ANNOUNCEMENT – Re-branding and Relaunch

To all my readers, old and new,

Over the past two-and-a-half years, I’ve worked very hard at being the best critic I can be, but I can’t help but feel like I’m being held back.

To tell the truth, I’ve felt the ‘Mr Opinionated’ moniker has held me back; it’s very hard to take seriously someone who gives themselves a pseudonym, but I was stuck with the name after purchasing a domain.

But, with that domain due to expire, and after much thought, I feel like a re-branding is well overdue.

So, from January 1st of 2020, Mr Opinionated as you know it will be no more; in its place will be: Major Film Reviews, making use of my actual name and taking full ownership of my writing.

Volume 2 of my book will proceed as planned, and will be the final swansong for my alter-ego, as I work on re-building and re-branding my website, I have the wonderful Graham Musk Designs (who designed the lovely page logo you see at the top of the site) working on some new caricatures for this new era.

The reviews and their frequency won’t change a bit, just the site name, which I feel is well past its sell-by date, hopefully allowing me to take full responsibility for my words in the future.

Hopefully, I’ll enjoy the same readership into the New Year, and I hope you enjoy the rest of this years’ writing.

All the best,

Nathan

Jumanji: The Next Level Review

The last Jumanji film was a pleasant surprise. A reboot of a beloved childhood classic that not only paid its respects to its predecessor, but in some ways exceeded it, bringing a boatload of fresh adventure to a long-dormant title.

With a talented cast (and Dwayne Johnson) the new era of Jumanji seemed bright, so it was inevitable that a sequel was produced sooner rather than later, and here we are. A sequel with a fresh adventure, and added Danny DeVito. More films should add Danny DeVito, in my opinion.

Brought to us by the same writer/director as last time, Jake Kasdan, can this new life be a long one? Or was it just a one-hit comeback?

Story

An insecure Spencer (Alex Wolff) seeks a confidence boost, to do so he re-enters the Jumanji game, hoping to embody the character Smoulder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) who gave him confidence in the first place; fearing him lost for good, his friends follow him, unknowingly taking Spencer’s grandfather with them…

Verdict

You know, I’m of the opinion that there can be many types of films for many different appetites. In the same way I wouldn’t expect a salmon to climb a tree, I wouldn’t expect Jumanji to be The Godfather.

Sometimes, a film can just be there as an entertaining way of killing a few hours; even within this there is different levels of quality, and I’d say this film and its predecessor rank pretty highly in those stakes.

It isn’t exactly a cinematic classic, I highly doubt it’ll get a Criterion Collection release, for example, but not all films need to be that, some just need to be a bloody good time, and that’s exactly what this is. A competently put together, well-paced and exciting adventure, with enough character to keep us interested and enough plot developments as to not make it boring.

It’s so very well polished in that typical big studio way, but it still manages to maintain a level of creativity, not a massive amount you understand, admittedly some of it might seem a bit familiar if you’ve re-watched Welcome to the Jungle recently, especially in areas of the plot, but as I say, it’s the characters that seal this film.

I know I often take jabs at Dwayne Johnson on here, but it’s honestly in good faith. I don’t dislike him at all, I think he’s incredibly charismatic, and for all intents and purposes seems like a cool dude, my issue is merely how he seems to have the range of a bow with no string. He only ever seems to play himself, but he’s one of the highest-grossing actors in the world, so what do I know?

In all fairness to DJ, this is probably the most I’ve enjoyed him on screen, especially the sections where he’s being controlled by Danny DeVito’s character, watching someone like The Rock acting like Danny DeVito is, fair play to them, hilarious, as is watching Kevin Hart act like Danny Glover.

All of this fish-out-of-water comedy is very well-balanced with some creative CG action, with a seeming knack for animal-based chase scenes. Elsewhere the plot is thin, an excuse to string together the body comedy and the action, it’s there, that’s the best we can say about it.

As I say, sometimes as a film critic, you have to step back and admire a film for just being a fun adventure, even if it’s not particularly deep, it serves its purpose, holds your attention, makes you laugh while it’s there and makes sense. Sometimes all a film has to be is fun, that’s fine, and for what it’s worth Jumanji 3 is fun, bags of fun, a fun little adventure with interesting, funny characters, it’s all what it promised to be, and we can’t judge it as anything else.

Motherless Brooklyn Review

You have to give it to directors who also star in their films, it’s a tricky art. Actually, I’d say it’s hard enough doing one or the other without making it harder for yourself.

That doesn’t mean that actors don’t give it a good old college try. Many try, some fail, some excel, just ask Clint Eastwood. Well, now Edward Norton is having another crack at the directors chair, I say ‘another’ because he has directed before, almost twenty years ago he directed Keeping the Faith, and no, I haven’t heard of it either.

