Pete’s Dragon Review: Flying High


Director: David Lowery

Writer: David Lowery, Toby Halbrooks (screenplay), Malcolm Marmorstein (novel)

Stars: Bryce Dallas Howard, Oakes Fegley, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban

petes-dragon-poster


Release date: September 15th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country:USA

Running time: 102 minutes


3/5

Best part: The dragon.

Worst part: Urban’s kooky antagonist.

Disney is a cash cow, able to take serious risks without losing large sums. The company – cashing up on Marvel, Star Wars etc. – is handing remakes of 20th century animated gems to interesting, independent-minded filmmakers. Jon Favreau and Kenneth Branagh dived into The Jungle Book and Cinderella before. Pete’s Dragon is the heavyweight studio’s latest satisfactory experiment.

Pete’s Dragon is based on one of Disney’s most eclectic animated works. The original is a miasmic tale of a boy and his pet. It delves into strange places – leaving some viewers scratching their heads. This version is more straightforward but less interesting. It begins with Pete finding Elliot the Dragon by chance. The story jumps years ahead, and Pete (Oakes Fegley) is a child running, jumping and living alongside his magical friend. One day, Pete stumbles upon park ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) in the forest. After finding him and taking him in, Grace – along with her partner Jack (Wes Bentley), Jack’s daughter Natalie (Oona Lauence) and Grace’s father Meacham (Robert Redford) – learn more about Pete’s story and way of life. Jack’s brother Gavin (Karl Urban) has dastardly ideas for Elliot.

Like J. J. Abrams-helmed Super 8, Pete’s Dragon showcases Steven Spielberg’s long-lasting legacy and overall influence. This nostalgic fantasy-family epic lives and dies on director/co-writer David Lowery(Aint Them Bodies Saints)’s love of the classics. The opening scene encapsulates his style and storytelling prowess. This three-minute sequence is worth the admission cost. It glides through multiple emotions, a tragic event, our lead’s isolation and discovery of the big, green father figure. Indeed, the epilogue depicts love and loss effortlessly. Afterwards, the movie is fairly mundane. Lowery borrows every Spielberg convention (Spielberg face, country town charm, kids connecting with creatures and magic etc.) without quit. As other central characters come into play, the movie’s story and pace slow drastically.

The characters, of course, change from simple-minded to wide-eyed and adventurous as craziness occurs. However, none of them matter. Howard continues her run of underwritten characters flip-flopping between courageous and outrageous. Even her red hair and gorgeous looks cannot save her. Bentley is given less development as the concerned nice-guy. Redford’s charm pushes him through silly dialogue. Urban is given one of 2016’s most baffling characters; woefully switching between gruff redneck, hunting champion and slightly mentally challenged. Lowery spoon feeds his love of middle America. The twangy soundtrack and gleaming cinematography clumsily convey regional bliss.

Pete’s Dragon resembles every other 2016 blockbuster – easy on the eyes but hard to connect with. This year, this Spielberg admirer performed better than Spielberg himself. The cast perform admirably despite two dimensional, wacky material. The dragon himself is the runaway winner.

Verdict: A quaint family-adventure.

Truth Audio Review: Facts & Follies


Director: James Vanderbilt

Writer: James Vanderbilt (screenplay), Mary Mapes (book)

Stars: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid

Truth-Movie-2015-Poster


Release date: October 15th, 2015

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics 

Country: USA

Running time: 125 minutes


 

3/5

Review:

Captain America: The Winter Soldier – The Super-Bourne Ultimatium


Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo

Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

Stars: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Samuel L. Jackson


Release date: April 4th, 2014

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 136 minutes


4½/5

Best part: The inventive action sequences.

Worst part: Garry Shandling’s cameo.

Set two years after the spectacular yet catastrophic Battle of New York in mega-smash The Avengers, Marvel latest Phase 2 juggernaut, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, looks up into the universe for ideas. No, unfortunately, this instalment has nothing to do with Thor, Thor: The Dark World, or Guardians of the Galaxy. Honourably, aiming to become truly extraordinary, the movie seeks recognition. This instalment, ignoring the massive success stories that came before it, changes the game for future sequels, adaptations, and TV series’.

