SUPERMAN: RED SON (2020) review

Onward (Walt Disney/Pixar)

ONWARD (2020) review

Onward hits cinemas on March 6, 2020.

Synopsis

Set in a suburban fantasy world, Disney and Pixar’s ‘Onward’ introduces two teenage elf brothers (voices of Chris Pratt and Tom Holland) who embark on an extraordinary quest to discover if there is still a little magic left out there. Pixar Animation Studios’ all-new original feature film is directed by Dan Scanlon and produced by Kori Rae – the team behind ‘Monsters University.’

Review

I have to hold my hands up and admit that prior to seeing this film I did not have a huge awareness of its presence. Onward had somehow managed to sneak by me in a way it thankfully hadn’t for the younger members of the audience who attended a screening I was recently at.

I have an acute awareness with films like this that I am no longer in the target market. So I hugely appreciate watching these films alongside a younger audience to allow me to gage how it lands with its actual demographic.

Having said that there were a couple of moments during Onward at which I felt choked up by it’s touching and honest storyline.

The film stars Tom Holland (the current Spider-Man for the uninitiated) and Chris Pratt (the guy all your kids want to cosplay as from Guardians of the Galaxy) as brothers Ian and Barley. Raised by their mother from a young age, only Barely has memories of their father but when Ian’s sixteenth birthday rolls around they’re given an unexpected gift.

Writer/director Dan Scanlon is very honest in his portrayal of loss for the boys. Both are impacted by the loss in different ways and it’s refreshing to see the topic of parental loss handled in this manner. The writing portrays a delicate balance between a realist portrayal of loss and the surrealist world which the characters inhabit.

This type of delicate emotional balance is something which is evident throughout the story. I’ve seen the film compared to Frozen with its sense of family but also Finding Nemo and other Disney/Pixar fare. But as much as there are echoes of those films, the overall project is much more original and not at all derivative of films past.

Onward takes a lot of cues from the world of Dungeons & Dragons and similar table top RPGs. Something I could absolutely get behind and really helped me buy in to the story. But rather than imitate it uses those elements as signposts along the way as the story weaves its way to a truly emotional conclusion.

There were points in the film where I felt I could predict what would happen and how it would end (you can hear me talk a bit about that in our latest podcast) but I was proven wrong as Onward saunters nicely towards the end credits.

What was also great to see was the amount of character development which went in to all of the main cast. There’s no character left undercooked with individual storylines all coming to a satisfying conclusion when the credits roll.

Of course the lions share of the work goes in to Ian and Barley as Holland Pratt really own the film. The two have an excellent bond which really comes across well even with only their voices and separate to the excellent animation on screen.

I was particularly impressed with how the film built their relationship with their father using only his legs. It’s no spoiler to say that when a spell is cast which will bring their dead father back for 24hrs, it goes wrong and only half of him is resurrected. Despite this there are some hugely emotional moments as Barely recalls drumming on his dad’s feet and later in the film when the three characters all dance together.

For anyone who has lost a parent, as I have, there’s a bit of inherent danger about an emotional outburst. But Onwards really blew me away with it’s handling of the subject matter.

Onwards features the usual, top notch work of Pixar. the film is littered with incredibly well realised landscapes and the fantasy world allows us to go to a wide range of different locations. From the suburban family home, to the high school, in to the city and out in to the mountains, all of the locations are filled with fine detail and will be suitably engaging for children and adults alike.

Likewise there are some brilliant character designs in Onward. Like the film itself, the characters take inspiration from characters in RPG games. There’s enough red and blue in Ian to remind the audience of his other, major big screen role and Barely felt like seeing my teenage self on the screen.

Much like with Monsters Inc. and Monsters University, the film truly benefits from its fantasy setting. It opens up the opportunity to create weird and wonderful looking characters which will appeal to the young audience. The joy the creative team had creating this immersive film is palpable on screen and definitely adds hugely to the enjoyment factor.

Verdict

Onwards is a huge triumph for Pixar. Emotionally impactful but never heavy handed it has all the adventure we could expect from the studio built around some important life lessons.

8/10

Written and directed by Dan Scanlon, Pixar’s Onward stars Chris Pratt, Tom Holland, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Octavia Spencer.


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The Invisible Man (Universal Pictures)

THE INVISIBLE MAN review: The chilling thriller that no one saw coming

The Invisible Man was a movie that was barely on my radar. I watched the trailers, I was intrigued but I wasn’t ecstatic. However, I was willing to give it a go, perhaps it would be a pleasant surprise.

Well, maybe that is an understatement. I genuinely believe that this flick is the thrilling, nail biting and genius spectacle that people are hunting for. A film that provides almost everything- humor, terror, suspense, relief and many shocking surprises. It’s all there.

The Invisible Man, directed by Leigh Whannell, is a contemporary take on the classic tale written by H. G. Wells. The film follows Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) who escapes the clutches of her abusive boyfriend in the dead of night. After her ex boyfriend commits suicide, Cecilia receives a portion of his vast fortune. However, Cecilia suspects that his death was a hoax. After a series of eerie coincidences turn lethal, Cecilia’s sanity begins to unravel as she desperately tries to prove that she is being hunted by someone that nobody can see, an invisible man.

I think the first thing that should be praised is the role that Moss executes brilliantly. The entire film very much focuses on Cecilia so it was imperative that her character was handled diligently. Cecilia is the star of the show and she had to convince us that the Invisible Man was real. Moss absolutely knocked it out of the park.

Check out the trailer below

What was incredibly fascinating to witness was Cecilia’s decline and how the prospect of her ex returning consumed her. It’s an incredibly stressful journey because we, as the audience, witness the things that Cecilia experience and we’re forced to watch the outside world reject her. We follow Cecilia from the very beginning and we see how these events change her.

