (Felicity Jones) is undergoing cancer treatment, and he does not see that much of his estranged father (Toby Kebbell); his love for art serves as his escapism. One night, a giant tree-like Monster (Liam Neeson) visits him, and continues to do so every day, in order to tell him stories, which help Conor come to terms with his reality, the Monster’s true goal being to get Conor to open up and overcome his worst dreams and biggest problems.

PROS

  • A Monster Calls boasts a fantastic screenplay, which is far more mature and serious than your typical family film. It approaches serious themes, such as loneliness and mortality, which are themes that can be accessible to people of any age, and does so in a clever way, with screenwriter Patrick Ness (on whose novel the film is based) trusting his audience to understand and take it all on board. While there are truly poignant moments, particularly in the final twenty minutes, there is nevertheless a sense of heart and warmth to the narrative, as it emphasises the importance of things like family and your own individuality.
  • The cast is unanimously excellent, with the cast realising well their individual characters, and said characters’ various relationships. Lewis MacDougal is very expressive, using his face very well in a number of moving scenes, in order to convey Conor’s inner anguish and frustrations. The most unforgettable character and performance, however, is Liam Neeson as The Monster. Neeson throws himself into this motion capture performance, and brings an enormous amount of authority and warmth to The Monster, providing the film with many of its most captivating scenes.
  • On a technical level this film is outstanding. The Monster is a gorgeous CGI creation, beautifully textured, and blends in perfectly with the rest of what is on screen. The animated sequences that depict his stories are stunning watercolours, the rich colour palette coming together perfectly, and providing the film with some of the most refreshing animation in many a long year. Meanwhile, cinematographer Óscar Faura uses close-up shots very well in order to convey how personal art is to someone; while composer Fernando Velázquez creates a lovely, nuanced score, which is perfect for the narrative it accompanies.
  • J.A. Bayona shares a clear vision with writer Patrick Ness, and in his (Bayona’s) direction he conveys a beautiful story of a personal journey in which the central character must reluctantly accept the inevitable, while realising his own self-worth.

CONS

  • There is only one true con to this film, as any other flaw (such as Toby Kebbell deserving more screen time) is more of a nitpick, but it is a very noticeable con. It is that there is no real sense of consequence. Conor’s overcoming of his demons, and his standing up for himself, results in him lashing out, and causing real hurt to others, yet he is not punished at all. A considerable number of the audience are youngsters, and for Conor’s actions to not have consequences does convey a bad message.

VERDICT: 9/10

FILM: Pete’s Dragon (2016, David Lowery)

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Pete’s Dragon is a remake of Disney’s 1977 fantasy-adventure of the same title. For six years eleven-year-old orphan Pete (Oakes Fegley) has lived in the forest with dragon Elliot, who can remain undetected thanks to the ability to become invisible. One day, Pete encounters forest ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), who starts to do some digging to find out where he came from. Upon his telling her of Elliot, she starts to investigate whether Pete’s claims are true, an investigation which could disrupt Pete and Elliot’s peaceful life together.

PROS

  • Pete’s Dragon is a visually stunning film, with a lovely colour palette, and a beautifully designed dragon in the form of Elliot, who is textured beautifully, and whose eyes convey real emotion. Elliot is a beautiful CGI creation, who is merged perfectly with the live-action backdrops, and whose flights are depicted majestically by a number of long and tracking shots.
  • Oakes Fegley is a natural actor, giving a nuanced turn as Pete, and interacting very convincingly with the CGI creation that is Elliot. He also has a good chemistry with Oona Laurence, who plays Grace’s future stepdaughter Natalie; while Robert Redford gives a warm, genial turn as Natalie’s father.
  • The narrative has a real sense of adventure for Pete and Elliot as they encounter and learn of the real world, which proves very enjoyable. There are several moments also that boast real warmth and emotion.

CONS

  • The narrative does have some genuinely undeniable pacing issues. While there is a real sense of adventure in the jungle, the scenes in civilisation often drag, and are noticeably less engaging to watch.
  • While there are no bad performances from the supporting cast of adults, there are no memorable performances, or for that matter memorable characters. These are fairly expendable characters, with little substance, serving only as plot devices.

VERDICT: 7/10

FILM: Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017, Joachim Rønning/Espen Sandberg)

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Note: Salazar’s Revenge is the UK subtitle, in almost every other country which has English as their first language, it is of course Dead Men Tell No Tales.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge is a fantasy-adventure film, and the fifth instalment of Disney’s hugely successful franchise. After being freed from the Devil’s Triangle, undead sailors led by Salazar (Javier Bardem) start hunting Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), who caused them to be cursed in the first place when he was a youngster. Jack finds out about this, and starts looking for the Trident of Poseidon, with which he can defeat Salazar and rule the seas, but in order for him to succeed he must work with long-term frenemy Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), as well as astronomer Carina (Kaya Scodelario), and Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites). Henry also needs to find the Trident, as it is the only thing that can free his father and Jack’s old friend, Will (Orlando Bloom), from the curse of The Flying Dutchman.

