All posts by mojojohnstone

How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World

The How to Train Your Dragon series has been delighting audiences since Viking Hiccup first captured, then befriended, his Night Fury dragon Toothless back in 2010. The story of Vikings first fighting, then living with the franchise’s brilliant selection of dragons, proved to be the stuff of childhood dreams. We again visited Hiccup in the film’s sequel that saw Toothless become the dragon Alpha and Berk home to even more lost dragons.

Now, How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World revisits the films characters as they look to the future between dragons and their riders. With Cressida Cowell’s book series beginning with Hiccup as an old man in a dragon-less world, the film fills in this change. The third and finale of the Dragon series is a sweet, heartfelt goodbye to its characters.

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A year after the events of the second film, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) is chief of Berk and Toothless is the Alpha and protector of the Islands Dragons. The riders have taken to saving captured Dragons and bringing them back to a now overcrowded Berk. With the rider’s efforts making their Island home a target for trappers, Hiccup and Astrid (America Ferrera) seek to move their tribe to the lost hidden world. A dragon haven where their friends can be safe. But with hunter Grimmel (F. Murray Abraham) aiming to take control of their dragons and the appearance of a female Fury mate for Toothless, can the Vikings and dragons still create their utopia?

The Hidden World is once again written and directed by Dean DeBois. Based on the book series of the same name by Cressida Cowell, the film has taken the characters and premise but created its own story. The original voice cast return here with the addition of Abraham as Grimmel and a guest appearance from Gerard Butler as the now deceased Viking Stoick.

The film follows a similar narrative to the previous film. It throws the audience straight into the action with a daring dragon rescue. Returning to the Island which is now overcrowded and constantly fighting off trappers. Chief Hiccup suggest leaving their Island and looking for the dragon’s true home to share. We meet the trappers aiming to take the Island who have enlisted the help of Grimmel. The film takes us into danger, changing relationships and the dragon, human flights that the series is famed for; great pace and love of the characters carry you through to the films final battle.

The only area where the film falls down, is its villain. Like Dragon 2, the films villain is menacing but lacking in any development or real motive. The series’ best villain remains the giant beast, Red Death from the first film.

Once again, the franchise proves to be the strongest animation DreamWorks has produced. Fully rivalling Pixar in terms of visuals and, of course, it’s the flying sequences that stand out. Featuring rides between the boy and his Night Fury, the Berkians and their dragons but now also the Night and Light Fury. The dragons fly through clouds and across an incredible Northern Lights sequence in a feat of animated glory. The dragons themselves are again a brilliant feat in appearance but also their ability to convey emotion without words.

The film series has also done once again what few animations have done, it has aged and altered its characters. The change may not be as dramatic as between the first and second film but they have matured in appearance and character.

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Early reactions to Baruchel as Hiccup may have been against his Canadian accent, in a supposedly Scottish set film, but its now hard to imagine anyone else voicing the boy Viking. Passionate and energetic, his relationships with his father, girlfriend and his dragon are still the films heart. His character has matured but must face his biggest challenge, the potential of living without his best friend.

America Ferrera voices warrior Astrid, partner of Hiccup. The second film saw a few missteps with her strong character being used as a plot devise but here she returns as the fearless girl wonder that made her such a joy to watch.

The film fails to deliver a worthy villain, but The Hidden World is a beautifully animated, heartfelt goodbye to the characters we know and love. The flying sequences will amaze all but it’s the relationship between Hiccup and Toothless that makes this franchise a firm favourite for it’s loyal fans.

Long live dragons!


How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World is out 1st February! 

Glass – Review

Glass, the new film from director M. Night Shyamalan follows on from the ending of last year’s thriller Split. The ending revealed multiple personality serial Killer Kevin Crumb (James McAvoy) is from the same universe as superhuman David Dunn (Bruce Willis) from Unbreakable, (a previous Shyamalan film).

The film unites the director with his cast from both films in a story that brings them all together. Despite having a brilliant cast and the premises of two strong works, Glass is sadly overdone. It starts off well but never fully establishes itself and ends on a shaky final act.

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The film begins as more young girls have been kidnapped by deranged killer Kevin. With Dunn now using his super strength to bring violent criminals to justice, he eventually crosses paths with “The Hoarde” while looking for the girls. The two battle it out but are both caught by authorities and sent to a mental institution. Once inside, Dr Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) has three days to study the pair alongside long-time inmate Elijah Price (Samuel L Jackson). But can two super humans and a genius really be contained?

