Zootropolis/Zootopia Review

Zootropolis/Zootopia (2016) directed by Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Jared Bush. Written by Jared Bush and Phil Johnston.

Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, and Shakira.

Synopsis: In a world of anthropomorphic mammals, bunny rabbit Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) is a big fish (or rabbit for that matter) in a small pond (rabbit hole) and grows up desperate to be a police officer. However, her parents (Bonny Hunt and Don Lake) discourage this as they see it as dangerous and not something rabbits do. Ignoring her parents’ advice, Judy decides to move away to Zootropolis to fulfil her dream, a big city where she joins the police force. However, not being taken seriously by her boss Chief Bogo (Idris Elba), a cape buffalo, she is assigned to parking duty. As the story progresses, Judy volunteers herself for a missing mammal case to find Mr. Otterton, an otter who has mysteriously disappeared – very much against the will of Bogo. With the help of a con artist fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), Judy is given 48 hours to solve the case or she will lose her job.

I had the pleasure of seeing this movie in an advanced screening for free, and I had been looking forward to it due to the impressive trailer I had seen many weeks before.

Firstly, the animation is impressive, as is the plot. This is essentially an animated whodunit, and adopts the sensibilities of that genre. There is even a parody of The Godfather with a Brandoesque arctic shrew ironically named Mr. Big, as well as many other humorous events that occur.

Much like many other animated offerings, this story has strong universal themes which people of all ages can relate to. There is the theme of acceptance regardless of species, as well as stereotypes. These are embedded within the narrative, and protagonist Judy faces these obstacles throughout.

Although being aimed at the child demographic, this is very accessible to adults and an enjoyable movie for all ages. The sheer array of different animals with differing characteristics give the story endless entertaining factors. The movie will most definitely have a sequel at some point, and I highly recommend this to anyone. A sloth named Flash steals the show, so look out for this – you can’t miss him.

By Robert Spence

Photo Credit: [Disney]

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The Following – Season 3 Episode 1 – New Blood – Review

Kevin Williamson created show The Following is back for its third season, and there are a collection of interesting new characters as well as familiar faces to join the mix in what seems will be an action packed season.

Episode Synopsis: We begin a year after the events of last season, and Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) is on death row – a month from execution.

Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) has a new girlfriend named Gwen (Zuleikha Robinson), but he is still mentally recovering from previous events. After being blamed for the death of one of Joe’s followers in the opening scene from her apparent father, Ryan is clearly shaken. The trail of destruction left from the first two seasons has definitely left its mark.

Mark (Sam Underwood) is back with the absence of his twin brother Luke and mother Lily Gray. He is more psychotic than ever as a direct result of the deaths of his family members. With a new set of followers helping Mark, things begin to take a familiar turn, affecting Ryan Hardy in particular.

This is an interesting start to the season, with the main themes focusing significantly on the consequences of the characters’ actions. Ryan seems to show genuine remorse for all of the victims in the hunt for Joe, and is not the only character who has been affected by past events.

Ryan’s niece, Max Hardy (Jessica Stroup) is back for this season, and has been impacted by F.B.I agent Mike Weston’s (Shawn Ashmore) previous departure and reappearance. Due to their romance last season, this will make for interesting viewing as the season progresses.

The new followers, Kyle (Hunter Parrish), Daisy (Ruth Kearney) and Andrew (Michael Irby) carry the sensibilities of previous followers, and spare none of the gory murders reminiscent of the first seasons. Therefore, I would not recommend watching if you are squeamish.

This episode was without Joe Carroll; however, it is shaping up to be another good season which I recommend tuning in for. Joe will most definitely play a significant part in this season with his looming execution providing an effective ticking clock to proceedings.

By Robert Spence

Nightcrawler Review

Nightcrawler (2014) written/directed by Dan Gilroy.

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rennie Russo, Riz Ahmed and Bill Paxton.

Synopsis: Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaall) is desperate for work, and is caught stealing from a construction site when we see him for the first time. After Lou witnesses a freelance film crew at a crash scene, it inspires him to purchase a second hand video camera and police radio scanner.

After Lou films footage of a carjacking, he attempts to sell this to a local TV station. Morning News Director Nina (Renne Russo) buys the footage, and this starts an intriguing relationship between the two. As Lou’s business grows, he acquires the help of an assistant named Rick (Riz Ahmed) who was desperately seeking work. However, things begin to take a sinister turn when the boundaries of Lou’s new job are crossed.

Gyllenhaal is unnerving and sinister as the story’s protagonist, and this is possibly the best performance he has given to date. He is very interesting to watch despite various cringy exchanges between himself and other characters. This seems due to his lack of people skills. Lou reminded me somewhat of Robert De Niro in The King of Comedy (1983) with his delusional characteristics, but his complete determination to be successful. With Gyllenhaal’s dramatic weight loss, his usual muscular physique has been transformed to make him look extremely gaunt. This effectively adds to the sinister look he has.

