#justwatched Moana (2016. dir Ron Clements and John Musker)

(Moana, 2016 – Walt Disney Animation)

With the Disney Companies’ cinematic output growing year on year, it is not a suprise that every film does not hold up to the Disney Guarantee of great groundbreaking entertainment with emotional stories that connect to a universal audience. Yet in terms of consistency, Disney Animation seems to be walking down the right path currently providing a wave of bold, thoughtful stories that conjure up the feeling of the Disney I grew up with from the 90s on VHS. Moana is another marker of poof to state that Disney is now back on top form after a messy period in the early 2000s when the studio didn’t know how to compete with Pixars computer animation efforts. Moana is exceptional in its excecution, it’s a vibrant portrayal of polynesian myths and folk tales brilliantly imagined by directors Ron Clements and John Musker, who were already previously determined legends of the Disney Empire due to films such as The Little Mermaid (1989) and Basil The Great Mouse Detective (1986).

I was suprised by the delicacy present in the film in the handling of someone elses culture, but the behind the scenes extras demonstrated the time and effort gone into making the feature animation, as well as how many people from that culture were invited to be involved in the process from start to finish. The Walt Disney Company has not always had the best attempts at authentic representations, nor have they always been careful with cultural sensivity. Films such as Songs of the South (1946) stand as evidence at the companies downfall, which Disney has never released from its vault due to the inclusion of problematic portayals of race. In contrast, the current set of films are a postive change. Moana isn’t the first film set in this enviroment, however Lilo and Stich (2002) didn’t include the ideas myths and stories told by the islands ancestors. Moana’s plot demanded more and it thankfully Disney went out, made the effort and got it.

The animation follows the self-titled Moana as she attempts to resist the ocean for her father’s sake as it beckons her heart. In the familar Disney way, Moana defies her fathers word out of curiosity and passion, embarking on a quest to meet demigod Maui to replace the heart of Te Fiti, which Maui previously stole for the humans. Moana is voiced effortlessly by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho, who was cast from Hawaii itself. Dwayne Johnson sucessfully embodies the cocky yet fractured soul of Maui. There is only one weak moment as the song “Shiny” begins, while good it doesnt fit into the tapestry of the film very well.

The best moments ofcourse do coem from the music, Moana has some of the best songs and pieces of score I’ve heard since the likes of Tarzan and Hercules, although its a shame the film will live in the shadow of Frozen, when the film deserved a bigger reception than it recieved. And do yourself a great favour, watch the film on bluray, animated water has never looked so perfect.

Kong: Skull Island (Vogt-Roberts 2017) – Review For Rushes Magazine

(Kong: Skull Island, 2017)

Warner Bros. Studios chooses universe over plot.

By Harry Faint

 

A large burnt orange sunset is a recurring image in Kong: Skull Island, the latest Monster flick in the soon to be monster-verse from Warner Bros. Studios. While this is one of many cinematic nods to the Vietnam War, (another being the iconic silhouetted helicopters reminiscent of Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979)) the sun functions also by illuminating the visceral green, beautiful landscape of Skull Island in a timeless yellow hue, a land untouched by man – a rare image.

However, this hidden beauty is frequently punctured with unimaginable bloody violence, a stark difference to Kong’s previous endeavours on screen. The Vietnam War setting of the film is a refreshing change, allowing characters such as Samuel L. Jackson’s Preston Packard to embody the anxiety and loss felt after a war, unsure of who he is any more, stuck in the mindset of conflict. Tom Hiddleston slots into the typical hero role expected in these films, his introduction unsuccessfully avoids cliché as he fights a group of men in a bar with a pool cue with choreographed ease. Brie Larson is the landing party’s anti-war photographer who is inevitably the focus of Kong’s massive eyes.

While the visual splendour of the island and its prehistoric inhabitants are enticing, the plot of the film never amounts to anything of significant worth. The two groups separated by Kong’s initial, well-placed rage spend the film trying to reunite and reach the other side of the island for rescue. As per usual in “Monster” films, the giant beast is not the antagonist of the piece but humanity’s quest for dominance is, expressed through Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman’s characters. As ever, nature fights back.

