MARY AND THE WITCH’S FLOWER

Meari To Majo No Hana [メアリと魔女の花]

Director
Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Starring
Hana Sugisaki
Ryunosuke Kamiki
Yuki Amami
Fumiyo Kohinata



Set in the English countryside, young Mary Smith [Sugisaki] has moved in with her great Aunt Charlotte. Bored by her simple surroundings, Mary finds herself wondering the woods, having followed a pair of cats named Tib and Gib. Deep in the forest she comes across a small blue flower. Back at home she learns that the flower is called “fly by night” and is very rare; she also learns that the two cats belong to a precocious young boy in the village named Peter [Kamiki]. Unbeknownst to Mary, the picking of the flower generates a dense mist and again, she follows the cat into the woods, finding an old broomstick covered in vines. When the bud of the flower bursts in her hand, she absorbs the fluid and is imbued with magical powers and immediately transported to the fantastical Endor College, overseen by Headmistress Madam Mumblechook [Amami] and the outlandish Doctor Dee [Kohinata]. But with the college’s number one rule being “trespassers will be transformed” will she be discovered and suffer the consequences?

Separate from the merits of the film itself, Mary And The Witch’s Flower’s biggest point of note will be the fact it is the first film in Studio Ponoc’s future catalogue. With Ponoc being an offshoot of Studio Ghibli, avoiding any comparison between the two studios is nigh on impossible. I have no doubt that over the coming years Ponoc will forge its own identity but everything from the stylistic design and the music to the animators and chosen story, feels like a Ghibli release; and with so many veteran Ghibli creatives working on this release, the presence of this very recognisable aesthetic is hardly surprising. Having said that, this feature feels similar to Tales From Earthsea, Arrietty and When Marnie Was There in that it’s a very high quality feature but doesn’t feel as good as Ghibli’s upper tier releases. Yet I remain hopeful that standing will improve as soon as they release an original property rather than an adaptation.

Like all hand-drawn animation, in this age of cheap, plasticy computer generated imagery, there is a distinct nostalgia-infused beauty to the visuals. Admittedly, cinema magnifies flaws and quite a few scenes were presented with some rushed or elementary animation but even at its weakest moments, the craft involved feels imbued with more care and attention to detail than most mainstream releases. As with something like Porco Rosso or The Wind Rises, there is a dreamlike quality to the setting, a mixture of reality and expectation. Which isn’t exactly surprising given that producer Yoshiaki Nishimura stated the artists visited rural England for research but were encouraged to draw from what they remembered rather than direct references like photos, that way they would capture the personality and impression of the place. Adding to this dreamlike quality is the fantastic score, by Takatsugu Muramatsu, with its plinky elements and impressive use of a dulcimer to give an otherworldly ambience. Equally, the sound design is wonderful and immersive, creating atmospheric realm of magic and intrigue.

Before I get on to discussing the performances, I should highlight that I will be expressly referring to the original language recording. Having only sampled the dub version, it sounds over-boiled and grating, so I can only imagine it had a detrimental impact. In terms of delivery, personality and character, there isn’t a single weak component present; each main character is eccentric enough to be recognisable without slipping into over-the-top absurdity. And yet, in its simplicity, there is a slight hollowness to Mary and her adventure. Specifically that she doesn’t seem to have changed much at all; so much so that the final shot of the film could quite easily have been dubbed with a triumphant, “I learned.. NOTHING! Yay!” It’s not that Mary is a bad character, she merely lacks fleshing out in terms of consequence and proactivity. In fact, I would go further and say the films lacks dimensionality all over but I think that may be more the fault of the source material than this particular interpretation. On top of that, it would be easy enough to draw a comparison between Mary And The Witch’s Flower and something like Alice In Wonderland – a similarly dreamlike fantasy that doesn’t explore the lasting fallout of its bizarre adventure.

Aside from the main character, the supports hint at an interesting universe but only scratch the surface. In the most obvious example, Endor College is really only gleaned but additionally, there are so many random subplots that are alluded to but go nowhere. The film opens on a pending funeral for the town’s mayor. There doesn’t seem to be any significance or connection to the story and other than a line or two of dialogue and someone dressed in black, it bears no relevance to the story. We also have a lot of fog surrounding Peter’s mother. He seems highly motivated to return home to take care of her, even saying he would want magical powers and to grow older in order to take care of her but, again, no explanation as to why. There’s also the functionality of the school during and after the oversight of Doctor Dee and Madam Mumblechook, we see there are other teachers but anything peripheral to Mary’s actions are non-existent, to the degree that if I was to discover the other pupils at the school were an illusion, it would be entirely plausible.

While it may not be the most engaging or praiseworthy example of an animated adventure, it succeeds where other huge family targeted blockbusters fail. We are given a passionate female lead, the story never talks down to children, there are zero burp or fart jokes that feel the need to crop up for a cheap laugh and the narrative is clear and easy to follow. All in all, Mary And The Witch’s Flower is a perfectly commendable release but like a lot of things released in early 2018, with the talent involved, they were capable of much more.


Release Date:
4th May 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
**spoilers**
In one scene, we experience a semblance of humanising for the villains and suddenly the antagonist themes fell into doubt. As the story progresses, we learn that the flower that Mary discovered was stolen from the college decades ago and both Doctor Dee and Madam Mumblechook have been experimenting on animals. Obviously this is typical bad guy stuff and we immediately want to see them bested. But when it comes to experimenting on humans, we learn that their end goal is to further magical studies and gift everyone with magical powers. Suddenly their motives are seemingly quite noble, trying to establish a state of equality. I appreciate the methods are questionable but it’s a curious turn. Equally, in other fictional representations, magic is usually depicted as a natural source of power and one in harmony with nature. While there are elements of that present here, there seems to be a distinct presence of balance and the idea that the expansion (or abuse) of magic being in direct violation with nature – a theme usually reserved for the advancement of technology and industry over rustic living.

Notable Characters:
The first faculty member that Mary encounters is an anthropomorphic fox named Flanagan (voiced by Jiro Sato) who used to teach broomstick flying but is currently in charge of the grounds. Flanagan is as one dimensional as a lot of the story and other characters but remains a comic relief and welcome personality all the same; even if he was a bit of an oblivious, constantly occurring ex machina.

Highlighted Quote:
“You never know what kids are up to”

In A Few Words:
“A delightfully presented if simplistic fantasy story”

Total Score:

3/5

Cinema City Film Quiz #211

[08 April 2018]


Winning Team:
Batman Treasured
Genre – Bruce Wayne discovers the knights templar’s treasure and Nicolas Cage flips out as usual
We Don’t Want The Haribo
Genre – Comedy
A Noisy Place
Genre – Unwatchably annoying horro where the entire cast bang pots and scream constantly to ward off an alien attack
Four Skin Jobs
Genre – A Jewish comedy about four moyels

Runners Up:
Isle Of Lads (Lads Lads)
Genre – Horror


ROUND I: Pre-Production
1. The Last Of The Mohicans is an adaptation of which book?
THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS
2. Which sport is the central focus of Southpaw, starring Jake Gyllenhaal?
BOXING
3. Who composed score for Interstellar, The Lion King and Driving Miss Daisy?
HANS ZIMMER
4. Who played the lead role in Breakfast At Tiffany’s?
AUDREY HEPBURN
5. Which two Batman films featured Michael Keaton (one point per correct answer)
BATMAN / BATMAN RETURNS
6. What is the title of the sequel to An American Werewolf In London?
AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS
7. What are the two subtitles of the fifth Pirates Of The Caribbean film? (one point per correct answer)
SALAZAR’S REVENGE / DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES
8. The 2014 film, ’71, starring Jack O’Connell is predominantly set in which country?
NORTHERN IRELAND
9. What is the name of Roger Rabbit’s wife in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
JESSICA RABBIT
10. What was the title of the Josh Trank directed film about students who gain superpowers, starring Dane DeHaan, Michael B Jordan and Alex Russell?
CHRONICLE


