October 31, 2019

Review Toy Story 4 (2019)

#ToyStory4 (2019): 7/10

Toy Story 4 sees a return to the ‘Toy Story’ world some 9 years after ‘Toy Story 3’ graced the big screen. Many felt that the emotional conclusion of ‘Toy Story 3’ rounded the trilogy off nicely, bringing the curtain down on a series of fantastic films that kickstarted the Pixar era. Sure, we’d all love an extra helping of ‘Toy Story’, but there’s always that little bit of nagging doubt that the next will pale in comparison.

All the big-hitters are back for this instalment including Tom Hanks (‘The Green Mile’) and Tim Allen (‘The Santa Clause’), as well as newcomers to the franchise, comedy duo Key and Peele, and ‘John Wick’ himself Keanu Reeves. We rejoin Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang, now in the possession of Bonnie, who, at her orientation day at Kindergarten, creates a new toy out of spare parts called Forky, who proves a welcome addition to the Toy Story family.

The film focusses a lot more on the new characters introduced in the film rather than the core characters of old, although they all play a part. ‘Toy Story 3’ may have been the end of Andy’s story, but 4 acts as a continuation to Woody’s, as he struggles to move on and fit in with new surroundings. The film’s animation is more vibrant than ever, and is awash with great humour and heartfelt moments, despite a plot that occasionally feels forced in order to take the toys to new settings.

On the whole, Toy Story 4 does showcase less of the toy naivety and ingenuity we have come to love and isn’t quite on par with its predecessors, although in saying that, it still manages to pull off a just as powerful, emotional ending. The ending does feel very final, but if this franchise has taught us anything, it’s that you just never know.

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Review Men in Black: International (2019)

#MenInBlackInternational (2019): 5/10

Men In Black: International is the fourth instalment in the ‘Men In Black’ franchise, with the franchise seeing its first director change, and with it, a change in personnel; Chris Hemsworth (‘Thor’) and Tessa Thompson (‘Creed’), fresh off the back of their ‘Avengers: Endgame’ success, join forces once again to head up this ‘Men In Black’ spin-off, in an attempt to freshen things up in the franchise.

Hemsworth and Thompson are the two main plus points in this film without doubt, their energy and chemistry, seemingly copied and pasted from ‘Thor: Ragnarok’, keeps the film ticking along, with the roles reversed from previous films, the suited and booted MIB veteran this time providing the entertainingly goofy moments. Emma Thompson (‘Love Actually’) is also a highlight but is regrettably underused. The MIB headquarters get an international revamp for the London branch, with Liam Neeson (‘Taken’) in charge as High T.

We are yet to see a worthy successor to the 1997 original despite two previous efforts, which is a worry, and the changes probably do more harm than good. ‘Men In Black’ without Will Smith for example is always going to be a risk. With his character Jay already treading the introductory path in the original, it’s somewhat glossed over for Tessa Thompson’s M, meaning we don’t really get much time to see her wow’d by her new environment, or connect with her on an emotional level. The humour also leaves a lot to be desired with many jokes falling flat and some cringey pop culture references.

There are some aspects and scenes to enjoy despite forgettable antagonists reminiscent of The Twins in ‘The Matrix Reloaded’, and a few nice nods to previous instalments but these just serve as reminders to previous, better outings. With the film already performing poorly at the box office, even after a 7 year franchise hiatus, it’s hard to see the ‘Men In Black’ franchise continuing in its current form.

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October 30, 2019

Review Diego Maradona (2019)

#DiegoMaradona (2019): 7/10

Diego Maradona is the latest insightful documentary from Asif Kapadia (‘Senna’, ‘Amy’). Constructed from over 500 hours of never-before-seen archive footage, the documentary mainly focuses on Maradona’s time at Napoli, his meteoric rise from outstanding player to demigod, and presents a series of events that ultimately lead to his calamitous fall from grace with the Italian people.

For those unfamiliar with the Italian social ladder, the documentary showcases just how low Naples and its people were regarded when Maradona arrived, with many opposing fan displaying grotesque messages during Serie A matches, which only spurred Maradona on, almost single-handedly taking Napoli to the top of the Serie A tree, delivering their first ever league title, whilst also winning the FIFA World Cup with Argentina, the Quarter Final against England proving a pivotal moment with the now infamous “Hand Of God” goal; the archived footage proving exhilarating.

It’s quite evident from the documentary though that Maradona’s resulting popularity with the people of Naples left him feeling trapped, leading to friction with the press, and his relationship with the Camorra coming under increasing scrutiny, which all came to a head during Italia ‘90 with Maradona having a hand in defeating the home nation in the World Cup Semi Final, souring his relationship with the Italian people beyond repair.