Norton has proven himself previously as a hell of a talent in front of the camera, so let’s see how he does behind it.

Story

A private eye, Lionel (Edward Norton), with a condition similar to Tourette’s (Norton) sees his mentor gunned down before his eyes. He feels the impulse to investigate and the intrigue grows…

Verdict

I find myself in a difficult position with this film. You see there are enough individual aspects within it that would usually mark it out as a worthy of recommendation, but it does doesn’t gel together as a film in the long run.

Firstly, it’s far too long. The plot only really gets moving about an hour into the narrative, and there’s still on end in sight, it never allows itself time to fully build momentum, occasionally feeling like it’s crawling along looking for somewhere to go, so it builds to a climax that the audience can foresee long before the characters, it can’t help but be a bit of an anti-climax.

The plot itself would have been more engaging with a more stream-lined approach, anything up to half an hour could have been cut with little to no loss to the overall plot, it all seems like a creative with too much creative control. A creative vision is all well and good, but you need a modicum of restraint to see what doesn’t work. The very problem that films like Heaven’s Gate have had. Obviously, I can’t say that for certain, but that’s what it feels like.

It makes it all the more the pity that the film is so technically brilliant. It looks amazing with some truly eye-catching cinematography and its use of retro noir style tropes works nicely with its visual style, it all mixes into a very nice blend of the old and the new. Sure, a few of the old tropes can become cliches, but sometimes that works, when you find a new angle, and the classic PI shtick is turned around somewhat with Lionel’s affliction.

Speaking of which, portraying such a condition on screen is always a bit of a minefield ethically, there’s a fine line between accuracy and mockery with these kinds of things, and while I don’t think it was guilty of undermining the condition, but it does tend to lean on the tics and outbursts for laughs, it also doesn’t use it to enhance the dramatic side of the plot I feel, besides a bit of name-calling that he brushes off without a though, it’s hard to understand why it was so heavily leaned on throughout the film.

Of course there are other aspects to the affliction, all surrounding how he hears and processes words, but they’re not very well explained and can seem a bit vague. I get the impression Norton was aiming for a ‘Rain Man’ style character, if he was, the parts of his condition he uses to his advantage aren’t shown anywhere near enough times to put them into context, it just leaves his character a bit confused and messy.

However flawed the character may be, he’s at least well-acted. Norton throws himself into the part with gusto and is very believable in the character, no matter how vague it may be. There’s also good performances from Alec Baldwin, who plays a classic ruthless businessman, and Willem Dafoe once again reminds us of how under-used he is by being an integral supporting part of the grander story.

So, that’s Motherless Brooklyn, overall a bit of a disappointment. A nice little idea that was knee-capped by an inflated run-time and glacial pacing, it’s almost saved by its top-notch direction/cinematography, as well as some good performances, but ultimately it left me feeling frustrated. It had all the puzzle pieces to put together a great film, it just put them in the wrong order.

Klaus Review

It isn’t very often I review a Netflix movie. In fact, I’ve only done two: Bright and The Irishman (although I saw The Irishman in cinema, during its limited release) two films at VERY distant opposites on the quality scale.

This isn’t because I consider Netflix films any lesser than others, streaming is the future of all home media in my eyes, no matter how much I love the cinema, I just very rarely put time aside to sit and watch it, and when I do, it’s generally to re-watch a film I’ve already seen.

But, with a free day, and a chance to escape the confines of the cinema, I thought I’d look to Netflix, to review from the comfort of my armchair; and after lamenting the lack of great modern Christmas films, I thought I’d check out their latest animated Christmas offering: Klaus.

Story

A lazy, rich heir to a postal empire is forced to show his worth to the family business; by establishing a post office in Smeerensburg, a winter-y wasteland occupied by warring families who often destroy each other and the town. He soon stumbles across a mysterious toy-maker, and his fortunes begin to turn around.

Verdict

Okay, first off, this film is absolutely beautiful. It utilises hand-drawn animation, rarely seen in the age of computer animation, and is brought to us by classic Disney alumnus animators, and you can tell, because the animation is very reminiscent of Renaissance era Disney films, it looks THAT good.

It comes across as a film made with genuine passion and warmth, from people who are experts in their field. They may not have the budget or corporate juggernaut they had at Disney, but by God do they still have the heart.

I also appreciate how it incorporates several aspects of different Santa folk tales, rather than falling back on the usual tale of magical, immortal old man with flying reindeer and elves. This Santa (Klaus, as he is referred to) is a woodsman, who lives in the forest, making birdhouses.

