Movies – Beauty and the Beast Review (or “A Visual Feast, Not An Audible One”)

April 7, 2017

Seeing as pretty much everyone who goes to see Beauty and the Beast has probably already seen the cartoon version, the onus of any review should not be on whether or not it’s a good story, but rather if it manages to successfully bring the cartoon to life.

It does and it doesn’t.

From the very beginning you can see that unlike the Jungle Book – which played it straighter with almost none of the songs from the original present – this was planned as a shot for shot remake. Yes, it adds a bit here, removes a bit there and expands upon/offers a new interpretation on some elements from the cartoon, but it’s essentially the same thing.

And it looks spectacular, it really does. This movie is without question a feast for the eyes.

Unfortunately it’s not a feast for the ears.

Because here’s the problem; it’s a musical and many of the actors hired to play the parts can’t sing to the standard you’d expect.

Take Emma Watson for example; there’s no question that she looks the part for the role and although she’s not the best actress by any stretch of the imagination, she manages to get by.

But she really can’t sing.

She talks through most of her lyrics and every word seems to be auto-tuned to the max. It’s quite difficult to listen to, especially considering how good the songs are from the original.

You can almost excuse it though because the role of Belle really had to be filled with an actress of some repute.

What I don’t get is why they had to cast big-name actors who can’t sing for characters who are CGI teapots and candles for 99% of the movie. One of the big draws from the original was Angela Lansbury’s Beauty & The Beast song which gets absolutely murdered by Emma Thompson. The same applies to Ewan McGregor’s destruction of Be Our Guest.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I doubt many people go to see a movie based upon which actors are doing voice parts so why not just hire people who are maybe not so well-known but could have done a better job?

It’s not all bad though on that front. I thought the casting of The Beast (Dan Stevens) and especially Gaston (Luke Evans) was bang on. The latter managed to both look like the cartoon version and was actually able to sing.

And one of those songs brought up a significant aspect of the movie; Disney’s first openly LBGTQ character.

This has caused a lot of silly and unnecessary controversy from backward thinking countries/regions who are appalled at the thought of two men dancing but are strangely ok with a young girl falling in love with a giant horned animal.

I get the significance, but – and I say this as a straight, white male and thus not the demographic that this will be as important to – I can’t help but feel that making that first character the bumbling, stupid sidekick of the villain was a poor choice. And the writing and performance – especially in the Gaston song – seemed rather worryingly to be based on the relationship between Craig and Anthony in Big Brother 6. Anyone remember that?

Anyway, on the whole it was enjoyable but if you were to ask me if I’d rather watch this one or the original, I’d definitely pick the cartoon. The songs are just too central to what makes the movie what it is, and that’s where the live version is let down.

So it brings it visually to life, just not audibly.

 

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Movies – Finding Dory Review (or ‘Enjoyable Without Making Waves’)

August 12, 2016

If I didn’t criticise Finding Dory for the scene where an Octopus drives a lorry into the ocean, I’d be a hypocrite. After all, that was one of my main points of order in my review of the decidedly bland Secret Life of Pets.

The way I see it, you can only suspend your disbelief so far, as churlish as that sounds. For all the misadventures these various forms of sea-life got up to, that was one step too far.dory

Still, that aside, I thought Finding Dory was enjoyable.

Unlike the aforementioned pet movie, this was actually funny, heartwarming and had a solid narrative from beginning to end.

In particular, I liked the bits with the seals and when Nemo and Marlin were stuck in the tank with the clam.

The voice acting was also very good, with Modern Family’s Ty Burrell standing out as Bailey.

Of course, it does follow exactly the story you’d expect from a Disney film seeing as they now all essentially have the same plot of someone getting lost and then finding their way home, but you gets what you pays for.

It’s good, but not especially so.

And that’s pretty much all that needs to be said.

The only thing I’ll add – and it’s par for the course for my reviews of Disney movies – is that the pre-movie short was once again superb. In this case it’s a short animation called Piper about a sandpiper bird encouraged by its mother to go out to feed itself on the beach for the first time.

Without hyperbole, it’s the best quality animation I have ever seen in my life. It looks real. It’s utterly incredible.

The story is heartwarming too, but wow, if that’s the future of animation I’m blown away.

