Oliver and Company – Review

In the late 1980’s Disney was undergoing some changes Jeffery Katzenberg was now overseeing the animation studio and with the disappointing new direction attempt with The Black Cauldron, Disney knew they had to try something else. That something else was the same thing they were doing before The Black Cauldron… cute animals. And so work began on The Great Mouse Detective and Oliver and Company.

A light-hearted, New York City based version of Oliver Twist, Oliver and Company isn’t a bad film. Its animation style is pretty nice and it shows the direction Disney was starting to take shape with the soon to arrive ‘Renaissance’.

The film centres on a orphan kitten named Oliver that falls in with a group or dogs who scavenge and steal for their owner, Fagin who in turn, owes money to Sykes. Oliver eventually finds himself in the care of Jenny who adopts him, before he is flung back in to the lives of the dogs and Fagin.

The music in Oliver and Company is good but nothing to write home about, my favourite song is “Why Should I Worry?” performed by Billy Joel who voices Dodger. The film draws its musical style from New York City in the 1980’s and while shows a small array of styles, it doesn’t really show off what the city was about at the time. It feels like a more modern version of The Aristocats at some points. however the sound design of the cityscapes and outdoor scenes do give off the New York City vibe.

The film stars a twelve-year-old Joey Lawrence as Oliver as well as Billy Joel as Dodger, Cheech Marin as Tito, Richard Mulligan as Einstein, Roscoe Lee Brown as Francis Sheryl Lee Ralph as Rita (with Ruth Pointer providing singing voice), Bette Midler as Georgette and Taurean Blacque and Carl Weintraub as Roscoe and DeSorto. While on the human side of the cast we have Dom DeLuise as Fagin, Robert Loggia as Sykes, William Glover as Winston and Natalie Gregory as Jenny (with Myhanh Tran providing the singing voice).

All in all, Oliver and Company is an alright film. Nothing is great about it, the storyline is pretty straight forward and the music is good. But it is an important chapter in Disney Animated Studios as it signalled the beginning of something very special.

Rating: Average


Pocahontas – Review

Pocahontas was released in 1995 and was Disney’s first attempt at animating a “true” story since 1948 (The Legend of Johnny Appleseed in Melody Time). That being said the truthfulness around the events of this film have been heavily modified and have only been written by John Smith himself years after the time the events were to have taken place.

Whether the story is true or not aside, is Pocahontas a good film? Not really. The songs are quite nice and sweeping and the animation is pretty good despite the fact that most of the Native Americans in this film seem to have the same lack of nose condition that afflicted Voldemort. But that is where most of my praise stops, the characters are two-dimensional and uninteresting (especially the two leads) and that is poorly covered up by the overused sidekicks. Don’t get me wrong, Meeko the Racoon is cute, but he, Flit the Hummingbird and Percy the Pug are so overused that I would imagine even some kids would get bored of it.

Without going in to the lacklustre effort Disney put in to correctly portraying the way the British treated the indigenous people of America and their attempt in saying maybe it was all a misunderstanding (it wasn’t) I will instead look at the film as a film. It’s not that much better.

The tone of the film is pretty off with the story of John Smith (Mel Gibson) and Pocahontas (Irene Bedard, and Judy Kuhn providing the singing voice) being whittled down to a conversation or two where they kind of get to know each other, while we find out how boring they both are. The rest of the film shows Pocahontas’ tribe and the British Colonials in a Romeo and Juliet sort of manner where they are both considered to be in the wrong and a sub-plot in which the parts of the story that might go over the heads of children are explained through a dog chasing a racoon. The story can be split almost equally with the ‘love story’ of Pocahontas and John Smith slightly getting some more screen time over Meeko vs Percy. At lease the film isn’t slow. Watching the 82 minute film doesn’t feel like a trial or anything, it skips through the story beats reasonably well with out losing too much momentum during the musical numbers.

