Dreamworks was always the main studio to rival Disney Animation - nonetheless WAG (Warner Animation Group) - including Illumination Entertainment - have really stepped up to the plate with their recent flurry of Lego movies. Smallfoot - a playful spin on the mythical Bigfoot creature - sees a curious yeti convinced that "humans" really do exist and that there is indeed life beyond the mountains.
A cute and wintry animation - Smallfoot conveys important messages about the struggle to except the unknown, and accept life outside the comfort zone. With fluffy white, blue and purple yetis cavorting against a stunning snowy backdrop, this quaint story teaches kids a lot about the modern world through a very Disney-type kind of song and dance. Smallfoot is meaningful on its own merits though, it delivers inventive visuals, underlines important morals and plays out silly gags for the whole family to have a fun time.
Whilst Channing Tatum heads the yeti tribe, our leading bigfoot is Stonekeeper played by Common. Tatum stars as the inquisitive yeti Migo, who has his heart set on uncovering the truth behind the mythical legend of the smallfoot (humans). He brings an adorable charisma as the friendly, not so abominable snowman who is desperate to make a change. Other surrounding characters such as Meechee, Gwangi, Kolka, Fleem and Percy all slot nicely into this world.
Smallfoot underlines how the unknown may seem scary and strange but must be learned and accepted. The film sees the Yeti tribe discriminate against the humans rather than the other way around, Common raps in one particular scene about how the smallfoot fear the yeti therefore attacked and drove them up to the mountain. It's superb that a kids animation can steer beyond from your elementary "treat others nicely" concept and go a little bit more into the nitty gritty of different social groups - but fear not Smallfoot is far from a long-winded sociology lesson.
One of the best moments actually comes from James Cordon's human character Percy - whilst he stuck out like a sore thumb in Oceans' 8, the British actor turned American TV host works really well here. Singing an inventive remix of Queen's Under Pressure,Percy explains the struggle to get noticed in the modern world of technology, the song itself better than the entirety of Bryan Singer's recent Bohemian Rhapsody. As indeed is the film - proving you don't have to be Disney to create a delightful little story for all ages to enjoy.
A legendary band with an equally legendary lead singer - Queen pushed the boundaries of modern rock music with their experimental operatic technique. As with David Bowie their music was ever evolving, from progressive 70s pop rock to more radio-friendly pop of later years. Taken from the name of their career defining anthem, Bohemian Rhapsody reflects on the rise and rise of Queen and Freddie Mercury in the years that build to their stunning 1985 Live Aid performance.
This sluggish Queen biopic isn't any kind of magic. Even though Rami Malek is somebody to love as Freddie Mercury - Bohemian Rhapsody is a watered down, less than mediocre music flick that glazes over the trauma and struggles the band's leading man endured. Freddie's story is told at a ridiculously elementary level with no new insight into the hardship of his life. It's almost like Bohemian Rhapsody reads as a transcript of facts from Wikipedia, lacking any sense of grit and subtlety. The scenes between the band members feel corny and bogus and Freddie's sexuality is dealt with very heavy-handedly, in a black and white way that overlooks any nuance or complexity.
Queen were such an extraordinary band and they as well as Freddie deserve an awful lot better. Bohemian Rhapsody is almost a disservice to them - taking their legend and turning it into an easily accessible melodrama that completely undercuts the essence of what made the band so iconic, so unconventional, so Queen. Director Brian Singer stifles Freddie's flamboyant, off-the-wall style with a dreadfully conventional biopic. If you imagine your bog standard music flick you have the drugs, the booze, the sex, the songs, the performances and the family drama - throw in the fabulously out-there Freddie Mercury and you've got yourself a real Bohemian Rhapsody. However if you dissect that, take out the tired rock n roll tropes and add a bucket-load of weird and wonderful moments the result would have been far more authentic.
