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The Mitchells vs the Machines review – a cranky AI gets her revenge

At this stage in my adult life, I must admit that I am way behind the pace when it comes to keeping up with all of the latest animated features. I’m not particularly proud of it, but I tend to make the effort for each new Disney and Pixar release, and then leave everything else unwatched. In an attempt to shake off the sombreness of this year’s Oscars ceremony, however, I decided to turn to Netflix for an animated adventure that had the hype train fully loaded and out of the station.

Produced by The Lego Movie creators Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, The Mitchells vs. The Machines tells the story of teen girl Katie Mitchell (Abbi Jacobson) and her family as they find themselves the only humans left to save the world after an army of robots descends to cause technological chaos. Queer, quirky and an aspiring film maker with eccentric creative juices, Katie constantly finds herself at odds with her parents, particularly dad Rick (Danny McBride), but the family are forced to put all differences aside as they battle to save humanity, learning, as you would expect, lots of lessons along the way.

Before I get into the nitty gritty, let me say that on the whole The Mitchells vs. The Machines is great, it’s full of laughs, fulls of life and full of action, with some all important heart to bridge the gap between all out robot adventure and poignant family drama. The one thing I would say isn’t in the film’s favour, however, is simply the fact that is tries to do so, so much. Something that I have gotten used to in Pixar movies in particular, is an elegance in the way that stories are told, something like Soul, for example, being about so much but feeling so minimalist on the screen. Minimalism certainly isn’t something that The Mitchells vs. The Machines is going for here, but once you adjust to the hectic rhythm of the narrative, it’s definitely a ride that is worth taking. There are parts of the film that feel so packed with plot that the emotions get a little bit lost, as well as more than a few hand wavy moments for the sake of plot progression, so whilst the movie may not be a complete masterpiece, there is no doubting that it is one hell of a fun ride.

The filmmakers have definitely taken a scatter gun approach to audience enjoyment here, throwing a LOT at the screen to see what sticks, and what might stick for one viewer may not stick for another. The humour is a mile a minute, and on the whole the majority if jokes worked for me. The thing is, though, it didn’t really matter when something fell flat because four more jokes were always lined up to go straight after.

The wider narrative concept of smart tech ‘coming to life’ to wreak havoc on society isn’t a fresh one at this point, but there’s real need for nitpicking here. The robot revolution is simply a fun, shiny device in which to tell the smaller scale story of a family reconnecting with one another, and those moments are the most emotionally satisfying in the film. It also goes without saying that the style of animation is really, really fun!

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Rev Rank: ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ is an enjoyable yet dull rendition of the classic Disney formula

Throughout the 2010’s, Walt Disney Animation Studios has relentlessly released film after film with titles like “Frozen,” “Big Hero 6” and “Moana” becoming instant household classics. Almost all of them are enjoyable, some more so than others, but one cannot deny how deeply derivative they are of one another.

A fantastical land, a mysterious power, a regal hero, smirking sidekick, the death of a family member, a quest for MacGuffins, a mindless antagonistic presence and gorgeous animation. All of these elements compose the tried-and-true Disney formula of moviemaking. It’s worked for decades, but the cracks are finally starting to show in “Raya and the Last Dragon.”

Set in the mythical land of Kumandra, dragons and humans used to live together in prosperity. Then everything changed when the Druun attacked. Born out of human discord, these evil spirits began to ravage the world until the dragons sacrificed themselves in an effort to save humanity. Five hundred years later, the world is broken, separated into five kingdoms who all despise and distrust one another. Now, enter Raya (Kelly Marie Tran), a loner and disgraced princess of the Heart Kingdom, who is on a quest to locate the titular last dragon, Sisu (Awkwafina). Together, they will be able to reunite and restore balance to the mythical land.

Sounds familiar?

Yeah, I bet it does.

I mean, look. I did not hate this movie because there is so much to love and appreciate. For starters, it is absolutely stunning and impressively crafted with all the textures, fabrics, facial expressions and even the sky looking immaculate as ever. The world-building is extraordinary too. Each location and action set-piece are all beautiful and infused with Southeast Asian representation which is a major plus in my book. Additionally, the stylish direction and editing give the film a fast-paced, frenetic Guy Ritchie-esque sensibility. Oh, and James Newton Howard’s score is simply incredible to behold.

Everything that is visually and audibly presented is amazing, but the story just makes none of it feel unique. “Raya and the Last Dragon” moves from scene to scene with each character delivering stilted, expository dialogue necessary to the plot. There’s loads of improvised comedy (courtesy of Awkwafina) and some surprising personality in the line delivery, but it’s nothing special. The story is about as predictable as you can get with a Disney movie which is not necessarily a negative because I tend to care more about the journey itself rather than the destination. However, I knew exactly where this movie was going by the ten-minute mark. It deemed my experience with Raya, Sisu and squad of other bizarre misfits to be duller than I envisioned it being.

