Thor: Ragnarok (Cinema Review)

12A – 130mins – 2017 – 3D


 

GLADIA-THOR, READY? REVENGERS, READY?

In recent years, Disney and Marvel have become notorious for the short leashes on which they keep their directors. Even if your name is Edgar Baby Driver Wright, if your Ant Man passion project doesn’t toe the corporate line, you’re out. Likewise, Lord and Miller were recently ousted from the Han Solo Star Wars spin-off because their take on the Kasdan’s script was too irreverent. The body double twist which capped off Iron Man 3 was derided for making a mockery of Marvel lore, while Joss Whedon has openly held his hands up to the difficult production on 2015’s Age of Ultron, a sequel which too often went for a gag.

… Keep Scuttling!

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Ghostbusters (Cinema Review)

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12A – 116mins – 2016 – 3D


 

BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS

When director and co-writer Paul Bridesmaids Feig is sick of the spurious shit over-opinionated anonymous keyboard trolls sling his way on social media, he writes a biting retort into his controversial screenplay (“Ain’t no bitches be bustin’ ghosts!”). But basement-dwelling bell boy Rowan (Neil Casey) deals with his lowly lot in life in a far less passive-aggressive way: he opens a vortex between our world and the afterlife, allowing ghosts to inhabit New York City.

“If you see something, say something.”

So who you gonna call? The Masters of the Metaphy— or Ghostbusters, as they are more popularly known. But not as we have known them since 1984, as this highly-divisive 21 century reboot reimagines Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis’ apparition-zappers as theory-chasing paranormal investigators and publishers of “Ghosts From Our Past” Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) and Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). These two temporarily-estranged BFFs are joined by nuclear engineer and equipment creator Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and subway employee Patty (Leslie Jones), whose sat-nav-like knowledge of the city – and uncle’s hearse – come in mighty handy to the city-saving operation.

Written off before a single frame was filmed, GB ’16 is not the abomination the brigade of misogynistic, childhood-cherishing ‘fanboy’ naysayers feared – there are nods to the three decade franchise (from a bust of the late Ramis to an iconic 100ft parade balloon), winking cameos and respectful parallels aplenty (the firehouse; graffiti-inspired logo; Erin banging on the window of a restaurant a la Louis Tully). The new origin story and characters are, by-and-large, likable. Patty, in particular, is endearingly bullish and integrates well despite being the only non-scientist, while I have legitimately never like a Melissa McCarthy character as much as the charming and non-gregarious Abby.

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So, all good, then? Weeeell, sadly not. Granted this might well be a personal gripe given how I hated Feig’s crude and swear-stuffed spoof Spy (2015), and could happily take or leave The Heat (2013), but the humour in GB ’16 did not tally to my tastes at all. Often played far too broad, forced and occasionally veering close to embarrassing (Ozzy Osbourne and a particular joyriding spook, in particular). Feig and co-writer Katie MADtv Dippold managed to raise a smirk on my face less than a handful of times in nearly two hours…

Chris In the Heart of the Sea Hemsworth 8plays the flip-reversed role of (gasp!) male receptionist Kevin far too dippy – he’s so inexcusably dumb he’s almost offensive, while Kate McKinnon’s disingenuously quirky character traits left me stony-faced throughout. So, too, the influx of cheesy celebratory dance scenes. Yeah, it was vaguely comical once, but they are employed too often and for too long – and completely dominate the Easter Egg-stuffed closing credits.

The much-anticipated cameos from the stars of the iconic original films were somewhat hampered by a horrible tendency for all – bar Ernie “Winston” Hudson and Annie “Janine” Potts – to ham it up something chronic. Paul Feig clearly wanted this to be BIGGER, BOLDER and FUNNIER than ever before, which might explain why his spooks are neon-tinged. The CG special effects here to get a pass, however, as the bright style works with the movie’s zany exuberance.

Image result for ghostbusters uk posterHaving had to give another of my 80s favourites, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows a second chance following a week break, I may have to readjust/downgrade my expectations and re-watch Ghostbusters again next week. But my first impression from opening day is a disappointingly dispirited one, when I really hoped I’d come out feeling spirited away.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 2 stars

 

In the Heart of the Sea (DVD Review)

12 – 117mins – 2015


 

THE ONLY WHALER IS ESSEX

“How does a man come to know the unknowable?”

The answer to that question is to hound another man until he eventually relents and spills his darkest secret. This is the questionable journalistic technique Moby-Dick author Herman Melville (here portrayed by Ben Whishaw) employed to gain insightful knowledge on a nautical nightmare from haunted former Essex cabin boy, Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), who survived a whale attack – and 90 days thereafter stranded at sea – between 1820-1.

“The courage to go where one does not want to go.”

Based upon Nathaniel Philbrick’s 2000 non-fiction biographical book of the same name, Ron Howard’s sumptuous maritime epic recounts the “cursed” whaleship’s woes, from their departure from Halifax dock to their sanity-straining post-disaster survival ordeal.

