Movie Review ~ Paddington 2

The Facts:

Synopsis: Paddington, now happily settled with the Brown family and a popular member of the local community, picks up a series of odd jobs to buy the perfect present for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, only for the gift to be stolen.

Stars: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi, Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw

Director: Paul King

Rated: PG

Running Length: 103 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: Two short years ago Paddington, Michael Bond’s famous bear in the blue coat and red hat, finally got his first big screen adventure and it was a lovely bit of whimsy that snuck up on me in the best way possible. With its message of kindness filtered through quirky characters and a colorful kaleidoscope of production design, Paddington strangely wasn’t the huge sleeper hit in the US it should have been. Still, enough critics took note of its quality, coupling that with its snazzy UK box office a sequel was greenlit, and boy, are we lucky to have another one of these charming films!

The lovable bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw, Skyfall) has settled into life with the Brown family at their comfortable home in London. Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville, Breathe) is going through a mid-life crisis, dying his hair and exploring new yoga poses while Mrs. Brown’s (Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water) attention is focused on swimming to France. Their children, Judy and Jonathan, are both preoccupied with their own teenage interests while their housekeeper Mrs. Bird (Julie Walters, Brave) keeps the house running and everyone fed.

A popular fixture on their winding street that has a way of bringing sunshine to all he encounters (save for stodgy Mr. Curry of the neighborhood patrol), Paddington is living his best life, even if he occasionally gets into a spot of trouble.  In this outing, Paddington’s Aunt Lucy (voiced by Imelda Staunton, Maleficent) is still back in darkest Peru and he wants to get something special for her in celebration of her 100th birthday. Though at one time she planned to visit London with her late husband, they never made the trip but her adopted nephew finds the perfect gift in an expensive hand-made pop-up book of the sights of city in the curiosity shop owned by Mr. Gruber (Jim Broadbent, The Legend of Tarzan).

While visiting the opening night of a dazzling ‘steam circus’ with the Browns, Paddington mentions the book to Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant, Cloud Atlas), a washed up actor that happens to be the descendant of a magician who was desperate to acquire the same pop-up tome. Evidently, contained on its pages are clues to finding a wealth of jewels hidden away by the proprietor of the circus. When the book is stolen and Paddington is jailed for the crime, he has to find a way to clear his name before Phoenix can acquire the bounty.

Returning director Paul King doesn’t yield to the episodic nature of Bond’s original creations.  This is a bear and family that have adventures and Paddington 2 hits the ground running, barely leaving any time to catch your breath.  Bounding joyously through scenes that find Paddington bungling a job at a barber shop to his revolutionizing the lives of his fellow inmates by educating the gruff cook (Brendan Gleeson, In the Heart of the Sea) on the tastiness of orange marmalade, the movie will leave you smiling.  It’s so focused on celebrating the innate goodness in people and kindly revealing how unfortunate it is to be someone who can’t find the fun in life, I can’t pick out anything that felt like a misstep.  It’s also a legitimately funny and ultimately moving (bring a tissue or two) bit of family entertainment, something of a rarity these days.

While both films earn a strong recommendation, I’d give the edge to this sequel, if only for the fact that the first one dealt with a bit more intense villain (Nicole Kidman’s sinewy meanie wanted to stuff Paddington!) and Grant’s character is just a sad song and dance man that wants money to finance a West End revue.  On that note, make sure to stay through the credits for an incredibly pleasing musical production number featuring Grant tap-dancing to Stephen Sondheim.  Nominated for three BAFTA awards (take that, The Post!) the good news is that there’s already a Paddington 3 in the works, let’s hope nothing gets in the way of its release within the next two years.  While we’re at it, this would make a great series for Netflix…just a thought.

Movie Review ~ Assassin’s Creed

assassins_creed_ver3
The Facts
:

Synopsis: When Callum Lynch explores the memories of his ancestor Aguilar and gains the skills of a Master Assassin, he discovers he is a descendant of the secret Assassins society.

Stars: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Khalid Abdalla, Michael K. Williams, Charlotte Rampling, Ariane Labed

Director: Justin Kurzel

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 115 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Let’s get this out of the way at the outset.  I’ve never played Assassin’s Creed nor did I have the faintest clue what the big screen adaptation was about when I cozied myself up in a warm theater for the 10am screening.  Maybe it was the early showtime or maybe not having any pre-conceived notions helped because I quite enjoyed this futuristic historical adventure with a hard edge.