In what Shyamalan has christened his Eastrail 177 trilogy, Glass is the third outing for the ensembled characters. The director is most known for his early works The Sixth Sense, Signs, and The Village. Shyamalan is also known for his twist/shock endings in his films.

Glass starts off very strong. Crumb has kidnapped more young girls and is still battling the multiple personalities he inhabits. Meanwhile Dunn has transformed himself into the vigilante known as the Overseer. While out patrolling he passes Crumb and sees a vision of the girls. Dunn pursues him but both are caught by the police, who put them into a mental facility. This brings them together with Elijah and the stage is set. Sadly, this is also where the film loses pace and begins to fall apart. Dr Staple studies all three and tries to convince them of their mental disorders but it all just feels to farfetched. Although the film is building to its finale, you never feel it. It lacks pace and tension despite the efforts of the cast.

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For those that are used to the troupe Shyamalan endings the film attemps to twist and turn for dramatic effect, but they fall flat. They feel segwayed in, rather than developed plot twists. With unbreakable the director deconstructed the super hero genre in an intelligent, if a little slow, thriller. Despite elements of the previous works being used the premise is messy and servearly under written.

The film may fail in terms of pace and narrativ but the cast are as you would expect superb. McAvoy flips between his multiple personalities easily, evoking horror one minute and sympathy the next. His character is just as much a physical performance as well as an emotional one with his superhuman strength being tested here by Dunn.

Bruce Willis reprises Dunn as a vililante that has aged and suffered loss. Whilst still being the overseer, he feels himself slowing down and the loss of his wife and his son’s concerns weigh on him.

Samuel.L Jackson is just as intringing as he ever was as genius super villain ‘Mr Glass’. He delivers his lines and theories that attempt to deconstruct the superhero genre with his usual flair. He remains ahead of the game and the shocks in the film that do surprise come from him.

Although Glass has a strong cast and the potential from its previous outings, the third in the Eastrail 177 trilogy is an overdone, drawn out mess.


Glass is out in cinemas now! 

Colette – Review

Keira Knightley has been a star of the screen since her turn in Bend it Like Beckham back in 2002. The British actress is mostly associated with period dramas, such as Pride and Prejudice and her work in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. The news that Miss Knightley is in another period drama may seem like standard film news, yet with Colette, audiences are in-store for something different.

Inspired by the life of French writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, the film has the usual period staples, with its wardrobe, carriages and set pieces. Yet the film explores the politics of the time and sexual liberation in turn of the Century Paris. Colette is a period drama with spice; fuelled by strong performances by Knightley and co-star Dominic West.

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When young Sidonie (Knightly), marries career writer Henry Gauthier-Villars (West), she hopes of a simple life and marriage. However, their relationship is different to what she had expected and eventually she finds herself writing of her experiences. The ‘Claudine’ stories are published under Henry’s name and prove an instant success. As the created character of Claudine gains in popularity, the titular and true writer explores the bounds of her desires while trying to maintain control over her work.

Inspired by the life of French novelist Colette, the film is directed by Wash Westmoreland (Still Alice,) who also co-wrote the screenplay with Richard Glatzer. Like many female writers of the time, her works were published under a male name (in this case her husband’s, not a pseudonym) due to sexist attitudes. Colette is today celebrated as France’s most successful female writer.

The story opens by introducing us to the first encounter between Colette and Henry, before they are quickly married and living in Paris. Instead of a liberal and vibrant society, Colette is plunged into a pretentious and snobby environment. Her frustrations lead her to writing, where the character begins to find herself. What really makes Colette is the dynamics between its characters. Husband and wife, the pair and their lovers. Colette as a character is constantly told what she should or must do by those around her and more often her own husband. Although she is often complicit it is watching her break away from conformity that attracts the audience to her.

As well as the growing desires of same relationships the film also explores themes of gender non-conformity, polyamory and marriage. The film starts off a little slow but as Colette begins to push the boundaries in her marriage and work, the film picks up pace. Tonally the film is also inconsistent at times, but mid-way finds it feet solidly.

The sight of Keira Knightly in period clothing may be familiar but here the actress sheds her Jane Austin pouting heroine for a much more daring portrayal. Knightly is the driving force of the film, able to portray the naïve country girl Henry marries as well as the outspoken author she grows into.

Dominic West is also on great form as Colette philandering husband Henry. His arrogance and morality make him a horrific character, but West gives him enough charisma to understand Colette’s draw to him. A realistic interpretation of how male privilege corrupts.

Not your run-of-the mill-period piece. The film offers a scathing look at the roles of men, women and marriage. See for its politics, recreated period costumes as well as West and in particular Knightly’s performances.