While there are other characters like James Lanier and his daughter Sydney who provide some needed relief, the film is very much dependent on Moss’s delivery to add to that strenuous atmosphere that runs throughout the entire thing.

I think that’s why this film worked so well for me. Having an invisible entity gives you a lot of opportunities to mess with typical conventions and establish a vibe that causes constant unease. It could have been very similar to particular paranormal films that reuse the same tropes and on occasion it did- floating objects and footsteps. However, The Invisible Man grasped every opportunity. It was shocking, clever, and it did a brilliant job at manipulating the audience. It wanted us to question whether someone was there and that ambiguity doesn’t ease. I found myself scanning every surface in every scene, looking for a moving object or even a shadow. This film deliberately tricks you and it instantly becomes more than a film. It becomes a puzzle.

When the Invisible Man makes himself known, it was always in such a creative way and it was incredibly refreshing. I won’t go into specifics but I absolutely loved how they incorporated the ability to turn invisible and they don’t hold back.

They don’t hold back at all.

It has been a long long time since I have been in a cinema where a vast majority of the audience gasp… more than once.

My original opinion of the film was that the trailers revealed too much. I often don’t have that opinion but for The Invisible Man I thought the element of surprise had been compromised massively. I have never been more wrong. This thrilling tale is full of surprises that I didn’t anticipate and I was glued to the screen instantly.

As a soundtrack lover, I must also recognize the soundtrack by Benjamin Wallfisch. I cannot emphasize the importance of a decent soundtrack. These soundtracks help anchor our feelings. They can change the way we feel and they can evoke any type of emotion. Wallfisch’s soundtrack gives the film that edge. It’s loud, eerie and very unique. While the occasional silence helped keep me on the edge of my seat, the loud booming tracks just distilled a sense of fear that got my blood pumping.

The Invisible Man is a stunning thriller ride that came out of nowhere. I walked out in disbelief. I couldn’t believe how good it was and I’m hoping it catches other people off guard as well.

8.5/10

The Invisible Man is due in cinemas February 28, 2020. Let us know what you think in the comments.


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Sonic The Hedgehog (Paramount Pictures)

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG (2020) review

Sonic The Hedgehog arrives in cinemas from tomorrow, February 14, from Paramount Pictures.

Synopsis

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG is a live-action adventure comedy based on the global blockbuster videogame franchise from Sega that centers on the infamously brash bright blue hedgehog. The film follows the (mis)adventures of Sonic as he navigates the complexities of life on Earth with his newfound – human – best friend Tom Wachowski (James Marsden). Sonic and Tom join forces to try and stop the villainous Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) from capturing Sonic and using his immense powers for world domination. The film also stars Tika Sumpter and Ben Schwartz as the voice of Sonic.

Review

Sonic The Hedgehog presents SEGA and Paramount Pictures with an interesting opportunity, the world of the video game adaptation is fraught with half-baked ideas and badly received movies. Could this finally be the film to break the curse?

Director Jeff Fowler hasn’t had an easy ride working on his first feature length film. His previous credits as director only include a short called Gopher Broke whilst he also worked as a visual effects artist on 2009’s Where The Wild Things Are. The first trailer for Sonic was poorly received and consequently caused the film to be delayed several months whilst the entire titular character was re-designed in line with his video game counterpart.

But I’m happy to report that, on the whole, Sonic The Hedgehog is a satisfying adaption. There’s a distinct reverence for the source material and genuine attempt to incorporate many elements from it into the film’s storyline.

The film opens, typically, amongst an action sequence before diving backwards to explain how we reached this point in the third act. Following this is a brilliant narration as we witness young Sonic on his home planet amongst a very familiar landscape.

Opening up in this world reminiscent of the game takes a huge weight off the shoulders of the rest of the film. It negates the need for writers Patrick Casey and Josh Miller (Into The Dark) to incorporate any of the more outlandish elements of Sonic‘s landscape in to our world. Whilst Dr. Robotnik’s technology is fairly easy to fathom, if Sonic were to suddenly start running around ginormous loops in the landscape of San Francisco it could easily have taken the film in to farcical territory.

But that immediately lands on what is perhaps Sonic The Hedgehog‘s biggest issue. The franchise comes packaged with a legacy going all the way back to the release of his first game in 1991 but this film is defiantly aimed at 8-11 year olds rather than teenagers or us stalwarts of the console generation. It’s not problematic but led me to feel like the film wasn’t necessarily for me when all is said and done.

Tonally, Sonic The Hedgehog feels in the same vein as Warner Bros. Detective Pikachu but presents itself with a little less edge. Everything about Sonic feels safe, the characters are the archetypal hero – James Marsden’s Ton – and villain – Jim Carrey’s Robotnik – and they come packaged with the usual array of supporting characters. Everyone is fairly two-dimensional but fits their preordained role well throughout the script.

There’s an excellent dynamic between Tom (Marsden) and Sonic (Ben Schwartz – Parks & Rec). The script cleverly avoids dwelling on pairing the two characters up and instead focusses on the comedic interplay between them. The second act of Sonic essentially becomes a buddy-cop-cum-road-movie. Tonally if all fits together well and even my rational brain was able to put aside any questions and accept that Tom is just a good guy who wants to help people and Sonic happened to be the person in need.

Carerey’s Robotnik is the antithesis of Tom. He’s delightfully evil and revels in his own negativity from start to finish. This is by far the closest I’ve ever seen Carrey to replicating his performance as Edward Nygma in Batman Forever. Though his characterisation if deeply camp and way too over-the-top it brilliantly fits the aesthetic of the film.