The lack of plot leaves the film to be driven by action alone, demoting the film to the level of cinematic insanity equated to films such as Sharknado (2013) and Mega Snake (2007). The films redeeming factors include the not-so-subtle nod to Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980) as the spiders camouflaged bamboo leg pierces the throat of a solider without warning, as well as the slow motion sequences which avoid feeling overused as they always serve a purpose, highlighting the scale of the action and drawing attention to visually evocative moments without feeling unnatural.

James Mangold’s Logan (2017) was recently commended for being a successful film for not having to serve a grander narrative and cinematic universe. Sadly, this enterprise is detrimental to most blockbuster films in 2017, and Kong is no exception.

 

Find this review and other reviews at rushesmagazine.co.uk

#justwatched Gog (1954. dir. Herbert L. Strock)

(Gog, 1954 – Ivan Tors Productions)

Gog was one of the funniest films I saw at Berlinale Film Festival last week. It’s a film with obvious flaws that it makes no effort to hide, with laughable writing and intrinsic sexism throughout. These flaws may have developed as the time has passed and views have developed and progressed. But, these problems come together as a sort of historical time capsule allowing us to look back at a precise moment in American history, even in American independent productions. It was one of the first set of films produced in 3D, and although the camera moves are gimmicky, it is impressive to see such an early example of this format. Ignoring all the films issues, the plot is well paced and enjoyable, even if the acting is ridiculous and dated.

The film’s opening is effective at creating suspense. Two research scientists are trapped and killed in succession in a cryo-chamber, where they are frozen to death (we learn later that they shatter into little pieces though this graphic image is not shown.What makes their deaths humorous is the windscreen wiper between the lab and the chamber that constantly moves, which makes for a entertaining visual in 3D spectacle but damages the seriousness of the situation. As ever, the handsome american hero turns up to investigate the deaths as more and more scientists perish, some by means of a centrifuge experiment, and some by loud noises. Turns out (shocker…) the mainframe computer NOVAC is responsible, a la HAL, a la Vicky. Science Fiction Cinema hasn’t evolved much in terms of embodying humanities response to the threat of Artificial Intelligence. If the film wasn’t sexist enough, discussions of the “weaker sex” and the female lead fainting in the final battle tip it over the edge. Don’t worry though, she only suffered from radiation poisoning, and at least (according to Richard Egan’s David Sheppard) she still looks radiant.

Though the film  is named after Gog, the robot really have any screen time at all until he goes on a pathetic rampage that the film’s heroes have a great deal of trouble with in the film’s last act. He is silent and has 5 crazy arms, and a flame thrower which looks more for show than to maim, and yes you can see the strings. It’s just another nail in the coffin, an entertaining one at that.

It has made me ambitious about my further study though.

The Lego Batman Movie (McKay, 2017) – Review for Rushes Magazine

(The Lego Batman Movie, 2017)

Batman’s triumphant return to fun – finally.

By Harry Faint

It has only been a year since Batman last appeared on the big screen in some form, but a lot has changed within our real world. In a previous endeavour into adapting the Batman story, director Christopher Nolan strived to blur the lines between our reality and the fictional crime dystopia of Gotham City, producing the sleek, less superhero more crime thriller The Dark Knight (2008). While Heath Ledger’s unhinged Joker is sorely missed, The Lego Batman Movie marks a welcomed return back to the outlandish otherworldly Gotham City, in this comically intuitive caper.

In this brick-built incarnation, Batman is voiced by Will Arnett, whose selfish, bold dark knight previously proved deserving of his own film in The Lego Movie (2014). In this film he continues his tradition of working entirely in solidarity against multiple villains, some iconic and well known, and some altogether ridiculous, drawing on the extensive vault of villains, epitomized by the doleful The Condiment King. His singular living circumstance is challenged through various avenues; by the arrival of big eyed Dick Grayson, voiced by the whimsical and inquisitive Michel Cera, by the Joker’s longing for the confirmation of their relationship, and by the request to work together with Barbara Gordon, the city’s newest Police Commissioner. As ever, chaos and hilarity ensues.