Used to be when an A-List actor took a role in a video game adaptation, it signaled a career that had run its course but Assassin’s Creed proves to be a rare unicorn.  Featuring a host of Oscar winners and nominees, I was worried the film would reek of actors slumming for a paycheck but turns out they all bring a much needed gravitas to the proceedings.  Basically, they classed up the joint.  Re-teaming with his Macbeth stars, director Justin Kurzel makes good use of Michael Fassbender’s (Prometheus) dark side and nicely exploits Marion Cotillard’s (Two Days, One Night) air of mystery to keep you off balance surrounding the motivations of the central characters.

Fassbender is a death-row convict whose execution is faked by Cotillard in order to bring him to her next-generation laboratory in Spain.  There’s some mumbo-jumbo about the Knights Templar and a fabled Apple of Eden that holds the key to the nature of evil but it’s all a way to get Fassbender into Cotillard’s machine that takes his DNA and pulls up the memories of his ancestors and allows him to relive the past.  As part of the memories of his Assassins society days, Fassbender is plunged into a conspiracy where his life hangs in the balance in both the past and the present while mankind’s future is up for grabs if he achieves his goal.

The ideas in Michael Leslie, Bill Cooper, and Adam Cooper’s screenplay are loftier than one might imagine considering the source material.  Jeremy Irons (Beautiful Creatures) and Charlotte Rampling (45 Years) are Templar elders anxiously awaiting Fassbender’s find and both have fun (but not too much) with some nicely droll line readings.  The cast is rounded out by reliable character actors and an international cast of foes and friends working to either help or hinder Fassbender’s efforts.  Aside from the seemingly never-ending supply of bad guys to kill (in appropriately PG-13 non-bloody fashion), this doesn’t have the typical video game look that has weighed down similar movies.  For that, I am most grateful.

Unfortunately bound to get lost in a holiday season with bigger fish to fry (why didn’t this get a late January or February release?), Assassin’s Creed is better than it should be and more entertaining that I felt it would be.  Kurzel has now shown in two movies that he can get real dark real fast and the finale of Assassin’s Creed is a bold stroke of confidence that I hope pays off.

Movie Review ~ In the Heart of the Sea

in_the_heart_of_the_sea_ver4

The Facts:

Synopsis: Based on the 1820 event, a whaling ship is preyed upon by a giant whale, stranding its crew at sea for 90 days, thousands of miles from home.

Stars: Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Tom Holland, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Cillian Murphy, Jordi Molla, Michelle Fairley, Charlotte Riley

Director: Ron Howard

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 121 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review: I finished the book that In the Heart of the Sea was based off of mere hours before I caught its big-screen adaptation and it’s probably the reason why I didn’t like it as much as I maybe would have had I not recently experienced Nathaniel Philbrick’s well-researched book.  Philbrick’s historical recounting of the tragedy of the whaleship Essex was a straight-forward piece equal parts storytelling and instructional guide.  Details about the whaling industry, on-board dynamics, and deeper looks into the backstories of the characters was something no film could capture fully…so it’s hard to blame the filmmakers for diverting so far away from the truth.

Well…actually…there is some blame to be had here because what was already a storied tale of survival on the high seas has been unnecessarily Hollywood-ized.  Events have been falsified, details overlooked, and certain aspects have been downright made up to serve…who?  Not the lovers of historical fiction that made the book a bestseller, that’s for sure.

Unwisely adding bookends to the piece featuring a young Herman Mellville (Ben Whishaw, Paddington) interviewing one of the survivors of the wreck (Brendan Gleeson, Song of the Sea) as he researches what will become his celebrated novel Moby Dick, the film starts off on the wrong foot by including this imagined meeting.  Historically it doesn’t make sense, just the first of many ill-advised missteps.  The old man recounts his time aboard the Essex (including scenes where he wasn’t even present) which ran afoul of one massive whale that destroyed the ship and set a band of survivors in lifeboats to fend for themselves on the harsh open sea.

After seeing the equally disappointing Unbroken last year, this survival against all odds seems a bit been-there, done-that so screenwriters Charles Leavitt, Rick Jaffa, and Amanda Silver take some major liberties with the historical facts and add in events that never happened.  In the film, the whale returns several times to taunt/terrorize the men hanging onto life when in reality the massive mammal appeared only once when it originally capsized the Essex.  While the extra whale sightings may add some fairly nice tension to the mix (Silver and Jaffa wrote Jurassic World so they know how to craft a creature attack), knowing that it never happened pushes the film into Jaws: The Revenge territory.

There are other false happenings that I won’t spoil for you here…but the more the story took untrue turns, the less I cared about the film as a whole.  Director Ron Howard (Parenthood) reteams with his Rush star Chris Hemsworth (Cabin in the Woods) and the results aren’t nearly as notable.  Hemsworth is a stiff actor and while his physical appearance may have made him an ideal candidate on paper for the headstrong sailor he’s playing, his performance never makes it out of the bilge.  Also feeling a bit lost is Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) as the combative Captain, in the book he’s a social leader done in by his inability to lead by example but here he’s a brat at sea.

