Pete’s Dragon

A truly affecting and oh-so-lovely modern fairytale.

I saw this yesterday with my friend Galia. I think we both went in thinking, eh this will just be a kids movie. We both left the cinema post-film as hot messes having cried, a lot. Having not seen the original movie from 1977 and choosing not to look up the film beyond the trailer I expected to be entertained. I hadn’t expected to be so completely moved. Few films are this much of a treat to watch and even fewer will leave you feeling so drained yet consumed by a happy glow. A cinematic gem with little equal!

Five year-old Pete (Oakes Fegley) was orphaned by a car accident. Lost and alone in the woods it looks certain that he will not survive for long. However help, and friendship, comes in the most unlikely and unbelievable of places – a dragon who lives in the woods. Pete names his new friend Elliot and six years of undisturbed friendship follow. However after spying on a of lumberjacks a series of events results in Pete being discovered and taken away by park ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard). She, and the rest of the town, cannot believe that Pete survived six years on his own in the woods. Yet Pete is insistent he wasn’t alone, though he struggles to explain who/what Elliot actually is. Maybe Grace’s father (Robert Redford), who has claimed for decades that he once meet a dragon in the very same woods, will be able to help?

It’s actually a real struggle to explain just how wonderful, marvellous, fantastic this movie is without repeatedly using the aforementioned adjectives. It’s just so ruddy lovely! Part of this surprise and pleasure comes from how unexpectedly brilliant the film is. Considering how certain disappointments (again I’m going to name and shame Suicide Squad here) have been advertised non-stop for months Pete’s Dragon quietly got on. Some beautiful posters here and a very well-done trailer there a quiet buzz was created as opposed to some enormous fiery roar. Whilst this certainly works in the film’s favour it’s the quality of what on over here that truly casts a wondrous spell over the audience.

Few films, be that kids movies or otherwise, are this captivating and beautiful. For the visuals alone are gorgeous – the settings are spectacular and the special effects of a certain friendly dragon are fantastic. The character’s are brilliant as are the actor’s performances. Bryce Dallas Howard (who I found rather problematic in last year’s Jurassic World) is warm and delightful as Grace. Redford is a charming old codger, a likeable grandfather-figure with that certain twinkle in his eyes.  Wes Bentley is more than fine as Grace’s fiancee, Karl Urban is yet again a treat to watch (his second great role of this year after Star Trek Beyond) as his gung-ho  brother and Oona Laurence gives a really lovely performance as Jack’s daughter and Pete’s new-found friend.

Yet the two stars of this movie have to the the eponymous duo. Fegley as Pete is so captivating and heartfelt to watch. His backstory, which opens the film, is as dark and emotional as that of Bambi (1942). His performance is so natural and carefree that he is a real to joy to watch. The fact his main screen companion is a product of computer animation provides him with no trouble (just as Neel Sethi in this year’s The Jungle Book) and he convinces us with ease. My maternal instinct really made regular appearances as we watch his various emotional turmoils. I also fell in love with Elliot the dragon – so much so I’ve got a niggling need to buy this plushie from the Disney Store. He’s a magnificent cinematic creation, fully developed with a great balance between goof, charm and undivided loyalty. It says so much about the developments in cinema that a computer generated character such as Elliot fits in seamlessly. Elliot looks, sounds and moves like a real creature – something I desperately wish for! 

‘Pete’s Dragon’ is a true pleasure to watch for both children and adults. It’s completely charming, sincerely soulful and magnificently mystical. Unlikely to be beaten for the title of family movie of 2016.

4.5

Pete’s Dragon is in UK cinemas now. 

 

Maggie’s Plan

A film well worth planning to see

You have a choice this weekend. You could see cold and divisive Neon Demon (click here for my review) or you could see this proper gem of a movie. It’s so warm and smart, meandering about with utterly superb dialogue. It’s immensely well observed and occasionally practically profound – just how much can we plan and how much do we leave to the hands of destiny?

Maggie (Greta Gerwig) wants a baby. Needs one even. Except she hasn’t got a partner so she’s going to go it alone and use a sperm donor. A friend from college, Guy (Travis Fimmel), is more than happy to help. Best friend Tony (Bill Hader) and his wife Felicia (Maya Rudolph) think she should wait a bit longer, just in case she meets someone. She does, and her plan is interupted by a meet-cute with married John (Ethan Hawke). An affair follows and he leaves his wife, Georgette (Julianne Moore), for Maggie. Three years later and Maggie has the child she was desperate for, but she’s starting to have serious doubts about her relationship with John. Maybe she can give him back to his first wife..?

