Review: Downton Abbey

DIR: Michael Engler • WRI: Julian Fellowes • DOP: Ben Smithard • ED: Mark Day • DES: Donal Woods • PRO: Julian Fellowes, Gareth Neame, Liz Trubridge • MUS: John Lunn • CAST: Michelle Dockery, Tuppence Middleton, Maggie Smith

After fifty-two episodes, over six seasons, Downton Abbey left our television screens on Christmas Day 2015; while ending on a joyous high, the loss of such a beloved series was felt by fans. Not long after, rumours of Downton Abbey heading for the big screen were spreading; but that is all I viewed them as: rumours, and empty promises. Four years later creator Julian Fellowes made good on that promise, delivering a sumptuous adaptation that pays service to the fans who followed Downton and its residents for so long. Being a fan of the television series, I was very excited to see Downton Abbey one last time, but slightly apprehensive about how it would translate on film, and whether the story would be interesting enough to hold audiences attention for two hours. I clearly needn’t have worried. While Downton worked really well as a television series, there are details that can only be truly appreciated when seeing it in the cinema; such as the first shot of the house. This first look at the manor, after four years, along with the recognisable Downton theme tune playing, felt like coming home. The lavish interiors, and the costumes are even more beautiful on the cinema screen.

The movie is set in 1927, and King George V and Queen Mary are visiting Downton. A fuss ensues as the servants prepare the house for the visit, while the Lord’s and Lady’s worry about what to wear for the occasion. All the usual suspects are involved in the film: Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), Tom Branson (Allen Leech), Mr. and Mrs. Bates (Brendan Coyle and Joanne Froggatt), Thomas Barrow (Rob James-Collier) and, of course, the Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith), who, as always, steals any scene she’s in. The wit and sharp tongue that fans have loved from Smith’s character has remained, and her scheming ways continue; the film acknowledges the importance of her character in a poignant, but appropriate way. 

What Downton has always been good at, is the equal attention to the stories and lives of those from different classes, audiences know just as much about a Lady’s maid as they do about the Lady, and the film picks up from where the series left off: we get to see Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) happy in her married life with husband Bertie (Harry Hadden-Paton), something which seemed unlikely for most of the series after she eventually became resigned to the fact that she would never find love; we see Anna and John Bates with their son; Lady Mary, who was pregnant at the series end, had a daughter with second husband Henry Talbot (Matthew Goode); romance brews for the widowed Branson; and Mr. Carson (Jim Carter) and Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) are the quintessential old married couple. 

The movie deals with historical issues, such as the criminalising of homosexuality, and how this affects Barrow’s life; this had been dealt with in the series, and is continued in the film, the course which this storyline takes leaves some hope that romance might be possible for the character. Most interesting, from an Irish perspective, was the way they dealt with Branson, and his republican past, and what that meant in relation to the pending royal visit. As much as I like Branson, there was something in the way they used his character that left me somewhat miffed, as though they were demonstrating how the elite life can ‘reform’ the once radical Irish. 

Most of the humour throughout was, of course, courtesy of the Dowager’s and Isobel Crawley’s (Penelope Wilton) friendly bickering, but some also came from Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle), whose excitement at the opportunity to serve the King and Queen left him forgetful of the ‘proper etiquette’ of a servant. However, the power struggle between the servants of Downton, and the royal servants was rather entertaining as well.

This film is essentially fan service, allowing fans to revel in the grandeur of Downton and the lives of its characters one more time. The final shots of the characters and the last look at the manor will leave fans content with the knowledge that Downton Abbey has opened its doors to audiences for the last time.

