6/15/17

WONDER WOMAN - REVIEW


DC's latest attempt at getting fans and critics excited about their new cinematic universe is this very first Wonder Woman movie which, incidentally, received far more praise than the likes of Batman V Superman or Suicide Squad right away, thereby breathing some life into a thusfar shaky project.

Gal Gadot is back as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, the super-powerful, golden lasso-swinging Amazon, in this action-packed origin story which sees the iconic comic-book character leave her "Paradise Island" with American WWI spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) in order to defeat evil. The film first spends some time establishing its mythology and showing us Diana's youth as she trains to become a warrior despite her mother's reservations, before the Amazon's world is invaded by German soldiers who have somehow stumbled on the hidden island. Diana works much better as a character in this movie than in Batman V Superman where she was shoehorned in with little rhyme or reason and we get to see different sides to her personality as well as the full extent of her powers. She is heroic, tough, smart yet naive and the scenes depicting Wonder Woman fighting enemy soldiers on the Front stand out as easily the best parts of this movie.

Like in Captain America: The First Avenger, the World War setting makes for an intense backdrop for a superhero to show off their skills and defeat a whole bunch of bad guys. Gal Gadot does a great job with the action scenes and the more comedic moments making Wonder Woman arguably the most likeable DC hero in this new super-franchise. Diana Prince's relationship with Steve Trevor is also one of the film's highlights as Gadot and Pine play off each other really well. It's a shame, then, that the script goes completely off-track in the film's mostly corny last act as the main villain finally faces Wonder Woman in a sea of smoky CGI and bad one-liners. There's far too much slow-motion throughout all the otherwise cool-looking action sequences constantly reminding us that we are still very much in the "Snyderverse" that once gave us the dire Man Of Steel. Lucky, this is still a much better effort and the DCU's most accomplished movie yet.

It's easy to see why this movie has been showered with praise since its release: it's fun, the action scenes are fab, it's the first ever Wonder Woman movie and that character is finally given the respect she deserves. The film itself is slightly underwritten and the ending could have been a lot better but, overall, it's an entertaining popcorn superhero flick.

Definitely see it.

6/12/17

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES - REVIEW


Whether you like it or not, Disney is hell-bent on continuing the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise no matter what. And so here we have Dead Men Tell No Tales, a fifth instalment attempting to reconnect the series to some familiar, once discarded characters in an original way.

Not so much a Jack Sparrow spin-off this time, the film sees Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), Will Turner's (Orlando Bloom) son, set out on a lifelong quest to find the Trident Of Poseidon in order to break his father's curse. With the help of a down-and-out Jack Sparrow and accused "witch" Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), an expert in astronomy and horology, he sets sail for the Devil's Triangle but the undead and frankly pissed-off Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) is on their trail as he attempts to capture and kill Jack Sparrow, who once cursed him to sail the seas forever like a zombie ghost. Story-wise, this isn't too far off from the last movie which was about three different crews competing to find the Fountain Of Youth. Add to that a cursed crew not unlike Barbossa's in the first movie and the fact that the ultimate goal is to regress the franchise back to Dead Man's Chest or At World's End and you've got yourself arguably the least original entry into the franchise so far.

Say what you will about On Stranger Tides, at least there was some ambition in trying to move past the original trilogy but here, you just feel like everyone is going through the motions, shamelessly wasting time in order to subtly reboot the series. Which is not to say that this new movie isn't without its charm: Jack Sparrow and Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) have their moments, Javier Bardem's show-stealing villain is gross and intimidating and the action sequences are mostly epic and look great. That said, the introduction of two more Will and Elizabeth clones in Henry and Carina is tiresome as they offer no charisma or laughs and have zero chemistry together, Johnny Depp is on auto-pilot giving his worst performance as Jack Sparrow, the CGI is clunky at times, the film is packed with plot-holes, corny jokes and its cool new villain is sadly underused. Not to mention that, ultimately, the promise of more of what we've already seen time and time again isn't exactly making me pre-book my tickets for the next movie.

