Returning to stop motion almost a decade after his quirky 2009 spin on Rhold Dahl's iconic Fantastic Mr Fox, Wes Anderson gets his hands triumphantly back into the clay with Isle of Dogs. Set twenty years in the future in the Japanese archipelago, all dogs are banished to the uninhabited Trash Island after an outbreak of deadly dog flu. Alas a young boy steals an aeroplane to venture out to find his lost pooch Spots. Bryan Cranston, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johnson, Frances McDormand and recent Lady Bird director Greta Gerwig all join the little pilot on his journey.
Strands of scruffy, ragged fur, cotton wool clouds and a delicate Japanese city structure - with great whit and whimsy Anderson proves that every dog has its day. With his symmetrical visuals and intensely stylised structure Isle of Dogs emerges as Anderson's most nuanced and polished creation to date. Even more so than with his sumptuous Grand Budapest Hotel, Isle of Dogs achieves a perfect contrast between a riveting narrative and trademark, refined cinematography. Where Fantastic Mr Fox was perhaps a little too smug for my liking, possibly lacking the emotional engagement needed for a child's book adaption, through Anderson's winsome artistic flair along with a lighting fast script; Isle of Dogs delivers the beautiful tale of man's best friend.
Following his recent Oscar win with The Shape of Water - proving there is evidently no rest for the wicked - Alexandre Desplat returns with a haunting, original score of thumping Japanese drums and delicate woodwind, drizzling the picture in a sweet, hard boiled sugar coating. Painting a dystopian Japanese future, Anderson creates a charming, unlikely quest movie binding together a young orphan and five unlikely hounds. The film offers a surprisingly touching reminder of how dogs unite us, a crucial part of both our childhood and adulthood and a staple of the home dynamic - a certain love that no hamster or cat can ever provide.
This mongrel masterpiece is no dogs dinner. Isle of Dogs may assemble a cast of formidable voices but Bryan Cranston is positively the leader of the pack. Assertive yet distant, Chief is a brilliant new character to add to Cranston's acclaimed acting credits. Intriguingly, Anderson constructs a tight language barrier between the english speaking pup characters and the predominately Japanese humans, yet aside the odd subtitle or translation you understand everything that is happening.
With more bark and certainly more bite than anyone could've predicted, whether you are a dog lover or a Cruella de Vil sympathiser, Isle of Dogs is a brilliant examination of mankind's dependency on dog-kind. As well as achieving the pièce de résistance of his visual artistry - Anderson a captivating story constructed around the simple tale of man and his dog.
Isle of Dogs:
We've seen rampaging dinosaurs, deadly great whites and a whip-snapping archaeologist - even kids on flying bikes - but now Steven Spielberg directs Ready Player One. Based on Ernest Cline's pop culture crammed novel, this glimpse into the future tells the story of how young gamer Wade Watts ventures into the OASIS - a virtual reality world to search for clues left by the creator after his death. With staggering rewards from trillions of dollars and full control of the OASIS itself, there is - of course - deadly competition from more sinister sources.
Capturing the magic of old school hollywood - Ready Player One is an ode to the cinematic greats Spielberg and others have made part of our cultural identity over so many years. Bright and colourful cameos flash in front of us - countless references from Back to the Future, to Saturday Night Fever; Beetlejuice, King Kong and even Alien - and so many, many more. Crucially though, Ready Player One neither depends nor exploits these many references, but rather weaves them into the mesmerising experience developing in front of our eyes.
It may have all the bells and whistles of a modern, sci-fi adventure but Ready Player One captures the sparkle of Spielberg's previous family friendly works. Visually immersive with its arresting world building - it may be an ambitious film with (in truth) an unambitious story - but so good is the delivery that there isn't any need for this virtual reality popcorn flick to be anymore complicated than it already is. Quite simply Ready Player One is good old cinema magic, proving how the classic Spielberg fantasy formula still works as brilliantly as ever after all these years.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Ready Player One is the thought provoking social commentary on video games. Without being too preachy the film draws attention to how society has become increasingly entangled in technologically delivered fantasy at the expense of life experience within the real world. This poignant message delivered straight to the family targeted audience might just encourage kids to spend a little less time gaming, but ironically the story appears so fantastic it could just have the opposite effect.