Shauna Fox

122′ 16″
PG (see IFCO for details)

Downton Abbey is released 13th September 2019

Downton Abbey – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Yesterday

DIR: Danny Boyle • WRI: Jack Barth, Richard Curtis • DOP: Christopher Ross • ED: Jon Harris • PRO: Bernard Bellew, Tim Bevan, Danny Boyle, Richard Curtis, Eric Fellner, Matthew James Wilkinson • DES: Patrick Rolfe • MUS: Daniel Pemberton • CAST: Lily James, Kate McKinnon, Himesh Patel

Love Actually is, in my opinion, one of the greatest films of the romance genre to ever be created. So, upon hearing that Richard Curtis wrote the screenplay for Yesterday, I had to get myself to the cinema to see it. I really believe that films that fall into the romance category don’t get the recognition that some of them (definitely not all) deserve; some reviews on Rotten Tomatoes are calling this film ‘dumb’ and ‘corny’. Others claim the film is just an advertisement for The Beatles. If this is the case are we to call Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman advertisements for Queen and Elton John? Maybe they’re right, but they are brilliant, entertaining movies with an incredible soundtrack. Yesterday, containing The Beatles music, has a soundtrack just as good. However, I cannot help but compare Yesterday to Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman considering all three are centred around the music of legends, and it does not stand up to them equally. That’s not to say that it’s crap, far from it, but just don’t expect it to be on a par with them. 

Jack Malik (Himesh Patel) is a struggling musician, attempting to make something of himself. His best friend Ellie (Lily James) acts as his driver, roadie, and manager, hauling Jack, and his kit, to his various gigs, and trying to book places for him to play. But after multiple lack-lustre gigs, Jack is beginning to think it might be time to throw in the towel. However, that night, as Jack is cycling home, all the electricity goes out, across the globe, leaving the world in darkness for twelve seconds. It is enough time for Jack to be invisible to a bus, which hits him. This collision does something though, Jack can remember things that existed before the blackout that other people cannot. Coca-Cola, Harry Potter, and The Beatles; nobody knows what they are, they no longer exist. Jack is the only one with the knowledge. This knowledge allows him to take The Beatles music as his own, making him the greatest musician of his time; but it’s not without its struggles. For one, Jack has to remember all the lyrics to every Beatles song, which is a tall order; one scene shows him visualising what happens in the song Eleanor Rigby as he tries to remember the lyrics, which I particularly appreciated. He also struggles to get the respect from people that these songs deserve. Eventually Jack makes it big time, thanks to Ed Sheeran (who plays himself) hiring Jack as his supporting act, which then puts him in contact with his agent Deborah (Kate McKinnon). Through his journey, Jack does not always choose the right path; the course of fame never did run smooth.

Yesterday shows great respect for The Beatles’ music, not destroying it with silly gimmicks (except for Ed Sheeran’s suggestion to title Hey Jude, Hey Dude). Himesh Patel does justice to the songs, his voice is so easy to listen to and enjoy. It is a joyous celebration of their music, allowing audiences to enjoy their most well-known songs. That’s what is so good about this film, it doesn’t isolate viewers who aren’t so well up on Beatles music, because many will recognise the songs played, whether they are Beatles fans or not. As I said earlier, with Richard Curtis writing the script you can easily rely on him to include a romance, and Yesterday is no different. James and Patel work well together onscreen, their awkward sexual tension is suited to their characters’ relationship. Of course, there is a grand romantic gesture, one very reminiscent of a scene in Love Actually; you’ll know what I mean when you see it because you’ll recognise the song. Ed Sheeran just comes across as completely himself on the big screen, and really suited the naturalistic feel to this film; and it’s always nice to hear a few of his songs put into the soundtrack. Kate McKinnon is great as always; I could watch her all day; there is just a charisma she exudes that makes her so entertaining to watch. 

This is an easy-going, enjoyable watch, with great music that will have you dancing in your seat. Yesterday demonstrates the importance of music to people’s lives; so let’s keep singing about Jude and Eleanor Rigby, let’s keep singing about Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields, because there might not be music like that created again to make people Come Together. 

Shauna Fox

116′ 10″
12A (see IFCO for details)

Yesterday is released 28th June 2019

Yesterday  – Official Website

 

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A Second Look at ‘Green Book’

 

Shauna Fox takes another look at the “joyous and sorrowful” Green Book.

Green Book: 2019 Golden Globe winner for Best Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy), and Best Screenplay. It is a film deserving of every one of these awards.