Colette is out in cinemas now. 

Mowgli: The Legend of the Jungle – Review

Mowgli: The Legend of the Jungle is the latest interpretation of Rudyard Kipling’s classic Indian set fable The Jungle Book. Set against the beautiful backdrop of the Jungle, young human boy Mowgli is raised by the Wolf pack as one of their own. This time, it’s actor turned director Andy Serkis who brings the animals and man cub to life.

Although director Serkis has brought the titular character to the front and delivered a brilliant cast of performance captured creatures, the film suffers from  a lack of originality. Rudyard Kipling may have written a timeless classic but with numerous versions and the dominant Disney animation, did we need another retelling? No, we did not. Even though the film had strengths.

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Featuring voice and performance captured visuals from Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale and led by newcomer Rohan Chand, the story centres on young Mowgli (Chand), left in the jungle after his parents are killed by fierce tiger Shere Khan, (Cumberbatch). Found by Panther Bagheera (Bale), he is raised by the loyal Wolfpack. Yet as Mowgli grows, Shere Khan still threatens the human that lives amongst them. Can Mowgli and his animal family stop him and bring peace to their jungle home? As well as providing the voice and performance capture for bear Baloo, Andy Serkis also takes the directors chair here.
The original Mowgli stories were written in 1894. With the tale being adapted multiple times the main question of the story will be is it faithful? Yes, it is.

Therefore, the film follows the same narrative as the other adaptations. The character of Mowgli is more dominant here than in other adaptations. He is the driving force of the film and his animal companions take a backseat. This is definitely a much grittier take on Rudyard’s classic with more blood and danger. The stakes feel higher and the potential for loss is stronger but it’s not enough to truly set it apart from last year’s Disney live-action remake.

With Serkis considered the leader in the pioneering of performance capture, it’s no surprise that the creatures of Mowgli are incredible. Fierce but emotional the film combines the realism of wild animals with the emotional range of human characteristics. Their interactions with Mowgli are always felt, bringing Kipling’s jungle to life.
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The cast is led by young Chand as Mowgli. His is definitely the more raw performance, compared to other adaptions with a greater range. Some parts feel overdone but it’s a solid performance for the newcomer.
Serkis, Naomie Harris and Cate Blanchett all lend their strong vocals to the Bear, the Wolf and the Snake of the tale, as well as inspiration for the creatures visuals. Yet the stand outs here are Benedict Cumberbatch as the Tiger and Christian Bale as the Panther. Cumberbatch continues to lend his voice to strong CGI villains creating a menacing Shere Khan. Opposing this is the fatherly figure of Bale. As Mowgli’s fierce protector Bahgeera he is torn between his love for the man-cub and the duty to protect him and the wolf-pack who raised the young boy he found. His performance is one filled with love and the weight of responsibility.

Although this is the superior version in the latest batch of interpretations, Mowgli suffers from its predecessors. This may be beautifully realised and grittier but we’ve all been here before despite the effort and beauty.


Mowgli: The Legend of Mowgli is available to watch on Netflix 

Mission: Impossible -Fallout – Review

In what is hailed as the final film in the Mission Impossible franchise, Fallout once again sees Tom Cruise as Agent Ethan Hunt. With his past coming back to haunt him, it is up to Hunt and his team to stop a global catastrophe.

Cruise returns alongside Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Rebecca Ferguson, and Angela Bassett. The film also introduces new characters played by Henry Cavill and Vanessa Kirby. With multiple locations, cool gadgets, and show-stopping action, Fallout will satisfy fans of the series. Yet the films unoriginality and extended running time will turn off new audiences to the franchise.

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Agent Ethan Hunt and his team is once again called upon to locate missing weapons. When the mission fails, Hunt must go under the radar to complete his mission. But his tactics make his own agency question his loyalty. Against the clock, Hunt must relocate the weapons and stop an attack, all whilst facing old and new enemies.

This outing is once again directed by screenwriter turned director, Christopher McQuarrie. After directing Rogue Nation, he returned to direct what should be the final instalment in the franchise.

The set-up here is much the same. Something happen then Ethan and his team are called upon to fix things. We get straight into the plot and action with a dramatic opening sequence and establishing a backstory. It moves along at a fast pace but even for this series, the action scenes do feel excessive.

Fallout maintains many of the tropes of the series. The double crosses and narrative flips are still used. Yet at this point you can see them coming a mile off. The story and its twists are predictable and have lost the edge they had in the first outings.

Yet the action is, as expected in this franchise, amazing to watch. Car chases, bike chases, rooftop runs, and more take up the majority of the two and a half hour running time. One particular fight scene in bathroom stands out as an impressive sequence.

