Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

 

Image creditL IMDb

Well, the new Doctor Strange movie is out and for partner and I that means date night! So last night we catapulted ourselves back into the MCU with Disney’s latest venture into the Marvelverse: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. And believe me ‘catapult’ is absolutely the word to describe this experience!

Awakened from a horrible dream in which he dies, Stephen Strange goes to Christine’s wedding a little conflicted and on edge: a feeling that’s validated when a giant monster attacks the city in pursuit of a young girl named America, who also featured in Stephen's dream. Strange and Wong learn that this girl has the ability to travel the multiverse and that some demon is after her power. Their only clue to the demon’s identity is strange mystical runes that surrounded the monster, so Strange tracks down Wanda Maximoff for help. However this doesn’t really go as planned, as he quickly discovers that Wanda is the one after America’s powers and will stop at absolutely nothing to get them. Soon Stephen and America are racing through the multiverse in search of an ancient book that will give them to the power to save America and the infinite number of worlds from the reign of Scarlet Witch.  

It goes without saying that one can expect a whole lot of crazy, psychedelic, fractured, and visually intense experiences with this movie because it’s a Doctor Strange flick. But where the film stands aloft from the other Marvel films is that Sam Raimi has been called in to direct and has ingeniously taken Multiverse of Madness into the realms of horror. I mean, with a Lovecraftian title like that, how can you not? While there are many typical awesome Marvel action sequences reminiscent of the other MCU films, there is a lot in Multiverse of Madness that is reminds us of The Evil Dead (not to mention the signature Bruce Campbell appearance) and I was absolutely here for it! 

Considering the emotionally complex characters of both Strange and Wanda; especially after Wandavision, which I recommend watching before this otherwise you might struggle with what’s going on, going for a more horrific rather than actiony-sci-fi film was a really good choice and it perfectly brings the darker side of the MCU and its various stories into the light. Seriously, people in control of all this power is hells scary!

Image credit: Slash Film

Visually the movie is another triumph, with the multiverse-jumping scenes being very trippy and very cool. The film also features one of the most original magical combat scenes, which I’m sure composer Danny Elfman had a lot of fun with, watch out for that one. 

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness sits firmly in the MCU’s awesome filmic canon and is absolutely a good, albeit dark and creepy, time. 

Director: Sam Raimi, 2022

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Benedict Wong, Rachel McAdams, Xochitl Gomez, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Hayley Atwell, Michael Stuhlbarg, Anson Mount, Lashana Lynch, John Krasinski, Charlize Theron, and Patrick Stewart

Friday, April 1, 2022

Becoming Jane

Image credit: Posterazzi
 There is something so comforting and inspiring about a crisp, autumn morning. The warmth of summer has certainly left Sydney this Saturday morn, and when I woke up to the warm embraces of my partner, I was gripped with the desire for a scene: a picturesque, English country scene. And so I have just finished watching Becoming Jane

Based on the romantic portion of the life of one of my all-time favourite authors, the film follows young Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway), a penniless woman with an independent mind and a talent with the pen. Confined by social duties and norms concerning everything from family to fortune, Jane’s world gets turned upside down when she meets and falls for the handsome upcoming lawyer, Thomas LeFroy. A passionate romance ensues, but can love without fortune possibly be enough to ensure a prolonged life of happiness?

This film does not have the feel of a biopic, rather a biographic romantic comedy. The story itself is something straight out of one of Austen’s novels, and we can see characteristics recognisable in Austen’s famous characters in all the people involved. I suppose that the main purpose of the film is to illustrate a singular point that is brought up early on: that experience is needed to write great fiction, and the entire film is definitely a journey of identity.

The performances are all very good, though nothing particularly incredible. Indeed the strongest attraction for me was the beautiful cinematography: the breathtaking scenes of the English countryside. Rolling hills, pretty wildernesses, woods and rivers
abound with a crisp, cool air. 

Image credit: Hanway Films

While I adore Jane Austen, I am the type of fan who reads and revels in her novels, but does not extend myself to learn about the woman who wrote them. I should. Because if I did, then I would be better able to ascertain whether the narrative of this film was close or loose in relation to the truth. Regardless, as I mentioned before this film does not feel like a biopic and therefore I can’t label it as one. It’s a very pretty film nonetheless and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys this sort of period piece. 

