Retrospective Reviews: A Quiet Place (2018)

Watch this as soon as you can…

Few horror films made today stick with you in quite the same way as A Quiet Place. It is memorable for its unbearable suspense. Telling the story of a family which must maintain constant silence to stay safe in a world filled with predators roaming a post-apocalyptic world. The opening effectively sets the dystopian, brutal tone. With strong performances, a simple but effective premise, and an incessant sense of anxiety, this is a horror to be remembered.

The central premise of the film is that all the characters have to avoid making noise. If they keep quiet, they will be able to live their lives without threat from the roaming monsters which now dominate the American landscape. As this film masterfully exploits, keeping quiet is difficult. Very difficult. As a result, the film leaves the viewer constantly feeling anxious. Every sound used is effective and amplified by the silence. A simple knock of a glass bottle becomes one of the most impactful jump scares in recent memory. Evelyn (Emily Blunt) is a pregnant mother too, serving as a time bomb in an atmosphere already leaving us with a crippling sense of tension.

This tone is set up with a gripping and brutal opening. We get poignantly dystopian shots of a civilisation collapsed. Empty supermarkets and forgotten streets. A toy is turned on and tragedy strikes the family, in a ruthless and shocking death that comes and goes as quickly as the predators. The stakes are real, and the film maintains this momentum, and all the scares.

Despite the desolation, there is something hopeful and moving about the Abbott family making do and bonding together through this tough environment. John Krasinski is not just a director with a craftsman’s control of suspense. He is also one of the lead actors, portraying Lee Abbot as  a practical but caring father. Emily Blunt plays Evelyn, conveying the agony and strength of her character credibly. The two child actors, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe, also deliver solid performances as children shaped by, and adapted to, a hostile environment. Despite the brutal horror, the family moments add a lot of emotional weight to this film. An emotional weight that pays off in the final act with yet another crushing twist.

The family are very likeable and you want them to survive. Sadly, this is not guaranteed. Krasinski has created a suspenseful film set in a perilous post-apocalyptic landscape. Everything is silent, survival depending on the quiet, until a mistake is made, and you are forced to jump out of your seat. This is a horror that sticks with you. Once the credits roll, the only sound you can hear are cries for A Quiet Place 2.

Doctor Sleep (2019) Review

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Doctor Sleep was created under two shadows. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, and Stephen King‘s two novels (sharing titles with the films) are both adored and considered classics. It would be easy for this new film by Mike Flanagan to get overshadowed by such cultural touchstones. At some points, it does feel that way, as the set up goes on for way too long, and the villain is not particularly threatening. However, once the film gets going, it is a gripping horror, with a strong cast and writing, in its own right.

The film is two and a half hours long. During the first hour, you really feel it. The pacing is slow, and most of the plot threads here are uninteresting and unconnected to the main story, depicting the grown up Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) protecting Abra (Kyliegh Curran) from a vampire-like cult of “shining” eaters. Abra is not properly introduced until nearly fifty minutes in. Yet, her story is central to the plot. Everything before her introduction feels extraneous, unnecessary and boring. The first fifty minutes could have easily been cut down so we can get to the much stronger second half.

The laborious first half is not helped by the fact the villain is not particularly threatening. What made Kubrick’s The Shining so scary was the intangibility of the Onlook Hotel. The sequel has concrete villains, Rose the hat and her cult of vampire-like predators. You can see, touch and hurt them. As a result, the threat levels are not so high. This gets worse in the second half, when it becomes clear none of them are any real threat to Abra. She is slightly too powerful to feel anxious for her safety. A similar problem plagues the Star Wars sequel trilogy, with Rey being way too powerful for Kylo Ren to be considered a threat.

However, whilst the villains get worse in the second half, everything else improves. The performances really make this movie shine. Ewan McGregor gives a muted but nuanced performance of the traumatised and damaged Danny Torrance. Kyliegh Curran is further proof that child actors do not necessarily have to be a detriment to a film. She possesses superb screen presence as Abra. Carl Lumbly is an excellent casting choice for Dick Hallorann too. If it were not for the passing of a few decades, Lumbly could have easily sold himself as being the same actor to play Dick Hallorann in the last Shining movie. The performances just about hold your interest during a boring first half, and shine brightly once the second half begins.