Whilst the documentary is just as insightful and intriguing, it’s perhaps not quite on par with previous efforts ‘Senna’ and ‘Amy’, although with the added emotional weight of human tragedy in those, Maradona always faced an uphill battle to compete. Still, another fascinating piece of work that will satisfy both fans of Maradona and viewers exploring his story for the first time.

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Review The Nun (2018)

#TheNun (2018): 4/10

The Nun is the fifth film in The Conjuring Universe and the first chronologically in the series; The Nun first appearing in ‘The Conjuring 2’. A priest and a young Catholic novitiate, played by the real life younger sibling of ‘The Conjuring’s’ Vera Farmiga, investigate a nun suicide at a Romanian Abbey.

The film continues with the Universe’s theme of demonic possession, leading to the same supernatural and horror cliches, such as being forcibly locked in a coffin or separating the group in order to neutralise them individually. As for the scares, we’re fed the same stale jump-scare techniques that you have seen a thousand times before, and whilst they will always make you jump, you can’t help but feel they could’ve been a little more creative. Ironically, the most creative and scariest moment of the film was actually used for the film’s trailer, meaning there are no real surprises when it comes to that point in the film itself.

The character’s personalities and backstories are wafer-thin meaning we feel little for them once they are in trouble. The local townsman “Frenchie” even feels rather out of place to begin with, not unlike a narcissistic womaniser from a Disney film, before becoming more down to earth later in the piece.

Despite its decent special effects and make-up, The Nun adds to the growing number of disappointing horrors this year, which is a shame, particularly after the encouraging ‘Annabelle: Creation’. There is a nice link back to the main ‘Conjuring’ films at the conclusion of The Nun but this does little to redeem it’s poor quality.

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October 29, 2019

Review The Dark Tower (2017)

#TheDarkTower (2017): 5/10

The Dark Tower is based on the novel series by Stephen King, and stars Idris Elba (‘Luthor’) as the mysterious Gunslinger, sworn to protect the Tower, and Matthew McConaughey (‘Interstellar’) as the positively evil Man in Black, who hatches a plan to bring the Dark Tower crashing down.

The film had been in production hell for a number of years prior to its release, finally landing at Sony, who clearly saw the project as the beginnings of a possible film franchise, but with the runtime clocking in at a measly 94 minutes, there’s little time to really introduce or explore the realm of Mid-World and flesh out its history, making it difficult to really feel invested in it. Aside from the Gunslinger and Jake, a young boy on the run from the Man in Black’s accomplices, many of the characters share the same fate, with little or no explanation into their character. What we’re left with is a fantasy film that feels rushed and thrown together.

The role of the Man in Black isn’t a particularly testing one for McConaughey, who mostly coasts through his performance. Idris Elba gives us a deep and meaningful performance, but there’s no weight behind his feelings of vengeance toward the Man in Black. Save for short dream sequence involving the two, there is no real base for the pair’s relationship, which makes for an anticlimactic finale.

The Dark Tower is a passable film, but almost forgettable, which is a shame. There’s no reason why it couldn’t have become the next big film universe for avid cinemagoers to really get invested in, but just like ‘Mortal Engines’, it never really feels carefully thought out, the studio thinking five or ten steps ahead without being sure to get the first, most important step right first.

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Review Blinded by the Light (2019)

#BlindedByTheLight (2019): 5/10

Inspired by the life of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, and based on Manzoor’s memoir “Greetings From Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll”, Blinded By The Light is the latest film from Gurinder Chadha (‘Bend It Like Beckham’), the story of a young British-Pakistani Muslim boy growing up in the English town of Luton in the 1980’s, struggling to find a balance between his strict Muslim background and the liberal western world around him, Javed’s life changing forever after he discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen.

The film is top-heavy in Springsteen’s music, which will no doubt please his fans; his lyrics painted on-screen during many-a-montage. Unfortunately this doesn’t do enough to distract us away from the fact that the film regularly lacks in the acting department with some undeniably cringeworthy scenes and cheesy dialogue, often far too on the nose, and not really helped with some hot and cold performances from the film’s main protagonists. Regrettably Viveik Kalra, who plays Javed, just doesn’t possess the fire in his performance to carry the film.

The film does take a while to get going also, but once it does, the film improves. There are touching moments between Javed and sister Shazia, and as the plot unfolds, so does the tense relationship with father Malik, which comes to an explosive head. We also bear witness to the darker side of cultural division, with ugly clashes between Muslims and far-right protestors. All in all, a mixed bag.

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