ROUND II: Filming [Two Word Title Special]
1. What is the title of the fourth Bourne film starring Matt Damon? Bourne Again? Becoming Bourne? Jason Bourne?
JASON BOURNE
2. Who directed Gone Girl? David Fincher? Tyler Perry? Ben Affleck?
3. How many team members make up Team America in the film of the same name? 5? 6? 7?
FIVE (Lisa, Joe, Sarah, Chris and Carson/Gary who are in the same post)
4. Why do the Russians (led by Iosef) attack John Wick in the film of the same name? John interfered with a gas station robbery? John refused to sell his car? John was sitting in their usual booth in a diner?
REFUSED TO SELL HIS CAR
5. What is the name of Fay Wray’s character in King Kong? Dawn Prescott? Ann Darrow? Eve Watts?
ANN DARROW
6. What was the title of the 1975 sequel to True Grit? Rooster Cogburn? Fortitude? Black For Death?
ROOSTER COGBURN
7. Which faction of The Others make up the group known as the Night Watch in the 2004 Russian film Nochnoi Dozor? The neutral judges? Forces of darkness? Forces of light?
FORCES OF LIGHT
8. In Rogue One, Jyn Erso meets up with her father on which system? Bothawui? Rodia? Eadu?
EADU
9. Who directed The Machinist? Terry George? Brad Anderson? Rob Bowman?
BRAD ANDERSON
10. Laura, whose son Simon goes missing in El Orfanato, wears a necklace with a St Anthony medal – the patron saint of lost items. True or False?
TRUE


ROUND III: Post-Production
1. What are the names of the two angels in Dogma, played by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon? (one point per correct answer)
BARTLEBY / LOKI
2. Which film starred Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts and Terence Howard?
ST VINCENT
3. Who directed American Sniper?
CLINT EASTWOOD
4. Quantico Virginia, Memphis Tennessee and the Baltimore State Hospital For The Criminally Insane are all locations in which film?
THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
5. What is the title of the 1982 Werner Herzog film about a rubber baron taking a steamship over land through the Amazon?
FITZCARRALDO
6. Who plays the lead antagonist, Carnegie in Book Of Eli?
GARY OLDMAN
7. In Titanic, according to Rose, how many years have passed since the sinking of the ship and Brock Lovett’s expedition?
84 YEARS
8. What did Taika Waititi direct in between What We Do In The Shadows and Thor Ragnarok?
HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE
9. The following quote is from which film, “We’re here to preserve democracy, not to practice it”?
CRIMSON TIDE
10. Which actor has played Lord Wessex, Johannes Vermeer and King George VI?
COLIN FIRTH


ROUND IV: Promotion & Release
1. Who directed Audition, Ichi The Killer and Ace Attorney? Takeshi Kitano? Takashi Miike? Hideaki Anno?
TAKASHI MIIKE
2. What is the title of the film in which Steve Martin plays a faith healer named Jonas Nightengale? Healed? Nightingale’s Song? Leap Of Faith?
LEAP OF FAITH
3. Which of the following didn’t appear in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In America? Peter Weller? James Woods? Joe Pesci?
PETER WELLER
4. A Most Violent Year is set in which decade? 1970s? 1980s? 1990s?
EIGHTIES
5. In Collateral Beauty, Will Smith’s character copes with the death of his daughter by writing letters to Time, Death and Love. Which one is played by Helen Mirren? Time? Death? Love?
DEATH
6. Who played the lead role in 2014’s Testament Of Youth? Alicia Vikander? Margot Robbie? Sally Hawkins?
ALICIA VIKANDER
7. The following quote is from which film, “For God’s sake, Chris, the whole world is watching. We can’t just let him die in front of a live audience”? The Truman Show? The Killing Fields? Network?
THE TRUMAN SHOW
8. What did Tim Burton direct in between Frankenweenie and Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children? Alice Through The Looking Glass? Big Eyes? Lullaby?
BIG EYES
9. Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton play brothers in which film? Last Man Standing? Warrior? Pride?
WARRIOR
10. Reign Of Fire was filmed in the Wicklow mountains in Ireland on the condition that the production in no way damaged the landscape. True or False?
TRUE


BOUNS IMAGE ROUND
Screenshots: Congo / Love Actually / Dave / The Exorcism Of Emily Rose
Poster: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows
Actor: Laura Linney


A QUIET PLACE

If They Hear You, They Hunt You

Director
John Krasinksi

Starring
Millicent Simmonds
Emily Blunt
John Krasinksi
Noah Jupe



Set three months after a cataclysmic event, we learn in the opening prologue that the Earth has been overrun by creatures that are drawn to moderately loud sounds, which have gone on to wipe out the majority of the population. After the opening establishing events, we skip forward a year and a half and follow the daily existence of Lee [Krasinksi], Evelyn [Blunt], Regan [Simmonds] and Marcus Abbott [Jupe]; a family surviving in this dangerous environment. Part of the reason they have lasted this long is the strict rules they live by – completely overhauling their way of life to avoid making excessive noise – and the fact that Regan herself is deaf, meaning the family are able to communicate with sign language. Despite their resourcefulness, they will be put to the test as Evelyn is heavily pregnant and a crying baby would put all of their lives in danger.

Anyone who regularly frequents this site will see a distinct pattern surrounding reviews for horror titles; specifically that there don’t tend to be many. That’s because I don’t enjoy horror. There are some genuinely standout titles that greatly appeal to me but genre’s formulaic nature and excessive use of loud jump scares make them lazy, painful affairs to endure. Having said that, there has been a bit of a new-wave presenting itself within the genre, films that tend to ebb away from cheap scare tactics and excessive schlocky violence, favouring smart tense premises and endearing and likable characters. That’s why films like The Witch, Get Out, 10 Cloverfield Lane and It Follows do well with a certain crowd but are then torn down for not “being real horrors” when, in actuality, they refrain from conforming to the regular tropes and draw a heavier emphasis on the central premise, story and character design. And A Quiet Place is a perfect addition to these titles, with a very simple but instantly recognisable premise that taps into a fundamentally animalistic fear of helplessness and no longer being the top of the food chain. On top of that, we have the absolutely wonderful world building and production design; from the sets to all the rituals and routines which have been methodically thought out and help outline an adjusted dystopian world not to dissimilar to our own.

In addition to all the pleasing visual and thematic elements, this film really shines when it comes to sound. And this is one of those films that doesn’t simply use one gimmick but employs a variety of methods and inventive fixes to really immerse you and create a terrifying environment. Cinematically speaking, we are often treated to the most powerful speakers and sound systems which mask the general bustle and noise of a collected audience but when you are forced to sit in the near-silence of this film, you become more aware of yourself and those around you. That creates another level of discomfort above and beyond what is present in the film itself and that is why this is exceptional horror; the kind that burrows into your mind and unwrites the logic that tells you that you are safe and this is a work of fiction. Of course, that isn’t meant to be a slight against the use of sound, as it is frankly masterful. The way we experience the world through Regan’s eyes/ears, the unseen threat just off-screen, the concept of one natural sound outweighing another (e.g. screaming into a waterfall) and Marco Beltrami’s perfect, incredibly unsettling score – all of these components create a unique world that perpetuates an unease that runs from start to finish.

All of these technical components are of course moot if the acting is sub-par. Thankfully, the family presented carry this film magnificently and although one could argue so little actually happens, the fear on their faces sells so much and generates a sustained tension and a perfectly paced experience. When listing my cast, it occurred to me that I really wasn’t sure who the main character is. I can almost certainly rule out Marcus, just because of screen-time but between Regan, Evelyn and Lee, there is a jostling for which will be the most proactive individual and subsequently this highlights a few interesting things about the cast. For those who don’t know, Emily Blunt and John Krasinski are married, so what we have here is a real couple dynamic (especially as these actors have two children together); on top of that, Millicent Simmonds is, for lack of a better phrase, actually deaf which brings an obvious realism to the performance. And yet one could argue these things are not requisite to making a good film, that just because an on-screen couple are together in real-life, doesn’t mean they will be able to escape performing. The difference is experience and relatability. In terms of writing and direction, Krasinski has brought a lot of very personal emotionality that plays on the mind of a parent. I’m not saying it’s impossible for someone to empathise and assume what it would be like but there is a priceless insight which is utilised. Equally, with Simmonds, having someone who experiences the world differently, offers the opportunity to incorporate developments into the film that maximise the concept of what it is like to live without sound. Coupled with a strong story and amazing production, phenomenal performances are what tip this over the edge into truly great cinema. The only flaws I can find are elements of mimicry and familiarity with other suspenseful releases and a couple of gender presentation issues that don’t get fully addressed but outside of that, it’s a completely relentless, emotional, simple piece that is extremely enjoyable and wholly commendable.