It’s certainly a return to the form that many of us folk in our thirties will remember from Carrey in the late 90’s. His physicality plays a really strong part in the role and more than makes up for his lack of physical similarities to the Robotnik of the games. Though if you hang around for the credits there’s more to that then it would first appear.

It really is Schwartz’s Sonic who steals the show, as he should. It was the right decision to go back to a classic looking design for the character as the familiarity makes accepting the setup all the more easy.

Rather than duplicating the higher pitched voice sometimes heard in the games, Schwartz sticks with a heightened version of his own dulcet tones. Sonic feels well realised and has a strong personality. The visual effects used to bring him to life are easily as good as those used in Pikachu.

He’s perfectly constructed to appeal to a young audience and there’s no doubting his merchandising appeal. But there are also moments in the film where I realised I genuinely cared for Sonic. With a film built for this target audience there’s a fine line between creating a character and simply trying to sell toys. Sonic The Hedgehog strikes that balance perfectly.

The entire narrative is structured to appeal to, and not confuse, the younger audience. The story is clearcut and well explained with plenty of gentle reminders and comedic exposition throughout. It doesn’t lurch from set piece to set piece like a Transformers movie but neither does it languish in unnecessary character moments.

The middle of the film does feel overly long at times. As Tom and Sonic navigate their way to San Francisco we get bogged down in a stopover at a biker bar which serves little purpose other than to cement the friendship between the pair and help the audience feel sympathetic towards Sonic.

Similarly when they reach San Francisco and arrive at house of Tom’s sister-in-law the film veers off into purely comedic territory. It’s funny but ultimately unnecessary to the goal of the story.

Most importantly the film comes together in its third act to create a solid conflict between Sonic and Dr. Robotnik which leads in to a very satisfying ending for audience members of all ages. The fight scenes are on par for this level of film and the visual effects remain impressive throughout. There’s also enough heart that when it looks like Sonic is down for the count it really does tug at the heartstrings.

Overall, Sonic The Hedgehog is a slick production, as entirely expected. Despite the setback with the character design the visual effects of the movie haven’t suffered. With a $95m production budget, Paramount Pictures has put all the money on screen where it counts. There’s little by way of set design in the film as it is very much grounded in the real world. Dr. Robotnik’s truck is most heavily stylised set and it looks impressive with all it’s lasers and technology.

The score is provided by Junkie XL, it echoes themes from the games as well as creating a very real world soundscape. As with many of these types of film there’s a strong mix of score and popular music which is well balanced throughout.

Verdict

Sonic The Hedgehog speeds out of the 8-bit world of games and on to the big screen with plenty of laughs and high-octane action. Though the movie is fun for all the family it ultimately best serves its younger audience rather than console veterans.

6/10

Sonic the Hedgehog stars Ben Schwartz as Sonic and Jim Carrey as Dr. Robotnik, with James Marsden, Neal McDonald, Tika Sumpter, Adam Pally and Natasha Rothwell.


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Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (Warner Bros.)

BIRDS OF PREY (AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN) review

Birds of Prey (and The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) hits cinemas worldwide from February 7, 2020.

Synopsis

You ever hear the one about the cop, the songbird, the psycho and the mafia princess? “Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” is a twisted tale told by Harley herself, as only Harley can tell it. When Gotham’s most nefariously narcissistic villain, Roman Sionis, and his zealous right-hand, Zsasz, put a target on a young girl named Cass, the city is turned upside down looking for her. Harley, Huntress, Black Canary and Renee Montoya’s paths collide, and the unlikely foursome have no choice but to team up to take Roman down.

Review

There’s a strange narrative in the media that Warner Bros. attempts to bring DC characters to the big screen are forever getting “back on track” following the perceived lack of quality in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and so forth.

We saw it with Aquaman, we saw it again with Shazam! and we saw it with Joker and now we’re seeing it again with Birds of Prey. Just how many successful films do Warner Bros. need to release before “getting back on track” is actually just performing well?

If Birds of Prey doesn’t convince the naysayers that DC Films has a tight grip on its characters and its potential then I fear that nothing will. This film is an absolute adrenaline-fest from start to finish and this reviewer can’t remember the last time he had so much fun at the cinema.

Director Cathy Yan, writer Christina Hodson and producer/star Margot Robbie have crafted a bonkers-but-brilliant comic book movie which is truly unlike anything else I’ve seen in years.

Though many of the pieces in Birds of Prey feel familiar, they are presented in such a disjointed way that it feels fresh even when its simply laying the groundwork for a complex narrative structure. This isn’t the first time we’ve been presented with a non-linear timeline in a film, neither is it the first time a specific character has controlled the narrative and told the story from their own perspective. It’s just the first time those structural elements have been presented to us by Harley Quinn (Robbie).

The story of Birds of Prey isn’t complicated: Harley has broken up with Joker and no longer has his protection. That makes her fair game for anyone she has ever done wrong in Gotham. When Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) catches up to her she begs for her life on the premise she’ll find his missing diamond, stolen by Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). Chaos ensues.

It’s a brilliantly simple story which allows for a huge amount of breathing space for characters to fully ingratiate themselves in to the DCU-on-film. Hodson’s script is a prime example of characters leading the story and not the other way around.

It functions at it’s best when it leans in to its bonkers aesthetic. It’s at these moments when you realise that Birds of Prey really doesn’t give a f**k what the audience thinks and it’s this kind of attitude which gives it the potential to become a breakout hit for Warner Bros. In many ways this feels like the film David Ayer’s Suicide Squad should have been.

