Thursday, 17 November 2016

OJ's Movie Review - Arrival

I love science-fiction so when I see a trailer and there are huge ships, alien beings, Amy Adams & Jeremy Renner I'm in.

Now although I've just said there are ships and aliens coming to Earth this is in no way your alien invasion movie; if you're walking in expecting some Independence Day, Mars Attacks type scenario then you're going to be disappointed. Arrival stars Amy Adams as linguist Louise Banks who has been brought in by the government to help communicate with the extraterrestrials that have landed twelve ships around the globe; both she and Jeremy Renner's physicist, Ian Donelly must work out why they are here and what they want through their various visits inside a ship that has landed in Montana, USA.
   The story director Denis Villeneuve and writer Eric Heisserer gives us is unique to say the least. Villeneuve's use of close-ups makes it such a personal and intimate story. His wide shots, including an impressive continuous shot, make the locations a gorgeous visual masterpiece to enjoy. All of these are scored amazingly by Jóhann Jóhannsson who's use of vocals in the music gives both an earthly feel but also surrealness to it. Villeneuve's decision when and where to use this music also proves well making impactful scenes and emotional moments.
  Of course the directing can't always work on its own but Amy Adams gives one of the best performances I've seen her give. I really can't expand further on that without giving spoilers but things like her reactions to the extraterrestrials and moments towards the end certainly tell me that this was a good casting choice. The other two leads are Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker both of which do a fine job; if you've seen their other work then you know what to expect here, they are both brilliant actors and play their roles just right but Amy Adams certainly steals the show in acting terms.
  Now for the plot of the film, I don't really know what to say. It's best to go into Arrival as unaware as you can with just the basic plot details such as the ones I gave earlier. I will however say that Arrival is one of those films that leaves you thinking about it for a couple of days. When the credits roll you just need a moment to ponder over it and piece together some of the revelations you've just had. When a film can do that I respect it. It's concepts of time, language, narrative and humanity is a lot to take in and certainly food for thought.
    I will most certainly watch the film again and upon second viewing I will see it differently than before with the knowledge I have. Is it the best film ever made? No, I've seen films that I have enjoyed a lot more and serve my personal tastes better. Arrival will definitely lose some viewers with it's slow burn quality; some may feel it drags and if you're not interested in the art of cinematography and film-making then it will feel even slower to you. And as someone who calls themselves a cinephile, even I was surprised at the gentle pace some of the scenes were going.
   In the end Arrival is stunningly beautiful with incredible acting and surreal sounds. It's commentary on stories is one I will remember and if I had to liken it to other films then I'd say some of the vibes I took from it were ones similar to that of Contact, Signs, and Inception. It won't be everyone's cup of tea but an interesting cup of tea it is.


Thursday, 20 October 2016

OJ's Movie Review - Inferno

Look, I haven't read the books so I won't be one of "those people"; I'm viewing this purely cinematically.

Tom Hanks returns as the symbologist Robert Langdon in the third adaptation of Dan Brown's books again directed by Ron Howard; this time he must solve clues and escape organizations to save the world from a deadly plague. I always enjoy these sorts of films, National Treasure, Sahara, The DaVinci Code - they aren't credited for their quality but there's something about the ancient codes and puzzles genre that entertains me so I was expecting some enjoyment from Inferno despite it not being one of my most anticipated films of the year.
   And true to form, Inferno did give me Tom Hanks running around beautiful Europe solving clues but not quite as much or at least not as interesting as the previous two films; Inferno didn't really focus on the problem-solving tropes of the genre but gave us more action set pieces and character relationships, which is OK in itself but not what I came to Inferno for.
  The cast of these films though are always a highlight. Tom Hanks is one of the best actors of our generation so it's great seeing him on screen again and does some top notch performances, especially at the beginning of the film. He's joined this time by Felicity Jones who is more than adequate at playing the young attractive sidekick and has some good moments with Hanks. Another highlight to join is Irrfan Khan, I really do enjoy watching him in films since I was first introduced to him in Life of Pi, he is a unique presence in this film as the head of a shadowy organization and gives some welcome comedic moments here and there. Ben Foster, whose work I'm not as familiar with, plays the antagonist somewhat and was a convincing billionaire bent on ending half of humanity for the greater good. Apart from those the rest of the characters were fairly wooden and uninteresting which may be due to how they are introduced or lack of screentime.
  A major positive of the film though is the third act which is a tense sequence of events scored brilliantly by Hans Zimmer. The whole film is shot very quick-pace and some shaky-cam which didn't always work and the beginning was a little unsure on what to focus on but in the climax it felt natural and it worked.
   In the end I enjoyed both The DaVinci Code and Angels & Demons a little more but all three films are higher-average at best with Inferno being the weakest.


