Sunday, 10 December 2017

Pawshank Redemption

Paddington, now happily settled with the brown family and a popular member of the local community, picks up a series of odd jobs to buy the perfect present for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, only for the gift to be stolen.

2017 granted us with an early Christmas present as everyone’s favourite bear returns to the big screen with this lovely sequel that takes everything you loved from the first instalment and adds some welcomed surprises along the way. In this era of tangled universes and complex cinematic mythologies that seem to be a trend in sequels, Paddington still remains a breath of fresh air, as the plot of the second movie can be summarized in one sentence: Paddington tries to buy a nice birthday present and it goes wrong. Indeed, the world of Paddington is much as we left it. It is London, but a version far removed from reality. Where even newsagents live in multimillion-pound Georgian villas. It is our time, but not quite. People use cassette tapes, you can hear steam trains in the background, everyone has a landline, yet kids wear Kanye-esque shutter shades and T-shirts with LCD panels, and a main character works in The Shard. It is a time that has never been. A very subtle form of fantasy. We find our new addition to the cast Phoenix Buchanan, who ironically has just moved into this elegant west London neighbourhood, which is more or less as it was when Hugh Grant was here for Richard Curtis’s Notting Hill in 1999. Beside Hugh Grant, the film has lots of quaint English things and landmarks, such as St Paul’s Cathedral and even – astonishingly – more than one fully functioning red public payphone, which characters use instead of mobiles.

Paddington 2 is reassembling most of the original key talents, both in front of and behind the camera and above and below the line. It lives up to and even periodically exceeds the high-watermark of its 2014 predecessor, with a solid cast, very much up for some fun. Even correcting the only real failing of the first movie: a menacing and genuinely captivating villain in the hilarity of Hugh Grant. He is essentially filling Nicole Kidman’s shoes, as a deliciously self-absorbed West End acting legend called Phoenix Buchanan and he is the gift that keeps on giving throughout the whole movie. Grant passionately throws himself into the dressing-up box. His directorial instruction seems to have been, “Marvellous, darling, but camper.” He goes over the top and then back around for another leap. Though kept apart for much of the running time, the Brown family remains an unconventional unit to root for, invaluably anchored by the goofy human warmth of Hawkins and Bonneville, not to mention Ben Whishaw’s still perfect cuddly vocal work with an ideal combination of gentleness and gumption. Paddington, with his ingrained decency, generosity of spirit and unshakable faith in the value of good manners, cements himself as a beacon of hope for these dark and unsettled times.

SPOILER Prison is exactly the place for Paddington, in the sense that his understated melancholy makes him seem even more adorable behind bars. Plus, there is a whole new set of characters for him to win over with his most appealing trait; that is not his heroism but his absolute decency. He is a movie hero without a shade of cynicism, one who never loses either his innocence or his idealism. Though, beyond all the amazing original cast, the film gets all its biggest laughs from Gleeson and Grant, doing variations, but sublime ones, on the grumpy-giant routine and the vain git routine they habitually excel at. Hugh Grant’s role is a prime contender for his funniest ever, whether delivering Shakespearian orations to his own wigs, trying to sell a bemused Hawkins on his one-man show called “An Evening of Monologue and Song” or dressing as a nun to infiltrate St Paul’s.

Paul King and Simon Farnaby have been faithful to the spirit of Paddington’s creator Michael Bond, who died earlier this year. While also filling the movie with slapstick sequences invoking the memory of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. The storytelling is not too knowing or too ironic so the magic disappears instantly and it is also not too na├»ve or child-like to the point of the film becoming very boring for “grown-ups”. They knew how to strike just the right balance. In fact, the script absolutely knows how to draw the best from their source material, and the results leave Paddington 2 hands down the most charming family movie of the year. It is for all ages, but jokes are not divided into kid-friendly and “for the grown-ups”. It mostly makes fun of circumstances, not people. There is so much warmth to it and not a hint of cruelty.

There are wonderful sequences of physical comedy, with Paddington like an animal version of Charlie Chaplin or the Keatonesque physical comedy, messing up a haircut, washing windows with his entire furry being, or doing the laundry in prison and turning everyone’s uniforms pink. Paul King’s visual comic timing is perfect. For example, he reveals the film’s title with Paddington writing his name on a misty window, then to better see through the window, smudging away the mist, in the approximate shape of a 2. That is such a tiny, fleeting moment, but it is so clever. His film is full of touches like that; tiny moments of comedy brilliance or visual dazzle, brushed past without fuss. Visually, it is more arresting than the first film, there is a precision to the framing and to the meticulous palette, which clearly evokes the work of Wes Anderson. King includes aerial and underwater stunts as well as shots of the little bear jumping on the top of the railway carriages. All this increasingly turbulent action is driven by the little bear’s desire to get hold of the pop-up book for Aunt Lucy, meanwhile, Paddington seems low-key to be turning into Jason Bourne in a duffel coat. 

