Bastille Day Review

Just before the big summer blockbusters come out in cinemas, I decided it would be time to catch up on the backlog of films that I missed the first time around. Bastille Day had been I film I thought looked interesting, but it was slowly pushed back and back more by other, newer films. But I finally went and now the review.

Bastille Day stars Idris Elba, Richard Madden, Charlotte Le Bon and Kelly Reilly and is directed by James Watkins. After a bomb accidently stolen by a pick-pocket (Madden) goes off in the middle of Paris, Briar (Elba), a CIA operative has to find the real terrorists while Paris is on the verge of revolution.

After seeing the trailer for Bastille Day, I thought this might be Idris Elba’s audition for James Bond. Everyone and their dog seem to want him to play the part and this could have shown how he deals with action. Sadly the Bond film he’s imitating is Quantum Of Solace. Crunching sound effects accompany 0.6 second-long takes, tricking our brain into believing we are seeing fighting while all we’re seeing is bodies and fists flying about.

The rest of the action is pretty standard affair. While there is a really well done chase scene over the rooftops, similar to the Tangiers chase in The Bourne Ultimatum and a layered pick-pocketing sequence both at the beginning and in the middle of the film, there is not much else. There is a big gun battle at the end between Elba and the main bad guys, but none of it has much flair. It’s all been done better before.

Briar is a “loose cannon” operative, the kind of guy who sticks his gun in the mouth of an unarmed civilian, punches men off moving motorcycles and doesn’t use door handles, instead kicking every single one down. It’s more Jack Bauer than James Bond, but apart from his fascination with caving men’s skulls in, Elba doesn’t give him any other interesting personality traits, just a terrible American accent. He also sings over the end credits, make of that what you will.

Elba being a shell of character though might be down to the script. It switches from boring to unintentionally hilarious. Some story aspects are fun, Richard Madden’s pickpocket has some good lines as he warms to working with Elba, but most of its forgettable. But there are lines that we are meant to take serious, such as, “the hashtags are spilling over…follow the hashtags…send the final hashtag.” Why try to make believable characterisation when we could just talk about what’s trending on Twitter?

While the film is set in the French capital, it doesn’t use the setting to great effect. The opening of the film, a street party at Sacré Coeur and the finale at the French National Bank are good uses of the setting, the rest of the film is in back alleys and run-down apartments. Similar to last year’s The Gunman, it’s a sad waste of a good setting.

The film is full of these moments, brushing shoulders with ideas that have been done better before. There is a shadowy conspiracy in Bastille Day about government paramilitaries being involved with the destruction which would have been good…if White House Down hadn’t done it better back in 2013. Bastille Day also takes the politicising of White House Down and tries to do its own version of it. It’s trying to put some subtext into the story events but the rest of the film is too on-the-nose to successfully have a subtle thread running through it.

Bastille Day could have been, if not great, at least entertaining. It’s not as sharp as Bond or as gritty as Bourne, instead it’s trying to take what it can from everything else without making an identity of its own.

Score: 4/10 Painfully dull and lifeless.

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The Jungle Book Review

With Cinderella last year and Beauty and the Beast next year, it seems Disney is set on remaking their well-known animated classics into live-action. I along with many others, were sceptical if those stories would work through the change. But Cinderella proved me wrong, so now I’m pretty excited about the new films. The newest film to be adapted is the 1967 The Jungle Book. Does the film still work at nearly 50 years old?

The Jungle Book stars Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o and newcomer Neel Sethi and is directed by Jon Favreau. Based on the books by Rudyard Kipling, the film follows young child Mowgli (Sethi) as he has to leave the jungle for fear that tiger Shere Khan (Elba) will kill him.

First off, the animation is superb. While I talked about the attention to detail in Disney’s earlier Zootropolis, it was mainly cartoon versions of animals. Here it’s more like a nature documentary. The animals of the jungle howl and roar and they stalk their prey through the forest with an amazing sense of realism. The environments help. They look photo-realistic and the CGI creations merge with the live-action sections of the film.

The cast is what makes it though. Several strong voices, each giving a top performance. They are so many more than the ones I’ve listed already, Scarlett Johansson (as the now female Kaa, who isn’t in it as long as the original), Christopher Walken as King Louis and Giancarlo Esposito as Akela. Even original Spiderman director Sam Raimi gets a small cameo. It’s a great list and it gets you invested in the film. You don’t care that animals are talking, because they sell the hell out of it. I wasn’t too impressed with Neel Sethi as Mowgli, (he’s better than most child actors, but that isn’t saying much) but seeing as it’s his first film I feel like going easy on him.

