Tag Archives: Critique

Star Wars: The Last Jedi [Behind the Scenes Trailer]

Today, July 15, in its measured roll-out in anticipation of The Last Jedi‘s December release, Disney delivered its second “trailer” for the film. While it is not a real trailer, the short video reveals just under three minutes of riveting tid-bits. We’ll discuss some key aspects of it below, but first, here is the trailer:

Key aspects:

  1. During their interviews, Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill hint that The Last Jedi will depart from the Star Wars norm. I, and I’m sure many other fans, would welcome such a departure after The Force Awakens highly derivative plot.
  2. In a brief clip, Kylo Ren appears in front of an elevator and walkway that looks incredibly similar to The Emperor’s throne room in Return of the Jedi. Maybe we will meet Snoke here, face-to-face. But once again, I hope this does not indicated that Rian Johnson is ripping off the earlier films like J. J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan did with Awakens.
  3. Who are the Stormtroopers with the black, First Order emblem emblazoned on their arms and wielding weird claw weapons?
  4. This video is laden with intriguing creatures and characters. I hope they mean that multiple, rich and well-thought out planets will fill The Last Jedi, unlike the two, rather boring planets from The Force Awakens.
  5. I’m extremely excited to meet Laura Dern and Benicio del Toro’s characters who we see for a few seconds in the trailer. The only thing I know about del Toro’s character is that people call him DJ. I also know he was a bad ass in Sicario so hopefully his savageness will carry over.
  6. We see Finn exiting his bacta tank so he is obviously alive and Kylo doesn’t appear too badly injured from the slash Rey dealt him at the end of Awakens. Also, who are the two young gentle sparring with him? Possibly, Luke’s padawans that Kylo and the Knights of Ren massacred? Rey seems to also have some sword fighting ahead.

Sorry if I criticiseThe Force Awakens too much here, but after each viewing, I dislike it more and more. Its dialogue failed to fit into the Star Wars universe, its world building seemed lazy, and, as I mentioned earlier, its plot relied way too heavily on A New Hope‘s.

I have high hopes for this installment, in no small part to Rian Johnson.I hope his skill at film making remains iconic and deft in this endeavor into the Star Wars universe.

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My Life As A Courgette/My Life As A Zucchini

Movie Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent, definitely one to watch)

Director: Claude Barras

Synopsis: In the wake of tragedy, Icare (Courgette) is placed in an orphanage, leading to an uplifting tale that highlights the enduring innocence and resilience of children. Despite the beautiful childlike designs and the brilliant voice acting for the children, this is a film for adults, not children.

My Life As A Courgette is an unfiltered account of the adult world seen from the eyes of kids. The film bravely examines the effects of addiction, crime, and abuse, addressing them through the children at the orphanage as they each slowly reveal the reason why they are alone in the world. By discussing these issues from the children’s point of view, My Life As A Courgette exudes an infectious optimism adding to the emotional weight of the film’s uplifting ending.

The disproportionate and minimalist design of the clay characters alongside the exceptional voice acting from the predominantly young cast places you within the orphanage. The voice actors deliver great performances, enhanced by the way their lines have been recorded. The sound design has a distanced quality to it, making the children’s lines sound like a candid recording of the orphans as they embark on trials and adventures, adding to the film’s realism.

The voice acting and simplistic artistic style has the warmth of an Aardman animation. Also, the movie’s writers riddled the plot full of adult jokes told by the children, which adds to their hilarity as they discuss sex and other adult themes. You will definitely find yourself cackling at questions about exploding willies.

It is hard to not love the children who inhabit the orphanage, even the initial bully, Simon. We witness their vulnerability as they expose their emotional and mental wounds once Courgette and his love-interest Camille enter the orphanage. Both characters open up about their pasts, letting the other orphans discuss their own pain. Together the children overcome their abandonment and isolation, making it even sadder to leave them behind when this brief film ends.

The film’s only flaw is that the plot does slightly drag, but otherwise My Life As A Courgette is a gem which art house and animation fans must watch.

A dubbed version is available, but I recommend the french language version with subtitles.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

 

Kong: Skull Island (2017) – Teaser/IMAX Poster

kong-imax

Outlook: Skeptical

I’m not gonna lie. The images for this film are stunning. Google “Kong: Skull Island Posters” and you’ll find a trove of majestic photos that exude a distinctly retro/comic-book vibe. By the way, I’m a huge fan of Legendary Pictures, Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, and John C. Reilly and most of them are coming off successful projects: Larson (RoomTrainwreck), Hiddleston (The Night Manager), Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane), and Reilly (The Lobster). On the surface, this film appears ready to knock critics’ socks off and rule the box-office.