Named after a travel book written for black people to use to safely travel around America, Green Book will make you laugh, cringe, and sympathise with its two male leads: Viggo Mortensen (Tony Vallelonga) and Mahershala Ali (Dr. Donald Shirley). Mortensen plays Tony, an Italian-American living in the Bronx; out of work due to the temporary closure of the Copacabana, Tony is invited to interview for a job chauffeuring renowned pianist Dr. Donald Shirley. Shirley is going on tour with his two colleagues (the three making up the Don Shirley trio) playing for elite communities in the Deep South. It is important to note that this story is set in the 1960s; a time when being black in America was not appreciated. Unfortunately, such sentiments still ring true in America today, making this film all too current.

Green Book is both a joyous and sorrowful film, capturing the humour of an unlikely friendship, and the sadness from watching the effects of deeply ingrained racism. This takes on the theme of a buddy road trip, as Tony and Don travel through Pittsburgh, Alabama, Kentucky, and many more Southern states, pushing each other’s buttons along the way, but eventually gaining a respect for each other that, according to the post film credits, would last the rest of their lives. Green Book is supposedly based on true events, and one of the screenwriters happens to be Tony’s son, Nick Vallelonga.

Tony has a slightly skewed moral compass, believing that if something is available for him to take, he will, and using violence or bribery to get him through ‘tricky’ situations. He is racist, curses extensively, believes many people to be ‘pricks’, spits in public, flings his rubbish out the car window, and eats like an animal. Trust me, he is a charming, and lovable character despite his… shortcomings.

Don, on the other hand, believes in doing everything with the utmost dignity; he is articulate, always immaculately dressed… and lonely. While Tony has a large extended family, Don is alone in the world, with nothing but his music to give him purpose. To show the contrast between the men, the film’s soundtrack is filled with music and constant talking while Tony is in Don’s life. As soon as Don is left alone, the silence is deafening and stark. It is one of the best ways of showing the difference between these two men, without the need of the visual to compound that difference.

The sharing of experiences between these men is utterly heart-warming, both teaching one another, learning from each other, some moments are completely hilarious, most of which come from Tony’s lack of care about what people think of him.

There are so many enjoyable elements to this film: the constant annoyance that Tony is to Don, who sometimes allows himself to enjoy his companion’s odd antics, and sometimes acts like Tony’s parent; the soundtrack playing throughout is the perfect accompaniment to the film; and the reversal of the usual for the time the film is set – a white man being employed by a black man – as Tony says: “I live on the streets, you live on a throne. I’m blacker than you!”

The situation is seen as odd to white and black alike, the whites questioning Tony’s need to be employed by an ‘eggplant’, and the blacks staring at Don, knowing that he does not belong to them by the way he dresses, and the car he is being driven in (a stylish 1962 Cadillac – it gave me car envy). However, it is this reversal of roles that makes this film, allowing for both men to re-consider their prejudices; Tony realising that black people do not deserve to be segregated; and Don realising that not all white people are dismissive of him. Unfortunately though, so many are, as Don has to constantly deal with harassment, discrimination from the police, not being able to eat in the same restaurants or use the same facilities as white people – all this on just a two month road trip. The dignity with which he holds himself is astonishing; he may be invited to perform for the white people, but he cannot pretend that he is one of them – there is a line that even the most beloved pianist cannot cross. Don is an outcast, dismissed by whites, shunned by blacks, belonging to neither, the price he paid for greatness. During so many of Don’s performances, the passion and anger evident on his face as he plays is heartbreaking, knowing that it is there because of the racism against him. The expressiveness in his face and body which Mahershala Ali gives to this role highlights the hurt and loneliness that his character suffers, and it was a performance worthy of the award he won. Mortensen lost out on the award for Best Actor, instead given to Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody (which I cannot argue with); however, he was very much deserving of an award, perhaps the Oscars is where he’ll have more luck. What is interesting about the awards is that Ali was put into the supporting role of the film. While the story does follow Tony’s point of view, and Don does not enter until about fifteen minutes into the film, they are both leading men, both men command the screen. It begs the question why Mahershala Ali is reduced to a supporting role by the Hollywood Foreign Press?

