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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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

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.

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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

What If (The F Word) Review

What If (2013) (or The F Word in the US) is a romantic comedy directed by Michael Dowse and written by Elan Mastai. This is based on the play Toothpaste and Cigars written by T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi.

Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, Megan Park and Rafe Spall.

Synopsis: Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) is a former medical student, and has recently broken up with his girlfriend due to her cheating on him. He is British, and stays in Toronto with his sister and nephew. One night whilst at a party, he meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan) who is the cousin of his best friend Allan (Adam Driver). There is an instant connection between the two, and they quickly become inseparable. The only thing is she has a long term live in boyfriend named Ben (Rafe Spall).

Throughout the story Wallace must keep his true romantic feelings for Chantry at bay whilst maintaining their friendship.

When I initially saw the trailer for What If, I was curious to see this. Good romantic comedies are hard to come by these days because of their formulaic structure as well as their often mediocre performances, but this movie seemed different. I am glad I took a chance with this one.

What If is a quirky romantic story filled with a lot of heart. Yes, this is not an original concept, or anything too complex but there is something very fresh about this. Since 500 Days of Summer (2009), I was waiting for a worthy counterpart and this movie serves as one.

A charming quirkiness is omnipresent in the story, and we quickly see this with the dialogue between Wallace and Chantry as they congregate by a fridge with magnets that spell words. Although they exchange weird banter between each other, we instantly see their connection which paves way for their relationship throughout. Some of the best scenes in this movie are the two merely talking, but we see them flourish as a result. This is not a conventional mainstream romantic comedy, which is part of its charm.

Although Radcliffe will always be known for Harry Potter, he has proven in recent years that he can really act and does not need to ride on the coat-tails of his most famous role. This recent performance cements this, and we can see that he can be funny as well as charming in a movie about relationships as opposed to wizards and witches.

This is the first time I have seen Zoe Kazan in a prominent acting role, and she is very likeable. Her relationship with Radcliffe is believable and filled with chemistry. She also reminds me of Zooey Deschanel with her piercing blue eyes and effortless wit.

Wallace’ best friend Allan played by Adam Driver is one of the stand out performances with regards to humour, and serves as the main vehicle for comic relief in the story. His towering height juxtaposed with Radcliffe’s small frame portrays them as the ultimate odd couple, but Driver comes away with some of the best one liners in the movie.

I highly recommend this movie if you fancy a decent romantic comedy with some wit and charm about it. Go and see it.

By Robert Spence

The Inbetweeners 2 Review

The Inbetweeners 2 (2014) directed/written by Damon Beesley and Iain Morris. This is the sequel to the 2011 movie and is a spin-off from the 2008 television sitcom.

This movie stars: Simon Bird, James Buckley, Joe Thomas and Blake Harrison.

Synopsis: The four friends have moved on somewhat since their last adventure in Malia where they had their first lad’s holiday. Will (Simon Bird) is still as geeky as ever and attending university. He is still as disastrous at making friends and talking to the opposite sex. Simon (Joe Thomas) is also at university and is now in an unhappy relationship with Lucy (Tamla Kari) who he met on holiday in the first movie. Her character is the polar opposite of what she was before and is very overbearing and clingy; therefore, Simon is trying his best to dump her. Neil (Blake Harrison) works in a bank and is as dopey as when we last saw him.

After receiving an email from Jay (James Buckley) about how good Australia is (because he is having a gap year there), the gang decide to join him for a month’s holiday. However, when they arrive, things do not go according to plan resulting in some hilarious circumstances.

Being a big fan of the original series and movie, I was expecting big things from this sequel. I did, however, have reservations that it would be very samey in places. However, as soon as I got past the opening scene my reservations diminished as the first laughs bellowed from the cinema hall.

In my opinion, this is better than the original and the writers seem to play around a bit more with the narrative structure which results in a less formulaic story. The writers have also managed to make this just as funny as the original, and there were a few occasions where I was crying with laughter.