It was worth the admission fee alone.


Movies – The Jungle Book Review (or ‘A Very Po-Faced Review Of A Disney Classic’)

May 14, 2016

To write a review of The Jungle Book seems pretty pointless; let’s be honest, you all know the 1967 version and will have long since made up your mind whether you like it or not.the_jungle_book_poster_key_art

So I won’t waste much time here; this is purely for posterity and for my own record keeping.

I like it, it looks great, the CGI is as advanced as you’d expect and the plot is actually a little bit deeper than the animation.

My only issue with it is a very po-faced one.

I find it hard to take a movie where animals talk seriously.

An animation is fine, but a live action movie with a ‘real’ lion talking with the voice of Idris Elba? It’s daft.

Also slightly daft was the way it almost entirely avoided music until the scene with King Louie where he bursts into song. It’s like they couldn’t find any other way to let that part of the movie pan out.

Ach well.

 


Movies – The Finest Hours Review (or ‘We All Know Who Wears The Trousers In That Relationship’)

February 22, 2016

When you go to a disaster movie made by Disney, I suppose you should expect a tame affair.

And that’s exactly what The Finest Hours is.

Based on the true story of a small rescue boat that managed to overcome terrible weather to save (most of) the crew of an oil tanker that split off the coast of Massachusetts in the 1950s, this ends up being more finesthourgalleryfeel-good than exciting. Let’s face it, the title of the movie is a giveaway that everything turns out well.

But that’s not to say it’s bad – I found it watchable enough – it’s just that it lacks the excitement of the great disaster movies like The Towering Inferno or even the original Poseidon Adventure.

There’s very little drama involved in either the tanker’s predicament or the coastguards’ attempt to save them as the people in command of both have everything under control.

Have a look at the movie poster where the tagline is ’32 Survivors. Room For 12′. I don’t think I’m spoiling the movie to say that they got round that dilemma by someone saying “I’m sure they’ll all fit”, and they did.

Wow, that’s edge-of-the-seat stuff.

And while I’m sure that this is all how it happened in real life, the lack of creative license employed made me wonder why they even bothered making a movie out of such a straight-forward real life event in the first place?

To combat this, Disney decide to set the rescue as a backdrop to a rather odd love story between a quiet coastguard and an incredibly bossy woman, who – for the time it was set – seemed intent on emasculating him.

Not only does she propose to him (unusual for the time), but she turns up at his work and gives his boss a telling off in front of his mortified colleagues. It was all a bit cringe-worthy, as you sat there thinking about how you’d feel if your significant other did the same for you. The thought “Calm down, hen” occurred.

As with any movie based on a true story, this ended by letting us know what became of the main characters. We were told that the coastguard in question married his fiance on the day she wanted and lived “happily” until he died in 2009. But I imagine “happily” really meant “hen-pecked”, as he lived out an existence similar to the King of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland.

Anyway, I found that all a bit pointless and strangely realised, but then like I say, without it there wouldn’t be much to The Finest Hours beyond rejoicing in the heroics of the Coastguard.

Should you go to see it? Well if you’ve got an Unlimited Card there are worse ways to spend an evening, but it’s far from being must-see as far as I’m concerned.

 

 


Movies – Inside Out Review (or “Definitely Not *Just* For Kids”)

July 28, 2015

Lately I’ve been involved in a debate concerning animated films. Some people say that all animation is aimed specifically at children, and while that’s obviously ludicrous, the more intensified argument is whether or not the big budget ones like Disney’s Pixar movies are?

For me, it’s a no. You’d have to be a bit of a weird adult to go to see certain animated movies at the cinema – like the new Thomas the Tank Engine picture for example – but Pixar’s films have an appeal that spans all ages and demographics. They are deliberately aimed at everyone; if they weren’t, Disney wouldn’t be anywhere near as successful as it is.

Mindful of this, I went along to their newest effort, Inside Out.

Movies – Inside Out Review: What’s This About?

It’s about Riley, an 11-year-old girl who is uprooted from her life in Minnesota to live in San Francisco, and the little people in her head (or her five emotions Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust and Sadness) who struggle to insideoutnavigate her through this trying time in her life.

Some might say this is Disney stealing the DC Thomson idea of The Numbskulls, and they’d have a point.

