Paddington the bear has created a nice life for himself with the Brown family, but everything changes the day he is accused of having stolen a peculiar pop-up book of London sights…. A sequel that does everything right and maintains the same cheerful, kind and funny spirit from the original – even when it subjects sweet Paddington to prison! That part of the movie is great fun thanks to Brendan Gleeson as the intimidating Knuckles. The final chase, involving a hilarious Hugh Grant as a crazed, self-obsessed actor turned villain, admirably keeps up the tension and frantic pace. Very pleasant family entertainment, boosted by director Paul King’s visual ideas.
2017-Britain-France. 95 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by David Heyman. Directed by Paul King. Screenplay: Paul King, Simon Farnaby. Books: Michael Bond. Cast: Hugh Bonneville (Henry Brown), Sally Hawkins (Mary Brown), Brendan Gleeson (Knuckles McGinty), Hugh Grant, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent… Peter Capaldi, Joanna Lumley, Eileen Atkins, Tom Conti. Voices of Ben Whishaw, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon.
Last word: “One of my favorite details, I don’t think it’s ever in focus, there’s an oil painting of [Grant] wearing a kilt […] which we all thought was a very funny thing for an actor to have around… Hugh managed to find lots of his old publicity photos and we sort of decorated his whole house with them, which was great.” (King, Flavourmag)
After an earthquake makes him homeless, a young marmalade-loving bear makes his way from Peru to London where he’s temporarily cared for by the Brown family. The perennial childhood favorite Paddington makes his way to the big screen in a jolly, enthusiastic and very British adventure likely to satisfy both kids and adults. It does rely on a formula, and Nicole Kidman offers no surprises as the villain, but the blend of live-action and CGI is excellent. The filmmakers go all in on London charm, creating an irresistibly colorful and visually appealing fantasy. Paddington fits right in with the lovable Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville as mom and dad Brown.
2014-Britain-France. 95 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by David Heyman. Written and directed by Paul King. Books: Michael Bond. Cast: Hugh Bonneville (Henry Brown), Sally Hawkins (Mary Brown), Nicole Kidman (Millicent Clyde), Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi. Voices of Ben Whishaw, Imelda Staunton, Michael Gambon.
Trivia: Colin Firth was originally hired to do Paddington’s voice. Followed by Paddington 2 (2017).
Last word: “One was Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Kid.’ What attracted me to Paddington, comedically, is the clown side of him, the silent comedian side, and what I really love about Chaplin is how those films – especially ‘The Kid’ but also ‘City Lights’ and ‘Gold Rush’ – have enormous heart as well as great laughs. Paddington is such a lovable figure and there’s something so profound in that image of him alone at the railway station, sitting on a suitcase with ‘Please look after this bear. Thank you’ on a luggage label.” (King on his inspirations, Indiewire)
16-year-old Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) finds himself in the middle of an enormous maze where a group of boys who were brought there earlier have formed a primitive society. Another dystopian film for young audiences in the vein of The Hunger Games (2012) and Divergent (2014), but with intriguing elements. The young actors are fairly engaging and the maze piques one’s interest – what’s beyond it, apart from the monsters who patrol its stony corridors? Well paced and convincingly designed, but the unsatisfactory ending is only there to set up a sequel and provides more questions than answers.
2014-U.S. 113 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Wes Ball. Novel: James Dashner. Cast: Dylan O’Brien (Thomas), Kaya Scodelario (Teresa), Aml Ameen (Alby), Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Will Poulter… Patricia Clarkson.
Trivia: Followed by two sequels, starting with Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015).
A MONSTER OF CREATION’S DAWN BREAKS LOOSE IN OUR WORLD TODAY!
The story that originally was titled ”The Eighth Wonder” began with Merian C. Cooper, who became fascinated with jungle adventures as a child. He subsequently served in World War I, visited several countries and did research for the American Geographical Society. He met Ernest B. Schoedsack in the early 1920s and traveled with him. Their journeys took them to Hollywood where Cooper helped a certain David Selznick find a job at RKO; eventually, Selznick made sure that Cooper also ended up at RKO and many of the same cast and crew that worked on Schoedsack’s The Most Dangerous Game (1932) became attached to a little project of Cooper’s called King Kong. Inspiring countless imitations, King Kong became a groundbreaking cinematic event.
Filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is preparing for a new expedition that will be leaving New York City aboard a chartered ship. But he still needs a leading lady for his wildlife movie. He finds her in Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), a beautiful young woman who’s starving and agrees to join the expedition. After a few weeks out to sea, Denham informs the crew that the destination is Skull Island, a place rumored to harbor some kind of creature known as Kong. When the ship finally arrives, the crew finds a native village surrounded by an enormous wall. They become witness to a ceremony where the natives prepare to sacrifice a young woman to Kong…
Not an actors’ picture
The film is very well-paced, basically achieving what it took the Jurassic Park franchise two movies to do. The appeal of having a beautiful, scantily clad woman in jeopardy in the middle of the jungle was a no-brainer for everybody at the time, from Cooper to RKO to audiences. This movie made Wray a star and her iconic horror-movie scream is hard to rival. This isn’t really an actors’ picture; Wray stands out for sure, but none of her male co-stars are memorable, not even Armstrong as the ruthlessly ambitious Carl Denham. The real star is obviously Kong himself, the giant ape. Several models of him and the other gigantic creatures of Skull Island were created for stop-motion animation; along with matte painting and rear projection, the technology was put to brilliant use by Willis O’Brien whose work on special effects revolutionized Hollywood. The most challenging part of it, the physical interaction between monster and man (especially when the action moves back to New York City), is handled convincingly, and the brutal battles between Kong and his ancient adversaries on the island, snakes and dinosaurs, are imaginative. The look of Kong himself is clever – this is a terrifyingly large creature with awesome powers, but his eyes are big and expressive, certain to make us feel for him. Because ultimately this is a tragedy, with an iconic ending atop the Empire State Building, newly constructed at the time and the tallest building in the world; we end up caring more for Kong than Ann, which is quite an achievement.
This isn’t only a triumph when it comes to special effects. Before King Kong, the early days of talkies did not traditionally feature original music scores. Max Steiner was hired to simply find suitable music for the film, but Cooper reportedly paid him to write an original score. It was subsequently recorded by a full orchestra and the results impressed the studio enough to reimburse Cooper. The way Steiner wrote leitmotifs for the music changed Hollywood’s thinking; from now on, there would be original scores that emphasized emotions on screen. And this movie, even though its main protagonist is a big ape, suffers no shortage of emotions.
King Kong 1933-U.S. 104 min. B/W. Produced and directed by Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack. Screenplay: James Creelman, Ruth Rose. Music: Max Steiner. Visual Effects: Willis O’Brien, and others. Cast: Fay Wray (Ann Darrow), Robert Armstrong (Carl Denham), Bruce Cabot (Jack Driscoll), Frank Reicher, Sam Hardy, Noble Johnson.
Trivia: Followed by The Son of Kong (1933). Remade as King Kong (1976) and King Kong (2005); the ape was also featured in Kong: Skull Island (2017).
Quote: “It wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.” (Armstrong)
Last word: “‘King Kong’ was difficult only because of the hours we had to put in. At that time, there was no protection for actors about time or anything. We worked straight through for 22 hours once on ‘Kong’. It was really a wearying experience, because it was mechanics, really, as much as anything that we were dealing with. The technicality was transparency to transparency from the rear, and then re-photographing me in the foreground on the same level with that screen – so I couldn’t really see what was happening at all! It had to be done many, many times to confirm that it was okay.” (Wray, “Scarlet Street”)
1,700 YEARS TO BUILD. 5,500 MILES LONG. WHAT WERE THEY TRYING TO KEEP OUT?
During the 11th century, two Western mercenaries (Matt Damon, Pedro Pascal) are looking for the secret of gunpowder in China when they’re attacked by a monster; stumbling upon the Great Wall, they become involved in the battle against the taotie… Another adventurous epic from Zhang Yimou, clearly aimed for both American and Chinese audiences, but still making sure that Chinese mythology is at the heart of the movie. As expected from this filmmaker, the battles are colorful (in 3D) but the design of the monsters isn’t terribly inventive. The characters also remain rather hollow.
2016-China-U.S. 103 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Zhang Yimou. Cast: Matt Damon (William Garin), Jing Tian (Lin Mae), Pedro Pascal (Pero Tovar), Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Zhang Hanyu.
Trivia: At one point, Edward Zwick was reportedly considered for directing duties; Bryan Cranston for Dafoe’s role.
When Lightning McQueen crashes during a race with a cocky, younger talent, he starts fearing retirement but tries to find his way back at a new racing center, and with a new, annoyingly enthusiastic trainer. The third film reconnects with the original in several ways. Beautifully designed in 3D, with harrowingly convincing racing scenes, earthy tones and an emotional story. Clearly, the hijinks of the second movie are a thing of the past… on the other hand, most ingredients here are much too familiar. Still, Cruz Ramirez is an engaging new character.
