Saturday, January 31, 2015

Big Hero 6 (Don Hall and Chris Williams, 2014) Review

I suppose the worst part about being a Disney fan is being in England. For some disturbed reason, Disney will wait around 4 months after the original American release to release it in England. Wreck-it Ralph was torture to wait for as was The Princess and the Frog. After Frozen being released more or less the same time, I thought we'd be past this but, apparently not. We finally saw the premiere of Big Hero 6 yesterday so let's take a look at the joining together of Marvel and Disney.

In the combined city of San Fransokyo, Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) is a 14 year old technology prodigy with a strong bond with his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney). After inventing a new form of robotics known as microbots, tragedy strikes which leads to Hiro meeting Tadashi's latest creation, Baymax (Scott Adsit), a health care robot. Hiro and Baymax team up after they discover a masked villain has stolen Hiro's microbots and is now using the bots against them. Hiro also brings together Tadashi's university friends to form the eponymous team and discover just who is the man behind the mask.

The area that Big Hero 6 really shines in is the characters. Normally, Disney villains are the ones that steal the spotlight from the sometimes bland heroes. This time, the whole cast is wonderful. My favouite character was most definitely Baymax. Scott Adsit's calm and pleasent voice fits the delightfully adorable character perfectly. I was also impressed by how much character and depth went into Hiro and the masked villain (labelled 'Yokai'). Hiro is a much more neutral hero than previous Disney protagonists. He isn't just a pure good guy. He has his faults and its much more rewarding to see overcome these personal flaws. The most interesting heroes out there are flawed heroes. Yokai is also a deep villain. I was worried going in that he was just a character who looked cool (very, very cool) but with not much to him. I'm impressed how he is one of the more morally ambiguous villains. I won't delve in for sake of spoilers but his true intentions, while not necessarily justified, are fair in some deluded sense. Of course there is a whole team of superheroes hero to talk about so let's move on. The team themselves are really fun and likable however the film falls into the same trap The Incredbles fell into in that all the development and focus is on the hero and the rest not get as much focus. The only support character who makes a strong impact is the school mascot Fred (T.J. Miller) and offers some of the films biggest laughs.

Frozen was a beautifully animated film and I was certain Disney couldn't advance their animation in any way...I was wrong. Big Hero 6 looks gorgeous. San Fransokyo has so much going on that you really want to explore it for yourself with luscious buildings and a great atmosphere. The characters are also very well designed. Yokai had my attention since his debut in the advert purely because of his awesome design and the rest of the cast look just as good. Somehow Disney continues to deliver stronger animation. When one thinks Disney, music is also something that comes to mind. Frozen brought back catchy musical numbers however it wasn't expected that a sci-fi Marvel animated feature would continue this trend but that doesn't stop Henry Jackman delivering a fantastic score nor does it stop Fall Out Boy, of all people, to create a memorable and fitting song. I don't even like them that much but I won't deny that that is a song I'll be singing for a while after. If I were to nitpick, however, I would have to say that the plot does have room for improvement. You'll catch on very quickly that Disney has been keeping the same story archetypes throughout many films but with Wreck-it Ralph and Frozen sharing this film's basic twists and turns, it's hard to be surprised. It's harsh to say but there is some predictability with Big Hero 6. The big reveal in this one just isn't as shocking as something like Frozen's. If Big Hero 6 came out before Frozen did, it would be the latter's problem. It's just poor timing if anything.

Big Hero 6 proves that Disney animation shows no sign of slowing down. Gorgeous animation, deep and likable characters as well as a wonderful soundtrack make Big Hero 6 a delight to watch, The biggest issue I have is the narrative however the same could be said if you were to look back at previous Disney flicks. Maybe it's just that I've caught on to what they're doing now. That and I would love to see the rest of the team be developed. It's not often that I want to see Disney make a sequel but this is certainly one. I want to see more of these characters and location so I hope Disney finally do some good with a modern sequel.