The film very much honours that which came before but goes to great lengths to improve upon aspects which ultimately led to its muddled reception. There are holdovers: on-screen graphics are the most visual callback but those are better implemented and less gimmicky, the darkly comedic tone is effortlessly wrapped around Harley’s personality and bends to her will throughout the film.

There are less subtle nods to Suicide Squad as well, you’ll certainly see a Daddy’s Lil Slugger shirt and one or two other visual cues which may look familiar to you.

But there are drawbacks. For die-hard fans of Huntress (Mary Ezliabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) this film may be a difficult pill to swallow but not because they are poorly conceived or badly characterised. What you need to understand is that the entire narrative of Birds of Prey is told to the audience by Harley and she wasn’t present for all of the action meaning some of it is merely her perception of events.

Characters, particularly Ewan McGregor’s Roman Sionis, will often speak with particularly Harley-esque language, or will take on Harley’s mannerisms because, in her head, that’s just how people act. But peppered between her perceptions are moments that truly reflect who these characters are.

A prime example is when Sionis and henchman Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) are brutally peeling the faces off one of Sionis’ enemies. To begin the scene Sionis is masterfully evil and unrepentant to his crimes. He promises to leave the victims young daughter alive until he spots that she cried so hard she got a snot bubble. Immediately he camply squeals “ew” and has Zsasz take off her face.

As a storytelling device it is pure genius. Christina Hodson really got in to Harley’s head and brought out a story which is equal parts bonkers and intelligible. It ensures that Birds of Prey is unpredictable throughout and there is never a dull moment.

The casting on the film is excellent. It’s difficult to pick a standout as all of the lead actresses are excellent and embody their roles perfectly. On first watch the film really does belong to Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Dinah Lance/Black Canary. She absolutely explodes off the screen in all her scenes. Not only does she have an exquisite singing voice but is also able to portray the inner strength of Dinah through her fight scenes. It took away a strong sense that Smollett-Bell committed herself to the role and fully immersed herself in Dinah.

There’s enough time to explore some of her backstory which provides a tantalising tease to DC Comics history but also shines a light on the emotional complexity of the character.

Oh and that canary cry… wow!

Huntress, played skilfully by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, has the least exposure of the team bu is still able to make an impact. Though she plays her as stoic and emotionally stunted she is still able to raise a good few laughs from the audience. It’s clear this version of the character, who has a near perfect retelling of her comic book origin, struggles from a lack of warmth in her upbringing. In the time she spends on screen she is able to show there is a warmth hiding underneath the cold exterior.

Her best scene is hands down any attempt to tell other characters that her codename is Huntress.

The biggest surprise for me was easily Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya. Only knowing Perez from The View, I was not sure what to expect. Despite being a hardened cop there was a vulnerability to her character which felt instantly relatable. Being the eldest she does also fall in to a maternal role towards the other characters but she can still hold her own in a fight.

Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) is the most updated from her comic book counterpart. Though we never meet or hear about her parents – she is a foster child here – the mere fact she speaks is a huge departure from the pages of DC Comics.

In many ways Cass is the generic, angsty, streetwise teen character. But Basco fits in so well with the ensemble and has such a palpable rapport that it’s difficult not to warm to her character. Though unlikely to become Batgirl anytime soon there certainly does seem to be a future for her in the DCU.

Ewan McGregor and Chris Messina are both delightfully evil. McGregor is easily enjoying every moment of being on screen and is one of the best DC villain portrayals I have ever seen, even if it is told through the lens of Harley. The character she creates is dynamite to watch.

Messina is perhaps a little underused but is able to hold his own in the mix whenever he is on screen. I would like to have seen more of her version of Zsasz as it feels like we didn’t spend enough time with him.

The overall production is incredibly high quality. Set design, particularly Sionis’ bar and the fun house seen in the final battle, is eye catching and immersive. I often found myself searching the screen for visual clues and Easter eggs.

The city of Gotham isn’t heavily explored, we stay very much on the East-side, which is by far a minor niggle. What we do see ranges from feeling like the city outside your window to something much more atmospheric when Harley confronts Black Mask on the pier.

Visual effects are well utilised and the film doesn’t try to stretch its budget in order to grapple for spectacle. Effects are well integrated in to the world and rarely obvious or distracting on first watch.

Instead the film utilises an impressive amount of practical effects and stunt work which is a hugely admirable during this age of why-do-it-for-real-when-you-can-do-it-in-CGI. A particular nod has to go to Margot Robbie for performing so many stunts from roller skating all the way to gymnastic fight choreography.

The soundscape of Birds of Prey is a great mix of Daniel Pemberton’s rousing score and popular music. Given the soundtrack’s penchant for trap music there’s a great amount of classic rock and alternative music in the film itself. Standouts are Heart’s Baracuda and a cover of Hit Me With Your Best Shot which hands a huge punch to the film’s climactic buildup.

Pemberton’s score provides a great underpinning for the story and there are the origins of some great themes for these characters to be heard underneath all the bombastic sound effects.

Verdict

Birds of Prey is quite simply fantabulous. It’s bright, brash, colourful and everything fans could want from Harley Quinn. It sets up the titular team brilliantly for future big screen outings and I can’t wait to see where they go next.

9/10

Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) stars Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Huntress, Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Black Canary and Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya. The movie will be directed by Cathy Yan and arrives in cinemas on February 7, 2020.


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Jumanji: The Next Level (Sony Pictures)

JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL (2019) review

Jumanji: The Next Level hits cinemas across the UK from December 11, 2019.

Synopsis

When Spencer goes back into the fantastical world of Jumanji, pals Martha, Fridge and Bethany re-enter the game to bring him home. But everything about Jumanji is about to change, as they soon discover more obstacles and more danger to overcome.