Movies – Inside Out Review: Who’s In It?

Pixar get it bang on with the casting of this one, with Joy played by the super bubbly Amy Poehler, while Sadness is expertly performed by The Office’s Phyllis Smith. Other voice actors involved include Richard Kind, Mindy Kaling and Kyle Maclachlan.

Movies – Inside Out Review: How Highly Is It Rated?

Massively. I haven’t read a bad word about Inside Out, and whether it’s imdb (8.6), Rotten Tomatoes (98%), Metacritic (94%) or the written press, this is being described as a masterpiece.

Movies – Inside Out Review: My Thoughts

It’s quite clear that Inside Out is has more than one layer to it.

If you were going to be critical about the general plot it’s that it has essentially the same one as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Up, Wall-E or just about any other Pixar or Disney movie. You know the one I’m talking about; characters are separated from something or someone and must get back to where they need to go. On the way, they bump into a variety of hazards and characters.

In this case it’s Joy and Sadness who are accidentally removed from HQ  – Riley’s brain controls – and have to get back before something bad happens.

That’s the hook and that’s what the kids will follow.

But beyond that it’s a surprisingly deep movie that deals with – and does a decent job of explaining – complex issues like fading childhood memories, how our personalities are formed and the importance of varied emotion and how sadness isn’t the worst thing in the world.

There are even instances where specific characters and incidents will have different meanings to different age groups. As an example of this, the character of Bing Bong – Riley’s imaginary friend who has been wandering around her memories alone for the last few years – will come across as a loveable and funny character to kids, but to adults will seem like a sad reminder of a lost innocence. It’s all very well done.

And as you would expect, the way it’s done is designed to pull at the adult heart strings. Considering the amount of sobbing I heard during it and the dozens of people wiping away tears when the lights went up, I think it served its purpose.

As good as it is though, I don’t think I’d consider it quite the masterpiece the press are touting it as.

Because it did rely upon that same rather tired ‘Home Is Just Over That Mountain’ plot that Pixar use to fill up time in movies, it slowed down a bit too much in the middle, and for that it loses some points as far as I’m concerned.

But it is well worth seeing, and a reminder that these movies are not just for kids; there’s something there for all ages to enjoy.

But Wait, There’s More…

As with all Pixar movies, there’s an animated short before the main picture begins.

In the past these have been so good they have stolen the show, whether it was the one about the paper aeroplane or the old fashioned 2D/3D Mickey Mouse short.

With Inside Out, it’s a 5 minute long musical love story called Lava, about two volcanos who fall in love in a relationship that lasts for millions of years.

I thought it was fantastic, and managed to tell the standard romance story more effectively than most movies could hope to. Not only was it a lovely song, but it was presented in an animated style that really brought it to life. More than Inside Out, this tugged at my heart-strings.

Not for the first time, I thought the quality of the animated short exceeded the movie.

You should obviously see it yourself, but the song is available on YouTube.

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Movies: Saving Mr Banks Review (or “The Writers of Hitchcock Should Watch This And Learn”)

December 4, 2013

I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m a Disneyphile – their movies aren’t necessarily ones I would go out of my way to watch – but I love Walt Disney World and I have some pretty nifty memorabilia kicking about my house. Above my desk here for example I have framed old-fashioned attraction posters for Pirates of the Caribbean and Splash Mountain.

On top of that, I’ve always had an interest in the stories behind how films or TV shows are made. They tend to be – or at least have the potential to be – good period pieces that tell an absorbing tale.

So Saving Mr. Banks is one picture I’ve been looking forward to seeing…even though I haven’t seen Mary Poppins in almost 20 years.

Saving Mr Banks Review: What’s It About?

The true story of Walt Disney’s attempts to woo the writer of Mary Poppins – Mrs P. L. Travers – into handing over the rights to the movie.

Through a series of flashbacks to her childhood, we discover that the relationship between her and her father plays a major part in her hesitance to let Disney take the project on.

Saving Mr. Banks Review: Who’s In It?

Starring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as Travers, it also includes recognisable names like Bradley Whitford (The West Wing), B. J. Novak (The Office), Ruth Wilson (Luther – and it was bugging me not being able to placeSaving_Mr._Banks_Theatrical_Poster her in the cinema) and Hollywood stars Colin Farrell and Paul Giamatti.