Chris Evans.

So, what did I think of the final Product? Well, I have to commend Marvel Studios, and Captain America: The Winter Soldiers cast and crew for pulling off a visceral and all-encompassing sequel. Eviscerating the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s preceding sequels, this movie shows Hollywood exactly how it’s done. Watch out Spider-man, X-Men, and Guardians of the Galaxy, the “star-spangled man with a plan” means business. Ascending above Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a lively and ambitious effort unafraid of The Avengers’  conquering shadow. Here, aliens, gods, and monsters aren’t even mentioned. Some may believe this to be an idiotic decision. However, this instalment seeks to pull apart everything we’ve already learnt about this franchise. Here, unlike the kitsch 2011 original, there are no guidelines, black-and-white strokes, and corny dialogue. In fact, the movie kicks into overdrive at exactly the right moments. Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), now completely thawed out of his icy tomb, finds the 21st century to be an even greater threat than Loki, alien hordes, and the Tesseract combined. Transitioning from 1940s Brooklyn to 2010s Washington D.C., Rogers feels uncomfortable even in seemingly normal surroundings and situations.

Scarlett Johansson.

Sensitively, despite Cap’s red, white, and blue facade, this instalment strips stars and stripes off the flag before dousing it in shades of grey. Carrying around a to-do list listing pop-culture’s most transcendent aspects (Steve Irwin, Rocky etc.), Rogers looks to others for guidance. From the opening scene, in which Rogers overlaps selfless war veteran Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) on their morning jog, Rogers’ character arc becomes insatiably potent. The movie re-introduces us to this straight-laced superhero in a succinct fashion. Sporting an enviable physique and approachable personality, Rogers overshadows Cap’s star power and superhuman abilities. From there, the movie delivers many shocking and tangible twists and turns before the explosive finale. With athletic agent Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) by his side, Rogers notices several peculiar occurrences. Unsure of whom to trust, Rogers and Romanoff suspect security agency SHIELD, led by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) in their Triskelion headquarters, of carrying out ethically questionable actions. Soon enough, tempers and allegiances reach breaking point before Rogers and Romanoff are branded as threats to democracy. Thankfully, before even the titular assassin is introduced, Captain America: The Winter Soldier strives to be the most intelligent and thought-provoking instalment yet.

Samuel L. Jackson vs. The Winter Soldier.

Thanks to politically-charged overtones and pragmatic characters, the movie draws the line between worldwide peace and overwhelming chaos. Seeking a 70s conspiracy-thriller vibe, the narrative throws in several unexpected chills, thrills, and kills. Despite being comparable to All the Presidents Men (thanks mostly to Redford’s inclusion), the relevant socio-political commentary makes it, essentially, the year’s best Jack Ryan flick. In this instalment, each character’s actions spark major ramifications that could potentially re-configure entire governmental, economic, and social layouts. Rogers, introduced to a paranoid and cynical version of his stouthearted country, brings 40s ideals to every motivation, action, and judgement. In fact, the original feature’s hearty messages are seamlessly injected into its slick and ultra-relentless sequel. However, unlike the original, this instalment doesn’t rely on bubbly supporting characters, boisterous montages, or light hearted moments. This sequel, significantly darker than expected, delivers gritty and momentous tonal currents. Beyond these energetic and revelatory surprises, this series’ over-arching narrative has been radically altered by this instalment’s fundamental revelations. Shifting this series from popcorn-starved schlock to adrenaline-charged, character-based drama, Captain America: The Winter Soldier systematically adapts to preconceptions and delivers an enthusiastically purposeful experience.

“You hold a gun on everyone on Earth and call it protection.” (Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Captain America: The Winter Soldier).

Anthony Mackie.