Director: Julian Jarrold, 2007

Cast: Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy, Julie Walters, James Cromwell, Anna Maxwell Martin, Lucy Cohu, Laurence Fox, Ian Richardson, Leo Bill, Joe Anderson, Jessica Ashworth & Maggie Smith

Monday, March 14, 2022

Turning Red

 

Image credit: Carousell

Coming-of-age stories have always been a pretty solid and relatively foolproof flavour of cinema: relatable, funny, heart-warming/breaking, and guaranteeing a healthy, mixed audience. Over the years coming-of-age cinema has seen all sorts of interpretations and depictions of the adolescent gear change, from Puberty Blues to Stand By Me. For tonight’s movie, partner and I curled up on the couch and enjoyed Pixar’s latest foray into the coming-of-age genre: Turning Red.

The film centres on Meilin, a seemingly normal 13-year-old just starting to develop her own tastes and sense of identity. At school she’s an over-achiever with a passion for boy bands and at home, she strives to be the perfect daughter. When a harmless doodle turns into a dramatic confrontation with her mum, it triggers a genetic ‘gift’ where Meilin turns into a red panda whenever she experiences strong emotions.

Turning Red is a clever little film in a number of ways. Firstly, the title works on a multitude of levels, as the trigger for the genetic trait is shame and embarrassment as well as a borderline outward reference to what marks a girl’s entrance into womanhood. The red panda is both a funny and dramatic metaphor for puberty, illustrating both the cute side and the significantly less cute side. 

On a deeper level, the film is an exploration into familial relationships and how much they influence identity. Similar to Encanto the central drama of the film stems from the relationship between Meilin and her overprotective mother, as well as nod to the familial structures and cultural attitudes of multi-generational immigrant families. 

Image credit: Rotten Tomatoes

The animation is signature Pixar with a bright colour palette and gorgeous lighting, however I can’t say that the art style is my favourite to come out of the studio. Quite a few of the characters were giving me Aardman vibes, which work for the claymation likes of Wallace and Gromit, but no so much for the studio that brought us Wall-E and Toy Story

This singular negative aside, Turning Red is a very cute and heart-warming coming-of-age tale that has a little something for everyone. There are plenty of funny moments and just as many tearjerker moments; overall a perfectly good film.

Director: Domee Shi, 2022

Cast: Rosalie Chiang, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Wai Ching Ho, Lori Tan Chinn, Tristan Allerick Chen, Orion Lee, Sandra Oh, & James Hong


Friday, February 11, 2022

Les Vampires

Image credit: IMDb

It’s most interesting to go back in time and pinpoint where certain trends and fashions began, especially in cinema. With films being churned out faster and faster nowadays thanks to the pandemic and the need for new and original streaming service content, the industry has been put into a somewhat higher gear. But it’s important to remember that even though the world is moving so fast in terms of producing content for us to consume, we can always choose to slow down and go at out own pace: like I did with Louis Feuillade’s fascinating 1915 movie serial, Les Vampires.

This long film, segmented into ten chapters of varying lengths, tells the story of a Parisian crime gang called the Vampires and their eventual takedown by an ambitious journalist (Edouard Mathe) and his comedic sidekick (Marcel Levesque). Kidnapping, murder, and mayhem abound with each chapter telling a different, smaller story that makes up a grand, epic vendetta. 

Les Vampires is an original in so many ways. Definitely not a film you can do in one sitting, its segmented form is perfect for a balanced cinematic experience of intermissions and breathers in which to catch up on what’s just happened. This also gives us time to appreciate just how influential a historical piece it is. It’s the first thriller, the first example of cinematic noir and the surrealist movement, as well as the first moving picture that delivers the exciting detective story (a la Sherlock Holmes) experience. Watching it is a bit like reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic tales of the great detective, with the audience being privy to the tricks and traps of the villains while the hero is not. 