2017-U.S. Animated. 102 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Brian Fee. Voices of Owen Wilson (Lightning McQueen), Cristela Alonzo (Cruz Ramirez), Chris Cooper (Smokey), Nathan Fillion, Larry the Cable Guy, Armie Hammer… Tony Shalhoub, Bonnie Hunt, Kerry Washington, Bob Costas, John Ratzenberger, Lewis Hamilton, Cheech Marin.
Trivia: Previously unused recordings of Paul Newman from the first movie are used in some flashback scenes.
16-year-old Jake Portman (Asa Butterfield) goes to Wales together with his father to look for a mysterious orphanage that his granddad (Terence Stamp) told fanciful stories about from World War II… Tim Burton is the right person to make a movie out of Ransom Riggs’s imaginative novel, a fairy tale about a place with ”peculiars”, people who have paranormal powers and find themselves threatened by monsters that only they can see; of course, Butterfield also turns out to be a ”peculiar”. A little messy and overlong, but engaging and boosted by its cast and a dark, visually dazzling world in 3D, crafted by Burton’s team of talents.
2016-U.S. 127 min. Color. Directed by Tim Burton. Novel: Ransom Riggs. Music: Michael Higham, Matthew Margeson. Cast: Asa Butterfield (Jake Portman), Eva Green (Alma LeFay Peregrine), Samuel L. Jackson (Mr. Barron), Ella Purnell (Emma Bloom), Terence Stamp, Judi Dench… Allison Janney, Rupert Everett.
A UNIVERSE WTHOUT BOUNDARIES NEEDS HEROES WITHOUT LIMITS.
Centuries into the future, Valerian and Laureline (Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne) are agents working for a police force on Alpha, a space station containing millions of humans and other space races that’s suddenly threatened by an unknown force. Two decades after The Fifth Element, Luc Besson returns to sci-fi with an expensive and colorful adventure in 3D. Imaginative, with a fun, brief performance by Ethan Hawke as ”Jolly the Pimp”… but ultimately more like ”a thousand snores”. The leads are cute but uninvolving.
2017-France. 137 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Luc Besson, Virginie Besson-Silla. Written and directed by Luc Besson. Comic Book: Pierre Christin, Jean-Claude Mézières (”Valérian and Laureline”). Cast: Dane DeHaan (Valerian), Cara Delevingne (Laureline), Clive Owen (Arün Filitt), Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock… Rutger Hauer, Mathieu Kassovitz, Ola Rapace. Voice of John Goodman.
Trivia: French title: Valérian et la cité des mille planètes. Directors Louis Leterrier and Olivier Megaton show up in small roles. The comic book also inspired an animated TV series in 2007-2008.
A few years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), the war between apes and humans is growing bloodier and Caesar finds a personal enemy in the ruthless Colonel (Woody Harrelson). The third film in this series borrows from Westerns and POW movies for a relentlessly grim (with the exception of a new ape, played by Steve Zahn, who’s been on his own too long) adventure. Drags a bit in the middle, but on the whole this is a gripping, action-filled clash between civilizations, with mankind in decline. Awe-inspiring views of forests and wintry landscapes, outstanding motion capture work and visual effects, all aided by a multifaceted score.
2017-U.S. 140 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver. Directed by Matt Reeves. Screenplay: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves. Cinematography: Michael Seresin. Music: Michael Giacchino. Cast: Andy Serkis (Caesar), Woody Harrelson (The Colonel), Karin Konoval (Maurice), Terry Notary, Steve Zahn, Ty Olsson… Judy Greer.
Last word: “I wanted the movie to be, like, a widescreen movie like a David Lean movie, or a Leone movie, and see the apes against the landscape of the planet. What I’ve been excited about from the beginning was the idea of taking cutting edge technology and mirroring that with traditional forms, with the idea of myth, and a really classical story. So you’d have this odd experience of seeing something that felt very rooted, a kind of timeless story, and yet the uncanny aspect of there being these apes that are playing out that drama. And so on this one, I wanted it to be a very epic-scale movie, but still very intimate.” (Reeves, Den of Geek)
As Peter Parker (Tom Holland) tries to juggle high school with serving as Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey, Jr.) apprentice, a new villain (Michael Keaton) emerges who’s taken advantage of alien technology. Another indie filmmaker gets a chance to shine in the Marvel factory. Jon Watts brings a humorous, light touch and a bit of cheeky teenage rebellion to this 3D adventure that thankfully avoids the oft-told origin story of Spider-Man. Instead, focus lies on his high school problems (including a girl he’s fallen for) and showdowns with Vulture, just your average salvage worker turned supervillain. Holland and Keaton are terrific and even the final battle doesn’t feel as formulaic as in many other Marvel flicks.