So a pretty strong cast then.

Saving Mr. Banks Review: How Highly Is It Rated?

Well received by the critics, but with comparatively few votes on the big websites, Saving Mr Banks gets 7.5/10 on imdb and a 92% audience appreciation figure on Rotten Tomatoes

Thoughts – The Flashback Necessity

Earlier this year I was excited to see Hitchcock, as to me that was a story that had potential. But instead of focusing on how Psycho was brought to the screen – which was what it was marketed as – it instead wasted so much time on Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife, and as a result, what was supposed to be the main thrust of the plot took a back seat.

So that was in the back of my mind when going to see Saving Mr. Banks.

But thankfully, my worries were unfounded.

While Saving Mr. Banks devotes around half the screen time to flashbacks of Travers’s childhood in Australia at the turn of the 20th century and her relationship with her alcoholic dreamer of a father (the impressive Colin Farrell), it was necessary to the movement of the plot – as well as the motives and reasoning behind her manner in her adult life – and meant there was a continuous flow to the movie.

And those flashback scenes that showed the gradual decline of her father and the way the younger her coped with it, were actually quite emotional. Nicely done.

The Disney Stuff

Key to the quality of Saving Mr Banks though is the stuff set in 1960s Los Angeles at the Disney studios.

The first thing that struck me was the costume and set design, which seemed spot on. But would you expect anything less from a collaboration between Walt Disney Studios and BBC Films?

In particular, I thought the way they managed to transform Disneyland so it looked like it did back in the early 60s was fascinating. Even the little things like the more primitive cuddly toys were done right.

The casting too was top-notch, with Hanks and Thompson both playing their leading roles with aplomb. Though it’s difficult not to look at Hanks and just think “That’s Tom Hanks with a Walt Disney moustache”, you’ve still got to admire him as an actor. Looks aside, he’s completely different in this to his performance in Captain Phillips.

But it wasn’t just them; the rest of the cast all brought something to the table and it’s great to see Bradley Whitford – my favourite West Wing actor my a distance – back on our screens.

Aoart from all of that though, Saving Mr Banks succeeded where Hitchcock failed in my opinion in that it managed to be about what it said it was about; the story of the making of Mary Poppins.

That’s what drove the plot along, and that’s where the most interesting parts of the movie were. Travers’s objections to casting, animation, word choice, songs and even the colour red were intriguing – especially knowing how Mary Poppins turned out – and the exasperation of her American opponents at Disney to her objectionable behaviour was amusing.

If I was to criticise it for anything though, it would be that the ending perhaps didn’t reflect reality, with Travers ultimately being happy with the film. As far as I’m aware, she wasn’t – especially with the animation – and thus refused to work with Disney again.

But I suppose it’s a Disney film, so while they did a good job of showing the story from both sides up to a point, they were never going to finish it on the note of “Wow, Walt Disney double crossed her; what a bastard”. I mean…they refused to even show the man smoking – a key part of who he was and ultimately how he died – although they got round that by having him coughing his smoker’s cough as he approached rooms or when he was out of shot. And I bet they only agreed to that through gritted teeth!

Regardless though, it didn’t spoil the tone of the film or my enjoyment.

Saving Mr Banks Review: Final Thoughts

Going all the way back to the first movie review I did back in January 2011, I’ve stressed how important the Clock Test is. There’s no greater compliment I can give a film than that I was able to sit through it and stay captivated without checking my watch at any point.

And that’s what happened with Saving Mr Banks.

The time flew past.

I found it a highly enjoyable movie and would recommend it to anyone who appreciates good storytelling, period design or has an interest in the development of a film like Mary Poppins.

Great stuff.


Films: Wreck-It Ralph Review (or “A Fantastic Nostalgia-Fest For Anyone Who Likes Video Games”)

February 20, 2013

These days you just assume a Disney film will be made by Pixar, but not Wreck-It Ralph.

Indeed, this will only be the second 100% Disney film I’ve seen in the last 10 years, the disappointing Bolt being the other one.

So can Disney emerge from Pixar’s shadow to make a movie that people will compare to the likes of Toy Story?

What’s This One About

Wreck-It Ralph is a villain in an old arcade game who wants to be the hero for a change, so he decides to leave his own game and tries to win a heroic medal in a different one.