Tye Sheridan's 80's, pop culture obsessed Wade Watts is as well rounded and compelling as you'd expect any Spielberg lead to be, with Mark Rylance worrying good and suitably geeky. Against some stiff competition Ready Player One is one of the most magnificently nerdy yet entrancing techno cinema experiences in recent years. There's no denying it's a shock to the senses with its explosion of pop culture references but most importantly Ready Player One wonderfully reinforces the magic and sugar rush excitement of fantasy within cinema.
Ready Player One:
Hopping from one uber-budget sci-fi romp to the next, John Boyega stars in Pacific Rim: Uprising - the follow up to visionary mastermind Guillermo del Toro's 2013 Pacific Rim. Under completely new directorship this 2018 sequel instantly loses what made the original more than your average action packed sci-fi flick. This time round Jack Pentecost, son of last outing's hero Stacker Pentecost, must lead a new age of Jaeger pilots to fight against an awakening threat of even bigger, even deadlier Kaju monsters.
This robotic smash n' bash fiesta is shackled by a massively un-engaging premise. Combining the clunky metal action of the Transformers series with the campy colours and corny catchphrases of Power Rangers, Pacific Rim: Uprising will probably appeal most to those who enjoy the Saturday morning cartoon's from which it's inspired.
Arguably the best thing to come from Uprising is Boyega’s cheeky, quick thinking performance. Overshadowed recently by the young heavyweight talent in the latest Star Wars saga’s character lineup - think Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver - Boyega is still yet to prove himself with an individual lead role of note. By no means is this portrayal anything we haven’t seen before - however it is pretty much what you’d expect from this typically one dimensional action genre.
But that is Pacific Rim: Uprising in a nutshell - absolutely nothing we haven’t seen once, twice even many times before. For the most part the action has a particularly exhilarating finish but is too often bogged down in below average story telling. Gigantic colourful robots brawling in the bustling streets of Tokyo is a fun watch for at least the first half hour, but surrounded by incredibly dull performances and a script that may have met Hollywood’s standard during the early nineties - you soon begin to realise there isn’t all that much more on offer.
Style over substance was almost guaranteed for this manga inspired robot romp, yet funnily neither of the two are truly on offer here. At best it has some sense of visual style, and in fairness the fight scenes are much better choreographed than any of the recent Transformers movies. In the final analysis however Pacific Rim: Uprising is just another clunky robot caper to add to the ever growing rusty junkyard pile.
Pacific Rim: Uprising:
Video game movies are commonly known as the worst film genre - with pretty much no success in the many years that span its inglorious existence. Time and again Hollywood have failed to deliver video game based pictures, including - but not limited to - Resident Evil, Hitman, Mortal Combat, Need for Speed, Warcraft and most recently the truly abysmal Assassins Creed. Time for a welcome and long overdue change. Following eighteen hugely successful games and two ultra-campy feature films Lara Croft returns to the silver screen in the form of Alicia Vikander, fifteen years after Angelina Jolie last wore the pony tail as the legendary Tomb Raider.
This 2018 outing demonstrates precisely how video game movies should be made. Starring a lead who fits the role better than the legendary pale blue tank top itself, Lara Croft is back with a new face and a new adventure to embark upon. Though there isn't exactly a gap in the market for video game movies to fill, Norwegian director Roar Uthaug proves that with craft and skill a good film can be created from even the most familiar source.