Of course, despite its thorough examination of the First World’s shattered political state and endless desire for information, audiences turn out to see Marvel’s 90-something military-trained badass hit people with his custom-built shield. Fortunately, Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s action sequences don’t disappoint. Oddly enough, the movie’s directorial flair delivers several intense and enlightening sequences. With Jon Favreau creating indie-dramas, Kenneth Branagh heading back to Shakespeare, and Shane Black planning his next hysterical actioner, whom did Marvel Studios get this time? Why, TV directors, of course. Despite Anthony and Joe Russo’s previous credits (Community, Arrested Development), their meticulous action-direction is startlingly effective. The first sequence, displaying Cap’s awe-inspiring fighting style on a hijacked cargo ship, throws this action-adventure into a steady ascension. In addition, Falcon’s outlandish abilities and Romanoff’s extraordinary martial arts bolster this instalment’s immense “WOW” factor. Despite the final third’s occasional plot-holes, the well-crafted set pieces distract from minor gripes. In addition, like with the other successful instalments, the characters elevate and define certain scenes. Evans grips onto his role differently to Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr., and Mark Ruffalo. Switching from glorious symbol, to no-nonsense hero, to idealistic spy, his performance provides the movie’s most touching moments. Johansson and Mackie deliver enjoyable turns in well-meaning supporting roles. Meanwhile, Redford accustomed to the spy-thriller genre, relishes in his role’s more impactful conceits.

Whether you think it praises liberal principles or right-wing motivations, audiences will lap up Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s analysis of the US Government’s most pressing issues. Brave enough to be intelligent, the movie’s greatest sequences deliver depth, intense action beats, and glorious characterisations. The movie, speeding past previous Phase 2 instalments, justifies its existence. Appropriately, Marvel Studios has defined the similarities and differences between the world’s “good guys” and “bad guys”. If only our real-life public figures could do the same.

Verdict: The best Phase 2 instalment yet! 

All is Lost – I’m On A Boat


Director: J. C. Chandor

Writer: J. C. Chandor

Star: Robert Redford


Release date:  October 25th, 2014

Distributors: Lionsgate, FIlmNation Entertainment

Countries: Canada, USA

Running time: 105 minutes


 

4/5

Best part: Robert Redford.

Worst part: The manipulative score.

In an Oscar season chock-a-block with dark docudramas, deftly comic road-trip movies, and visceral crime-thrillers, few movies have been brave enough to stand out from the pack. Despite the Oscar contenders’ overwhelming quality and relevance, movies that balance an entertaining action-adventure narrative with stark rawness become instant success stories. Delivering an engaging survival story, All is Lost delivers Oscar-calibre moments and thrilling set-pieces. It’s extremely difficult to mix these qualities together into a meaningful artistic endeavour. However, two geniuses reached out and grasped this fruitful opportunity.

Robert Redford.

With pulsating concepts and cultural preconceptions in hand, All is Lost delivers edge-of-your-seat thrills whilst occasionally remembering to take deep breaths. This intricate balance places All is Lost in the realm of memorable and confronting survival-dramas. The story itself is incredibly straightforward. However, in an age of convoluted and self-indulgent blockbusters, simple yet effective action-adventure movies are indelibly refreshing. The movie kicks off with a man (Robert Redford) deliberating upon his dying wishes and deepest regrets. Why to himself? He writes these haunting words on a scraggly piece of paper before placing the note in a jar. These revelations become his final statements whilst his life raft floats across the Indian Ocean. The movie then jumps back eight days, and the man’s priceless yacht, Virginia Jane, crashes into a floating, bright-red cargo container. Filled with cheap shoes, the tough container tears an excruciatingly significant hole into the boat’s starboard side (right, I researched it). With guile and quick thinking, the man repairs the hole with a glue-like concoction and scraps. Unfortunately, the soft patch is far from the man’s most exasperating issue. Soon after, he sails into a gigantic thunderstorm. Tossing his boat into impactful waves and currents, the thunderstorm tests the man’s steely reserve. However, the boat is nowhere near as strong as its captain. With the boat’s final voyage concluding disastrously, the man must choose between a memorable life and a horrifying death.

More Robert Redford.