Release Date:
6th April 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
One of the early examples of the exquisite sound design is during one of the progressive moves forward, leaping the events ahead and opening with Regan sleeping on a sandy floor. Either in her dreams or a stylistic choice, we hear the sounds of nature and are given the impression she is laying calmly on a beach. It’s only when she abruptly wakes and the dull hum that signals her “point of view” as a deaf person replaces the familiar sounds. The moment itself is so simple but it is a sublime example of the messages, situations and perspectives that cinema can convey.

Notable Characters:
I really have to commend Krasinksi, partly because he has done an astounding job acting but also because his direction is spot-on. More so than that, he made one particular casting choice that really pleased me. Too often film and television rely on able-bodied actors to play individuals with disabilities and it shuts out an entire group of people who can bring so much to that performance from a perspective point alone. And while this may sound like hyperbole, it is, in essence, not far off men playing women on stage during the 1600s or white people in black-face. I don’t doubt someone could have given a credible performance in the role of Regan but having someone who can accurately draw on things that someone who is imitating that existence may not have considered, should be championed as often as possible. And I really shouldn’t be saying things like that in this day and age, it should be the norm.

Highlighted Quote:
“Who are we if we can’t protect them? Who are we?”

In A Few Words:
“A fantastically tense and marvellously acted feature from start to finish”

Total Score:

5/5

ISLE OF DOGS

Join The Pack

Director
Wes Anderson

Starring
Bryan Cranston
Koyu Rankin



Twenty years in the future, an epidemic affecting dogs has run through Japan. One city, led by Mayor Kobayashi [Kunichi Nomura] passes a law to send all dogs to an island solely designed for dumping refuse. The first dog deported is Spots [Liev Schrieber], guard dog to the Mayor’s distantly related nephew, Atari Kobayashi [Rankin]. Several years later we are introduced to a pack of alpha dogs led by Chief [Cranston], who witness Atari crash land on the island, in an attempt to find and rescue Spots. Feeling an innate loyalty to a human master, the pack (bar Chief) agree to help Atari find his dog.

What used to be an industry standard for visual effects, stop-motion is rarely utilised these days. As it’s such a time-consuming art form, we tend to only see it in the form of a narrative device (often in a fantasy feature), in very independent shorts/features or huge passion projects. The two recent examples that leap to mind are the works being produced by Laika and Aardman Animation, who hold steadfast, keeping the craft alive. But Anderson’s adaptation of Fantastic Mr Fox cannot be overlooked as it was a truly pleasing release, with the practical nature of a need for attention to detail really lending itself to the auteur director’s distinct style. There was also pleasant use of hand-drawn animation doubling for camera footage but if I’m honest, I felt there was a little too much reliance on this method; to the degree that it ended up feeling like a money saving exercise. Either way, the film is visually glorious and no matter what one thinks of the story or its creator, the talent and skill that has gone into presenting this tale is beyond compare.

There is a lot to love about the casting of this film. An opening title card explains (because of course it does, it’s a Wes Anderson film) that subtitles are few and far between and that everyone speaks in their native language, including the canine characters. This tapestry of sound makes for a very interesting and human presentation, that I wish was utilised more in mainstream releases. Films like Inglourious Basterds for example, switching back and forth between various European language with little care for the audience because the story requires it. Equally here, we have the dogs as the main characters, written to be understood by a Western audience and the human component voiced by Japanese actors without subtitles, either dubbed by a translator or left to understand through the visuals of the performance – which speaks to the trust placed upon the animators. It could be argued that the Japanese characters speak with a favouring of monosyllabic phrases and gairaigo to convey to an English speaking audience but I think that speaks more to the difference between the animal and human counterparts than a cultural commentary. The performances themselves, however, are amusing, endearing and exude simple emotion – all necessary requirements for good characters in any animated family film. The performances themselves are quite simplistic and contribute to a wonderful analysis of mistrust and hysteria.

Speaking of cast, there was one element that I had issue with. I completely support the idea of the Japanese cast speaking in Japanese and the dogs being various English-speaking actors; it’s a language barrier that younger audience members would understand – unlike other “talking animal” features wherein the fact both species are speaking the same language but one can’t understand the other is odd. I was also enjoying the cultural setting right up until Tracy Walker (voiced by Greta Gerwig) came along and white savioured the film. For people unfamiliar with the phrase, a white saviour, is when a caucasian character arrives in a foreign land and either leads them to victory or highlights the errors of the ways, elevating their entire society. The character of Tracy herself is passionately written and Gerwig does a wonderful job of voicing her but the fact she’s an outsider who could have quite easily been a Japanese character is a problem.

As a Kurosawa fan, I’m all for cross-pollenisation of cultures and ideas – he being heavily inspired by American cinema, only for his work to go on and inspire American directors; sort of West imitating East imitating West. I also think any story with a futuristic setting understands the melting pot of ideas and cultural aesthetics to create a unified future; features like Blade Runner and Star Trek. This kind of film is one step toward that. Whether it was a clumsy footfall (Lost In Translation) or bold stride (Mulan) is probably not for me to say. When creating Fantastic Mr Fox, Anderson took all the externally visible components of both the English countryside and Roald Dahl’s source material and presented them through his own lens, same for his analysis of Indian culture in The Darjeeling Limited. I wouldn’t say he always gets it right and in doing so inadvertently causes offence at times but bringing something new to an audience who would not experience these things can only be a positive. However, the argument remains that by creating awareness of other cultures, artists have a responsibility to present them as honestly as possible, avoiding stereotypes and ensuring the hero of the story isn’t someone who looks like your target audience just because you feel the need to throw them in there; otherwise we merely perpetuate the cinematic status quo and uncomfortable trends of presenting people as caricatures rather than relatable individuals. But I will admit this film is a heightened reality (as Anderson’s films tend to be) and subsequently, realism isn’t exactly the desired effect.

Then of course we have Anderson himself. It seems whenever Wes Anderson releases a film reviews are divided between those who enjoy his films and those who do not. I will confess, it’s one thing having a signature style, it’s another making the same film over and over; as this leads to eventual stagnation or self-parody. But I believe Anderson is genuinely a very adroit filmmaker and one who has such a persistent and clear vision, free from outside interference or influence. In that regard, his work is so immediately recognisable because it has such a strong and unique voice with all the components conforming to its tropes, quirks and eccentricities. In a similar vein, long-time collaborator Alexandre Desplat is his usual exceptional self and creates a wonderful score rife with inflated action-based tension (the kind we hear in family films that is exciting without being genuinely perilous) and simple moments, threading together the events between the carefully selected indie tracks. I also particularly liked the embedded influence from late 50’s/early 60’s cinema.

In summary, this film is not going to win over anyone on the fence about Wes Anderson. Everything at this stage of his career is in his complete control and unless he makes an exceptionally bold move, I doubt he will diverge from his honed style. But for what it is, Isle Of Dogs is a very colourful, delightfully crafted, whimsical tale with a decent message and enjoyable characters. For fans of his usual fare, this will be a welcome treat and for those who are unfamiliar with or resistant of his previous films, they may get something out of it too.


Release Date:
30th March 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
This is going to sound like an odd thing to highlight – especially as I intend to be quite vague to avoid spoilers – but toward the end of the film, there is a surgery scene, wherein a character has a kidney extracted. Now, I know it’s not real but presenting an unmoving camera on a detailed open surgery in a PG rated feature is a little unusual. I wouldn’t say it’s a positive or a negative, merely unexpected.. and therefore oddly memorable.

Notable Characters:
**spoilers**
As with all Wes Anderson films, there is always a colourful host of tiny supporting roles that exit as soon as they enter; sometimes even dwarfing the consistently impressive work from the leads. But I was a little surprised by the characters who we would believe to be the main supports. The pack that guides Atari separate and while they were introduced with a fair amount of detail and gravitas, they are dismissed about midway through and all but disappear from the final act. I appreciate they are on the border of the scenes toward the end but I would be curious to know how much of the final runtime goes by without a line of dialogue from either Duke, King, Rex or Boss.