Malek's performance as the one and only Freddie Mercury will certainly rock you. Capturing every fine detail of his flamboyant stage presence, Malek has Freddie's distinct mannerisms down to a T. He shapes his vocals to mirror those of Freddie's - his booming roar and powerful shrill along with the inflective diction of his speaking voice. All the same, Malek is bogged down in an otherwise frustratingly bland biopic - no matter how effective his performance is, Freddie is not given the stage he rightly deserves.
Singer's lazy Queen drama is no royalty whatsoever. His vision is so elementary and formulaic - taking one of the industry''s greatest icons and making him seem like another doomed rockstar. Bohemian Rhapsody is absent of the band's quirky artistry, it shoe-horns in all the greatest hits as if Singer were carelessly bashing a Karaoke machine on set. Skipping passed so much context and depth - this is a killer for Queen as Bohemian Rhapsody instantly bites the dust.
Forty years and ten instalments later Michael Myers returns in David Gordon Green's new Halloween. From Season of the Witch to H20, Green cuts out every one of the dreadful Halloween sequels, wiping the slate clean with his follow on to the 1978 original. John Carpenter makes a come back scoring and executively producing, as does Jamie Lee Curtis who reprises her role as Laurie Strode. Forty years after murdering three teenagers on Halloween night - Michael Myers escapes a bus crash, returning to Haddonfield once more for his final standoff with an ageing Laurie Strode.
The Shape remerges in Halloween (2018), an enjoyable slasher flick that loses Carpenter's meticulous crafting and painstaking suspense. Halloween isn't brilliant but it screams potential, the first half of this movie is nothing short of fantastic but it falters when it attempts to become anything more than the simple, solid horror movie the original Halloween always was. Here we have Green throwing in various irrelevant sub-plots and characters as well as absolutely ridiculous twists in the final act. He - as well as co-screenwriter Danny McBride - quickly forget that Halloween isn't about jump scares or gratuitous violence, it's simply about a psychopath praying on vulnerable people. This contrasts remarkably with Carpenter's 1978 classic which plays with interesting camera techniques such as POVs and tracking shots, provoking so much raw fear and tension from a simple idea about being stalked.
In the beginning we follow two investigative reporters who are creating a podcast on the babysitter murders of 1978. We're brought out into the eerie courtyard of the mental asylum where Michael Myers lies slap bang in the middle, where Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) attempts to connect with him. A terrifying use of zooms and sharp edits, Green continues Carpenter's original concept of Michael Myers being pure evil as everyone around him soon becomes unsettled. Then cut to the iconic Halloween opening credits accompanied by Carpenter's haunting score which has been given a handsome electronic glow up. In fact, from a technical level Halloween might just have the best opening scene of 2018, hooking you into the horrors that await.
The reporter characters really work here, they aren't particularly important within the story but they are the device which introduces us back to Michael Myers and Laurie Strode, forty years later. Speaking of which - Jamie Lee Curtis' long awaited return exceeds all expectations. With guns, a green tank top and a trap-tastic house - Curtis channels Sarah Connor meets Kevin McCallister. Green and McBride have given her a fascinating character arc - no longer the sweet and innocent teen - Laurie is a haunted, broken old woman, unable to move on from her past. Halloween explores how trauma can leave a lasting impact on someone's life - hence her distant relationship with daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Alyson (Andi Matichak).
However Halloween plays too heavily on the new generation of babysitter murders and as a result doesn't deliver on the Laurie v Michael showdown that was promised. Annoying teenagers, incompetent cops and wacky scientists - Green sometimes pays homage to the original in clever ways, role reversing Laurie and The Shape but mostly he surrounds the key plot points with irrelevant side characters.
In Halloween's case less is more. In contrast to the original Michael kills a lot of people in this instalment but the higher the body count the lesser the impact. The murders are carried out so quickly and flippantly, they aren't incredibly violent nor - importantly - are they suspenseful. Without question the scariest and most nerve raking scene in the entire film is in the petrol station, other than that Halloween isn't scary at all, really.