2017-U.S. 133 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Kevin Feige, Amy Pascal. Directed by Jon Watts. Screenplay: Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daily, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers. Music: Michael Giacchino. Cast: Tom Holland (Peter Parker/Spider-Man), Michael Keaton (Adrian Toomes/Vulture), Robert Downey, Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Jon Favreau, Donald Glover, Marisa Tomei… Zendaya, Tyne Daly, Gwyneth Paltrow. Voice of Jennifer Connelly. Cameos: Chris Evans, Stan Lee.
Trivia: Spider-Man and Iron Man next appeared in Avengers: Infinity War (2018).
Last word: “The very first thing I made was a look book of what I wanted the world to look like, and what the kids should look like and the high school should look like. I lived in New York for thirteen years, and it should look like a school in New York, it shouldn’t look like a school in the Midwest in the ’50s. So I pulled a bunch of pictures of kids and documentary photos of kids in schools, and that was part of my pitch, and everyone was really into that and followed through with the casting, which is so, so cool, I love the kids.” (Watts, Slash Film)
Young Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) lives in the South Korean countryside with her grandfather and Okja, a huge super pig… but soon the corporation that created this genetic marvel is coming for it. As in the director’s other films, a wild sense of imagination and wonderful visual ideas dominate in a story that really takes us on a ride. Among the odd, cartoonish characters, Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal stand out, contributing to the film’s uneven tone – we’re meant to be amused, charmed, thrilled and horrified. Works best as an adventure (the chases are engaging) and animal-rights propaganda, with the super pig itself an impressively lovable CGI creation.
2017-South Korea-U.S. 118 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Bong Joon-ho, Choi Dooho, Dede Gardner, Kim Lewis Taewan, Jeremy Kleiner, Ted Sarandos, Seo Woo-sik. Directed by Bong Joon-ho. Screenplay: Bong Joon-ho, Jon Ronson. Cinematography: Darius Khondji. Cast: Ahn Seo-hyun (Mija), Tilda Swinton (Lucy Mirando/Nancy Mirando), Paul Dano (Jay), Jake Gyllenhaal, Byun Hee-bong, Steven Yeun… Lily Collins, Giancarlo Esposito.
Trivia: First shown at Cannes, then released on Netflix.
Last word: “In ‘The Host’, the monster is a complete fantasy. It’s fictional, it’s science fiction. However, although the super-pig phenomenon may be fiction at the moment, it’s very close to being a reality. In Canada, they already made some kind of GM salmon. It’s already gotten FDA approval. They are starting to very carefully distribute it in the market. In the process of researching the film, I met and interviewed a PhD student who is developing a GM pig. So, ‘Okja’ is real. It’s actually happening. That’s why I rushed making ‘Okja’, because the real product is coming.” (Bong, The Independent)
After failing to capture a former child actor turned supervillain, Gru and Lucy are fired from the Anti-Villain League… but then they meet Gru’s long-lost twin brother Dru. Another contrived sequel in this series, but one that’s very hard to dislike, right from the hilarious opening chase. Steve Carell is clearly having fun with his dual role. Colorful supporting characters, the minions and a new bad guy, a cheesy villain who’s stuck in the worst trends and fashions of the 1980s, provide guaranteed laughs. Packed with action, as always in this series, gorgeously designed in 3D and widescreen.
2017-U.S. Animated. 90 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda. Songs: Pharrell Williams. Voices of Steve Carell (Gru/Dru), Kristen Wiig (Lucy Wilde), Trey Parker (Balthazar Bratt), Miranda Cosgrove, Steve Coogan, Julie Andrews.
Lord Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp), an art dealer and swindler who owes the U.K. government a lot of money, reluctantly agrees to help inspector Alistair Martland (Ewan McGregor) find a stolen Goya painting. This adaptation of a novel that’s part of a popular series of comic thrillers was maligned by critics and a box-office flop, but it helps to approach it as a bomb. The story is for the birds and there are far too few laughs in this over-the-top, silly adventure… but it isn’t dull and Paul Bettany is amusing as the manservant no woman can resist. Depp is probably having more fun than you.
2015-U.S. 107 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by David Koepp. Novel: Kyril Bonfiglioli (”Don’t Point That Thing at Me”). Cast: Johnny Depp (Charlie Mortdecai), Ewan McGregor (Alistair Martland), Gwyneth Paltrow (Johanna Mortdecai), Paul Bettany, Jonny Pasvolsky, Olivia Munn… Jeff Goldblum.