FILM REVIEWS:

CHICKEN RUN: DAWN OF THE NUGGET (UK 2023) ****

Directed by Sam Fell

 

At the start of the new CHICKEN RUN film from the British Aardman Animation, the father rooster tells the unborn chick i.e. the egg the history of the chicken farm he and his missus, Ginger lived in.  It was back when in the countryside of Yorkshire, a flock of chickens lived on an egg farm structured like a prisoner-of-war camp.  The farm is run by the cruel Mrs. Tweedy and her submissive husband, Mr Tweedy, who would kill and eat any chicken that is no longer able to lay eggs.  Led by the rebellious Ginger, the chickens constantly devise new ways to try to escape but are always caught. Mr Tweedy suspects the chickens are organized and plotting resistance, but his wife dismisses his theories while being frustrated with making minuscule profits.  But the chickens finally escape while the newspapers scream: Fowl Play.  If the story sounds familiar, it is the story of the first CHICKEN RUN film, a box-office success made back in 2000.  Now 23 years later, the long-awaited sequel has finally hatched.  And it gets quite a many clucks!

After successfully escaping from Tweedys' farm in a daring and risky manner, Ginger has discovered her ideal place – an idyllic island bird sanctuary where the entire flock can live in harmony, without any risks from humans. With the arrival of her(Thandiwe Newton) and Rocky's (Zachary Levi), new daughter, Molly (Bella Ramsey), it appears that Ginger's fairytale ending has finally come true. However, the entire chicken population is now confronted with a menacing new danger on the mainland led by a familiar foe. Determined to safeguard their freedom, even if it means endangering it, Ginger and her team are determined to break in the new building.

The story involves inquisitive Molly who wants to leave paradise and see the world.  She escapes in the dark of night and follows a chicken farm truck to the factory where they slaughter chickens to make chicken nuggets and other chicken products.  Of course, hot on the heels are Ginger and Rocky,

You don’t say you are chicken for nothing.  A funny scene has a group of chickens in a delicate situation.  “Don’t panic!” cries one of them.  “Whatever you do, don’t panic!”  I don’t feel like panicking,” says one. There are also plenty of puns like ‘fowl play” and ‘loose shell” when a runaway egg is on the loose.

Where are the humans in all this?  They are a stupid lot, says one chicken.  They clean and tidy out cages every day - a complete waste of time.  And the humans are easily fooled when the chickens break into the chicken farm to rescue Molly,

The chickens and humans are voiced by a well-known and talented British cast, including Miranda Richardson as Mrs. Tweedy, Imelda Staunton as Bunty, and other heavyweights like Daniel Mays, Jane Horrocks, Thandiwe Newton and Zachary Levi.

CHICKEN RUN: DAWN OF THE NUGGET is the perfect Christmas film - silly, smart, very British and mostly free (if one has Netflix, of course) as it is streaming on Netflix beginning December 15th.

 

 Trailer:

JACOB THE BAKER (USA 2023) **

Directed by Rev Miron

 

To the reporter (Darra Emery) featured int he film, her journalism job/interview is not only a career but a calling.  She pleads to her boss to give her an assignment that matters.  Maybe in this movie, she gets one.  As expected her new assignment would be one that would open her eyes to something she saw would never expect.  This is the movie of JACOB THE BAKER.

Based on the international bestselling book series, Jacob the Baker follows this young reporter assigned to interview a world-renowned poet, philosopher, author, and theologian, Noah benShea (he plays himself). The reporter soon discovers how Noah and his fictional character Jacob provide help and hope to countless people around the world. As the interview unfolds, an intimate revelation occurs, exposing the reporter's own hidden struggles.

What could not better than watching a film with the theme of an uplifting spirit during the festive season where goodwill and hope are the human traits are touted?

Why would anyone seek help from a fictional character?  Intercut during the interview, is a tapestry of interconnected human experiences, witnessing characters from all walks of life - the people that were written to Noah via his play character Jason the Baker: a single mother in Milan, a struggling addict in Israel, a woman losing faith in Denmark, a turmoiled marriage in Korea, all seeking wisdom and guidance from Jacob.  These sequences are filmed in different languages from Norwegian to Korean.  The director aims to take the audience through an emotional and introspective journey, where the power of hope and resilience is portrayed through the lens of diverse characters. The aim is the navigation through the realms of spirituality, self-discovery, and interconnectedness, offering an inspirational cinematic experience that resonates long after the credits roll.

However, the film is too condescending throughout.  Take the segment about the two-watch metaphor. When one runs down, the other watch is issued to reset the first.  And again when one watch stops.  For human beings, the audience is told as Noah preaches on stage, they would need to reset the person net to you. As he preaches, the film cuts to two men, one blind aiding another as somber and uplifting music plays on the soundtrack,  One knows it is getting too much when the setting is the sunset when the sun is coming down.

Despite the filmmaker's good intentions, the film tries too hard and has little confidence in the power of its content.  The audience is often played down, preached to, and treated as needy

Noah has a lot of ideas while preaching what heckles his religion which is non-denominational but what he calls the religion of kindness.   He also talks about vulnerability as not being a human weakness.  It is the shared brotherhood and sisterhood.  One problem is that his character during the interview comes across as pompous, opinionated, proud, and over-confident - hardly the traits of a kind preacher.

The film is available on VOD and Digital on December 15th, 2023.