Survival tales blend intriguing, multi-layered relationships with celluloid’s emphatic potential. With metaphorical and literal conflicts eviscerating the big screen, their varying twists and turns deliver enlightening and punishing rewards. Spiritually enriching journeys (Life of Pi127 Hours) and discomforting life-or-death situations (Buried) define this beguiling genre. With these movies becoming major box-office hits, this popular and note-worthy genre strives to grasp its true potential. All is Lost – defined by groundbreaking technological achievements, captivating set-pieces, and an invigorating performance – continually delivers emotional impact and thematic resonance. Here, the survival narrative rests on an understandable and harrowing scenario. With retirees and ambitious sailors taking around-the-world trips each year, horrific casualties continually arise. Despite the ambitious idea, tumultuous conditions and poor preparation deliver significant risks. All is Lost, ideally, focuses on a specific point in time. With its limited scope and enriching authenticity, this action-adventure conveys specific points about morality and mortality. Director J. C. Chandor (Margin Call) immerses us into one pressing and heart-breaking situation after another. Sticking with the boat throughout its 106-minute run-time, Chandor’s vision is astoundingly touching. Becoming Gravity‘s ocean-dwelling relative, All is Lost similarly transforms into a soulful, exhilarating, and modest survival-thriller. To examine this movie’s most engaging aspects, the viewer must recognise the valuable details that remain missing. The movie never travels to other setting or characters. We are never introduced to relatives, friends, enemies, or even strangers. Efficiently, Chandor seems wholly fascinated by Redford’s idiosyncratic features. Assuredly, the narrative effectively tests the character’s survival skills, will power, patience, and faith. Mutedly, this survival-thriller, like our main character, looks upward for an explanation. Is God punishing this man? Is God solidifying his internal strength? Or, realistically, did the man make wrong turns during his voyage?

“All is lost here, except for soul and body, that is, what’s left of them, and a half day’s ration.” (Our Man (Robert Redford), All is Lost).

Even more Robert Redford.

Lacking stupefying exposition, useless supporting characters, and obvious titbits, the movie allows the audience to piece together this mystifying puzzle. Pushing his only character to breaking point, Chandor’s latest feature tests humanity and Mother Nature’s boundaries. With thunderous weather patterns, dwindling supplies, waterlogged equipment, and predatory creatures affecting this journey, the movie, by pummelling Redford’s character, wallows in its harshly constructed world. Chandor’s style develops a picturesque and damaging reality. Here, Earth’s elements stand between the main character and a continued existence. Immediately stating that he is: “1700 nautical miles from the Sumatra Straights”, this atmospheric journey becomes an exasperating cinematic experience. Searching for land and/or passing vessels, this captain becomes a humanistic and conquering force of nature. Credit goes to Redford for delivering another textured and naturalistic turn. Reaching beyond his sub-par directorial efforts (The Company You Keep), Redford’s all-important physicality and charisma shine through this near-wordless role. Thankfully, Chandor’s directorial flair also provides an assuring and unconscionable aura. Exposed to the lead character’s drastic actions and recognisable reactions, we become one with his impressive yacht and amicable life raft. Frank G. DeMarco’s uncompromising and unique cinematography elevates unquestionably intense moments. Emphasising the man’s critically arduous situation, the camera commendably fuses with the movie’s desolate settings. Kept in close-up, the yachting sequences become heart-pounding and nail-biting roller-coaster rides. However, once the raft becomes key to the man’s survival, the camera dives into the ocean and soars into the sky. Immaculate pans and zooms establish this ordeal’s otherworldly impact. Graciously, chillingly powerful sound effects highlight crashing waves and tumbling vessels. However, the score becomes an unnecessarily overt distraction. The manipulative rhythms distort this otherwise organic and potent drama. 

Elevating itself above the already intriguing premise, All is Lost is a gritty, realistic, and unflinching insight into mankind’s most absurd and thought-provoking endeavours. Despite queasiness becoming a major concern, Chandor’s style hurls the audience into the movie’s discomforting and perilous journey. Most importantly, Redford’s towering performance silences the critics – illustrating his immense star quality and intense range. Despite the quarrels, this is a purposeful and delirium-inducing thrill-ride.

Verdict: An intensifying and creative survival tale.