As a representation of society and culture, Les Vampires is mightily clever, as it makes a point to show that good and evil is not always clear and distinct. While the Vampires themselves are merciless and manipulative with brutal means of executing their plans, they are not without their own system of law and government and indeed, at many points during the film the heroes plot and scheme in much the same fashion. This bleeding of the boundaries between good and evil is what makes the film so fascinating, more so considering the fact that the villains name themselves after the most celebrated of evil monsters. 

Image credit: IMDb

We then have the superb visual aspect of the film. While the footage itself is grainy and definitely dated, it does not take away from the fact that there are so many exciting visual treats, mostly to do with the more action-y sequences and sinister stealth plots. Considering this was made in 1915, the set designs are incredible with elaborate trap doors, tricks walls, and sliding panels that would put the castle of Otranto to shame! At one point an entire canon comes sliding out of a wall to fire at a nearby cabaret! Then there are some of the greatest chase sequences I’ve ever seen. The Vampires main mode of travel is shimmying up and down drainpipes, scaling walls, and darting from rooftop to rooftop, which makes for very exciting chases when the good guys get on their tail. We’ve got people being thrown from rooftops into moving cars, people spinning down Cirque du Soleil style to make quick getaways, and enough many nooks and hidey-holes to turn Parisian apartments into Swiss cheese. 

Les Vampires is a stretch, admittedly to sit down and commit to, but one that it worth the investment, especially if you’re as interesting in film history as I am.

Director: Louis Feuillade, 1915

Cast: Edouard Mathe, Musidora, Marcel Levesque, Jean Ayme, Fernand Herrmann & Stacia Napierkowska

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Luca

Image credit: Wikipedia

Continuing on with catching up on new films from Disney, the other night partner and I curled up on the couch for to check out Pixar’s newest film: Luca.

A little reminiscent of The Little Mermaid meets The Fox and the Hound, Luca tells the story of a shy sea monster who develops a curiosity for the surface and the humans (‘land monsters’) that live there. When he befriends a reclusive fellow sea monster named Alberto, the two decide to run away together to escape the deep-sea exile that Luca’s over-protective family determines will keep him safe. Undercover in a small fishing village on the Italian Riviera, the two become friends with a human girl and learn more about the world above water. 

This is a very sweet movie and a bit of a dramatic change for Pixar in that it explores themes that are less abstract, complicated, and adult. Centred on friendship and identity, Luca tells a recognisable story that’s made fresh by its unconventional characters. Where Ariel is headstrong and reckless, Luca is shy and super-cautious. Alberto as the best friend character begins the story as arrogant and manipulative, transforming into a true friend midway through. The token female character is an outsider and underdog: loud, a little odd, and not ‘typically pretty’. This fresh filter of such recognisable characters, particularly in previous Disney films, is what gives the film the edge that makes it stand out. 

The story itself is quite easy to follow and predict what’s going to happen, but because the characters are different, it doesn’t become boring or a hindrance. The animation is gorgeous with the use of light and a cool colour palette really giving the feel of an Italian holiday and the casual blend between English and Italian adds to the experience. 

Image credit: Pink News

It’s not Pixar’s most beautiful or groundbreaking movie, but it’s a sweet one that reminds us that it’s ok to enjoy films that are just entertaining and not thought provoking or intellectual. 

Director: Enrico Casarosa, 2021

Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Saverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph, Marco Barricelli, Jim Gaffigan, Sandy Martin, Marina Massironi, Peter Sohn, Lorenzo Crisci & Sasha Baron Cohen

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Raya and the Last Dragon

 

Image credit: IMDb

While I do love that cinema is surviving these strange new times in which we find ourselves, I won’t say it’s not without its problems. Obviously one is the distribution of movies and the rise of streaming service original content, which comes with its own exclusions because there’s a fair chunk of audiences who either can’t afford the luxury of streaming or have decided they’re too old to learn (this comes from personal customer interactions). Another one came to me only today, that the writing for films has shifted with a lot of new films being written shorter and more ‘made-for-tv’. I’m not saying that this is resulting in bad movies, but I certainly have noticed that I’ve found it hard to get as excited about films as I used to and I think this is why. The thought occurred to me today when I finally sat down to watch Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon, a movie that I was very keen to watch, but hadn’t gotten around to. 