Halloween delivers in some aspects, the great moments really are great but as a whole it isn't well realised. It uses "false" scares quite a lot and needs something to drive it home after a fantastic first half. Curtis shows real character, she sticks out amongst other lesser ones and some genuinely silly moments. With Carpenter's iconic score returning with a few new alterations, Halloween delivers a handful of impressive visuals and is certainly entertaining but ultimately it lacks real scares and suspense.
Fresh from the freakishly genius mind of author R.L. Stine, Goosebumps returns for another kid-friendly ghoulish adventure. This not so spooky sequel lacks the same dynamic cast and generous budget as the first outing however, with Jack Black traded in for IT's Jeremy Ray Taylor. After two friends discover the original Goosebumps book they bring a creepy ventriloquist dummy to life, causing mayhem on halloween night.
A flat, plastic re-run of the original, this monster-mash is no graveyard-smash. Devoid of the same creepy fun Goosebumps 2 is a fruitless rehash of the first adventure, with entertaining moments in very short supply. Made from a slight $35 million budget - the scariest aspect of this Haunted Halloween is the 90's inspired visual effects. The end product feels like a comic book version of a Goosebumps novel trimmed down to a few pages, offering a mere slice of the real chilling adventure - whereas Goosebumps (2015) was like a bumper edition chocked-full of R.L Stine's greatest works.
This cop-out sequel replays the events of the first movie like reusing outdated sweets for this year's trick or treaters - we see the same monsters wrapped up in the same story, following the original beat for beat. Goosebumps is all about the monsters, and having been given the Abominable Snowman, Werewolf and Slappy the Dummy it still feels like you're not getting what you pay for. You could go crazy with the number of R.L Stine books there are and yet oddly Goosebumps 2 sticks to familiar territory.
Additionally the human characters have become annoyingly corny. The three kids never break out of their stereotypical teen roles: an obsessive science nerd, a reckless best friend and a blond high-schooler experiencing heartbreak. Their development is ham-fisted and they struggle to charm and engage the audience like the fabulous kids in the first movie. Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween screams Disney Channel as this adventure is clearly too small for the big screen. Slappy the Dummy is an entertaining villain but ultimately Goosebumps 2 doesn't rack up any creepiness, only cheesiness.
Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween:
Born then Reborn - after seven years Johnny English Strikes Again. First releasing around the time shagadelic spy Austin Powers was all the rage, Johnny English emerged as Mr Bean's answer to Mr Bond. The films are about as intelligent as their lead Rowan Atkinson, and the comedy is dyed in the wool, classic Brit humour. Deep in retirement as a Geography teacher Johnny English is called back out into the field when a cyber-attack exposes every active MI5 agent.
Johnny English Strikes Again is a silly spoof that brags some surprisingly inventive physical comedy. The bumbling and buffoonish spy returns for another slapstick heavy sequel that very much remains in the spirit of its predecessors. Strikes Again formulates a fair few chucklesome gags that play with this idea of an old-school agent adjusting to the new ways of the modern spy world - Atkinson's comically foolproof formula merges with some imaginative slapstick moments. The film plays like a serial of Bean sketches as oppose to a specific feature - and perhaps should have be a silent movie as the dialog is especially toe-nail curling.
Atkinson's up to the same old antics and as the title suggests Strikes Again for one final hoorah. It's not exactly mission accomplished however - with a bucket-load of stale lines and painfully predictable plotting this third outing is an enjoyable, in the moment, mood-booster rather than something you'll wish to revisit. Seeing this foolish agent beating-up baristas with freshly baked baguettes is enough to put a smile on your face - whereas overused one-liners about fake spy names less so. If you cast your mind back to recent big-screen British comedies Bridget Jones' Baby and ABFAB: The Movie - Johnny English's latest adventure definitely falls into the latter half in terms of quality and impact
For all that, the film seems to convince itself that its ultra advanced, pro-techno plot is a brand-new concept. From time to time, throw away gags about guns requiring a health and safety form and spies driving hybrids make an impact but Strikes Again does overdo it a bit. There isn't any need for Quantum of Solace's Olga Kurylenko and Carol's Jake Lacy - they're basically just there as a device to bring English back into action.
