Zoe Saldana

Missing Link

14/04/19

Since its Oscar-winning debut feature Coraline in 2009, Laika Animation has resolutely ploughed its own furrow through the world of stop-motion, steadfastly avoiding the obvious and always maintaining the highest standards. Aardman may be the better-known company, but Laika are more consistent – and they seem to have perfected the trick of creating animations that really are suitable for all ages.

Missing Link is a good case in point. This is the story of fearless Victorian adventurer, Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman), a man with an unshakable belief in his own brilliance and a matching resolve to hunt down the mythical creatures of the world. When his attempt to photograph the Loch Ness monster makes him a laughing stock at the Adventurers’ Club, he decides to go in search of the legendary American Sasquatch – and, in a plot strand that owes an unspoken debt to Around the World in 80 Days, even makes a bet with the society’s villainous leader, Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry), that he will prove that the creature is more than just a legend. If he succeeds, he will be granted membership. As insurance, Piggot-Dunceby sends evil assassin Willard Stenk (Timothy Oliphant) to ensure that Frost fails to make good on his wager.

Frost soon locates said Sasquatch, whom he quickly dubs Mr Link (Zach Galifianakis). But he is more than a little surprised to discover that this particular Bigfoot can talk, read and even write – indeed, he has penned the letter summoning Frost to meet up with him. He wants more than just an exchange of pleasantries. He wants Frost to take him to meet his closest cousins – the Yetis of far off Tibet…

Everything about Missing Link is spot on – the gorgeous, idiosyncratic animation, the astute characterisation, the fleet footed storyline that scrambles from one thrilling escapade to the next. There are some very funny scenes here, enough to get a Sunday afternoon audience laughing along throughout and there are also several eye-popping sequences that combine the stop-frame puppets with state of the art CGI work, a storm at sea being a particular standout.

It’s also great to note that Zoe Saldana’s adventurer, Adelina Fortnight, is given enough chops to compete on an equal footing with her male companions, whilst neatly sidestepping the possibility of being cast as (ho hum) the film’s love interest.

This is wildly entertaining stuff – and it’s been quite a while since I enjoyed an animated feature quite as much as this one. If you’re looking for the perfect family feature, you can’t go wrong with this.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Advertisements

Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2

17/05/17

Amidst the plethora of movies featuring characters in spandex and capes, the original Guardians of the Galaxy stood out from the competition. Funny, self-deprecating and soundtracked by a collection of 80s classics, it was an enjoyable space romp. It was, however, hampered by a couple of not-so-positive notes – a needlessly complicated plot and an evil villain who seemed to have wandered in from Casting Central. But the film was a huge hit and it was never in doubt that there would be a sequel. Director James Gunn is clearly on a roll – Volume 3 has just been announced.

It’s clear from the get-go that Volume 2 is going to be fun. The prologue is set in 1980 and features a young, fresh faced Kurt Russell (how the thump do that do that?) as an extra-terrestrial canoodling with an earthling woman. Then we jump twenty-eight years into the future and see the Guardians, battling a hideous space beast, which is trying to get its sneaky tentacles on some very powerful batteries. This film has a secret weapon, which its not afraid to deploy with lethal effect – and that weapon is Baby Groot (still voiced by Vin Diesel, in what must have been the easiest voiceover  job in film history). This tiny offshoot of the original Groot is so downright adorable only the flintiest hearted viewers will be able to resist him. (Even the most heinous villains in the universe find themselves unable to dispose of him, which generally proves to be their undoing.)

Next up, the Guardians are visited by Ego (Kurt Russell, his real age now), who, in the best Star Wars tradition, announces that he is Peter Quill (Chris Pratt)’s father and he’s been trying to reconnect with him for years. He whisks Peter, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax (Dave Bautista) off to his home planet, which he has modestly named after himself and tells Peter that he is willing to share his super powers with his long lost son. He also introduces the team to Mantis (Pom Klimentieff), an empath, who can tell things about people simply by touching them – and who is clearly destined to be a member of the Guardians herself. But Gamora isn’t happy. She senses that something isn’t quite right about this set up. Meanwhile, back at the spaceship, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is being pursued by Yondu (Michael Rooker), who has a few Volume 1 scores to settle…

Okay, once again, this isn’t a perfect film. The central message – the importance of family love – is as unremittingly cheesy as any of Disney’s most cloying output – but, once again, it’s saved by the deliciously snarky dialogue and some genuinely funny jokes.  I particularly enjoy Drax’s spectacularly clumsy conversations with Mantis. There’s another classic rock soundtrack, and any film that has the good taste to use Cat Stevens’ Father and Son in a key scene is sure to earn some brownie points from me. If the movie’s final confrontation becomes too much of a pixel-fest, well, it’s probably to be expected of the genre, but for my money, this once again works best when it concentrates on the engaging interplay between the characters. Overall, I feel Volume 2 works better than the original.

Make sure you stay in your seats throughout the closing credits. There are not one, not two, but five short clips to whet your appetite for Guardians 3 – plus, the by now obligatory cameo for Stan Lee.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Live By Night

18/01/17

Ben Affleck has already proved his worth as a director – Gone Baby Gone and Argo are just two examples that spring to mind – and adaptations of the novels of Dennis Lehane have already yielded cinematic gold on several occasions, so it’s hard to pin down exactly why Live By Night fails to measure up to expectation. It’s a handsomely mounted production, its 1920s setting lovingly evoked and there’s a stellar cast in evidence, with the likes of Brendan Gleeson, Chris Cooper and Elle Fanning submitting strong performances in what amount to little more than cameo roles. But there’s an overpowering conviction that the film is simply trying to cover too many bases for its own good, that a simpler, more linear narrative  would have exerted a stronger grip on its intended audience.

Affleck plays Irish-American Joe Coughlin, an ‘outlaw’ with his own moral code. As he puts it, he doesn’t mind working for gangsters, he just doesn’t want to be one. Which is, it has to be said,  a fairly nebulous difference. After a violent brush with New York Irish mob boss, Albert White (Robert Glenister), results in a lengthy stay in the chokey, Coughlin goes to work for the Italian mob, run by Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone) and finds himself relocating to Florida, where he becomes a major player in the burgeoning rum-running business. He also romances and marries Graciela (Zoe Saldana) and it begins to look as though a pleasant future is assured for both of them. But when Pescatore’s plans for a big casino go awry (largely because of Joe’s refusal to be as villainous as he actually needs to be), it soon becomes clear that there will be the inevitable deadly reckoning…

This is by no means a terrible film and, every now and then, events do spark into fitful life. An early car chase featuring vintage automobiles is decent enough and Elle Fanning’s role as a former heroin addict who turns to religion for salvation is briefly diverting, but too often events become bogged down in a lot of talking and not enough action. And the screenplay seems to want to have a bit of everything, involving as it does the Ku Klux Klan, Latin American swing music and whatever else happens to be wandering across the cinematic horizon. Even the film’s climactic shootout is followed by another half hour of loose ends being tied, all of which goes to dilute its appeal.

Which is a shame because it’s evident that much love and care has gone into the making of Live By Night. A stronger hand in the editing booth would probably have delivered a different viewing experience but, as it stands, this is to be filed under M for ‘Meh.’

3.4 stars

Philip Caveney