The film obviously has to tip it’s hat to the original 1967 version, but it’s in these moments that it lost me. Sure the songs are what have kept the film a well-loved classic for so long, but they feel out of place here. Christopher Walken’s rendition is laughably awful (while adding new lyrics) and Murray and Sethi’s version of Bare Necessities doesn’t have anything on the original. It works a lot better when it deviates from the first film. Kaa’s new version of hypnosis is clever update of the 60s psychedelic wavy lines, and the new design King Louis, as a 12-foot gigantopithecus (a now extinct type of ape) is a sight to behold; he’s no longer the swinging and jiving jazz singer we knew. Hands down, the build up and reveal of the Ape King, as well as the following action scene around his palace is one of the best scenes in the film and will become a standout of Disney’s catalogue. And no, there are no vultures bearing similarities to a certain Liverpool band in this version.

The film as moved from a U rating to a PG. I guess it comes with the territory, with the more life-like creatures and with fighting being a major theme of the story, The Jungle Book is skewing to a much more darker sense. The violence is mostly off-screen or is hidden, but the tone is less child-friendly than the 1967 version. The man-hating Shere Khan (who Idris Elba gives a great sense of menace) has an evil presence over the film, as well as the entire King Louis section, it has a much more intense feel than the original. If you are worried whether you kid will be scared by the prospect of a realistic tiger jumping at them, have a look at the trailer. The trailer does a good job of setting the general tone of the film. If you think that they can deal with it then go for it. Just be prepared for angry tigers and panthers jumping at the camera.

Score: 9/10 A great adaptation and remake that changes the feel for the better.

Zootropolis Review

After the runaway hit of Frozen back in 2013 and their collaboration with Pixar on last year’s smash Inside Out, it was going to be a big ask for Disney to top themselves in 2016. Their new film, Zootropolis is out this week, so how does it compare to what some people are considering to be the best in Disney’s line-up?

Zootropolis stars Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba and JK Simmons and is directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore. Zootropolis (also known as Zootopia in other places) follows Judy Hopps (Goodwin), the first rabbit police officer to be hired in the city of Zootropolis. She has to team up with the fox con-artist Nic Wilder (Bateman) to solve a missing mammal’s case.

The film has a great cast, with the previously mentioned Idris Elba and JK Simmons, but also has great actors and comedians in the smaller roles. Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate and Tommy Chong are good actors, and a small role for Shakira as a singing gazelle, but the standouts are Goodwin and Bateman. The main duo have a great chemistry as Hopps and Wilder and bounce off each other well in the downtime between them.

As usual with Disney films, the animation is one of the film’s strong points. All of the characters in the film are mammals, and while they are not photo-realistic, the attention to detail is superb. You can make out the individual hairs of Hopps and Wilder (who bears an uncanny resemblance to a previous Disney fox) and each animal’s animation structure makes it a joy just to watch them move around the film’s sets.

The city of Zootropolis is nicely designed, even though we don’t get to see a lot of it. It calls to mind Fritz Lang’s 1927 Metropolis, with high skyscrapers and bridges connecting them all together. The city is split between different climates; the arctic tundra, the desert and the rainforest. Throughout the film we travel to the different sections of the city and just like the animation, it all looks grand.

The jokes are good, but I feel that Zootropolis might be found to be boring by its younger audience. I was in a packed theatre, filled with both kids and adults, but on average the adults were laughing more than the kids. The slapstick was enough to set the kids laughing, but these were few and far between. Of course, with Disney you get your adult aimed jokes; we get a spectacular Godfather spoof with a possum who looks like a rodent version of Marlon Brando, a sly dig at Frozen‘s inescapable hit song (now I’ve reminded you of it, it’s going to be in your head for a while) and a Breaking Bad reference (complete with Walter White and Jesse Pinkman), but every time I found myself thinking, “kids won’t get this reference”.

Come to think of it, I think it might only be the anthropomorphic animals that make it kids based. Zootropolis has PG rating for “mild threat” and even at points it made me jump. Several big predators turn “savage” and start attacking other smaller animals, clawing them and leaving them with scars, and even nearly killing some. I know that Disney is seen as a kids company, but it’s great when they go dark and they definitely go further out than they have before in Zootropolis.

Just like previous Disney films, Zootropolis takes an overarching theme and litters the film with subtext. I won’t spoil the main points but the film would be a treat to analyse; feminism, transgender themes, immigration and race are all explored within the film. Disney likes to touch upon topical subjects and transposes them to an animated feature for it to be easily taken in by an audience and just like the older Disney films, Zootropolis will make you think long and hard on its themes after you leave the cinema.

In the end, Zootropolis is good. It isn’t on an Inside Out level of greatness and it might bore the younger viewers, but it does stand up on its own as a good film.

Score: 8/10 A solid Disney entry. Just be wary of taking viewers who might be too young for it.