Highlighted Quote:
“I turn my back.. on mankind! Frosted window pane”

In A Few Words:
“Another gleeful absurd story from Anderson brought to life with some truly impressive and captivating visual work”

Total Score:

4/5

READY PLAYER ONE

An Adventure Too Big For The Real World

Director
Steven Spielberg

Starring
Tye Sheridan
Olivia Cooke
Ben Mendelsohn



In the year 2045, humanity has faced several crises but rather than treating them head on, most have retreated into a virtual video game environment called the Oasis. One such user is Wade Watts/Parzival [Sheridan] who is a “gunter,” a player who takes part in a quest for keys hidden throughout the programme which lead to an Easter egg placed by the Oasis’ late co-creator, James Halliday [Mark Rylance], granting the recipient sole control of the VR world and a sizeable fortune. Wade is assisted by a cadre of friends and allies, despite confessing that “he doesn’t clan up” with others. Acting as opposition is Nolan Sorrento [Mendelsohn], head of the unscrupulous conglomerate IOI who is seeking control of the Oasis in order to further his own nefarious ends and unwrite a lot of the parameters set by Halliday to ensure the product remains safe, fun and ad-free (for any current gamer, this part will really resonate). As Wade gets closer to ultimate success, the stakes are raised and his actions in the virtual world have lasting fallout in the real one.

Before going any further, I have not read the source material but one of the reasons this film ultimately succeeds is due to salvaging the barebones of the book’s story and injecting it with more cinematically pleasing challenges and ditching a lot of the 80s-heavy nostalgia that acts more as an exclusionary club than an inviting story. At the end of the day, that’s where I couldn’t get on with the book, it branded itself as a haven and celebration of pop culture but with the overbearing tone of “never forget that I know more than you;” so basically every film/comic/merch convention I’ve ever attended. But in a world where people carry phones and portable consoles around with them while investing in motion control or VR accessories for consoles, this feels like an interesting reflection on our desire to escape the real world and enter a fantasy of our own construction.

In a world where you can be anything you want, it makes complete sense to have a diverse cast of ethnicities. But the characters they portray are unfortunately quite flat. Through Aech we have a really nice story about the simple innocence of gender identity without beating you over the head with it but at the same time, the supports never really do much in the real world; leaving them as little more than accessories for Wade’s quest. Equally frustrating is that as much as we have the opportunity to challenge conventions of what a hero or a romance can look like, we still end up with a bland, predictable resolution of the pretty white boy ending up with pretty white girl and I’m going to go ahead and say that the port-stain birthmark is this film’s girl with glasses and a ponytail. Yet as vanilla as the characters eventually become, I have to commend the actors for bringing them to life to the best of their abilities. The romance may be painful but Cooke does a fantastic job as the passionate but semi-closed off Samantha/Art3mis and Sheridan elevates Wade/Parzival from a thoroughly obnoxious individual to a socially shaky but fundamentally passionate person.

If anything, this film is a bisected piece. On the one hand, it’s a visual spectacle, a feast for the eyes and senses offering an inviting world of bright escapism through references, trivia and nostalgia. In addition to all this, an overriding message is presented about both celebrating your hobbies and passions but ensuring you don’t compromise your real world existence in the process. The visuals are also pretty spectacular, in the few moments when everything is still and during the close-ups we are offered a look into the detailing process which is extremely well-crafted and being a fictional realm, the audience can suspend its disbelief so things like photorealism and the uncanny valley go largely out of the window because the environment everything takes place in, is essentially a video game. I also, cannot commend everyone involved enough for streamlining and making sense of that book. I know several people who are very attached to Cline’s novel but at times it’s abysmally written and a really grinding dirge of exposition and fact quoting to justify its existence. The film, while inherently guilty of a similar tactic at least uses it in moderation and cleverly enough to be forgivable and entertaining.

It is also, however, a bit of a mess. As stated, the visuals are superb but only when you can see them. During the race through Liberty Island, there were far too many occasions were you are frankly unable to process what the hell is going on. I would also say, as much as I despise 3D, they really missed an opportunity, as it would have been much more impressive and immersive if the real-world events were presented in 2D while the Oasis content was rendered in 3D. I’ll admit you may need to structure the movie a little differently to ensure that the constant switching didn’t become nauseating but it would highlight the grimy difference between the real world and the slick digital kingdom. And this isn’t such an outlandish proposition due to the presence of someone like Spielberg; but this highlights yet another major issue. The involvement of people like Spielberg and Alan Silvestri, who moulded and defined so much of the pop culture that people adore, should give them access to not only a treasure-trove of inspiration but one of innovation too. Yet this emulation never reaches the dizzy heights of the iconic pieces in these artist’s respective oeuvres while committing stupid rookie mistakes and dumb developments. Things like a world of facial recognition software to activate your account, yet you still have a fucking manual password? I get the joke and it’s a funny and eye-rollingly relatable one but it still seems to contradict the technology level that has been presented to us. It’s World Building 101, if you present something as true you cannot then walk it back to make the plot more convenient.

And then we hit the biggest wall of the film, the thing that will either draw you in or send you running screaming: the nostalgia, the intellectual properties, the references. For a film gleefully purporting to have every reference, a lot of weird things are missing and a lot of weird things are included. Naturally, I understand property licencing and while it’s easy to write “Batman pilots the Millennium Falcon through the Deep Space 9 wormhole to Arrakis and challenges Don Vito Corleone to a dance off,” the logistics of getting the owners of the copyrights on board is a mighty challenge. Thus things like Star Wars, Marvel, Nintendo, Harry Potter and other huge properties are absent, leaving the references as fairly regressive with the film’s finger very much off the pulse; I counted one Robocop and maybe 9 Battletoads. Battletoads for fuck’s sake! The best way I could summate the result is like asking for a list of your favourite songs but you can only choose from a catalogue available; so these are the best of what they could get. This also means we have a lot of faceless placeholders; going back to the race, for every recognisable vehicle there are at least ten generic holding ones to fill the screen in a cost efficient manner.

To my mind, your favourite things say a lot about you and therefore there is a validity to liking arguably any property. You can be a fan of highbrow and schlock alike and there’s nothing wrong with that, the fact someone else does not share this viewpoint should in no way cheapen your experience of them. As a caveat, I would argue that film critiquing is as much about form and function as entertainability, so that’s somewhat different. In this case, it’s very clear that the references stem less from Cline and his book and more from the things that writer Zak Penn and Spielberg enjoy, which radically shifts the tone of what is presented. Case in point, I’m pretty sure the book’s second key is found after playing a perfect game of Pac-Man (I openly admit I could be wrong there) whereas the film’s version is in a hyper-recreation of The Shining. And yet there is such an oversaturation of content which means many of the references are lost. Even though I realise this is physically unlikely, this constant bombardment of pop-culture left me feeling like the selective choices made in both The Lego Movie and Wreck-It Ralph somehow had more references, which is probably owing to them being presented in a far clearer, organised manner.

Which brings us to my overall impressions and any conclusion I can draw from this film. As far as the narrative is concerned, it’s perfectly pleasing, equally the visuals largely work and the bombastic audacity of it all is genuinely engrossing but as I seem to be repeating over-and-over with Spielberg’s latest endeavours, it simply lacks that sticking magic, that lasting retention that make something either an instant or cult classic. Through mimicry and tribute, Ready Player One does little new and simply recycles familiarities, hoping to prey on our nostalgic weaknesses. And as the credits began, I was immediately reminded of Patton Oswalt’s prescient article for Wired in 2010 entitled, Wake Up Geek Culture, Time To Die. I won’t clumsily regurgitate it for you here, you can seek it out on your own but it does address the principal reasons why this film is more detrimental than progressive. As it stands, Ready Player One is a decent blockbuster but one that revels too much in what has come before without contributing to what is to come.