However, the movie’s director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, is largely untested. He has only one movie under his belt, the indie-coming-of-age comedy Kings of Summer. I have yet to see this movie, but the plot looked promising and it’s currently rocking a solid 76% on RottenTomatoes.com. Nevertheless, it’s an indie-film with a budget of probably no more than $15 million. Kong, on the other hand, enjoys a budget that RottenTomatoes estimates to be about $190 million. It also boasts a studded cast that I’m sure had big and possibly unwieldy personalities, not to mention monumental special effects that such a monster-blockbuster requires. That’s many balls to juggle for a rookie director.

Also, the plot looks horrendous. After watching this trailer, all I thought was so what? Ok, there is a giant gorilla named Kong and he’s pissed that American soldiers are attacking his “kingdom.” Beyond this simple plot, the trailer provides no hints that the movie will attempt to rise above it. That worries me. At least Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005) maintained some mystery surrounding the King instead of flying straight into him as soon as the explorers enter Skull Island’s airspace.

I’m incredibly skeptical of this film. I assume that Warner Brothers, the studio distributing the film, signed on to Skull Island in hopes of capitalizing on the monster craze that it reawakened in 2014 with Gareth Edward’s blockbuster Godzilla, which Legendary Pictures also produced and Warner Bros. distributed. That movie was beautifully shot and filled with wondrous CGI, but the entire story dragged and by the end, I was bored with the omnipotent, nuclear beast. I worry that the same fate awaits me in Kong: Skull Island.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Film Score: 1.5 out of 5 (Poor)

Newt Scaramander (Eddie Redmayne) is a British wizard and expert of magical creatures, who has arrived in New York and is bound for Arizona. Through accident and misfortune, Newt plunges into a conspiracy between good and evil. Fantastic Beasts, a prequel to the Harry Potter series, attempts to emulate the original story’s grandiose narrative of good versus evil.

The result is a stunted tale full of omissions which would confuse even ardent Harry Potter fans and will bore younger children attending the film. Unlike the original Harry Potter series, which gradually became darker as the story progressed and its target audience aged, Fantastic Beasts consists of schizophrenic extremes. The film veers from lighted-hearted magic tricks to the darkness of a Lemony Snicket novel but lacks the black humour. One scene was disturbingly reminiscent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and would have deeply unsettled me as child.

The film lacks structure, resembling a garbled first draft of a script repeatedly punctured by holes. The opening scene is not a scene at all, but a barrage of news headlines concerning the actions of a dark wizard who has left a bloody trail from Europe to America. These articles are impossible to read as they flit by so quickly before the camera cuts to Newt Scaramander arriving in New York.

The cut between the newspapers and Newt embodies a recurring flaw throughout Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Many key elements of the plot’s context and the characters involved are hinted at but are never outright revealed. This attempt to hint at a more complex world would have been better suited in a slow-paced thriller.

The film’s denial of answers to many of the questions that it raises is a clear attempt to entice viewers into the following part of this new story arc. Yet the film’s conclusion feels cheap, gutted of any exciting revelation or premonition, retreating into the romance angle which is commonplace in blockbusters. Fantastic Beasts is the producing and screen writing debut of J.K.Rowling. It is clear throughout the film that Rowling still writes like a writer. Many aspects of the plot are left to the viewer’s inference, as though they were reading a novel.

The plot’s romance element falters. Once Newt pairs up with comedic relief, and muggle, Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), the film matches them with the magical Goldstein sisters, Tina and Queenie. The pairing is an arranged marriage gone wrong, Newt and Tina simply do not work together. There is no sentiment of attraction between the pair, interacting with each other for the bulk of the film like individuals who have been forced to work together. Then suddenly, near the end of the film, we are supposed to believe that they have developed feelings for one another.

Queenie and Jacob, both being more comedic characters, do work together. However, the relationship between Newt and Tina is glaringly artificial, making the overall romance element unwarranted and causing the plot to become disjointed, clashing with the film’s darker overtones and dragging out the end of the film. Fantastic Beasts would be vastly better if it had focused on Newt and Jacob. The partnership between the pair is reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy, with Newt’s introverted and awkward persona mingling with Jacob’s warmth and natural comedy.

The acting is varied. Redmayne and Fogler perfectly fit the role of Newt and Jacob. I hope both characters return as the principal protagonists in the next film of this new franchise. Colin Farrell, who has been given the thankless task of being a very one-dimensional villain, still portrays the character with a convincing ruthlessness that does not feel cheap. Ezra Miller brings a sense of brooding to Credence, the adopted and abused son of Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton), the leader of the anti-wizard organisation, the New Salem Philanthropic Society.

However Tina Goldstein is an unlikable character. Portrayed by Katherine Waterson, Tina is completely unsympathetic and acts in an illogical manner. She alternates between breaking the rules to following them, then balks at the consequences of enforcing the very rules which she had just broken beforehand. Due to the amount of screen time given to Tina, the character drags down the rest of the film.

Initially, I thought that Tina’s flaws solely rested upon how the character had been written. However, Katherine Waterston delivers the same portrayal for Tina as when she played the love-interest, Fay, in Inherent Vice. Both Tina and Fay are immature and melodramatic, seeking other people’s help for their problems. Tina, with a different portrayal and better writing, could have been a strong woman facing moral quandaries. Instead, she acts like a childish damsel who changes her persona between government agent to victim when it suits.  I hope that Waterston moves beyond this weak character type in the upcoming Alien Covenant, and delivers a stronger performance.

The rest of the cast do perform well especially as many of the characters outside of the two ‘couples’ are essentially side-notes. This is where the plot truly breaks down. We are introduced into this new magical world across the Atlantic, but the world is half formed. Many characters lack basic exposition, devoid of any history where their motivations are unknown and their actions are feigned, particularly in regards to the President of the American magical community in the final act.

I hope that the next film within the ‘Fantastic Beasts’ series learns from the errors I have highlighted above. I am doubtful this will occur due to the commercial and critical success of the first film. I probably hold a contrarian view, but the Harry Potter franchise has such a cultural hold in modern society that few are willing to properly critique it.

By Saul Shimmin

Target audience: Younger children, teens, and fans of the Harry Potter films.

For the trailer see below:

 

 

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) – Teaser

Spider-Man : Homecoming is the reboot of Spider-Man following the replacement of Andrew Garfield by Tom Holland as the titular character. The film is directed by Jon Watts, whose previous work includes the thriller Cop Car starring Kevin Bacon.

Saul’s Thoughts:

I have yet to see Cop Car, but the film’s trailer showed a brooding figure that recycled many parts of the classic 1995 film Night of the Hunter, where two children are plunged into the adult world, hunted by a monster posing as an authority figure.

Homecoming’s trailer does follow the more light hearted approach of Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange. Although  Holland may only be known through Cop Car, he does have experience in comedy, having directed episodes of satirical show The Onion News Network  in 2011.

I do have my concerns with Spider-Man: Homecoming following Doctor Strange, where Disney slotted a lesser known character into the Avengers-Marvel ensemble. The character of Spider-Man has far more clout in pop culture than Doctor Strange, due to the Spider-Man cartoons and the Spider-Man films by Sam Raimi in the 2000’s. The biggest issue with Doctor Strange was that the film pursued both comedy and serious drama in an origin story. The combination of the three elements shaped Doctor Strange into a rushed introduction of a character on Disney-Marvel’s course to greater and bigger films.

Spider-Man: Homecoming may suffer from the same issues as Doctor Strange in that both characters arrived late to The Avengers film group. Plus Spider-Man and Doctor Strange have not received the slower pace of a Netflix series. Therefore they have to quickly catch up with the wide audience appeal of more established Avengers characters such as Iron Man or Captain America. Doctor Strange did feel like a rushed attempt as mentioned above, and Spider Man: Homecoming may share this flaw.

The replacement of Andrew Garfield by the younger Holland for the Spider-Man reboot, alongside the injection of ‘Homecoming’ into the title, is a ploy to grab audiences in middle-school and below.

The Homecoming teaser trailer supports my theory about Disney’s current strategy towards the film market. Disney appears to be dividing  Star Wars and Marvel into two streams, with the first stream adopting a gritty tone,  counterbalanced by a second stream of action films designed for families and children.

Captain America: Civil War is far more brooding in comparison to the earlier Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. On the other hand, Guardians of the Guardians of the Galaxy reels in the laughs and is being followed by a sequel and Doctor Strange, which was funny in parts. Star Wars: The Force Awakens last year was a rehash of A New Hope for a newer and younger audience.

It is not coincidental that Rogue One is arriving between The Force Awakens and Star Wars Episode 8. Trailers for Rogue One infer a darker tone than The Force Awakens. While the protagonists of the main Star Wars series so far are teenagers trapped on backwaters who dream of adventure, Jyn Erso, the lead of Rogue One is a criminal on the fringes of the galaxy. Her criminal record is gleefully announced at the beginning of the Rogue One trailer, stressing how different and mature this spin off will be.

If Disney’s strategy is to partition Marvel and Star Wars between older and younger audiences through films ranging in maturity of content, then I think that is clever. The strategy does risk a potential overlap where both strands try to entertain different audiences with distinct tastes depending on age, but the films end up not satisfying both.

Disney could succeed, but there must be consistency, particularly with the films designed for older audiences . The Dark Knight series was about a superhero that attained critical and commercial success, while containing darker themes such as the human condition, nihilism and redemption. Disney just needs to take a risk and really step outside its comfort zone of entertaining children, teenagers and families. Otherwise, the I.P conveyer belt will become lacklustre.