This film has been rather hush hush here in Ireland, with nothing heard about it until it picked up the most Golden Globe wins of the night; however, having now seen it, this is a film that must be watched, both for its delightful humour and its unfortunate relevance today. Green Book can stand proudly alongside other films that highlight black discrimination, such as Hidden Figures, and The Help. Green Book is a visually beautiful, well-written, powerful piece of cinema; a film that needs to be watched not once, but many, many times.

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Review: The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

DIR: Lasse Hallström, Joe Johnston • WRI: Ashleigh Powell • DOP: Linus Sandgren • ED: Stuart Levy • DES: Guy Hendrix Dyas • PRO: Larry Franco, Lindy Goldstein, Mark Gordon • MUS: James Newton Howard • CAST: Mackenzie Foy, Keira Knightley, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms borrows its style from other Disney films, namely Beauty and the Beast (the live-action version) and The Santa Clause 2. Both of which were better films than this one. It opens on a family, dealing with the loss of the matriarch, the father (Matthew Macfadyen) not quite knowing how to manage three children. Macfadyen is great playing the awkward, lost, stiff-upper-lip father, his expressions alone tell a story; it’s a pity he wasn’t in the film more.

Clara (Mackenzie Foy) is the most difficult; fiery, quick-witted, and utterly self-absorbed, she challenges her father in a way her sister and brother do not. On Christmas Eve, Clara happens upon an unknown world, one which she just happens to be the princess of. Her mother left her a gift that would lead her to a place where she could finally come of age.

The world is straight out of a fairy tale. There are four realms (the land of sweets, flowers, snowflakes, and amusements, or the fourth realm) and the first three are at a kind of ‘Cold War’ with the fourth. Clara is the chosen saviour to try bring peace to all four realms, and attempt to save them from the looming villain, Mother Ginger (the ruler of the land of amusements) played by Helen Mirren, who is severely underused. Keira Knightley is effective, and there’s an interesting twist to her character, Sugarplum. Clara is quite selfish, and for the most part does not take full responsibility for her actions. It feels like Disney are trying to give us a modern, decisive princess, but instead deliver a spoilt child.

Unfortunately, most characters are lacking in any real depth, and any of the characters who showed a hint of real promise are not on screen enough. It comes across as too simple and childish; don’t get me wrong, I generally love Disney films, be they live-action or animated, but The Nutcracker just didn’t do it for me.

However, despite the story’s lack, the score was beautiful. The use of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker tune, and the interweaving of ballet into the story was very clever; always giving a nod towards the inspiration. The costumes were elaborate and ornate, particularly Clara’s ‘soldier’ outfit, and they matched the overall style of the film. The CGI worked well, and the colours of the film lent to its Christmas feel.

Children will love The Nutcracker for its visual spectacle and the parable-like lesson that can be learned from it (looks can be deceiving), but for the adults, there isn’t really much here.

This is not a Disney film I would rush to the cinema to see.

Shauna Fox

99 minutes
PG (see IFCO for details)
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is released 2nd November 2018

 

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Review: Fifty Shades Freed

DIR: James Foley • WRI: Niall Leonard • PRO: Dana Brunetti, Michael De Luca, E.L. James, Marcus Viscidi  DOP:  • ED: David S. Clark, Richard Francis-Bruce, Debra Neil-Fisher • MUS: Danny Elfman • DES: Nelson Coates • CAST: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Arielle Kebbel

In this final instalment of the Fifty Shades trilogy Anastasia Steele, the new Mrs. Grey, finally grows a backbone (in and out of the bedroom). Yes, the whole marketing pitch for Fifty Shades is the dominant/submissive ‘relationship’ between Christian and Anastasia, but we can’t deny that we love a strong, independent woman. While I would never put Ana Steele in the bracket of heroines we aspire to be like, it’s nice to see Christian is no longer the only ‘dom’ in the relationship; Ana is now topping from the bottom.