Out with the four friends, there is an array of other funny interesting characters who complement the story well. The movie really explores the notion of travelling, and finds humour in some of these situations – i.e. staying in hostels and being on the road. No doubt this will spark a frenzy of people desperate to backpack and experience similar things.

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All four of the main characters have great chemistry which is what has made the show and movies so successful. The funny script as well as their onscreen chemistry will undoubtedly result in this surpassing the original as the most successful British comedy of all time. As I do not want to spoil any of the gags in this movie, all I can say is watch this movie because it is definitely worth it.

By Robert Spence

A Long Way Down Review

A Long Way Down (2014) directed by Pascal Chaumeil and written by Jack Thorne. This is adapted from the Nick Hornby novel of the same name.

This movie stars: Pierce Brosnan, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots and Aaron Paul.

Synopsis: On New Year’s Eve, disgraced ex television presenter Martin Sharp (Pierce Brosnan) is about to jump off the top of a building when he is interrupted by single mother Maureen Thompson (Toni Collette), the young politician’s daughter Jess (Imogen Poots) and cancer sufferer JJ (Aaron Paul) who have similar ideas.

Startled, Martin gets in his car and drives away. Having a crisis of conscience, he picks all of them up. As Jess has just been hurt by her boyfriend, Martin drops her off at a nightclub to confront him. The concerned others look for her minutes afterwards. Later, they find her in the hospital. Jess escapes unscathed, and the three others wait for her. They all discuss their respective problems and individual reasons for wanting to commit suicide. The group eventually make a pact to wait six weeks until Valentine’s Day to attempt suicide again. Afterwards, things spiral when the media become involved, and the characters find themselves in places they never thought they would be during the next six weeks.

Some of my favourite movies are adapted from Nick Horny novels such as About a Boy (2002) and High Fidelity (2000); therefore, I have always held him in high regard. After seeing this movie, my feelings have grown stronger. This story takes the subject of suicide and injects some nice comedy which results in a moving narrative.

This movie has been written in such a way that allows all of these characters to impact on the viewer in some way with their individual idiosyncrasies, but also allows the viewer to relate to the character’s feelings of despair at various points in the movie.

There is a nice cast in this movie, and the four leads interact effectively and have good onscreen chemistry. Pierce Brosnan plays the disgraced ex daytime television presenter Martin Sharp well, and serves as the main protagonist of the story. As the story begins, the character’s voiceover quickly establishes the turmoil he is in. After unknowingly sleeping with a fifteen year old girl, he is no longer employable anywhere. We see his desperate attempts at trying to get back on top. His character’s selfishness and superficiality is at times frustrating, and the viewer clearly sees that his image is one of the most important things to him.

This juxtaposed with Toni Collette’s character Maureen Thompson is somewhat different. Mauren is a middle aged single mother who cares for her disabled son. Her whole life revolves around him, and seems unhappy about the way her life has panned out – however, she has no resentment for her son. Toni Collette delivers another strong performance, and seems to be a natural at portraying English characters. This brought me back to her performance in About a Boy.

Imogen Poots is a young acting talent who has proved impressive in the performances I have seen her in to date. She is articulate and charming in her portrayal of Jess. Her character is very intelligent, articulate and provides a large part of comic relief to proceedings. She has a bright future ahead of her.

Aaron Paul portrays the enigmatic JJ who claims to be dying of brain cancer. Throughout the narrative, we know the least about him which makes the viewer want to find out more. Aaron Paul plays these mysterious damaged characters well, and I saw echoes of his Breaking Bad character Jesse Pinkman here. He is another actor with a bright future ahead of him, and this is his second collaboration with Imogen Poots. They are also seen together in Need for Speed (2014), and also display nice onscreen chemistry together.

Ultimately, I enjoyed this story. Dark comedies are not that common, and are highly effective when done well. As already stated, the characters are intriguing, which results in a moving story. I did my research into this movie beforehand, and commercially this did not do well at the box office and received a lot of negative reviews. Therefore, going into this movie my expectations were not to a high standard. However, I am glad I saw this and I recommend anyone else to do so.

By Robert Spence