Overall, “Raya and the Last Dragon” is a fun, flawed Disney movie. If you can look past the blatant unoriginality, then you’ll probably have a good time with it. I enjoyed myself watching it, but it is definitely a film I could have skipped.

Also, if you do see this movie, see it in theaters. Don’t play $29.99 for it on Disney+ because that is just ridiculous.

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Spider-Man: Far From Home – Ranking Each Character Based On Likability

It feels like mere days ago that I was sat in the cinema watching the absolute chaos and climax that was Avengers: Endgame. Although we are twenty plus movies deep in to the Marvel Cinematic Universe at this point, it really felt like the most impossible job in the world of film this year was going to be how to follow up that decade in the making extravaganza. Obviously, who do you call when the stakes are so incredibly high? Everybody’s favourite friendly neighbourhood superhero!

Picking up in the universe eight months after Bruce Banner reversed Thanos’s snap, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and his fellow Vanished classmates are in the process of restarting the school year that they missed. Excited to embark on a European class trip to Venice, Paris, London and more, and eager to spark his romance with MJ (Zendaya), Peter finds his perfect plans interrupted by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who enlists him to help fight a huge elemental fire monster threat alongside new superhero recruit Quentin Beck aka Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal). But is Mysterio the real hero everyone believes him to be?

In terms of a follow up to Endgame, Marvel have done the perfect thing in going from one distinctly dramatic and earth shattering tone to an altogether more light and fluffy one. What do you do what you know you can’t match something straight away? You go fro the exact opposite. One of the most enjoyable elements of this new Spider-Man iteration is that it feels very light and breezy in the context of the wider MCU. Our lead characters are all cute teenagers dealing with teenage things, and in all honesty the moments I enjoy the most both in this and in Homecoming are those moments when the film is more of a YA comedy drama than a superhero flick.

This version of Peter Parker is an enjoyable character to spend time with, and his various companions are all great too. Where the film doesn’t quite match up to the majority of recent Marvel releases is in its CGI. Compared to the last few releases in the franchise, the action and CG work in Far From Home feels incredibly weightless and, to be honest, unimpressive. I grant you that Spider-Man in action is probably one of the most difficult superhero characters to make feel authentic, but there were certainly action sequences in the film that felt of a much lower quality than Marvel have treated us to in the past.

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A Definitive Ranking of All Four ‘Toy Story’ Movies

If this blog had existed in 2010, you would have no doubt come along to read how I thought Toy Story 3 was the perfect end to a pretty much perfect trilogy of Pixar movies that felt like they were specifically made with my generation in mind. Six years old with the first, ten years old with the second and twenty-one years old with the third, it really felt like this franchise was something that neatly and perfectly bookmarked not only my early life but also my blossoming love for high quality cinema. You can imagine my apprehension, then, at the release of a fourth instalment. Was Toy Story 4 about to ruin something beautiful, or expertly add to it?

On the whole, I think I’d have to say it does a little bit of both. After being heart wrenchingly handed over to Bonnie at the end of Toy Story 3, the film picks up with Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack) and co. preparing to help their new owner get through her first days at kindergarten. During a celebratory pre-school start RV road trip with the family, the toys find themselves in all sorts of bother, with old friends like long lost Bo Peep and new friends like the homemade Forky bringing lots of action to the party.

The first thing to say about the film is that it is almost unbelievably beautiful. You have no doubt seen some of the comparisons of the CG animation between the original and today, and the difference is quite astounding. Films like this honestly make me wonder where the hell animation is going next, and I’m incredibly excited about it.

On a story and narrative level, there are some things that I really liked about Toy Story 4, and then there are some things that didn’t really grab me at all. It’s fair to say that Andy’s story was beautifully wrapped up in the first trilogy, and in many ways this film feels a lot like a tacked on goodbye specifically for Woody at the expense of most of the other beloved characters in the franchise. Without wanting to give too much away, it’s safe to say that many of Toy Story’s classic themes are front and centre, albeit becoming more and more complex as the series and its original audience mature.

We have Woody reckoning with the appeal of living another life with a child ending in inevitable donation, we have new character Forky touching on what the nature of the toy’s sentience even is in the first place, and we have other side tangents involving the concepts of lost toys, broken toys and antique toys that aren’t supposed to be played with. It sounds like a lot, and that’s because it is. Compared to the narratives and statements of its predecessors, Toy Story 4 feels like a great movie that is downgraded to good because it tries to do a little too much and suffers overall because of it.

