Reviewed by: Mark Geraghty
Moana won't rate as an outright Disney classic, but it’s a fun, family-friendly affair that maintains the studio’s long-run of successful animated feature films. Moana continues the recent Disney trend in telling the story of a young female heroine in search of greater meaning in life. On paper it sounds quite profound, but up on the screen, the story unfolds in a fashion that prevents the film from becoming top-heavy with the existential burdens of human existence. It has its serious moments, but the people at Disney know better than to dwell on the downside of life for too long!
The film starts with a prologue, explaining how an Island God named Maui, who stole the pounamu stone from the Goddess Te Fiti, was banished for his reckless action and brought ongoing suffering humans as a pestilence spread from island to island. The story cuts to Moana as a little girl on her island home and her desire to voyage out onto the ocean. Her father, Chief Tui (voiced by Temura Morrsion) has other ideas. He wants his daughter to learn the ways of her people so she can take her rightful place as the next Chief of the tribe. Unbeknownst to him, the Ocean itself has chosen his daughter to be the one who makes amends for the strife that the God Maui has caused for so many of the island people. A few years later, when the scourge that has destroyed island after island finally makes its way to Moana’s island, she must take a stand against her father and go in search of Maui. Now a young woman, Moana (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho), with the help of her Gramma Talu (voiced by Rachel House) embarks on her quest to save her island and her people!
The real highlight of Moana is Dwayne Johnson’s vocal performance as Maui, a God who possesses an extremely inflated sense of his own importance. This is highlighted in Johnson’s introductory song, “You’re Welcome”, where he educates Moana about all the fantastic things he has done for humans! Johnson is no Robin Williams, but he adopts a similar approach the great late comic did with the Genie in Aladdin, ramping up the character’s energy so that everything he does is huge; much like the man himself. Moana also gets a huge boost from Jermaine Clement’s crazy performance as the Undersea deity Tamalou. Clement goes all-out with his musical number and, while it’s hard to make out some of the songs lyrics, the music matched to the animation makes for the film’s most visually dynamic sequence.
It’s more than just Johnson’s vocal performance where Moana bares a similarity to Aladdin and it's no surprise that Big Hero 6 Directors Dan Hall and Chris Williams were teamed up with Aladdin directing veterans Ron Clement's and John Musker for Moana. Disney-philes will recall that Clements & Musker were part of the 1990s Disney animation resurgence that reinvigorated the studio and, arguably, provided the platform for the behemoth it has become on the current entertainment landscape. Combining similar elements from those 1990s films, such as Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and The Little Mermaid, Moana is entertaining fare. While Johnson and Clement get the most memorable musical numbers, young Cravalho carries the film’s musical themes for the majority of its 107 minute running time. Moana uses the talents of three different individuals to deliver the Pacific Island sound the film delivers. Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina wrote a number of the songs both separately and together, while Macina delivered the score. Lin-Manuel Miranda write the lyrics to go with the songs. Moana keeps the Disney animation hot streak going. The film will appeal as much to adults as it does to children. Dwayne Johnson is hard to resist as Maui, but he’s well supported throughout by likes of Cravalho, Clement and Morrison, helping to deliver yet another winning film from the Mouse House!
Cafe Society - Screen Fantastique film review
Reviewed by: Mark Geraghty
ZOOTOPIA is yet another great animated feature film from Disney Studios. Since the team from Pixar began working with their Disney colleagues, after the former’s acquisition by the Mouse House, the standard of films coming out of LA-based animation team has been of a consistently high standard and is now challenging their Northern Californian brethren. There's little doubt the positive influence of Pixar’s John Lasseter and Ed Catmull has rubbed off on the Disney team, as Director Byron Howard, along with Co-Directors Rich Moore & Jared Bush, make the film all about character and story. ZOOTOPIA is a shining example of a simple story told extremely well, a great array of interesting & funny characters and an extremely high standard animation that is as much about heart & soul as it is technical excellence.
Like many animated movies, ZOOTOPIA is a coming-of-age story. This one is about Judy Hopps, voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin, a bunny who isn't prepared to take no for an answer, even if it means putting herself in harm’s way for the sake of upholding her closely-protected values of equality for all animals; big and small. After an altercation with a fox at a young age in the film’s prologue, young Judy decides to to join the Zootopia Police Force, believing she can make a difference to the world. Her dream comes back to Earth with a thud when her new boss Chief Bogo (voiced by Idris Elba) decides that her talents would be best put to use handing out parking tickets. Undeterred, the ever-eager Judy takes the task in her stride and sets a new record for writing tickets! While out on her ticket-writing rounds, she encounters a fox , Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman), who tricks her into believing that he and his “son” are just trying to get an ice cream. Judy discovers that it’s part of an elaborate scam by Nick and his cohort, designed to con unsuspecting Lemmings into spending their hard-earned money on recycled treats. Dejected by the turn of events, the next day Judy tries to convince Bogo she can do more; after all she graduated top of her class at the Police Academy. Their conversation is interrupted by a hysterical female badger, Mrs.Otterton (voiced by Octavia Spencer), who tells them her husband has disappeared for no good reason. Judy tells Mrs.Otterton she'll solve the case. Chief Bogo, enraged by her disregard for his orders, tells her that she’s fired! Fortunately for Judy, new Deputy Mayor Bellwether, a lamb (voiced by Jenny Slate), is told by Mrs.Otterton that Judy is on the case. The Deputy Mayor is ecstatic, as she tells Bogo that they Mayor will be thrilled to hear the news of such affirmative action on the Zootopia Police Force!