Release Date:
30th March 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
As much as I can bemoan the inclusion of a mountain of throwaway gags and plugs, my veneer of cynicism dropped at one point and I couldn’t help but feel my heart beat just a little bit faster. During the climactic final battle, a large portion of time is devoted to a battle between the Mobile Suit Gundam RX-78 and Mechagodzilla. Admittedly, this initial celebration of things I really enjoy was short-lived and the aforementioned cynicism returned but the truth of that moment cannot be ignored: it is almost a guarantee that there will be something for everyone, either a throwaway line or a split-second cameo but something that will genuinely make you shout out and acclaim satisfaction and joy that something that you care about was included. And that might be the real power and charm of this release.

Notable Characters:
Since Bridge Of Spies, Mark Rylance has been something of a recurring feature for Spielberg. Here he plays the socially reclusive and awkward but extremely talented Halliday with a very human grace. Constructing a hybrid of the playful talent of Georges Melies with the timid personality of Garth from Wayne’s World. Yet while the Willy Wonka comparison is one that initially leaps to mind, there is a warped nature to this individual. There is an almost creepy narcissistic arrogance to the contest itself and burying clues by backing up his memory and personality to the Oasis (possibly living on as AI, who knows?) is such a strangely perverse and open method that it seems to contradict the reserved, private nature of the character himself. I mean, Wonka was obsessed with finding a worthy successor, setting up elaborate tests but I don’t remember specific trips down a literal memory lane to uncover his favourite type of chocolate. Again, we are met by that divide: I really like the performance and feel it exceptionally praiseworthy but its very existence is remarkably stupid and contradictory.

Highlighted Quote:
“There are only three things in the world I hate; steampunk, pirates and tabbouleh”

In A Few Words:
“Ready Player One neither powerfully excels nor hideously fails, leaving us with an acceptable blockbuster that isn’t worth the sum of its parts”

Total Score:

3/5

Cinema City Film Quiz #210

[25 March 2018]


Winning Team:
The Belchdel Test
Genre – A documentary about women’s burping

Runners Up:
The Seven Year Bitch
Genre – Marilyn Monroe and Evelyn Keyes spend seven years lamenting Eurocentric western beauty standards (story told in real time)
The Béchamel Test
Genre – Obscure cinematic thought-experiment that is only passed if two characters wrestle in cheese sauce


ROUND I: Pre-Production
1. What is the title of the sequel to Ghostbusters?
GHOSTBUSTERS 2
2. How many Sherlock Holmes films has Guy Ritchie directed to date?
TWO
3. The Founder, starring Michael Keaton, is the story of which fast food chain?
MCDONALD’S
4. Who played the title role in the 2016 biopic Jackie?
NATALIE PORTMAN
5. Who directed The Passion Of The Christ?
MEL GIBSON
6. What was the title of the first feature length Wallace & Gromit film?
WALLACE & GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT
7. What We Do In The Shadows is set in which country?
NEW ZEALAND
8. What is the name of the prince in Sleeping Beauty?
PHILLIP
9. What is the title of the first film in Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy?
SHAUN OF THE DEAD
10. In James And The Giant Peach, how many creatures are on the peach with James?
SIX (Grasshopper, centipede, ladybird, spider, earthworm, glow-worm)


ROUND II: Filming [Bechdel Test Special]
1. What is the title of the sequel to Guardians Of The Galaxy? Guardians Of The Galaxy 2? Guardians Of The Galaxy Part 2? Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2?
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL 2
2. What is the name of the lead character in Starship Troopers? Patrick Muldoon? Carl Jenkins? Johnny Rico?
JOHNNY RICO
3. Who directed Thelma & Louise? Tim Robbins? Kathryn Bigelow? Ridley Scott?
RIDLEY SCOTT
4. Who plays the role of Thomas’ former prima ballerina in Black Swan? Winona Ryder? Jennifer Connelly? Evan Rachel Wood?
WINONA RYDER
5. The following quote is from which film, “Paulie might’ve moved slow but it was only because Paulie didn’t have to move for anybody”? Donnie Brasco? Black Mass? Goodfellas?
GOODFELLAS
6. Who directed Melancholia? Nicolas Winding Refn? Lars Von Trier? Michael Haneke?
LARS VON TRIER
7. Pan’s Labyrinth is set in which year? 1936? 1944? 1952?
1944
8. Todd Haynes’ Carol is an adaptation of which Patricia Highsmith novel? Deep Water? The Cry Of The Owl? The Price Of Salt?
THE PRICE OF SALT
9. Which of the following statements did not appear on the poster for 1953’s How To Marry A Millionaire (starring Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall)? The most glamourous entertainment of your lifetime? You see it without glasses? Who knew these three would get along?
WHO KNEW THESE THREE WOULD GET ALONG
10. Persepolis is entirely animated in black and white except for scenes set in the present. True or False?
TRUE


ROUND III: Post-Production
1. The story of Steve Jobs, starring Michael Fassbender in the title role, takes place over how many launch events?
THREE
2. What is the title of the 1987 adaptation of Cyrano De Bergerac starring Steve Martin?
ROXANNE
3. Ace Ventura is based in which US state?
FLORIDA
4. What is Matilda’s surname in the 1996 film Matilda?
WORMWOOD
5. What is the title of Ridley Scott’s adaptation of the biblical story of Moses?
EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS
6. Which football team is the central focus in Lexi Alexander’s Green Street?
WEST HAM
7. Why does Travis take a job driving a taxi in Taxi Driver?
TO COUNTER HIS INSOMNIA
8. What were the respective titles of the two films about Truman Capote released in 2006? (one point per correct answer)
CAPOTE / INFAMOUS
9. Who directed American Hustle?
DAVID O RUSSELL
10. Creed was released in which year?
2015


ROUND IV: Promotion & Release
1. In the 1991 film The Hard Way, why is Michael J Fox partnered with James Woods? Fox is an actor researching a role and pulls strings to follow an active case? Fox is an Internal Affairs agent going undercover exposing a crooked cop played by Woods? Fox and Woods are detectives who are partnered up when they learn they are step-siblings?
FOX IS AN ACTOR RESEARCHING A ROLE AND PULLS STRINGS TO FOLLOW AN ACTIVE CASE
2. Who plays Mike and Marcus’ captain in Bad Boys? Alfred Molina? Robert Davi? Joe Pantoliano?
JOE PANTOLIANO
3. What did Jon Favreau direct in between Cowboys & Aliens and The Jungle Book? Chef? The Judge? The Soloist?
CHEF
4. Which of the following did not appear in the 2008 period drama, The Duchess? Dominic Cooper? Ralph Fiennes? Paul Bettany?
PAUL BETTANY
5. What is the title of the Australian Western starring Tom Selleck and Alan Rickman? The Outback? Guns And Kangaroos? Quigley Down Under?
QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER
6. The Blues Brothers was released in which year? 1975? 1980? 1985?
1980
7. Who directed Cars? Andrew Stanton? Brad Bird? John Lasseter?
JOHN LASSETER
8. Which of the following is not a Transformers subtitle? Age Of Extinction? Rise Of The Fallen? Dark Of The Moon?
RISE OF THE FALLEN
9. 2015’s Room was co-produced by US, UK and which two other countries? Canada and Ireland? New Zealand and France? South Africa and Poland?
CANADA AND IRELAND
10. Gods Of Egypt features no Egyptian cast members. True or False?
TRUE


BOUNS IMAGE ROUND
Screenshots: Oliver & Company / Hocus Pocus / Get Shorty / Fantasia 2000
Poster: The Women
Actor: Bette Midler


A WRINKLE IN TIME

Be A Warrior

Director
Ava DuVernay

Starring
Storm Reid
Oprah Winfrey
Reese Witherspoon
Mindy Kaling
Chris Pine



After a brief flashback, we are introduced to teenager Meg Murry [Reid]. Her parents, Dr Alexander Murry [Pine] and Dr Kate Murry [Gugu Mbatha-Raw] were working on the concept of travelling across the universe in seconds with the use of frequencies but four years ago Alexander disappeared. Since his disappearance, Meg’s performance in school has slipped and she has become anti-social. Her younger brother Charles Wallace [Deric McCabe] has been conversing with a stranger calling herself Mrs Whatsit [Witherspoon], who, along with a quotation-spouting Mrs Who [Kaling] and the wise Mrs Which [Winfrey], explains the concept of “tessering,” the ability to travel across the universe. Realising her father is alive, Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin (a boy from school played by Levi Miller who tags along – more on that later) set off on a journey across the expanses of the unknown to locate her father and combat an entity of pure evil called “The It.”