This is a film that is laden with intertextual references, in-jokes, and an onslaught of quick-witted lines aimed to poke fun at Batman’s own shaky history in literature and media – and every joke hits in succession. The film carefully treads the line of doing too much too quickly both visually and through storytelling. On paper the decision to stray outside the already rich universe of DC sounds like nonsense; the inclusion of hundreds of pop culture villains from Lord Voldemort to the Daleks would give the impression of information overload. Yet, this entwining of popular characters and worlds made The Lego Movie so enticing, and this is no different here. The story, though incomparably wild, is completely coherent. The non-stop extravaganza of film and television characters makes nothing but sense to this colourful tale. It is enriching. It simply works and the risk pays off yet again.

In addition to this, Batman in this version seems at his most human, most emotionally exposed and ‘real’ even though he is made of nothing but molded plastic and remains masked throughout the majority of the films events. The surrogate father-son relationship with Alfred the Butler (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) is both humorous and touching while driving the plot early on. Even though the film does not quite manage to reach the unexpected emotional poignancy of The Lego Movie, something not seen since the release of Pixar’s feature debut Toy Story (1995), the film makes up for this with an endless ride of thrilling fun and can easily be forgiven.

 

Find it here, and take a look at the many other great pieces.

#justwatched Moon (2009 dir. Duncan Jones)

(Moon, 2009 – Sony Pictures Classics)

Last week I got the chance to watch Moon (2009) , Duncan Jones’ gutsy directorial debut. Moon is one of those films that I will always return to watch, especially when I’m in dismay with current Science Fiction cinema, which luckily seems to be improving over the years since with films like Under The Skin (Glazer 2013) and Midnight Special (Nichols 2016).

Sam Rockwell’s performance is understated and subtle but this does not tarnish the power he holds when on screen. The world futuristic yet tangible, helped by the real set and the use of models in lieu of overuse of CGI. Duncan Jones alluded to the several homages throughout the film in the Q&A that took place after the film, to other science fiction classics. Sometimes this can lead to producing fog around the narrative thread, but I think Moon avoids this as the story is such a unique blend of complex simplicity that it becomes it’s own thing, a new classic.

It’s audaciously emotional, thought-provoking and does what science fiction cinema should do, reflect humanity. It explores the traffic jam of the future, not just the car. I am looking forward to Mute, Jones’ upcoming Netflix series.

Gerty (Kevin Spacey) also always gets me excited for my future direction of study…

#justwatched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016 dir. David Yates).

(Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, 2016 – Warner Bros.)

I must admit that I am not the biggest fan of the Harry Potter film series nor the books. This might have something to do with the fact I haven’t read all the books, a task I am currently undertaking thanks to being given the audio books over the summer. I’m currently on book four and it is quite evident that while the films were a success critically and received warmly by fans worldwide, the films struggle to capture the wealth of information and the world that J.K Rowling puts on paper, reading the books is a much more rewarding experience. I feel that the films do the best that they can though, with a book of this nature being extremely difficult to adapt and please everyone. This issue led to me being quite negative on the announcement of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, from the knowledge that spin-offs rarely work and manage to capture what was previously successful while becoming their own thing. This may stem from being scarred forever by that one episode of Joey I watched. Though, in this occasion I have been proven wrong.

It is not to say that the film doesn’t have flaws, but I became intoxicated in the story – more so than any of the 8 Novel adaptions.This is because the film isn’t tied to any source material and doesn’t suffer the loss of insignificant details which somehow boost the whole narrative. By skipping the novel stage Rowling has been able to flesh out this story into something remarkable, something that works as a film because it is written first as a screenplay. The film’s narrative is also not restricted to the format of a school year, the cast is not massive (not a school of characters) and this makes for the opportunity to flesh out major characters more, and not risk annoying fans by omitting particular characters or combining two characters into one . Of course, the film does benefit from being in the same wizarding world, but it doesn’t rely on this fact. The opening Warner Bros. title is instantly recognisable in partnership with John William’s iconic leitmotif, but the score suddenly swings into its own thing as if to signify a departure from the existing series – a really clever use of music by James Newton Howard. Director David Yates trusting partnership with Rowling seems to have been beneficial in approaching a new story in a world he is already comfortable in.