Thoughts – A Great Film For Arcade Fans

In many ways this is like Toy Story, but in an Arcade Game setting.

While the toys in Toy Story come to life whenever Andy is out of the room, in Wreck-It Ralph the game characters live their lives when the Arcade shuts at night, and mix amongst each other in their own little world.Wreck it Ralph

Immediately then, you get the feeling that while this is a film that will appeal to kids, it’s really one that is made for guys like me, by guys like me. In other words, it’s made for people who were old enough to play Arcade games in the 1980s and 90s.

And what a nostalgic treat it is.

While the two main games featured in the movie are fictional, there are cameos from characters from games like Sonic the Hedgehog, Pac-Man, Q-bert, Root Beer Tapper (obviously, they all drink in Tapper’s bar), Street Fighter, Mario, Dance Dance Revolution, Qix and Burger Time Deluxe.

Seeing these characters on-screen is just fantastic for anyone who has grown up with the evolution of video games.

While it’s fair to say that the young kids watching it won’t really appreciate that since…well…Arcades aren’t exactly in vogue any-more, I don’t think it’ll make much of a difference to their enjoyment, but it will instantly mean the film is a winner in the eyes of my generation.

But Is It Any Good Beyond The Nostalgia?

Of course, a film can’t just work on nostalgia alone; if Wreck-It Ralph was pish beyond that, it’d be hard to compliment it.

Luckily though, it’s a strong film with a plot that moves along fairly well.

I say fairly, because I do think it slowed down a bit too much in the middle, but it started and finished strong.

What it is though is standard Animated film fayre (I would say ‘Disney fayre’ but Shrek is the same) about a hero (or anti-hero) who goes on a journey, meets an unlikely sidekick who he initially doesn’t like but ultimately becomes great friends with and then overcomes some sort of moral problem before living happily ever after.

I can accept that as a story for kids – even if it is much of a muchness – because it gives off a feel-good and morally acceptable message to them.

Animation

The animation of Wreck-It Ralph is also very good.

I saw it  the normal way, so I can’t comment on how it looked in 3D, but I was pleased with the rich colours, the realisation of the animated characters and also the way each of the characters moved. That last point might seem a bit odd, but what I mean is that the characters from the old pixelated games from the 80s move like characters from games from that era, even when they are shown in their full 3D form. It adds a level of authenticity to the animation of a film that you can tell was made as a labour of love (although because it was made in the Disney Studio – aka Mousewitz – it’ll be a labour of love made under ridiculous pressure).

Random Observations

  • As you’re probably aware, Disney films always start with an unrelated animated short before the main feature. In this case it’s a short called Paperman. It’s a black & white animation set presumably in the 50s or 60s about a Brief Encounter between a young man and woman. They bump into each other in a train station but she leaves before he can get her number. He then sees her some time later in the building opposite from his office window, as tries to get her attention with a paper aeroplane. It’s a simple cartoon with no dialogue, but it’s beautifully hand-drawn in a traditional 2D style and is probably better than Wreck-It Ralph, which isn’t doing the main feature a disservice in the least.
  • More films should be drawn in that style.
  • I like the whole sidestory of “Going Turbo”, as well as its resolution, which is actually quite surprising.
  • I had no idea Zangief was a video game villain.
  • King Candy has a voice that sounds very much like Roger Rabbit, but alas it’s not the same guy.
  • The end bit is reminiscent of – but suitable different from – The Iron Giant, which I think is probably one of the more underrated animated films out there.
  • If I was to criticise the film, I’d say it might be slightly too long for some kids to enjoy. I went to an early afternoon showing, and by the last half hour, the under-10s in the audience were clearly losing focus. Then again, they’re probably too young to be in a cinema anyway.

Should You Go To See Wreck-It Ralph?

While it’s sad that there will be plenty of people who will refuse to go to see a Disney film unless they have children with them, these people are missing out.

Wreck-It Ralph is hardly a new formula for Disney, but where it stands out is that offers guys like me who have an appreciation of video games and arcades of the past a proper nostalgia fest for a couple of hours.

And it does it very well.

What’s more, it also shows that Disney are capable of making a good, well-animated movie without Pixar.