This film is one to watch with your girlfriends, to laugh and cringe at just how bad it is; I’m afraid it has not improved or learned from the last two bad movies. In Fifty Shades Freed we get a handful of sex scenes, to say they’re steamy would be an insult to the word, but the soundtrack that accompanies them heats things up a little. It is a mostly sultry and well chosen soundtrack performed by various artists, including Dua Lipa, Julia Michaels, Jessie J, Bishop Briggs, and Rita Ora, and it is my favourite aspect of the movie.

The plot in this movie is based completely on the threat that Jack Hyde, Ana’s ex-boss and now stalker, has to their way of life; as well as the threat of an impending baby… dun dun dun!!! A baby that Christian does not want to share Ana with. Now that we’re in the third movie, Christian’s control is no longer coming across as remotely hot (not that it ever did), but more like a child stomping his feet at the unfairness of not getting what he wants. Christian’s childish and selfish ways are growing old at this stage, and are grating on Ana too, as she tells him to grow up or she’ll raise the baby by herself (which would probably be the best thing for everyone involved; Christian Grey as a father, an inspirational role model? Now that’s funny). His constant calls checking up on his wife, the protective detail that he has watching her, giving her a bodyguard that is hotter than he is (bad move Christian), and the revenge sex that he uses on Ana to prove how angry she makes him when she disobeys, are so infuriating, rather than sexy. However, it’s good to see Ana voice her annoyance with her husband and stand her ground, rather than quiver (pun intended).

Fifty Shades Freed tries to be grittier, attempting to be like a thriller, and failing miserably, I wouldn’t even know what category to put this under… bad erotica, that tries to be a thriller? We get a car chase, some creepy phone calls, and a kidnapping, none of which, in the sphere of Fifty Shades, ignite any feelings of caring for what happens to the characters; and thrown into the mix a few sex scenes, including one in a car, and another in the kitchen, using ice cream! Kinky. We see less of the red room, and less of the bedroom, less whips and chains, we get a few glimpses of Dornan’s bum, and lots of shots of Johnson’s body, but nothing in the way that would ignite your fire. It was all fairly… lacklustre really; and yet I still had to laugh at just how hard they tried to steer this in a different direction to the previous two, to give it a bit more gravitas.

So, after all that, what is it that draws so many people to this franchise? Let’s be honest it’s definitely not the cringy dialogue, the barely-there plot, or the tepid chemistry between the two main actors… so what’s left to like? Well, Jamie Dornan’s body for one, the soundtrack, the great style and lipstick choices worn by Mrs. Grey (honestly there are many magazine articles based solely on the lipstick used), and Dakota Johnson really seems to find her feet in this new, bold version of Ana. But if you’re thinking of watching Fifty Shades Freed…don’t. The tag-line should be enough of a warning to avoid it: ‘Don’t miss the climax’…really?

Just watch the trailer and you’ll get the same amount of ‘excitement’ as you would if you saw the whole movie.

Shauna Fox

18 (See IFCO for details)

105 minutes
Fifty Shades Freed is released 9th February 2018

Fifty Shades Freed – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: Darkest Hour

 

DIR: Joe Wright • WRI: Anthony McCarten PRO: Tim Bevan, Lisa Bruce, Eric Fellner, Anthony McCarten, Douglas Urbanski  DOP: Bruno Delbonnel • ED: Valerio Bonelli • MUS: Dario Marianelli • DES: Sarah Greenwood • CAST: Lily james, Gary Oldman, Ben Mendelsohn

Gary Oldman is almost unrecognisable in his portrayal of Winston Churchill in his first stint as Prime Minister during WWII. The film covers just a small number of days in May 1940, opening with the British Parliament in distress – Hitler has invaded Poland, and Czechoslovakia, and with the opposition having no more confidence in Neville Chamberlain a new Prime Minister must be appointed; one that will lead Britain through its darkest hour.

Our first sight of Churchill is of him in his bed, being introduced to his new personal secretary, Ms. Layton, played by Lily James. Our first impressions of him are unsurprising, giving that they are backed up by numerous portrayals of the wartime Prime Minister as: grumpy, bumbling and cantankerous.

