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Old | Dumb Fun in the Sun

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M Night Shyamalan’s creative career was cursed from the moment he was hailed ‘the next Spielberg’. Such a title was only going to be met with disappointment. His early films, The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000) and Signs (2002) were a trio of enticing, original supernatural thrillers that offered enough intrigue to match such a lofty title. Since then, the ride’s been a little rockier. In the late 2000s, a string of weaker offerings left a lot to be desired. Notably, Lady in the Water (2006) and The Happening (2008) were horrific for all the wrong reasons – and the less said about his ‘airbending’ effort the better.

Yet, a recent renaissance in his ability to tell original stories has sparked fresh excitement. And, next to maintain the thrills is Old. Although lacking the spine tingling bite of his earliest attempts it’s another example of why we should welcome his contribution to modern cinema.

Part horror, part thriller, part goofy comedy – the film depicts a rough day on a secluded beach for a group of characters who begin to age rapidly as the day progresses. Oh, and it goes without saying – they can’t escape. Based on the graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters, it is an adaptation in the sense that director and writer Shyamalan found a concept and went in his own twisted direction with it.

For all parents with young children a day on the beach can often be plagued by horror and heat, as screaming children, sticky sand and warm drinks provide more stress than serenity. After watching Old, I’m sure parents will be dreaming of crowded shores, as a family’s idyllic stop in paradise descends into disaster.

Anchoring the story is a family of four, the warring parents played by Guy (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps). Both Bernal and Krieps have already carved a magnificent dramatic career and their acting chops offer the majority of the emotion and dramatic pull that the screenplay sorely lacks. A selection of actors take the role of their rapidly ageing children, Trent and Maddox. Perhaps the standout sequences are carried by Alex Wolff and Thomasin McKenzie – who harness their rapid growth and sudden hormones of teenagerhood with confidence and believability.

‘Ah, relaxing time in the shade’, Thomasin McKenzie (Left) Alex Wolff (Right), still courtesy of IMDB

With much to owe to the zany execution of the The Twilight Zone (1959-1964), much of the unique concept is delightful to watch on screen. A strong sequence in the middle of the film see’s the ageing effects of the beach in full effect, and this was a genuine treat. It felt like an early morning pitch meeting fuelled by caffeine, in which all plot possibilities were stuck to the storyboard and from that day, never left.

The physical and mental breakdown of the characters is exceptionally entertaining. Suspiria style, limb bending gore and Cronenbergian body horror take full advantage of the physical possibilities of this rocky trip to the shores. There is very little coherence, but this is where the film is at the height of it’s powers, as the often whiplash inducing shakey-cam captures the thrilling chaos and the silly set-pieces in equal measure. Darkly comedic and outrageously stupid, at times the concept clicked into place and captured the magic that Shyamalan is capable of.

It is this push for conceptual creativity that holds the film back just as much as it propels it, as plot direction takes precedence over depth and substance. Patchy doesn’t quite cover the expositional superficiality of the script. In an opening scene which mentioned ‘living in the moment’ and ‘enjoying youth’ a lot more than necessary – I could actually hear Mr Shyamalan screaming through the screen “have you got it yet? They are about to get Old!”

Particularly in the film’s final 15 minutes, where the screenplay crashes back to land with a bump – a studio driven, expositional ending of nightmares, which is probably the most horrific part of the whole thing. Old would’ve benefited endlessly if it tapped into the psyche of the experience – as the obsessive fixation on concept and plot see’s the weak dialogue get washed away in the sand.

 

Where the screenplay truly shines is on the surface. Go deeper into the waters of the writing and you’ll find there’s very little but coral and sand. Pushing the concept as far as the runtime will allow – it seems that Shyamalan is beginning to make his name as the fast-food Christopher Nolan. He takes the idea, extracts all the silliness and story he can find, ditching the style and substance in the process.

It simply succeeds as mindless fun. With more plot holes than grains of sand on the beach and moments that tiptoe into pastiche – we are welcomed into a world that is as paradoxical as it is parody. But, for the most part it stays on the right side of the shore, as many moments on the heat-soaked beach truly shine.

Forget McConaissance, it’s time for the Shyamasurgence – a true rejuvenation of original, silly big-screen entertainment. Perhaps the most typically Shyamalan film of all – the good, the bad and the cameo.

As Shyamalan as it gets – for better and for worse. Whose up for some dumb fun in the sun?