While as pure popcorn entertainment this new Pirates Of The Caribbean movie is fine since it has enough mindless action and energy to keep you going, as a sequel to a once ridiculously fun franchise it is surprisingly underwhelming and its lack of creativity does not bode well for future instalments. Here's hoping they give creepy old Captain Salazar his own spin-off movie instead.

Disappointing.

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM - REVIEW


Because a franchise like Harry Potter is simply too popular to just stop, J.K. Rowling soon delivered Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, a prequel of sorts following Newt Scamander, a wizard zoologist specialising in the strangest and rarest creatures.

Eddie Redmayne is Scamander, the twitchy introvert with a briefcase packed full of "fantastic beasts" who gets stuck in New York after he accidentally switches bags with a wannabe baker. Scamander is then forced to not only recover every loose creature but deal with the stern Magical Congress plus a secret plot to take him down. There's something genuinely refreshing about a prequel that, not only doesn't just copy the original franchise, but expands its universe and introduces us to a new lead character who is very different. The biggest problem with the Harry Potter movies was always Harry himself: passive, bland and seemingly disinterested, he made Neo from the Matrix movies look like he was having the time of his life! Newt Scamander, on the other hand, is instantly likeable, clever and goofy yet still somewhat mysterious. One scene sees Newt try to charm a rhino-like creature with a mating dance and that alone is funnier than anything you'll see in the Potter movies.

The US setting for this film is certainly welcome as it gives us a good look at how this world of magic functions in other parts of the world so Fantastic Beasts definitely has a unique feel to it. The main villain is Colin Farrell's Percival Graves, a dodgy member of the Magical Congress, but there are other threats like Samantha Morton's anti-wizard and witches "No-Maj" Mary Lou Barebone, her troubled children and a dark parasite called the Obscurus. Although it's stuffed full of CGI, Fantastic Beasts remains a visual treat as you can tell that a lot of effort went into recreating J.K. Rowling's magical world in a detailed and colourful way. The film has its quieter moments but it never stops being entertaining and, if you are not familiar with the story, it offers tons of wonderful weirdness and surprises. Based on this movie, this is likely to become a far more enjoyable franchise than Harry Potter as it's cute yet sophisticated enough to attract fans of all ages.

A very different take on the Harry Potter world, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is a fine example of how to do a prequel/spin-off right: Potter fans should enjoy it and non-fans willing to jump in and give it a chance should find themselves pleasantly surprised.

Recommended.

6/8/17

AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. (SEASON 1) - REVIEW


Post-The Avengers, Marvel's first attempt at translating the new MCU to the small screen was Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., a show following a team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents led by the originally killed-in-action Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg).

The idea of giving a character we all believed to have been written-off completely his own show which, as far as we knew, wouldn't include any major Marvel superheroes, was not a particularly exciting prospect as it felt like a bit of a stretch. On the other hand, Phil Coulson was always a likeable character and S.H.I.E.L.D. has always been a setting packed with potential. The team we're introduced to includes the recently revived Coulson, tough-as-nails operative Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen), top scientists and tech experts Fitz (Ian De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) with superspy Grant Ward (Brett Dalton) and new recruit hacker Skye (Chloe Bennet). The early episodes focus mostly on Skye's absorption into S.H.I.E.L.D. as a potential new member of Coulson's team despite her initial suspicions about the secret organisation. Skye being the least interesting and most out-of-place character of the bunch, this makes for a rocky start to the show.

You can certainly tell that the writing is still trying to find its legs 5 episodes in and the spotlight on Skye is always in danger of making us lose interest entirely with the overly-jokey Fitz and Simmons not helping matters much. Luckily, the rest of the characters are appropriately mission focused plus there's enough mystery in the overall plot and the action is well done enough that the show never gets too redundant or grating. As it goes on, nifty cameos by the likes of Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) himself and Sif (Jaimie Alexander), reliably good guest stars like Bill Paxton or Peter MacNicol and some well executed twists and turns help improve the show little by little. As the shadow of Hydra looms over Coulson and his team, the episodes start to reflect the events from Captain America: The Winter Soldier in a subtle, interesting way and the last third of this first Season ends things on a promising note with a solid foundation to build an even better second Season on.