Some silly things to happen though. 50 percent of the film mad Michael Bay-esque building destruction, another ten percent is building restoration. These moments are necessary, but overused sadly, as if to provide an argument for the large CGI budget I presume. I personally don’t like Eddie Redmayne’s method of acting, though this socially awkward charm seems to fit the character well in this instance. The rest of the leads are strong and unique, building to an emotional ending which really holds a great pay off. The nods to the books are subtle and rewarding when spotted, but get the balance just right along side new material. The narrative is cleverly referring to the Salem Witch trials and other events which provide the whole film with a greater punch, much like how American Horror Story uses real events. It is rare for me to come out of a film of this manner having had such a good experience, but for me Fantastic Beasts seems to be hitting the right notes. I would not call it a prequel, it is its own thing to enjoy. I look forward to watching it again and seeing what comes next – and I love the fact the next chapter does not already exist in book form.

#justwatched Krampus (2015 dir. Michael Dougherty)

(Krampus, 2015 – Legendary Pictures)

I’ve been itching to watch this film for a good while, quite simply for its use of practical effects and I love the Christmas/horror blend trend. It’s a fun ride with some good moments, though I was disappointed because the trailer made it seem a lot (and I mean a lot) more darker and scarier, but the film didn’t hold up to that. Sure there were some big moments, the sets are incredible and clever but the tension is not present. This could be down to the fact that I am used to the cast being in comedy shows such as Parks and Rec and The Office. I was saddened that the titular creature is revealed so soon, while the back story is placed strangely in the third act, which almost disturbs the flow. Though the ending is really good and clever, the pace just doesn’t provide the right kick.

I liked it – though American Dad told the Krampus tale better. I hope the Halloween Horror Nights Maze returns to Universal Florida next year so I can walk through it, it looked so great this October.

#justwatched The Holiday (2006 dir. Nancy Meyers)

(The Holiday, 2006 – Sony Pictures)

The Holiday is no way near a great piece of cinema, its narrative is flawed quite significantly with potholes here and there, and yet as Christmas comes closer and the same pool of films and songs are unlocked from their yearly slumber – The Holiday is strongly becoming one that demands a repeat watch. One of my favourite things about this film is the score, it is now unusual for Hans Zimmer to work on a score of this tone, and it is one of the most whimsical and uplifting works which is pierced with emotional depth. Of course the film is littered with Christmas songs, Cameron Diaz even sings along to the Killers in a scene thats unashambly noughties. The plot is thin, uncomplicated but what more do you need at christmas. Though there are better Christmas films, no other film has Jack Black singing film scores, Jude Law with a Napkin face, Cameron Diaz driving down a country lane. If you allow as bypass of analytical scrutiny, add a glass of mulled wine and some good company, it bookends a difficult year nicely with warmth and a handful of cringey moments.

In fact, I love how this film explores the role of a film composer if not briefly, Jack Blacks passion for score aligns with mine, score is more meaningful to me than song.

#justwatched Aliens LIVE (1986 dir. James Cameron)

(Aliens, 1986 – 20th Century Fox)

On Sunday afternoon I was lucky enough to watch Aliens Live at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Live meaning that Ludwig Wicki and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra played the score in the flesh. I was somewhat anxious of how this was going to play out. The score, sound effects and dialogue are all mixed in post production and I was aware that the score (and the fact it was played live) could possibly drown dialogue and effects but I was happy to see a mixer at the back of the auditorium, to mix the live score in and out.