Once it does, the promised tension, horror and scares are delivered. The score has a sleepy creepiness to it that enhances some really well put together scenes. One notable example is the scene when Abra uses the shining in her bed. The scene is put together like an intense serious of still frames, heightened by the score. There are effective uses of body horror too, such as Rose using the axe on Danny, or when Rose’s fingers get trapped in a filing cabinet.

Doctor Sleep also pays satisfying homage to Kubrick’s The Shining. Despite primarily being a faithful adaptation of Stephen King’s two books, the film also draws a lot from Kubrick. The opening shot of Danny on the tricycle is taken from the original, for example. Scenes of Danny in an office, or him sitting across from the bartender in the infamous hotel bar, serve as fun trips down memory lane. The tributes to the previous film turn into a bit of an obsession towards the end, as the twins, the chase through the icy hedge maze, and flashbacks to Jack Torrance attacking his wife Wendy, are just randomly thrown into the film, adding even more to its length. Nevertheless, most of the call backs to the past are tasteful, subtle, and appreciated.

Doctor Sleep is a good film that could have done with a more rigorous editor. Most of the first hour did not really need to be so drawn out. Perhaps taking out a few of the scenes where Abra easily defeats this cult of vampires could have improved the film too, as the villains would have felt more like a threat. However, other than these nitpicks, Doctor Sleep proves to be a worthy sequel. Delivering its own scares, providing great performances, and paying homage to the original film without being too dependent on it, Doctor Sleep is a worthwhile way to celebrate Halloween this weekend.

Retrospective Reviews: The Star Wars Prequels (1999-2005)

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The Star Wars prequel trilogy gets a lot of hate. Yes, there is some bad acting, childish humour, and some truly unconvincing dialogue, but this hate still feels undeserved. The bad is balanced out by the good- ironically, the ultimate goal of the protagonists in this saga. Some of the most creative villains ever put to screen, exciting battles and a remarkably well told story more than make up for the flaws just described.

Of course, the prequel trilogy gets a lot wrong. Jar Jar Binks is as annoying and unfunny as everyone says. His portrayal is borderline negative racial stereotyping as well, particularly with the long ears and the Caribbean accent. There is not much that can be said in defence of this character, other than the fact he is steadily phased out during the later part of the trilogy. Jar Jar Binks also represents a larger problem of quite childish humour throughout. However, this is easier to defend. The prequel trilogy came out over a decade after the original trilogy concluded. George Lucas had a choice: make films that only appeal to the older fans, or try to sell the magic of Star Wars to a much younger audience as well. Including characters and humour aimed at children could have been done with more balance, but their inclusion was ultimately necessary.

The performances in these films are bad. Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor are uncharacteristically weak. Whilst Ewan McGregor’s “you’re the chosen one” speech and Natalie Portman’s confession of love in Attack of the Clones are well-delivered and add a lot of emotional weight to their respective scenes, but generally they are at their weakest. Hayden Christensen is also clunky and inexperienced. It is like he is acting with no preconceived idea of what makes good acting. He probably should not have been cast in the role. Only Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon offers a saving grace on the acting front. The rest of it is bad.

To be fair to Christensen, he was not given great dialogue. The infamous “I hate sand” compliment is tough to digest; although, there is something realistic about the corny badness of the chat up line. We’ve all complimented people we find attractive, but not all of us are Shakespeare. Still, it is a bad line. Having one of Darth Vader’s first moments be plagued by a cheesy bellow of the word “nooooooooo!” was an unwise creative choice. The dialogue was also unconvincing. Real people do not talk like this- surely someone on set realised this?

However, everything the prequel trilogy gets wrong is balanced out by what it gets right.

The story is told with a masterful control of audience knowledge and expectation. Anakin’s story is so engrossing precisely because it is being told in the prequel trilogy. There is a tragic sense of inevitability throughout the trilogy. Every decision Anakin makes is given extra weight because we know it is another step on his journey towards the dark side. Knowing Palpatine is the Emperor also adds another layer of enjoyment to the prequels. Every decision made in his favour frustrates us because we have the benefit of hindsight which the characters do not have. Further, the famous Order 66 sequence works so well because we know the Jedi will eventually be wiped out. When we see them getting attacked by the clones, we have no hope for them. The sequence has a very despairing and despondent tone. The story plays with audience knowledge perfectly.