Mr Bean 2.0 returns for a fun and inoffensive family comedy, and if you're a fan of the first two adventures this feather-headed secret-agent will please you once more. Some jokes are fresh and some are not, but at the end of the day it's always a pleasure to see the comic genius Rowan Atkinson at work.
Johnny English: Strikes Again
At the ripe young age of thirty three Damien Chazelle has created two of the most awe-inspiring films in modern cinema - Whiplash and La La Land. Within three years the man has surely achieved what some directors will never achieve in their entire lifetimes. Moving on from musical and music drama, Chazelle tackles his first biopic - sketching the events building to the 1969 moon landing. His story focuses primarily on Neil Armstrong, his family life and the personal demons that haunt him leading up to the Apollo 11 mission.
Justin Hurwitz returns with a spine-tingling score that is fittingly out of this world. Chazelle shoots for the moon and stars in this incredible space drama, rocket-fuelled by some truly spellbinding visual moments. All the same, First Man lacks the Chazelle wow-factor seen in his previous adventures. With harsh, intense close-up action First Man emphasises the nerve shredding and claustrophobic conditions of space exploration, placing you firmly within the cockpit. Rather surprisingly, Chazelle has a limited choice of shots and angles - in great contrast to his beautifully indulgent previous works. His approach is deliberately stark and muted but neglects a certain touch of cinema magic. Chazelle doesn't flaunt the same punchy visuals that made his earlier films instant hits but admittedly he does attempt something different, which is surely fair enough. Even though First Man doesn’t have the same zing and zap as his music based offerings, it still remains a stunning achievement.
In reality First Man is a bitter sweet adventure about loss and grief, which subtly questions the motives and reasons for space exploration. This story isn't about the Apollo 11 expedition alone, it's more about Neil Armstrong and his crippling personal trauma - and the constant tension between Ryan Gosling and Clare Foy is what really resonates with you. Once his daughter falls unwell Armstrong's goal draws added meaning, he ponders how "We explore to uncover things we may not have seen previously", referencing his NASA mission alongside the fate of his daughter. First Man is a very intimate and personal take on a pivotal event in history - opening up a whole new insight into a space tale that's been told hundreds of times before.
Gosling's portrayal of Neil Armstrong is intentionally stoic but somewhat detached from the audience as a result. He remains silently determined throughout - a performance authentic and subtle but seemingly isolated. Of course this is all part of Chazelle's gritty, bona fide vision but as a protagonist, it's difficult to empathise with Gosling. In contrast The Crown star Clare Foy returns with yet another dominant and compelling performance to add to her CV. Remarkably engaging, Foy impresses with a far more vocal and expressive performance than her co-star.
First Man is at the bottom of Chazelle's three features although it almost feels unfair to say it - however he still creates an effective biopic drama that boasts oodles of original, tense space scenes. Justin Hurwitz delivers a consistent and chilling score that conjures the dazzling intergalactic images before your eyes - moreover the sound design is simply magnificent - eerie and often overwhelming. Even though it may not snatch the same number of awards it's hoping for - First Man really is yet another impressive and picturesque feat from Chazelle.
Bad Times at the El Royale boasts a similar set up to The Cabin in the Woods - Drew Goddard's debut picture following his fantastic screenwriting for Cloverfield. In the trailers it's suggested that the El Royale secretly spies on its guests from behind mirrors, however this seemingly huge plot device turns out to be a sneaky red herring. Seven strangers meet at a run down motel straddling the California and Nevada state line, and through the course of the night the El Royale's dark past begins to unfold.
Shuffling its cards from start to finish, this pulp fiction film noir will keep you ever so tightly wrapped around its finger. Oozing late 60's nostalgia Goddard's unyielding, multi-perspective screenplay could have come unstuck by a fiendishly convoluted plot but is ultimately brought home by an exciting roster of some incredible characters. With visuals that pop, dialog that fizzles, and razor-sharp editing guaranteed to keep your teeth firmly clenched - in contrast to the title there are plenty of great times at the El Royale.
