Tag Archives: Ralph Fiennes

The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

In all honesty, I thought The Lego Movie would suck. Instead, it turned out to be one of the craziest, funnest and funniest movies of 2014. A big part of that is the character of Batman, voiced by Will Arnett, and so it was no surprise that the first spin-off film Warner Bros decided on was The Lego Batman Movie.

Given how funny The Lego Movie was, I went into Lego Batman with heightened expectations, but also wary that it could turn out to be another Minions situation (ie, good in small doses as a side character, annoying and incapable of sustaining its own film). I shouldn’t have been worried.

Lego Batman is, like its predecessor, loads of irreverent, stupid fun, It again delivers relentless, rapid-fire jokes from all directions, some misses but mostly hits, and this time, with the added bonus of many inside jokes poking fun at not just the Batman franchise throughout its long history but also the entire DC universe — including the current cinematic universe. Actually it goes even beyond that and borrows characters from other franchises too (that’s the great thing about Lego), but I’m not going to spoil the surprises here. All I’ll say is that at least one real-life counterpart of one of the characters from another franchise voices a different character in the film.  I’m sure I missed a whole bunch of the jokes, references and characters, and I wouldn’t mind checking out the film again when it comes out on DVD to catch all the Easter eggs.

Conversely, as it centres around Batman, Lego Batman is more limited in scope than The Lego Movie, and as a result, most of the jokes are more confined in subject matter. Accordingly, I have to say I did laugh less this time around, though another reason could also be because I was on the ONLY person in the theatre watching the movie (it was a Thursday matinee session)!

I would say it’s both good and bad — if crazy, silly laughs are all you’re after, Lego Batman is arguably a step down from The Lego Movie, but if you prefer a more structured story (yes, there is actually a story and character development and all that), then Lego Batman might be more up your alley.

As you would expect, the action is fun and inventive and the visuals are bright and colourful.  I would say the quality all the non-humour elements are on par with The Lego Movie. The idea of rapidly “building” things with Lego pieces on the run is still pretty cool to watch every time.

Will Arnett is perfect as Lego Batman. He pretty much speaks in a Batman voice as Job on Arrested Development anyway, so this performance came naturally for him. Joining Arnett is his nephew from AR, Michael Cera, who plays Robin with the same wide-eyed innocent as George Michael (by the way, there might be a George Michael joke or two in there — and you can interpret that however you want). Ralph Fiennes is also terrific as Alfred the butler, while Zach Galifianakis is a solid Joker and Rosario Dawson is cool as Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Commissioner Gordon. There are loads of other big names on the cast list, including some familiar returning names from The Lego Movie such as Channing Tatum as Superman and Jonah Hill as the Green Lantern. Billy Dee Williams, Mariah Carey, Chris Hardwick, Zoe Kravitz, Adam DeVine, Conan O’Brien — the list goes on and on.

On the whole, I personally preferred The Lego Movie just because of the sheer range of the jokes and because it was fresher and more surprising, but Lego Batman is not very far behind. I would say there were less laugh-out-loud jokes but more witty bits and pieces that will keep you smiling and giggling. Anyway, if you enjoyed one you will absolutely enjoy the other. I’ve said countless times that I’m not usually a fan of animated films, so when I am this positive it usually means it’s pretty, pretty good.

3.75 stars out of 5

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but even after watching Kubo and the Two Strings, I had no idea it was a stop-motion animation movie. It was only when I saw a short featurette of the movie on YouTube a week later that my mind was blown. They did all that? I guess you could say it’s a testament to the incredible hard work and dedication of stop-motion animators and filmmakers, or if you want to be cruel, that it’s a waste of time because technology has advanced to the point where computer animation is basically indistinguishable.

Anyway, Kubo has been hailed as one of the best animated motion pictures of the year for being original, visually spectacular and funny. I decided to go see it because my son started begging me to take him after he saw a trailer with a giant monster and a sword. As I’ve repeated ad nauseam, animated flicks are usually not my thing, and with that in mind, I have to say Kubo was a slight disappointment for me solely because of the high expectations.

