Onward


Viewed – 03 October 2020. Disney+

Its difficult reviewing animated movies, because the quality is often so high, it’s tempting to just rate them all the same. So I tend to be a bit harder on them that some other movies. This unusual story presents an enchanted, fairy tale world that turns its back on magic, favouring technology to develop very much like the regular world. So people have jobs, there’s police, shops, fast food restaurants etc. On his 16th birthday, young elf Ian is given a present from his Dad who died of an illness before he was born, and it turns out to be a wizards staff. After reciting a spell that’s meant to bring the dad back for one day only … the spell goes wrong and only half of the dad’s body comes back – literally from the waist down. However his big brother Barley says there’s a way of completing the spell and so a quest unfolds to resurrect their dad before the sun goes down.

Like Monsters Inc and Inside Out before it, this presents a world full of character and personality. Again it’s a feast for the eyes and full of memorable side characters, pop culture gags and references – but it’s the unique idea that’s the winner; a caper comedy that’s weirdly a lot like 80s comedy Weekend at Bernies. Some moments, especially the freeway chase with the biker sprites certainly had me laughing out-loud. Yet underneath the visuals and gags lies a great deal of heart – something Pixar have always been masters of.

Tom Holland as Ian is perfect, but is overshadowed by Chris Pratt’s Barley who turns a potentially irritating loud mouth of a character into someone I really cared about. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is also good as the two brother’s Mom. The ending also turns the story on its head to deliver an emotion-heavy and wonderfully bittersweet conclusion. So there you have it – damn, another Pixar gem that shouldn’t be missed! Sigh.

Verdict: Essential

Mulan


Viewed – 08 September 2020 Disney+

I never got around to watching the animated original, yet it had always intrigued me … but unlike some other live action Disney remakes of late, I thought this would suit such a take better. Telling the tale of a young woman in ancient China who chooses to join the Emperors army disguised as a man, after an invading army declare war.

This is a gorgeous movie, awash with vibrant colours, beautiful costumes and stunning scenery and locations. Yes, there’s an overdose of CGI and occasionally the use of green screen for backgrounds is a bit obvious, but overall this was a treat for the eyes. Martial arts star Donnie Yen appears as a general who trains up the Emperors army, and an unrecognisable Jet Li appears as the Emperor himself. Jason Scott Lee’s vengeful leader of the invading army is good but he’s overshadowed by Gong Li’s brilliantly ruthless witch, who is definitely one of the movie’s stand out characters. Yet Liu Yifei as Mulan herself is very good, tough yet vulnerable and can handle the various elaborate fight sequences and carries the movie well. Yet the star here is the direction and visuals, Action scenes are plentiful and the camera work is often unique and stylish.

The story is nothing that special though and gets rather predictable. Some of the gravity-defying fantasy aspects can get a bit silly too. Also I found myself having to suspend belief when Mulan was disguised as a man, but still looked feminine to me. However, despite these things, I was still highly entertained from start to finish. One to check out.

Verdict: Recommended

Frozen II


Viewed – 25 August 2020 Disney+

I can’t say I had any intention of watching this. I enjoyed but wasn’t blown away from the (at the time) heavily lauded first movie, and guess a sequel was inevitable – although was surprised to see it receive very little hype at release. However I spotted it on Disney+ and as starved as we are of new, worthwhile movies of late … I thought what the hell.

Call of the Wild…

Magical Ice Queen ‘Elsa’ is haunted by a voice that calls to her. It seems strangely linked to a story her late father told her and her sister Anna when they were children, of an enchanted forest covered in mist. Eager to find out what it all means, Elsa sets out on an adventure, along with her sister as well as snowman Olaf and other friends.

This musical fantasy of course looks great. Frozen’s animation style may not be as visually dazzling as say, something from Pixar but it suits the throwback, classic style and is still beautifully done. The story is fun even if it felt a little forced initially with the whole ‘calling’ having little reason to ‘suddenly’ occur. The songs are entertaining, even if there’s nothing to rival the first movie’s ‘let it go’. Snowman Olaf also proved a bit irritating early on but I’ll admit I warmed to him as the movie progressed. Despite such issues however, I still found this really enjoyable. It’s quite funny and the characters (especially Anna) really had some great moments. Also that ending was feel-good perfection that I found quite touching. Not exactly another Disney Classic, but still well worth checking out.

Verdict: Good

Underwater


Viewed – 11 July 2020.

Although Kristen Stewart has appeared in some big name movies, including Twilight and Snow White and the Huntsman, she’s often overshadowed by either co-stars or the movies themselves. She can be an actress that seems a bit one dimensional but regardless I’ve always felt there’s potential. This latest effort puts her front and centre so let’s hope it delivers.

This has Stewart, as part of a deep-sea mining crew that following a disaster have to journey to another facility, crossing the sea bed along the way. Only problem is there seems to be a group of deadly creatures hunting them. So a battle for survival commenced in the depths of the ocean. I got a distinct The Abyss meets Alien vibe with this and it didn’t go unnoticed that Stewart is rather Ripley-like even if she’s no Sigourney Weaver. Despite lacking the ambition of either of those titles, the movie does deliver an at times intense and claustrophobic experience that’s often quite unnerving. With a disaster right at the start it’s a movie that hits the ground running and barely let’s up ‘till the credits roll. The sea creatures are more freaky than scary and unfortunately the horror is a tad watered down (pun intended). The beginning also suggests the plot might explore the psychological effects of being so deep under the sea, but this gets abandoned almost instantly.

Stewart is decent though, proving both gutsy and vulnerable at all the right moments. Support comes from the dependable Vincent Cassell and T J Miller (who’s predictably the comic relief) and direction throughout is focused and atmospheric. This is a good looking movie with some stylish sequences but ultimately is let down by under-developed characters and an over-resemblance to better movies. Solid entertainment, but lacking its own personality.

Verdict: Good

Repo Man


Viewed – 08 July 2020 Blu-ray

For some reason I have always wanted to see this early eighties oddity. Directed by British cult filmmaker Alex Cox (Sid & Nancy) this is pure low budget gorilla film-making with an almost throw-away plot revolving around street punk Otto (Emilio Estevez) who gets involved with a group of ‘repo men’ who steel / reclaim cars when debts fail to get paid. However one such car doing the rounds has a very unusual package in its trunk that may just be extra terrestrial.

This was a bit nuts. It’s clear Cox was going for a rather surreal vibe with sprinklings of social commentary and not so subtle send ups of shady FBI, street culture and sci-fi b-movies. It doesn’t really make much sense, it’s never explained why the car with the alien in its trunk is just driving around constantly – where is it going? Or how one girl seems to be connected. Acting from Estevez as well as the late Harry Dean Stanton varies from passable to bad all the time too. There’s also some pretty dodgy edits along the way that add some confusion.

Yet somehow it’s still kinda fun, and every now and then I can appreciate something stripped down, experimental and different. A soundtrack featuring Iggy Pop is a bonus and some of the film-making, as awkwardly cheap looking as it is, has a certain charm to it. I’m glad I’ve seen it now and I had a good time, but it remains far from essential viewing.

The Blu-ray, part of Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series is rather packed however. It boasts a clean and fairly detailed restored image as well as a DTS HD mono soundtrack (although dialogue can get a bit echoey). We get an archive commentary from the director, producer etc and an 11 minute intro from Alex Cox, shot in 2011. Add to this a wealth of deleted footage, a TV version, trailers, a retrospective making-of and a detailed booklet. For collectors, this makes up for many shortcomings with the actual movie.

Verdict:

(the movie) Poor

(the Blu-ray) Recommended