Delightful, heartwarming and fun. Great animation, music and characters lead this one to being a Disney classic.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Whiplash (Damien Chazelle, 2014) Review

With Boyhood out of the way which I was less than won over by unlike everyone else, I present you with another Oscar nominated film (really churning these out). Also seems fitting that I look at a film about drumming since the last film I reviewed that I loved (Birdman) featured a very prominent percussion soundtrack. The two mediums that I look to most prominently are film and video games however the quintessential one I couldn't live without is music. I'm not the most virtuosic person but I can appreciate good music...and a damn good performance so let's look at Whiplash (no relation to Iron Man 2).

Andrew (Miles Teller) is an aspiring drummer who shows great passion and talent on a kit. One evening after school, the head music teacher Terrence Fletcher (J. K. Simmons) catches Andrew playing and soon recruits him to the higher up jazz band in school. Soon, Andrew's life is only focused on one thing: drumming. He has to face adversity to become the next best musician and faces against the threat of other drummers taking his place, mishaps at concerts, his personal life and, most shockingly, Fletcher's brutal and explosive demeanour.

J.K. Simmons owns this film. He delivers the greatest performance I have seen in any 2014 film. You know when you stumble across a fantastic performance when he carries you through the film and holds your attention. Simmons has a wonderful screen presence and I hang onto every word and action he delivers. No fooling, this is his film and he aims to keep it that way. I know that the Oscars are very harsh against actual talent but I will have to become like Fletcher if Simmons is snubbed for best supporting actor. I recognise that a good performance is also made possible by an engaging script (which we have here) and strong director (also in the film) but no one else other than J.K. Simmons could've made this role as strong as he did. Miles Teller also proves his acting chops as he conveys the strong progression of Andrew's character as the film goes on and his drumming talent is just too good to get into words.

While writing out this review, I found myself listening to the score for Whiplash and it hit me just how memorable the songs were. This is clearly a film that makes you retain every instance that occurs. The music is wonderfully composed and the way that all the instruments work together to bring us a treat for the ears is grand. Also commendable is how the film makes use of the music. It's not treated as a background element, if it weren't for Simmons' performance the music would be the movie (sorry, just can't get over how good he was!). I am so glad that it is also up for best sound mixing and best editing because, from a film making view point, the editing and mixing are where the film shines brightest. The climax of the film (which I won't ruin) is beautifully put together from all accounts. The acting is tight, the shots jump from one another in great succession and the music is fit in perfectly.

With my top 10 films of 2014 on the way, I can safely say that Whiplash is the only film to top my beloved Guardians of the Galaxy. Whiplash is nothing short of a masterpiece with its beautiful editing, music, directing, writing and, of course, the phenomenal acting. It's rare that I walk out of a theatre after watching a big Oscar film and instantly want to watch it again (I almost did!). I simply can't recommend Whiplash enough and hope to high heaven that J.K. Simmons walks away from the awards with an Oscar in hand.

A musical masterpiece that is led by J.K Simmons' masterful performance. Accompanied by fantastic editing, writing and, of course, a very strong score.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014) Review

So we've officially entered award season now that the Oscars have been revealed (for better or for worse...poor LEGO...) and judging by all the other awards, Boyhood is on track to win best picture like it has already for the others. With all the hype and great reviews surrounding Boyhood, I decided to check it out and....yeah, I sure hope it DOESN'T win best picture. In fact, I wouldn't have even nominated it. So why am I going against the majority and being difficult? Let's find out.