What could have degenerated into a slapstick adventure actually gets better from the time Judy starts the investigation for the missing Mr.Otterton. Despite the Deputy Mayor’s support of Judy, Chief Bogo insists that she’s only got 48 hours to find him otherwise she’s still fired. Judy - using her smarts - decides the best way to track the badger down is to enlist Nick Wilde, whose street-wise experience she believes will help her get the information she needs faster. The pairing of Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman’s vocal talents is a winning combination and the various set-pieces they go through make the film’s Second Act an absolute delight to watch. The story is also laced with good-natured humour all the way through and there’s an especially funny sequence between the heroes and a Sloth named Flash (voiced by Raymond S. Persi), who happens to work for the Department of Motor Vehicles; an irony that is bound to make anyone who has ever had to undertake any driver-related administrative enquiries laugh in a way that is truly an acknowledgment of art imitating life! ZOOTOPIA’s finale plays out with some twists and turns, but, follow the story closely, and the reveal toward the film’s end won't come as a surprise. The screenplay, by BIG HERO 6 writer Jared Bush and WRECK-IT-RALPH scribe Phil Johnston, is a winner, as it caters to both young and old audience members. As much as the destination is an important part of a satisfying conclusion, there’s as much joy to be taken in (the bunny’s) journey and the wonderful array of characters she comes across in her adventure.
ZOOTOPIA is out now in cinemas everywhere!
ZOOTOPIA is out now in cinemas everywhere!
The brotherly film-making duo of Joel and Ethan Coen return with their 17th full-length feature film; one that pays homage to a lifetime of their chosen endeavour. HAIL, CAESAR! is the Coens’ take on the Hollywood studio system of old, where names like Warner and Goldwyn were the men who owned the studio, not just company names. The Coens take the opportunity to delve into the golden age of movie making and pull the veil back on an era that was - at one time - almost mythical in its status as the pre-eminent period of film production in America. HAIL, CAESAR! is entertaining for the most part, but a choppy Third Act results in a limited pay-off for the audience, with the Coens opting for a true “Hollywood” ending; where the outcome doesn’t quite match the journey.
Josh Brolin is the film’s central character, Eddie Mannix. Mannix is the Head of Physical Production at the fictional Capitol Studios in Hollywood. It’s Eddie’s job to make sure that the “kooks” and “oddballs” that make up the Capitol Studios talent roster are kept on the straight and narrow so “The Studio” can keep cranking out hit movies. One-part Manager, one-part Soothsayer and one-part Strong-armer, Eddie’s job is complicated and sees him prowling the streets of Hollywood at all hours to make sure Capitol Studios are kept out of the tabloid headlines. Eddie, however, is having a crisis of faith. He’s not so sure he wants to be part of the madness anymore and is seriously entertaining a job offer from the folks at aircraft manufacturer Lockheed.
The Coens structure their story like “A day in the life of…”, following Mannix from 4 am in the morning through to 9 am the following morning. Starting with the early morning interception of one of his stars Gloria DeLamour (Natasha Bassett) in a less-than-ideal photoshoot, Mannix moves from one crisis to another, coming up with short-term fixes that buy him just enough time to keep the cameras rolling so that Capitol Studios keeps rolling. A real problem emerges when Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), the star of the studio’s prestige pic HAIL, CAESAR!, goes missing. Mannix assumes that Whitlock has gone on one of his famous benders, but as the day unfolds his concern grows for Whitlock and the potential financial problems the star’s disappearance creates for completion of his latest movie.
The Coens create a sense of “everyday strangeness” in all of their movies and HAIL, CAESAR! is no exception. They have a knack of being able to transform mundane, regular characters and motivate them with actions that are peculiar and, to varying degrees, dangerous. In this latest film, they decide to hone in on the Hollywood writers who had joined the Communist Party in the 1950s (among others). This motley group, who describe themselves as “The Future”, play like a bunch of undergraduate university students who discover Marxism for the first time, linking every single piece of history to the cyclical theories espoused by Karl Marx. The pinnacle of their endeavours is the abduction of Baird Whitlock; an action designed to bring Capitol Studios to a grinding halt and for “The Studio” to acknowledge their work in helping create the success it enjoys. Unfortunately for them, they’re no match for Mannix, whose problem-solving capability knows no boundaries.
HAIL, CAESAR! boasts a great cast. Brolin, for the most part, delivers Eddie Mannix like a Raymond Chandler character: hard-boiled by years of doing the same thing, but not quite as cynical. He’s a man of faith and appreciates what “The Studio” has done for him. George Clooney is a little underwhelming as Whitlock. He’s got the “Star” quality the character calls for, but doesn’t come off as quite dumb enough to so easily fall for the plans of his abductors. The real stand-out is Alden Ehrenreich as Hobie Doyle, Capitol’s in-house Western star who the studio’s New York owners decide they want to turn into an out-and-out Star. Ehrenreich is able to show Hobie as being completely out-of-his-depth when he’s bumped up to a “prestige” movie, but shows enough street-smarts to give Mannix some vital clues about what may have happened to Whitlock. (Never trust the Extras…)
There’s plenty of stars throughout HAIL, CAESAR! including Scarlett Johansson as the newly knocked-up leading lady DeeAnna Moran, Ralph Fiennes as the jaded & temperamental film director Laurence Laurentz, Tilda Swinton in the dual-role of competing identical twin gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker, Channing Tatum as the Fred Astaire-inspired Burt Gurney, as well as Jonah Hill and Frances McDormand. Somehow though, all of this star power never quite coalesces into a great film. HAIL, CAESAR! is a solid movie and the story definitely had promise, but the Third Act doesn’t deliver any outcomes that make the viewer as though much of anything has changed. Maybe that’s the point of this film. “The Studio” (read “the system”) mandates when and how things should change and until such time comes, have faith and be grateful that everyday has a “Hollywood” ending. It’s an unusual position for the Coens to take and one that doesn’t quite work.