The Greatest Showman

The Greatest Showman (Michael Gracey, 2017) 4/5

Contemporary musicals are essentially the rarest of filmic breeds. They are either reboots of older classics or adaptations of great stage productions from around the world. What is more common is when these are fused with popular historic figures and this fusion works well when that person was linked with show business. Michael Gracey’s directorial debut is a show stopping adventure through tposter-largehe weird and wonderful eyes of P.T Barnum and his eclectic mix of performers.

Scepticism did almost overtake me prior to watching this Hugh Jackman star vehicle, but I persisted, and I’m very glad that I did. From the cinematography, acting, editing, and performances everything here works so well that it is seamless in the action. Jackman is no stranger to the spotlight of the stage and thrives her as the protagonist as through dance numbers, all of his skills as a performer are brought out in full force. He carries this movie with aplomb (I love that word!) and bringing Zac Efron onboard to entice a younger crowd (clever marketing), plus throwing the added class of Michelle Williams adds another dimension to this already celebrated canon.

In essence, this film is about inclusivity and diversity, which is a little more than topical at the moment in time. I won’t go into that too much (*ahem* Trump, *ahem* Harvey Weinstein) and the songs show a very strong reflection of this zeitgeist. Fox made a very clever hire of Pasek and Paul, who are fresh off their win for the – dare I say it, slightly dull – La La Land at last years Oscars. Their songs are simply infectious and you will be singing all of the way home. Of course, it does help that the screenplay is also written by Jenny Bicks (Sex and the City vet) and Bill Condon (Dreamgirls and Chicago).

Of course, it can be very difficult to balance the gritty reality of the actual figure and the glitz of movie musical. Sure, some bits are glossed over with glitter, but this movie is all about escapism. If you’d like a more pronounced musical biopic, I’d direct you to ‘Walk the Line’ for example.

There are shades of Baz Luhrmann here too and Moulin Rouge is clearly something they wanted to emulate, not just with the rooftop dancing, but also with it’s feverish pace and fast editing.

In sum, whilst The Greatest Showman might lean a little too much on the ‘show’ aspects and not on the murkier sides of Barnum. This movie is an escapists dream with a very powerful message of inclusion in a time where not everybody is getting the representation or safety they deserve.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star wars: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson, 2017) 4/5

The middle film in a trilogy can always seen like a place card holder from the first and the last adventure. Star wars has traditionally been able to avoid this with each film in it’s canon exhibiting it’s own individual story, whilst successfully adding a new narrative to the overall structure. The Last Jedi continues in this vein, as Rian Johnson’s follow-up to the fantastic The Force Awakens allows both new and old fans of the franchise to experience the spectacle of this space opera.Star_Wars_The_Last_Jedi

In a sense, narrative wise, this film is a lot paired back than the previous film and gives the audience a lot more interaction with older characters. Most notably Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, whose individual story arcs are really what holds everything together here. It’s just so rewarding to see Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher (May she Rest in Peace) interact and further instil their acting chops!

Following directly where the last film left off, The First Order are continuing their attack on the resistance, causing mighty havoc in the process. As you can imagine, there are some mighty good fight sequences here and the special effects are amazing. However, it is Johnson’s screenplay that really enables the adventure to keep at fast enough pace to forgive the rather long 150 minute screen time.

I guess what is so fascinating about this new trilogy of films is how Disney has approached them. Everything seems to be meticulous so as to welcome a younger fan base, whilst at the same time, not ostracising the audience of the previous films. The Last Jedi walks this tightrope successfully and there are enough references to the past narratives, as well as, new character additions to enthral the younger – Disney-fied – crowd.

In sum, Rian Johnsons middle film in this trilogy is successful in terms of storytelling, action, acting and special effects. It never feels lumbered and is fast paced for it’s running time. Overall, it doesn’t quite live up to the magic of The Force Awakens, however it is a very good addition to the cannon and sets up for the action packed finale.

Paddington 2

Paddington (Paul King, 2017) 2.5/5

With a property like Paddington the Bear, it’s not unfeasible that after the success of the 9x16-Hat-Tip_V1_Paddington-2first film, there would be more on the way. The magic of the first film from its careful introduction of key characters, the merging of 21st Century society and key landmarks of contemporary London made for an exceptional family film. The sequel here tries to emulate this with some handy cameo’s, however it never really reaches the heady heights of it’s predecessor.