Thursday, 11 August 2016

OJ's Movie Review - The Little Prince

I've had my eye on this film for a while; it's been to various different film festivals and even got a wide release in France but only last week was it finally released in the UK with the help of Netflix.

I'm surprised this film hasn't been promoted more; even if you haven't read the book it's based on (like me) the film boasts a fantastic cast with the likes of Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, Paul Rudd, James Franco and more. The animation style is similar to that of Pixar, which is interwoven with stunning stop-motion moments. So in general this film has a lot going for it.
  For the most part, I really liked The Little Prince. As I say, the cast do an amazing job, each role is brought to life with very unique voices and delivery. You can have a film with unknown cast and sometimes that works quite well but sometimes when you hear these voices and you instantly recognise them, it gives you as sense of comfort and familiarity; and the lines delivered by ones such as Jeff Bridges and James Franco make them really stick with you. Like a lot of good animated films, The Little Prince gives you a lot of mottos and life lessons to remember; some of the ones in this movie though, I felt didn't come across as clearly as intended. Something would be happening and I was left wondering exactly what it was trying to tell me, and that's the thing with this movie, there seems to be a lot of metaphors, all of which are presented beautifully, but are left up for interpretation. So in terms of cast and dialogue, I really thought the film was something special.
  I mentioned the animation before and I'll just elaborate. The majority of the film is computer animated and although not as detailed as the more popular animation studios can give, which is to be expected, the look and style were enjoyable enough and it seems like they took a few notes from Pixar, which is never a bad thing. The animation though is nothing compared to the visually stunning stop-motion sequences that are presented. It's nothing like I've seen before and was by far the most interesting parts of the film; a visual experience.
   I'll move onto the story now. The summary of which is a little girl moves to a new house with her very controlling, almost OCD, mother and meets her neighbour, an old man who has a hoarding problem that tells her about his supposed experience he had in the Sahara desert. The first two thirds I really enjoyed, some could argue it's a bit slow, but for me I enjoyed the storytelling element and the sometimes very real depictions of life spliced in with the wildly imaginative metaphors. The friendship between the little girl and the old man was a charming and entertaining watch, and the stop-motion story always had me invested. The third act however took quite a turn in the narrative, the tone changed somewhat and I was constantly waiting for some degree of explanation. I felt it got a little too mixed up into what was real, what was metaphorical, and it didn't quite give closure to some of the plot threads. According to some Internet articles both the book and the film try to base it's logic on a child's imagination so I suppose in that way it makes a nonsensical kind of way.
  In the end, The Little Prince was a visually stunning film with a great script and voice work but the narrative was a little shaky, especially towards the third act.


Thursday, 4 August 2016

OJ's Movie Review - Finding Dory

Never mind finding Dory, finding quality has been Pixar's struggle as of late.

So, as if you didn't know, Finding Dory is the sequel to 2003's brilliant Finding Nemo and we rejoin our main fish friends Dory, Marlin & Nemo as they go on an adventure in the waters of California. I really like Finding Nemo, I think it makes the ocean really interesting and encompasses the vastness of it really well along with giving us investing characters to enjoy. I was a little concerned with Finding Dory however as Pixar has only had success with follow-ups in the Toy Story series; both Cars 2 and Monsters University were average at best. 
  This sequel though, isn't too bad. Finding Dory is mostly an entertaining and well-made movie. As with all Pixar films, the animation is some of the best in the business. The sand, the water, the textures on the animals is all so breathtaking to look at (even more so in the short-film beforehand) that the visuals alone make the film worth watching. Fortunately Finding Dory also has a top-notch script filled with funny moments, really good life lessons and mottos, all delivered wonderfully by the cast. 
   Ellen DeGeneres obviously is the highlight as the titular character and she is just as entertaining as the first time we met her and you really feel that she is always so genuine in everything she says and does, you want to be friends with Dory. I actually enjoyed a lot of the new characters introduced also; Hank the octopus makes for a visually interesting character with him being able to change colour and manipulate his body and they allude subtly to things from his past which was a nice way to build the character. Destiny the whale shark is also introduced and I wasn't the biggest fan of her character, I felt the 'clumsy friend' thing wore off quickly and some things she did didn't make sense in terms of what animal she is. Her friend Bailey the Beluga however I thoroughly enjoyed, he had some great lines and entertained me whenever he was on screen, and proved to be educational in some respects with cool visuals. Two more characters I'll quickly mention are the two sea lions voiced by Idris Elba and Dominic West; they were great, I'm always happy to see Idris in stuff so this was a treat and their scenes were very funny together.
   Moving onto one or two negative points now; the story has some issues. I really enjoyed the beginning and the majority of the main story but pacing was a problem every now and again. For instance, I won't spoil it, but the whole reason they had to find Dory happened so quickly and rushed it kind of felt they were trying to make a reason to call it "Finding Dory", if I were honest it's more like finding Dory's parents, which isn't a spoiler as that is the synopsis of the film. 
   Another point is that Finding Nemo took place almost entirely in the ocean which made the adventure seem that much bigger and exciting whereas here it all happens in an aquarium which makes sense I guess as they don't want to rehash the same things and try something new but one part did require them to cross the ocean and it made it seem as though it takes just a few minutes whereas in the first film it took the entire movie to get to somewhere much closer than where this takes place. And a final thing I wasn't a fan of was the climax. Now obviously it being a children's film I have to suspend some disbelief but the whole final bit just didn't fit into the world Finding Nemo set up, I thought it went a bit too far.
  In the end though Finding Dory was an adequate sequel; I was entertained and it was certainly better than some of Pixar's recent entries. Nostalgia still makes me prefer the first film but when you've been watching it since the age of five, it's hard to root that out.