Filmed over the course of 12 years, we follow the life of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) as he grows up before our very eyes along with his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). Mason and Samantha endure many trials throughout their early lives such as their parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) splitting up, their mother struggling with day to day life alone, moving houses and meeting new people along the way. Boyhood acts as a fictional

Right, so what DIDN'T I like about this supposed 'masterpiece'. Firstly is the gimmick. At first, it really works. It's wonderful that they kept the same cast for 12 years and we do get the feeling that we are watching them grow up. Here's the issue, towards the second half of the film, Mason stops growing. We reach the end of what the film is trying to sell us and we are left with a rather dull life story with no sense of progression. It's at this point I always realise that Ellar Coltrane is very bland. Unfair to say since they cast him when he was 12 years younger and it was a gamble as to how he'd turn out (what if he had died?).

Don't get me wrong, I'm still impressed that they managed to convey the objective that the set off with and can say that the film does have quite a lot going for it. Ethan Hawke is probably the best actor in the film alongside Patricia Arquette and the other people along the way do a good enough job. It's just the lead that isn't engaging when he's the focus. The first half when he's growing up is great as it did actually make me look back about my child hood. I guess if that's what the film was trying to make the audience do, they succeeded. I'll give it that much.

Boyhood is good. That's it. It's a nifty idea for a film that succeeds on those merits but not much else. The supporting cast are good but the lead isn't very interesting and the film stops dead in its tracks in the second half of the film. It is a long film anyway and having a film that drags is the last thing you want. So you probably think that Birdman will be my film of the year instead (well, maybe Guardians of the Galaxy) since I found Boyhood to be underwhelming. You'd be wrong. There is one film left for this week and I have one question for you: was Boyhood rushing or was it dragging?

It has a nice idea for a film but the film stops dead in its tracks and leaves on an underwhelming note.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2014) Review

Oscar season is drawing closer and so the movie studios have begun to pump out their big award season films. The Theory of Everything, Whiplash and many other potential Oscar contenders have shown their face but the one I picked from the bunch to start with is Michael Keaton return to the public eye (excluding Robocop because...who cares, right?) that has already swept the rest of the world by storm. Let's look at Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

Riggan Thomas (Michael Keaton) is a washed up actor who's fame peaked when he starred in a trilogy of super hero films as 'Birdman'. Riggan has decided to have a go at Broadway with an adaptation of a short story titled 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Love'. Over the course of production, Riggan has to handle crappy actors, overbearing actors such as Mike Shinner (Edward Norton), a tormenting critic with a grudge as well as balance his own sanity as his Birdman persona threatens to take over his mind.
Birdman is a wonderfully shot film. I am very curious to see how the script and storyboard where put together as there are technically about 3 scenes. Why? Because there are little to no all. The camera is constantly following the action and doesn't let up. It could be disorientating however the director clearly knew what he was doing (I just feel sorry for the camera man who had to walk backwards for most of it). Speaking of the script, it is very well written. The sign of a good film is how it keeps you guessing because I truly never knew which direction the film was going. There were a number of opportunities in which the film could end yet it never took those opportunities. Normally this would be bad but the film is just so engaging that I really didn't want it to end.
The acting is fantastic. This is very much Michael Keaton striking back after years of less than great films (Robocop? Really?). He is perfect for this role because you can just replace the eponymous Birdman with Batman and you get the general idea of what the film is like. There are moments where he proves his acting worth along side other great actors such as Edward Norton and Emma Stone (all three of these actors now being up for Oscars!). This film actually made me a little nostalgic. I've dabbled in stage acting and the way it's presented is quite accurate. Not in the sense that everyone's a egotistical asshole (can't attest to that) but the way the characters work around problems, both in regards to the play and their own mental well being, is one of the elements that keeps the film going.

Birdman is an exquisite and unique film that keeps you invested with it's fascinating script, fantastic acting and wonderful cinematography that makes the film stand out. While it may be too 'different' for casual movie-goers, any film lovers need to watch this, especially now that it has been nominated for 9 Oscars! Do I reckon it will win best picture? Well, you'll find out by the end of this week. Not much more to say than "watch it"!

Wonderfully shot, acted, written and edited. Birdman is a wonderful look at the acting profession and the pros and cons that come with it.