Moana (Film Review) – A Vibrant Delight

Moana is an animated film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios and directed by Ron Clements and John Musker. It is the 56th Disney animated feature film and features the voices of Rachel HouseTemuera MorrisonJemaine ClementNicole ScherzingerAlan Tudyk, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Auli’i Cravalho. Cravalho actually makes her feature film debut in Moana. The story of Moana focuses on, you guessed it, Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), a determined girl who is set to become chief of her Polynesian tribe. But, she is chosen by the sea to return a mystical relic to a goddess so she can save her island. To do this, she must enlist the help of demigod Maui (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson).

My Knowledge and Expectation of Moana

Moana was a film that I missed seeing when it came out in cinemas last year. I was really annoyed about this because I love animated films, especially when it comes to the recent offerings by Disney in animated films such as Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6 and Zootopia/Zootropolis. I had heard a lot of great things about Moana and was expecting great things from the film, especially as Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson voices one of the lead characters in this film. I love ‘The Rock’ and Moana seems like just another step in his seemingly unstoppable march towards world domination.

Moana and Maui in Moana

My Thoughts on Moana

I really enjoyed Moana. While I do not rank it amongst my favourite Disney animated films, it is a very good film that is full of heart. One of the elements of the film that hugely impressed me was the animation. I loved the blend of computer animation and hand-drawn animation that was used to illustrate Maui’s tattoos that came to life. Additionally, the colour palette in Moana is stunning. This enhanced the style of the animation that is beautiful to look at.

The lore of Moana was very cool. It draws heavily from Polynesian mythology and I thought the film did a great job in terms of fleshing out the world and the characters within it. Certainly, Moana is a great character who is anything but one-dimensional. She is strong, assertive and inspirational. Moreover, her relationship with Maui was extremely entertaining and, at times, poignant. I give a lot of credit to Auli’i Cravalho and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in bringing these two characters to life.

Te Kā in Moana

The Music of Moana

The music in Moana was, for the most part, great. Lin Manuel-Miranda had a huge hand in writing the songs and crafting the score for this film and there are a lot of things to admire when it comes to this aspect of the film. ‘How Far I’ll Go’ and ‘You’re Welcome’ were my favourite songs but I also appreciated how Polynesian vocals were interwoven into the music of Moana. However, I could have done without ‘Shiny’ which was performed by Tamatoa, a giant crab.

In fact, I could have done without Tamatoa all together. To me, his scene in the film was the weakest part of Moana. Also, the structure of the film was very formulaic which prevents Moana from being one of my favourite animated Disney films. But, the film is a very good watch with a lot of great qualities and I highly recommend that you check it out when you have the time.

Colossal (Film Review) – Original but Weird

Colossal is a sci-fi black comedy directed by Nacho Vigalondo and stars Dan StevensAustin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson, Jason Sudeikis and Anne Hathaway. The story focuses on Gloria (Anne Hathaway) who is an unemployed writer struggling with alcoholism. She is forced to move back to her hometown after breaking up with her boyfriend and she finds solace in the seemingly genuine kindness of childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). However, at the same time, a monster is attacking the city of Seoul, South Korea. The monster and Gloria are connected and Gloria must find out why before things get worse.

My Knowledge and Expectation of Colossal

I had heard from film critics/pundits that I like and respect that Colossal was an extremely original, wacky film that was worth seeing. I tried to avoid knowing too much about the plot as I wanted to go into the film not knowing what to expect. Additionally, I knew nothing about the director of this film. Still, with Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis in the lead roles, I was hopeful that Colossal would be a nice surprise.

Anne Hathaway in Colossal

My Thoughts on Colossal

Well, Colossal was a surprise though nice is not the word I would use to describe it. While I commend the film for its originality, I was not entertained and it did not connect with me. Of course, the originality of the story in Colossal is undeniable and it deals with some important issues such as control, abuse (both mental and physical) and inner strength.

The performances in the film are fine. No one is spectacular but the characters played by Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis are layered to some extent. I thought that the supporting cast were serviceable as well and the visual effects were very good, especially when you consider that Colossal was made on a small budget.

Jason Sudeikis in Colossal

The Flaws of Colossal

Despite this, my biggest issue with Colossal is that the story is told at a very leisurely pace and this was a real detriment to my viewing experience. It dragged on for far too long and I feel like Colossal would have worked better as a short film. Additionally, I did not find the film to be particularly funny. The comedy fell flat which was a shame as good comedy can elevate the quality of any film. All of this made Colossal a film which I have no desire to watch again.

Still, I feel that you should see Colossal for its original and unique concept alone. Certainly, it is very different to what is in cinemas at this moment in time. If you have become bored or fatigued by the films you have seen recently, then Colossal might be for you. However, I found it to be too weird even for me. I do not think it will be a film that I revisit again and again.