Thursday, 28 July 2016

OJ's Movie Review - Star Trek Beyond

Space...the final frontier. This is the review of Star Trek Beyond. It's mission: to explore strange new characters, to seek out a well-written plot and hope for redemption after Into Darkness, to boldly go where the franchise sometimes has gone before...

In general, I like Star Trek. I haven't seen the majority of the various series but I've seen the films and I enjoy the concepts and franchise as a whole. I really enjoyed the 2009 reboot and even after seeing the sequel I came away having had a good time despite problems. So going into this film I was expecting to be entertained.
  And entertained I was. I really enjoyed Star Trek Beyond. Chris Pine again leads a spectacular cast who all do great jobs in their roles, making them their own while still channeling the portrayal of the original cast. Simon Pegg helped write the script for the film and for the most part I thought he did a great job. The dialogue was perfect for ones like Bones & Spock when they banter between one another, and although there were references and nods to the past it didn't feel forced and it wasn't overdone. Star Trek Beyond had a lot of moments where it felt like Star Trek, with just the landscapes, the technology, the story, I thought it captured the feel of the original series more than the previous two did.
  Two new cast members for the film included Sofia Boutella as Jaylah, who did absolutely fine in the role, the character could have done with a bit more fleshing out but acting-wise, Boutella played the action-ready alien girl well through all that make-up and was entertaining enough. Talking of acting through make-up though, Idris Elba is brilliant as the villainous Krall. I enjoy Elba in almost every role of his but a menacing alien baddie suits him perfectly with his voice adding an intimidating aspect to an already frightfully-looking character. Kralls motives and background I also found enjoyable and unexpected; they left a lot unexplained until the third act but I enjoyed his arc none-the-less.
  Just quickly I'll mention the visuals of the movie. The Enterprise looks amazing, as it should be, there are some shots at the start of the film I really liked, both inside and outside the ship. Justin Lin did an adequate enough job as director although I would like to see someone else take on the next installment.
  Talking about visuals allows me to move onto one or two negative things I felt the movie had; some of the CGI, where people were concerned, wasn't perfect. Space, and landscapes and spaceships look great but I did notice moments where people had to fall through the air or do something that needed to be computer-generated and it was obvious to me. Now another problem I had might just be my personal feelings but the very first scene of the film, I won't spoil, felt a bit off, like it didn't belong in a Star Trek movie, it's very short and I like what they were going for but the execution felt to me a bit silly. One last thing is that the overall plot is quite simplistic, probably not a problem for a lot of people, and it didn't bother me too much, but the whole story wasn't as complex as previous ones have been and if you thought about it then you could probably predict a lot of things that were going to happen.
   In the end though I thoroughly enjoyed Star Trek Beyond, it was funny, it was Trekkie, it was pure summer fun and I look forward to seeing where the franchise goes both through these films and next year's return to television with Star Trek: Discovery.


Thursday, 21 July 2016

OJ's TV Review - Stranger Things

Ah, it's been a while since I had a good binge watch.