The supporting cast also do a good job. This is the first movie I have seen Rennie Russo in for a long time, but she still carries the sex appeal she had throughout her younger years. Her character Nina’s desperation at trying to stay on top is conveyed with her willingness to push Gyllenhaal’s edgy reportings onto mainstream television.

This story makes a number of statements about contemporary news reporting – one being the boundaries between ethical against what makes for a breaking story. This is explored throughout the movie, with Gyllenhaal consistently shunning the morally correct thing to do in favour of what will make for a better and financially benifiting news story.

The story’s themes are extremely thought provoking. I left the movie thinking this probably happens daily in the media, with camera crews doing anything to get a decent vantage of their subjects.

Writer/Director Dan Gilroy did a fantastic job with this movie, and this has deservedly been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Gilroy has managed to directed and write a compelling story with equally compelling performances from his cast.

Overall, I was intrigued throughout this movie at the characters, the plot and themes the filmmaker was conveying. It is one of the best movie’s I have seen over the past year and is well worth a watch.

By Robert Spence

The Missing Review

The Missing is a British television series drama written by Harry and Jack Williams and directed by Tom Shankland.

Starring: James Nesbitt, Frances O’Connor, Saïd Taghmaoui, Tcheky Karyo, Ken Stott and Jason Flemyng.

Synopsis: Tony and Emily Hughes (James Nesbitt and Frances O’Connor) are holidaying in France when their son Oliver (Oliver Hunt) goes missing. The story focuses on the impact this has on a series of characters, and the fight to determine what happened to their son. Along the way, the narrative shifts between time frames in an attempt to piece together the mystery. With the help of retired detective Julien Baptiste (Tchéky Karyo), they begin to slowly discover the disturbing truth about what happened eight years before.

This is shaping up to be a very good television series. With real life cases of missing children (most notably the Madeline McCann disappearance), public interest in these topics is very high. It is every parent’s nightmare to lose their children, and this story evokes this perfectly.

The acting is very good, and the viewer truly connects with James Nesbitt’s character Tony. This is heightened when dealing with the harsh truth of being the one who lost his son. Nesbitt has always been an actor I have admired, and this performance does nothing but strengthen this perception. Co-star Emily Hughes is also very impressive in her role as well as the other cast.

What I like about this show is that we are shown certain events from different vantage points – including suspects in the disappearance of Oliver. These add another dimension to the show.

At the time of writing this, only three episodes have aired so far of this eight part series but I highly recommend watching this.

By Robert Spence

Gotham – Pilot – Season 1 Episode 1 – Review

Gotham (2014) is an American television series and is an origins story to the DC comics character Batman as well as some other characters in that universe. The series was created by Bruno Heller, and focuses on Commissioner Jim Gordon as the main protagonist.

Starring: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, Sean Pertwee, David Mazouz and Jada Pinkett Smith.

This episode was directed by Danny Cannon and written by Bruno Heller.

Episode Synopsis: The story begins with Bruce Wayne’s (David Mazouz) parents being shot and killed in cold blood by a masked gunman. Sparing Bruce, he flees leaving him with his parent’s bodies.

We are then introduced to rookie cop Detective Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and his partner Detective Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue). Gordon promises Bruce that he will find the man who killed his parents.

As the story progresses, Gordon becomes immersed in the corruption governing Gotham, and the many villains who inhabit it.

This is a very good opening episode, and captures the characteristics of Gotham very well. Fans of the Batman universe will not be disappointed, as this latest outing looks at it with a fresh pair of eyes.

The death of Bruce Wayne’s parents has been done endlessly, but this series harnesses these events from the perspective of Jim Gordon; thus allowing something fresh.

bruce wayne parents dead

Characteristically, there is a lot of potential. Jim Gordon is likeable and morally good despite the corruption surrounding him. Ben McKenzie is perfect for this role, and plays Gordon very well.

The supporting cast are also impressive. The young Bruce Wayne is exactly as I imagined as well as his loyal butler Alfred (Sean Pertwee).

The main antagonists such as Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) effectively embody the collective corruption in Gotham. This is the first role I have seen her portray a villain, and she does it very well. She is sexy as she is scheming – very much a femme fatale.

There are various seeds planted in this episode which will undoubtedly grow as the series progresses. Fans of Batman are in for a treat as well-known characters begin to reveal themselves.

By Robert Spence

Gone Girl Review

Gone Girl (2014) written by Gillian Flynn and directed by David Fincher. This is based on the novel of the same name also by Flynn.

Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Carrie Coon and Kim Dickens.

Synopsis: After the mysterious disappearance of Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) in the small town of North Carthage, Missouri, her husband Nick (Ben Affleck) and the police try and piece together what happened. As the story progresses, we discover the couple had an unhappy marriage which leads us to question Nick’s innocence in all of this. Did he murder his wife and make it look like she was kidnapped? Did one of her previous boyfriends have something to do with this? As Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and her partner Officer Jim Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) dig deeper, they begin to realise that nothing is as it seems.