Here, writer/director Paul King is willing to take children out of their comfort zone, to tap into fears of disappointment, desertion and possible death. Which makes Paddington 2 something to treasure rather than just to entertain. Best of all, Paddington 2 presents a righteous moral message that is particularly appropriate for our troubled times. Just as the original pic made an impassioned case for accepting and welcoming immigrants, sadly a lesson not learned, judging by Brexit; this sequel makes a plea for kindness, civility and looking for the good in people at a time when rudeness, insults and prejudice based on appearances are on the rise everywhere we look. Like an intricate movie, this is a work of art built up from thousands of tiny, thoughtful details that no one could catch on just one viewing. Though, given the way children like to watch things at home on an endless loop, Paddington 2 will reward weary parents with frequent chances to spot gags they may have missed the first, second or twentieth time around. I have only seen the film once, but I don’t think I could ever get tired of watching the way Grant pauses realizing he has forgotten a crucial item and cries prissily, “Ah! Cravat!”. Paddington 2 should be prescribed as an antidote to anyone who finds the madness of the modern world a bit wearing. It’s probably possible to not absolutely love it, but it’s hard to see how. This cub has incidentally shown us that Blade Runner is not the only film around capable of giving us an exciting and impressive sequel. He won’t save the world, but its very existence makes everything just that tiny bit better and more, well, bearable

Overall, Paddington 2 is every bit as enchanting as the first one, perhaps even more so with this time around a fun, charming, and even occasionally teary adventure. This film is fun for all the family, and yet a perfectly engaging winter adventure for a solo adult viewing too.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

"I Just Can't Even Right Now!"

Four teeangers discover an old video game console and are literally drawn into the game’s jungle setting becoming the adult avatars they chose.

It is always a gamble when a studio decides to reboot a classic movie. Indeed, Robin Williams’ 1995 original Jumanji was an instant classic that is still beloved to this day. And let me tell you that fans were reluctant to give Hollywood the chance to ruin one of their childhood favourites, some will even be flat out avoiding the film as to not spoil the legacy of the first movie. Jumanji has a special place in my childhood. It was one of the first big spectacle movies that I watched. Also, I am a huge fan of Robin Williams and Jumanji was on replay as a kid, I remember the special effects were amazing at the time. For me, it was truly a ground-breaking movie in that respect; animals were not done that way back then and they are such a big part of the original. Though, that apprehension began to slowly fade away as it was also announced that the sequel would feature Dwayne-The Rock-Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan. That is a solid cast that intrigued most moviegoers.

It still deals with deeper themes such as self-discovery and embracing who you are, characters do not know how to do that but each one of them learn something while being in this fantastical context; by the end of the film, all they want to do is quit the body of someone else, to come back to their body and who they truly are. From the first trailer, the film seemed fresh and a fun new way to re-entering that world. Jumanji is a game that needs to be played and much importantly, it knows it needs to be played. Much like evolution in our world, with dinosaurs, it will always find a way to be played. Jumanji actually is a living organism evolving through time, and in our modern days, the game evolves from a board game to a video game. This new instalment is a ton of fun and succeeds by not trying to make a film even remotely similar to the original. It is vindicated of comparisons, while also giving a nice nod or two to the original.

Now onto the characters, each of them has a chance to shine. It is like they wrote the characters to perfectly fit the actors or with them in mind.  It is also universally known that I love Dwayne Johnson, and this part is designed for him: Dr Smolder Bravestone, he has earned his name. He plays a vulnerable nerdy teenager, playing against time on the super macho badass that he becomes in the game. Plus, his relationship with Kevin Hart is just touching at this point. Kevin Hart’s Moose Finbar/ Fridge is done very smartly as they never really show him as a bully, but it is implied. He takes his situation for granted at school until he is caught as the fraud he has been during all this time. In the game, it is a total opposite, he cannot do the things he could as an athlete in real life and there Kevin Hart got the freedom to put some of his personality into the character which is more than welcomed. Jack Black is amazingly funny as usual, he kills it. Embodying a 16-year-old girl, being able to pull that off is just brilliant. He knows how to be a hot babe and most importantly he is the only one who can read a map of the game so he might low-key be one of the most crucial characters in the story.   

Last but not least, Martha alias Ruby Roundhouse in the game, is a socially awkward girl who has to step into the shoes of a girl who seems very self-confident. This parallel is an interesting arc for a character, it is a fun contradiction from a socially inept teenager to basically the antithesis of what she is. Plus, her fight scenes are well choreographed and even better executed. Ruby Roundhouse is a 90s-video game-pseudo-Lara Croft, and they are playing with it and making fun of it, which is great. Now, if only one of them was to be the very last one alive in the game, I feel like Ruby would be the one. First, because she is a woman, there is no ego, she is smart and calculated. She considers every step and every decision, with men ego steps in and it gets ridiculous. 

Technically, Jumanji has not been shot in a ton of green screen which could have gone this way. But instead, the team shot in the deep jungle in Hawaii, which definitely helped the performances and it also helps with this mixture of old and new at the same time. At some points in the film, you have a large panoramic view of the landscape and it is beautiful. The Hawaiian landscapes look like paintings, which is contrasted with the dangerous feelings of the jungle. Though, the movie, from time to time relies too much on other better movies, and wait until movie nerds emotional string is pulled, such as Jurassic Park or Indiana Jones. Jake Kasdan does a good job handling fight and action sequences in general, knowing that he comes from comedy. This creates a good balance as he knows comedy so well and cast some of the funniest people in Hollywood and he also can shoot fast-paced sequences. One of my favourite scene (NO SPOILER) is when they end up inside the jungle in Robin Williams’ character old hideout and they are making plans on how to move onto the next level of the game. The scenes following also involves Kevin Hart getting drunk on Pina Coladas and Jack Black’s character acting as a role model for every superficial teenage girl ever.  

Finally, I have to be honest and say that I was a little bit worried/anxious going in for that movie. Dwayne Johnson has talked about a tribute to Robin Williams since production began on the movie and I believe he delivered a good film. Overall, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is good and surprisingly my whole world has turned upside down. Feed me some deadly cake, I guess, because I just can’t even right now.