Trailer: 

POOR THINGS (Ireland/UK/USA 2023) ****

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

 

The film POOR THINGS is based on Poor Things: Episodes from the Early Life of Archibald McCandless M.D., Scottish Public Health Officer, a novel by Scottish writer Alasdair Gray, published in 1992.  It won the Whitbread Award and the Guardian Fiction Prize the same year.   The main body of the work centres on Bella Baxter (Emma Stone, working with director Lanthimos again after their successful THE FAVOURITE), a woman whose early life and identity are the subject of some ambiguity.  That ambiguity is complicated by her husband Archibald McCandless's autobiography, "Episodes from the Early Life of a Scottish Public Health Officer," which distorts the truth about his life with Bella. He claims that she was a corpse, resurrected by McCandless's colleague, the scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter (a tattered-faced Willem Defoe), who had her brain swapped with that of her unborn fetus, resulting in her having an infant's mind. While designed to be Baxter's companion, her sexual appetite causes her to pursue other men, including McCandless and a foppish lawyer named Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), with whom she elopes and embarks on a hedonistic odyssey around Europe, Northern Africa, and Central Asia.  The film with an adapted script by Tom McNamara benefits from a simplified story from the novel.  The husband Archibald is done away with and the travels are confined to Europe.

The simplified synopsis: The young woman, Bella, is brought back to life by her guardian, the scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter.  Initially naïve (which Layhimos makes look mentally challenged), Bella is eager to learn about the world around her, albeit under Baxter's protection.  Wanting to see more, she runs off with Duncan Wedderburn, a slick and debauched lawyer, and travels across continents.  Free from the prejudices of her times, Bella demands equality and liberation  Emma encounters many other men of different shapes, sizes and ages. driving Duncan crazy ninth process.

Though set in the Victorian period, the film the gorgeous sets create a fantasy-looking atmosphere similar to the classic film BRAZIL (based on George Orwell’s futuristic novel).

POOR THINGS is Lanthimos at his most extreme, he is given more freedom to make the films he wants owing to his string of box-office artistic hits.  The result is as odd and weird a film can be - and that comes across as a good thing since Lanthimos has continually fascinated audiences with films like THE LOBSTER and my personal favourite THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER.  There are bits from his other films that make their mark in POOR THINGS.  His creativity using animals is also present.  One can observe animal freaks such as a chicken head on a rabbit’s body or a goose-like dog, among other concoctions.  The story also follows Bellas as she comes of age from a woman with a child’s brain to a sex-starved mature woman.  The sexual scenes, disturbing as they are, involving quite a many older and uglier males, come across as more intriguing than disgusting.  Lanthimos's humour is also present throughout, the kind similar to THE FAVOURITE,

POOR THNINS can be considered almost the perfect vehicle for Lanthimos, the director also meeting the author of the book who’s just seen his first film DOGTOOTH. The author has recently passed and the film.  POOR THINGS opens in theatres on December 15th.

Trailer: 

WONKA (USA 2023) ****

Directed by Paul King

 

For Christmas arrives the best Christmas movie for the season - one catering for both children and adults - WONKA.  WONKA is a 2023 musical fantasy film directed by Paul King, who co-wrote the screenplay with Simon Farnaby, based on a story by King.  It tells the origin story of Willy Wonka, a character in the 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, which was also made into the 1971 classic film, featuring his early days as an eccentric chocolatier

WONKA will inevitably be compared to the original Roald Dahl written by Gene Winder starring and Mel Stray directed 1971 classic WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.  Though WONKA is not half bad, the former has elements that cannot be compared to the former - thanks to the wild inventive imagination of Dahl and the big blue eyes of actor Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka.  The awful kids from the spoilt English girl to the greedy German boy to the gleaming eyes of Wonka as he announces surprise after every corner in the factory, the former is pure delight.  The best moments in the original are the Oompa Loompas, the chocolate factory’s workforce of little men.  This is not to mention the catchy songs by Anthony Newley, one of which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song.  A few of these delights are found in WONKA.  There are also catchy songs sung by Timothée Chalamet

The film is not a remake unlike the Johnny Depp version but thankfully and successfully serves as an origin story for Wonka.  Chalamet plays Wonka perfectly with tails and top hat with an impressive supporting cast that includes Olivia Colman, Jim Carter, Sally Hawkins, Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Grant.

WONKA also contains a few catchy songs.  Most musicals these days do not have any, think MARY POPPINS RETURNS, THE COLOUR PURPLE, RENT, HAMILTON, just to name a few.  What’s wrong with these songwriters?  It seems impossible to write a catchy song anymore.  The original songs for WONKA were contributed by Neil Hannon, while its original score was provided by Joby Talbot, with the most catchy one sung by Chalamet, “Come with Me” (actually from the original film sung by Wilder) at the end.

As for the cast, Hugh Grant steals the show playing the dwarf Oompa-Loompa.  Grant is extremely funny with his little moments which are hysterical as well.  There in only one Oompa-Loompa in the film but at least Grant nails it.  Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins adds sentiment as Wonka’s late mother, giving her son a bar of chocolate with a secret.

The film never reveals the setting of the story.  But filming took place in historic Lyme Regis and Bath and at Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden in Watford.  Filming also occurred at the Rivoli Ballroom in Brockley, London.   At the start of the film, Wonka is seen aboard a ship sailing for a port, and he has 11 sovereigns, which was the currency of London at the time.

WONKA succeeds in keeping the delightful spirit of the original WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY alive with colourful characters, and catchy songs in a humorous fairy tale adventure setting.

Trailer: 

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