Its swish, pre-seventies style is delivered through inventive camerawork and precise cuts. The opening sequence, composed entirely of jump-cuts, deviously sucks you into the narrative. The danger signs lie alongside the road to the El Royale but you just can't resist to drive further forward and check-in. Goddard has a knack for immersing the audience in a gloomy world that's happy moments are very few and far between - his engaging screenplay and crafty direction keeps cinemagoers thirsty for more. Whether it's the gorgeously vibrant colour pallet contrasting with the dark mood of the film noir content, or the fact that his scenes are as rich in style as they are substance - all of the filmmaking elements piece together in yet another excellent outing for Goddard.
Even though it contains a handful of loose-ends and subtle, hinted at explanations, Bad Times at the El Royale flaunts the most inventive and ambitious screenplay of 2018. With seven different perspectives weaving into one narrative, Bad Times divides into sections yet somehow maintains its very tense and forboding atmosphere. Possessing the racy style of a Tarantino flick but with Goddard's manipulative imprint it covers a lot of ground in a lot of time, yet it doesn't feel like long enough.
Yet this twisted tale wouldn't click together it weren't for Bad Times' simply magnificent characters. The ever so charming Jon Hamm and the f***you giving Dakota Johnson are two intriguing personalities - but its the oldest and newest additions to the cast that really give the film its sweet and sour taste. Jeff Bridges grumbles through his folksy persona as the shady Father Flynn, but has very touching interplay with Cynthia Erivio's struggling back-up singer. Lewis Pullman's jittery, disturbed bell boy Miles is squeezed through the ringer with one of the toughest back stories, and delivers one of the film's greatest twists.
The El Royale is a quirky set piece that breathes something new into the age old themes of morality and redemption. The guests have a choice to stay in either sunny California or, Nevada the state of hope and prosperity. The line running through the motel seems to symbolise the split between good and evil, the positioning of the guests rooms hinting at their characters and outcomes. An inventive piece of twisty film noir with engaging characters, various long takes and sharp edits - Bad Times at the El Royale is vibrant, perplexing and well worth a second visit.
Bad Times at the El Royale:
Two's company, three's a crowd - but when it comes to A Star is Born four times is a roaring spectacle. Bradley Cooper sets himself a mighty challenge choosing a thrice told classic about rising stardom as his directorial debut, following the 1937 original with Janet Gaynor, the 1954 version with Judy Garland, and the classic 1976 with Barbra Streisand. It's a tale as old as time yet somehow Cooper finds a fascinating way to translate for the modern generation. In front of the camera he leads with pop princess Lady Gaga - a maverick country singer helps a young musician rise to fame, whilst he fights drugs and alcohol as his career spirals downwards.
All the stars align in this utterly heartbreaking and thought-provoking portrayal of the modern music industry. Once Cooper strums his strings and Gaga's voice booms towards the back of your auditorium, you'll find yourself frantically scrambling on the floor trying to retrieve your jaw. Goosebumps aside A Star is Born shines brightly, with Cooper skilfully managing to weave in the contemporary challenges of substance abuse and image expectations, all wrapped up in a moody La La Land-esque reality. A Star is Born is beautiful because it doesn't seek to avoid the sad realities of modern life and the often brutal music industry. Unquestionably harsh but remarkably honest, regardless of its uplifting ad campaign, A Star is Born really isn't for the faint hearted.
You will go gaga for this potent double-act. Lady Gaga stuns in her debut leading role, after years as such an eccentric stage presence she burst onto the silver screen with a resounding portrayal of a young, fiery rising star. At the other end of the scale we have Cooper sharing the spotlight in equally stunning style. Turning in a coarse, fragmented performance as a declining country singer, he matches Gaga scene by scene, making A Star is Born’s frequent dramas just that little bit more gut punching. Working and singing together in perfect, expressive harmony Gaga and Cooper pull no punches, producing a tense and immensely spontaneous relationship that develops rapidly but wilts agonisingly. A Star is Born scores a hat trick - Gaga and Cooper smouldering in front of the camera, driven by Cooper's slow-buring, delicate direction from behind it.