This film tells the story of a man who is not supported by members of his own war cabinet, who have no faith in him (particularly Chamberlain and Lord Halifax), and who is not liked by his own King (at least initially). He faces war amongst his own ministers, and war from Germany, battling internal and external forces that seek to tear him down. The outlook for Churchill and Britain looks bleak, and the aura complements the mood of the film; the world of parliament, the underground bunker where the war cabinet meet, and the palace, all of them have a grey hue. Not only does this capture the essence of London, but the essence of a country, an Empire at war.

Oldman really embraces, and immerses himself into his role, as I said becoming almost unrecognisable, so much so that you really believe he is Churchill. He sounds like Churchill, capturing that mumble, while still ensuring that he encapsulates what makes Churchill one of the great speakers in history. Oldman, taking the real speeches, gives them fervour, emotion, power, calling to the patriotism of the British people and rallying them for battle.

But this film doesn’t just show one side of Churchill, as the man who led Britain through war, Darkest Hour shows the struggles that the Prime Minister underwent, it shows a side that is probably less well known or seen…his human side. Darkest Hour gives us a Churchill that is sarcastic and darkly humorous, showing us the wit behind the great orator, one who had a great love for Shakespearean prose. It also shows us the emotions underneath the surface, not just the anger that comes out due to the mounting pressure on him, but the sadness, the desperation of a man so alone amongst his peers, left to carry the decisions he makes like a weight. He is viewed as war-hungry and a drunk by members of Parliament, someone determined to continue warring with the enemy rather than consider the idea of peace talks.

The main issues with regards to WWII that this film concerns itself with is:

  1. Dunkirk and the seemingly impossible task of evacuating approximately 300,000 troops from the beach, and
  2. To enter into negotiations with Hitler or not by having Italy act as a mediator.

Now this film is very history heavy (however, like many filmic interpretations of history, not all of it is the truth), a lot of talk about surrendering, evacuating, negotiating, fighting and all the jargon that goes with war. Anyone who has an interest in Churchill, WWII, etc. will really enjoy this, as I did. This film certainly expects the audience to have a certain knowledge of WWII and what happened during May 1940; however, less so with the relations between Churchill and his cabinet, a lot of that is looked at in detail, and very well I might add.

Darkest Hour gives us a snippet of WWII and how Churchill entered as  Prime Minister under such dire circumstances. It gives us a snippet of his life, a snippet of a career that had its failures and successes. It shows the frailty and strength of a man fondly remembered, someone who remained steadfast with the threat of allies surrendering to the enemy. While their soldiers are being lost, some dying because of his decisions, it was his quick thinking and belief to never give up, never surrender that saved many more. It shows a man who had to sacrifice his family; his career and country coming before those he loved most.

Kristin Scott Thomas plays Churchill’s wife, the woman who had to make do with being second to her husband’s career. The dynamic between Thomas and Oldman worked well; although you see them very little together, they show a relationship built on respect and love, despite how intolerable Churchill is portrayed at times. The relationship between Churchill and Layton, his secretary, is shown more, as they spent a lot of time together, she typing out his speeches, while he spoke aloud to her. Personal relationships are grown through business, like that of the relationship that Churchill gains with King George VI. While at first it depicts a tense atmosphere between the two, it later grows into one of support and possible friendship. Ben Mendelsohn’s portrayal of the stammering King is good, however, I can’t help but compare it to Colin Firth in The King’s Speech, and even Jared Harris in Netflix’s The Crown, both of which are superior performances. While I consider John Lithgow’s Winston Churchill to be exceptional, I would put Gary Oldman’s performance alongside it. He steals the entire film, his depiction of Churchill is captivating, one that really makes you feel for him, sympathise with him, one worthy of an Oscar.

There are many representations of Churchill and the King, many more depicting Britain and its soldiers and people during WWII, so Joe Wright had a lot to follow with this film, and quite a bit to live up to, however ,Darkest Hour was excellent. It expressed the intensity of politics during war, and tugged on your emotions, taking the rhetoric of Churchill and, as was stated in the movie, reminding us how “he mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.”