There is more to it, but to detail it would venture into spoiler territory, and something tells me that I’m going to recommend this film, so I won’t give anything else away.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film with such genuine heart and warmth such as this; even the undesirable characters turn over a new leaf, and the more icy aspects of our lead character are melted away by his association with this lonely woodsman who hands out toys to miserable children.

The tone of the film is reflected very well in its visual style too; it starts off surprisingly dark when Jesper arrives in Smeerensburg, he even finds a gallows in the city square, that kind of dark, but as the town begins to clean up its act after Klaus’ acts of kindness, the animation softens, and the character models become sweeter and more complimentary.

The voice cast is impressive too. Jason Schwartzman plays Jesper, and is channelling his inner Ryan Reynolds, lovably quipping his way from spoiled brat to Christmas hero. Oscar winner J.K. Simmons lends his voice to Klaus, delivering a guarded, yet emotive performance as this lonelier interpretation of jolly old St Nick. The likes of Joan Cusack and Rashida Jones round out an extremely strong voice cast.

It is not only easy on the eyes, but bound to thaw even the coldest heart through its heartfelt character developments, deftly combining the classic Christmas tale with aspects of Romeo and Juliet to wrap up a sure-fire modern Christmas classic.

A beautifully animated, engagingly emotive and skilfully voiced film wrapped up neatly in a lovely little bow, Klaus may just end up being a modern Christmas masterpiece, and certainly makes for essential Yuletide viewing.

 

Queen & Slim Review

So, this film isn’t actually scheduled to come out here in the U.K. for another month and a half, but thanks to my local cinema’s Secret Screenings (thanks Cineworld!) I got to see it early.

I hadn’t heard much about this film, in fact, I’d heard next to nothing. I knew it existed and as far as I knew was a love story; I was kind of right, but not really, we’ll get into that. It put me in mind of If Beale Street Could Talk after watching for a while, a film I really enjoyed, so that’s a good start.

I do enjoy watching and reviewing these films early, it makes me feel like I’m in on a secret that only a few people know, although, since I write about it, it’s not much of a secret I suppose, let’s keep it between us, okay?

Story

A first date goes horribly wrong for two mis-matched young African Americans, a police officer is killed in a traffic stop gone wrong, and the two set off cross-country to try and outrun the law.

Verdict

I applaud this film for telling a topical tale using a classic framing device, that of two fugitives on the lamb from the law; updating it with such a modern, and pressing issue was a bold move from the filmmakers, however, it has a few flaws in its execution.

I feel like the film is sometimes unfocused and distracted. The story it is trying to tell is a rather hefty one, so it’s focus on over-the-top comedy side characters is a little perplexing, maybe even against message when some of these characters work from a framework of stereotype.

A film trying to make a serious point about racial profiling and police brutality could have its moments of levity, but having one character be an outrageous black pimp is probably working against the message a little, especially when the script works so hard to make the two main characters as anti-stereotypical as possible.

Along with its distracting comedy characters, it also has a tendency to get sidetracked within its own narrative. Their journey felt to me like a video game side quest, in the way it sends the two to different people, who don’t have what they’re looking for but they know a friend who does, and this happens one too many times for my liking. This can work a few times, but after a while it starts to feel very tired and obvious that the writers don’t really know how to progress the journey.

The films main positive is the way it builds the relationship between the two leads, I like how the whole situation is established quickly and then they have to deal with the consequences just as swiftly. You can see them develop from people on a first date with nothing in common to Star-crossed lover, and that escalation feels natural; they find what they’re looking for in each other with great difficulty, it’s not treated as a sure thing for most of the film.

All this comes to a head by the end, when it seemingly competes with Return of the King for ‘Most endings before the actual ending’ accolade. Truthfully, I felt the film could have finished ten minutes earlier and not lost anything.

All this being said, I did reasonably enjoy Queen & Slim. There were things wrong with it, but it feels like it has a genuine heart, like it comes from the heart, with an actual message, it may be flawed, but that’s just the nature of a project conceived out of passion, you may not see the faults right in front of your face, as obvious as they may be to others.

I enjoyed the characters, and the journey they took, there was also some marvellous camera work and direction, and I feel with a tighter focus it might have been one of my favourites this year, as it is though, it’s an enjoyable, if flawed Bonnie and Clyde story that feels disappointingly like a missed opportunity.

Charlie’s Angels Review

Now pretty much seems like the perfect time to make a Charlie’s Angels reboot. After all, Hollywood seems to be waking up to the box-office power of female-led films in the wake of #MeToo, and I’d say that we have more than enough macho action heroes around, so making a kick-ass female team sounds like a great idea.