The overarching story never dominates each particular film, though. Despite having a narrative cohesion the sequel trilogy can only dream to possess ( The Rise of Skywalker does not feel like a grand finale to an epic story in the same vein as Revenge of the Sith), each episode of the prequels feels standalone with its own superb villain and thrilling set pieces. Of course, Dooku, Maul and Grievous were never going to touch the iconic status of Darth Vader, but you have to admire the creativity behind these villains. George Lucas could have given up and simply used established villains from the original trilogy- the films would have been a success. Yet, he chose to give us a dual lightsaber wielding athletic apprentice of the Sith, a separatist rebelling against the established order of the Republic, and a living being/robot hybrid with an insecure desire to prove he is as powerful as any Jedi. Grievous has a very memorable walk and design- in fact, all the villains are memorable in their own way. This is probably helped by the fact they all take part in excellent action sequences that are filled with tension: the lightsaber duel between Maul, Qui Gon and Obi Wan; Count Dooku vs. Yoda; the chase between Obi Wan and General Grievous. These films are just so entertaining and memorable.

The Star Wars prequels are weak movies. Poorly directed, some of the creative choices are baffling. The performances elicited are weak, and the casting of Hayden Christensen was a poor choice. However, under this cracked surface is a gripping story that you cannot take your eyes from as you watch it unfold, and some thrilling action between memorable characters, good and bad. Give the prequels a second chance.

The Addams Family (2019) Review

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On paper, this film should have worked. There is a star-studded cast, a decent score, and it is modernising a beloved franchise: giving it an animated makeover and updating its story for the 21st century. Sadly, it does not work.

The casting director has put together a star-studded cast. Oscar Isaac plays Gomez, Charlize Theron plays Morticia, Chloe Grace Mortez and Finn Wolfhard play the two children. Unfortunately, it is not realised to its full potential. If you did not google the cast beforehand or saw none of the advertising, you would not be able to tell that these high calibre actors are in the movie. They offer boring performances utterly devoid of life and energy, dressed up in generic European accents.

The animation style is equally dry. Whilst the creative decision to take inspiration from the original cartoons from the New Yorker, published between 1938 and 1988, is a good idea, for the characters look great, the successful creative decisions end there. The rest of the characters are unoriginal stereotypes of what normal people look like. They have no memorable personality traits in either their character or in their design. The animation style in general lacks personality. These are supernatural characters. This provides the perfect excuse to get creative. The directors could have crazy, random things happening in the background, or subtly play with the character designs throughout the film, or anything. Yet, the animation style is static, as if the tap of creativity stopped working once the basic designs for the Addams family were created. This may be an animated version of the Addams family, but they are not animated.

There are some good ideas for updating the Addams family for the 21st century. Margaux (Allison Janney) is a reality TV show host acting as the fact for a home renovation show, and wants to renovate the Addams family home. When she does not get her own way, she uses social media to spread lies and rumours, ultimately to rally a mob against the family. This is a good idea for bridging an eighty one year old source material with issues in the present day. However, the only slightly memorable aspect of this film is the score. The rest of it is dull, meaning you ultimately do not care very much about what the film has to say about social media culture.

With a cast of actors uncharacteristically not on form and a boring animation style, there is not much to get excited about here. The Addams Family will continue to be remembered as a TV show with iconic film adaptations following in the 1990s. This film will be a good chance to get a Pointless answer on the BBC quiz show, if anyone cares to remember it. These characters may be ghouls, but that is no excuse for such a lifeless movie.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) Review

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Unlike a machine, this film series was starting to get a little tired. Rise of the Machines, Salvation, and Genisys were all lacklustre and forgettable in comparison to the gems that came before it. As a result, no one was that excited when Terminator: Dark Fate was announced. Yet, the return of James Cameron, as producer, and Linda Hamilton, created cautious hope among old fans. Whilst it may not prove a defining action film of the 2010s, it is a solid Terminator that delivers where many of the previous sequels failed.