Now James Horner’s lifetime of work doesn’t hold catchy and iconic film music in the same manner of John Williams and Hans Zimmer among others. I think that Horner’s scores are much more subtle in their execution, which is exactly the case for Aliens. The score isn’t complicated, isn’t tied down to multiple leitmotifs and therefore isn’t one of the soundtracks I listen to in isolation from day to day. The score isn’t overused or relied on, the film allows for many silent moments which were highlighted through the orchestral use. I had the most fun watching the strings pierce each horrifying moment and watching the drums carry out their repetitive war march. These things I had noticed before yes, but seeing them play out before my eyes was a rewarding experience.

I will always be the one to argue Alien as superior to Aliens, but I know this is a unimportant argument really. Alien is at its core a simple, artistic horror. But Aliens is something quite different, it’s action. It embodies the tone of war films, builds great action that contrasts to the Alien’s horror based nature. From one Alien stalking a ship’s crew, to thousands of aliens in a war zone. It’s less about not knowing where the alien is, and more about the overwhelming nature of the relentless creature and their life cycle.

In that sense, Aliens starts out cleverly. The first 5 minutes of the film feel very much Ridley Scott’s. The camera movement is the same, the score is in the manner of Jerry Goldsmith’s first score. It’s James Cameron taking the audience who know the first film, giving them a bit of what they expect and then quickly changing course, and paving new ground. The score does this too. In the first film, dialogue and sound effects are used to build the big fearful moments, in Aliens the big moments are without much dialogue but are led by James Horner’s score.

It was one hell of an experience. The auditorium is just one of the nicest places to be in for both its history and acoustics. Though it was not meant to happen, I could hear occasional sound effects being reflecting around the hall. The couple who shared our box bought us wine. It was a great communal experience, it felt like how every big film of that stature should be treated. The audience was vital to this, each comedic punch from Hudson was well received by laughter across the hall. There were moments when the score was so powerful it made you wince, perfectly matched to scenes full of terror.

Yes, I’m a little bit gutted I went to the 3pm showing over the 7pm showing, as Sigourney Weaver and James Cameron showed up, but it was still one of the best cinema experiences of my life (so far).

14907004_10154759157922375_1025082483613774984_n.jpg

 

#justwatched Chicken (2016, dir. Joe Stephenson)

(Chicken, 2016 – B Good Picture Company)

It’s a rare pleasure to walk into a cinema and not know anything about what you’re about to experience. I seldom manage to avoid trailers, plot lines nor manage to ignore my curious mind that longs to know every inch of material available. Chicken allowed me this, I knew nothing more than what the poster told me, a adolescent boy and a caravan. I’ve come out emotionally drained yet better for the experience.

What strikes me initially about Chicken is its clever handling of really harsh and difficult topics. Representation is important, though films that attempt to represent minorities seem to often draw in high scrutiny. It’s vital to be truthful, honest and do justice to people’s lives. It’s something that this film does seemingly with ease, especially through Scott Chambers’ flawless characterisation. Even better that the film doesn’t dwell on the matter of the character’s learning difficulties, it’s only one level of his complex character. It’s the relationship with his brother (Morgan Watkins) and his budding friendship with Yasmine Page’s Annabel that is the crux of the story.

This is what is frustrating about the majority of minority representation in cinema and television, they define the character by their sexuality, race etc. While films like Milk are great and food for thought, the best instances of representation in my book are non-tokening. Luckily this seems to be getting better as companies take more responsibility in what they produce. This is the main feeling i’ve come away with after seeing Chicken. It’s fantastic because the characters are so complexly human. The villain of the piece isn’t mindless, he has emotional depth that is quite shockingly revealed in the third act, through this moment he is humanised. Even Annabel has a clear arch in character, rather than just as a tool to forward narrative. It’s one of my favourite things about this type of independent British film; small story, enclosed world yet a cinematic scale. Having a small cast in a feature gives you time to really understand each character, it gives actors time to portray every inch of that characters’ soul. Chicken isn’t emotionally shy, it relentlessly punches in the third act after a somewhat easy going beginning, although it does this without saying too much. Every moment is thoughtfully placed by director Joe Stephenson. Each hit is perfectly necessary and equally hard hitting. Less is more.