 

Shauna Fox

PG (See IFCO for details)

128 minutes
Darkest Hour is released 12th January 2018

Darkest Hour – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

DIR: Jake Kasdan WRI: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner  PRO: William Teitler, Matt Tolmach  DOP: Gyula Pados • ED: Steve Edwards, Mark Helfrich • MUS: Henry Jackman • DES: Owen Paterson • CAST: Karen Gillan, Dwayne Johnson, Bobby Cannavale

One can’t help but watch this film and be somewhat reminded of the original and, of course, the late Robin Williams. While this film updates itself from its predecessor, there is still a nod to Williams. His character Alan Parrish is mentioned as previously being trapped within the game; also at the end of the original Jumanji, the board game is found on a beach, which is exactly where this updated Jumanji begins.

We meet four characters: Spencer (the nerd), ‘Fridge’ (the jock), Bethany (the pretty one), and Martha (the shy one), all stereotypes of American teenagers, and all living in a technologically obsessed world; hence, why Jumanji is a video game (albeit an old one), rather than a board game.

While the original film mainly deals with the jungle coming out of the board game, this reboot focuses on the characters being sucked into the jungle, and with that, comes a twist: their avatars become the antithesis of themselves and each other. The ‘weak’ become the ‘dominant’; Spencer becomes ‘Fridge’s’ superior, physically, and while Martha becomes the good-looking, bad-ass woman, Bethany is… Jack Black. Each of them have a set of skills, Dr. Smoulder Bravestone (Spencer), played by Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, smoulders uncontrollably and has no weaknesses; Moose Finbar (‘Fridge’), played by Kevin Hart, is a zoologist and explodes at the taste of cake; Ruby Roundhouse (Martha), played by Karen Gillen, can do almost any martial art that comes to mind, and Professor Shelley Oberon (Bethany), played by Jack Black, is a cartographer, and can’t run from anything fast enough.

Jack Black really takes on the role of a teenage girl obsessed with vanity and boys so well, eyeing up the men, teaching Martha how to flirt, and having a meltdown because his/her phone isn’t glued to his/her hand. He really is what makes this film funny, especially as Bethany gets used to having certain male body parts, and the fascination that she has with that.

While the four main characters, and Nick Jonas’ character Alex Vreeke, are enjoyable, if somewhat predictable (like the storyline), all the other characters we meet in the game are one-dimensional. This, however, is purposeful. In the game we meet NPCs, which, Spencer explains, are non-player characters, they are there to help the story along, and get the main players to where they need to be. Many of these NPCs repeat their programmed lines, and don’t really have a huge amount of personality; now, in one sense this is clever, because it reminds the audience this isn’t I’m a Celebrity, but a video game, but when you make the main villain one dimensional… that’s not so clever.

We see the return of Van Pelt, the hunter who kept chasing after Williams’ Alan Parrish in the original, only now he’s taken control of Jumanji and all its creatures. Our ‘heroes’ have to reverse this curse in order to be released from the game. Van Pelt, played by Bobby Cannavale, is not a very convincing bad guy, the threat of the animals lurking in the jungle is more villainous than he is.

What is villainous is the fact that the trailer makes the film seem funnier than it is; you expect to laugh out loud, only instead you have a little giggle every so often; it is more humorous than hilarious. While it’s worth watching, I would more recommend waiting till its DVD release to see it. I wouldn’t rush to the cinema for it.

Having said that, it’s far from terrible, and it is clever in its use of video-game references, like the characters having strengths and weaknesses, all of them having three lives each, the use of diegetic music that they can hear when a character returns from losing a life, or the beat of drums when something dangerous is about to happen. Thankfully another thing they did do right is  the CGI; there is nothing worse than obvious CGI; however it was seamless, and was used well within the movie.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a light-hearted, easy-to-watch action/comedy, with a different take on the coming-of-age story, and a good dynamic between the five main actors. Was it meant to be a sequel, or a standalone? It’s not really clear, but its homage to the original 1995 Jumanji is admirable.