Having just attended an advanced screening of this movie, my initial reaction is very favourable. This is a great film, and one of the best I have seen this year. Having heard the hype surrounding the book, I was expecting good things and I was not disappointed.

Gillian Flynn adapted her own novel into the screenplay for this movie, and this was a wise choice. Time and again I have heard the phrase “the movie wasn’t as good as the book,” therefore, it is refreshing to see the original writer adapt her own work. This allowed Flynn to be as faithful as she wanted to her original source material as well as adapt this for a cinematic audience which really paid off.

This is by no means a short movie, and its running time is roughly 2 hours 30 minutes. This allows for the mystery to slowly unravel at a nice pace. Flynn paints her characters as flawed which I admire due to this being true to life. Nick Dunne is not perfect and neither is his wife Amy as we are fed flashbacks told from Amy’s narrative perspective. The characterisation is great, and the important reveals effectively manipulate the viewer’s perception of the main characters numerous times. As a result, we are unsure what is true which makes the story more interesting.

I have been a fan of David Fincher for a while, and he stays true to his directorial style in his latest work. Apart from the Oscar nominated director working on a couple of House of Cards (2013) episodes, this is his first movie since The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) and an impressive one at that. This has the feel of a Fincher movie, and carries with it the “nothing is as it seems” characteristics of previous works.

What sets great movies out from average ones is their ramping up of events and deviating from formula. The first hour of this movie plays out like a typical missing person movie. The person goes missing, the police get involved, and the whole whodunit genre characteristics take over. However, this story evolves into so much more than the typical whodunit and provokes the viewer with a lot of questions.

Thematically, fame is at the heart of this story. Nick becomes demonised by the media after his wife’s disappearance whereas Amy is canonised. It also provokes us to question what really goes on behind closed doors. Are the seemingly happy people we see in the media really like this? Would you stay in an unhappy marriage to keep the peace?

The acting in this movie is impressive, and Rosamund Pike steals the show in her portrayal of Amy. Ben Affleck also does not disappoint as her co-star. The other supporting cast such as Neil Patrick Harris and Carrie Coon complement the story well.

To conclude, this is a very good movie and I highly advise paying the money to see this in the cinema. It is long, but this is needed to do the story the justice it deserves.

By Robert Spence

Sex Tape Review

Sex Tape (2014) written by Kate Angelo, Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller. Directed by Jake Kasdan.

Starring: Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper and Rob Lowe.

Synopsis: Annie (Cameron Diaz) and Jay (Jason Segel) are a married couple with children that have lost their once adventurous sex life. Annie is a blogger on the verge of hitting it big, and Jay is in the music industry. One night whilst the children are with the babysitter, they spontaneously decide to make a sex tape on Jay’s iPad. After the encounter, Annie tells Jay to delete it. However, things go terribly wrong when it syncs up to a number of other devices Jay and Annie gave to people. It becomes a race against time to retrieve the iPads before the sex tape is seen.

This is a very current topic due to the ongoing issues with celebrity pictures/videos being leaked online. Due to recent celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence and Kirsten Dunst garnering world-wide attention as a result of their leaked pictures, the buzz is stronger than ever. The irony is also the fact that Apple are at the centre of this controversy despite the fact this movie is packed with Apple product placement in an attempt at advertising the brand. But on to the movie…

This is an interesting concept, and a concept that has a lot of comedic potential. This is reinforced by the fact Segel and Stoller are amongst the writing credits. With the previous successful collaborations of Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) and Get Him to the Greek (2010), I was excited.

sex-tape-640-bar

Having said that this movie was okay, but is certainly nowhere near their previous work. There are some funny gags, however, I felt it was lacking. Many of the events in the story are clearly farcical, but at times they stretch beyond these realms and seem far too unrealistic even within the rules of this genre.

The product placement in this movie is annoying and very in your face; to the extent where the popular Apple voice recognition feature Siri is incorporated into a gag. From memory, I spotted the use of iPhones, Apple Mac computers and MacBooks… Oh and multiple iPads. It really did divert my attention from the story at times.

Segel and Diaz do work well together, and were believable as a couple. Rob Lowe, however, stole the show as Annie’s boss Hank, and seemed to provide the most laughs throughout the movie. One of the best sequences is when Annie and Jay enter his home in a bid to retrieve one of the iPads, and the lengths they go to under the nose of Lowe’s character.

This is a movie that will probably do well at the box office. It has some laughs, an interesting concept as well as star power. However, it is not one of the better romcoms I have seen in recent years. I’d recommend this as a date movie, but it will not change your life. Look out for the Jack Black cameo, and Segel getting his kit off yet again. 

By Robert Spence