Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Oscar Reviews: Part II

If Best Pictures are not enough to wet your appetite for this weekend's Academy Awards, here are some other nominated films that I have reviewed just for you:

Doctor Strange (Best Visual Effects)

A mind boggling, world changing movie. I mean that literally, that is to say Scott Derrickson's Doctor Strange bends the world to his will making for some of the most captivating action sequences of the year. Doctor Strange gives the MCU something fresh, a little like Guardians of the Galaxy two years ago. Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular character takes some time to get used to - he's almost an American Sherlock - but he is a lot of fun. His charismatic charm, despite his arrogance, is thoroughly entertaining and as he learns to develop his powers, he also brings magic to the movie.

The product of all of Doctor Strange's moving parts is one of Marvel's best solo films, and certainly one of the finest origin stories. The supporting cast (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong, Rachel McAdams, and antagonist Mads Mikkelsen) are all in excellent form and throughout, the film never drops in pace or entertainment. From fighting and flying capes, to an inception-Esque style folding of London, there is undoubtably something for everyone but not in the same vein as some of the other Marvel cannon. Whilst they are universally appealing, they are also risk-averse. Like Guardians of the GalaxyDoctor Strange steps out of the box and to great reward. 

Kubo and the Two Strings (Best Animated Feature, Best Visual Effects)

Stop-motion animation is, without a doubt, one of the most remarkable methods of film making there is. It takes hours of additional physical labour, patience, and dedication as well as all the normal vision and drive of any other movie. Kubo and the Two Strings is a delightful, bedtime-story-esque adventure into a mystic land full of magic and charm. Stunning visuals and a witty script elevate Kubo to great heights, challenging the might of studios like Disney and Pixar. 

A hugely talented vocal cast including Matthew McConaughey, Charlize Theron, Ralph Fiennes and plenty of household names assist in making Kubo a must-see animation but truly, it is Travis Knight and his team that have accomplished something truly special in the construction of the film. The sheer ambition of the film makers for approaching stop-motion animation riddled with magic and special effects and pulling it off successfully should be applauded, and perhaps rewarded.

Moana (Best Animated Feature, Best Original Song)

Disney's latest princess flick takes place in the adventurous pacific and follows the adventure of young Moana (Auli'i Cravalho), who is destined to be the next chief of her tribe, as she tries to return the heart of goddess Te Whiti to its place. It was stolen by Demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) but he also tags along for some of the ride. Moana has a lot going for it. The music, spectacularly performed by the cast, is a lot of fun which is unsurprising considering that Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda had a hand in the writing. The highlights include the new go-to karaoke classic 'How Far I'll Go', as well as 'You're Welcome' and 'Shiny' - two hugely entertaining numbers. The animation itself is glorious, capturing the beauty of the Pacific islands as well as the culture of its inhabitants.

However, the film is a little clunky in its execution. The narrative makes leaps when it fancies - the ocean plays an important part in the mission, but only when it solves a problem the characters can't seem to overcome themselves. It also comes across episodic at points, but they don't naturally flow into each other - there's a sequence with pirate coconuts that is great fun, but doesn't really add anything beyond a bonding experience for the leads. Whilst this is a progressive film for Disney (no love interest at all?!) and a step up from Frozen, it still lacks the cohesion of some of the more loved classics (or even the relatively recent Tangled).

Zootopia (Best Animated Feature)

It's Disney vs Disney in this year's Best Animated Feature: Moana vs Zootopia. It's easy, amongst the Tangleds and the Frozens that Disney produces, to forget the Wreck-It Ralphs and the Big Hero 6s, but these are well-loved, high quality animated features. They sometimes slip under the radar and it is a damn shame as they often surpass their princess counter parts and the more traditional 'Disney' feature films. Zootopia is a fun filled riot of zoological comedy and societal reflection.

Tapping into the air of xenophobia sweeping the world, Zootopia demonstrates a world of prey and predator, of uneasy tensions, of media's effect on how we see one another, but does it with cute animals. Scattered with laugh-out-loud wit led by rabbit Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) and fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), Zootopia takes a dark subject and sprinkles it with joy and inspiration. It's an animated detective thriller that all ages will enjoy, oozing charm and heart like no other animation this year. Highlights include a department of motor vehicles run by sloths (already a great joke, but the whole scene is hilarious) and a chase sequence through the tiny rodent side of town. Nothing feels out of place, everything is connected here. As far as animated fun goes, this is almost as good as it gets.

Captain Fantastic (Best Actor)

Between the years of 2001 and 2003, Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn led a bunch of misfits on a mission across Middle Earth. Now in 2016, he is doing it again but this time he's ditched the hobbits for a group of children. Captain Fantastic is a thought-provoking comedy. Mortensen plays Ben, a sensitive and intellectual father, but who could be easily interpreted as reckless. His six children are rigorously trained and educated in the forest; they are all geniuses and in peak athletic condition. Banned from his wife's funeral, he takes the kids on a mission.

The film begs many questions about politics and paternal rights; Ben clearly cares about his children but he also makes them scale cliff faces. Despite his arrogance and stubbornness, we root for him, but it's uncomfortable and it all culminates in a mission, as he calls them, going wrong. It's both anticipated but unexpected. However, the film is huge amounts of fun. It's like Little Miss Sunshine times ten - the family travel across the country in an old school bus getting into all sorts of hijinks (operation 'free the food') and celebrating Noam Chomsky's birthday early. It's flawed but entertaining and Mortensen is at his best supported by an incredibly talented young cast. Despite the third act dragging a little, the cast keep the audience drawn in right up until the credits roll. 

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