Everest (Review)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Starring: Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Emily Watson, Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Debicki, Michael Kelly, Jake Gyllenhaal
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 121 mins 

“Human beings simply aren’t built to function at the cruising altitude of a 747,” explains Rob Hall, the leader of Adventure Consultants, an expedition company to a crew of budding climbers who are looking to summit Mount Everest. And it is no easy trek indeed, as the new IMAX 3D disaster film ‘Everest’ documents. ‘Everest’ is based on the 1996 disaster where 8 people tragically lost their lives when they were caught in a deadly blizzard on the way down Earth’s highest mountain. It features a stellar cast, comprised of Jason Clarke playing Rob Hall, leader of Adventure Consultants and Jake Gyllenhaal who plays Scott Fischer, leader of Mountain Madness, who is very much in a supporting role. Joining Clarke in his group is Beck Weathers, played by Josh Brolin, Doug Hansen, a mailman, played by John Hawkes who wants to prove that an ordinary man can achieve anything if they put their hearts to it and Yasuko Namba, played by Naoko Mori who had previously climbed six of the Seven Summits and was attempting to become the oldest woman to summit Everest. Keira Knightley and Robin Wright play the wives of Rob Hall and Beck Weathers and Emily Watson, Elizabeth Debicki and Sam Worthington comprise the Base Camp control team. With a subject matter as delicate as this, can director Baltasar Kormákur deliver a film with a heart and avoid the disaster film clichés as well as being a solid 3D IMAX adventure?

‘Everest’ is an awe-inspiring film that features incredible visual effects and some fantastic performances from its star-studded cast. It also manages to pack an emotional punch and character development is solid for a film of this genre. The tone of the second half of the film is extremely unnerving and upsetting and the film’s ending is perfect. Not only is it Kormákur’s best film, it is the best disaster film that I have seen in a long while. The reasons why this doesn’t get full marks are because it is a little hard to distinguish characters in some places (mainly because they’re dressed in tons of layers!) and the film cannot quite get rid of all the clichés associated with the genre but it is a very admirable attempt. The film also would have benefitted from having a 15 rating to make the film look even more realistic by showing more of the degradation of the characters.

A lot of the characters in the film are extremely well established and then developed such as Rob Hall, Beck Weathers and Doug Hansen played by Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin and John Hawkes respectively. Clarke delivers a very real yet brilliant performance as Hall and his performance is a career best. Brolin and Hawkes play pretty much themselves. The best performance of ‘Everest’ is by Emily Watson who plays Helen Wilton, who manages the Base Camp in an extraordinary and hyper-real performance that is Awards worthy. Scott Fischer, portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal is a small role that isn’t particularly well developed and with an actor this big, it would have been nice if he would have had a bit more screen time. Unfortunately where all this good work is undone is with the wives of Hall and Weathers, played by Keira Knightley sporting a Kiwi accent and Robin Wright, whose characters are extremely conventional and cliché-ridden.

The visuals and cinematography of the film are nothing short of extraordinary – expect nominations for these categories in this year’s Academy Awards. I felt totally immersed in this world and felt as if I too was climbing Everest and this was only heightened by the glorious use of 3D and IMAX – the 3D here is not a cash grab.

It’s the scenes that pack the greatest emotional punch that manage to elevate this film from the rest of the crowd and there are so many worthy scenes in ‘Everest’. The final ascent up to the summit is awe-inspiring yet horrific at the same time as we see the inner struggles of some of these climbers and the scenes where Hall slowly withers away are heartfelt. No one knows what happened to Doug Hansen, but Kormákur offers a no-nonsense approach and the scene where Hansen falls to his death is harrowing and chilling, as is another scene where a climber suffers from hypoxia and hallucinates that he is overheating and starts undressing himself. It is here where the sheer horror of the situation is really brought to fruition and Kormákur is brilliant with building this sense of dread. The ending is perfect – it steps up even more in urgency as Weathers is rescued by a helicopter after suffering frostbite and the film ends with a fitting memorial to the fallen climbers.

Overall, ‘Everest’ is one of the best disaster films in a while. It manages to be both awe-inspiring and emotional and when disaster strikes, Kormákur executes the sheer horror of the situation with an expert hand. The cast are also very talented at carrying the film and there are some fantastic performances here. The film stayed with me for a long time and made me want to find out even more about this horrible disaster. It’s satisfying to know that Kormákur and his crew have really done their homework here and the film is very concise in terms of the facts. I wouldn’t be surprised if ‘Everest’ ended up being the dark horse in Awards season – it deserves a lot of praise.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

The Visit (Review)

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan 
Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, Kathryn Hahn 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 94 mins 

M. Night Shyamalan has had a very shaky career in the film industry, to put it lightly. He made his mark with ‘The Sixth Sense’ in 1999 which was extremely well-recieved and is widely regarded as one of the best films of the 1990’s – deservedly so. His next two films, ‘Unbreakable’ and ‘Signs’ were also well-recieved by critics and audiences alike. 2004’s, ‘The Village’ received mixed reviews. Shyamalan then directed, ‘Lady In The Water’, ‘The Happening’, ‘The Last Airbender’ and ‘After Earth’, the first film being bad then the latter three being embarrassingly bad and his career was effectively ruined. ‘The Visit’ is his latest offering and here he has gone back to basics. He has teamed up with Blumhouse Productions, a micro-budget horror production company behind hits such as ‘Insidious’, ‘Sinister’ and ‘The Purge’ and Shyamalan has financed the film from his own pocket. With a shaky track record on his hands, is this money well spent?