Stranger Things seems to have come out of nowhere, I had never heard of it right up until they released the trailer last month. So if you didn't know, Stranger Things is a Netflix original series created by The Duffer Brothers and is set in 1983 Indiana where a young boy goes missing in a small town where strange things are happening and an unusual girl shows up. 
   So right away, this setting is genius. I never lived in the 80s but after this I really feel as though I was there, they didn't bang you over the head with it shoving pop culture references at you every minute but just how they dressed, their hair, the posters on a bedroom wall, it all seemed so natural and not gimmicky at all. The movie Super 8 did this to a certain degree and I enjoy that movie but Stranger Things seemed to make it more real to me. What added to it especially was the music, from the opening credits to the score itself, the use of synth music worked excellently to bring you this mysterious, fascinating and yet nostalgic atmosphere; so all-in-all they really did well with the setting and time-period and will definitely be checking out the soundtrack, all of which served as a brilliant backdrop to the plot.
   As I said, a kid goes missing; it's something we've seen many times in television and film but because it is such an urgent, fearful, disturbing event you are instantly following the case because you want to know what has happened and you want to see him back; so from the very first episode I was hooked and I was staying. Now the series is only eight episodes and I think that's a good thing; a lot of American shows have upwards of twenty and sometimes that can lose momentum and become very episodic, which works depending on the nature of the series, but I do enjoy a lot of British shows where they usually have between six and thirteen episodes negating the need for fillers and can concentrate on a good script. Here the Duffer Brothers have crafted a simple but very well written story that feels more like a movie; each episode follows on instantly from the previous with no recaps or 'Next Time' trailers so if you were to watch Stranger Things, a binge is required. The also know when to show things and when to not, they spent their budget wisely and paid wonderful homage to the Hollywood of that time giving you visuals reminding you of things like The Goonies and E.T. These callbacks also never detract from the plot and fit the story well; also despite the 80s adventure inspiration, Stranger Things isn't necessarily for the Spielberg audience with one or two darker moments scattered here and there.
  Now I can't do this review without mentioning the cast. Winona Ryder and David Harbour are really well cast as the adult leads, from the desperate mother who still holds out faith to the driven police chief taking on mysterious government agents. The rest of the cast are largely unknown including the main kids but they were so talented. Millie Bobby Brown and Finn Wolfhard being highlights having to display complex emotions and intelligent arcs. I wish I could mention all of the cast because they were so good, from Joe Keery as high school jock Steve to even the teacher Mr Clarke, each person had a life and character you were invested in.
   In the end Stranger Things is a really well made original series with some of the best cast, music and writing I've seen in awhile that also has some surprisingly good humour that made laugh out loud. I really hope the series gains traction because I can see the cast and crew going places, as well as a possible season 2.


Thursday, 7 July 2016

OJ's Movie Review - Now You See Me 2

They really missed the opportunity to call this "Now You Don't".

Despite the majority opinion I really enjoy 2013's Now You See Me; sure some of it doesn't make sense but for some reason I find it very entertaining. This year's sequel sees us eighteen months since the events of the first film and the Four Horsemen are tasked with performing a heist for Daniel Radcliffe.
   First off, you have to acknowledge the all-star cast here; I really enjoyed them in the first one so it was great to see the likes of Mark Ruffalo, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Morgan Freeman and more back on board. They all do an excellent job of course and get straight back into these characters who's lives I was fully invested in. After the twist at the end of the original I was wondering how Ruffalo's character would change but I really enjoyed the majority of his arc in this and it builds on what we knew of his back-story already which was cool. We did have some new characters introduced to us and they were just OK; Isla Fisher did not return as the female Horseman so they bring in Lizzy Caplan as this new magician and despite a bit of a rushed introduction she was surprisingly tolerable; her character may be a little irritating to some as she is used as the comic relief a lot which was unnecessary and I do think Fisher's character was more interesting but as far as replacements go, she wasn't bad. Daniel Radcliffe also joins this cast as our antagonistic billionaire who wants something only the Horseman can get; so yeah it's a plot-point we've seen a lot of times in film but hey, it is a heist movie so I'll let it slide. He was absolutely fine in his character, not quite as threatening as sometimes I think he was meant to be but once you get used to this what this type of movie is, he's more than adequate.
   Just touching on the plot; it's a basic heist movie with the Now You See Me glitter all over it so plenty of illusions and visually interesting effects. I enjoyed it quite a lot, plenty of action, plenty of tricks, the locations were interesting as well, quite international which I enjoyed. There were a few twists here and there but some you could see coming and others I wasn't particularly keen on. I know they tried to top the big reveal of the last movie but it didn't really work here; it seemed to struggle explaining what it was they were surprising us with. But as a whole the main story worked for me.
   Something, or rather someone, I did not enjoy much was a particular character they introduced as a relative to one of the horseman; his purpose was a little unnecessary and what they made him into just brought the quality of this movie down. He was more suited for some sort of comedy which unfortunately this film tried to much of. The first film had funny moments and Harrelson was our comic relief but now they've introduced two more "funny" characters and it cheapened it at times.
  My last critique is that unless you enjoy the first film and have watched it recently I don't think you'll enjoy Now You See Me 2 as much. It requires you to remember a lot which was OK for me as I have seen the original a few times but for a casual viewer you are left asking a few questions.
So in the end, if you didn't like the first one, you won't like this. For me it wasn't quite as neat and shiny as the Now You See Me but entertaining enough.