At its core, A Wrinkle In Time is your classic hero’s journey tale with decent messages of female empowerment and self-worth throughout. Taking the cynicism of genuine teenage anguish and countering it with beauty and fantasy, it feels very reminiscent of The Chronicles Of Narnia, which is unsurprising considering the strong Christian overtones in the source material. This adaptation goes one step further with the messages and presents us with another positive progressive point by utilising a diverse cast; all of whom are exceptionally talented individuals that any feature would be lucky to count among their number; the problem is, most of them falter because this film is, ultimately and very disappointingly, remarkably mediocre.

As mentioned, the cast involved are fantastic, the adult performers can be divided into two sets: the human contingent and the celestial beings. Then we have the child actors, who are frankly breathtakingly good. Storm Reid commands the screen magnificently, holding her own with acting heavyweights while giving us a very real and relatable portrayal of an untethered teenager, Deric McCabe is eerily brilliant as the eerily brilliant Charles Wallace, displaying skills far beyond his years and Levi Miller acts as a commendable support – even if his character’s devotion to Meg feels so very sudden and unearned. Meg’s parents are perfectly fine – two scientists, one grounded, the other a dreamer – but the real sticking point is the Mrs W’s; Whatsit, Who and Which. At times these are really enchanting performances with personality, flavour and majesty, other times they are irritating, unnecessarily cryptic and surprisingly useless. But in fairness, that’s absolutely no different from any other mentor role in YA fiction adaptation; you could even use those words to describe Gandalf so maybe it’s simply a genre trapping that I shouldn’t bemoan too much.

Walking into this feature, alarm bells were sounding almost immediately. After a very promising opening prologue, the film sporadically flusters, trying to establish characters and a version of quantum physics that will effectively power the story. By the time Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin tesser (a term I came to despise by the end of the film) to the planet Uriel, the film had committed some pretty damaging developments to get them there. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised that despite the uphill struggle, A Wrinkle In Time manages to overcome its terrible pacing and genuinely improves as it progresses. Which brings me to Ava DuVernay. Often, when transitioning from independent dramatic features to big budget action adventures, a director’s style can be stifled or shifted. This is largely due to time constraints and visual effects restrictions, meaning basic coverage is prioritised. While this isn’t true throughout the entire film, there was a noticeable difference between the Earth-based footage and the otherworldly scenes, that left a detrimental impact, meaning things that should have been overwhelming and jaw dropping fell flat for me. But while it didn’t always succeed, we shouldn’t exactly chastise films for their reach exceeding their grasp. Having said that, films with really important and powerful messages, deserve genuinely fitting housing and it’s always greatly disappointing when they fall short of that task. The delivery of the message does not weaken the message, it merely highlights how it could have been delivered better. Matthew Stogdon. British/Irish.

I really wanted to like this movie but the truth of the matter is that my dissatisfaction with it is contained. The spotlight of scrutiny should allow filmmakers to fail without being recorded as a strike for all female directors or films of that genre. With this movie being released in the US a couple of weeks before the UK, I’ve seen far too much pressure put on this feature, as if the future of diverse, female-led family films hinges on this film’s success or failure. The best comparison I could give is 2015’s Tomorrowland; it too was a Disney live-action feature full of colourful world-building and a stellar cast that turned out to be thoroughly mediocre and wholly forgettable. Despite its failings, nobody gasped and asked if Brad Bird’s career was at risk, nobody wondered if science fiction films would continue to be made and nobody posited that George Clooney would never act again. So to summate, this film is a perfectly fine family feature, the themes are substantial but the execution wavers all too often.


Release Date:
23rd March 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
**spoiler heavy content follows**
The film ends with Meg saving her brother, restoring (if only for a brief period) light to the universe and bringing her father home after four years of absence. The implications of this ending are frankly world changing and present so many questions. Honestly, where do we go from here? Does Alexander Murry present his findings, explaining that we can now travel across the universe if you focus on the frequency of love and let your mind go? I know this film tries to push belief in one’s self but it also pushes a heavy scientific message and you can’t just pull an Interstellar and say “it was love all along.” Even explaining that we can transport our bodies across infinite planes by aligning our neural pathways and releasing a specific chemical that secretes when we feel what we perceive as love would be a bloody stretch. Also, the redemption of the malicious bully irked me. I get what the film is trying to say: everyone is managing their own drama, so try to see the world through their eyes they are suddenly nice to you but because you wave and smile? You can fuck right off with that shit.

Notable Characters:
In addition to the three celestial guides, there is a figure called the Happy Medium, this being an obvious play on words between balance and foresight, played by Zach Galifianakis. More so than the other figures, the Happy Medium is irritatingly human. His function makes sense but like a lot in this film, the execution doesn’t seem to fit.

Highlighted Quote:
“To you, I give the gift of your faults. You’re welcome”

In A Few Words:
“Uneven and messy but carries with it an admirable message which almost excuses these flaws”

Total Score:

3/5

PACIFIC RIM UPRISING

Rise Up

Director
Steven S. DeKnight

Starring
John Boyega
Scott Eastwood
Cailee Spaeny



Ten years after the events in Pacific Rim, the world is still rebuilding in the wake of the constant attacks from kaiju – gargantuan creatures sent through portals on the ocean floor. Jaegers (giant robots piloted by two individuals) have little purpose but the market for parts is a booming underground industry. One such opportunist is Jake Pentecost [Boyega], son of the war hero depicted in the first film and after getting arrested in a rogue mech-suit (constructed by war orphan Amara [Spaeny]), his only way out of a prison sentence is to re-enlist with the jaeger pilot programme, training young cadets. Returning to the shatterdome base, Jake doesn’t want to be there and few seem to want him there. While completing a simple PR assignment in Sydney, Jake and his co-pilot, Nate Lambert [Eastwood], are attacked by an advanced jaeger, kicking off an investigation into automated drone mechs, the future of the jaeger programme and a new threat.

I closed my Pacific Rim review by stating that “in the hands of anyone else, this film would be a hollow, schlocky mess.” I wouldn’t say that prophecy has come to pass but it has highlighted the importance of Guillermo del Toro’s eye and how much Uprising misses his visual flare. Having said that, I can’t downplay the very strong, pleasing narrative concept. As a natural progression, the story continues in a logical manner, illustrating that even when we achieve victory over an aggressor, a human contingent will always be there to derail any form of steady flowing harmony. This also comfortably leads to the open possibilities and potential for future films but there was distinctly more world-building in the original (through characters like Hannibal Chau and the kaiju black market) which is missing here, even with the nods to the indication of rogue jaegers being constructed. I also need to concede that even though the catalyst for the story is one of gratifying brilliance, it becomes very reliant upon Charlie Day and, without saying too much, I don’t think he’s up to the task; at least not with this script. That’s not to say he doesn’t perform admirably, more that the way he is utilised to further the story could have benefited from some revision and honing.

Speaking of acting, there are several points we need to address; technically, there are two ways one could interpret the characters as cast. The first is a cynical marketing ploy to entice foreign markets with a wider presence of ethnicities, especially as Legendary has recently been purchased by Chinese conglomerate, Wanda and the first Pacific Rim performed decently in Asia. The second, which mirrors my own, is a celebration of diversity with a broad range of cast members from different countries with a smattering of different languages throughout. I imagine the truth is probably a middle-ground between those two polar examples but anyone kicking up a fuss for more female cast members or non-western actors needs to get on board with how the face of cinema is changing. I will acknowledge, however, that the absence of Hunnam’s character is very weird. And I don’t just mean because he’s not in the film but he’s only mentioned once in a motivational speech. There’s even a wall of fallen heroes and he’s not on it, which implies he’s arguably still alive. But I will admit that I didn’t particularly like the Raleigh Becket character and to have him come in, even as a support, might add a white saviour element that nobody wants. Taking a fairly different direction from the last, a lot of the film revels and draws on the charm and levity that including someone like John Boyega brings. A lot of the po-faced dourness is dropped and instead we have a light-hearted flippancy through Jake, highlighting the difference between him and his father. On top of that, there’s also genuine and enjoyable chemistry between Boyega/Eastwood and Boyega/Spaeny. With that being said, there is one character that is cryptically pointless. Whether whittled down from a larger script or simply an ill-conceived running gag, Jake and Nate seem to have both a history and a shared affection for a fellow officer, Jules Reyes played by Adria Arjona. This creates a minor love triangle but it literally doesn’t go anywhere and is referenced fleetingly.