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My Little Pony: A New Generation

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Like many cinematic universes so called phases, My Little Pony has come in stages. My Little Pony: A New Generation is the latest adventure based on Hasbro’s toy range created over 35 years ago. Its become one of the company’s biggest brands on toy shelves around the world, so with this latest interpretation of the franchise now in its fifth generation takes off as a fully CGI standalone film on Netflix. 



Set in the same world and years after the events of the Friendship is Magic series, A New Generation shows that Earth ponies, Unicorns, and Pegasi all live in fear of each other. But one earth pony Sunny voiced by Vanessa Hudgens has been raised differently and believes that the different species can be trusted, and she wants to build bridges so that they can all be friends again. However when a young unicorn, Izzy (Kimiko Glenn) , turns up in Maretime Bay, Sunny helps her escape. Going against her community, including childhood-friends-turned- local-law-enforcement Hitch (James Marsden) and Sprout (Ken Jeong), Sunny sets out with Izzy to contact the Pegasus community. There, they befriend Princess Zipp (Liza Koshy) and Pipp (Sofia Carson) and start to unravel the story behind the separation of the various pony communities. 

© 2021 Hasbro, Inc.

The new generation of Ponies set out on an adventure to prove that friendship is for every pony. this is my introduction to the franchise which seems to be a new renaissance for My Little Pony, but all jokes aside it truly was a lot of fun. It’s full of colour and positivity with themes of overcoming your fears and overall the powerful magic of friendship. You could also easily see the political messages in this film, however the target audience aka the young viewers will skip past that and enjoy the sweet characters and sparkly tone and songs featured in the film. 

Speaking of music, many of the songs find parallels with real life as the New Generation characters sing about welcoming others rather than building walls as a marching mob of ponies brainlessly out of fear follow their leader. Another aspect shows how a sheriff’s badge creates an unhealthy power dynamic. The film never gets too heavy as we are in Equestria, with its visually rich magical settings, heart and humour and great music. 

The star-studded voice cast truly bring these ponies alive. Vanessa Hudgens, Kimiko Glenn, James Marsden, Sofia Carson, Liza Koshy, Elizabeth Perkins, Jane Krakowski, Phil LaMarr, Michael McKean and Ken Jeong make up an impressive cast that performs a variety of songs ranging from edgy rock tunes to full on Broadway showstoppers. 

© 2021 Hasbro, Inc.

The animation is magical as the filmmakers have brought these Ponies into the CG world for the first time. They have built a colourful and modern take as each pony is given the same amount of care, making them look unique from one another, they’re very expressive thanks to the animators.



There’s tons of details that make the film aesthetically pleasing, such as the gold marbled city where the pegasus’ live to the old lighthouse that’s home to Sunny overlooking Maretime Bay. It’s also filled to the brim with product placements but with a pony twist. For example the film advertises Judgment Neigh, complete with an Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator inspired unicorn.

© 2021 Hasbro, Inc.

My Little Pony: A New Generation is surprisingly pleasing to the eyes and young children no doubt will especially enjoy it.

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Dear Evan Hansen | Review

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In the space of just 2 films, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Wonder, Stephen Chbosky has shown just how great a grasp he has on the minds of the young. He tackled big issues of mental health and self-acceptance in both of these films and now he’s back with another film about anxiety and mental health issues, this time in the form of an adaptation of the Broadway phenomenon Dear Evan Hansen.



Despite being 27 years old, Ben Platt plays 17-year-old Evan Hansen as he did in the original Broadway production. Evan is a high schooler with social anxiety that unintentionally ends up getting tangled in a web of lies after the suicide of one of his classmates Connor. Connor’s parents mistakenly think a letter that Evan wrote to himself (and addressed ‘Dear Evan Hansen’) was their son’s suicide note.

One of the problems with Dear Evan Hansen as a film is this problematic plot. Having not seen the original stage production I can’t comment on if the show also has this problem but there’s something about this plot that just doesn’t sit right. And the more I think about it, the worse it seems to get. A huge part of the plot is that Evan lies about being friends with a boy who just committed suicide and essentially deceives the grieving family members. This just doesn’t feel right, nor does it feel like this should be a character that we’re meant to side with. There is a bit more to it in the film and it makes sense why Evan goes down this route within the context of the film, but it’s not entirely dealt with in the best manner.