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Emma review – Austen’s sweet satire gets a multiplex makeover

In the world of classic authors, it’s fair to say that Jane Austen is a name that has become equally synonymous with cinema as it is with literature. From Pride And Prejudice to Sense And Sensibility to Mansfield Park, Austen’s work has proved to be a fertile ground for movie magic in the past. Published in 1815, Emma is a story that might be more familiar to film lovers in the form of 1995’s Clueless, a modern take that became one of the most beloved teen movies of all time. For her directorial debut, however, filmmaker Autumn de Wilde has decided to take us back to a time with which Austen herself might have been more familiar.

For those few who didn’t have to study it at school, Emma tells the story of Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy), a “handsome, clever and rich” young woman who takes delight in meddling in the romantic escapades of her friends and close associates. From matchmaking for her governess (played by Gemma Whelan) to blocking an undesirable marriage proposal for a close companion (played by Mia Goth), Emma uses her wit and intelligence to manipulate those around her, all whilst determining never to marry herself despite a growing attraction to family friend George Knightley (Johnny Flynn).

You can see why the plot of this centuries old novel would make for such a perfect 1990s high school comedy in Clueless, the romantic twists and turns and sharp wit of the original source material are massively transferable to a modern adaptation, but that doesn’t mean they still aren’t enjoyable in a more traditional setting also. This 2020 iteration of Emma might not be an absolute banger, but it is certainly pleasant and proficient enough to provide a fulfilling period experience.

The film runs at a snappy pace and has snappy dialogue to match, and this helps to maintain a light and breezy tone from start to finish which is always welcome in a genre (period) that can sometimes feel bogged down. The different kinds of characters are the most enjoyable and defining element of Emma, from the sassy, headstrong protagonist to her hilarious hypochondriac father (Bill Nighy) to the boring but goodhearted village neighbour Miss Bates (Miranda Hart), the narrative introduces us to a plethora of endearing people, and then uses them as chess pieces in a story that, whilst perhaps not earth shattering by modern standards, has a gentle universal appeal that proves why the work of Jane Austen still feels relevant today.

If I were to be really picky, I’d say that the film flags a little bit in the middle before building up steam for a satisfying final third, but I can’t say that it is boring or unappealing at any point. It’s not Clueless, but then what is!?

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Misbehaviour review – likable comedy of bizarre and farcical 1970 Miss World

Despite the film not being able to transition quite so smoothly between its two binding themes, there is a lot of entertainment on show, and that is mostly thanks to the truly excellent cast of performers in central and supporting roles. Keira Knightley seems to excel in any role that puts her in a time period other than our own, and as Sally she effortlessly exudes that sort of 1970s early intellectual feminist attitude, an attitude that is wonderfully contrasted by the more militant activism and charisma of her friend Jo played by Jessie Buckley. Together those two actresses are the key figureheads for the Women’s Lib element of the film, and they are great.

It feels against the message of the film to say, but I need to stress just how irresistibly resplendent Gugu Mbatha-Raw is as Miss Grenada Jennifer Hosten. The grace, serenity and knowing intelligence that both the character and actress possess is a captivating joy to watch, and Mbatha-Raw along with Loreece Harrison as Pearl Jansen (the first black Miss South Africa) provide a necessary and thought provoking contrast for the audience, helping us to see how the pageant, as strikingly ‘cattle market’ as it might be, was one of the very few avenues for a minority to be given a platform.

Overall, Misbehaviour falls in very neatly with dozens of other British comedy dramas of its like, not quite the top tier, but still far from being anything close to bad. Given the subject matter and themes involved, it perhaps doesn’t have quite as much bite as I would have personally wanted, but a handful of really great performances along with that quintessentially ‘comfortable’ British quality make it a solid enough watch.

As for the immediate future of this blog, I’ll try to catch new releases on home cinema as and when I can, but the main thing is that we all stay safe and be sensible. Hunker down, build up that Netflix queue, and enjoy doing your part to prevent this shitty virus from spreading to those more vulnerable than ourselves. See you soon!

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Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae in ‘The Lovebirds’: Film Review

It’s not every day, or even every year, that a romantic comedy touches a nerve of reality — and is drop-dead funny, and becomes an acclaimed awards-bait hit. So when a director makes the rare romantic comedy that accomplishes all those things, unwittingly or not he has set the bar high for his next effort. “The Lovebirds” is the first movie directed by Michael Showalter since “The Big Sick,” the 2017 indie knockout about love, cultural identity, and a girlfriend in a coma, and since this one also costars the deadpan live wire Kumail Nanjiani (though he didn’t cowrite it, as he did “The Big Sick”), it’s hard not to go in with your expectations in overdrive.

The opening scenes totally deliver. We see the moony morning after the night that Jibran (Nanjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae) first slept together — they met at an event while flirting at the crudité table — and the actors generate the kind of connective heat that’s either there or it’s not.

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Review: ‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ Is Fine and Forgettable

As with “A Christmas Carol” and the Grinch, every generation gets its own version of “The Nutcracker,” it seems.