Being a film heavily reliant upon style, a great deal of work has gone into the technical aspects. While a lot of them have been inherited from the universe established in the first film, the new mech designs in particular showed a nice range and was therefore quite easy to tell apart during combat. But while the mechs were wonderful, the kaiju designs suffer and are very forgettable. With del Toro in charge, it was very apparent that the monsters were given as much reverence and prominence as the mechanised humanoid warriors. I will, however, laud the mega kaiju, which was both a decent design and great genre progression but that could be because the individual kaiju were so flat by comparison. A final note on the technical aspects, there were two elements that left the film lacking: the music and the direction. Lorne Balfe does an estimable job replicating the style and themes competently but never surpasses it; equally, DeKnight improves on some of the issues with the first film (transitioning to mostly daytime fights was a nice choice and greatly appreciated) but suffers from an almost TV style direction. A lot of the aesthetics are present and the fights are clearly choreographed but as with Annihilation benefiting from a bigger screen, I think Uprising might actually work a touch better on a small one, if only for the extreme close-ups with such strong depths of field, leading to the whole thing feeling a little too close and claustrophobic at times. Not all the time but often enough to be an issue.

Sequels almost always attempt to escalate everything but Uprising feels like it’s constantly lagging and one step behind. During the feature itself, I enjoyed myself and left with a sense of positivity but the more I think back on it, the more certain factors irk me and it simply fades from memory with far too much ease. That being said, as with its predecessor, this film is still infinitely better than all of the Transformers sequels combined. The pacing is reasonable, it doesn’t outstay its welcome, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, the action is clear and entertaining, the characters are concise and understandable, having arcs and history and the world lives and breathes as both a recognisable and credible one, giving plausibility and weight to the more fantastica components. In essence, this film is a spectacle piece, little more. If you are happy taking it at that value, you will probably enjoy it for what it is.


Release Date:
23rd March 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
**spoiler heavy paragraph**
I mostly use this section to highlight something exemplary, a scene that stood out as memorable in a positive way. On occasion, however, I use it to illustrate a part of the film that was extremely disappointing. In this case, it’s the final fight; not the fight itself, which is bombastic and entertaining, but the final resolve and how quickly everything races to close. The mega-kaiju clambers up Mount Fuji (which is ludicrously close to Tokyo allegedly) and while it prepares to.. attack it.. release spores? I dunno, it’s never made clear what its objective is outside of terraforming. Anyway, the thing is climbing Fuji and Jake’s jaeger is plummeting to the earth, in the hope of wiping it out and the second it does, there’s some brief levity, followed by a snowball fight and that’s it, film over. Roll credits, brief sequel opener scene and we’re done. For a film that paced itself so reasonably, it’s such a bizarre move to wrap it up so quickly but admittedly, the first film did the same thing, so it probably feels fitting for the series.

Notable Characters:
**another spoiler heavy paragraph**
Earlier I mentioned the film relied too heavily on Charlie Day. This was not meant to discredit his acting abilities as he is fine but the major twist of the film (a fairly decent one if you ask me) is that Day’s character Newt has been coerced and corrupted from drifting with the kaiju brain shown in the first film. This, however, elevates him from comedic support to primary adversary and much like elevating Jack Sparrow to lead character, it mostly works but feels like a poor fit that doesn’t play to the actor’s strengths and range – at least not in the character presented in this script.

Highlighted Quote:
“That was supposed to be epic.. but it wasn’t”

In A Few Words:
“A perfectly capable release but one which lacks the magic that made the first the passable affair that it was”

Total Score:

3/5

TOMB RAIDER

Uncover The Secrets, Solve The Mystery

Director
Roar Uthaug

Starring
Alicia Vikander
Walton Goggins
Daniel Wu
Dominic West



Following the disappearance of her father Lord Richard Croft [West], Lara Croft [Vikander] is unable to accept the possibility of her father’s death and refuses to sign over documents allowing her to inherit her father’s vast fortune, company and estate. Finally coming to terms with the likelihood that he will not return after a decade, she intends on signing the relevant forms but is side-tracked by a puzzle-box left in her father’s will. The puzzle leads Lara to a secluded subterranean office wherein Richard tells his daughter of a legendary Japanese tomb and the powerful sorceress Himiko who is buried there. Believing her father may still be on this island, Lara pawns her property and takes a flight to Hong Kong; there she convinces a down-on-his-luck sailor, Lu Ren [Wu], to charter a course to one of several tiny Japanese islands and uncover the mystery behind Himiko’s burial.

Seeing as there are so few positives, let’s get them out of the way. Firstly, the locations are really picturesque and very well shot, giving a definite sense of global adventurism that the series requires. Second, the action scenes are choreographed and edited decently with sparing use of CGI and a pleasing and engaging frenetic style. And the only other thing that leaps to mind is that it’s not completely awful. It would have been very easy for this to be a sloppy convoluted mess *cough* early 2000’s films *cough* but drawing from the aesthetic of the recent Tomb Raider reboot video game has helped immensely.

Having said that, we have to address one of this film’s major issues; the performances are all incredibly flat. The most interesting character is arguably Lu Ren and he’s criminally underused once they reach the island itself. But Lara Croft is key; the franchise has never really enjoyed strong supporting roles from the games or the films and Croft, equally, isn’t that interesting a character, she’s the star of the show so needs to work for anything to succeed. So let’s discuss the paradox that is 2018’s Lara Croft. Croft is an heiress but to make her relatable in these economically difficult times, she is also a plucky and resourceful individual who would rather make her own way in the world. While commendable to a degree that’s also a bit of a slap in the face to people like the gym owner and fellow bike couriers who she either owes money to or is taking the earning opportunity from; especially when we learn she has access to a vast fortune should she literally sign a piece of paper. But that aside, we have the issue of theory over practical; the films goes out of its way with expositional ground work to highlight that Croft is physical and mentally capable to undertake the various pending tomb raiding tasks but it still seems convenient that she is so very deft on her first try. Having said that, I can see how the script tries to course-correct by having her go through so many physical trials and tribulations that involve getting beaten, battered, impaled and shot at. Then there’s the matter of her being extremely reactive but if I’m brutally honest, even Indiana Jones loses a great deal of proactivity when simply following clues down a linear catacomb, so I feel that’s more a trapping of the genre itself. But as far as performance goes, Vikander does her best with what’s she’s given and handles her own extremely well – even if the dialogue is laughable at times.

Outside of Croft and Lu we have Lara’s father Richard, who performs the well-worn mentor role without real deviation and the villainous Vogel boils down to little more than a henchman and while he executes a prisoner or two, he never really reaches the peaks and troughs of entertainment, prosaically limping from start to end. But that could easily extend to the rest of the film, never reaching the giddy heights through the action set-pieces and emotional connections that, frankly, no one really cares about yet never sinking to the depths of complete hilarity in its ineptitude; ultimately leaving us with a very energetic but thoroughly dull release.

As stated before, drawing on the more recent games, Tomb Raider likes to wear its realism on its torn, bloody sleeve but upon closer investigation it’s clearly merely a printed design. Sure, there’s a level of James Bond/Jason Bourne action set pieces packed with lifelike wounds but then Lara will make a twenty metre leap across a collapsing cavern, armed only with a pick-axe, managing to pull herself up and run to safety. Again, this is arguably true of most if not all action films but when a film spends so long saying “take me seriously, I’m going to bring you on an authentic and life-threatening thrill ride” you can’t then turn around and say “did I not mention Lara is super-human?” For a prime example, there’s stupid rusty plane sequence which tells us everything we need to know about the action throughout. With her hands bound, Lara is fighting a river’s current as it heads to a waterfall. Before going over the edge, she reaches a rusted World War II bomber and navigates her way across the wing before it crumbles. Safely inside the cockpit, the remainder of the plane starts to shift and she makes her way out before it goes over the edge and she bounces around inside before opening a half-torn parachute and crashing through the treeline. I mean, she gets hurt on the way down, so it kind of works and the physics of it all isn’t awful.. but she’d be dead.