Several reviews are referring to this film as a screwball comedy. Personally I think the pace is slightly too slow to categorise it as screwball – not a criticism as I love the pace but screwball comedies are noted for their break-neck speed of story and delivery. However, this has many other elements of screwball. Think Woody Allen meets Jane Austen in terms of the characters and their dialogue.Greta Gerwig provides another knitwear-atired delight (I really wish I was friends with her!) who is utterly sympathetic in a role that could easily not be. Maggie is simillar to Emma (title character of Austen’s 1815 novel) as she is a matchmaker who loves to be in control, who is unable to let other forces control hers or others lives.

Hawke is fantastic as John, both glorifying and sending up the figure of intellectual. He also delivers what will most likely be my favourite line of 2016 cinema – “Like is a language condom.” It’s obvious that he is having the time of his life playing this character, which hugely pays off as it’s delightful to watch. The interactions he has with Maggie both convert then subvert the expectations of the romantic comedy, resulting in the film being both old-fashioned yet astutely modern.

The scenes when Gerwig and Moore share screen time are truly electric. All too rarely do we get such well-rounded female figures on the screen at the same time, they bounce off each other and the result is electric. What’s fantastic is how layered Moore’s character is. It would have been all too easy to have her as a woman scorned, who pushed her incredible man away with the glacial and disinterested temperament. We quickly learn there is more to her character than her ex-husband revealed, and that John is far from a perfect husband.

A quick note has to be made of just how fantastic the supporting cast are. Bill Hader, yet again, is superb (I want to be his friend too!), Maya Rudolph has little screen time but contributes massively, Travis Fimmel is really likeable as Guy (far more interesting here than he was in Warcraft) and Wallace Shawn has a lovely little cameo.

It’s funny and quirky, may not be for everyone, but for many it will be a winning comedy-drama. An utter delight to watch!

4.5

Elvis & Nixon

Yep. Actually a true, and very funny, story.

Upon seeing the trailer you may have felt a ‘Woah, that’s weirdly brilliant!’ feeling. That feeling lasts the entirety of watching the film itself.  The meeting of two of America’s then most famous/infamous men did actually occur in 1970. In many ways the men were actually quite simillar, seemingly rooted by their conservative values and working class upbringing. Yes, Elvis was the hip-swinging, gyrating King of Rock’n’Roll and Nixon was, well, Richard Nixon. but they did have some shared interests. Or, at least, Elvis thought they did and desperately pursued a meeting with the then President of the United States. The film follows Elvis on his quest and the subsequent meeting, to much audience amusement.

1970, Graceland.  Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon) is watching television on his three television screens. He isn’t happy at what he sees. He sees lots of drugs, lots of protest and lots of unnecessary deaths. He decides that he can do something about it, using his celebrity for good and decides to become an undercover agent in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. He just needs to meet with President Nixon (Kevin Spacey) first to get it all organised. Luckily he’s got friends Jerry (Alex Pettyfer) and Sonny (Johnny Knoxville) to do that. Nixon’s underlings Krogh (Colin Hanks) and Chapin (Evan Peters) are more than keen, but it looks like their boss will need a lot of persuading. 

The film uses the seemingly unlikeliness of the situation/s to advantage. Quite often (arguably too often) the laughs arise from the ‘No way! I don’t believe it.’ school of comedy. Yet that isn’t such a bad thing when you look at just how good the source material and it’s adaptation to screen is. The gags are good, well written and paced and told with great delivery.

I am a huge fan of Michael Shannon (Midnight Special was an underrated gem, click here of review) and he soars in this comedic-yet-not-really-comedic role. At times I had to remind myself I wasn’t actually watching Elvis Presley, not necessarily due to his look but due to his personality, exuding the aura and charisma of one of music’s true greats.

What helps is the film’s moments where he interacts with us mere mortals. The expressions of those he comes across, the mystification and disbelief, do not get old or less funny. His foe-turned-friend Nixon, as played by Kevin Spacey, also creates a truly memorable and hilarious persona, behaving in a way that certainly seems Nixon-esque. Shannon does steal the show though with the best lines and the fact he can truly pull of huge medallions and a massive gold belt.

The film also utilizes its supporting cast to great effect. I loved both Peters and Hanks as the acting-older-than-their-age young suits, their scenes with Spacey were standout. I also rather enjoyed an unrecognisable Knoxville in his brief but memorable role as Elvis’s close friend. Pettyfer, as Elvis’s BFF, was the only disappointment. He should have been a character played with warmth and wit. Instead he was a bit of a charisma vacuum.

All in all, Elvis & Nixon is fun to watch based on a true story movie that is more than a little bit amusing. Worth a watch.

stars