The even more uninteresting supporting cast included the voices of Christian Bale as Thomas, David Ogden Stiers as Governor Ratcliffe and his manservant Wiggins, Russell Means as Chief Powhatan, Linda Hunt as Grandma Willow (I know I haven’t talked about the talking tree), Michele St. John as Nakoma, James Apaumut Fall as Kocoum and Joe Baker and Billy Connolly as two settlers, everytime Billy speaks it pulls you out of the movie – something these older films were not known to do as much as nowadays. Good on all these people for being in a film. Also a quick shout out to the two directors; Mike Gabriel (who had previously co-directed The Rescuers Down Under) and Eric Goldberg (who went on to direct parts of Fantasia 2000).

Disney had planned for Pocahontas to be their next Best Picture Academy Award winning film, it failed in that regard but they did pick up two for Best Original Song (Colors of the Wind) and Best Musical or Comedy Score. They tried to cater to as wide an audience as possible and ended up creating something that appealed to no one. It’s visual gags from the side characters aren’t enough to distract from the boring love story between two dull and undeveloped characters.

Rating: Below Average

Tangled – Review

To preface why I’m reviewing Tangled: This year, 2018, I have set myself a goal to watch and review as many of the 56 (57 by the end of this year with Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-it Ralph 2 being released in November) Disney Animation Studios films as I can.

Tangled loosely retells the fairy tale of ‘Rapunzel’. A story of a beautiful girl with long magical hair who is locked in a tower and rescued by a prince. In this iteration it is Rapunzel who is royal, a kidnapped princess, who possesses long, blonde, magical hair that can grant youth and heal injuries. She meets a thief whom she convinces to take her out of the tower she has been locked away in so that she can see the world and the floating lanterns she sees one night every year. The film features a few songs but I wouldn’t consider it a musical.

Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) is an eighteen year old who longs to see the world outside her tower despite what her mother says about it being full of evil. She sees floating lanterns at night every year on her birthday and is convinced that the world cant be all evil. Eugene Fitzherbert, who sometimes goes by the moniker, ‘Flynn Rider’ (Zachery Levi) is a thief who barely scrapes through life while trying to be someone he isn’t. While Flynn Rider wold most likely rat Rapunzel out to the highest bidder it’s Eugene who begins to care for the lost princess. Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) is a twisted old woman who after kidnapping Rapunzel uses her to grant herself eternal youth and beauty. Once she discovers Rapunzel has escaped she does anything and everything she can to get her back and reclaim her power. I like these characters, Rapunzel is fun and Eugene can be suave and dorky at the same time but the real stars of this film are the two non-speaking sidekicks, Pascal the Chameleon and Maximus the Horse. Their characters have some much life and depth despite not having a single line but the way the animation is done, these characters steal most of the scenes they are in.

While we’re on the topic of animation style, this film has a nice flowing 3D animation similar to the style they would go on to use in Frozen. The animation of Maximus and the way the horse moved was scaled back a little when creating Sven in a similar style. I preferred the scaling back but I’m sure the way Maximus moved and acted in the film was loved by kids. Tangled was directed by Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, both have been working with the company since the late 1990s, the latter of which has co-directed on recent Disney animated features like Bolt and Zootopia.

Tangled is one of my favourites of the ‘Revival’ era of films because of it’s fun and light-hearted approach to adapting a fairy tale.

Rating: Above Average

Black Panther – Review

The Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off its tenth year in style with its 18th film, Black Panther. The film brings brilliant directing, acting music and design to the forefront of this origin story of sorts for the MCU’s first black lead character.

Black Panther is set a week or so after Captain America: Civil War as T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns home after the death of his Father to be crowned King of Wakanda, only for his reign to be challenged by Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). The film’s storyline, while good, is probably the weakest part of Black Panther as it doesn’t offer much that is new. It’s a ‘sins-of-the-father’ plot that we have seen before in the MCU especially in Iron Man 2, though this is executed better. While this film repeats the traditional hero with specific powers vs villain with very similar powers plot point, I would say that this is probably one of the best versions we have seen because of the time taken to develop the villain. Erik Stevens AKA Killmonger is the hero of his own story. While from our point of view he is the villain, the film sets him up with enough background and emotional development that he is a villain we like and understand. This is something that the MCU has struggled with in the past but not in Black Panther.