Following from the previous post, it is hard to say whether Terminator: Dark Fate actually does modernise the Terminator concept. The fact it can duplicate itself and take on other people’s identities may speak to fears surrounding identity, over not really knowing who you are talking to online. But the T-1000 could do that, so the only new thing about Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) is the duplication. To be fair, this is a cool concept perfectly realised. The clashes between Grace and Rev-9 are thrilling; a lot of fun to watch, whether you are new to, or familiar with, the series. The fight choreography and the chase sequences are filled with the adrenaline and sense of urgency that made the first two films so entertaining. Rev-9 going down as one of the more memorable villains of the decade is unlikely, but it is definitely a worthy adversary to keep us on the edge of our seats for two hours.

One thing that can be said with certainty is that this film looks to the past, a lot. The new threat does move on from Skynet, to a new AI villain called Legion, but its plan, and thus the premise of the film, is taken straight from Skynet and the original film. Also, there are many call backs to the original two films: “I’ll be back”, Linda Hamilton returns as Sarah Connor, as badass as ever, and Arnie does not miss out on the reunion party (he refuses to wear the sunglasses this time, though). This is a film attempting to woo back fans of the series with nostalgia. Fortunately, it is not too much, and every recourse to the past is justified. An cameo from a past character is not what you would expect, and is used to create an extremely powerful opening- particularly shocking for fans of the series, but still startling if you don’t know the context. Further, it also addresses a hole in Skynet’s plan many fans have noticed in the decades following James Cameron’s masterpieces. It is a great opening, and a nostalgic call back done right. (The fact the story of this film, and its production credits, go to James Cameron himself, explains a lot.) This film does bathe in the past and provides a lot of fan service, but it is not overbearing, and most of it is justified.

The film does move the franchise forward, though. Reyes and Davis are flawed, likeable, and as strong as the new characters, Daniella and Grace. Welcome additions to the cast, they bring a lot of emotion to the action and the spectacle. You want them to survive and succeed as much as they do. Linda Hamilton takes Sarah Connor into new, darker territory magnificently, whilst also balancing that out with humour and sass. She really is the star of the show, and never allows for the criticism the she is just repeating her performances from the first two films.

The humour, the action, and the character-driven plot all add up to an electrifying sixth film for the franchise (“third” film in the series chronology). Sixth films in a series are rarely this good. It may not be revolutionary, or prove to be a defining film of the decade, but this is easily the best Terminator film since Terminator 2: Judgement Day; a film that can please the fans and wow newcomers at the same time.

Why Terminator: Dark Fate Will Probably Fail

Terminator: Dark Fate is unlikely to capture the public imagination in the same way the Terminator did in 1984. James Cameron being involved in this new one is unlikely to change that. The reason why is because The Terminator is a villain out of time.

Successful villains always reflect the period in which they have been created. There is a reason why Rocky had to defeat a near unstoppable Russian boxer in Rocky IV, released in 1985, only four years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Terrorists seemed to be the only villains in the 2000s, during the War on Terror. Villains only capture the imagination when they reflect the cultural anxieties of the time.

In science fiction released in the decades following World War Two, villainous alien threats seemed to echo the Nazis. The Daleks and the Galactic Empire are two examples: the Daleks with their ideology of purity, and the Galactic Empire’s uniform deliberately echoed Nazi uniforms. Arguably, neither of these villains work quite as well now. The First Order in the Star Wars sequel trilogy has not captured the public imagination as well as the Galactic Empire did, despite being a carbon copy (clone?). The Daleks in Doctor Who are being used less and less because they do not terrify young fans anymore. A possible reason for this is the fact we have moved away further and further from World War Two. Nazi imagery does not scare in the same way. With the rise of Holocaust deniers and the election of far-right politicians across the West, you could argue Nazi imagery has lot its potency in film. Instead, new things have terrified audiences: Russians in the 80s, Artificial Intelligence in the 90s and 00s, Terrorists from the Middle East in the 00s. Villains reflect the cultural anxieties of the time.