PROS

  • The funnest sense of adventure that this franchise has had in a very, very long time. Yes, scenes such as the Jack and his crew botching up a bank robbery are absolutely ridiculous, but they are highly energetic scenes, which are good on a technical level, and were good, fun pieces of entertainment for the audience.
  • Johnny Depp is just as energetic and quirky as ever as Jack, even if he does nothing new with the character or his performance. Javier Bardem delivers Salazar’s dialogue quite chillingly; while Kaya Scodelario and Brenton Thwaites have a good rapport with each other.
  • Overall, this film is good on a technical level, with the bare minimum use of shaky cam in the action sequences, and unique CGI creations in the form of Salazar’s crew. Big scale spectacle is at its most prominent in the climax, although it still does not stop the more serious themes of self-sacrifice from standing out.

CONS

  • Like with the second, third and fourth instalments of the franchise, this film’s key drawback is the screenplay. It is silly, and while a number of the sillier moments are fun, the rest of them are stupid and, in the final third of the film, rather convoluted. A key issue, however, is the fact that this film is trying to tie up all of the loose ends from At World’s End and On Stranger Tides, despite also trying to leave little hints that there will be a sixth film. This would not be as bad, however, were it not for the fact that a number of continuity errors are created in the process.
  • While the visual effects are good, there is one thing that was a very bad idea, and also happened to be my least favourite thing about the recent Star Wars film Rogue One. That is the replacing of one actor’s face with that of another’s, via CGI. This is done in a flashback sequence, where Johnny Depp’s younger face replaces the face of Anthony De La Torre, who plays a young Jack, ergo De La Torre’s performance is totally undermined. My other issue with the CGI was the ghost sharks at Salazar’s command. Just the concept of them alone felt like something from a SyFy Channel original film.
  • Geoffrey Rush is less energetic or engaging as Barbossa than he was in the last four films. Meanwhile, there are a number of either one-sided or wooden turns from a number of the supporting cast, including David Wenham, Stephen Graham, Adam Brown and Danny Kirrane.

VERDICT: 4/10

FILM: The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953, Charles Crichton)

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The Titfield Thunderbolt is a comedy film, which was distributed by Ealing Studios. The residents of Titfield are horrified to learn that the government intend to close their local branch line, as that is a stretch of railway that the villagers rely upon. Reverend Sam Weech (George Relph) and squire Gordon Chesterford (John Gregson) get enough funding to buy the line, and run it themselves voluntarily. However, they must resort to underhand tactics to keep it open, thanks to some serious foul play from the bus operating company.

PROS

  • A good ensemble cast, with a particularly enthusiastic performance from George Relph, while Stanley Holloway brings a real sense of class to the millionaire who backs the project.
  • Excellent use of long-shots, which convey beautifully the majesty and grandeur of a steam locomotive roaring through the countryside. There is also good use of close ups in order to bring the viewer right into the heart of operating a steam locomotive.
  • Some fun moments of slapstick in the ongoing clash between the bus operators and the railway volunteers, although this is by no means as enjoyable to watch as the sense of community spirit surrounding the railway project.

CONS

  • While none of the performances are bad, with the exceptions of Sam and train driver Dan (Hugh Griffith), none of the characters are at all memorable, with the majority of them simply serving as either a plot device or a means of extending the film’s running time.
  • While slapstick is all well and good, this film gets a little too farcical at times, with an unnecessary amount of slapstick. Plus are we really meant to believe that a man of the cloth would wantonly endanger lives?
  • While the titular locomotive is beautiful to behold in technicolor, this is the only part of the film for which the technicolor is a plus, as black-and-white steam locomotive films of previous years look more charming.

VERDICT: 6/10

FILM: Moana (2016, Ron Clements/John Musker)

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Moana is a fantasy-adventure film, and Disney’s 56th Animated Feature Film. A thousand years ago, demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) stole the heart of goddess Te Fiti, before losing it to the ocean. In the present day darkness has started to affect the Polynesian Island paradise of which Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) is a Princess. The heart of Te Fiti washes up on their shores, and returning it to Te Fiti is the only way to stop the darkness. However, Moana cannot do this alone, so she goes on a mission to find and recruit Maui, so that he may help her return the heart.

PROS

  • Truly stunning animation from start to finish. The colour palette is rich and beautiful, giving the Polynesian Islands a real sense of vivid natural beauty and texture, and much of nature (in particular the ocean) really does have a photo-realistic quality. The character designs are also excellent, in particular that of Maui, whose tattoos are very well designed and are brought to wonderful life.
  • The narrative is well paced, and is a really fun adventure, which gives both Moana and Maui well rounded character arcs, as they both change on the inside thanks to this adventure. Polynesian culture is depicted well, and it was so, so refreshing to see an animated film about people of said culture, as opposed to an animation that is predominantly about white people.
  • There is a good balance between drama and humour. Some of the best humour comes from moronic chicken Heihei (Alan Tudyk), and also from one of Maui’s tattoos – a mini-Maui who has life (like the paintings in Hogwarts in Harry Potter), and who has great banter with Maui. The songs are also excellent, with How Far I’ll Go having potential to be the next Let it Go, and You’re Welcome being one of the most fun Disney songs in a very, very long time.
  • A unanimously excellent voice cast, with the most memorable being Dwayne Johnson, whose performance as Maui is genuinely flawless and highly engaging. As Moana, Auli’i Cravalho gives a passionate voice performance, bringing both emotion and authority to the character. Of the supporting voice cast, the best is Rachel House, who brings a beautiful sense of warmth to Moana’s grandmother, Tala.