Review

It was with some trepidation that I went in to my screening of Jumanji: The Next Level. A huge fan of the original I felt unsure about 2017’s Welcome To The Jungle. Whilst ultimately entertaining I felt it lacked the originality of the classic Robin Williams film and also much of its heart.

I was pleasantly surprised that The Next Level, again directed by Jake Kasdan, was able to up the ante considerably to create a funny, original and heart filled adventure set within the world of the video game.

The success of the film is in no small part thanks to the chemistry between its cast. Whilst we spend little time with the teenage cast they are able to recreate some of the magic which exists between the adult actors. The Next Level instantly surpasses its predecessor by giving the teens a more grounded relationship. Though their circumstances are a little outlandish, in some cases, Alex Wolff’s Spencer is able to add some much needed humanity and insecurity.

His isolation from his friends being the catalyst for their return to Jumanji felt in earnest to the story rather than a piece of pure plot contrivance. It certainly feels like Kasdan and co-writers Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg are trying to beef up their characters.

Given this film’s ending I wonder if we’re heading for a team up between the teens and their avatars or a film which will focus much more heavily on them.

Adding Danny DeVito and Danny Glover to the cast also adds some weight to the overall film. Firstly it brings some more acting chops to the outside world and the inside Jumanji it gives Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart a chance to flex more of their comedic muscles.

Admittedly many of the laugh in The Next Level come from watching the adult cast attempt to play whole new characters. The film cleverly doesn’t completely refresh the concept by keeping Morgan Turner’s Martha inside Karen Gillan’s Ruby Roundhouse. She’s easily the most identifiable and likeable member of the cast but that could be because I’m a Doctor Who fan.

In many ways The Next Level reflects classic 80’s video game. It takes all of the successful elements of the previous version and augments them just enough to keep the concept interesting.

Eddie (DeVito) being inside Dwayne Johnson’s Dr. Smolder Bravestone is dynamite and the way he plays off Milo (Glover) in Kevin Hart’s Franklin “Mouse” Finbar. Their “old man” humour is easily a highlight of the film as it appeals to all ages. Putting Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) in to Jack Black’s Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon is also a great source of humour.

Each of the characters is confronted by something which troubles them in their outside life. For Martha/Ruby it’s fitting in and finding her place in the society, for Milo and Eddie it’s facing up to their past, for Fridge/Shelly it’s the loss of the athletic abilities he is so reliant on in college life and for Bethany (Madison Iseman)… well it’s being stuck inside a horse for part of the film.

Other new additions to the cast include Awkwafina as Ming Fleetfoot, at first the new avatar of Spencer (Alex Wolff) and then second avatar of Eddie. She is less successful as Spencer and absolutely a stand out as Eddie. Her portrayal of Spencer feels a little caricature where she appears to have much more fun as Eddie, her recreation of Danny DeVito’s voice will easily have you rolling around in the aisles.

Rory McCann (Game of Thrones) also joins the cast as the villainous Jurgen the Brutal giving the Jumanji franchise its first villainous focal point. His character is less important than the journey it takes to get to him but that is so often the case with video games that it feels in keeps with the structure of the film.

The story of The Next Level takes the franchise to new locations, exploring the desert lands as well as snow capped mountains within the game. It all helps to keep the film feeling fresh and allows the writers to bring in new types of creature and new puzzles to task the players. It all adds up to a very fresh feeling film but doesn’t overtly rely on the tropes of its predecessor.

The scope of The Next Level feels much larger also. As the characters were leaping between rope bridges whilst being chased by feral monkeys, a huge death drop below them and nothing but mountains surrounding them it feels like the kind of land that Robin Williams, Alan Parrrish could have been lost in as a child.

The VFX are exactly as you would expect going on to this huge budget tentpole film. There are odd moments where CGI landscapes looked a little soft and not full integrated but on the whole the film is absolutely top notch. Cinematography is on par with the previous film, whilst it lacks visual flare it does play well to the story and is absolutely on par with this type of popcorn film.

The aforementioned rope bridge sequence and the desert Ostrich chase and two of the highlight set pieces of the film which does lose its visual impact in the first act by instead choosing to focus on the heart of its characters.

A surprising character twist proves to be a tearjerker of a moment in the film’s closing minutes before the actions shifts back to the outside world and continues to tie up the emotional storylines of its various characters.

I won’t spoil too much but a cameo appearance from an original Jumanji character and the appearance of several more Ostriches signals an interesting future for the franchise which has definitely hit a new high point with this instalment.

Verdict

Surpassing its predecessor in every respect, Jumanji: The Next Level is laugh out loud fun. Bold, brash and expansive, this film takes the franchise to all new territory.

8/10

Jumanji: The Next Level is directed by Jake Kasdan and stars Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Awkwafina, Alex Wolff, Morgan Turner, Ser’Darius Blain and Madison Iseman.


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Doctor Sleep (Warner Bros.)

DOCTOR SLEEP (2019) review

Doctor Sleep arrives in UK cinemas from 31st October, 2019 from Warner Bros.

Synopsis

Still irrevocably scarred by the trauma he endured as a child at the Overlook, Dan Torrance has fought to find some semblance of peace.  But that peace is shattered when he encounters Abra, a courageous teenager with her own powerful extrasensory gift, known as the “shine.”  Instinctively recognizing that Dan shares her power, Abra has sought him out, desperate for his help against the merciless Rose the Hat and her followers, The True Knot, who feed off the shine of innocents in their quest for immortality.

Forming an unlikely alliance, Dan and Abra engage in a brutal life-or-death battle with Rose. Abra’s innocence and fearless embrace of her shine compel Dan to call upon his own powers as never before—at once facing his fears and reawakening the ghosts of the past.