Alien: Covenant (Film Review) – Flawed but Good

Alien: Covenant is a science fiction horror film directed by Ridley Scott and stars Katherine WaterstonBilly CrudupDanny McBride and Michael Fassbender. This film serves as a sequel to Prometheus and as a prequel to Alien. It is the sixth instalment in the Alien franchise. The story follows the crew of the Covenant in the year 2104 who are embarking on a colonising expedition to Origae-6. Yet, they find a different planet which seems ripe for colonisation. However, they find David (Michael Fassbender), the android from Prometheus, who is the sole inhabitant of a world which is not the uncharted paradise the crew hoped it would be.

My Knowledge and Expectation of Alien: Covenant

I would be lying if I said that I was expecting Alien: Covenant to be good. Honestly, Prometheus was a huge disappoint for me and, even after The Martian, I did not have confidence in Ridley Scott to recapture the quality of Alien. As I said in my review of Get Out, horror is not my favourite genre of film but I make exceptions. Alien and Aliens are exceptions. These are two films which I hold in high regard.

Xenomorph in Alien: Covenant

Yet, they are the only films that I like in this franchise. I do not like Alien 3, Alien: Resurrection is terrible and Prometheus was a very underwhelming film which did not feel like it belonged in the franchise. Consequently, I had no idea what to expect from Alien: Covenant. Still, I wanted to see what this film would be like and, at the very least, I expected some good performances from the likes of Michael Fassbender and Billy Crudup who are very talented actors.

My Thoughts on Alien: Covenant

Alien: Covenant has its flaws but, overall, it is a good film and a considerable improvement over Prometheus. One of the elements of the film that worked for me was the ensemble cast. All of them give good performances with Michael Fassbender probably standing out the most. This was simply because he played two different characters in David and Walter. He excelled in both roles though Katherine Waterston and Danny McBride were good too.

Michael Fassbender as David in Alien: Covenant

The cinematography in Alien: Covenant was stunning. Indeed, every Ridley Scott film is beautiful to look at and he continues that trait in this film. Yet, the thing that impressed me most in the way Scott directed and shot this film was the fact that Alien: Covenant has a gritty feel. This was something that Prometheus lacked. That film felt too clean and pristine but Ridley Scott remedies this in Alien: Covenant. The aesthetic felt more like Alien and Aliens and it was little things such as the lighting and the characters sweating which helped the film succeed in this regard.

The Flaws of Alien: Covenant

Still, why Alien: Covenant succeeds on some levels, it fails on others. It has flaws. For instance, this film has severe pacing issues. The first act was unnecessarily slow while the final 10-15 minutes felt too fast. Indeed, the last moments of the film were an homage to Alien. However, Alien was patient and suspenseful. The homage to this film in Alien: Covenant felt rushed and, to be honest, a bit convenient and easy. Alien was neither of these things.

Engineer Ship in Alien: Covenant

Alien: Covenant also feels like two films meshed together and the blend is not smooth. Obviously, the film is designed to be a bridge between Prometheus and Alien but it could have done a better job at being this. Additionally, some of the dialogue in the film is a bit stiff and the ending is very predictable. Despite this, I want to see more after seeing this film which is more than I could say after I watched Prometheus. Alien: Covenant does not reach the same levels as Alien or Aliens but there are enough things in the film to make it good, worth your time and one of the better entries in this franchise.

Their Finest (Film Review) – Serviceable but Forgettable

Their Finest is a British war drama directed by Lone Scherfig and is based on the 2009 novel Their Finest Hour and a Half which was written by Lissa Evans. The film stars Gemma ArtertonSam ClaflinBill NighyJack HustonJake LacyRichard E. GrantRachael Stirling and Jeremy Irons. The story is set in Britain during World War II (WW2) and focuses on the making of a morale-boosting film by a British Ministry of Information film team. The film being made is about the Dunkirk evacuation but the filming is taking place during the Battle of Britain and the London Blitz.

My Knowledge and Expectation of Their Finest

To be honest, I knew little about Their Finest. I had seen little marketing for the film, I had not seen any trailers for it and had not read or watched any reviews. ­The only thing I knew was that Bill Nighy was in it and I thought I might as well give Their Finest a chance. Certainly, I like Bill Nighy but I also like films set during WW2 and I had a feeling that I could be pleasantly surprised by this film.

Sam Claflin and Gemma Arterton in Their Finest

My Thoughts on Their Finest

I was wrong. I did not like Their Finest. It is a serviceable film but it did not impact me. I was never emotionally invested in the story or the characters and I feel as though a big reason for this is down to how boring the film is. For me, it does not have a point to exist and it is very forgettable.

There were a few things I did enjoy to a small degree. Bill Nighy was my favourite part of Their Finest but this was simply because he was being himself. He was not acting and his natural demeanour in the film was probably why he was the character I liked the most. I thought Gemma Arterton was fine in the lead role and it was nice to see Jeremy Irons pop up in one scene.

Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy in Their Finest

Still, none of this elevated Their Finest to a place where I am gasping to watch it again. For me, this film is very disposable, boring, pointless and disappointing. I cannot recommend that you should see it as soon as you can.

Star Wars: Thrawn (Book Review) – A Great Origin Story

Star Wars: Thrawn is a canonical Star Wars novel published by Del Rey Books and written by Timothy Zahn. This book takes place before his introduction in Star Wars Rebels but in the period between Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: A New Hope. The story focuses on the discovery of Thrawn and his rise to power in the Empire alongside his aid; Ensign Eli Vanto.

My Knowledge and Expectation of Star Wars: Thrawn

I have been highly anticipating this novel ever since it was announced that Thrawn would be returning to the Star Wars universe in this new Expanded Universe. My excitement was enhanced because this book would be written by Timothy Zahn who is a notable figure in the Star Wars franchise. Indeed, Zahn was the author who created the character of Grand Admiral Thrawn in the old Expanded Universe. Thrawn was the central character in Zahn’s critically acclaimed Heir to Empire Trilogy and he quickly became a fan-favourite.

But, most of the material in the old Expanded Universe were re-branded as Legends and were no longer canon after Lucasfilm redefined Star Wars continuity in 2014. This included Zahn’s Trilogy and, consequently, Thrawn. Consequently, Star Wars fans were unsure whether Thrawn would return as a character in the new Expanded Universe. However, at Star Wars Celebration 2016, it was announced that this book would be released in April 2017. This announcement came alongside the news that Grand Admiral Thrawn would be re-introduced into the Star Wars franchise in Season 3 of Star Wars Rebels.

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While I knew how revered Thrawn was by Star Wars fans, I never had an affinity with that character. This is because I never read any material from the old Expanded Universe. However, I have read a lot of the material from the new canon that Lucasfilm has released since 2014. On the whole, I have been impressed from what I have read and watched in this new Expanded Universe.

Moreover, if you have read my reviews of the episodes in Season 3 of Star Wars Rebels, you know that Thrawn is one of my favourite things about Rebels. I love how suave, confident, methodical and calculating the character is. Thus, I was fascinated to learn about how Thrawn became part of the Empire in this novel and I had a lot of faith in Zahn to meet my lofty expectations.

My Thoughts on Star Wars: Thrawn

Star-Wars-Rebels-Season-3-Through-Imperial-Eyes-Thrawn

Overall, Star Wars: Thrawn gave me everything I wanted. I loved the fact that we got to delve into the mind of Thrawn. It was brilliant to see how he meticulously studies everyone he meets in terms of there mannerisms, body language and tone. It was also fascinating to learn more about his philosophy on warfare, his love of art and the loyalty he has to his race; the Chiss. This added more layers to a character that already has a lot of depth and it expanded on what we saw from Thrawn in Season 3 of Rebels. In fact, certain tactics that we saw from Thrawn in Rebels are in this book which was a nice tie-in.

Furthermore, I liked Thrawn’s relationship with Eli Vanto. Eli starts out as Thrawn’s aide but he quickly develops into a protégée. Eli learns about the art of warfare from Thrawn and Thrawn learns from Eli too. Indeed, Thrawn lacks political nous and he relies on Eli to guide him through the pitfalls of the Empire. Thrawn also has Governor Arihnda Pryce as an ‘ally’ to school him in political matters.

Pryce’s Backstory and Thrawn’s Motives

Thrawn_&_Pryce

Arihnda Pryce is also a character in Star Wars Rebels and, like Thrawn, we also see her rise to power in this book. We get to know more about Pryce’s backstory and we see how far she is willing to go in her quest for power. This was good to see and it was also cool to see Colonel Wullf Yularin appear in this book. He too is a very influential presence and factor in Thrawn’s rise to power. Still, while Pryce and Yularin are necessary to allow Thrawn to rise through the ranks in the Empire, Thrawn does not fully commit himself to the Empire.

Throughout Star Wars: Thrawn, we piece together what Thrawn’s true intentions are. While he seemingly pledges his allegiance to the Empire and the Emperor, he is loyal to the Chiss and the Chiss Ascendancy above all else. Essentially,  Thrawn sees the Empire as a tool to safeguard the Chiss from unknown threats in the galaxy. This was a fascinating revelation and I hope it is developed in future stories in the Star Wars universe.

Overall, Star Wars: Thrawn is another fine addition to the new narrative that Lucasfilm is telling in the Star Wars universe. While a very dense book, it is a much easier read than a similarly dense book in Star Wars: Tarkin. Yet, Star Wars: Thrawn is not my favourite canonical book. It does not reach the same level of quality as Lost Stars or Star Wars: Bloodline do. Still, it is a great read, a great character study of both Thrawn and Pryce and it leaves me excited for Season 4 of Star Wars Rebels.