Movie Review – Strange Magic

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Director :  Gary Rydstrom
Year Of Release :   2015
Principal Cast :  Voices of Evan Rachel Wood, Alan Cumming, Kristen Chenoweth, Maya Rudolph, Alfred Molina, Elijah Kelley, Maredith Anne Bull, Sam Palladio, Bob Einstein, Peter Stormare, Kevin Michael Richardson.
Approx Running Time :   99 Minutes
Synopsis:   Goblins, elves, fairies and imps, and their misadventures sparked by the battle over a powerful potion.

******

As a legendary sound designer, Gary Rydstrom makes a very average director. I’ve admired Rydstrom’s career from afar, from his earliest days at Lucasfilm through Pixar’s heyday and beyond, and hold him in high regard as one of the best in the business of mixing film soundtracks. But his sophomore feature, Strange Magic, displays a weird vibe and confusing tone that suffocates joy and barbarises entertainment. Ostensibly a love-child of George Lucas’ imagination, Strange Magic appropriates Shakespeare’s Midsummer Nights’ Dream and gives us singing, dancing, flying fairies, elves, goblins and other mythological ephemera in a bizarre mix of Tinker-Bell via Moulin Rouge grasping towards Lord Of The Rings. If you’d described this film to me before I’d seen it I’d be interested in what it proposed, but the execution of the film is muddled, tepid, and often inscrutably dull as it gapes towards uncanny valley.

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Movie Review – Hail, Caesar!

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Director :  Joel + Ethan Coen
Year Of Release :   2016
Principal Cast :  George Clooney, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Feinnes, Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Channing Tatum, Alison Pill, Veronica Osorio, Emily Beecham, Heather Goldenhersh, Wayne Knight, David Krumholtz, Fisher Stevens, Clancy Brown, Robert Picardo, Christopher Lambert, John Bluthal, Dolph Lundgren.
Approx Running Time :  106 Minutes
Synopsis:  A Hollywood fixer in the 1950s works to keep the studio’s stars in line.

*****

I had a damn fun time with this picture. Admittedly, by choice of hobby I’m acclimated to the sensibilities of Hail Caesar, the latest film from cult directorial superstars Joel and Ethan Coen (O Brother Where Art Thou, Fargo, Barton Fink, Burn After Reading, No Country For Old Men, True Grit) which sees them delve into the period following Hollywood’s “golden age” with their asymmetric wit and sense of sublime peculiarity. Led by a terrific Josh Brolin – who’s having something of a career resurgence of late – and co-starring a high octane ensemble of modern Hollywood’s brightest stars. At times hilarious, at times superbly technical, and altogether a charming, effortlessly entertaining film, Hail Caesar probably won’t find itself among the elite of the Coen’s filmography at the end but it’s exactly the type of inward-looking project Hollywood always does well – an industry in love with itself will always provide quality when depicting themselves, and Hail Caesar is right up to snuff.

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The Top 10 Death Scenes in Modern Cinema

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Whether they thrill you, shock you or move you to tears, there’s no denying the power of death on the big 50 foot cinema screen in front of you. From “the shower scene” in Psycho to Forrest Gump’s teary goodbye to Jenny whilst standing over her grave, death is often used by film-makers as a powerful storytelling technique – although it must be said that some are better at it than others. This list attempts to rank the best death scenes in recent cinema history – from about 1980 onwards – in an overall system of effectiveness to the film.

Movie Review – Finding Dory

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Director :   Andrew Stanton
Year Of Release :   2016
Principal Cast :  Voices of Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brookes, Ed O’Neil, Hayden Rolence, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, Kailtin Olson, Ty Burrell, Idris Elba, Dominic West, Bob Peterson, Andrew Stanton, Sigourney Weaver.
Approx Running Time :   103 Minutes
Synopsis:   Marlin and Nemo must embark on a search for the amnesiac Dory after she goes off in search of her long-lost parents.

*******

It still staggers me to think that Finding Nemo was only Pixar’s fifth theatrical release. The in-its-infancy studio was delivering instant classics with every film it produced; cut forward to 2016, and the sequel, Finding Dory, has just as much heart and soul, but, somewhat sadly, lacks the pop-culture savvy of its predecessor. Sequels are a hugely problematic issue for studios looking to cash in on successful IP’s, if not at the box office then certainly from a creative standpoint, and with the exception of Cars 2, Pixar has avoided the typical drop-off in storytelling ingenuity with deftly structured, emotionally weighty plots that furthered established characters while introducing new ones. What Finding Dory might lack in outright cultural assimilation it makes up for in beautiful animation,  solid characters both old and new, and a wonderful story, all of which combine to produce a story of unbridled associative joy.

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Movie Review – Executive Decision

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Director :  Stuart Baird
Year Of Release :   1996
Principal Cast :  Kurt Russell, Steven Seagal, Halle Berry, John Leguizamo, David Suchet, Oliver Platt, Joe Morton, BD Wong, Len Cariou, Whip Hubley, Andreas Katsulas, Mary Ellen Trainor, Marla Maples Trump, JT Walsh, Nicholas Pryor, William James Jones, Richard Riehle, Charles Hallahan, Ray Baker.
Approx Running Time :  133 Minutes
Synopsis:   When terrorists seize control of an airliner, an intelligence analyst accompanies a commando unit for a midair boarding operation.

*******

Ahh, the 90’s. When every action film in the decade felt like a clone of Die Hard – this film gave us the metonym subtitle of “Die Hard On A Plane” – and is as pure and unashamedly a 90’s action flick as you’re likely to find. Made in the years surrounding Michael Bay’s The Rock, Simon West’s Con Air, John Woo’s Face/Off and a slew of other high octane militaristic action features (not to mention Steven Seagal’s successful action franchise, Under Siege), Executive Decision might lack the joie de vivre of many of that decades more successful genre films, but what it does have is a terrific cast (some of whom last the entire film, some of whom, er.. do not…) and a highly implausible, yet entirely entertaining plot that, in spite of the post-millennial terrorism fatigue we’re all suffering, remains suspenseful and masterfully told by director Stuart Baird.