‘The Visit’ lacks in the scares department and its pacing is very uneven but the film boasts some very impressive performances and an extremely well-crafted storyline supplemented with Shyamalan’s signature twist which pays off. The film is a mix of comedy and horror and this combination is pretty balanced although the film isn’t particularly scary as mentioned. It’s very tongue-in-cheek in tone and I watched the entire film with a big grin on my face. Many people were sceptical of the film being shot in the style of a found-footage documentary as this is a very tired concept, here it works very well and the shaky-cam adds to the tension. Not only is ‘The Visit’ Shyamalan’s best film in 15 years, the storyline is one of the most creative concepts in a horror film in a while.

The performances in this film are very, very convincing and the combination of Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould who carry the film have great chemistry with each other. Oxenbould provides much of the comic relief to mostly good effect, but I did cringe at the multiple raps his character does in the film. Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie, two actors who have a couple of films on their resume are very sinister in their role as the grandparents and their acting in the climax is top class, particularly McRobbie. Kathryn Hahn is probably the most famous face in the film, but she doesn’t really have a lot to do here but when she is on-screen, she’s fine.

Without spoiling the plot, the plot is very impressive and features an extremely satisfying twist in the film’s final act. The concept of ‘grandparents being old and not-with-it’ is implemented fantastically and will make audiences watch their own elders habits and problems. Shyamalan is famous for adding a twist into his films, but they’ve felt very forced of late and haven’t fitted in with the film but here, the twist is very satisfying and there are a couple of clues scattered around the film foreshadowing it. It elevates the film from being an average horror film to an above average one.

However, the film does run into a lot of problems pacing-wise and the beginning is drawn out and is a little boring. Shyamalan undercooks the scare scenes and the jump scares are shoehorned in most of the time and  have no lasting effect. A horror film is designed to be scary and this is where it loses its stars as it really isn’t. It’s a shame because the concept has a lot of scope to have more chilling and tension-filled sequences but unfortunately this just doesn’t happen.

With its flaws aside, ‘The Visit’ is a very good effort by Shyamalan and it boasts some excellent performances with an extremely well-crafted storyline. It’s just a shame the film isn’t nearly as scary as it should be. I hope Shyamalan continues to pick up his feet after a decade of flops and manages to bring back his image of his earlier films. As for ‘The Visit’, it’s a huge step in the right direction and Shyamalan’s should expect to make back a profit with the money that he invested. Money well spent.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Southpaw (Review)

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Naomie Harris, Victor Ortiz, Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson, Oona Laurence 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 124 mins 

Originally intended as a continuation of the hit 2002 rap-biopic film, ‘8 Mile’ with rapper Eminem in the lead role, ‘Southpaw’ has evolved quite a long way from its inception. Eminem put filming on hold to focus on his successful music career with critically acclaimed actor Jake Gyllenhaal filling in for him. Sitting in the director’s chair is Antoine Fuqua who has delivered solid action flicks, ‘Training Day’ and ‘The Equalizer’ in the past. The fact that the film was picked up by the Weinstein Company to distribute is very promising and with their track record, it seems pretty likely that this film could very well be Awards material.

‘Southpaw’ is not Awards material in the slightest – the film is very formulaic and manipulative in its storytelling and the film has pacing issues, but where the film is triumphant is in its acting and sheer watchability. This film has been done time and time again but by the strength of the acting alone, the film is able to hold itself up and despite being overfamiliar, the film is ultimately satisfying.

Although the film can’t match his performance, Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance as boxer, Billy ‘The Great’ Hope is nothing short of transformative. Gyllenhaal is on a very strong roll lately and it’s refreshing to see him pick different types of film roles. The character of Billy Hope is completely the opposite of Gyllenhaal’s narcissistic and daring turn as the immoral Lou Bloom in last year’s ‘Nightcrawler’ – Hope is a more moral character, a born fighter that never wins until he bleeds enough. Fuqua directs many fight scenes in the film that test Hope’s physical strength to the maximum and on the verge of defeat, he is able to pull of heroic successes. It’s very easy to see Eminem’s inspiration shine through in Gyllenhaal’s performance.  Without Gyllenhaal in the role, the film would have reduced itself to be nothing more than a cringeworthy and flat television drama.

Rounding out the cast is Forest Whitaker who plays himself pretty much, Rachel McAdams as his wife who again plays herself pretty much and Naomie Harris in a small role where she doesn’t really get to show off her acting chops. Who is surprisingly good here is Curtis Jackson, more commonly known as rapper 50 Cent who is quite good at acting and his character is quite cold and self-interested. Oona Laurence plays the daughter of the Hope family and after her role in the Broadway musical ‘Matilda’, she is very good here and is most likely set to have a successful future in the film industry.

The story in the film is fairly uninspired – it’s been done time and time again but despite Fuqua manipulating our emotions, it is still an emotional journey to see Gyllenhaal’s character sink to an all-time low and then rise again. He loses everything – his mansion, his earnings and even his daughter all down to the death of a certain character. However, Forest Whitaker, who plays a ‘Mr Miyagi’ type character in the form of Titus ‘Tick’ Wills who coaches Hope back to his previous successes.