That isn’t where the character development stops in this film. Black Panther is full of strong, likeable and developed characters. From T’Challa struggling with his rise to power to his good friend and chief of security, W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) who sees some of Wakanda downsides, everyone gets their chance to shine. The old saying goes that behind every great man there is a great woman, in Black Panther though there are many great women. Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) is T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend who acts as a Wakandan spy in the outside world. Okoye (Danai Gurira) is the head of the Dora Milaje, a team of women who serve as the special forces of Wakanda. Shuri (Letitia Wright) T’Challa’s sister, Princess and tech-genius. Shuri is the Q to T’Challa’s Bond while also developing new technologies for the nation of Wakanda. We round out the main female cast with Ramonda (Angela Bassett) T’Challa and Shuri’s mother and the Queen of Wakanda. Also bringing fantastic characters to the table are M’Baku (Winston Duke) the leader of the Mountain Tribe, Zuri (Forest Whitaker) an elder spiritual leader in Wakanda and friend of the former King T’Chaka. Andy Serkis reprises and improves on his role from Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ulysses Klaue and Martin Freeman returns as Agent Everett Ross.

Black Panther features a stunning setting in the Afro-Futuristic Wakanda a nation with incredible technology that is tied together with it’s spiritual roots that creates some stunning visuals. The design of the world of Wakanda is beautiful and my only issue is that we don’t see enough of it. I would return to Wakanda in a heart beat and judging by the Avengers: Infinity War trailer, it looks like we will, even for just a little bit. The costume design incorporates that same vibe of the future coupled with traditional African culture, so colourful and vibrant, it continues the MCU’s departure from the muted tones of its earlier entries. One of the biggest tools used to immerse the viewer in to the world of Wakanda is the music. The score by Ludwig Göransson is inspired by local musicians from Senegal and South Africa. It brings a feeling that the film is in touch with the culture it is portraying. It helped make Wakanda feel real.

Director Ryan Coogler has created an amazing world within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He and co-writer Joe Robert Cole brought the characters and story from the comics to life in a way that the MCU hasn’t done before. They were able to bring the idea of a secretly futuristic African nation and somehow still ground it in a bit of reality. Coogler brought out the very best from his actors to the point where you could say this film has some of the best and most developed characters in a single film in the MCU. I can’t praise his work on this film enough. Quick shout out to cinematographer, Rachel Morrison who helped bring this world to the screen and came up with some really nice shots including a inverted shot that turns 180 degrees!

Black Panther is a great film and just what we needed to get us excited for Avengers: Infinity War in just a few months. The film benefits from great acting, direction, writing and world-building. The sum of all this come to one of the best ‘solo’ MCU film.

Above Average

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – Review

In the year 1996, about a year after the events of the first Jumanji film, the mysterious and deadly board game is found washed up on a beach by a jogger. He takes the game home and gives it to his son, Alex, who discards it because “no one plays board games anymore”. Disheartened (I guess is the word I’m looking for), the game transforms into a console and cartridge overnight so that it can claim its next victim. Alex wakes up and plays the game only to be sucked in and never seen again… Fast forward 20 years and four teenagers are cleaning out a basement at school for detention. They find the game, start to play it, and they get sucked in too.

Sounds familiar? Yeah, the plot line of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is pretty thin however is the performances of the actors, the comedy and the self-awareness that really makes the film stand out. When I first heard that they were making a new Jumanji film, I thought that it would end up being a cash grab. Then, I saw the trailer and where they wanted to take the franchise and it piqued my interest. The film takes the characteristics of the game and modernises it to create something that feels fresh but at the same time, familiar. The video game aspect was an interesting take and it led to some good jokes about NPCs and other video game cliches. I say the plot line is thin, and it is, but at the same time, a lot of video games, especially the older ones, have very short plots. It’s usually “get this thing to that thing” or “save the world” (hint: they may have something to do with the movie).

Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black and Kevin Hart play the video game avatars of the four students played by, Alex Wolff, Morgan Turner, Madison Iseman and Ser’Darius Blain. The actors both portray the characteristics of the characters really well. The standouts to me were Karen Gillan nailing a Morgan Turner impression and Jack Black playing a teenage girl in a middle-aged over-weight man’s body. While the characters felt a little weak at first, you have a nerd, a football player, a popular girl and a shy bookworm, they grow a little through the film and learn to trust each other. So there is a small amount of character development.