The film was shot in 3D and it’s used to good effect here.  Unfortunately, much of the film is CGI-d to death so it can feel like you’re watching an animated film at times.  The camera is constantly moving so those prone to sea-sickness may want to take a Dramamine before embarking on this voyage.

When it was delayed from its intended release in March of 2015, many thought that the studio was positioning the film to play big on the high seas of awards season…but the final product is a total land lubber, unable to find its sea legs.

Movie Review ~ Song of the Sea

2

song_of_the_sea_poster

The Facts:

Synopsis: Two children must embark on a fantastic journey across a fading world of ancient legend and magic in an attempt to return to their home by the sea.

Stars: Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flanagan, Lisa Hannigan, Pat Shortt, Liam Hourican, David Rawle, Jon Kenny, Lucy O’Connell, Colm O’Snodaigh, Kevin Swierscz

Director: Tomm Moore

Rated: PG

Running Length: 93 minutes

TMMM Score: (10/10)

Review: When The Academy Award nominations were released last week there were lots of hemming and hawing about the films that didn’t get the love many felt they deserved.  Nowhere was that felt more than in the category of Best Animated Feature with the omission of the widely popular The LEGO Movie.  While I was put-off by the film’s seizure inducing ADHD frenzied style, I must admit that I was as surprised as anyone that it wasn’t on the shortlist.

The thing is, though, even had it been nominated it would have undoubtedly been up against Song of the Sea and I’m not sure it could have bested this wonderful film from Ireland.  It’s a true beauty, one that catches your attention early on with its striking animation and lush score before fully capturing your heart with its lovely Celtic folklore inspired tale.

Living with their father in a lighthouse on the shores of the Irish coast, Ben and his sister Saoirse have grown up without a mother.  A distant memory for him and a non-presence for her, the brother resents the sister that showed up the night his mother left while their father still grieves in silence, unable to be the present father the children need.  When their feisty granny whisks them away to the city, Ben decides to steal off back home, begrudgingly letting his sister tag along.  What starts as a journey home for two runaways turns into a fantastical adventure that will test sibling bonds even as it opens old wounds.

Drawing on the oft-told myth of the selkie (men and women that are seals in the water and humans on land), writer/director Tomm Moore (Oscar nominated in 2010 for the also-impressive The Secret of Kells) uses the legend as a framework to tell a larger tale about the emotions we bottle up and try to forget.  Moore creates a world of witches, fairies, and magic to illustrate how keeping our sentiments bottled up can wind up causing greater pain than merely allowing yourself to feel all of the hurts and happiness our lives can bring.

Featuring hand-drawn animation that’s less 3D and more 2D lends itself well to the merging of the real world and the dream-like arenas Ben and Saoirse cross through on their passage home.  With delicate curlicues spiraling through watercolor-like backgrounds there’s something of interest in every frame.  If you really pay attention you’ll catch many hidden treats as power lines start to resemble animals and faces pop up in rocks, trees, and hills.

Musician Bruno Coulais lends a delicate score to the film that’s as soothing as a lullaby, which several stirring passages are.  With song/music playing a huge role in the plot there’s ample opportunity for Coulais to layer the film with haunting melodies and serene vocal tracks.  As integral to the movie as the perfect blend of animation and narrative, it’s a beautiful marriage of the aural and visual.

This movie really transfixed and transported me and I think it will have the same effect on anyone that comes into contact with it.  Looking at the other nominees in the Best Animated Feature category (Big Hero 6, How to Train Your Dragon 2, The Boxtrolls, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya) I can’t imagine Song of the Sea going home empty-handed on Oscar night.  It’s the high-water mark of achievement in animation for 2014 and earns a spot on my must-see list.

The Silver Bullet ~ In the Heart of the Sea

in_the_heart_of_the_sea

Synopsis: Based on the 1820 event, a whaling ship is preyed upon by a sperm whale, stranding its crew at sea for 90 days, thousands of miles from home

Release Date:  March 13, 2015

Thoughts: I can’t help it – just as they say that man has always been drawn to the sea, so have I always been drawn to films about the sea.  That includes any number of undersea creature features (like, say, Jaws) to deep diving epics such as The Abyss.

Knowing that, you wouldn’t be surprised that the newest film from Ron Howard (Parenthood) caught my eye based just on the poster alone.  Based on the novel by Nathaniel Philbrick which charts the tragedy of a whaling ship ravaged by a sperm whale (which inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick) this could be a nice little piece of historical action from a director that has experience in both genres.  Teaming up again with his Rush star Chris Hemsworth (The Cabin in the Woods), Howard could get some new wind in his directorial sails from this one.