After an uneven, too light-hearted and somewhat generic first batch of episodes, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. soon manages to build a genuinely involving intrigue with a slightly darker tone and clever character development complete with big twists you might not actually see coming.

Good so far.

6/7/17

THE TWELVE TASKS OF ASTERIX - REVIEW


Written and directed by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, co-creators of the iconic Astérix comics, The Twelve Tasks Of Asterix was a feature-length animated film from 1976. While not based on any specific story from the books, it was later adapted into a comic.

The plot for this film could easily work as the very last Astérix story since it basically gives the powerful Gauls one final challenge against Julius Caesar and the outcome is pretty final so that alone makes it a must-watch for fans. The story sees Caesar challenge the Gauls to 12 Hercules-type tasks in order to determine once and for all whether they are gods or not. If they lose, the Gauls must finally bow to the Roman Empire but if they win, it is Caesar who will have to relinquish all power to them. Of course, Astérix and Obélix are selected to take on all of the challenges and although some of the more Olympic tasks like throwing a javelin or sprinting are a walk in the park for them, there are also more psychological and treacherous tasks for the Gauls to sink their teeth into.

With the help of some magic potion, of course, the Gauls face an evil hypnotist, an effortlessly effective wrestler, maddening bureaucracy, force feeding, an island of beautiful women, even ghosts and that makes for a very funny, often strange, sometimes intense journey. The tasks themselves, the writing and the voice acting are the best aspects of this animated film which, while definitely enjoyable, isn't quite as polished and classic as Asterix and Cleopatra from 1968. The animation itself is pretty good but the film doesn't try to match the aforementioned feature's unforgettable music and songs which, in a way, makes it more unique but also makes it fall just short. If you're not too familiar with the Astérix comics then I would probably suggest reading some of those and checking out the two animated films released before this one first but do see Twelve Tasks also.

Although not the definitive Astérix movie or storyline, The Twelve Tasks Of Asterix remains a very good, consistently fun animated feature with numerous stand-out moments and it gives the heroic Gauls one of their biggest challenges ever.

Watch it.

6/6/17

MOANA - REVIEW


While Zootopia was the bigger non-Pixar animated hit for Disney in 2016, Moana was still a considerable success both at the box-office and with audiences who praised the stunning animation and its South Pacific setting.

As the big "Disney Princess" movie of the year, complete with flashy musical numbers and cute animal sidekicks, Moana was a much more traditional Disney animated feature than Zootopia so had the latter failed to deliver, this would have no doubt been the studio's sure-fire hit. It is surprising, frankly, that the film was not given a Summer release considering its sunny, exotic setting as that might have actually given it a bit of a boost. Story-wise, the film follows Moana (voiced by Auli'i Cravalho), daughter to the chief of a small Polynesian island, who finds herself stuck with the responsibilities of being the chief's heir until she is compelled to leave the island in search of a way to stop its inexplicable curse. She encounters demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson), who once stole the heart of an island goddess in order to offer it to mankind as a gift, thereby inadvertently causing all the problems Moana is aiming to fix back home, and tries to convince him to help.

With only a small boat and her mindless rooster pal, Moana sets off on an adventure that takes her weird places like the lair of a giant evil crab covered in gold with only her determination keeping the entire quest literally afloat. This movie has some great, very likeable characters, beautiful animation throughout, lots of funny scenes (the rooster steals the show) and some sadder moments also. Moana's relationship with her grandmother is the most moving aspect of the film and Moana herself is Disney's toughest, smartest and most talented princess yet. All that said, the whole thing feels often too much like The Little Mermaid-lite with Moana desperately wanting more, with her adorably goofy animal sidekicks and the mostly at-sea setting. Unfortunately, the film's entertaining crab baddie (voiced by Jemaine Clement) only sticks around for one scene and the story begs for some more twists and turns which could have helped flesh out an otherwise very good plot.

While it may not feel quite as fresh and bold as Zootopia, Moana is a visual treat with tons of charm, fun songs, great characters and a positive message. Both kids and adults can enjoy this one and I would certainly recommend it to any Disney fan.

Enjoyable.

THE LITTLE REVIEW: THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS - PODCAST



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