In fact, everything to do with anxiety and mental health issues in Dear Evan Hansen is quite on the nose and not particularly nuanced which is very surprising given the film’s director. Unfortunately, the problematic story seems to lead the way for much of the film’s issues. However, whilst watching the films these problems never felt like they were at the forefront of my mind and I did enjoy watching the film for almost all of its entirely overlong 2 hours and 17 minute runtime, but it’s only afterwards that it leaves a bit of a sour taste in the mouth and the problems start to shine through a bit more.

The film tries to tackle big, but important issues surrounding anxiety in teenagers and suicide, but it struggles to achieve this. Connor’s suicide is washed over in order to focus on Evan’s character but even Evan’s anxiety isn’t handled well and it seems to disappear every time the film is in need of another musical number. The music however is one of the highlights of the film. Some of the songs, in particular some of the more well-known ones from the play, including “You Will Be Found” and “Waving Through a Window” are excellent and really stir up strong emotions inside you, making Dear Evan Hansen an entertaining watch.

As well as the music, the cast are excellent too. Once you see past the fact that Ben Platt doesn’t look like a teenager, you can accept his excellent performance. He sings the songs to perfection and has really nailed the character after all these years of playing Evan Hansen. Of the supporting cast Kaitlyn Dever shines as Connor’s sister Zoe and Julianne Moore is excellent in the role of Evan’s mother. Amy Adams, Danny Pino and Amandla Stenberg help to round off the supporting cast, all putting in worthy performances.

Beyond the plot there are some problems on the technical side with the editing being a little jarring at times but the biggest issue Dear Evan Hansen is faced with is the melodramatic, manipulative and sappy plot that just doesn’t strike the chord it’s trying to. Its heart is in the right place and Chbosky very nearly had another fantastic exploration of mental health amongst teenagers but unfortunately, he doesn’t quite hit the mark this time.



Dear Evan Hansen is an entertaining watch with exciting musical numbers and great performances however upon greater reflection, the story is a complete mess. Certain emotional beats really hit you hard and provide the emotional depth that we’ve come to expect from Stephen Chbosky’s work and the final 45 minutes do redeem the film greatly. But a film about-and this is a slight oversimplification of events- a film about a teenager lying to a grieving family about being friends with their son who’s committed suicide is never going to end well and really isn’t handled with much nuance or sophistication, and ultimately the end result leaves you let down and wanting better despite the uplifiting and joyous songs.

Dear Evan Hansen is released in US cinemas on September 24th and UK cinemas on October 22nd

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Dune – Movie Review | Venice Film Festival Review

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Before we get started. Word of Advice: See it in IMAX! That’s all.

This was the big one. Literally. Out of all the films at Venice, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune was indisputably the big ticket film on this years festival. Not only in terms of (IMAX) size, scale, scope and star-power but also in terms of how much hangs in the balance.



Many have tried before to adapt Frank Herberts’s renowned sci-fi novel before with varying degrees of success. But if anyone seemed like the right fit to take on Herbert’s space epic and do it justice, it was Denis Villeneuve. The man’s CV speaks for itself, with recent sci-fi gems like Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 under his belt. But with Villeneuve’s decision to split the acclaimed novel into 2 parts and Warner Bros controversial decision to release the film both in cinemas and on HBO Max at the same time. Many were worried (myself included) that we might see another repeat of what happened to Blade Runner 2049 – raved by critics but poor box office performance. Will Villeneuve’s blend of mainstream grandeur and artistic integrity render Dune part 2 doomed to exist?

Well, fear not. After an uproarious response from critics and cinemagoers at Venice and TIFF. I would bet my first born child that Villeneuve will get to see his vision come to fruition with Part 2. People would riot if he didn’t because the film is simply too damn good. Warner Brothers have offically stated that as as long as Dune’s numbers are strong on HBO Max then part 2 will be green-lit regardless of box office numbers.

I can only imagine what a relief that must feel to the die-hard Dune fans but for someone like myself who had zero knowledge of the books and previous adaptations going into Dune, I too am beyond ecstatic to know I’ll get to see how part 2 will play out.

The added benefit of never having read the book or having seen David Lynch’s 1984 version or the early 2000’s TV series, is I had no preexisting knowledge or expectations for Villeneuve’s film. I had nothing to compare it too so I could go in as a blank slate and judge objectively for myself.