**heavy spoilers throughout this paragraph**
Returning to the positives for a second, the score is fairly reasonable but considering Tom Holkenborg’s other work, it’s pretty lacklustre. There is also the interesting decision to fight the supernatural. To separate itself from both the Indiana Jones films and previous Tomb Raider features, all mystical elements have been relegated to legend and superstition. What’s more interesting and genuinely nearly redeems the entire feature, is the history behind the myth. Finally entering Himiko’s tomb, the artwork that adorns the wall portrays her in a positive light, as a saviour. Through this we learn that to save the world, Himiko, her handmaids and entire army were sacrificed to contain a deadly, fast-acting disease, of which she was a carrier. This is wonderful because it offers a bit of insight into how we as a species mythologise and turn factual events into largely fictionalised or embellished legend.

A lot of the components – from the set design, the cinematography and acting calibre – are all primed for a budding franchise that should be a glorious success but the ultimate failing is the script which levels out as very mediocre and paint-by-numbers. Video game adaptations have always been troublesome and while I personally enjoyed Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed, they aren’t reaching the same heights in terms of revenue success or dramatic prowess. Tomb Raider succeeds in that it is an entertaining romp but, again, because of this wholly average script, fails to emulate the successes of its digital counterpart.


Release Date:
16th March 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
At the start of the film, Lara is shown to be a bike courier and, desperate for money, takes part in an illegal race called a “foxhunt.” I rather hated this scene. The actual hunt itself makes sense, it’s just a bicycle race through London, with a series of pursuers chasing a cyclist who has a fox tale attached to their bike and a dripping can of paint detailing her route. I understand it’s thematic and narrative purpose but it irked me mostly for how it was introduced. Having said that, I did appreciate how it ended – which felt like the most realistic conclusion.

Notable Characters:
So on this island of enslaved people, all of whom are working under the keen eye of Vogel, all the henchmen are burly, grubby men armed with guns. For a film with a prominent female character, I was quite surprised that there was almost no other female presence in this film. I know there’s a little twist at the end, which I won’t mention as it’s just franchise bait, but it feels like a remarkably weak step backward. Why are the henchmen all men? Why are the workers all men? If the answer is because they are stronger or more ruthless, surely that clashes with the premise that Lara (a woman) can do anything a man can do? I dunno, just bugged me.

Highlighted Quote:
“Wait.. it’s a colour puzzle”

In A Few Words:
“A fairly middling release whose greatest crime is its disappointing aridity”

Total Score:

3/5

ANNIHILATION

Fear What’s Inside

Director
Alex Garland

Starring
Natalie Portman
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Oscar Isaac



A year after her husband goes missing, cellular biology professor Lena [Portman] is brought to a facility known as Area X. There she meets psychologist Dr Ventress [Jason Leigh] who explains that an asteroid has hit and a dome of iridescent light is spreading from the source. Several teams have entered what they call the shimmer but none of have returned, except Lena’s husband Kane [Isaac]. Desperate to unearth what has happened, Dr Ventress assembles a team and heads into the shimmer, where time and more importantly DNA all seem to be affected.

Despite sharing the title and premise of Jeff VanderMeer’s novel, there is a distinct separation from the books. Subsequently this version is very much inspired by the concept rather than a straight adaptation and in terms of building tension and disorientation and feels like a mixture of Arrival, The Thing, Event Horizon, Under The Skin, Apocalypse Now and Lovecraft’s The Colour Out Of Space. Much like that plethora of titles, the audience is as clueless as to what’s happening as the characters and even by the close of the feature there are so many questions and ideas that need to be pored over but viewers may never reach a complete consensus. That narrative replication of a discombobulated environment is hardly new but it’s refreshingly bold considering how hesitant films can be to trust an audience. As a fan of challenging cinema that refuses to pander to viewers, this really is my kind of feature.

From the marketing alone, it’s evident that Annihilation is undeniably pretty. Presenting amazing cinematography, brilliant direction, captivating production design and a unique visual style, this is colourful, disturbingly beautiful science fiction, making a refreshing change to the desaturated wastelands of late. Everything about this film screams “look at me” to ensure it has your utmost and complete attention, knowing full-well that you will need it to process the dream-like structure of the story. But considering the projects that Garland has worked on, as writer and director respectively, that merely goes with the territory. I am big fan of this mid-budget semi-independent level cinema which has enough room to create something innovative as well as the money to back it up and Garland has proved himself a masterful director of the contained; layering visual clues throughout, narrowing focus and drawing you in before eventually realising how lost you are in this dangerous world (even as a spectator). To my mind, Garland’s work feels reminiscent of the early releases of Werner Herzog and Darren Aronofsky yet I feel he will eventually break away from these comparisons and surpass them in terms of unwavering quality.

As mentioned above, every single component of this release works in absolute harmony. In addition to the visuals, the sound design is mesmerising and while these things can elude an audience’s conscious focus, the music is something they tend to be more distinctly aware of. Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow are obvious choices after their sublime work on Ex Machina and the concept behind the score is a magnificent one. From the outset we are treated to something simple, a lone acoustic guitar with gentle backing. It feels very humble and relatable, an instrument one can (arguably) easily learn to play and one which has been part of our culture as a species for hundreds of years in one form or another. The deeper we traverse into the shimmer, the score then changes and warps with the visuals, taking something recognisable and synthesising it to something digital and otherworldly. It’s a breath-taking use of music which heightens the narrative and a masterclass in the importance of harmony between visual and audio.

As mentioned before, Garland’s projects tend to be quite contained and always push interesting characters that feel, for lack of a better word, real. And while I can’t believe this is a sentence I still need to type in 2018, he writes them excellently and believably regardless of gender or ethnicity. Now, I’m not saying he’s setting out to portray groups, quite the opposite, I’m saying it’s nice to see that in each of his films there has been a level of diversity which neither defines the character nor feels like a token consolation. In other words, a character is presented for the importance they play to the narrative as opposed to an exaggerated stereotypical portrayal for the sake of it. But I digress, the point I’m trying to get across is this amazing cast impresses throughout and the group dynamic is a wonderful and engaging one. My only gripe – possibly the only one I have with the film as a whole – is the nature of casting the more prominent actors by screen-time; in other words, the more prolific the actor, the more likely they’ll live until the end, allowing a sharp audience member to rack up a reliable dead-pool with ease.

If it wasn’t already evident, I really enjoyed this feature, partly for the huge spectacle and mystery of it all, partly for the little things. For example, the parallels between the loss of identity and being consumed by dementia or cancer is a prime example of the power of science fiction; to take a terrifying and untranslatable concept and present it subtly for all to absorb. Powerfully thematic, alluringly captivating and enticingly deep, Annihilation is a fantastic feature full of probing questions but very reticent with answers; depending on what kind of film fan you are, that may charm or irritate you.


Release Date:
12th March 2018

The Scene To Look Out For:
**major spoilers within**
I’ve been told that the scene in the lighthouse does not take place in the book and is entirely of Garland’s construction. In a way, that makes sense as it lends itself to a visual medium in the best way, relying on dialogue-free physicality, like a mimicry ballet. Taking humanoid form, the slick alien being learns from Lena by copying her movement, from stepping around the room to returning a physical attack. It’s a beautiful and somewhat terrifying performance, if only because the alien is without form and feels more like a marionette than a sentient being with actual wants. Simply, creepy and transfixing.


Notable Characters:
Although not explored as much as I would have liked, Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character is a sharply interesting individual, a woman of drive and resolve who seems to be almost without empathy but it is only through dialogue that we come to understand her motives and reasoning.

Highlighted Quote:
“The shimmer is a prism but it refracts everything”

In A Few Words:
“High-concept science fiction as it should be: spellbinding, poignant and mystifying”

Total Score:

5/5