Ready Player One (Cinema Review)

12A – 140mins – 2018 – 3D


 

V.R. TROOPERS

Cineworld were in full alert last night with bouncers at the doors of their latest Unlimited Preview Screening to physically watch you switch off your mobile phones before you entered for an exclusive viewing of young adult sci-fi action adventure adaptation Ready Player One. This didn’t, however, stop the projectionists from messing up and starting the film too early, so we got to watch the opening five minutes twice in the space of a quarter of an hour.

… Keep Scuttling!

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The BFG (Cinema Review)

PG – 117mins – 2016 – 3D


 

A WHOOPSY-SPLUNKING ADVENTURE

“Human beans is not really believing in giants, is they? Human beans is not thinking we exist.”

A Steven Spielberg blockbuster is usually a safe bet – doubly so when he is re-teamed with ET scribe Melissa Mathison; triply so when working from the source material of the world’s number one storyteller. But my reservations before sitting down to this centenary-marking Roald Dahl adaptation last night came from growing up with repeated rewatches of Brian Cosgrove’s BAFTA-winning 1989 animated interpretation. Voiced by David Jason, it nailed the look and sound of the benevolent twenty-five foot high dreamcatcher in a way I feared a motion-captured Mark Rylance possibly could not.

Additionally, The BFG 2016’s trailers had me worried, as the titular Big Friendly Giant just didn’t quite look right – his neck too long and his eyes too small for his flapping ears… But in all his visual splendour, away from the brief snatches of footage teased in the previews, my fears were allayed by Oscar-winner Rylance’s country bumpkin approach to the towering sandal-wearer. It is a reserved and charming portrayal – even if on paper he is a lonely old man kidnapping a young girl…(!!)

Ruby Barnhill as bespectacled ten year old orphan Sophie occasionally veers into “little madam” territory, but some concessions to fear and anxiety do soften the feisty-but-diminutive redhead, making for an assured performance from the newcomer in her debut big screen performance.

Kiddles (that’s children to you and I) will be positively awestruck by the wondrous realisation of the magical rainbow-lit dream tree and the misty mountains of Giant Country, with John Williams once again expertly orchestrating the necessary emotional undercurrent. The nine “filthsome” 50 foot brutes – with names such as Bloodbottler (Bill Hader) and Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) – who plague the reserved “runt” of the litter are just about silly enough not to give little ‘uns “trogglehumpers” (nightmares).

By having the same group of actors portray the CG-enhanced “frightsome” Giants as were early-on reprimanded by insomniac Sophie for causing a drunken scene during the witching hour, I was deceived into expected an additional narrative twist to Dahl’s classic tale (for instance, is it all a “ringbeller” dreamt by Sophie?), but Mathison – in what was to sadly be her last screenwriting credit – sticks to the well-known plot, with the final act visit to “Her Majester” Queen Victoria (Penelope Wilton) propelling the narrative – and cast list! – far beyond the slower and more tranquil pace of the opening half.

Once you have adjusted to the unconventional “gobblefunk” dialogue, human beans of all ages (and heights!) will find something to smile about in this family film, while the target demographic will be howling with delight – particularly when the royal corgis are “whizpopping” around Buckingham Palace after lapping up some “frobscottle”. Add an extra CR@B to The BFG’s Claw Score if you’re below double digits.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 3 stars

The Land Before Time (Netflix Review)

U – 69mins – 1988


 

A LESSON IN DINO-VERSITY

“Some things you see with your eyes, others with your heart.”

After a busy weekend, I was ready to collapse on Sunday evening but aware it was far too early to sleep. Eyes aching and just after something nice and simple, I trusted myself to a scroll through Netflix to see if anything fit the bill…

I watched The Land Before Time – as well as another 80s Don Bluth classic, An American Tail  – repeatedly on VHS as a child, completely unaware it was produced and “presented” by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. My curiosity over the involvement of such legends, coupled with the chance for some warm reminiscences (not to mention the stubby runtime!) sold me on this cute dinosaur animation as I drifted off to sleep.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure, it sees a herd of passive ‘long necks’ (AKA. Brontosaurs) escaping devastation and migrating towards the Great Valley in search of edible vegetation, only for the herd to be divided by a “clash of the continents” (an earthquake) and attacked by a carnivorous ‘sharp tooth’ (AKA. T-Rex), leaving youngster Littlefoot (Gabriel Damon) all alone.

“I’ll be with you, even if you can’t see me.”

As the mourning orphan strives to overcome his depression, flee famine and complete his departed mother’s (Helen Shaver) quest of hope, he befriends four diverse companions in stubborn ‘three horn’ Triceratops Cera (Candy Hutson), cute Saurolophus Ducky (Judith Barsi), mute Stegosaurus Spike and plucky Pteranodon Petrie (Will Ryan), who join Littlefoot on his journey.