Except this property has never been fruitful in producing top-tier films, or even mid-tier ones, come to think of it. The two films in the early 2000’s range from okay to awful, so a new version can only be a good thing right?

Well, they’ve got the personnel right at first glance, if nothing else. Directed by Elizabeth Banks, who’s perhaps most famous for the Pitch Perfect films, both in front and behind the camera, and it stars Kristin Stewart and Naomi Scott, two big names in modern cinema, but will it be third time lucky?

Story

The angels are a secret spy group led by mysterious handlers known as Bosley’s. When they discover a cutting Edge piece of tech could be turned into a weapon this swiftly take the fight worldwide to various exotic locales.

Verdict

Well, it’s safe to say this film didn’t have a high bar to beat. But that’s not to say there is no expectations riding on this film; this being modern Hollywood, there’s probably a franchise opportunity riding on this, as well as the point that women can be action heroes to prove.

While I wouldn’t say Charlie’s Angels was a bad film, I wouldn’t say it was great either. It’s fast-paced, probably so you don’t notice the lacking plot, and action-packed, carrying the usual smooth, choppily-edited action sequences that is clinging to modern Hollywood like a lecherous Face-hugger.

I can’t even say I have many strong feelings about this film, it flashed before my eyes, being admittedly entertaining in spots, but having absolutely no substance. It’s a thin, off-the-peg plot that will be very familiar if you’re a regular cinema attendee.

The characters occasionally brighten up proceedings, Kristen Stewart was my personal favourite, she can get annoying, but gratifyingly her character admits that. The other Angel, Jane, played by Ella Balinska, is a bit more of a stock character, being a typical quiet, badass warrior woman, and she grinds on the nerves a lot more. That being said, she does have some nice character development late on.

The script, such as it is, is also passable, if a bit bland. I’d say it goes in a bit heavy-handily on the ‘things men say to patronise women’ but I wouldn’t say that’s really for me to debate; it did feel like it was trying to send a feminist message, but it’s likely to come across as cliched if you’re not open to that kind of thing, at worse, it can even be patronising.

It’s lavish choices of settings really help the stale plot feel like it actually has some momentum, and it’s all shot very well, I especially like the sequences in Istanbul, which stops just short of feeling like a tourism video, it gives the film a luxury, glossy feel that I think goes well with the bombastic action.

In conclusion then, I feel annoyingly unfeeling towards Charlie’s Angels, it always annoys me when a film can’t even engage me enough to hate it, as the reviews always seem wishy-washy and unfocused, but no matter how much I really wasn’t bothered about the film at all, it was a nice little distraction while it lasted, even if, like an indecisive boyfriend, it fails to engage. That might be the worst analogy I’ve ever used, but I wouldn’t call Charlie’s Angels the worst of anything, just very mediocre.

Playing With Fire Review

It’s difficult to observe the career of John Cena without comparing it to Dwayne Johnson’s. In many ways, Johnson forged the path for Cena to follow, out of the world of wrestling and into the world of Hollywood.

Strange then, that this film’s premise should remind me to much of a past film that starred the man once known as The Rock. Yes, many observers will note the resemblance of this film to The Game Plan (those who can remember this film anyway) a 2007 Dwayne Johnson vehicle about a man who knows nothing about children, tasked with suddenly looking after some. There’s even a dog that the children makeover, it’s uncanny.

But for all it may seem similar on the surface, there’s more than a few differences to talk about too, so let’s get to it.

Story

Superintendent Jake Carson (Cena) is a by-the-book leader of his squadron of firefighters in California. During one rescue they recover three children separated from their parents, and with a storm rolling in, they found themselves stick with them.

Verdict

About 20 minutes into the film, I thought it might have been one of the worst I’d seen all year.

The editing was so choppy you couldn’t tell what was going on, the dialogue was embarrassing and there were these strange, unnecessary sound effects added when characters came into frame that grated on my nerves more and more with each passing scene.

By the end of the 90-minute experience, I had softened somewhat, but I’m still sure that it’s one of the most poorly-written and stupid films I’ve seen all year, and I’ve seen Good Boys.

Let’s start with the script; now, I know this is a film predominantly aimed at kids, but that’s not really an excuse for a script that is so obnoxious at times. Granted there are a few moments that forced a brief chuckle, but the bulk of it is slapstick and toilet humour, that lands about as well as a custard pie to the face.

The characters are also not great, we’ve seen a character like Jake Carson what feels like a million times, including in The Game Plan, which makes me feel like I’m onto something. He’s the kind of archetypal male character who’s only about his work, and never shows any emotion, and honestly, I feel so bored of these characters, it’s just reflects poorly on writers who really seem like they didn’t care.