Uthaug establishes a new and exciting Croft universe that perfectly sets the stage for more thrilling adventures to come. Tomb Raider, whilst faithful to the original game series, promotes a grand cinematic caper that can be enjoyed by both hard core fans and average movie goers alike. It's one of the few films I've seen recently that is both well paced and consistently exciting. Right from the word go Tomb Raider ticks all the right boxes - not taking itself too seriously but most importantly having fun with the central character.
Leaping across a rickety wartime plane wreck suspended hundreds of feet above a raging waterfall, Alicia Vikander offers a mighty, tour de force take on the iconic gun slinging, arrow shooting Lara Croft. Vikander's mesmerising - almost gymnastic - agility intensifies Tomb Raider's well constructed action sequences. Through the years it's fair to say the character has become notorious for her notably busty computer generated frame, followed by Angelina Jolie’s ever so noughties in the flesh portrayal. In contrast, here we see the much younger Alicia Virkanda who provides more empathy and compassion with a performance that strips away the questionably sexualised overtones that have objectified the character in the past. Vikander symbolises the strong, brave and determined characteristics that embody the action heroine, experiencing her struggles and failures which are just as compelling as her victories - for a first film at least
Just as much fun as playing the real thing, Tomb Raider must surely lead on to further video game movies success. Alicia Vikander is faithful to tradition yet fully modernises the character; a magnificent empowering female heroine for many young girls to look up to. Don't get me wrong, the story isn't anything revolutionary but with such dazzling visuals and fantastic action set pieces Tomb Raider is hopefully the herald of many Lara Croft adventures to come.
Board game movies are a thing of the past - 2014's Ouija scared up an overwhelming number of terrifying reviews and even Jumanji threw aside the dice in the recent video game revamped sequel Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Game Night however brings back the excitement of classic board games, focusing on a group of game fanatics who's weekly game night is interptuped by a murder mystery that dangerously mixes fantasy with reality.
A pop culture blast with as many twists and turns as snakes and ladders - Game Night is even more thrilling than the real thing. Brining back the glory days of all things Twister, Charades and Buckaroo, Game Night is nostalgic for the simple happiness that comes from playing board games together with friends and family.
Utterly energetic and undemanding, Game Night erases any possible bored from board game, creating a romp that is far more exciting than it has any right to be. A top scorer across the board, what really makes this comedy thriller tick is its razor sharp dialogue. With witty references from Pulp fiction and Harry Potter all the way to Donald Trump and even the Teletubbies, Game Night is a self aware pop culture extravaganza that grows in both charm and intelligence along the way.
Though the two main actors are famous for their slyer roles - Regina George (Mean Girls) and Nick Wilde (Zootropolis) - Rachel McAdams and Jason Bateman both perform excellently as lovable couple Max and Annie. The endearing game enthusiasts add some heart to this bonkers adventure and seem to be having just as much fun as we do across the duration.
I'm unsure whether its the fizzling pop culture references, the sharpness of its script or the originality of its story line - but Game Night zooms past Go and swipes two hundred dollars with great ease and success. Furiously fun Game Night is equally hilarious as it is original; proving there is still yet hope for the genre. this is the perfect Friday night feel-good movie and might just inspire with even more ways to have fun with your friends.
Appearing in his second film in consecutive weeks, Joel Egerton trades in his gun for a suit and tie to star as egotistical tycoon Richard Rusk in Gringo. Whilst on a disastrous businesses trip to Mexico Harold (Daniel Oyelowo) must fight for survival as a series of catastrophic events occur - seeing him fall from law abiding, good willed citizen to desperate, wanted criminal.
White knuckle comedy Gringo is an aimless romp that is low on laughs and low on entertainment value. Nowadays, comedies seem to be split into three types - those with perfect comedic timing - think Deadpool - the absurd comedy strand like the recent Baywatch, and lastly the consistent near miss-ers i.e. any Adam Sandler movie. Gringo however bucks this trend; creating a vacuum comedy that doesn't even attempt to be amusing, and winds up with a rather deadpan, boring delivery.