The story here follows our lovely bear getting all caught up with the law and arrested for stealing a pop up book in the heart of Portobello Road. Whilst in prison he meets some colourful prisoners headed by the great Brendan Gleeson as ‘Knuckles McGinty’ the prison chef. Stepping into Nicole Kidman’s shoes for the role of villain here is Hugh Grant who portrays fallen actor ‘Phoenix Buchanan’ who is using the book to romp across London to discover untold treasure.

Unfortunately, instead of being sinister, Grant is a tad annoying here. With Kidman, she was more restrained in her delivery. Whereas here, we have a more panto like figure with not much substance. Also, the ‘twee-ness’ of the first film added to the charm, whilst here it almost suffocates everything and everyone at every turn. Although, this being said, the animation in parts of this film is spectacular and really adds to the roots of this character.

However, everything just seems to be really rushed here, the inclusion of more neighbours doesn’t help. Sanjeev Bhaskar, Ben Miller and Jessica Hynes are squished into probably about 10 mins of screen time and add very little. By supersizing recognisable faces, we lose our main character altogether. Of course, Paddington will always be likeable and Ben Whishaw is still on top form portraying his earnestness and exuding charm in the process.

In sum, Paddington 2 is still a charming adventure, however it just doesn’t have the streamlined appeal of the first film. It seems the bear has become a little bit bloated from eating all of that marmalade…

Justice League

Justice League (Zack Snyder, 2017) 3/5

DC has an issue with hype versus reality. The hype surrounding this film was that it Justice_League_film_posterwould finally bring some fresh life to the franchise and ignite some enthusiasm with the help of some extra superheroes. The issue though, is that it all seems a tad undernourished. Think of this film as a Rubik’s Cube, at points it is all in sync, while at others it all seems to be flapping in the wind. Batman, Wonder Woman, Cyborg, The Flash and Aquaman team together to defeat Steppenwolf, who thousands of years ago attempted to destroy Earth with the help of his army of Parademons and three Mother Boxes. However, he was defeated and, guess what, is back and is not a happy camper. Round two for Steppenwolf.

As a premise this is actually quite an exciting set up, however the actual story from that doesn’t really develop. Instead there is a lot, and I mean a lot, of time introducing the whole team. In turn, The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg are given airtime and to have their piece of backstory highlighted. This plodded along a bit and slowed the pace considerably. What DC should have done was to hold fire on this film until we had the first film of each of these guys released. That way, we would have known all about them before they teamed up. As such, for a good hour (the film only runs for 120 mins in total) there seems to be a lot of filler that could have been done in a post-credit sequence. As such, what you have is a rushed experience in the second half that tries to tie everything up in a neat bow.

What is actually quite good here is the interaction between the team and the more light-hearted tone. There is good banter between everyone and this makes for enjoyable viewing (please take note for Suicide Squad 2, for the love of god!). As well as this, the fight sequences are well orchestrated, and the special effects is top notch. However, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. Steppenwolf looks so unreal in this that it was slightly laughable and made you wonder if this was a glimpse into the new console game that they are developing. He was played by a really talented actor in Ciaran Hinds, but you wouldn’t of know it under all of that gloop.

Gal Gadot and Ezra Miller are the shining lights here as they offer much needed charisma to the overall bleak picture and give the team some uplift as opposed to the brooding testosterone of Ben Affleck, Jason Mamoa and Henry Cavill’s Superman (yes, he’s back!).

In sum, the Justice League is a nice addition to the DC canon, however it could have been a great one. There has been some missteps here, but it wasn’t a bad adventure to begin with. I guess the main problem – apart from Wonder Woman – is, will fans keep holding their breath for an excellent film for too much longer?

Mudbound

Mudbound (Dee Rees, 2017) 4/5

Based on the celebrated novel of the same name by Hilary Jordan, this film chronicles Mudbound_(film)the experience of two soldiers returning home from World War Two, Jamie McAllan (Garett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell). The only difference between them is, one is white and the other black. From this relationship, we are introduced to their respective families. Jamie’s brother Henry (Jason Clarke) moves his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan) and their children to the south to start a farm. Whilst Ronsel’s family live on the land and are held together by his mother Florence (Mary J. Blige).

At first glance, the narrative is not something we haven’t seen before and there are allusions to ‘Mississippi Burning’ and ’12 Years a Slave’ with the civil rights movement and race relations continually bubbling under the surface. However, what is unique here is that this plays much more like a classical 1950’s melodrama than an ultra-gritty post-modern critique. This is mostly seen through the relationship dynamics of both families, whereby they struggle to provide a living, under the weight of an expectant harvest.