One final noteworthy feature of the film is its impressive score. Even though Eminem didn’t end up playing the main role, he helps to contribute towards the film’s soundtrack and it really fits in with the film. The late James Horner’s score is even more impressive, his first posthumous release after he died in a devastating plane crash and the score is almost another supporting character in the film, helping to guide Hope through his tough and enduring journey.

Even though ‘Southpaw’ doesn’t manage to be the smash-hit it looked to be and also the fact that it relies on an overfamiliar and uninspired storyline, it is still an entertaining watch that boasts some impressive performances. If you want a break from all the big-budget blockbusters that have dominated the box office this Summer or just want something to pass the time, this does the job very well. Just don’t go in expecting a big Awards contender.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Fantastic Four (Review)

 

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Josh Trank
Starring: Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 100 mins

‘Fantastic Four’ is Marvel’s fourth attempt at bringing these superheroes to the big screen, after the 1994 failure and the cheesy 2005 and 2007 outings directed by Tim Story. This time, young director Josh Trank is at the helm after impressing with his low-budget superhero film, ‘Chronicle’ in 2012 and 20th Century Fox decided to give him a shot with this respectable material. However, production of this version has been plagued with problems. Trank reportedly treated the film crew terribly, trashed his house and ultimately was unprofessional. Fox executives didn’t like the finished film and reshoots then had to be carried out, with some reports hinting that Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, Kingsman: The Secret Service) stepped in to direct the reshoots after Trank was allegedly deemed incompetent. All this bad news culminated in Trank leaving (more likely kicked off) an upcoming Star-Wars spin-off. Fox was so sceptical of the film that the critic embargo for the film lifted on the day of its release so bad word of mouth couldn’t get out. Unfortunately when the film was released, it tanked hard at the box office and has an abysmal 9% rating on Rotten Tomatoes – the worst rating for a Marvel comic book film ever.

I realise I am in the vast minority here but I found ‘Fantastic Four’ to be a thoughtful, dark and entertaining reimagining of the iconic superheroes but unfortunately it is marred by a tonal shift in the film’s tacky and incoherent third act which undoes all the good work of the first two acts and culminates in an end battle which is utterly horrendous. It is by no means the best superhero film that has been released in recent year and with comic book films setting the bar so high, it is very hard to stand out in an already saturated market. But if someone were to ask me what the worst comic book film ever to be released was, this film wouldn’t even come into mind, not even close. When one reads between the lines during the film, it is quite clear to work out what scenes / ideas were who’s in this film (Trank or Fox) and this has culminated in what I believe another film where the studio has disowned their property – take a look at the development with Edgar Wright for ‘Ant-Man’ for example. There is a really good film absolutely screaming to be looked at here and unfortunately, it is undermined by the last minute reshoots which are so blatantly obvious – look at Kate Mara’s hair for example in different scenes and Miles Teller’s facial hair.

What has been salvaged in the final cut however, is still promising and shows off a spark of brilliance of what the film was meant to be. In early marketing for the film, Josh Trank cited inspiration from David Cronenberg filmography, most notably ‘The Fly’ and ‘Scanners’ – a sci-fi horror first, a superhero second just like last year’s ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ had many traits of a political thriller.  This is something that has never been done before and sparks of these ideas have been left in the final product and it is beautiful to behold. When the Fantastic Four first wake up to discover their powers, it is chilling and they feel shock and disgust with themselves. When Doctor Doom walks through the facility and kills people, which is rather gory for a 12A I must add, again this is exactly what Trank had promised – a sci-fi horror. I also like the fact that Trank chose the film to be devoid of humour – too many comic-book films rely on cheap, dumb humour to entertain fans whereas this film cuts the humour out to make the film more dark and serious. There are still slight moments of comic relief but not consistently.

The casting here is very good. Miles Teller makes for a serious and emotional Reed Richards and Michael B. Jordan is tongue-in cheek as Johnny Storm. Kate Mara is competent as Sue Storm but doesn’t really advance the story anywhere. The only weak link out of the four is Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm who isn’t given a lot to work with and is missing from large portions of the film, surprisingly. The Fantastic Four themselves are miles ahead of the 2005 incarnations and now that they have been established, I’d be happy to watch them in future sequels. The cast is rounded off by Reg E. Cathey and Tim Blake Nelson as Franklin Storm and the sinister Dr Allen and a small cameo by the voice of Homer Simpson, Dan Castellaneta. Toby Kebbell plays the film’s villain which is horrendous. In human form, Kebbell shines but once he becomes the villain, he is a run-of-the-mill villain who unfortunately due to the reshoots is only a villain for about 10 minutes and then gets quickly killed off. With a year full of sinister comic book villains like Ultron and Yellowjacket, the iconic Doctor Doom is by far and away the worst. He lacks any motive and in terms of the CGI work is a total botch.