The Terminator concept was used as a villain successfully in 1984, and even more successfully in 1991. We are approaching 2021 now. The Terminator is a villain stuck in the wrong time, ironically. Even if Genisys was a masterpiece, or if Dark Fate proves to be a remarkable return to form for the franchise, this fact will not change. The Terminator was created at a time where technology was new, and something to be apprehensive about. Now, technology is everywhere. We are less scared of it.

In the 2010s, villains seem to reflect not just our fears over societal destruction, but fear that it will be caused by our own behaviour. Thanos wipes out half the universe in Avengers: Infinity War because we have exploited planetary resources, and the potential for environmental catastrophe is rising. This reflects real fears now: just take a look at Extinction Rebellion. Joker’s eponymous protagonist is a reflection of our inability to empathise with those who are different, and those who seem strange to us. The film also highlights lack of funding for mental health, which ultimately leads to Arthur having no one to stop him from becoming Joker. Towards the end of the film, Arthur/Joker describes himself as “what you fucking deserve”. Killmonger is another example of a villain serving as a natural response to a societal wrong: racial oppression in America has led to Killmonger seeking revenge in Black Panther. Successful villains in the 2010s seem to follow this same idea: they are a response to something society has got wrong.

Terminator: Dark Fate still remains to be watched. It could do a good job of updating the Terminator concept for the 2010s, giving it more layers so that it reflects cultural anxieties of today. If it does not, then Dark Fate will remain a forgotten sequel stuck in the past.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Trailers (My Thoughts)

Recently, I have been rewatching all the Star Wars movies in chronological order, including all the films outside all the main nine episodes. With the release of a new trailer, and a trailer from a couple of months ago, for the closing episode of the entire saga, I should feel more excited. Sadly, I don’t.

Not because I hated Star Wars: The Last Jedi. In fact, I am part of that small faction within the fandom that enjoyed the controversial changes and subversions to the established formula. Rather, The Rise of Skywalker seems less exciting because it deliberately trying to reverse these controversial changes. Palpatine’s return seems to be a direct response to the criticism over Snoke’s death, for example. The trailers for Episode IX, so far, have felt like apologies for the last film, which is hardly the most exciting message to send.

Trilogies are meant to build momentum, and feed off the emotion and enjoyment you felt for the last two. There are meant to be high stakes as the third film is meant to be the boiling point for all the developing storylines so far. Star Wars Episode IX’s trailer gives us none of that. The trailer is vage on plot details, showing only cool shots, impressive special effects, and hints towards character growth, all to the familiar Star Wars score. It wants us to feel like The Last Jedi never happened.

Further, this desire to appear more familiar and less subversive than The Last Jedi creates for an uneven tone across the whole trilogy. The Force Awakens heavily borrowed from A New Hope and effectively created an appealing feel of nostalgia. The Last Jedi wanted to take the series in a new and unexpected direction. This latest film appears to be going back to the nostalgia and sameness of The Force Awakens. It is hard to get excited when the phrase “the saga concludes” appears on screen because this part of the saga does not feel cohesive, neither in tone nor direction. This does not feel like a big finale; rather, it just feels like the third of Disney’s Star Wars episodes.

From the trailer, it does seem like it will be a solid episode in its own right. There is an impressive shot of Kylo Ren walking through the rain. The shots of spacecrafts promise skeptical. The shots of Kylo and Rey together tease possible, interesting avenues for the character development of both characters.

Whilst it may feel like a solid Star Wars film that I have no doubt will be a success, this film trailer does not sell The Rise of Skywalker as a conclusive finale to a cohesive trilogy. Instead, the trailer feels like a “let’s start again? I’m sorry” message. The wrong message to send for the final film in a nine part saga.

Zombieland: Double Tap (2019) Review

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For better or worse, if you loved the original Zombieland, then you will love its sequel. It does not move the story along, rehashing elements of the original, and the action sequences are still the least exciting parts of the film. However, it is equally as funny and the characters are as likeable as ever.