Dee Rees follow-up to the independent darling ‘Pariah’ strips everything down to a simple story of friendship between two soldiers and how they are looked upon by their society at home. Unsurprisingly, Ronsel is looked down upon and Jamie is welcomed back a hero. This creates the tension that makes the film so worthwhile, as nothing is made explicit, and most of the racism is represented through Jamie’s grandfather Pappy McAllan (Jonathan Banks). Laura and Henry are at best ambivalent and at worst ignorant to these troubles.

The real winner here is actually Mary J. Blige who produces a stellar performance as the strong matriarch, who, much like her music, powers into the narrative. It will be somewhat surprising if she doesn’t get some awards attention for this role (Hollywood does love a crossover Star does it not?!).

In sum, Dee Rees film, produced entirely through Streaming giant Netflix is tragic, thought-provoking and a powerful piece of cinema that highlights just how important – and detrimental – familial ties can be.

 

Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express (Kenneth Brannagh, 2017) 3/5

It’s becoming abundantly clear that this film isn’t just a big budget one-off adaptation of Murder-on-the-Orient-Express-New-Film-Poster.jpgan Agatha Christie classic. Hollywood rarely decides to produce a film unless it has legs, or in this case, a firm set of wheels. This is the fourth incarnation of the Hercule Poirot mystery whodunnit and it has been given a serious upgrade. Not only does it all look beautiful but there is a whacking great big cast here of well-known European and American actors. Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe and Kenneth Branagh in the title role all stand out in their respective parts. As such, in an age where Marvel and DC are fighting for superhero supremacy, are we now looking at the resurgence of another franchise: The Agatha Christie whodunnits?!

I guess, what is lacking here is just sheer originality. I have to admit that I couldn’t actually remember this particular story (I’m more of a Marple fan really), but as the narrative progressed it did all become very familiar. Michael Green’s script lends most of its strength to previous adaptations from the BBC and others to fill the screen. His relationship with Ridley Scott is palpable as he wrote Alien: Covenant and Blade Runner 2049, both of which were produced under the Scott Free production banner. It just all seems like this project at times was phoning itself in, bringing in the new crowds as well as Christie devotees. At times, it lacked the pace of previous versions and the ‘twist’ just isn’t climactic enough. That being said, there are some amazingly beautiful set pieces here.

Jim Clay’s (Woman in Gold, Children of Men) production design is faultless as is Haris Zambarloukos’ (Thor, Cinderella (2015)) cinematography. Both of which, create a great sense of time and space and focus on the most important character, that of the train itself. Indeed, these are actually some of the films strong points as within the close quarters of the cabins is precisely how the tension increases and the murderer is revealed.

In sum, this adaptation of the Murder on the Orient Express breathes new life into the literary classic. However, by adding new stars into the mix and increased technology, the actual story becomes stilted and a bit turgid.

 

 

 

 

War for the Planet of the Apes

War for the Planet of the Apes (Mat Reeves, 2017) 5/5

Matt Reeves conclusion to the extremely successful rebooted Planet of the Apes cannon WAR-FOR-THE-PLANET-OF-THE-APES-_-Poster.jpgis a triumph. Crossing the boundary between Science Fiction and the War genre, this concluding film is spectacular.

Continuing where we left of with Dawn, Ceasar (Andy Serkis) is leading his band of merry primates in the forest within a hidden retreat. However, danger is upon them in the form of The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), a tyrannical leader of a sect of the American Army.

As the film progresses, there are stellar fight sequences, breath taking cinematography (thank you, Michael Seresin) and hard hitting themes that are handled with great sensitivity through Reeves’ and Mark Bomback’s screenplay.

When it was announced that there was a reboot of this franchise in the works in 2011, I was sceptical based on the amount of failed projects with the same agenda. However, what have made these films different is that there was a measured and assured narrative that understood how to make parralels with real life conflicts. Not only war, but genocide and the plight of animal rights. Within this final instalment, communication becomes an integral part of the story whereby the virus has regressed the human population of their ability to speak. This is relayed through the introduction of the character Nova, a little girl who has lost her speech.

In essence this trilogy has been clever, on the button and bends the expectations of genre and special effects. The strength of War lies not only in the aforementioned, but it’s unwavering attempt to portray any type of aggresion as wrong and that compassion still plays a vital role in our current society.