It tells the story of a world torn apart by tribal feuds, which are reignited when a peaceful meeting goes awry and unleashes an ancient plague that had been locked away centuries ago by the last dragons. After being betrayed by a friend and losing her father to the plague, Princess Raya goes on a 6-year pilgrimage to find the last dragon, Sisu, rumoured to still be alive. When she succeeds, she gets more than she bargained for when Sisu reveals that she can’t stop the plague like before. The two embark on a great adventure chasing down the last remnants of dragon magic and the only hope to bring back everything that has been lost. 

The film has a very sweet and message about trust and the importance of community, very much needed in a world growing mad and jaded by the pandemic, though still saccharine and trying. Visually, it’s absolutely stunning with the character animation as well as that of the world, both when it’s flourishing and dystopian, being crisp and captivating from the opening scene. Where the movie fell down for me was in the predictable narrative and the fact that, because it was written to be streaming-friendly, it felt short and there was not enough time to form a real emotional attachment to any of the characters. But this could also be a shortcoming of the predictability. 

Image credit: Stack

Raya is a strong and inspiring heroine, but we’ve seen many like her before and sadly there was nothing that really made her stand out from Moana or Mulan or Jasmine. Sisu was definitely fun and kind of fresh, being beautifully voiced by Awkwafina, but you got used to her pretty quick and even in the film’s more dramatic moments, there didn’t seem to be any real emotional development. 

It definitely seems like I have more negatives to say about this movie, but that does not mean that I didn’t like it. I would absolutely sit down and watch this again when I am in the mood, but I think at the end of the day I feel a little let down by Disney in that this was just another visually appetising and more-or-less nourishing movie. It wasn’t anything particularly special and it wasn’t ‘Disney magic’. 

Having said this, I would still recommend it if you’re wondering how to fill an afternoon. It’s pretty and cute with a fun cast of kooky characters.

Director: Don Hall, Carlos Lopez Estrada & John Ripa (2021)

Cast: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Izaac Wang, Daniel Dae Kim, Jona Xiao, Alan Tudyk, Lucille Song, Benedict Wong & Sandra Oh


Encanto

Image credit: Wikipedia

Wow. It has been too long since I watched and reviewed a new movie. It’s disheartening that something I love so much is something that I just don’t seem to have enough time for anymore. But the other day, partner and I made time and we curled up on the couch for a fun time with Disney’s Encanto.

Encanto tells the story of a small community founded by a family that has been gifted with the miracle of a magic candle that spawned a magic house, which then grants magical gifts to each new generation. That is until the tradition is broken when Mirabel, eager to receive her magical gift, does not get one. Upon the gifting of her young cousin, Mirabel discovers strange cracks in the house’s foundation. Soon her family’s various powers begin malfunctioning and it falls to Mirabel to uncover the truth behind the fading miracle and save her family. 

Kind of like The Incredibles, but with magic, Encanto is a sweet and touching exploration into the family structure and the healing/devastating power of family ties. Brightened as it is by its magical themed plot and incredibly stunning and vibrant colour and animation, it’s actually a very adult film, dealing with themes of mental illness, generational gaps, and the ‘evils’ of some familial structures within certain cultures. It’s particularly interesting because there is no clear-cut, typical villain, the stress and anxieties poisoning the family actually stem from a difference in cultural and generational attitudes. 

The animation is staggeringly beautiful: bright and reminiscent of Moana, a voyeuristic escape into another world like a wondrous holiday. And then there is the soundtrack. An incredible blend of Latin and modern pop that makes each and every song catchy, moving, and memorable. You’ll absolutely be singing it for a week after watching the film. 

Image credit: CNBC

Encanto
is another feather in Disney’s cap, which by this stage is 100 percent an elaborate Ziegfeld Follies headpiece that you can see from space! It’s visually, audibly, and narratively glorious and I would highly recommend you watch it. 

Director: Jared Bush, Byron Howard, & Charise Castro Smith (2021)

Cast: Stephanie Beatriz, Maria Cecilia Botero, Mauro Castillo, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Carolina Gaitan, Diane Guerrero, Adassa, Wilmer Valderrama, Rhenzy Feliz, Maluma, & John Leguizamo