CONS

  • While it is always refreshing for a Disney film to have no true villain, goddess Te Fiti and demon Te Kā are given very little personality or development, and the climactic fight against Te Kā is really just Maui’s show (which, in fairness, is highly entertaining).
  • Regardless of how refreshing it was for Polynesian people to be the film’s central characters, their narrative and journey is quite formulaic, and has been done by many other Disney films in previous years.

VERDICT: 8/10

FILM: Wonder Woman (2017, Patty Jenkins)

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Wonder Woman is a superhero film, the fourth instalment in the DC Extended Universe, and is distributed by Warner Bros. It is 1918, and Amazonian Princess Diana (Gal Gadot), daughter of Zeus, lives in an Amazonian paradise, blissfully unaware of World War I going on. When United States spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is saved by Diana, she learns of the war. Convinced that it is down to the God of War – Ares (David Thewlis) – she goes with Steve, determined to kill Ares, and end World War I. It is on the frontline that she will learn of her destiny and become Wonder Woman.

PROS

  • Gal Gadot is excellent as Diana, bringing a real sense of authority and strength to the character, and is very engaging to watch. She has good chemistry with Chris Pine, who gives a good turn as Steve. The two are backed by a unanimously solid supporting cast, with particularly memorable turns from Ewen Bremner, David Thewlis, Danny Huston, Saïd Taghmaoui and Robin Wright.
  • The screenplay is a well paced one, which gives its titular character a coherent character arc, and develops her worldview very well as she goes through terrible experiences. The battle scenes are suspenseful ones, and it is in these scenes that the serious themes of sacrifice and discovering your destiny come to the forefront.
  • Visually this is an excellent film. The film boasts an excellent colour palette, especially in the first part of the film set in Diana’s Amazonian home, which was especially refreshing after the darker, barely coloured visuals of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The costume designs are excellent, with a clear contrast between those of Diana’s people and those of 1918 London. Meanwhile, the battle sequences are brought to very enthralling life by lovely CGI, some good practical effects, and wonderful cinematography, which has the bare minimal use of shaky cam.

CONS

  • While their performances are good, both Connie Nielsen and Eugene Brave Rock are quite underused, and do not get as much chance to shine as other members of the supporting cast. Equally it would have been nice to have seen a bit more of Saïd Taghmaoui and Robin Wright.
  • The climax does get a bit convoluted at times, as there are several ongoing missions (for lack of a better word), and some of them get slightly rushed as a result.

VERDICT: 8/10

FILM: Norm of the North (2016, Trevor Wall)

An anthropomorphic polar bear, walking in the city's streets, with three little lemmings over his shoulders and head, with a white t-shirt of "New York" and the film's title, slogan and billing underneath him.

Norm of the North is an animated adventure, produced mainly by both Assemblage Entertainment and Splash Entertainment, and was given its cinematic distribution by Lionsgate. The titular Norm (Rob Schneider) is a dancing polar bear, who is horrified to discover that New York business tycoon Mr Greene (Ken Jeong) is planning to build condos in the arctic. Norm, along with three lemmings, travels to New York in order to stop Greene.

CONS

  • Genuinely appalling animation, with awful character designs, minimal texture to the animals, and no texture to the atrociously designed backgrounds. This animation quality is very basic, to the standard of an early computer animated television programme from the late 1990s/early 2000s. In defence of this film (I just wrote that, and died slightly inside doing so), this was originally meant to be a direct-to-DVD film, ergo it did not get given the budget that a theatrical animation would have had.
  • The screenplay is appalling, with ridiculous slapstick that is a bore to watch, running gags that are not at all funny, very one-sided, unengaging characters, and dance numbers that are frankly a drag to watch. There are also huge moments of illogical nonsense, such as when Norm first arrives in New York. He runs through a crowded street, and while some people react in terror, others act like it is nothing out of the ordinary. Seriously? A polar bear in New York is something that everyone will love.
  • The characters are poorly written, but their narratives are nowhere near as annoying as the voice cast. Rob Schneider, Ken Jeong, Colm Meaney, Heather Graham, Loretta Devine and even Bill Nighy are highly irritating as these characters, making the film even more of a headache to sit through.
  • Given the original plans for the film, as well as the budget (or lack thereof), this film should never have been released in cinemas. Had the original plan gone ahead, then this film would have just been another bog standard children’s direct-to-DVD animation.

PROS

  • Although it is very poorly handled, there is a good message about how nature can be more important than something material.

VERDICT: 1/10