The latest incarnation of the E.T.A. Hoffmann story is Lasse Hallstrom and Joe Johnston’s “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms,” a hokey oddity that glissades along with a few charms and a pleasant score by James Newton Howard heavily incorporating themes from Tchaikovsky’s ballet (though there’s little dancing).

Children who are 10 and under may be enchanted by the abundantly whimsical holiday-themed visuals; accompanying adults might chuckle at the movie’s leaden attempt at a girl-empowering message. Anyone squeamish about rodents — even ones that have been rendered sort of cute by CGI — might consider steering clear.

On Christmas Eve in Victorian-era London, Clara (Mackenzie Foy), a budding inventor, receives a special, egg-shaped box left for her by her recently deceased mother. With it is a note that reads in part: “Everything you need is inside.” But lo! The key to unlock the egg is nowhere to be found, and thus her journey to discover what lies inside it (and, of course, herself) unfolds.

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‘The Witches’ Review: A Tale of Mice and Women, Toil and Trouble

There’s no eye of newt or toe of frog in “Roald Dahl’s The Witches,” Robert Zemeckis’s take on the 1983 book — just a mischief of mice, a cantankerous cat and an occasional s-s-snake. There are people, too; some buzz around in the background while others push the story forward. Chief among these are an unnamed orphan, call him the Boy (Jahzir Bruno, sweetly sensitive), and his loving grandmother (Octavia Spencer), who form a wee bulwark against witches who appear fair but are most foul.

Narrated by a distracting Chris Rock, the story primarily takes place in flashback, in 1967, starting with an accident that kills the Boy’s parents. He moves into the Alabama home of his Grandma, whose warm embrace eases his pain. Zemeckis, working from a script written with Kenya Barris and Guillermo del Toro, handles this setup effortlessly, with his two cozily inviting leads, low-key visual panache and customary restive camerawork. Within minutes, Zemeckis has created a vibrantly inhabited world, even if the golden oldies on the soundtrack are overly familiar, as is his habit, and Grandma’s caky cornbread looks more Northern than Southern.

The witches sidle in, disguised and cunning. One materializes in a once-upon-a-time tale; another pops up in the present. Amid intimations of doom, Grandma and the Boy decamp to a resort hotel, a nonsensical turn that’s effectively a narrative contrivance. There, they soon find themselves facing down a coven of witches stirring up trouble. United by their hatred of children, the twisted sisters are led by the Grand High Witch (an amusing Anne Hathaway), who arrives with a black cat, a trunk stuffed with cash and a vile plan. Speaking in a vaguely Eastern European accent with Nordic notes, she has a cavernous mouth and jagged teeth right out of del Toro’s imaginarium.

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‘Thunder Force’ Review: Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer in a Superhero Satire That Never Threatens to Rock the Genre

A movie like “Thunder Force,” on the other hand, would like to skewer the genre, but it’s basically a whiffleball action comedy studded with middle-drawer Melissa McCarthy gags. The movie teams McCarthy and Octavia Spencer as estranged high-school pals who get back together after a reunion and turn themselves into a superhero team called Thunder Force. Lydia (McCarthy) has super-strength; Emily (Spencer) can turn invisible. Both are devoted to fighting Miscreants, mutant sociopaths who came into being when a pulse of interstellar rays struck the earth in 1983. The two get their superpowers after being injected with a genetic formula pioneered by Emily’s corporation. Inside, though, they remain their deeply ordinary selves, which is part of the joke, though it isn’t much of a joke.

They’ve got armored suits that make them look like members of a medieval S.W.A.T. team. They’ve got a name — Thunder Force! — that sounds just ridiculous enough to have been the title of a Howard Stern “Fartman” movie. They’ve got a purple Lamborghini, which it takes them a minute to stuff themselves into (or wedge themselves out of).

And when they meet the Crab (Jason Bateman), a Miscreant with crustacean pincers for arms, who for some reason is holding up a convenience store, Lydia looks into his eyes and it’s love at first crab pinch. There’s a fantasy sequence in which the two dance to Glenn Frey’s “You Belong to the City,” which is amusing, though I kept thinking that if this had been an “Airplane!”-style spoof, that dance number, with Bateman’s crab/human Lothario in a powder-blue tux, would have grown progressively more absurd, getting loopier and loopier, until it detonated the audience with laughter.

How much of a loser-slob is McCarthy’s Lydia? She’s a lonely alcoholic forklift operator who’s also a metalhead, the kind of person who sits in her kitchen in a VAN HALEN KICKS ASS T-shirt, taking bites of cereal with spoiled milk, which she then remedies by pouring in a beer (“Know what? Gonna thin that out”). She wears an Army jacket and has no friends, though she does have a funny moment when she shows up at the security desk in the office building that houses Emily’s genetics corporation, asking to see her ex-friend (“Estranged, I think, puts a stink on it that it might not warrant…”).