The first two thirds of the film are a pretty good build-up to what would appear to be a satisfying third act. The characters are fairly well established, with the exception of Ben Grimm and the pacing is suitably slow in order to set the scene but all of Trank’s good work is undone in the third act’s tonal shift which descends into a generic sub-par affair with poor visual effects and a terrible script. As mentioned, I suspect this is probably where the film was reshot as it doesn’t tie in with the dark, gritty tone of the first two thirds. The fact that the film is only 100 minutes in length is questionable as many comic book film nowadays are almost always comfortably at the two hour mark and with a good third-act, this is where it should have been. Instead it is 80 minutes set-up, 10 minutes fight, then credits. Even the score by horror-veteran Marco Beltrami and the wonderfully talented Philip Glass has a tonal shift in the film’s third act where it is awful and cluttered whereas in the first two thirds, it is quite melodic and brooding.

Overall, ‘Fantastic Four’ is a film where the first two acts suitably set up these superheroes but a tonal shift in the third act undoes all this good work. The hints of what was originally in Trank’s film are brilliant and it’s a real shame that Fox executives couldn’t allow him make the film he wanted to make. However, what is left is competent and definitely has potential that can be explored in future sequels, if a sequel will ever happen which is doubtful and even more doubtful that Trank would ever return to direct it. On the film’s release day, Trank publicly disowned his own film as he took to Twitter and tweeted:

“A year ago I had a fantastic version of this. And it would’ve received great reviews. You’ll probably never see it. That’s reality though.”

I will reiterate that it is a real shame that Trank wasn’t allowed to make his own film and like he himself is, I am confident that the film would’ve been excellent. There are moments of brilliance here and some fantastic concepts but they are ultimately watered down by last minute reshoots that Fox encouraged that allow the film to become a very standard and cliched affair. It’s a real shame.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Ant-Man (Review)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lily, Corey Stoll, Bobby Cannavale, Michael Pena, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Anthony Mackie, Wood Harris, Judy Greer, David Dastalmachian
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 117 mins

‘Ant-Man’ is the latest addition to the critically acclaimed Marvel Cinematic Universe, a more stripped-back production after the visual effect fest (and in my opinion, a huge disappointment) that was ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’. With a very troubled production that has spanned a staggering 8 years, it is a miracle that the film has finally made it onto cinema screens. The project was originally meant to be directed by the acclaimed and very talented Edgar Wright but last year just before filming started, he dropped out citing creative differences and Marvel very quickly found his replacement in comedic director Peyton Reed to quickly pick up the pieces. The only title Wright has to the film is a writing credit. With all this in mind, it would be easy to say that the film was going to be Marvel’s first dud – a troubled production that ultimately ended up  being a last minute botch. However, Marvel has proved again and again otherwise – take last year’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ for example. Many people were sure it was going to flop but it ended up not only being successful but one of Marvel’s very best.

‘Ant-Man’ is an excellent and entertaining character-driven film that has a warm heart and innovative action sequences. Wright’s input is incredibly obvious and is all for the better and the casting is near perfect. The storyline is fun and the pacing is spot-on as well. However, one cannot stop themselves from unpacking the film when watching it to distinguish all of Edgar Wright’s directorial traits in it and ultimately ponder what Wright’s finished film would have been like. However what has remained is very, very promising and Marvel have another series to their name and rightly so.

Edgar Wright’s and Joe Cornish’s script is amazing – it has just the right blend of humour and storyline and this really shines in the finished film. Even though after Wright’s departure, ‘Anchorman’ director Adam McKay was brought in to rewrite the script, the finished product is incredible. However scripts need to be transformed onto the screen and the casting for the film is perfect. Paul Rudd was born to play the role of Scott Lang / Ant-Man and is as good as Robert Downey Jr who plays Tony Stark / Iron Man. Michael Douglas is also very competent as the former Ant-Man, Hank Pym and he clearly has enjoyed playing the part. Corey Stoll takes on the film’s villain, Yellowjacket and is very sinister in the role and ranks as one of the best villains to date in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is not a particularly high standard as there have been many weak ones. Granted, the character doesn’t have the best motive, but Stoll’s performance is very gleeful and sinister. Evangeline Lilly rounds out the main cast as Hope van Dyne and whilst she isn’t given a lot to work with, she plays the role well. In supporting roles, the main stand-out is Michael Pena who plays Lang’s sidekick, Luis and he brings a comedic edge to the film. There’s nothing really much to say about the rest of the cast other than they gel well, but what’s really promising to see here is the introduction of other Avengers in small scenes, just enough to connect them all together in different solo outings and in this case, Anthony Mackie returns as Falcon who has a wonderful small action scene with Ant-Man. I hope Marvel continue to use this in future films as it really works here.

The action sequences here are top-notch and the scenes where Ant-Man shrinks are enthralling yet playful and this culminates in a climactic final battle which is one of Marvel’s very best due to its clever use of size and proportion. The score by Christophe Beck is also very memorable and is not only a career best for him but also one of Marvel’s very best scores – a character actually has a theme song for once!

What separates ‘Ant-Man’ apart from the other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that Ant-Man actually has a purpose. The film successfully pulls on the heart strings as Scott Lang is a character who just wants to get his daughter back and the audience are reminded of this constantly during Ant-Man’s battles. All the other Avengers do not have a purpose and this allows Ant-Man to soar above the rest of them.