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Cruise takes his sixth outing with the same action orientation as before. He runs, jumps, and fully embraces the action side of the character. Sadly, not much character development happens but Cruise is always watchable. And, my god, can that man run.

Henry Cavill plays new agent August Walker in much the same way he plays Superman – great to look at but thoroughly boring. He lacks charisma as an actor and this role does nothing to broaden his range. Simon Pegg is once again the comedic touch to the film. He acts as the nervous and logical member of the team with great one-liners.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is action packed with thrills to spare. Yet the final instalment is drawn out and overdone, repeating all the previous outings tricks.


Mission: Impossible – Fallout is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now! 

Beetlejuice – 30 Years On…

In film lore, you can say Candyman five times in a mirror to summon the murderous vengeful spirt. You can say Bloody Mary five times and spin around to summon a wicked banshee. Or you can forget all the spooky crap, say Beetlejuice three times and call the funniest, most unruly ghost the underworld ever produced.

Beetlejuice is the 1988 supernatural comedy directed by Tim Burton starring Michael Keaton like you have never seen him before. An overzealous, over-sexed, suit wearing maniac who unleashes his own brand of haunting on the living world. The weird and quirky film is a must for all Burton fans and is one of his greatest on screen accomplishments with a witty script, superb cast, and some of the most memorable set pieces stop-motion and puppetry every produced.

There's going to be a Beetlejuice musical on Broadway...

When Barbara and Adam Maitland (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin) decide to spend vacation at home they expect a peaceful two weeks together. Unfortunately, for them, their car ends up in a river after an accident. On returning home, the pair soon realise they did not survive the crash and are now in the world of the deceased. Hanging around their human home, it is soon sold to a couple of New York yuppies the Deetz (Catherine O’Hara and Jeffrey Jones). To rid them of their unwanted guests, the Maitland’s call on a wayward ghost Betelgeuse (pronounced Beetlejuice) to perform a living exorcism. But Beetlejuice (Keaton) has eyes on the couple’s young daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder) and sets about unleashing the dead on the living.

After the success of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Burton was sent a number of scripts for his next project. Unhappy at their lack of creativity, he was eventually handed an early script for Beetlejuice. After a few rewrites and adding his own brand of weird the film became the cult classic we know today. Beetlejuice possess (excuse the pun) a story and premise so bizarre it could have been written by Burton himself. Yet this is why it was such a perfect project for him.

For a story that deals with death this is a strangely uplifting tale. Death is just another stage that needs to be worked out and handled but the couple are together and can make new friends. Death is almost humorous in the way it is portrayed here. The dead man with the shark attached to his leg or the man burnt alive who is still smoking a cigarette all mock this next stage of being.

Like so much of Burton’s work the film contrasts the world of the living and the world of the dead. Also another Burton signature is that the underworld is portrayed as more alive and vibrant than the real world. The living world is bland and lifeless while the land of the dead is full of exotic characters and colourful settings.

For this film, Burton drew on his animation background of stop-motion to create the films weird selection of creatures. From the inhabitants of the undead waiting room to the sand worm that awaits the Maitland’s if they leave their human home. The film may not compared to the range of CGI used in blockbusters of today yet the film has a unique and classic look. Many will think of the works of Ray Harryhausen when watching these creatures inhabit the screen (a clear idol of Burton’s).

BEETLEJUICE

For today’s audiences Michael Keaton is remembered for his role as Batman (also Burton films) and his recent star turn in Birdman. Yet the great actor began his career as a famed comedic performer. His later casting as The Dark Knight was met with disapproval and uproar from audiences until the film’s successful release. Despite how he may be seen today Keaton was and is a brilliant comedy talent. With razor sharp wit, charm and perfect timing, he is a humorous force in the little time he spends on screen. His stripped suit is an iconic image and seeing at least one Beetlejuice per Halloween is inevitable.

The film was also a breakout role for the young Winona Ryder as Lydia. Playing the young, unusual Goth girl become synonymous with Ryder in her early career yet her talent soon broke away from these restraints.

Catherine O’Hara, who would later go on to voice Sally in The Nightmare Before Christmas and Mrs Frankenstein in Frankenweenie, here stands out as Delia Deetz. A frantic, image obsessed neurotic step-mother whose disbelief in the ghosts in her house drives much of the films humour.

A quintessential Burtonesque film containing his striking visuals, quirky characters and making the afterlife not a bad place to spend eternity.


Happy 30th Anniversary Beetlejuice!