Review

I can’t imagine ever being chosen as the person to bring to life a sequel to The Shining, one of the most revered films of Kubrick’s career and equally a pinnacle in author Stephen King’s library.

So sitting in the Everyman cinema in Angel, London, watching director Mike Flanagan and producer Trevor Macy talk about doing just that, in that moment the weight of Warner Bros. decision felt all too real.

To then watch Doctor Sleep is to experience not just its psychological horrors but also the painstakingly accurate process with which it was created.

What is instantly striking about the film is the way in which is honors all versions of the source material: both the film and book of The Shining and also the Doctor Sleep original text. All are strong forces at play in Flanagan’s script which balances each with the dignity and respect which they deserve.

King’s thoughts on Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film starring Jack Nicholson are easily discovered in just a few clicks so there is no way those words didn’t haunt Flanagan and his team during production.

But rather than be overwhelmed by King’s thoughts, Flanagan rises above it to craft a film which is equally as compelling as its predecessor and scary in new and imaginative ways.

The script for Doctor Sleep calls on cinematographer Michael Fimognari (The Haunting of Hill House) to evoke the atmosphere of original cinematographer John Alcott’s work on a number of occasions. Paying homage to The Overlook Hotel in both its past and present state.

Long, wide shots lovingly recreate The Shining but present it from an entirely new perspective to the audience. These moments also soak up all of the work that Flanagan and production designers Maher Ahmad (Zombieland) and Patricio M. Farrell (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – 2014) have done to rebuild the sets as they were seen in 1980.

Audiences can be forgiven for thinking that certain shots were repatriated from the original when in fact almost all of the 2hr 31min runtime is brand new footage. Flanagan confirmed to the audience at our screening that only three shots in the entire of Doctor Sleep were shot by Kubrick.

But not only are the sets recreated than plenty of the original film’s cast. Young Danny Torrance as well as his mother Wendy and all of The Overlook’s ghosts are lovingly recast with solid actors who just happen to bear a striking resemblance to their predecessors.

But despite all of these lovingly recreated moments, Doctor Sleep is still an incredibly original film experience.

The story of Doctor Sleep is a very different one to The Shining. For those who haven’t read the novel it’s really an emotional sequel and connected only via locations and returning characters. The nature of the story is much more rooted in the supernatural aspects of King’s original novel than the psychological horrors the supernatural causes.

The isolation of The Shining is replaced by a much larger cast of characters and, in many ways, Doctor Sleep is like a cautionary vampire tale. It’s villains, some ancient in age, seeking out children who possess abilities like Danny’s in order to suck them out to extend their own lives.

Ewan McGregor excels as the adult Dan Torrance. When we first meet Dan in the present day he’s overcome with demons of his own making having followed in his father’s footsteps. To see him overcome with drink and drug problems is a downbeat beginning for a character we come to feel much emotion for by the third act.

There’s an instantly identifiable and likable quality to McGregor which follows him through his films and this is no different. I felt an instant affinity for Dan purely because McGregor is such a likable actor and that works in the film’s favour.

As compelling as Dan is though, the film absolutely belongs to Rebecca Ferguson. She plays Rose the Hat as an absolute powerhouse of a villain. Rose is often regarded as one of the best antagonists in King’s books and that is truly well represented on screen.

Ferguson embodies Rose’s belief that she is the hero of her own story and in doing so that makes her all the more dangerous. As Rose is bested by Abra the disbelief she portrays is childlike and utterly believable. But at the same time she feels formidable and in control. The nuance which Ferguson brings to the character is truly remarkable.

Young Kyleigh Curran in the role of Abra is also able to stand tall against her co-stars. Though this is only her second film credit she brings a youthful energy to Abra which somehow remains untarnished despite the events which unfold around her.

When her father is killed by members of Rose’s True Knot club it does feel slightly disingenuous that Abra isn’t given a scene in which to grieve. Though we do see her upset it feels as if the moment isn’t given the emotional weight it deserves and even a callback moment at the end of the film seems to gloss over this development.

Curran has an excellent rapport with McGregor which helps make the bond between the two believable and she is also able to stand against Ferguson and portray Abra as a credible threat to Rose’s status quo. It’s not an easy feat for an actor so young in their career and I expect we will see more from Curran in the future.

Supporting cast members are all well placed but it is easily Cliff Curtis (Fear The Walking Dead) who stands out from the crowd. Billy is an excellent supporting character and Curtis bring a lot to the small number of scenes in which he appears. A particular moment as Billy and Dan search for a young boy’s body is one of the most impactful in the film thanks to his performance.

Composers The Newton Brothers are able to recreate some of the soundscape of Kubrick’s original whilst finding enough ground to create their own unique entity for Doctor Sleep. As always I need to go back and listen to the isolated score in but in the context of watching the film the music was able to building the dramatic tension that a psychological thriller like this needs to be successful.

Much like it’s predecessor Doctor Sleep does not rely on jump scares. There are plenty of psychologically harrowing moments to put fear into the audience. The dramatic tension is palpable throughout and only grows as the third act draws near. It’s testament to strong writing from Flanagan and should stand out as a highlight of his career to date.

Doctor Sleep does veer away from the source material at times, mainly to tread the line between the visual universe of Kubrick’s original. The ending to this film is quite different to the book but echoes it from an emotional context. It’s satisfying and oddly hopeful so I would like to think fans, like I, will be able to enjoy the third act despite those changes.

Verdict

Doctor Sleep is truly unique piece of film, created with a strong reverence for both Kubrick and King it honors but never imitates either one. Instead this is director Mike Flanagan being given the keys to a sandbox he was born to play in.