Overall, ‘Ant-Man’ is against all the odds, a resounding success and despite Wright leaving the project, the exact amount of what his creative input has remained. The film has a very warm heart and the action sequences are enthralling and inventive. Paul Rudd makes the character his own. However one can’t escape the thought of what Edgar Wright’s vision would have been but what Marvel and Peyton Reed have been able to do in a year is tremendous. ‘Ant-Man’ is one of Marvel’s very best and rightly so. Bring on the sequel!

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Inside Out (Review)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Pete Docter
Starring: (voices of) Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Richard Kind, Diane Lane, Kyle McLachlan
Certificate: U
Run Time: 94 mins

‘Inside Out’ is Pixar’s latest addition to their catalogue of films, the geniuses behind the ‘Toy Story’ trilogy, ‘Monsters Inc’, ‘Finding Nemo’ and ‘Up’ for example, and after a couple of misfires with audiences (by misfires, the films were still very well-recieved), ‘Inside Out’ looks to buck that trend and set out to be the resurrection of what Pixar do best. On the director’s chair is Pete Docter, the mastermind behind ‘Monsters Inc’ and ‘Up’, who has come up with an extremely original concept of having the film set in the mind of an average child where personified emotions – Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust who live in ‘Headquarters’ (ie. Riley’s brain) guide her through life in a hard move to San Fransisco from Minnesota. Pixar have spent a long time making this film, sitting last year out in terms of films in order to make a better quality film. With Pixar having so many hit films under their belt, can ‘Inside Out’ prove once again why Pixar are the leading studio in the animation industry?

‘Inside Out’ is an expertly crafted film – it is extremely original, emotionally satisfying, humorous but at times suitably dark and enthralling but what stops it from reaching the giddy heights of their very best films is its little too familiar narrative. The voicing cast are spot-on and the film is supplemented by a fantastic score by Pixar-regular Michael Giacchino. The pacing is perfect and the characters really resonate with the audience.

Although it doesn’t reach the emotional heights of ‘Up’ in its first five minutes, Docter creates another enthralling sequence showing the development of a young girl called Riley as she grows up to her 11 year old self – it’s simply staggering and wonderful and is very promising for what is to come. Docter manages to replicate this in the film many times through some fantastic, yet heartbreaking flashback sequences. The interactions between the five emotions is fluid and the five of them make a wonderful character study. Another scene is one that has featured in the film’s promotional material, a heated exchange between Riley and her parents where it is revealed that they too have emotions that control their thoughts and actions which are realised wonderfully – the script is perfect.

For Pixar, the film is very dark in places and for the better as it really helps to propel the film’s emotional factor. As humans do, the film fluctuates in its emotions – at times extremely happy and content and at times dark and depressing. The creative team behind the film have really put the hours in to come up with the right emotional balance. When Joy and Sadness get sucked out of headquarters (this makes up the film’s plot), the decisions taken by the other three emotions as to how to keep Riley emotionally balanced is beautifully realised and due to the outstanding character development, audiences can really relate to the characters.

Unfortunately, ‘Inside Out’ doesn’t quite manage to rank as one of Pixar’s best due to its, at times, overly familiar narrative and its predictability. The story is very linear in places and the plot is a little bit overly predictable. The audience know that Joy and Sadness will need to pass through some obstacles, there will be a point of no hope, then everything will be back to normal again. It’s a little too ordinary in this respect – if the story had perhaps meandered a little more and maybe included a couple of twists, then the film would receive the full 5 stars and rank higher. By sheer coincidence, the film does mirror Disney’s ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ a little bit which does stain the film’s plot a bit in the sense that the characters have to journey through different worlds to reach their destination.

It’s also very refreshing to see that Pixar continue to have a very lucrative marketing campaign, where they don’t reveal a lot of the plot in the trailers. This makes it all the more of a worthwhile experience as you get to experience the film as you watch it, not watch it in a condensed version in the form of a trailer.

Overall, ‘Inside Out’ is another winner from Pixar – it’s emotionally satisfying, humorous and the concept behind it is extremely original. It is well worth the wait and Pixar can be proud that they have another lucrative film in their hands. It is sure to be Oscar-nominated this year and deservedly so and will almost definitely take the win. As mentioned, the film would get the full 5 stars if it didn’t rely too much on its linear and familiar narrative which make the film a little too predictable – a couple of twists would have elevated this film even more, but it is still one of the best films of the year and one that must be experienced in the cinema this Summer. It will be interesting to see how ‘The Good Dinosaur’ turns out this Winter, the second of two offerings Pixar have this year – will it be able to replicate and improve on this film’s success?

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

On a side note, I must also praise the short film that accompanies ‘Inside Out’ which is called ‘Lava’ is a beautiful musical number and again tugs on the emotions in a staggering 7 minutes. It is one of Pixar’s very best and I really hope it gets recognised in Awards season.

Ted 2 (Review)

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Seth MacFarlane
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane, Amanda Seyfried, Giovanni Ribisi, Jessica Barth, Morgan Freeman
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 116 mins

Seth MacFarlane hit the big leagues with his feature length directorial debut, ‘Ted’ in 2012 and the film walked away being a resounding success and earned the title of the highest grossing R-rated comedy of all time. MacFarlane then went on to host the Academy Awards the same year, which garnered mixed reviews due to his risqué sense of humour. He then went on to make, ‘A Million Ways To Die In The West’ which flopped and now he has gone back to his roots to make a sequel to what propelled him in the film industry. I have to admit, I found, ‘Ted’ to be extremely crude, uneven and not particularly funny so was not particularly looking forward to a sequel. Most comedy sequels tend to rehash the first film, but then turn the crudeness up to 11. Critical reception for this film has been rather mixed, so it looks like the film has gone with the rehash route.