Rounding out the cast is Nick Jonas as Alex(the kid that went missing in 1996)’s avatar in the game. Bobby Cannavale as Van Pelt, the evil explorer who wants to control Jumanji and Rhys Darby as the game’s guide. I thought the cast all did good jobs and you could tell how much fun (especially the in-game characters) were having on set.

The film is surprisingly good. The jokes are funny and the actors and the chemistry between them is light and fun. The action is good even though some of the CGI animals looked a little rushed and fake. There are also some nice little hints to the original film.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a standalone sequel in the Jumanji universe, you don’t have to have seen the original (although do, it’s a great film). It’s refreshing to see something that isn’t rebooting or remaking a story, while some could consider it a soft reboot, it is also very much a sequel. I enjoyed this film but I don’t see any new films in the universe for a while. This film is very similar thematically to the original so they would have to go in a very different direction for a sequel so the franchise doesnt go stale.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle: Surprisingly, Above Average

The Greatest Showman – Review

Hugh Jackman returns to the musical genre in a modern, loose retelling of the story of P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman. The film is set in the late 1800s and follows a rags-to-riches storyline in the guise of a true story. The early life of Phineas Taylor Barnum in the film does not resemble that of the real-life counterpart, the timeline of events is also skewed to serve the story. The film, unfortunately, doesn’t reflect the arguably more interesting true story of P.T. Barnum, that being said, when you separate the ‘source material’ from what you see on the screen, it’s still a very enjoyable film.

The Greatest Showman stars Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum and Zac Efron as Phillip Carlyle, a fictional playwright and Barnum’s partner and protegé. The supporting cast is made up of Michelle Williams as P.T.’s wife, Charity, Rebecca Ferguson as Jenny Lind, Zendaya as Anne Wheeler and Keala Settle as Lettie Lutz, a bearded lady. The film sports a wide range of other actors portraying some real-life and some fictional wonders and oddities. The performances in the film are top quality, there was no one that I felt phoned it in and the singing was pretty good. Admittedly, we are in a day and age now where we are spoiled by Les Miserables where ADR song tracks don’t feel as real as singing live.

Hugh Jackman is fantastic and looks and moves like a much younger man. It’s in films like this he really strives and I would love to see more of this from him. Zac Efron is not the young man we saw in High School Musical, he has become a very good actor and singer in his own right and again, I would like to see him in a few more musical roles. Zendaya is great in this film. I liked her in Spider-Man: Homecoming but this is where she really shines. While I enjoyed Michelle Williams as Charity, I thought P.T.’s daughters stole her spotlight and they definitely deserved it.

The music in the film is for a modern audience. Many of the tracks could have an electronic backing track added to them and you could find them on a top 100 chart. A lot of them have an inspirational, Calvin Harris-y vibe with constant references to dreams and stars and stuff. While you can tell they tried to add complexity to the songs, a lot of them felt very generic and samey. The performances of the songs were also very modern with choreography that did not match the time or the period costume. The stand out performance for me was Zac Efron and Zendaya’s performance of ‘Rewrite the Stars’ that featured the two actors in an empty stage with rope work and it felt like it fit. It’s a stark contrast to the opening and the closing performances of ‘The Greatest Show’ (which is an ultra-contemporary number) where there are numerous examples of unreal CGI and a ridiculous amount of people doing everything littering the screen.

For all it’s problems, The Greatest Showman is an entertaining movie. It features a simple plot and modern music which should appeal to a wide audience. It’s far from the ‘greatest show’ it claims to be. It’s also not a very good story of P.T. Barnum, the film takes a lot of liberties and really just uses the elements of his story that serves the film’s story. It could be seen as the version P.T. Barnum would tell, a fantastic version of real-life events. But his life was much more interesting.