Before the film even starts, the film has you laughing out loud. The Columbia logo is invaded by zombies, and Columbia herself turns feisty in her self-defence. It is a brilliant, surprising and funny way to open the film. And the laughs keep on coming. There are so many funny moments to choose from: the introduction of the “Homer” zombie, Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) finding out Little Rock is not only dating a “MUSICIAN”, but a pacifist too, and the introduction of the doppelganger group, to name a few. (Although, the doppelganger group joke was done much better in Shaun of the Dead, it is still amusing here). If you found the first one funny, then you will laugh at this one too.

The subtleness of many of the jokes is also a great. Like the first one, many of the jokes will pass you by if you are not paying enough attention. We have a scene where they quickly sign a pardoning order for Wesley Snipes, a quick drive past a broken sign saying “Jesus will save you”, and a Garfield poster in the mall pays off later in a pleasant post-credits scene. This film knows that it is at its strongest when the action is limited and the comedy is allowed free reign. None of the action sequences are particularly exciting; although, it is refreshing that the film avoids the typical resolution, for film’s of this genre, of a shootout. Fortunately, the film focuses on the comedy, and the subtle gags. Zombieland: Double Tap will benefit from multiple re-watches as you unpack many of the hidden gags.

In fact, Rhett Rese, Paul Wernick and David Callahan’s script is tight throughout. There are references used with impeccable timing for maximum laughs: “time to teach Lenny about the rabbits”, followed by the cock of a gun, is a personal favourite. The double entendres feel original and fresh in comparison to most comedies that will lazily use references to size for a cheap gag: the “driveway” one and the “belonged to the first lady” lines spring to mind. The fact the hippie sanctuary is called Babylon does not merely refer to the size of the tower, but it is also highly suggestive of their arrogance over their pacifistic lifestyle. The script is well-written and surprisingly thoughtful.

And, it is magnificently brought to life by the cast of characters. Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, Woody Harrelson and Emma Stone are as delightful in this sequel as they were in the original. The family dynamic, and the loveable characters, does not grow or develop enough to really justify the existence of this sequel. The film’s opening reverses the ending of the first one slightly in order to rehash the “will they won’t they” romantic subplot between Columbus and Wichita, in fact. Nevertheless, the characters are a joy to spend an hour and a half with. It is a fan service sequel with nothing to offer in terms of developing the story and the characters; even so, these characters are so human and likeable that you can forgive this.

Whether you enjoy this film is dependent on your answer to this question: did you enjoy the first one? If you did, very little has changed in terms of story, and there has been no improvement in the action. However, if you did, then you have got an hour and a half of dark comedy gold to enjoy.

The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019) Review

Watch this as soon as you can…

The debut film from Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz certainly has the best title of any film in 2019. Not only is the title unique and brilliant, the rest of the film is too. With strong performances and a heart-warming tone throughout, this buddy comedy movie is definitely going to be a crowd-pleaser.

The film has a thin plot. It is essentially a buddies on the road movie, but set on a river for the most part, aligning it closely with Mark Twain’s classic Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. As expected with films of this genre, the plot is quite simple and loose. Zak (Zack Gottsagen)

has Down syndrome and is living reluctantly in an assisted living facility; Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) is his carer. Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) is a thief and fisherman. Both Zak and Tyler choose to run away from their old lives, and meet chance. Once the journey begins, the plot becomes much more episodic as the characters drift from encounter to encounter. This film has a light and breezy storytelling style. It takes its time and there is no sense of a narrative drive as the characters drift and bond.

This is why the film works so well. The lack of plot allows the filmmakers to focus on the characters and their growing relationship. The central trio have great chemistry and it is a joy to see them interact on the raft. Invigorating these characters are three stellar performances. Shia LaBeouf convincingly captures the cautious reclusiveness of Tyler at the beginning, and sells his gradual opening up as he steps into an older brother role for Zak. Zack Gottsagen is endearing and extremely funny as Zak. The best thing is the humour of the film, prevalent and brilliant throughout, never feels like it is at Zak’s expense. Whoever said comedy is dead in a world gone PC and woke clearly has not seen this film. It is inclusive and humorous. Dakota Johnson does not get loads to do as Eleanor, but, when she is on screen, she is extremely likeable and satisfactorily conveys the central dilemma of Eleanor’s role as a carer: does she let Zak do what makes him happy, or do what all her training says is best for him? The core impetus of this film is the growing relationship between these characters as they travel together. This journey is a moving  joy, tugging at the heartstrings as Tyler would tug at his sails, whilst also making you laugh.