To my surprise, ‘Ted 2’ is actually rather tame compared to the original. It goes down the ‘Family Guy’ sense of humour route which MacFarlane is the mastermind of and the film is very watchable and has a good-enough plot. It’s better than the original as MacFarlane decides to take risks. The film is no masterpiece either as the pacing is still quite uneven, but the gags are funnier than the original. However the film does go down the deja-vu route in its ending which it practically rehashes the first film.

Seth MacFarlane has really settled into his role as the crude, immoral and drug-fuelled teddy bear and Wahlberg provides good, albeit familiar support as his owner, John Bennett, who wished for his teddy bear to come alive when he was a child. Rounding out the cast is Amanda Seyfried who takes over from Mila Kunis’ role as Bennett’s girlfriend and Seyfried seems to be having a lot of fun with the role. Morgan Freeman appears in what is more of a glorified cameo as top lawyer, Patrick Meighan and Giovanni Ribisi returns as the villain, Donny, who wants Ted for himself. The film also includes a slew of celebrity cameos, who don’t particularly enhance the film, save for a rather funny scene with Liam Neeson.

What propels the film is its warm heart and the film always has a target in sight with its clear story. The first film meandered all over the place in terms of its storytelling which made for an incoherent film. The jokes are fairly well paced as well and there are at least 5 sequences in the film that are hilarious. Yes, the film is very crude in places – that is Seth MacFarlane’s humour after all but overall, it is still very funny.

Overall, ‘Ted 2’ is a pleasant surprise that is funnier than the original, despite being toned down and the film is propelled by its warm heart and a clear narrative. It’s a real shame that no-one else seems to agree and instead, the film has been labelled as a rehash of the original and MacFarlane’s career is continuing to diminish. I myself however, would be more than happy to watch future sequels that stick to this recipe – it works.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Terminator Genisys (Review)

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Alan Taylor
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney, J.K. Simmons, Byung-hun Lee
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 126 mins 

‘Terminator Genisys’ is the fifth instalment in the ‘Terminator’ series and is intended as the first part of a new trilogy, after the decline in quality as the series has progressed. The fourth instalment, 2009’s, ‘Terminator Salvation’ failed to resonate with audiences and critics alike and the film had many problems, particularly with its troubled production where Christian Bale lost his cool when director of photography, Shane Hurlbut, walked across the set during filming. Controversially, I really liked the film and it’s a shame audiences won’t be able to watch McG’s vision of a sequel to this film. ‘Terminator Genisys’ acts a sequel / reboot to the dilapidating franchise as it alters the timeline of events that audiences have become accustomed to in the series previous instalments. The film features a new cast, with the exception of the series’ signature star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was absent from ‘Terminator Salvation’ as he was governing California. The film has received extremely negative reviews from critics and the future for the franchise does not look too good. But is it as bad as the critics make it out to be?

‘Terminator Genisys’ has a number of big problems, but the film makes up for it in sheer entertainment factor and a couple of interesting ideas which it just about manages to implement. The film’s pacing is very uneven and clunky and the visual effects are surprisingly, in this day and age, rather sub-par. Choices that have been made by the marketing team behind this team have been, to put it simply, baffling as a big plot twist was intentionally revealed in the film’s second trailer and poster, where it is revealed that John Connor is the villain. Why this was revealed absolutely defies belief – if the plot twist was left for audiences to experience when watching the actual film, it is possible that the reception that the film has garnered would have been very different.

The film’s biggest hindrance is its director, Alan Taylor, who seems to be incapable of having any ideas of his own and instead relies on what the studios force him to do. Taylor last directed ‘Thor: The Dark World’ which was entertaining, but the film lacked a personal stamp, it felt like it was made by Marvel studio executives. This is true again of Taylor with this film, there is no personal stamp to this film – it feels like it has been churned out by the studio. Why he ever was hired for the job is again, completely bonkers as the series really needs a pick-me-up and Taylor is not a particularly safe bet to fulfil that.

In terms of pacing, the film is very clunky with a prolonged and quite frankly, awful opening credit sequence that feels too overly familiar. The film keeps trying to reference the previous films whilst feeling inferior but then about 40 minutes in, it almost feels like Taylor has a change of heart and decides to just make a straight-up action film and for the most part, the film succeeds and on entertainment factor, it is very entertaining despite feeling very familiar.

The film’s cast is a mixed bag. Arnold Schwarzenegger delivers a refreshing performance as the aged Terminator, Emilia Clarke manages to just about fill in Linda Hamilton’s boots as Sarah Connor, but the two main culprits who let the side down are Jason Clarke who plays John Connor and Jai Courtney as Kyle Reese. Clarke has no charisma and is very flat in his performance – Christian Bale was much better in ‘Terminator Salvation’ and Jai Courtney manages to ruin another character in another popular franchise. Why this actor gets work astounds me, he just has no charisma and no emotions and it is so hard to connect with him on-screen. J.K. Simmons provides comic relief as Detective O’Brien who helps out the film’s main characters several times and ‘Doctor Who’ Matt Smith (credited here as Matthew Smith) provides a very chilling cameo as the face of Skynet, just a shame he’s hardly in the film.