“Going fishing, are we?”

Benjamin Walker plays the Essex’s inexperienced-but-well heeled captain, George Pollard, who shares a fraught relationship with his “landsman” first mate, Owen Chase (Chris “The Huntsman” Hemsworth). Incompetent and fearful of being belittled by a lower rank – and class – Pollard blames Chase for the listing and eventual capsizing of their flame-engulfed vessel, dividing the crew when they must unite to stay alive on the Atlantic Ocean aboard mere rowboats.

There is a darkly humorous irony that the men who happily harpooned, gutted and physically crawled inside the head of a bull sperm whale in order to take home 2,000 barrels of whale oil, later find an albino of the same species getting inside their heads – albeit metaphorically – so convinced are they that the ”vengeful” whale is following them. If Jaws: The Revenge was set a century earlier…

“Where knowledge ended, speculation began…”

Oscar-winning director Ron Howard coats the screen in an aquatic grey/green sheen, delivering the requisite grit and grime of a less refined age, but overlaid with a misty-eyed gloss which distances the audience from the tension of immediacy. I can only presume that this often dizzying, foggy lens was a stylistic choice due to Thomas Nickerson’s storytelling aspect of the narrative.

Nevertheless, the portrayal of the giant “white devil” and the damage this majestic sea-beast bestows upon the ship and crew is breathtakingly realised, even if all along you know at least one member of the crew survives to tell Melville this inspirational story. As hunger and desperation overtake morality, the remaining crewmen have to make an unthinkable decision – and while this is implied rather than depicted (as it was in the BBC’s 2013 Martin Sheen-starring adaptation of the same book), their desperation is palpable, as is the castaway’s relief upon returning home to Nantucket after such a harrowing living hell on high water.

CR@B Verdict: 4 stars

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (Cinema Review)

12A – 117mins – 2016


 

MIRROR EARTH

Tolkien meets Frozen in this gritty, teen-targeted, action-heavy Kristen Stewart-less swearytale spin-off from 2012’s Snow White & the Huntsman. Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, the visual effects supervisor on the first film, makes his directorial debut, promoted after Rupert Sanders’ well publicised extramarital scandal with K-Stew.

Initially planned as a prequel to avoid explaining Snow White’s absence, Winter’s War is actually both an origin story for Chris Thor Hemsworth’s axe-handy Eric and a sequel, with the action skipping seven years and enveloping the previous films’ events.

Welcomely narrated by Liam Neeson’s assuring tones, we are re-introduced to a pre-death sorceress Ravenna (the returning Charlize Theron) and her fairer sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), who is involved in an illicit liaison with Merlin’s Colin Morgan. When Freya discovers Morgan’s Duke has murdered their child, grief brings her long-suppressed magical powers to the fore, and the Ice Queen is born.

Setting up her own kingdom in the North, Freya begins recruiting children to form a hardened army of cold-hearted huntsmen. When her two best warriors, Eric and Sara (Jessica Chastain), fall in love, Freya furiously forces Eric to watch as Sara is slain behind a wall of ice, before Eric’s unconscious body is thrown into the water…

Seven years (and a box office hit) later and a still-grieving Eric is recruited by Snow White’s husband, King William (Sam Claflin, who all-but cameos) to locate the shiny menace that is the Magic Mirror, which was stolen while being transported to “Sanctuary”, after it made the bed-bound Queen ill (handy, that).

Plucky dwarf Nion (Nick Frost) returns, accompanied by his humorously mouthy kin, Gryff (Rob Brydon), to aid Eric in his quest, which sees the unlikely trio reunited with a not-dead Sara (shocker!), battle goblins, team up with she-dwarfs (Sheridan Smith and Alexandra Roach), survive countless ambushes and confront Freya in a climatic battle in her Ice Palace to ensure the sort-after MacGuffin doesn’t fall into the wrong hands all over again.

With a mission which sees our motley band of heroes cross kingdoms, we are treated to a plethora of sumptuous fantasy landscapes and creatures both fair and foul, granting Winter’s War an expansive, large scale feel. Similarly, the expanding cast are all worthy additions to this Grimm world, ranging from empowering (Chastain), to domineering (Blunt) and cheeky (Brydon), and yet, they all fail to distract from the Kristen Stewart-shaped elephant missing from the throne room…

This is a follow up motivated by money and sadly defined by the loss of its star, with Snow White frequently referenced but never seen (aside from one clip, shot from behind, which was clearly an extra), with the biggest offence coming when Freya asks the Magic Mirror that most fateful question. As a golden figure is summoned forth and gradually forms before our eyes, the camera purposefully avoids showing Ravenna’s resurrected face until the last possible moment, playing with the audience’s expectations of who the fairest of them all really is, before shattering the illusion into a thousand anti-climatic shards.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars