By Jack Dignan
While many big studios have been either underperforming or receiving negative reviews with their recent blockbusters as of late, there’s one major studio that keeps on delivering. Disney. With the new Star Wars making over $2 billion and another one due for release in just two weeks (somebody hold me. I’m too excited.), as well as the releases of new Pixar and Marvel movies, on top of other original films, Disney are unstoppable. They’re on a train that’s constantly gaining momentum, and this Boxing Day, they’ve got another hit on their hands. This hit comes in form of Moana, their second animated feature in 2016, and it further proves that Disney is dominating in 2016.
Moana follows the story of the titular character, Moana (newcomer Auli'i Cravalho). She’s a young teenager living on a peaceful, rather beautiful island with her family, where she will one day be put in charge of it. The problem is, Moana’s life ambitions don’t revolve around being stuck on the island for the rest of her life. She wishes to adventure across the sea, exploring everything there is to explore, and would you believe that adventure soon comes calling? Chosen and aided by the sea, Moana must venture across the ocean in search of the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson), where he must be persuaded into helping Moana return a stolen heart and end the curse that’s been put upon her land.
Not including Pixar films, Moana is the best Disney animated movie in nearly two decades. For me, this film easily tops the likes of mega-hit Frozen. It’s a charming, hilarious and wondrous animated movie that embodies everything I know and love about Disney. It has a few typical Disney moments here and there, including a few very minor parallels to other Disney movies, such as The Little Mermaid (strangely…), but at the same time it’s a step forward for the company. It’s something a little different. It’s something new. And I absolutely cannot wait to see it at least twelve more times in theatres. Probably more. Actually… Now that I think of it… Definitely more.
Before we even delve into the story and the music, amongst other things, I just want to take a moment to appreciate the film’s animation. It’s truly something special. The animation is beyond beautiful, the film utilizing and combining together several different styles to make for a visually pleasing experience. For the most part, it’s 3D animation, and the 3D animation is some of Disney’s finest. But on top of that, there’s the occasional musical sequence that brings in new elements, such as 2D animation, and it makes for a visually stimulating, highly engrossing movie experience. The transition and combination of the multiple styles flows seamlessly, creating some of the best moments in the entire film.
Not only are the environments and colour pallets excellent, but the character designs themselves look phenomenal. 3D animation in recent years is constantly evolving, and the look and feel of the characters in Moana will take your breath away. They certainly took away mine. They look genuine and detailed, all while maintaining a mildly cartoon-y feel. Moana’s design is absolutely stunning, moving and acting like a real person. The work that must’ve gone into creating these characters blows me away. Disney have seriously stepped things up a notch, and I couldn’t be happier with the final product.
It’s all well and dandy to have great character design, but if the characters themselves are great then that’s what really matters. Well-written characters trumps well designed characters any day, and thankfully, with Moana, it’s got both. The characters here, predominantly Moana and Maui as they’re the only two characters we’re stuck with for most of the film’s runtime, are both fantastic. When people think of Disney, the first characters that come to mind are Belle or Ariel or Mulan or even Elsa. Soon, however, some of the first characters coming to mind will be Moana and Maui, as they’re two of the most developed, interesting, loveable and three dimensional characters Disney have ever made. I walked out of this film and my first thought was “I seriously have to get their pop vinyls.”
What makes them so special is that, despite being slightly extraordinary, they’re still only human. It’s a very human story, allowing for audiences to relate in many different ways. They’re not perfect, flawless characters that already know how to achieve everything. They both have different agendas and different reasons to be here, if they even want to be here at all. Maui isn’t some know-it-all demigod. He’s a broken character who, honestly, doesn’t want to do the things Moana is making him do. He tries on several occasions to escape, and it’s this human side to his character that made me care about him a lot, even with his cocky nature. Plus, it helps when the character is voiced by the Rock, AKA the most likeable dude to ever walk planet earth.
Ever since coming out of this film, I haven’t been able to stop singing along to the songs. There are so many songs in this film that will undoubtedly become classics in the near future. None of them will probably end up being quite as big as, say, Let It Go, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they pick up some serious awards when award season comes around. The soundtrack ranges from emotional to uplifting to straight up hilarious, and all of them are rather catchy. Not only that, but the score itself is also extremely impressive, even if completely (but expectedly) overshadowed by the actual musical numbers. Still, it’s these musical numbers that were some of my favourite scenes in the movie. I still have them stuck in my head.
To sum up, Moana has a little something for everyone. It’s funny, emotional, exciting and full of excellent musical numbers. The animation is brilliant, the voice cast is lively, and while it has a few minor Disney familiarities, it’s one of their best films in a very, very, very long time.
4 1/2 Stars
By Jack Dignan
I’ve seen three 2016 released war films in November. The first was Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson’s violent and inspiring true story of famed war hero Desmond Doss. It is, in every sense of the word, brilliant, and it will without a doubt end up being one of my favourite movies of the year by the time late December rolls around. The second film was Allied, which hits Australian cinemas December 26th so expect my review some time before then. I won’t say much here as I’ll save my thoughts for the review, but I liked it. I liked it a lot. The third war-related film was Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which I sat down to watch last night at my local theatre. The thing about all three of these war films is that, with each one I watch, the quality seems to gradually get lower, and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is definitely the weakest of the bunch.
Based on the book by Ben Fountain, we follow the story of 19-year-old war hero, Billy Lynn (Jow Alwyn). He returns home from battle, having done a courageous and selfless act in an attempt to save a fellow soldier, Shroom (Vin Diesel). We follow a day in his life as he struggles with returning home from the war and adapting to day-to-day life, and how the public disrespectfully perceives his experience in the war. His squadron is preparing to do a half time show at a football match, and as the day goes on, we’re shown flashbacks to the war, triggered by his PTSD, which his sister (Kristen Stewart) hopes he can use as a reason to leave the war behind.
While not based on a true story, it certainly feels like one. I can’t say for sure how accurate this film is, or if it depicts war more realistically than other war films, but from what I’ve seen and heard, it does. It’s ambitious and important, raising the issue of PTSD in a respectful manner. It shows the hardships of war, but more importantly, it shows the hardships of returning home from war, something several films have dealt with in the past, most recently American Sniper. It’s a depiction of public vs. reality, and the consequences war has on an individual, especially after being involved in traumatic, life threatening situations. It’s an interesting character study that raises some really good points and addresses things that need to be addressed.
When I say this feels like a true story, I’m referring to how authentic and well realised everything is. The characters are all three-dimensional, each one with layers and depth, no matter how minor their role is. They all have a history, and their relations with one another feel as though there’s a lot more to them than meets the surface. Creating a highly developed series of characters is no easy accomplishment, but with Billy Lynn, it’s well and truly achieved. Every singe person feels real, whether it’s Billy himself or squadron leader Dime (Garrett Hedlund) or even Billy’s dad (Bruce McKinnon), who appears on screen for literally two minutes.
The real problem with Billy Lynn is that is tries to do so many things, intertwining several stories, yet nothing flows. The main plot of coming back from war is definitely the best part of this movie. On its own, it works well. It’s well paced, relevant and interesting. However, the film throws a lot more into the mix than just that, and the overall film becomes one giant mess. There’s a love story thrown in with a cheerleader named Faison (Makenzie Leigh) that’s incredibly forced and quickly rushed through. Their relationship is rushed and hard to buy into, especially in the second half where it hits all new levels of melodramatic. A couple of other sub-plots are also thrown in, including some beef the veterans have with the football security guards and a movie deal they’re trying to make with Martin Sheen’s character. None of them work in the slightest bit, and they all cripple the story structure. The decent pacing is lost entirely, and the story is throwing itself all over the place so often that it becomes easy to get lost.
Ang Lee is a director I admire greatly. Over his career, he has made some incredible movies, most of which are highly ambitious. When it comes to Billy Lynn, he turns this simple war drama (well, sort of simple war drama) into an art house movie, and while I have no problem with art house movies, the artsy nature doesn’t work. It’s a highly stylized film, and if he used this style in a better-suited movie, it could potentially fit. Some films call for this style. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is not one of them. It’s trying to be way too many things as it is, and adding an art house style into the mix just makes this film a little bit more difficult to sit through.
To sum up, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk works as an interesting and important character study on a victim of PTSD, but as a whole, it tries to do too many things, resulting in a gigantic mess of a movie that constantly takes away from the levity of every situation shown. I wanted to like this movie, but it’s unfortunately a big disappointment.
2 1/2 Stars
By Jack Dignan
Despite 2016 being a rather great year for animated movies, I wasn’t all that excited for Trolls. It wasn’t so much that it looked bad, but more so that didn’t look great. For the most part, the animated films this year have all been consistently great, and then there was Trolls, which looked fine, I guess. I wasn’t really paying attention to its publicity, as I just wasn’t super interested in it, and of course I knew I was going to see it. I went in with mixed feelings, and I guess I owe this film an apology. It’s every bit as toe tapping, happy and wonderful as Justin Timberlake’s ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling,’ which, for the record, is used extremely well in the movie.
Set in a far away, colourful world, Trolls live a happy and optimistic life, hugs a necessary component of every hour. Our protagonist is Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick), who just wants the best for everyone in her kingdom, or at least it’s going to be her kingdom in the near future. That’s when the evil Bergens attack, taking a handful of Trolls back to their home town where they plan on eating them. Leading the Bergens is King Gristle (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and so Poppy approaches the pessimistic Branch (Justin Timberlake) to help invade the village, rescue the Trolls and bring them back home. The odds are against them, but with songs to be sung, they go forth, attempting to bring their friends back.
Sometimes we all need to find our happy place, and that’s exactly what this film is about, and hopefully what it will inspire. It’s a joyful little movie that will leave you with a big smile planted firmly on your face. It’s bright and optimistic, and inspires happiness even in the darkest of times. Not even the biggest of grouches can come out of this movie feeling sad. It’s simply impossible, especially with its explosive and extremely entertaining finale that will certainly warm your heart. Throughout its entire 92-minute runtime, this film always manages to be a bundle of joy. Releasing this Thursday, just in time for school holidays, it’s a film the whole family is going to love.
The animation is so vibrant and alive, full of original visuals that are oddly reminiscent of so many things, but at the same time, they feel quite fresh. It’s no Pixar or Disney, that’s for sure. Nothing about the animation is going to blow you away, but for what it is, it’s sweet. It feels fluffy and innocent, flooding with creativity and wondrous patterns that will spark imagination in all of the kids who watch it. If you’ve ever seen or played the Rayman video game series, like I did many years ago, the visuals here reminded me of the visuals from that game, and yes, that is a very good thing as the art style in that franchise is sublime. They’re wacky and over the top, yet they fit right in.
Another thing I really liked about Trolls was the soundtrack, which combines together a series of original songs and a hybrid of certain classics. It’s a film that relies heavily on nostalgia, whether it be simply through the fact that it’s a film about the popular 80s toy, or that it contains numerous classic songs you won’t be able to resist humming along to. There’s a bunch of new renditions of old hits and not one of them fell flat. Even the original songs I found to be extremely welcoming, holding their own against the more well-known songs. The ‘Can’t Stop This Feeling’ sequence, as previously mentioned, is one of the best moments in the film, and the song, in the context of the movie at least, had a much bigger impact on me than all the others did.
The cast of Trolls is also rather large, and nobody is put to waste. Each character is distinctly different, and the supporting Trolls ended up being some of my favourite Trolls. The filmmakers were clearly given permission to go absolutely wild, and they did, and the result is a lot of fun. With a cast that includes Justin Timberlake, Anna Kendrick, Russell Brand, James Cordon, Gwen Stefani and so many others, you’d think there’d be a lose cannon here or there, but there isn’t. Nobody’s given screen time for the sake of being given screen time, and it never feels like they’re an actor recording lines in a studio. In fact, a lot of the cast are unrecognisable, and I had to look up on IMDb afterwards who was playing who, which is always a fun surprise.
For no matter how fun the movie itself is, unfortunately its flaws are very apparent. For starters, it’s about as predictable as it comes. I managed to call almost every single plot point right at the start of the movie. It’s also full of clichés, which I guess added to overall predictability of the film as you’ve seen a lot of plot elements a thousand times before. While it does have a simple story, the film has a tendency to over explain everything. Mostly provided through narration, it shoves all the facts in your face, presumably so kids don’t fall behind, but as an older-ish viewer, a little subtly would’ve been nice here and there.
To sum up, Trolls is a family friendly film that literally encourages you to be happy throughout, and it worked. I was. It’s a fun, vibrant and toe-tapping film with an astounding voice cast and excellent musical numbers, even if the film itself is generic and clichéd.
3 1/2 Stars
By Jack Dignan
Originally Published on Salty Popcorn - You Can Find Several Other Reviews By Jack Dignan Here As Well
“That glorious name… McDonald’s,” states Michael Keaton’s Ray Kroc in THE FOUNDER, the true story behind one of the biggest companies in the world. And he’s not wrong, as the name McDonald’s is a glorious, extremely well known one, the signature ‘golden arches’ recognised by more people around the world than the cross. It’s insane, there’s no denying that, but becoming the hit that it is doesn’t come easy, and that’s where this movie comes in, telling the tale of how McDonald’s went from a local, one of a kind restaurant to the biggest fast food chain in the world.
We centre on Ray Kroc, a milkshake machine salesman who, much like the several items he’s invested in in the past, isn’t having much luck. His pitch is good, but people aren’t buying it, or at least that is until a local restaurant on the other side of the country orders a fair few of them. Ray is bewildered, not able to believe that it happened, so he travels to the restaurant to have a look, and he finds McDonald’s, a burger joint that gets your food ready in a matter of seconds, which has never been done before. He meets with the two owners, Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac McDonald (John Carroll Lynch), who take him on a little tour and share the story of how McDonald’s came to be. He’s sold, and instantly wants to invest in the company, helping them to franchise it all throughout America.
While this is how the plot is begun, it’s not the only thing going on here. Sure, we follow Ray as he attempts to coordinate ways of setting up several McDonald’s stores in different states, but it’s not just about rising to the top. It’s about how Ray connived his way into the highest position possible, stealing away the brand from Dick and Mac, who were the ones who actually started it. And on top of all that, it’s the story of how his egotistical ways affected his home life and his marriage to Ethel (Laura Dern). It’s a toned down combination of THE SOCIAL NETWORK and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, and while it’s not quite on the same level as either one of them, it’s still a pretty brilliant movie in its own right.
There are a great many ways in which a biopic can be approached. You can do the most conventional method, where the subject’s life story is shown before your eyes, beginning with their childhood and going as far through their life as you wish, usually ending with the character’s death. Or, you could do a more focused approach to the biopic, telling the story of a certain event, but reflecting that event upon the rest of the person’s life, and in doing so educating us on their upbringing and aftermath of the events in a much more subtle way. Or you can just wing the whole thing, taking a more untraditional approach to biopic filmmaking, and for me, any of these three options work. They each serve different purposes, and so long as they’re handled with care and great skill, I’m happy.
So where does THE FOUNDER fit into this? What sort of biopic are we talking about here? Well, THE FOUNDER doesn’t really fit into any of them, per say. It’s not a conventional tell it from the ground up story, nor a story that focuses in on a small time frame, and yet it doesn’t deviate enough from either one of them to be considered experimental or unique. It’s a biopic, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s a biopic that takes several approaches to its subject matter.
THE FOUNDER has aspects about it that feel like the first option, aspects that feel like the second option and aspects that feel like the third option, combining the three together to make a fun, entertaining and highly informative biopic that manages to feel both safe and new at the same time, feeling like it’s taking risks despite rarely actually doing so, and as easy as it would be to fault it for doing that, there’s nothing bad about the way it tells its subject matter. It’s here to tell the story of McDonald’s, and in a way it could even be considered more of a McDonald’s biopic than it is a Ray Kroc biopic.
Thankfully, yes, THE FOUNDER does work, and it works exceptionally well. The rise of McDonald’s is not remotely straightforward, the story involving lies, scams, backstabbing and a whole lot of French Fries and patty flipping. It begins by painting Ray Crock as a sympathetic, likeable guy just trying to make a living, and it got me invested in his ambitions, and at the same time, it also had me invested in the stories of Dick and Mac McDonald. Obviously, the relationship between these three isn’t always happy go lucky, and there was never a clear image of right and wrong, simply different ways of selling a business.
On the one hand, I was really enjoying and pleased by the way Ray Kroc was able to sell this business, overcoming his troubled past (that frequently haunts him) and family problems to achieve greatness. If you look at the good he did and ignore the wrongs he put on others, there’s a lot to take away from what he achieved. There are aspects about him that I found to be inspiring, but at the same time, there are just as many aspects about him I found to be quite unappealing. As for Dick and Mac, they technically didn’t do anything wrong. They started a restaurant, they achieved what they were trying to achieve and they let Ray take their brand and make it big, except after a while, it became clear that they had different intentions as to what McDonald’s should be, and that’s where the juiciest bits of this movie came from.
Easily the best aspect of this movie was watching Ray, Mac and Dick all attempt to do what they thought was right. Ray wanted one thing, while Mac and Dick wanted another, and Ray would constantly find new ways to legally work around his contract to get things done his way. It’s entertaining, fast and energetic, and John Lee Hancock (THE BLIND SIDE, SAVING MR. BANKS) does a fantastic job at directing. He’s confident in what he does, balancing out most of the storylines to perfection, with the occasional exception of Ray’s personal life. Don’t get me wrong, Laura Dern does a great job with what she’s given, but the scenes between her and Ray weren’t nearly as interesting as the rest of the movie.
Can we please just give Michael Keaton an Oscar already? His performance here isn’t on the same level as BIRDMAN, which he so should’ve won it for, but with little competition this year, can he please just win one already… It’s far overdue and more than deserving, and his performance is most definitely worthy. It’s a brilliant display of acting, as is the whole cast, and he just nails every little tiny bit of this character. Also worthy of applause is Nick Offerman, the PARKS & RECREATION actor and one of my favourite people ever. If this man is in something, I will undoubtedly watch it, and while he’s lacking his oh-so-glorious beard, his performance still manages to be one of the best performances he’s ever given. His onscreen brother Mac, played by John Carroll Lynch, is pretty damn great as well. Lynch is an actor I’ve always recognised and liked, but never realised just how many of my favourite movies he’s in. I’ve always liked him, yet always managed to underestimate just how good he is, and just how diverse and wonderful his filmography is.
THE FOUNDER combines together different, familiar approaches to biopics to trick you into thinking you’re watching something fresh and original, despite not actually being so, but it works, so there’s that. It’s a frenetic, informative true story about one of the biggest brands in the world, and the film is extremely entertaining. If Michael Keaton doesn’t get his Oscar, it’s time to revolt. It’ll be maybe even a little more upsetting than Donald Trump becoming President. (Ed’s note: Not likely).
By Jack Dignan
J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World has become one of the most iconic creations of all time. The Harry Potter saga spanned seven books and eight movies, and defined the childhoods/teenage years of a lot of people, myself included. They were all quite brilliant, and I still remember the excitement every time a new installment was to be released. It's a wonderful world, and while the Harry Potter franchise came to an immensely satisfying finale not too many years ago, the world is far from dead. Harry Potter never really ended, and releasing this week is the latest installment in this magical world, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. It's neither a prequel nor a spin off, but instead an all new story with (mostly) brand new characters.
Set seventy years before Harry Potter, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them follows the story of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), a young wizard who was thrown out of Hogwarts many years ago. But alas, that didn't stop him, for he went on to travel the globe, helping and caring for as many magical creatures as he can, and during his travels he finds himself in New York City, which is very much foreign terrain for him. Due to a mishap with his briefcase, a lot of the creatures he stored inside escape, and to help get them back, he gets the help of a nomaj (non-magical person) named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and sibling witches, Tina (Katherine Waterson) and Queenie Goldstein (Alison Sudol).
From the moment this film starts, beginning with a short snippet of the famous Harry Potter theme song that plays over the top of the opening logos, I was instantaneously drawn back into the world I know and love. It's a glorious, highly entertaining story that expands upon the already well-known lore, taking things to a new level and showing us a side of this universe we've only seen in part. With these characters already being well versed, adult wizards, there's no messing about. The film is extremely fast paced, bringing you right into the middle of the action, and everything from there on out is an utter delight.
In my opinion, what J.K. Rowling does best is create well realised characters. Sure, the stories she's able to tell are probably just as good, but a story is only as good as the characters who experience it. Once again, she's created a series of wondrous characters who I was more than pleased to spend a solid two hours with. Eddie Redmayne plays the mumbling, bumbling character we've all seen him play before, but Rowling is able to provide him with enough depth and interesting features to make him all the more likeable, proving him to be a character more than worthy of leading a franchise. We've only scratched the surface on who Newt is as a person, and I cannot wait to unravel more in future films.
For me, however, Newt wasn't nearly my favourite character in this film. He's great, don't get me wrong, and he ultimately ends up being the one with the most depth, as expected, but he wasn't my favourite. In fact, he was my third favourite. Dan Fogler's Jacob and Katherine Waterstone's Tina are absolute show stealers, and both for very different reasons. Jacob is a muggle who's brought into a world he didn't know existed, and he's got a sense of likability about him, as well as a goofy, fun-loving spirit. As for Tina, I really did like what Rowling did with her character. She's determined, hard hitting, oddly sentimental and has a rather interesting backstory that delivers a subtle, but worthy payoff late into the game.
Seeing these three, as well as the optimistic and happy Queenie, go searching for these truly fantastic beasts makes for an extremely fun adventure. It's exciting, action packed and full of stunning visuals. The story goes in a lot of directions, and I'll discuss the sub-plots in the next paragraph, but it's this main story that makes for the most delightful part of the film. The creatures are inventive and all sorts of loveable, especially the cheeky, gold-loving Niffler, who provides some of the biggest laughs. The film's visual effects are fairly obvious, but they're far from bad. They're really good, never once taking me out of the moment. What lies inside Newt's briefcase is visuals galore, and I could spend hours watching it all be explored.
Also included in the film is a sub-plot that involves Colin Farrell's relentless lawman, Percival Graves. He's investigating a great number of things, however one of his most predominant investigations revolves around Ezra Miller's shy young Credence. This plot has a lot going for it, constantly maintaining my interest, however for the most part, it just felt a little distant. Yes, things do eventually tie together, as expected, and bits and pieces fall into place along the way, but I didn't find it to be nearly as interesting as the main plot. Also, a certain *thing* is revealed towards the finale, and I have no problem with what the actual reveal was, but it didn't have as much levity as I would've liked. The stakes just needed to be a little bit bigger to get the shock value it was going for, which it only ended up mildly achieving.
For as much as I loved this movie, and no matter how great David Yates is at directing it, I just couldn't help but feel that the whole thing is all quite pointless. It's a really fun adventure, set to a wonderful score by James Newton Howard, but nothing about the film stood out as being tremendous. It's not a story that necessarily needed to be told, simply existing for the sake of making a few extra dollars. It's an interesting enough expansion of this universe, and I really can't wait to see it again, but do we seriously need to see five of these movies? I'm not sure. I'm excited to see where they're heading, and things look to be a little more important and relevant in the next installment, but as for this one, it's simply an unneeded, but entertaining story.
To sum up, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them is no Harry Potter, but it was never going to be, and it still ends up being an exciting, sporadically funny, world building new installment in the Wizarding World. It's an utter delight to watch unfold, and while it's all an unneeded cash grab, it's one of the most entertaining cash grabs Hollywood have made yet.
By Chris Campo
At last... here we are. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is the final film in the Harry Potter film series. Yes, after countless hours, countless spells, countless moments forever burned into our brains and seemingly countless Professors of the Dark Arts... it's over. Unless you count Fantastic Beasts, which I'm not, simply to sound more dramatic. Like the film itself, this is a bittersweet moment for me. I just sunk hours (19 hours and 40 minutes including credits, to be exact) into this series and was both excited and sad to finish it, but it had to be done. I've really liked all of the Harry Potter films, for the most part, but for me to officially say this is one of my favourite film series of all time, the finale would have to deliver. And boy did it.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 follows Harry, Ron and Hermione (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) still searching for the horcruxes that keep the most powerful wizard, Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) alive. Making their way back to Hogwarts, they are greeted by friends who are all on their side, preparing for a huge attack. Voldemort vows to kill Harry Potter by attacking Hogwarts with everything he has, but he may have met his match. This is the final chapter, this is where it all ends... this is the end of Harry Potter.
Magic is defined as a power to influence or change events to make something unbelievable happen, and that is exactly what happened here. This film is magical. Somehow, the finale of eight films... eight films... is the best in the series. That is something so inconceivable that it can only be explained as magical. Everything in this film works. It's exciting, emotionally engaging and has more satisfying moments than any blockbuster to come out this year, say for Captain America: Civil War. As I am no longer a Harry Potter virgin (I just have to read the books now), I can easily say putting all this time into these films was well worth it. This was a roller coaster, a roller coaster that knew exactly how to wow me and where to let me off.
When I say this film is exciting, I mean it. I may have complained that Part 1 was slow and the idea of splitting the Deathly Hallows into two films was a bad idea, but now I see why they did it. Part 2 is non stop excitement and works as the most fast paced film in the series. The film is practically one huge final act, and as I have said in nearly every Harry Potter review, the third act is always the best part of these films. The action is breathtaking, from the incredible dragon escape in the beginning to the attack on Hogwarts to the final showdown. Everything hits, and it hits hard. There are too many insanely awesome moments to count, and each one one-ups the last.
If I could describe the film in two words, it would be wholesomely satisfying. So many moments I have been dying to see happen here, and some moments that are unexpected really dazzled me. I actually shed a tear of happiness when Ron and Hermione finally kissed, part of me even wanted to cheer. Every character has their time to shine here, too, which I really appreciate. Some of the best moments come from characters who haven't really had any big moments, like Maggie Smith's Professor McGonagall and Matthew Lewis' Neville Longbottom, who has a great, meaty role here that was unexpected and, the magic word, satisfying. As fan of film, this is one of the most rewarding films I have ever seen and makes you proud to be a fan.
But what all these films are about is Harry Potter, his struggles, his relationships and his journey. This film tackles some pretty heavy shit, this film easily having the highest death count of the series, and things in the story constantly take turns for the worst. But Harry Potter, the boy who lived, is always there, ready to fight evil at whatever cost. There's something extremely profound in this character I can't quite describe with words. Something that, after eight long films, I can only feel. When he finally meets Voldemort for the final battle, it just hits you how great of a character he is, and how great of a world we got to live in to see him protect it. Even with limited dialogue, the closing moments of this film really hit me. It was the ultimate satisfying moment. I was not looking forward to the film ending, but I am glad it did. The reason why this series is so special is because it ended. There will always be another Marvel film, Star Wars film, DCEU film, but here we are left with a hero, done with his journey, and we simply leave the world. Until the inevitable prequel comes out and slaps that idea in the face because studios love money!!!
In all seriousness, this series really did it for me. It made me laugh, it made me feel and it made me think. I am grateful to this series for the incredible time I have had watching and reviewing these movies. I now see why they are special to so many people, I now know why whenever I go to Universal studios nearly half of the people are wearing the robes of the house they are in. By the way, I took the quiz, I'm a Hufflepuff. Being a Harry Potter virgin, the lamest title ever (thanks Jack), turned out to be a good thing, to experience the films with a unique set of eyes. I can't wait to revisit these films, read the books, ride the roller coasters and actually get the references to them... I officially can now call myself a Harry Potter fan.
Overall, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is a perfect cap on a delightful series. I am in love with it. It's all a fan could ever ask for, and experiencing it for the first time was a hell of an experience. I tried to think of a legitimate negative, but I just couldn't. I can't believe they pulled this off, I truly cant. I'm in awe.
By Chris Campo
At last! We have arrived at the finale of the Harry Potter films... sort of. It's half of the finale, because, due to the length of the book (and an opportunity to make a hell of a lot more cash). Warner Bros. released this film as only part one of the final Harry Potter story, and I'm usually not that big of a fan of this. I think it's purely money-driven and usually just drags out films to a ridiculous extent. Apparently the Deathly Hallows book is so dense, fans were okay with seeing a two part adaptation. I didn't know how I felt about it going in, as I am. after all, a Harry Potter virgin and have not read the books, but with the countdown to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them rapidly winding down (JACK NOTE: Check Out My Review Tuesday Afternoon), I knew it was time to see if this was a good start to a two part finale.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 uncharacteristically distances itself from the typical Hogwarts setting and follows our three heroes, Harry, Ron and Hermione (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson) on an unsupervised journey to destroy the Horcruxes, the sources of Voldemort's (Ralph Fiennes) immortality. Even when they need each other now more then ever, dark forces challenge their relationships and threaten to tear them apart. On this journey, Harry is not only faced with death, as he is being hunted by death eaters, but also discovers the three most powerful objects in the world, the Deathly Hallows.
I love this series, I really do, but part of me can't get over the fact that this film doesn't seem necessary. Well, yes, the film is necessary, but I don't see why this is its own film because boy, this film has a tendency to drag. Even though I have yet to see the final film, I would have preferred this film crunched down and edited in with Part 2. Sure, it would be pretty long, but don't kid yourself, Harry Potter fans would have no problem sitting through a 3-4 hour spectacle of a film, certainly if it was a finale. Lord of the rings pulled it off and they won Oscars for it. This doesn't kill the film for me though. There's a lot to like. Although, even if you ignore the fact that it is only a part one, it's still not the strongest Harry Potter film. Oh, and fuck that cliffhanger.
The film is very interesting. The story here is very intriguing and, for the most part, I was hooked. We've seen Lord Voldemort before, but never like this. Wow. Voldemort is show stopping. He's a very good, very creepy villain. I also enjoyed the main quest between our three heroes, but it does, as I said, drag. Interesting conflicts arise, such as Ron and Harry going at it, which has been done before, although here it's much better, but it's just missing something. I welcome the change of setting, very much, but I do feel a sense of wonder was lost with Hogwarts. However, the core characters keep this film on its feet, and not to sound like a broken record, but the characters in this film are such a delight. Here, we see a few new characters, which are all fun, and some returning characters, like Dobby (Toby Jones), who I was happy to see again.
The action, on the other hand, is hit or miss. For starters, there isn't a ton, but as the last film proved, that's not that big of a deal. The first big action scene, for me at least, left a lot to be desired. It's a big scene in the air, that is big and grand and feels ever so slightly out of place in the universe. It feels like a Michael Bay action scene (okay, maybe not that grand, but you get the point). There is a beautiful and gripping chase scene through the woods with magnificent, sweeping camerawork that was a highlight of the action in all these movies, for sure, and the final set piece is also rather fun and kept me quite engaged as well.
A big plus is tone, something these films have pretty much all nailed. Like always, there are very funny moments, most of the funnier bits are towards the first half, but they still all worked, including a fun little joke during the middle of a fight that totally reminded me of Stan Lee's cameo in The Amazing Spider-Man. There's great heart and emotion, another aspect that these films just nail. There's a great, warm moment between Harry and Hermione where they just dance and it put the biggest smile on my face. But there are also tougher scenes, very emotional shit goes down in this movie and it's all executed very well. A certain scene made me actually scream "NO!" out loud, surely waking up everyone in my house.
Overall, this film breaks the mold of what a typical Harry Potter film is, but the fact that this is only half the story takes away a bit of the magic. It's still fun, full with great characters and features plenty of memorable scenes, but it's not my favorite Harry Potter film. So, now I'm ready for the final Harry Potter film. It's been a fun ride watching all these films. I am quite sad that it's almost over, but I am also very excited. I have heard nothing but great things about the final film, so it should be a fun watch. I hope these reviews have been fun to read, and if they were, please join me in the very near future for my final Harry Potter review.
By Jack Dignan
The power is cinema is immeasurable. It makes you feel things no other art form can make you feel. It can make you happy, it can make you sad, it can make you angry, or it could make you feel all three of these at once. It's a powerful storytelling device and there are movies that come along every so often that make me appreciate cinema as a whole just that little bit more. They're not always the greatest films I've ever seen, and they don't always make it into my list of all time favourite films, but they come along and they make me fall just that little bit deeper in love with cinema. Nocturnal Animals, the second film from writer-director Tom Ford, is one of these. It's not the greatest film of the year, but my god, I think I've fallen further in love with the power of film.
Based on the book by Austin Wright (which I feel obligated to read now, as I truly did love this movie and would definitely be interested in seeing how it translated from the page to the screen), Nocturnal Animals is a peculiar film to summarise, due to the complicated nature of its narrative. The central character is a fashion designer named Susan (Amy Adams), who is sent an early copy of her ex-husband Edward's (Jake Gyllenhaal) new book. The two haven't spoken to each other in 19 years, yet he dedicates the book to her. It's titled 'Nocturnal Animals,' and we watch the story unfold on screen as Susan reads the book. It's violent and unpleasant, but at the same time quite brilliant, and as she continues to read, she starts to unravel the reasons as to why it's dedicated to her.
When the film came to a close, I had to take a moment to soak everything in. In fact, everyone I saw the movie with had to take a brief moment to just sit in silence. It's a haunting, impactful and genius tale of justice and revenge, serving as a fictitious memoir of agony. It's a full on movie, needing your complete attention and dealing with topics many audience members will find uncomfortable, or perhaps even appalled by how far it takes its subject matter. It's confrontational and uncomfortable, never really holding an awful lot back, but at the same time, feeling like a very restraint movie. It tells its story exceptionally well, and it's not a film for everyone, but as for myself, I haven't been able to get it out of my head.
The one thing you have to know going in is that, if you've seen the trailer, you really don't know what to expect. While the trailer indicates that the film is the story of Amy Adams' life, it's far from it. She is, technically, the protagonist of this movie. Everything is told through her perspective, a lot of it relates back to her and all the flashbacks are from her point of view, but what takes up most of this film's runtime is the novel her ex-husband wrote. It's a story within a story, and it's this story that was hardly even advertised. But still, even knowing that fact doesn't change anything. When you sit down to watch this film, you will not know what's coming next, or even what it all means at first. It's messed up and enthralling at the same time, and taking my eyes away from the screen just wasn't an option.
It's a twisted narrative, full of shocking imagery and heart wrenching storytelling. Tom Ford has delivered a film that requires a lot of analysis, and he's done such a great job at doing so. Every single image he creates is subtle, artsy and full of parallels, giving every single frame much needed depth. There's a certain glamour to the whole thing, the authenticity oozing off the screen and its haunting nature branded into my brain. His combination of camerawork, score and editing makes for one of the best made films I've seen in a very long time. In fact, this may just be one of the best made films of the year, potentially even prevailing over Arrival and Hacksaw Ridge, and while it's about as uncomfortable as films come, I do want to go see it again. Pronto.
Taking us on this psychotic story is a highly talented group of actors, and asking who's in it takes a much longer time to answer than asking who isn't in it. Jake Gyllenhaal has, and always will be one of my favourite actors, every performance of his full of class. He is without a doubt one of the finest actors to ever live, and I feel like it's no longer too early into his career to say that. He keeps on getting better and better and better, and as for Amy Adams... well, between this and Arrival, both of which hit Australian theatres today, she's had a great run of films lately, and while I did like her performance in Arrival just a little bit more, she just kills it here.
I can't finish up this review without mentioning the supporting cast, as, while their screen time is scarce, they're all outstanding. Michael Shannon is probably the biggest contender, taking on a major role in the actual story of 'Nocturnal Animals,' and he kills it, even if it's another variation of the typical Michael Shannon character (he's even played another character before that has both the same name and job). On a side note, maybe that's why I loved his performance in Elvis & Nixon so much earlier this year, as it's so unlike him, yet it's one of his best performances. But getting back to Nocturnal Animals, the other standout from the cast is Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who's unrecognisable as this despicable, unnerving character. Everyone in this movie is just at the top of their game, and when everyone is simultaneously this good, it makes me appreciate it just that little bit more.
To sum up, Nocturnal Animals is smart, fucked up filmmaking that works, featuring brilliance in all departments, including the holy trinity of directing, writing and acting. Gyllenhaal and Adams are sensational, but there isn't a single weak link in the entire cast, and I could talk for hours about just how beautiful Tom Ford has made this film, even with its disturbing, graphic imagery.
4 1/2 Stars
By Jack Dignan
Derek Cianfrance, the man behind The Place Beyond The Pines and Blue Valentine, directs Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander in this drama of love, loss and family, based on the bestselling book by M.L. Stedman. That sentence right there should mean great things. It should be the description of a movie that will go on to win Oscar upon Oscar upon Oscar, resulting in what should be one of the best films of the year. It's got both a brilliant cast and director, building the grounds of what should be something utterly phenomenal, but is instead simply fine. It's not bad, but it's definitely not great, and at times it does feel like wasted potential.
The Light Between Oceans follows the story of Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender), a solider who settles down as a lighthouse keeper after returning home from war, wanting peace and quiet after may years of fighting. He meets a young woman named Isabel Graysmark (Alicia Vikander), and after literally one date, the two fall in love with each other, getting married and moving in together on the lighthouse, away from the worries and woes of the rest of the world. After a series of miscarriages, things aren't looking hopeful for Tom and Isabel, but a small boat arrives at their lighthouse, carrying with it a dead body and a crying baby. The two lovers adopt the child as their own, but years later, things become difficult when they run into the child's mother, Hannah (Rachel Weisz), who still believes her baby to be dead.
Real life couple Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander star as lovers in this overly dramatic, but kind of entertaining love story of parenthood, and if there's one thing that's most apparent in this movie it's that these two sure can act. Fassbender is still going hard at trying to get that Oscar, and while it's long overdue, this doesn't feel like the film he should get it for. He's great, there's no doubt about that, but his Oscar is still just out of reach. Vikander, as well, is terrific, even if her character does make some really, really weird decisions throughout, however that didn't take away from the brilliance and emotional centre of her performance.
Australian cinematographer Adam Arkapaw comes to the rescue with his gorgeous camerawork here, crafting a variety of truly beautiful shots, especially his luscious landscape ones, frequently consisting of long pants over water. It really does help when the set design and general location of the film was just candy to my eyes, the island upon which it's set looking welcoming and relaxing, and it allowed for the cinematography to stand out in comparison to most aspects of this movie. Arkapaw is building up quite a résumé, now having worked on such films as Animal Kingdom, Macbeth and the upcoming Assassin's Creed, as well as season 1 of True Detective, which can all agree was the good season.
Before I get into flaws, it must be said that almost every component of the making of this movie is quite stunning, not just the performances and cinematography. Everything from the hair and make-up to the overall set designs to the wonderful, if not slightly familiar score by Alexandre Desplat is an excellent display of how to make a quality movie, however it is preferable if the final product turns out more along the lines of The Place Beyond the Pines than it does The Light Between Oceans, because that has a lot of similar positive aspects, and is a far superior film.
The biggest problem with this movie lies within the script, written by Cianfance himself. The dialogue varies from decent to corny and while the premise is interesting, it's so melodramatic, sappy and frequently stupid, trying to play with several different plot points, but giving all the wrong ones the most screen time. It's a very slow opening, taking its time in setting up these characters, yet when some of the more interesting things are taking place, they're rushed past, the gravity of the situation never felt. There wasn't nearly as much emotional depth as there needed to be, resulting in a story that I didn't feel attached to.
The third act in particular is a bit of a mess, and I did like certain things that they were trying to do, but as a whole it just doesn't flow. It's choppy and under-explained, nearly every character's motive just flipped upside down with no foreshadowing whatsoever. Everything comes out of nowhere, making it neither predictable nor surprising, and on top of that, the film just... wouldn't... end... There's several different endings for the movie, half of which were completely unnecessary, but hey, gotta go for that Oscar-worthy runtime of 2 hours and 13 minutes, y'know.
To sum up, The Light Between Oceans is an overly melodramatic story that ranges from interesting to stupid with no in-between, but every behind the scenes component of it just works, from the score to the cinematography to the directing to the performances, and I ended up enjoying it. Barely.
By Jack Dignan
It takes a lot to win a war. I don't have any sort of experience with wars, nor do I intend to, but I certainly imagine it takes a lot to win one. It takes bravery, passion and a journey through hell and back, and most of the time, it doesn't seem pretty. With most war movies, it's usually about wining the war or rescuing someone or completing a certain objective. It's about survival, and standing up when all the odds are against you, and in a way, the same goes for Hacksaw Ridge, but this is a very different type of war film. This isn't a story about shooting your way to victory. It's the story of an ordinary man who became a war hero without even firing a single bullet, and that's no easy accomplishment.
We follow the story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a young man who grew up in a religious household with an alcoholic father (Hugo Weaving). One day, Desmond comes across a nurse named Dorothy (Teresa Palmer), who he instantly falls in love with, but their love is forced to be put on a halt when Desmond decides to go to war, following in the footsteps of the soldiers who came before him, including his father and brother Harold (Nathaniel Buzolic). When training under the command of Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn), it becomes rather apparent that Desmond is unlike the other soldiers. While he wants to fight in this war, he refuses to pick up a gun, making him an unfavourable member in his squadron. But still, he's sent off to battle, and his act of bravery is an astounding one to watch unfold.
Brutal, brilliant and emotional, Hacksaw Ridge is a war film to remember, and it's certainly going to grab the attention of Oscar voters in the coming months. It tells a tale of faith, courage and following your beliefs, but it does so without shoving religious views down your throat. It's a film about religion, but it isn't forcing you to be religious. In fact, it does quite the opposite, encouraging you to believe in what you think is right, and not to let anyone tell you otherwise. It's important, inspiring and worthy of applause, and I was on the brink of tears for pretty much the entire runtime.
It takes its time setting everything up, but it needs to. It needs this time, and it uses it wisely. While the main portion of the movie takes place on the battlefield, the events before that are just as needed, not only as an introduction to this character, but to aid in the message this film gives. It's a biopic that avoids being a biopic, only really having two scenes that serve as flashbacks, and the rest of the film being told to us in realtime. It creates an attachment to the character of Desmond, as well as strong empathy, and when he does make it to the war, my heart was racing in anticipation, just hoping for the best for this character.
It's these early training sequences that are both fascinating, yet clichéd. It covers just about everything you'd expect to be in war training, ticking off the box for every single convention, and perhaps that's the way it is in real life, but in terms of movies, we've seen it all before. However, writers Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight, who did a powerful and superb job with the screenplay, add an interesting dynamic to these early scenes. The premise of each of them has been done to death, but the character of Desmond is so fascinating and unique that they do, oddly enough, feel significantly different to the ones we've seen before.
Here, we also get a good sense of who these characters are, or at least who they seem to be. Their personalities shine through, and while a bunch of them are walking clichés, such as Luke Bracey's Smitty (although once we get to the war scenes, these clichés go away somewhat, replaced by an actual character) or Luke Pegler's Hollywood, there are a few characters who I really enjoyed watching. One of these would be Vince Vaughn's relentless sergeant, as well as Sam Worthington's Captain Glover, who just wants the best for his men. While Vaughn did an excellent job, once again starting to prove talented as a dramatic actor after his impressive appearance in True Detective Season 2, I was a big fan of what Worthington brought to his role.
Backed by a powerful score by Rupert Greyson-Williams (which is hilarious considering this guy also scored such masterpieces as Bee Movie and Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2), the war sequences are horrific and painfully realistic, and director Mel Gibson handles them in an almost beautiful way. They're brutal and gruesome, yet impossible to turn away from. Once the battle begun, my eyes were locked, refusing to move, for the sheer terror of the whole situation drew me right in. The last battle in particular feels extremely well crafted, and there's moments where the score, performances, cinematography and visuals all just slotted together perfectly to make for a moment of pure cinematic delight.
This is without a doubt Andrew Garfield's best performance yet, taking this film to a whole other level. Whether he's awkwardly trying to flirt with Teresa Palmer, who's also impressive here, or saving dozens upon dozens of lives on the battlefield, Garfield gives it his all, much like his character does, and the result is something extraordinary. I am a very big fan of The Social Network, having seen it countless times, and that used to be my favourite Garfield performance, but Hacksaw Ridge just came along and changed that, for he is at the absolute top of his game here. There's a flashback scene involving him and the iconic Hugo Weaving that, while brief, completely blew me away in terms of performances.
To sum up, Hacksaw Ridge does dwell with a few familiarities here and there, but in the long run, everything in this film is most certainly needed, and it results in a powerful, brutal and moving tale of heroism, anti-violence and standing up for what you believe in, and the entire cast just shines. If you miss out on this one, you're making a huge mistake.
4 1/2 Stars