Shauna Fox

12A (See IFCO for details)

118 minutes
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is released 20th December 2017

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle  – Official Website

 

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Review: Thor: Ragnarok

DIR: Taiki Waititi  WRI: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost  PRO: Kevin Feige • DOP: Javier Aguirresarobe • ED: Zene Baker, Joel Negron  DES: Dan Hennah, Ra Vincent  MUS: Mark Mothersbaugh • CAST: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Tom Hiddleston

 

Move over James Gunn, there’s a new comedic Marvel director in town: Taika Waititi… plus he acts! Well, voices one of the characters, but still that character happened to be a great addition to the Thor cast. The God of Thunder  returns in this fresh approach to the Thor series, packed full of sharp comedy, impressive action, and loaded with colourful characters… and the Hulk… so much Hulk.

Ragnarok does comedy so much better than Guardians of the Galaxy; while Guardians was quite childish (and don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it), Ragnarok does not shy away from the use of more adult humour; because we all know that probably over half of the people who go to see Marvel are grown-ups. Ragnarok uses quick wit to keep the comedy going, and it works really well, it’s just one laugh-out-loud moment to the next, and the comedy never fails.

Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston prove that while they can take the serious sides of the Thor franchise, they can also take on comedic roles, showing a different side to their characters from the two previous Thor movies. Idris Elba as Heimdall, plays a less static part in this film; and we see him away from his post as ‘gate keeper’ and more involved in the action, making him more well-rounded, and more likeable. Mark Ruffalo is hilarious, reprising his role as the Hulk and playing an enjoyably camp version of Banner. Giving us a lot more of Banner as the Hulk, Ragnarok allows us to see the polar opposites that exist within Banner himself. Plus the Hulk is more like a big child, and the back-and-forth bickering between him and Thor was amusing, their dynamic as ‘frenemies’ adding to the hilarity of the movie. The nod towards the other Avengers, Tony Stark and Natasha Romanov were nice to have in the film, reminding us that Banner and Thor are an integral part of the Revengers, I mean the Avengers.

This film itself moves to different places beyond Asgard or Earth, like Sakaar, where we meet Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster, who is equivalent to a Roman Emperor watching people who end up on his land battle his champion (the Hulk). Of course, Thor has the ‘honourable’ misfortune of getting involved in just that, while his adopted brother Loki watches on in mischievous glee. While on Sakaar, we meet new characters, such as the wonderful Korg (voiced by the director, Waititi), Miek, and Valkyrie (who could replace Lady Sif as the kick-ass woman).

Thor and Loki (but mainly Thor) are hell-bent on stopping Hela (played by Cate Blanchett), their older sister, who rises from the banishment Odin, their father, put her in, begins her quest of taking over Asgard. The brothers, trying to stop her making it to their home, find themselves dumped on the Grandmaster’s planet, hence beginning an adventure of immense bad luck.

You may remember in one of the trailers for Ragnarok the use of Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin was used. Waititi uses it twice in the actual film. He uses it for two action scenes complementing them both perfectly. The loudness of the song matching the vividness of the scenes, making the characters look bad-ass. As well as the song by Led Zeppelin giving it a rock vibe, the film’s score is mainly electro/synthesiser, giving the film an unearthly feel – again showing that Waititi was taking this film in a different direction to the other hero movies within the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe).

This  film marvels in its CGI, in particular the ending scenes, capturing destruction and action, as was Thor’s manipulation of lightning. The CGI used to show the lightning emanating from him plus the current visible in his eyes, is beautifully cinematic. The film gives us another element to Thor’s power, showing that his hammer (Mjolnir) was merely a conductor to his power to help him channel it.

With Thor: Ragnarok we get another facet to the beloved characters, seeing them being fleshed out more, and, although there is a difference in them (one that I think was needed in order to prevent the Thor films from becoming stale in later ventures), Waititi ensured that they were still recognisable.

Waititi has really upped the ante for all other Marvel movies to follow, and I’m not just talking about the ones owned by Disney. Fox and Sony will have to do a lot to keep up now. Waititi has definitely made a name for himself within the MCU. The only question I have now is… can Taika Waititi direct all ‘Avenger’ Marvel movies to come?

 

Shauna Fox

12A (See IFCO for details)

130 minutes
Thor: Ragnarok is released 27th October 2017

Thor: Ragnarok – Official Website 

 

 

 

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