“At least we wouldn’t be alone!”

Mixing The Lion King’s inspirational coming of age story with Zootopia’s morality and Bambi’s touching sentimentality, The Land Before Time is a far deeper and more rounded experience than my memory recalled, successfully managing to be cute, careful, comical and cultured in its short-but-sharpshooting duration.

Through such likeable, defined and relatable characters, the film delivers crucial and pertinent life lessons on mature social issues such as racism (“Flathead” is used as a derogatory term for the long necks), prejudice (“three horns never play with long necks,” “Well, why?!”) and bonding through the tragedies the great circle of life throws at even the most innocent of individuals.

The pace is surprisingly tempered given the film’s length (taking away the sumptuous slow underwater opening crawl and the closing credits played to Diana Ross’ theme song it weighs in at under an hour), but nearly 20 years on The Land Before Time remains as colourful, engaging and timeless as the dinosaurs themselves. Am I tempted to now binge-watch the gazillion straight-to-video sequels? Yep, yep, yep!

CR@B Verdict: 5 stars

Poltergeist – Extended Cut (DVD Review)

Poltergeist 2015.jpg
15 – 101mins – 2015
Written by: David Lindsay-Abaire
Based on the screenplay by: Steven Spielberg
Directed by: Gil Keenan
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Kennedi Clements, Jared Harris, Jane Harris, Saxon Sharbino, Kyle Catlett


THEY’RE HERE… AGAIN!

My name is CR@B Howard and I am afraid of ghosts.

There, I said it. The idea of the dead floating among us has long creeped me out, so much so that I consciously held off viewing the original Poltergeist (1982) while growing up. I know, I know: I’m a wimp.

With news of an imminent remake first surfacing in 2013, I decided I’d best man-up and catch-up with Tobe Hooper’s infamous eighties frightener. So, two years ago, I did.

And I was sorely disappointed.

Maybe it would have affected me more if I had seen it at a more impressionable age? Who knows. But the tone was far lighter than I anticipated; occasionally verging on family-friendly (particularly noticeable in the kitchen furniture reshuffle). I questioned whether the mythical “curse” of the film had influenced public opinion, but what was blatant to me was writer/producer-extraordinaire Steven Spielberg’s heavy influence (if rumours are to believed, he may have provided more than a helping hand behind the camera, too).

The selection of Gil Keenan to take the remake’s reigns was a surprising-yet-obvious choice. Isn’t that a contradiction, you ask? But, no: Surprising because he is – and I mean no disrespect here – hardly a household name to be entrusted with such a renowned property, but obvious when you look at the family-orientated films in his back catalogue. Monster House (2006) and City of Ember (2008) both cater supernatural and fantastical themes for a more susceptible audience.

So, was producer Sam Raimi’s mandate merely to replicate the original’s Spielbergian tone in Poltergeist (2015)? That would seem a thoroughly pointless endeavour (although some could argue that is true of most remakes). But having now watched the new film – I must be getting braver to reduce my delay from 30years to four months! – I do concede that there is a more menacing tone to the haunted house horrors this time around; the poster-dominating clown and the living tree set-pieces the most notably creepier.

With the exception of some modernised bells n’ whistles (HD TV, internet-streaming, GPS locators, a flying drone), things are otherwise pretty much as they were 33years ago: an unsuspecting family find their “perfect” new suburban home was a bad buy when their youngest daughter (Clements) is kidnapped by vengeful, portal-dwelling spirits whose graveyard was disturbed by the building of the property.

Rockwell and the new cast all do an admirable – if unmemorable – job, however Harris was always doomed to fall short of Zelda Rubinstein’s iconic performance. As television personality and occult specialist Carrigan Burke he typifies a “rum ole’ character”, but is nowhere near as eerily kooky as the original’s spiritual medium Tangina. Perhaps this is why they switched gender and didn’t even attempt to replicate her inimitable voice.

The third act arrival of the jocular Paranormal Research department drew worryingly-close comparisons to the bumbling team of nerds from Insidious, a feeling further cemented by a mid-credits coda which wrapped up Carrigan’s potentially sequel-baiting ‘noble sacrifice’ with… lame humour. Groan.

As Poltergeist’s grandiose dimension-ripping, FX-driven conclusion wrapped up all-too-quickly, I checked the time to determine how near the credits I was. Is that it? Surely we were due another twist?! The identikit plot felt slight when rehashed – particularly given how I was watching what boasted itself as an “Extended Cut”. Tellingly appropriate as a summation of this remake, I didn’t outright hate what I saw, but I could have done with more.

CR@B Verdict: 2 stars