Though it’s produced by American stop-motion animation company Laika, Kubo is set in ancient Japan and tells the story of the eponymous boy who lives in a seaside cave with his ill mother. Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson) can play this musical instrument called a shamisen (literally “three strings”), which can magically bring origami to life. He uses this skill to tell stories in the village to make ends meet. Of course, something dramatic happens to spark Kubo’s quest out into the world to find three magical items, with a talking Monkey (voiced by Charlize Theron) and giant Beetle (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) by his side. In his way are his two aunts (voiced by Rooney Mara) and the evil Moon King (who else but Ralph Fiennes?).

It’s an adventure film filled samurai sword action, cool monsters and family drama. I suppose in contrast to all the animation sequels we tend to get these days, it’s fair to call Kubo original. But for someone who grew up on anime and manga like me, the story is par for the course.

My main problem with the film, however, is that it didn’t make a whole lot of sense from a narrative or logic perspective. Yes, fables don’t always necessarily make perfect sense, though for me the contrivances of the plot took me out of the film a little bit. The humour was fine, but I didn’t laugh that much, and the twists were quite easy to predict too, so I never found myself really impressed by the film apart from the visuals.

I sound more negative than I intend to be, because I actually thought Kubo was very good. The animation is seamless and the details in both the characters and the sets are absolutely incredible. Watching the featurette certainly improved my appreciation of what a tedious and momentous task such films are to make. I’m merely saying that I was not as blown away by the film as many others were (97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and 84% on Metacritic).

My two sons had different reactions to the movie. My elder son (4.5 years old at the time) loved it, especially the creatures, while my younger son (3 years at the time) found some the scenes frightening. Indeed, some of the characters had scary designs and the darker moments were quite eerie, so parents should keep that in mind when deciding whether or not to show it to younger children.

Ultimately, Kubo and the Two Strings is still worth watching simply for the amazing stop-motion visuals and the refreshing concept. Those who enjoy samurai swords and quest adventures should also find it enjoyable because the action sequences are well choreographed and the creature designs look really cool. But as with all films, keep expectations in check, or you might reach the same conclusions about it as I did: Not a disappointment as a film but disappointing relative to high expectations.

3.5 stars out of 5

Spectre (2015) (IMAX)

spectre

Truth be told, I’ve never been that big a fan of the James Bond 007 franchise. It’s always kind of the same, no? A suave super spy who loves the sexy ladies and whom the sexy ladies love in return. Slick cars, cool gadgets, and a whole lot of style.

The reason Daniel Craig has been so loved as Bond is because he supposedly makes the character more vulnerable and more human. I really enjoyed Casino Royale, almost fell asleep during Quantum of Solace, and quite liked Skyfall (review here), though I still don’t think it lived up to the hype. Yeah, Sam Mendes made a very nice looking, very artistic film, but I didn’t think there was much substance behind the simple yet unnecessary convoluted plot.

The same can be said for, Spectre, which could very well be Craig’s final outing as James Bond (he’s signed on for one more, but the rights to the franchise are going up for auction and whoever wins it might decide to start afresh) — except it has more problems than just a lack of substance. I don’t want to say I disliked the movie — it was enjoyable on some levels — but it’s definitely weaker than both Skyfall and Casino Royale (can’t compare to Quantum of Solace because I can’t remember it). And for what is supposed to be the “climax” of the Daniel Craig franchise, that’s disappointing.

Spectre starts off with a bang in Mexico City, with Bond on pursuit of a mysterious criminal. I remember being blown away by the opening sequence of Skyfall on that moving train, and Spectre arguably tops that. I saw it in IMAX too, so it was even more spectacular.

The ensuing title sequence they have for all Bond films is also done very well through a catchy blend of artistic imagery and the soulful voice of Sam Smith. It also provides flashes of characters from the previous three films to jog our memories as Spectre ties it all together.

From there, however, the film struggles to keep up. Granted, there is more plot that Skyfall, and the surveillance technology premise is well-suited to the post-Snowden era. Further, the technical execution is still excellent. The action, from what I remember, is perhaps better than that from Skyfall, with a few explosive and eye-popping set pieces that keep the adrenaline pumping. A lot of guns and a lot of explosions, a few slick car chases and nicely choreographed hand-to-hand combat scenes. And of course Sam Mendes ensures everything looks as pretty as ever and Craig remains as suave and unflustered — for the most part — as he possibly can be.

But amid all of this is a whole bunch of ham. Ham-fistedness, that is. The Bond cliches start pouring out, and they feel unnecessary and contrived. From the women and romances to the villains and their moronically elaborate tactics, so much of Spectre gravitates towards the tropes that Craig is supposed to be steering away from. I don’t want to divulge spoilers, of course, but ‘m not kidding when I say this film does the exact sort of things Austin Powers has made fun of.

I was disappointed in the female characters too. I absolutely love Monica Bellucci, but her role in this film is ridiculous and a complete waste of time. I also thought Naomi Harris, who didn’t get to do much in Skyfall, would play a bigger role this time. She does feature more prominently, though just barely, though her presence all but disappears in the second half of the movie. You almost forget about her. Of the Bond girls, only Lea Seydoux has a meaty role. She’s awesome and sassy, but if you think about it, her purpose is still quite conventional — to look sexy and to be rescued.

That brings me to the villain, played by dual Oscar winner Christoph Waltz. He’s supposed to be the baddie of all baddies. The ultimate nemesis. The guy who makes the villains from the previous three films look like pussies. He’s certainly built up to be that guy, and on paper Waltz is perfect for the role. And yet, he totally sucks. Every one of his appearances — every damn one — is preceded by a long, elaborate and over-the-top introduction. And it’s not like we don’t know who he is. Everyone knows it’s Christoph Waltz! And yet it seems he always feels the need to hide in the shadows for five minutes before unveiling his face. The amount of effort Mendes puts into setting Waltz up as the king of villains only ends up accentuating how inept he actually is.

I sound harsher than I mean to. Spectre is skilfully made, looks fantastic (especially in IMAX) and still has its moments, like the opening sequence and some of the scenes involving badass Dave Bautista. Ben Whishaw’s Q is also very likable and Ralph Fiennes does a solid job of stepping in for Judi Dench as M. It’s just that, after three films of making us feel that Daniel Craig represents a different and better kind of Bond, Spectre brings us right back to the formulaic version of the character and tropes that I never cared much for. There’s no other way to call it other than a step back.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

grand-budapest-hotel

Wes Anderson films are an acquired taste. I respected and appreciated his previous efforts, most notably The Royal Tenenbaums back in 2001 and the animated Fantastic Mr Fox in 2009, but I have not been able to enjoy them as much as some others, who think his flicks are the best thing since the invention of air conditioning. Anderson’s films are just so tightly-wound and choreographed — to the extent that they come across almost like animations or stage productions — that the surreal air about them often make it difficult for me to engage with the narrative for the entirety of the running time.

Anderson’s latest entry, The Grand Budapest Hotel, has been lauded as a masterpiece, and I went into it thinking that this might finally be Anderson film that I can truly enjoy. And while I did enjoy it a lot, I still don’t consider myself a convert. It’s a finely crafted motion picture full of imagination, confidence, and a ridiculous A-list cast that spews out witty lines at a frenetic pace, and yet it is so whimsical and farcical that its deeper undertones and poignancy tend to be overwhelmed, resulting in one of those fun but ultimately forgettable experiences.

The fictional eponymous hotel, located in the mountains of a fictional European Alpine state, is the setting of this wild madcap caper about the adventures of a concierge, Mr Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), and a lowly lobby boy, Zero (Tony Revolori, and later F Murray Abraham). Mr Gustave is a smooth, fast-talking sleazebag who makes a habit of courting wealthy, elderly women, and when one of them (Tilda Swinton) dies under mysterious circumstances, all fingers are suddenly pointed in his direction — and it is up to Zero to help prove his boss’s innocence. 

The Grand Budapest Hotel is full of twists and turns, most of which are completely unexpected because it runs so fast and furiously that all your attention is spent simply trying to keep up. If you’ve seen any of Anderson’s past films you’ll have an idea of what you are in for, though this one, with cute miniatures and hand-made art, is arguably his most stylish and visually-impressive effort. It’s decidedly meta; there are delicate layers upon layers, stories within stories, the narrative moving from character to character and through different times and eras.

The cast is outrageous — apart from the aforementioned Fiennes, Abraham and Swinton, there’s Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Lea Seydoux, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Tom Wilkinson. Thanks to Fiennes’ superb performance and comedic timing, however, it did not feel jarring to have so many superstars in the one film, often for just a scene or even a second or two. Who knew Voldemort was so funny?

And that’s the biggest strength of The Grand Bupadest Hotel — it’s probably Anderson’s funniest film ever. The wisecracks are razor sharp, and, unlike much of the humour we tend to get in comedies these days, actually witty. The use of well-timed profanity is spot on. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I giggled often and hard.

The first half is funnier than the second half, where my difficulties with the film start to seep through as the story begins to take a slightly more melancholic turn. As often can be the case with Anderson’s movies, the tone can come across as unmistakenly smug. You just get the feeling that it’s getting too smart and witty for its own good — to the point where you react to the jokes with “that’s funny”, but without actually laughing. It wasn’t so much of a problem in the first half of the film because everything was so fresh and frantic and fun, though later, when you can tell the film’s also trying to be poignant and send a deeper, more emotional message, it becomes much easier to see through the contrivances. And once you lose your focus it becomes very difficult to get back on track.

Consequently, the overall package is a mixed bag, albeit one that is weighed heavily towards the positive. I loved the look of the film and the brilliant cast. It was undoubtedly funny and clever; stylish and precision-crafted. And yet its irreverent, artificial feel made the film difficult to sustain an emotional connection for its 99-minute running time.  I like to think of the experience as sampling a series of beautifully designed, tightly controlled set pieces, each of which stands up well on its own, though together the pieces don’t quite deliver something greater than the sum of its parts. Having said that, The Grand Budapest Hotel is an easy film to appreciate and enjoy, and so far it’s my favourite Wes Anderson film to date.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: I have yet to see Moonrise Kingdom and I cannot recall much of Rushmore.

Movie Review: Clash of the Titans (3D) (2010)

Big action blockbuster and Greek mythology — two of my favourite things.  Put them together, throw in a bit of 3D, and you get Clash of the Titans, the new remake of the 1981 classic.

The story is very loosely based on the Greek myth of Perseus, played by Sam Worthington (Avatar), and has numerous and significant differences from the original film.

There’s not much point in giving away the plot, other than to say that the film takes place in a world where humans have full knowledge of the Gods’ existence, and that bizarre creatures and mythical monsters live among them.  And in this world, Perseus, a demigod (ie half-man, half-god), is fated to go up against the Gods and save humanity.

If that sounds silly and cliched, that’s because it is.  Directed by Louis Leterrier (Transporter 2, The Incredible Hulk), there is no serious attempt to make Clash of the Titans even a remotely believable film.  It feels like the makers decided that this was an impossible task, and instead went down the full-blown, technology-driven action route.

The result is a pretty exciting experience, albeit one you cannot really feel fully engaged in because of the campness, the laughable dialogue, and the lack of character development.  To be fair, they did try to inject a bit more like into the central characters, but the effect was so poor that it became humorous, and only wasted valuable time that could have been spent on more action.  Speaking of action, I would have liked to have seen less quick cuts and more wide shots, but for the most part it passed the grade.

The special effects were great, but not exceptional by today’s high standards, and the 3D added a little extra, but to be honest not a whole lot more.  I don’t think I would have regretted it had I watched it in plain old 2D.

Sam Worthington, Hollywood’s next big thing, seemed like he had plenty of fun.  There are no pretensions in his performance because he knows it’s all about the action.  He still lacks the “superstar aura” that Russell Crowe has, but maybe he’ll get there some day.  It was great to see Liam Neeson playing Zeus, and especially Lord Voldemort himself, Ralph Fiennes, playing the King of the Underworld, Hades.  Both inject star power without diverting attention away from the rest of the cast.  They even got Pete Postlethwaite to play Spyros, Perseus’ adopted father!  My only complaint was probably Gemma Aterton’s Io, who was just plain weird.

So Clash of the Titans is unlikely to be remembered as a classic.  There are plenty of things wrong with it.  It’s silly and cheesy and lacks heart.  But for those who like Greek mythology, monsters, sword-wielding action, and don’t need things to be taken too seriously, Clash of the Titans is a fun, exciting popcorn movie for the majority of its 118-minute running time.

3.5 stars out of 5!

[PS: watching Clash of the Titans gave me a new appreciation for films like The Lord of the Rings, films that actually have heart and make you believe in their world while not compromising the thrilling action.]