I will admit after reading the synopsis, I was worried that a story so vast as this would be a challenge for me to keep up. Thankfully that was not the case. Not once did I feel lost watching Dune. The exposition is handled extremely well. Villeneuve has taken newcomers by the hand and explained the universe in a way that is very easy to digest. So those worrying it might not be accessible to all audiences – if I can keep up with it, then anyone can.

The year is 10191. Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Issac) of Calden is tasked by the emporer with the stewardship of the deadly desert planet of Arrakis (also known as Dune). Arrakis is home to the most valuable resource in the universe known as spice which can extend a human life span and is the key to space travel. So naturally, whoever holds Arrakis holds the power.

Leto intends to mine the planet for spice but he also takes his Concubine Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and son Paul (Timothée Chalamet) down to Arrakis in hopes of teaching his son how to become the leader he needs to be. By forging an alliance with the native inhabitants of Arrakis known as Fremen his people will know peace and prosperity when Paul becomes Duke.



However, when house Atreides learns of a spy within their rankings Lady Jessica and Paul must venture into the Arrakis desert to find the Fremen for help. Which is no small task as the desert lands are populated by 400m-long burrowing, man-eating Sandworms.

Villeneuve certainly sets the stage for bigger things to come in part 2 but despite being only one half of the story, part 1 completely works as a standalone film.

The praise knows no bound for this film. Every department harmonises succinctly with the next.

The casting alone – while admittedly it’s a tad boastful in it’s star-studded lineup but truly, everybody is exceptional. To go through the cast and effusively sing their praises one-by-one would be a waste of a word-count, so I’ll say everyone fits their role like a glove but I’ll call special mention to a few.

Timothée Chalamet has been a star for years but Dune just solidifies the fact he will be gracing our screens as a leading man for decades to come. As Paul he finds just the right balance of boyish naivety and inner strength. Thanks to his Concubine mother’s lineage, Paul has gifts such as prophetic dreams and mind manipulation but he’s not quite mastered them yet. But where the film leaves us with Paul is tantalisingly teasing.

Rebecca Ferguson does most of the emotional heavy-lifting as Lady Jessica. A mother role that’s pleasantly full of surprises. Ferguson shines here. If the Academy weren’t so genre-biased towards sci-fi I would say she is worthy of best supporting actress nomination.

Many were concerned due to the early trailer footage of Jason Momoa, that he would be coasting on his Aquaman charisma but his Duncan is sincerely heartfelt.

And Stellan Skarsgård is frighteningly good as Baron Harkonnen. He might be caked in makeup and buried in a fat-suit but his stunning performance beams through.

On the technical side, every single department hits the bullseye. There’s a visible fusion of Eastern inspiration between Patrice Vermette’s production design, Bob Morgan and Jacqueline West’s costumes and Greig Fraser’s cinematography. They all should be receiving Oscar nominations next year.

But not only do Villeneuve’s dazzling visuals cascade off the screen. They’re complimented perfectly by Hans Zimmer’s immaculate score. For the past decade Zimmer has been synonymous with the Bwom-heavy soundtracks of the Tenties thanks to his game-changing score for Inception. Now he will be known as the man who pulled off the impossible; the man who made bloody bagpipes sound epic as fuck. For real. His majestic score is nothing short of astonishing.

One really has to go searching for faults with Dune and the only thing that might be concerning to some viewers is Dune is not a particularly funny film. The two humorous lines from the trailers are essentially all you get in terms of comedic relief. But I personally found the lack of snarky Marvel-esque humour refreshing. The truth is, the film simply doesn’t need it – not when the characters are this interesting and the world building is so immersive. Villeneuve’s preference to shoot as much on location rather than green screen sound-stages helps to make Dune one of the most transportive films of late memory. You can practically feel the Arrakis sand beneath your feet.




Dune is the reason we go to the cinema. It’s movies like this which is why I do what I do – to get lost and absorbed in story. Many considered the source material unadaptable for the big screen but in the hands of Denis Villeneuve, he’s truly made the impossible possible. Much like what Peter Jackson did with The Lord of the Rings, Villeneuve has made a film for the fanboys (and the critics) but he’s also made it completely accessible to newcomers. Dune is cinema at its most ambitious, boldest and most beautiful.

Dune is having a staggered worldwide release over late September and October. It will be available on HBO Max regionally as the same time as cinemas. But please, I cannot stress this enough; go see Dune in the cinema. IMAX if possible. THIS IS CINEMA! No home theatre system can do this film justice.

For more of Luke’s coverage from the Venice Film Festival be sure to check out his YouTube Channel.

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