The Greatest Showman: Average

Love Actually – Review

To be honest, this is the kind of movie that almost everyone has seen. I’m not going to be saying anything too crazy about this film. It’s great. It’s a masterpiece of Romantic Comedy – so much so that it has set a template for many other rom-coms to follow in the last fourteen years. Love Actually was written and directed by Richard Curtis, the genius behind films like Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones’ Diary and The Boat that Rocked. Just like the films I’ve named and almost all the other ones I haven’t Curtis has proven that he can create characters that are relatable but can also be put in ridiculous situations, be they romantic or not, and create comedy. I’ve said a few times that there is usually only one good romantic comedy film a year, but if this is the standard of good, there’s probably one every five or so years.

I can’t see this review being very long so I’ll brush over some things I liked and some things I didn’t. Many of the characters are believable and are introduced briefly into the story, and yet you know almost everything you need to know about them by about ten minutes in. This is an example of how you create a good ensemble. Give your characters a chance to grow but keep them as simple as possible. This isn’t a criticism, I like that all I need to know about John and Judy (Martin Freeman and Joanna Page) is that they are body doubles for a film with a sex scene in it. Their relationship blossoms from that point. I also like that in the first meeting between Prime Minister, David (Hugh Grant) and Natalie (Martine McCutcheon) you feel the pomp and circumstance that would usually come in the air of 10 Downing Street disappear the moment both of them say ‘fuck’. It’s good writing and great introductions that makes this film stand out to me. It is something a lot of the ‘copycat’ films have been unable to achieve.

Whether it’s the lost in translation love between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurélia (Lúcia Moniz) or the misguided sexual adventure Colin Frizzle (Kris Marshall) embarks on, everyone has their favourite Love Actually story. Mine is the Step-Father and Son relationship between Daniel (Liam Neeson) and Sam (Thomas Sangster) and their own journeys to find love after the death of Sam’s mother.

I’m going to wrap this up now. Love Actually is probably one of the best Christmas films and one of the best romantic comedies of all time. Admittedly, that statement is coming from someone that doesn’t like either of those genres all that much. But you’ll have to take my word for it, it’s a great film that pulls on all kinds of heartstrings. It’s hard to imagine a Christmas without it.

Love Actually: Above Average

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – Review

It just wouldn’t be Christmas without watching at least one Shane Black film. The director sets almost all of his films around this particular time of year and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is one of my favourites.

Harry Lockhart, played by Robert Downey Jr. is the narrator and main character of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and as in a lot of his films, is pretty much Robert Downey Jr. This movie was released in 2005 and I think it was a major contributor to him getting the role of Tony Stark in the Iron Man film. The character is erratic but well-meaning. The film also stars Val Kilmer as Perry van Shrike and Michelle Monaghan as Harmony Faith Lane.

Harry is a thief turned actor who, while on a detective lesson with Gay Perry (for a role) witnesses a murder. He and Perry follow the threads and uncover a plot that is very involved and even connects to a former best friend of Harry’s from his hometown (Harmony). The film naturally unfolds as the characters find out more about the conspiracy and start to piece it together. Things we saw early in the movie are worked back into the plot and everything gets tied up in a nice little bow (like a Christmas present). Harry cuts in and out of the story with his self-aware narration that lightens the film up in some of the darker parts. If you haven’t seen this before but have seen Black and Downey Jr.’s other film Iron Man 3 it will feel very familiar to you. Harry is telling a story that has already happened, in this case, he is making it into a movie.

Shane Black has a very interesting way of setting his films at Christmas which amplifies his creative choices. His noir style of characters on bright night time backgrounds is enhanced by Christmas Lights and snow. In Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the LA Christmas Party settings are some of the most striking. While it is not often a major contributor to the films, and it isn’t in this one, Christmas (as Shane has said in interviews) make lonely people lonelier and, in some cases can make the bringing together of or reuniting of a family that much more important.