The visual effects are surprisingly poor for a film made in 2015, most notable the opening sequence in the future feels almost like a ‘Power Rangers’ episode, it’s almost laughable. The score for this film by Hans Zimmer associate, Lorne Balfe, is awful and he hardly every uses the series’ signature Terminator theme.

Finally, ‘Terminator Genisys’ is another example of a film that the studio want to appeal to mass audiences, therefore by toning down the violence and language to earn a 12A / PG-13 rating. This does not bode well in the film’s favour as the first two instalments are 15 / R and intended for an older audience. The film could have satisfied a lot more people if it wasn’t toned down so much.

All the film’s problems aside, the film does manage to provide some thoughtful questions. It’s interesting that the film draws comparisons with technology in today’s society and the idea of having John Connor as the main villain is a very bold move but a shame that it was revealed in the trailer. The film does a good job of portraying Sarah Connor’s early life growing up with her guardian Terminator, it’s just a shame this wasn’t expanded on. On sheer entertainment value, however, the film does very well and there are some great thrills in the film, despite feeling overly familiar.

Overall, ‘Terminator Genisys’ is a mixed bag – it has a number of problems but the film is ultimately very entertaining after a poor 40 minutes and does manage to pose some thoughtful questions. I realise I am in the vast minority, but I do quite like it, despite it being very familiar and suffering many problems. If a sequel is to go ahead, I think the first thing to do would be to replace Taylor with someone more original and experienced as this is what the franchise needs, it needs to be a 15 / R age certificate to appeal to the series’  target audience and it needs a better marketing strategy. However with the extremely negative reception this film has received, I am doubtful that a sequel will go ahead. This film, unfortunately for the vast majority, has put the final nail in the coffin for this franchise. It’s a shame because the film isn’t bad at all.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Jurassic World (Review)

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Omar Sy, B. D. Wong, Irrfan Khan
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 124 mins

‘Jurassic World’ is the next sequel to land into cinemas this Summer, hot on the heels of big successes such as ‘Furious 7’, ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ and ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’. Released a whopping 14 years after its last instalment which received rather mixed reviews, along with the second entry, ‘Jurassic World’ has a lot to live up to. Stepping up to the task is newbie Colin Trevorrow, his first big budget film and coming after the likes of Steven Spielberg and Joe Johnston, Trevorrow has really thrown himself in the deep end. In terms of the film’s cast, ‘Jurassic World’ boasts an entirely new cast from its predecessors with the exception of B. D. Wong who plays the park’s chief geneticist. The film stars Chris Pratt, who found success with last year’s excellent, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, who plays the park’s chief trainer, Owen Grady and Bryce Dallas Howard who plays the park’s manager. Rounding up the cast are Vincent D’Onofrio, Omar Sy and Irrfan Khan. So with a lot riding on this film, especially coming off the heels of the critically adored, ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’, is ‘Jurassic World’ an instant classic or is it another worthless Summer sequel that continues to contribute to the decline of the ‘Jurassic Park’ series?

The first words to come to mind when describing ‘Jurassic World’ are clunky, predictable and overlong, but for all its flaws, ‘Jurassic World’ is very entertaining and has first-rate visual effects. The cast is a bit hit-and-miss (more on that later) and the film does also feel a little juvenile at times, but the film has a very satisfying ‘throwback’ feel straight from the opening credits. Trevorrow has, without doubt, created what is easily the second best film in the franchise despite not being able to reach the heights of the original.

The first 20 or so minutes of the film is very shaky with a sloppy ‘goodbye’ scene between members of the family, headed by a dreadful, overly emotional Judy Greer and the film almost has a Christmas-like, ‘Home Alone’ feel but as soon as the dinosaurs are introduced, the film completely changes tone and matures. The visual effects are tremendous and the prehistoric dinosaurs are wonderfully realised. There is a jaw-dropping sequence early on in the film where an underwater whale-like creature (a Mosasurus) devours a crocodile and one feels a sense of dread as something what we perceive to be aggressive and fierce can be eaten up with ease by an even bigger creature. The Indominus Rex, the focal point of the film’s narrative is the villainous creature who escapes out of its enclosure and rampages across the park, is absolutely terrifying. Watching this creature wreak havoc across the theme park is very entertaining and the numerous attempts of the park’s rangers trying to defeat it is mesmerising. This is a big aspect the film gets right – the visual effects really contribute to a sense of scale and there are many absolutely astonishing sequences that also harken back to the film’s predecessors. Woven in to the film is a very nostalgic ‘throwback’ feel and at times, the film almost feels like an Indiana Jones flick.

The film’s main flaw is its predictability – everyone loves watching dinosaurs rampage and fight, but the story is very wafer-thin, one can almost predict every scene and get it right almost all the time. The story is your typical ‘dinosaur escapes and creates chaos, someone has to stop it, massive fight at the end and happy ending’.