8/10

Doctor Sleep stars Ewan McGregor (“Star Wars: Episodes I, II & III,” “T2 Trainspotting”) as Dan Torrance, Rebecca Ferguson (the “Mission: Impossible” films, “The Greatest Showman”) as Rose the Hat, and Kyliegh Curran, in her major feature film debut, as Abra. The main ensemble cast also includes Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood, Jocelin Donahue, Alex Essoe and Cliff Curtis.


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Wonder Woman: Bloodlines (Warner Bros)

WONDER WOMAN: BLOODLINES (2019) review

Wonder Woman: Bloodlines is available now in the UK on digital platforms. You can also grab your copy on DVD, Blu-ray from WB store today!

Synopsis

When Amazon princess Diana of Themyscira chooses to save fighter pilot Steve Trevor, it’s a choice that will change her world and ours. Fulfilling the role of both ambassador as well as protector, Diana earns the name Wonder Woman from the gracious people of Earth. But her heart is as strong as her will as she is determined to help a troubled and embittered young girl whom has fallen in with a deadly organization known only as Villainy, Inc! Get ready for an exciting adventure packed with brutal battles, myth and wonder!

Review

The DC Comics Animated Universe (or DCAU for short) has existed for over a decade now. During that time we’ve seen plenty of sprawling, epic movies featuring Batman, Superman and the Justice League. But one character who, to date, has only had one solo title is Wonder Woman.

Now DC and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment are putting that right with the release of Wonder Woman: Bloodlines. 2019’s bonus DCAU entry which arrives just in time to keep hype building for 2020’s Wonder Woman 1984.

From its inception Bloodlines has felt like an odd entity given that 2009’s Wonder Woman animated movie also sought to tell the character’s origin story. Did we really need to circle back and retread out steps now?

The answer is probably no but Bloodlines successfully brings the story in to the on going continuity of the Justice League series of films AND is a much more contemporary retelling of events.

The opening few minutes tell as fast-paced version of Diana’s origin including Steve Trevor’s (Ray Chase) landing on Themyscira. This time, however, its Parademons chasing the military pilot and not Nazi’s.

This is not a World War One/Two tale.

Instead we meet Diana in a more modern age. This small detail aside her journey to mans world remains relatively untouched. Creatively it makes sense as it means that Steve and Etta Candy (Adrienne C. Moore) can exist in the present and flesh out the supporting cast in future Wonder Woman and Justice League movies.

It doesn’t take long for her to head off to man’s world, sporting a very Gal Gadot style costume. But despite this being an animated film all of the emotional impact of the decision to leave is there. An additional aspect in this retelling is that leaving Themyscira means that the location is almost instantly forgotten meaning that when Diana leaves, she will not be able to return.

When she arrives in “man’s world” we’re immediately introduced to Etta and then to Julia Kapatelis (Nia Vardalos) and her daughter Vanessa (Marie Avgeropoulos) with whom Diana moves in to learn about the modern world.

At this stage the story (written by comics writer Maighread Scott) does become a little transparent. Vanessa already has a fractious relationship with her mother and Diana’s arrival on worsens the situation.

As a montage moment see’s Diana and Julia training we see Vanessa withdrawing from the world around her. She eventually goth’s up and becomes a truly angsty young woman with a real chip on her shoulder against both the elder women in her life.

This leads Vanessa down a dark path which crosses with Doctor Poison (Courtenay Taylor), Giganta (Kimberly Brooks – also voicing Cheetah), and Dr. Cyber (Mozan Marno) and eventually the classic Wonder Woman villain Veronica Cale (Constance Zimmer).

Comic book fans will know that Vanessa will eventually become Silver Swan which is Bloodlines second origin story.

By the time the predominantly female cast are fully introduced I did feel as though Warner Bros. and DC were attempting to make up for the lack of Wonder Woman titles by throwing most of her cast of characters at the screen.

But that being said Scott is easily able to balance most of those character for the duration of the movie’s runtime. Each of the villains has a purpose to the overall story to ensure it doesn’t feel like needless cameo after needless cameo.

Wonder Woman: Bloodlines succeeds across the board in building emotional tension. At times Diana feels a little preachy but by the time the film ties up its loose ends it becomes clear that she is simply learning her place in the world and the best way to impart her wisdom on others.

The mother daughter relationship between Julia and Vanessa feels especially grounded in reality. The consequences that relationship has on the rest of the film are visceral at best, more so even that Diana’s relationship with her own mother.

The relationships between Steve, Etta and Diana are also particularly true to form. With Diana and Steve palpably sparking off each other and Etta fitting in to complete the trio. The dialogue between Etta and Steve is particularly refreshing and adds a new depth to the human aspect of the movie.

The third act culminates in a huge battle on Themyscira featuring a mythical Greek villainess who fits in perfectly with the film. To put it mildly the entire third act is brutal and bloody. As Diana is pushed to breaking point the fight goes on and on and it’s tense to watch.

As Diana makes a huge sacrifice in order to win the day I was hanging on the edge of my seat. We see the character systematically broken down and yet she never loses her trademark hope for a better tomorrow.

The only downside to the sacrifices made during the final battle is the looming knowledge of the “purple healing ray” seen at the beginning of the movie. Its inevitable return ensuring there are little physical consequences from the battle. There are still plenty of psychological scars though.

Verdict

Wonder Woman: Bloodlines is a powerful, modern adaption of Diana’s origin which brings her in line with the DCAU continuity. Strong action and strong heart make Bloodlines one of the DCAU’s more compelling tales.