Adding to this heart-warming tone is an excellent score. There is sweet, shy music playing in the background of the opening few shots, and this perfectly sets the tone of the movie. This film feels like a nostalgic memory about a lost summer from childhood, and the score is a big part of that (as is the gorgeous shots of the sunset yellow clouds in the sky) The score and cinematography capture the sense of adventure and joyous wonder that defines the film’s central characters.

Whilst this film may be sweet, one disconcerting element is the power dynamic between the three characters. The fact Eleanor and Tyler develop a romantic relationship, whilst Zak the character they both care about and bond over, sets up a parents/child dynamic. This ultimately goes against the core message of the film: you should not underestimate Zak and his abilities simply because he has Down syndrome. However, other than this nit-pick, the film mostly delivers its core message clearly and succinctly. One scene that particularly sticks to mind is when Tyler says to Eleanor “you may not be using the word ‘retard’ but you are sure as hell making him feel like one”. This is a film dedicated to changing the perception of people with Down syndrome as people who are victims, as this can be discriminatory, as is using slurs to insult them. As we see Zak grow as a character and follow his dreams, the challenge against the perception of people with Down syndrome as victims incapable of everything grows stronger.

This film has an important message, but one that never feels forced or obvious. It is told through a remarkably moving story too. With excellent performances, a great score, and fantastic shots to add to the breezy, this moving story has a radiance most will want to soak up and enjoy.

Abominable (2019) Review

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Don’t worry. Abominable‘s title is not a reflection on the film itself. In fact, there is a lot to enjoy here, with likeable characters and flourishes of creativity in the film’s second half. However,  these bursts of inspiration are few and far between.

Yi (Chloe Bennet) is a likeable and relatable protagonist. She is unhappy in life, but never complains. She wants to travel across China and is quietly saving money by doing the odd job here and there, rather than burden her family with such expenses. Fortunately, she gets her chance when she meets Everest, the yeti. “Adorable” may have been a better title for the film because Everest proves to have the cute excitement of a new puppy. He wants to go back home, to “Everest”, so Yi finally gets her chance to travel, whilst also protecting a creature she cares deeply about. Many of the other characters do feel like stereotypes, such as Peng and Jin, or rip offs from other movies: Burnish (Eddie Izzard) is very similar to the villain in Up, for example. Further, the core relationship borrows heavily from a superior Dreamworks Animation movie, How to Train Your Dragon. The side characters are here to serve a function, and prove to be no more than stereotypical fluff. This may limit the chances of Abominable being remembered this time next year, but it is not necessarily a bad thing. It gives the film more time to make Yi an endearing protagonist you want to spend an hour and a half with, even if the other characters are less developed.

A lack of originality does not just plague the cast of characters. Even from the opening few minutes, you know you are in for a derivative film. Dr Zara (Sara Paulson) says “no sudden movements” at one point. The opening action sequence is mostly told from the first person perspective of Everest the yeti. Choosing to include Coldplay’s “Fix You” in the soundtrack at a “moving” moment in the story is talent show level lazy and uninspired.

Although, there are sparks of creativity here and there. Crisp editing and transitions make the changeover from one scene to the next more satisfying and smooth. We are treated to some imaginative sequences only animation can provide: clouds shaped like koi carp, giant blueberries, a field of flowers becoming a wave for the lead characters to surf on (this is all explained in the movie). There is a twist at the end which surprises well. The setting of Shanghai is a refreshing change for a Dreamworks film, and the city is beautifully realised.  So there are moments where writer-director Jill Culton steps away from established formulae.

Unfortunately, it is not enough to make this film as memorable as a film like Toy Story 4 from earlier this year. Abominable is a good film, with a likeable protagonist, a cute yeti, and an even more endearing relationship between the two. Some of the settings and action sequences, and the transitions between them, look great. The only thing holding this film back is a sense of originality; as a result, it never reaches the heights of previous Dreamworks films.