Nobody really gets an easy time of it here. John Leguizamo and Keegan-Michael Key both play loudmouth stereotypes, and we know for a fact that they’re better than that, and what’s worse is that they all look like they’re trying really hard to make their characters work, but there’s only so much you can do.

I know I should expect much from a Nickelodeon film, but it feels like it should be on Nick, like a failed sitcom that they stitched together and threw on the big screen, with its cartoonish reality, populated with characters springing up from nowhere with their own sound effects, and the most slapdash, zero effort love side plot. It all just reeks of hacks with no energy or creativity.

In the end, I felt sorry for the actors involved here. Maybe they had fun making this, but they must have known that it would end up being a mess when they first read the script. It’s a comedy with minimal laughs, or much of anything that anyone about five would find amusing.

In conclusion, a moronic script, and an overall uninspired direction, drags down this film, that so many people seem to be trying so hard to make work. As manufactured as Disney’s films seem, they at least manufacture some emotion, the only emotion I feel towards this is apathy.

*Post-script: I discovered why this film and The Game Plan are so similar; they have the same director. Unbelievable.

Frozen 2 Review

Those who have children, or have children in the family should remember the first Frozen with a mixture or warmth and dread.

The film, and that dratted song, has been pretty much omnipresent in the half-decade since its initial release, making north of a billion dollars, and that kind of success simply does not go unnoticed, so a sequel was a matter of when, not if.

So here we are, reunited with the same characters we loved (or hated) first time round for our second dose of Frozen magic.

Story

Arendelle is very happy after the events of the first film, Anna and Elsa (Kirsten Bell and Idina Menzel, respectively) find themselves on another adventure when mysterious forest spirits turn their lives upside down.

Verdict

At first viewing, I really enjoyed the original Frozen, I found it charming, and its soundtrack immensely memorable. However, after many years of over-exposure, it began to grind on the nerves, to the point where I was ultimately indifferent towards the idea of a sequel.

I’m not even a parent, but its effect on children was like that of crack cocaine, they couldn’t get enough, not just of the film but of the songs, the costumes, the characters. It was a reaction film Studies dream of, and it didn’t seem to fade for years.

My cynical side sees this film for the plain and simple basic cash grab that it is. But the inner child in me could not help being charmed all over again.

Deep down, I am a massive softie. I love animation for the way it can make the most basic things have deep emotional effects, Disney films in particular always manage to hit that sweet spot at least once, some more than others granted, but as much as I sat there wanting to find many faults, I kept coming back around to its simple liveliness and charm.

There are things I didn’t think was up to standard. The first part of the film is very heavy on exposition, at a level that borders on patronising, and there’s a subplot concerning Anna and Christoph that is almost unbearable in how it’s played out and dragged out. It’s the ‘lovers who misunderstand each other’ cliche dragged out past unreasonable points.

Other than these things, it is still more of what people loved the first time around.

Anna and Elsa’s relationship is one of the best in Disney canon for me. It’s rare that any relationship that isn’t a romantic one is treated in the same way here. They’re portrayed as equals, who need each other and share an unbreakable bond, the likes of which is incredibly difficult to pull off.

Elsewhere, the characters are each given their own moments to shine as well. Olaf straddles the line of loveable and irritating, sometimes straying into each respective category.

Christoph gets more characterisation here than he did first time around, where he was little more than an afterthought, and the magical trolls that I thought were the low point of the first film appear in an only minute role.

I’m well aware that Disney has practically weaponized their special brand of heartwarming. They should have, they’ve been practising for almost a century, and my higher critical brain can see how it’s used to manipulate emotions, but in the moment I just don’t care.

I think that’s the eventual take-away from the review. You should know what to expect from a second Frozen film if you know anything about the original, but its charm and likeability are still there in abundance, even if it’s not as fresh as last time.

The one thing I would say was improved on last time is the soundtrack, even though the originals was memorable, these songs feel a lot more grounded and made-for-purpose. There’s not a successor to Let It Go in here, but there also isn’t a weak tune to be found, maybe they were wary of annoying more parents with a ‘Let It Go’ style hit, but I doubt it, as the songs seem to have focus and purpose.

In conclusion then, there’s two ways to look at it, there’s the critical, cynical side of me, that sees it as a specially-engineered money spinner disguised as a vital second chapter; but in the moment, I couldn’t help but be absorbed by it once again. It hit all the right notes, but not necessarily to an original tune, is probably the best metaphor I can summarise with. It was good, maybe even very good, but it won’t challenge the sheer monolith of the original.