Initially there isn't exactly much to work with anyway. At first glance Gringo seems to be a routine drug cartel caper, but ultimately it drifts into being a strange, delusional drama with too few laughs to keep it going. If this picture did more with at least one of its many story strands then perhaps we wouldn't have a film that feels lost in a big crowd, a bit like the unfortunate Harold. Believe it or not Gringo doesn't spark any burning hatred from deep within, but it's just so fantastically eventless. Whilst most 'bad comedies' would anger and enrage with their sheer stupidity and offensiveness, Gringo is bad in a way that feels awfully unobtrusive and bland.
Hats off though to David Oyelowo performing in a, er, different role to his recent outings. He continues to prove a likeable lead and delivers most (if not all) of the few jokes that the film offers. On the plus side, if the British actor finds himself a better agent he will certainly land greater roles in future comedies. Equally, following her electrifying performance in last year's Atomic Blonde Charlize Theron demonstatres her impressive acting range delivering the feisty and fiery boss-lady Elaine.
Although it's nice to see Olyelowo and Theron take on different roles - and certainly have fun with them - Gringo is low on laughs, with little entertainment value or purpose. As a result of its thin plot line and odd structural issues it's unclear what Gringo is trying to achieve. Bland and unrealised, unfortunately Gringo struggles to find its feet throughout two unfulfilling hours.
From battling moody teens to the death in The Hunger Games to fighting alongside mutants in X-men - Jennifer Lawrence has grossed over $5.5 billion at the box-office - whilst picking up an oscar win with three noms on the way. The Kentucky actress has hit hard times, still reeling from the box-office space flop Passengers and the critically confused Mother, Lawrence is in dire need of some critical and commercial TLC. With Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence at the wheel Can Red Sparrow be the one? Russian Ballerina Dominika Egorova is recruited into the 'Sparrow School' - a shady intelligence service section which uses its agents to manipulate targets through both body and mind.
Both Lawrences reunite reasonably well, delivering the physiologically and sexually exploiting espionage that we had thought we were going to get. With far more sex and far less action than James Bond or Mission:Impossible, Red Sparrow is an intense spy thrill that has just enough redeeming qualities to make it worth it. I would be neither offended nor relieved if this happens to be the beginning to a further Red Sparrow franchise, it's a visually splendid popcorn flick with double the brain and double the brawn than last year's Atomic Blonde.
Dominika appears to be one of the more notable of Jennifer Lawrence's recent performances, not that this Oscar winning actress ever takes on a dull role. This acting gig is reported to have been Lawrence's most challenging movie to date and it's safe to say it was most definitely worth it. Not only is it a treat but it's an honour to see this highly gifted actress branch out into more difficult roles, challenging the audience more but taking them with her. Dominika is complex, compelling and most importantly persuasive character. The film follows her and her journey into the seductive, terrifying and lethal world of espionage.
Red Sparrow doesn't pull any punches exploring the dirty business of the covert Intelligence world. Dominika is "recruited" to the in sparrow school, where she is taught to use her body as tool for physiological and sexual manipulation. Unsurprisingly the tense sexual moments in the film are as frequent as they are uncomfortable, threaded into the story rather than splashed as quick cheap thrills. There are still a small handful of violent moments in this spy flick, Red Sparrow is as brutal as it is tense.
This prima ballerina espionage picture may have one or two dull moments, but is balanced out by either director Lawrence or actress Lawrence's formidable talents. It successfully delivers a story entirely focused on the complexity and unpredictability of its lead, rather than a complex multi character plot. A cerebral spy flick with little to no action is hard to come by in this day and age and Red Sparrow is unquestionably a mixed bag, but if you care enough for Jennifer Lawrence's compelling performance you'll probably stay enthralled for the hefty one hundred and forty minute run time.
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Hi I’m James - a huge welcome to my film blog! I started this site just after my 14th birthday and have been bringing you my own take on the hottest box office arrivals and many art house triumphs ever since.