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Movie Review – Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

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Director :  Akiva Schaffer + Jorma Taccone
Year Of Release :   2016
Principal Cast :  Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Imogen Poots, James Buckley, Edgar Blackmon, Bill Hader, Joan Cusack, Maya Rudolph, Will Forte, Emma Stone.
Approx Running Time :   83 Minutes
Synopsis:  When it becomes clear that his solo album is a failure, a former boy band member does everything in his power to maintain his celebrity status.

********

I won’t sugar-coat it: I loathe Justin Bieber. The fact a muppet-faced little toad can have so much talent, and then waste it on being a complete sphincter of a kid gets under my skin and makes me cringe. I’ve never shied away from my distaste for the chump, and so we see the Lonely Island crew deliver such a dead-on pastiche of all things “pop” and boy howdy does it deliver some nice laughs. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is a mockumentary around such awful fare as Bieber’s Never Say Never, with Andy Samberg portraying the bratty populist Connor Friel (aka Connor4Real, heh heh) and fellow Lonely Island members Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, who both also direct this effort, gathering an absolute goldmine of celebrity cameos (most of which I’ve not put in the cast credits above, for *spoilers*) and piecing together an often gut-busting comedic work that nails its subjects, smashes the easy targets, and perfectly captures the asinine nature of modern youth celebrity in all it’s Insta-Tweeter-Tumblr horror.

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Movie Review – Darkness, The (2016)

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Director :  Greg McLean
Year Of Release :   2016
Principal Cast :   Kevin Bacon, Radha Mitchell, Jennifer Morrison, Lucy Fry, David Mazouz, Ming-na Wen, Paul Reiser, Parker Mack, Tara Lynn Barr, Judith McDonnell.
Approx Running Time :   88 Minutes
Synopsis:   A family returns from a Grand Canyon vacation, haunted by an ancient supernatural entity they unknowingly awakened and engages them in a fight for their survival.

******

You know what’s most disappointing about The Darkness? That a film directed by Wolf Creek and Rogue helmer Greg McLean can be so generic, so gentrified as a horror film, what little tension there is is quickly snuffed out by weird editorial choices and a distinct lack of conviction in the story. Oh sure, there’s moments of spine-chilling terror, and the film’s duo of charismatic leading performances – Kevin Bacon and Radha Mitchell – do much to elevate the plot, characters and overall achievement of the movie, but the sense of familiarity within The Darkness‘ supernatural twists and turns, not to mention the overabundance of contrivance, neuter much of what may have worked well here.

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Movie Review – Allegiant

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Director :  Robert Schwentke
Year Of Release :   2016
Principal Cast :  Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Jeff Daniels, Octavia Spencer, Ray Stevenson, Zoe Kravitz, Miles Teller, Ansel Engort, Maggie Q, Ashley Judd, Bill Skarsgard, Naomi Watts, Mekhi Pfeifer, Xander Berkely.
Approx Running Time :  120 Minutes
Synopsis:   After the earth-shattering revelations of Insurgent, Tris must escape with Four beyond the wall that encircles Chicago, to finally discover the shocking truth of the world around them.

*****

The biggest question to come out of Allegiant, and by extension the entire Divergent series (of which this is the third and penultimate entry, while Ascendant, the final film, is due in 2017) is…why? Exactly why this series of popular books couldn’t make a successful transition to the big screen the way The Hunger Games had is something the Lionsgate accountants will struggle with for years to come, with Allegiant being a significant bomb for the studio also reeling from the carnage left by Alex Proyas’ turgid Gods of Egypt. As with Insurgent, I went into Allegiant without bothering to revisit the earlier films, mainly because I held very little hope that this film would improve on the gormless YA production value and plotting of past instalments enough to make me sit up and start to care. Because I don’t care about this franchise: it’s one of those carbon-copy dystopian-world young adult franchises that just keeps shitting out dual-entry concluding chapters – the decision to split the final book into two films has left Lionsgate with a big black hole of financial loss to counter when Ascendant comes out – and, let’s be honest, has tapped the well dry good and proper by this point.

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Movie Review – Runaway Train

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Director :   Andrei Konchalovshy
Year Of Release :   1985
Principal Cast :  Jon Voight, Eric Roberts, Rebecca DeMornay, Kyle T Heffner, John P Ryan, TK Carter, Kenneth McMillan, Stacey Pickren, Walter Wyatt, Edward Bunker, John Bloom, Danny Trejo, Tiny Lister, Dennis Franz (uncredited).
Approx Running Time :   111 Minutes
Synopsis:  Two escaped convicts and a female railway worker find themselves trapped on a train with no brakes and nobody driving.

******

Runaway Train is so unashamedly 80’s, you can almost taste the testosterone they used to develop the film stock during production. As muscular and brainless an action film the era ever produced, it’s a film so manly-man driven by adrenaline and confounding hilarity (in a B-movie fun way, that is) you can help but find yourself grinning like an imbecile with just how silly it all is. Sure, there’s better “escaped convicts on the run” films out there, but this ain’t O Brother Where Art Thou by a long shot. This is your archetypal winterbound thriller, an electrified ticking-clock of thundering steel and iron blasting through the snowy Alaskan landscape with gritty, overacted characters and a potboiler plot delivering cheesy action and – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – a duo of Oscar nominated performances from Voight and co-star Eric Roberts. Yeah, Eric Roberts.

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