As you know, I love a good teaser and hate a too-long preview…so I’m presenting you with a few options.  The teaser below is a nice bite while the two below may give away a tad too much.  The choice is yours.

 

Trailer #1
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xs-JfPjgiA4

Trailer #2
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9IdfGWfbNYI

The Silver Bullet ~ Calvary

calvary_ver2

Synopsis: After he is threatened during a confession, a good-natured priest must battle the dark forces closing in around him.

Release Date:  August 1, 2014

Thoughts: Brendan Gleeson is an actor that hasn’t ever truly gotten his just-due in Hollywood.  Yes, he’s known as a dependable character actor with his gruff exterior and ability to play menacing or benign with a mere flick of his eye but often he’s on the sidelines, supporting the work of others.  In 2014 Gleeson (Edge of Tomorrow, The Raven) gets his time to shine in Calvary and The Grand Seduction, and while I’ve seen the slight but pleasant Seduction I’m more interested in what sort of film Calvary will wind up being.  You’d never know the film is being released as a black comedy in the poster above after watching the the trailer below…and that’s OK with me because it makes the film more intriguing to seek out so I can make up my own mind.  With supporting characters Chris O’Dowd (The Sapphires), Kelly Reilly (Flight), and Aiden Gillen (The Dark Knight Rises) joining Gleeson in the confessional, this is one I’m looking forward to.

Movie Review ~ The Company You Keep

company_you_keep_ver3

The Facts:

Synopsis: A former Weather Underground activist goes on the run from a journalist who has discovered his identity.

Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Robert Redford, Julie Christie, Richard Jenkins, Susan Sarandon, Stephen Root, Sam Elliott, Brendan Gleeson, Terrence Howard, Anna Kendrick, Jackie Evancho, Stanley Tucci, Brit Marling, Nick Nolte

Director: Robert Redford

Rated: R

Running Length: 121 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: The first of two movies that Robert Redford starred in in 2013 was this curious little project that Redford also sat comfortably in the director seat for.  Though the film came and went with very little fanfare, I’d expect some collateral buzz to be drummed up for it when Redford is (hopefully) nominated for an Oscar for his career-high work in All is Lost.

Redford has seen more action as a director lately and he seems to be enjoying this part of his career which appears to be having a slow moving but surefooted renaissance.  It’s known that Redford is picky about the material he’ll take on as an actor and perhaps more so with his directing work which makes The Company You Keep all the more puzzling because it’s one of those half-there efforts that no one seems particularly invested in.

Scanning the cast list I get the notion that Redford peppered his film with actors he’s long wanted to work with and vice versa.  Why else would some big name stars drop in for what amounts to glorified cameos in an independent picture?  I kept thinking that actors like Richard Jenkins (White House Down, Jack Reacher) were just stopping by for lunch in Sundance when Redford asked if they could film a quick scene before dessert was served.

When Redford’s activist past is exposed by an opportunistic journalist (Shia LaBeouf, Lawless), he goes on the run and works his way through people from his younger days he’s long forgotten and who would just as soon forget about him.  Even with their brief screen time Oscar winners Susan Sarandon (Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Robot & Frank) and Julie Christie are effective as two fellow radicals that re-enter Redford’s present in two very different ways.  And keep your eyes out for Brit Marling (The East), Stanley Tucci (Jack the Giant Slayer), Nick Nolte (Cape Fear, I Love Trouble), and Terrence Howard (Prisoners) in the aforementioned brief supporting turns.

An overlong film, The Company You Keep winds up feeling like the guest that won’t take the hint to go thanks to several false endings.  While it’s diligently made like most Redford films are, there’s an evident emptiness at the core that doesn’t give the film any lasting weight past the final credits — that’s a shame when you consider the might of the stars Redford has assembled.

I should add it also doesn’t help that Redford has cast LaBeouf who continues to be one of the more overrated yet increasingly disliked actors in Hollywood.  Known for badmouthing his costars and film projects, LaBeouf had an overdue denouement at the end of 2013 when it came out that one of his short films was plagiarized from preexisting work.  It’s hard to take him seriously as a flawed film persona because LaBeouf’s personal persona is so much worse.

That casting aside, there’s admittedly a level of sophisticated maturity that should prove interesting to the more astute viewer.  I absolutely suggest you see Redford’s solemn work in All is Lost before taking this one on (he’ll also appear in Captain America: The Winter Soldier) but if you’re a Redford devotee or a fan of the political dramas/thrillers of the late 70’s you may find something worth your time here.

Got something you think I should see?
Tweet me, or like me and I shall do my best to oblige!