8/10

Wonder Woman: Bloodlines stars Rosario Dawson as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman. The supporting cast includes Jeffrey Donovan as Steve Trevor, Adrienne Moore as Etta Candy, Nia Vardalos as Julia Kapatelis and Cree Summer as Hippolyta.

Also starring are Marie Avgeropoulos as Silver Swan, Kimberly Brooks as Cheetah/Giganta, Michael Dorn as Ferdinand, Ray Chase as Lead Bandit, Mozhan Marno as Dr. Cyber, Courtenay Taylor as Dr. poison and Constance Zimmer as Veronica Cale.


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Zombieland: Double Tap (Sony Pictures)

ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP (2019) review

Zombieland: Double Tap is in cinemas across the UK from today.

Synopsis

A decade after Zombieland became a hit film and a cult classic, the lead cast (Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, and Emma Stone) have reunited with director Ruben Fleischer (Venom) and the original writers Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick (Deadpool) for Zombieland 2: Double Tap. In the sequel, written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick and Dave Callaham, through comic mayhem that stretches from the White House and through the heartland, these four slayers must face off against the many new kinds of zombies that have evolved since the first movie, as well as some new human survivors. But most of all, they have to face the growing pains of their own snarky, makeshift family.

Review

Back in 2009 the zombie landscape looked drastically different. The Walking Dead existed only in comic book form and all eyes were instead on a little indie film by director Ruben Fleischer (Venom).

Zombieland revolutionised the genre in a way The Walking Dead can only dream of. It took the zombie movie and created an near-satire of itself. It didn’t take itself seriously and treated its subject matter with bombastic style.

It was pure Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (both Deapool & Deadpool 2) and showcases all of their trademarks. But what made the movie such a success was its reverence for zombie horror and four incredibly charismatic leads.

Double Tap doubles down on its reliance on those leads, in some cases literally, but also doubles down on it’s zombie mythology.

What surprised me most going back in to the cinema ten years later was how much the premise still feels fresh. Zombieland arguably did as much as it could based on its idea and I genuinely couldn’t see how Double Tap could do anything other than repeat those same tropes.

In some cases it does repeat those tropes from the first film, but it also injects enough fresh material keep it feeling funny and unique. Once again its the chemistry between Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Jessie Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin which anchors the film.

Double Tap introduces some fresh blood in the form of Madison (Zoey Deutch – Set It Up). She absolutely steals the show when she is on screen with Deutch chewing the scenery almost as much as a zombie finding a fresh victim. Madison is instantly a quotable pop culture icon who easily stands up against Tallahassee, Columbus and Wichita.

Rosario Dawson (Daredevil) also makes a huge impact as Nevada. This is a Dawson allowed to throw off the shackles and have some fun and it felt like it whenever she was on screen. Her third act, saves-the-day moment is filled with some gory, childish glee and I loved every second of it.

There’s still plenty for each of the four leads to do though. Both individually and as a group there are new challenges to overcome and proverbial mountains to climb.

It’s Little Rock who has changed the most which is absolutely to be expected given how much Abigail Breslin has grown in the intervening 10 years. Although she has less to do in Double Tap her character is at its emotional centre.

The film needed a reason to break the core characters out of their comfort zone and given the aforementioned decade which has passed the most sensible and genuine option was to have Little Rock break away to go find people her own age.

With comedy as its foundation Zombieland is able to take liberties with its storytelling that other films in the genre are not. A prime example being how the film is able to portray a romanticised version of the world post-apocalypse where cars still run – just about – and electricity isn’t an issue thanks to dams and rain.

The overall story of Double Tap makes this more of a road movie than its predecessor. There’s a need for each of the core cast to find a family and find a home and much of the runtime is dedicated to doing that.

It’s a surprisingly heartfelt in a film filled with gory fight sequences and multiple expletives. But somehow, without ever losing that brash edge, the film is really able to make us care for Columbus and the gang.

Part of that is down to not milking the characters over the last decade. There’s an element of nostalgia for that first film which is very welcome whilst watching Double Tap. But at the same time Reese and Wernick have been able to make the characters likeable. Flawed but extremely likeable.

Double Tap is also able to build a number of dramatic moments and even a scare or two along the way. Its third act takes a lot of inspiration from the original Zombieland but regurgitates it in a way which makes it feel sufficiently different. This time all the characters are on the – metaphorical – fairground ride.

Seeing the family come together, accept their differences and save the Babylon community was a fitting end but one which ultimately doesn’t feel epic enough. If we never see these characters again I feel that this end will not be remembered as having the scope the characters deserved.

There are also a couple of suitably clunky moments in the script which make the story predictable. The award for clunker-of-the-week goes to Madison’s “death”. After a very obvious shot alluding to her being bitten she begins to “turn” in the mini-van only seconds after we see her eating trail mix and Columbus is left to give her the Doubletap. That moment happens off-screen leaving it inevitable that the character will return later in the film.

It’s hugely obvious what had really happened but as low points go it’s not the worst I’ve ever seen in the film.

Zombieland: Double Tap makes great use of its bigger budget. The first film relied heavily on indie sensibilities and those do remain in Double Tap. Rather than shooting for the stars it augments those indie moments with more luscious scenery and more complex zombie kills.

From a production standpoint the film is absolutely an improvement on the first in terms of technique as the world of filmmaking has moved on a lot in a decade. But none of the changes feel disingenuous to the premise and it will leave you feeling incredibly satisfied.

Verdict

Zombieland: Double Tap is gory, irreverent and unequivocally hilarious. A surprisingly original and, at times, heartfelt sequel which honours the original and pushes its boundaries.

7/10

Directed by Ruben Fleischer, Zombieland: Double Tap stars Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Rosario Dawson and Zoey Deutch.


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