The three leads are fantastic together, mind you, I’m a fan of the actors in almost everything they’re in. While Robert Downey Jr. is very much his usual character in this film, there are some nice intricacies that shine through. Val Kilmer is probably my (and most likely everyone else’s) favourite character, “Gay” Perry is the ‘wise sage’ in this film who with his detective skills works out the case long before the audience of Harry does. Sure he makes mistakes from time to time but he’s a private investigator, most of them are schmucks anyway. Rounding out the cast is Michelle Monaghan whos character Harmony is a twist on the Femme Fatale trope. She’s sexy and smart but also fallible which just gives a nice little extra depth to the character, something you don’t often get in Film Noir.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a great crime-action film with interesting characters and a funny side. All set over the backdrop of Christmas, it is a must watch for this time of year. You won’t be disappointed.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: Above Average

Christmas Inheritance – Review

Christmas Inheritance is another of Netflix’s entries into the Christmas movie market for 2017. Before ‘party heiress’ Ellen Langford can inherit her father’s gift business, she must deliver a special Christmas card to her dad’s former partner in Snow Falls, the small town where the company began. It’s here she learns the true meaning of Christmas and in turn the values of the company, through earning her keep in the town.

Sounds pretty straightforward and tacky? Well, you’d be right. But that’s not a bad thing – I enjoyed this movie more than A Christmas Prince. It is a simple film that doesn’t push for any twists or turns and that makes it easy to follow. Of course, you can see how this ends from a mile out but isn’t that what Christmas movies are about? Isn’t that the true meaning of Christmas?

The film stars Eliza Taylor whom you may recognise from her TV roles as Janae in Neighbours and Clarke in The 100 (but I will always remember her as one of my childhood crushes, Rosie from The Sleepover Club) and Jake Lacy (who, I don’t know,  he was in Season 9 of the Office? Maybe you’d recognise him from that?). Both fill the requirements for their roles and don’t stand out from anyone else in the film so I guess, they were good leads? The only other notable actor in this film is Andie MacDowell who serves as the heart of the film and I liked her in that role.

There is very little else of note to review here. The movie isn’t bad, it’s nice and it will most likely fly under the radar with A Christmas Prince hogging a lot of the limelight as the ‘Best Worst Christmas Movie’. Christmas Inheritance is almost a pallet cleanser after watching something so awful. It brings you back to a nice middle ground.

Christmas Inheritance: Average

PS: Eliza Taylor beats Rose McIver any day!

Better Watch Out – Review

This isn’t a very long film, so it doesn’t warrant a very long review. Better Watch Out is a Christmas psychological horror film that tells the story of one terrifying night. Ashley (Olivia DeJonge) is a 17-year-old babysitter who is taking care of 12-year-old Luke (Levi Miller) when strange things start happening around the house. Phone lines cut and doors being left open tell Ashley that something isn’t quite right. Luke, who has a crush on Ashley tries to act tough in order to make her like him. After a brave attempt to stop the bad guys it is revealed that the whole thing was a prank of Luke’s design aided by his friend Garrett (Ed Oxenbould). But after the prank is revealed, things take a turn for the worse.

While I don’t mind these sorts of films I thought that Better Watch Out was just one in a crowd. While the film has an interesting take, it’s not anything I haven’t seen before. The three leads are all young Australian actors and they all do a great job in their respective roles. Admittedly it is a horror film and it’s not crucial that they can all act but it is nice to see them stick to their character and keep the audience invested. Levi Miller captured the 12-year-old manipulative psychopath very well when the character screams or yells sometimes his voice cracks (not sure if it was real or purposefully done but), it gave a reality to the character. The Christmas setting doesn’t do all that much to the actual storyline but it adds some little touches to a story that could only happen at Christmas.

While not scary at all, I felt that the film was a bit sadistic in parts and very much played on a horny 12-year-old boy not getting what he wants and turning to terrible things to get it. This could rub people the wrong way because of the ages of the characters. I didn’t mind the film but I wasn’t on board with some of the choices the characters made. That, however, did help with the way I felt about all of the characters in the film – uncomfortable.

Better Watch Out is an Australian-American co-production that features a lot of Australian actors. The director, Chris Peckover is an Australia-Canadian dual citizen and wanted to make a film outside of LA after his last film, Undocumented. This resulted in a decent horror film that is fun to watch but won’t be topping any ‘best of’ or ‘worst of’ lists for 2017.

Better Watch Out: Average