Capturing that surreal sense of the rock and roll lifestyle, Cooper never shoots beyond the stage or outside of the room. When his character Jack and Ally (Gaga) are performing the camera is fixed on them, whilst they absorb the roaring response of the crowd. A Star is Born juxtaposes two careers heading in opposite directions, one rising and one in decline. Addressing the vanity of the modern music industry and through some very distressing moments, the film suggests that art dies to be replaced by fame, concluding - perhaps - that the very famous are moulded by societies demands rather than their own originality.
Cooper’s directorial debut will leave you star-struck. Gaga is a sensation, bolstered by Cooper's tormented performance - enabling this tour bus to blaze onwards. Although it drags towards the third act and could've done with some edits here and there, it A Star is Born will astonish, charm and ruthlessly tear your heart out.
A Star is Born:
Attempting to kick start a cinematic universe of their own, Sony Pictures arrives rather late to the party with Venom. It's debatable wether creating a spin-off Spider-Man universe without Spider-Man is a good idea, but Marvel have confirmed more than once that any character in any world can work as long as it's done right. Nonetheless Venom who unlike, say, Guardians of the Galaxy is an existing fan favourite character and after Eddie Brock becomes infected with an otherworldly parasite he must submit to his cuckoo-ing alter-ego to save his life.
Venom, like the psychotic symbiote itself, is a dark, sticky mess. Sony's flawed Jeckle and Hyde style romp lacks an engaging hero at its centre with Tom Hardy delivering a laughably feeble and highly irritating performance. Eddie Brock staggers across the screen, mumbling aggravating pieces of dialogue and failing to hold himself together. Hardy is awfully miscast and brings nothing to the human side of Eddie, although that being said his head chomping alter-ego Venom really is a barrel of laughs.
Hardy introduces Venom (the character) with bizarre brilliance, and the bickering dynamic between the two never gets old - but ultimately this strange and dominating symbiote is incomplete without a worthy alter-ego. Carrying two performances at different extremes Venom is completely bombastic and over-the-top - Eddie is dull, idiotic and extremely unlikeable - Hardy creates too great a contrast between the two characters that his human protagonist pays the price, swallowed up by a oozing abyss of dominating black slime.
There is Deadpool level potential here but Venom feels painfully restrained, lacking any sense of strong and enthusiastic direction. Zombieland's Ruben Fleischer squanders his chance to use excessively silly violence to the Deadpool limit, therefore Venom feels deprived of some of those banglingly gloriously gory moments. Everything is implied, but not in the subtle way that provokes a sense of dread, but more in a "we need this to be more PG" kind of way - ironic since the film still wound up with an unjustified 15 certificate. Sadly Venom appears to be another desperate and mis-guided grab at the big time by Sony, yet again falling way short of the mark.
Storytelling is another key issue for Venom, this lacking anti-hero flick feels strangely dated - created with a flimsy though standard three act structure. Superhero films have evolved so much over the past ten years with bigger budgets and much bigger ideas, yet Venom appears so behind the times. What's more, it's as if the CGI has been ripped straight from the 2000's - during a high speed motor bike chase the background blurs like a 50's classic, and in the final showdown the screen becomes engulfed by one great big, black blobby mess.
By contrast, such is the gulf that Venom almost makes Rami's Spider-Man 3 look like The Dark Knight. From its wooden and stilted dialogue to its dismal and messy visuals, Sony have really shot themselves in the foot if they seriously want to make a separate Spidey type universe of their own. Be that as it may, Hardy is must surely be responsible for his shocking performance with the same said for Riz Ahmed's fantastically one note villain Carlton Drake
Where's that dancing emo Peter Parker, he's a damn sight better than all of this...
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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.