In terms of the film’s acting, Chris Pratt is excellent in the lead role, whilst Bryce Dallas Howard plays the typical damsel-in-distress. They have absolutely zero-chemistry together, but Chris Pratt’s performance just about manages to impress so the audience can overlook this. Vincent D’Onofrio, who plays the film’s villain, gives a very hammy performance and right from the get-go, the audience know he is the big bad guy and this contributes to the film’s predictability. Judy Greer is also very soppy in her role as the mother and Omar Sy is completely wasted in a small role that doesn’t require a lot of talent. Irrfan Khan, who plays the owner of Jurassic World, Simon Masrani, is very good and outmatches Bryce Dallas Howard in every scene he shares with her in the film. B. D. Wong, who featured in the original film, returns to play chief geneticist, Dr Henry Wu, in a small but pivotal role.

The film is also quite overlong and the final battle comes very late into the film at which point I found myself fairly tired and drained from a lot of excessive action early on in the film, but the final battle is enthralling to watch and Trevorrow conveys a real sense of vulnerability and it’s a very satisfying finale.The film would be much better at around the 100 minute mark as it does drag on.

Overall, ‘Jurassic World’ is a very worthy addition to the franchise and above all, is very entertaining and boasts impressive visual effects that make up for the film’s flaws. It is unfortunately very predictable, overlong and there is some hammy acting, but the film’s grand sense of scale and its generally entertaining action sequences make up for this and ‘Jurassic World’ ends up as a sound Summer film that is good fun to watch. No, it won’t be the best film to be released this Summer but it’s certainly not the worst either. With Trevorrow stating that he will not be directing the fifth instalment, it will be interesting to see which direction the ‘Jurassic Park’ series heads into.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

CHAPPiE (Review)

⭐⭐⭐ n

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Neill Blomkamp 
Starring: Sharlto Copley (voice), Dev Patel, Hugh Jackman, Sigourney Weaver
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 120 mins 

‘CHAPPiE’ is the third feature film from South African director Neill Blomkamp, behind the masterful ‘District 9’ and solid, but not great ‘Elysium’ and once again, Blomkamp reunites with actor Sharlto Copley who played the lead role, Wikus van de Merwe in ‘District 9’ and the over-the-top bad guy Agent Kruger in ‘Elysium’. Here Copley provides the voice and motion capture for CHAPPiE. Blomkamp seems to be sticking to his guns here, ‘CHAPPiE’ seems to be very familiar territory – science fiction set in the heart of Johannesburg, some big ideas, news interviews to aid the story and another Kruger character in the form of mullet-headed Aussie Vincent Moore played by Hugh Jackman, who seems to be having a lot of fun here. Throw in a failing society, in this case, Johannesburg is a city plagued with crime with a company led by Sigourney Weaver in more of a glorified cameo, where crime is kept to a low by a robotic police force and finally, the first of these robots is created by Deon Wilson, played by Dev Patel, that can think and feel for itself. Granted, on paper, this premise doesn’t sound entirely original, but judging from Blomkamp’s previous work, it should at least be fun. Right?

‘CHAPPiE’ may be quirky and a bit of an oddball, but this film is elevated with its tremendous, refreshing warm heart and again, Blomkamp really does get the audience to think with a lot of thought-provoking questions. It is very entertaining and the cast seem to be having a lot of fun here, and even the rave rap duo of Die Antwoord aren’t too bad! The film is supplemented by a completely bombastic, yet memorable score by Hans Zimmer which really fits the film.

The premise might be tired but this film injects new life to the genre and puts a new spin to it with its thoughtful questions and the ending is masterful and very satisfying. It’s funny, it’s entertaining and requires the audience to think, which in my opinion, ticks all the right boxes.

Sharlto Copley is fantastic as the titular character who is developed quite a lot and the audience really feel for it. From his oddball design to him using expletives is mesmerising to watch and Copley manages to convey the character’s emotion in a way that really connects with the audience. Dev Patel and Sigourney Weaver play their roles competently, but it’s Hugh Jackman that is the other cast member who shines and he seems to be really enjoying himself here as mullet-headed, hot-blooded Vincent, a co-worker of Patel’s character, Deon Wilson, who’s MOOSE project never got traction and so is supremely jealous of him.

What genuinely baffles me is the film’s very lukewarm critical reception which is completely undeserved and the film has clearly been misunderstood – it is this year’s, ‘Transcendence’, a film released last year that again was received negatively by critic’s which I found to be a really good film that posed some thoughtful questions. The marketing for ‘CHAPPiE’ has arguably been very poor and the trailers don’t do the film justice, nor do they even hint at the direction that the film goes in, which is a good thing but perhaps this is why the film has been misunderstood, due to its misleading marketing.

Overall, ‘CHAPPiE’ is a very solid third feature by director Neill Blomkamp which has unfortunately been let down by very poor marketing and has been completely misunderstood by critics. It is entertaining, fun and poses some really thoughtful questions. It’s not without its weaknesses, the film does take half an hour or so to get into its swing, but when it does, the film travels at a rip-roaring pace and is ultimately very satisfying. The entire cast seem to be having a lot of fun and Hans Zimmer’s score is innovative and quirky, supplementing the quirkiness of the film itself. Blomkamp should feel very pleased with himself and it will be interesting to see which direction Blomkamp takes the ‘Alien’ franchise in with his just-greenlit sequel.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)