Kung Fu Panda 3 Review

So, my housemates and I hurried along to see the new Kung Fu Panda film. Being a house of high brow intellectuals, we were the first ones there on opening night, much to the chagrin of my fellow film students. Here are my thoughts on the finale (?) of the Kung Fu Panda trilogy…

In this film, Po (Jack Black) now comfortable in his role as the Dragon Warrior becomes united with his fellow Pandas, and must go on a quest to find who he truly is… (moral heavy – handedness ahead folks, it is a children’s film…). Meanwhile, Master Oogway’s (Randall Duk Kim) former partner Kai (J.K Simmons) returns from the underworld to steal all of the powers (chi) from the Kung Fu Masters in China. Po must master his chi, and discover who he is, within this 95-minute film, in order to defeat him and save China… will he fulfill the prophecy?

SPOILERS AHOY

The major problem with this film, is its abruptness. The previous film set up a really interesting plot line with the discovery of Po’s past, leading to the need to rediscover the Pandas. However, I was surprised when Po’s father appeared (apropos of nothing) alarmingly early in the film. Li (voiced by Bryan Cranston, who seems to have returned back to his comedy work after a brief interlude as a drug lord) magically appears to Po in the noodle shop after the universe has called him there. Whilst it is suggested that we should laugh at this “universe mail”, I found it disappointing that there wasn’t more focus on Po ‘finding himself’ in reuniting with this father (as, perhaps, in traditional Kung Fu stories) and instead this potential narrative is removed entirely – it almost feels like I am deprived something as a spectator by not being allowed to share in Po’s rediscovery of his family in a satisfying and cathartic manner. The reunion is glossed over, and we move on.

As always in Childen’s film, there is a moral. The moral stance of the film, is, as always, to be yourself. Fine. And this message, as expected comes from Po’s need to reconcile all aspects of himself. Also fine. nothing groundbreaking, aid on with a trowel, as expected, but perfectly acceptable. The only irritation I found was that the story of the Pandas, which was set up so well in the last film was not explored (maybe it didn’t need to be after the last film? I haven’t watched it in a while). The Panda segments were enjoyable, and the baby pandas were FRICKEN ADORABLE ICAN’TEVEN but rather than being a central plot point, the pandas are kind of irrelevant until the end, which is a shame.

The film does explore the tension between Po’s adopted father and Po’s biological father. A homage to the ‘new’ modern family, which, though obvious is not unwelcome and I am glad that kids film has finally addressed it. I do find this plot line a little unnecessary, and I wish they had focused more on Po’s journey in the way I feel like they implied (going out to discover the Panda’s and eventually reconciling) rather than the focus on the fathers in a ‘let’s all get along’ type of way, but it serves its purpose. On a side note, Mr Ping (James Hong, Po’s adopted goose father) is probably my favourite character in the series.

Mr Ping, the real hero… ❤

Po’s reconciliation (which does happen – just not in the way I was anticipating) and fight with Kai, features a genuinely moving moment where his fellow Pandas help him, and they too, rediscover their chi. My housemates laughed at me, but I did think this moment was effective and I enjoyed it as a moment of catharsis in the film. The following fight sequence with Po as his ‘ultimate self’ was also well done. Cliche (obviously) but an interesting and satisfying climax narratively, and in terms of the art techniques deployed throughout the film (more on this later).

Kai, as a villain, was quite good. I though he looked cool (as silly as that sounds) although the film wasn’t really about him – he was necessary so as to provide an antagonist. One of my housemate’s though it would have been more impressive if there would have been visible changes with each chi he took – so, for example, you would be able to see what powers he had gained. I take his point, but you do see that once he  has the powers he utilises each new chi in his army of ‘Jombies’ (Jade zombies) – which were pretty cool. Kai is hardly a ‘Claudius’ to Po’s ‘Hamlet’ but again, he serves his purpose. On the whole, I think Shen (the Gary Oldman Peacock) was a better villain because he was just pure evil.

Jombies



The art style in the film was the most experimental it has been in any of the trilogy. As in the second film, the use of the ‘animated scroll’ was reinstated to talk about Po and Master Oogway’s pasts, and about the Pandas, which helped create some narrative continuity – and also beautiful to watch. The filmmakers also used some interesting experiments with aspect ratio and split screen, in a very Tarantino-esque way, which was really interesting to watch and only served to further the intertextuality the films show with other traditional Kung Fu/Fighting films. These are the sort of techniques which you can simply watch and enjoy,or make connections with other references and enjoy all the more. As the film reaches the climax, and Po does fulfill the prophecy there’s a wonderful moment where the normal art style of the film shifts to the 2D and sharp shadows of the prophecy segments in the previous films, and it is a really wonderful visual moment of completion which, although more subtle, I think rivals the change made in The Wizard of Oz with the movement from monochrome to technicolor. It is a fantastic use of film form to signify change. The art in all of the Kung Fu Panda’s has been really good, and this one was no exception – perhaps a little too much experimentation with form? But that’s a weak criticism, and its always so nice to see someone actually do something a little different, even if it is a pastiche, that I won’t complain.

A criticism I will bring up is that I feel this was the least funny of the trilogy. The characters/actors seemed too settled into their roles, to the point where they have become stereotypes of themselves rather than stereotypes of others. This resulted in a few of the jokes and quips coming across as flat and forced. There was nothing that made me truly laugh but I did chuckle all the way through. The guy behind me, however, thought it was hysterical – so, it’s all a matter of opinion. (Note: I recall in the second film, Po attempting to do a speech to Shen, and the gag was that he was too far away to hear. I remember crying with laughter over this, and there was nothing that made me do that in the third one. See below.).

Finally, the film concludes with a musical number, (I now have ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ stuck in my head). A nice way to end the series and a true reminder that for all of my criticisms, this is a children’s film, and I do think it will be enjoyed. The narrative seems fairly well rounded off, so I wonder if there will be another sequel in the works, or if it will now be relegated to a Netflix spin-off series. I hope they leave it as it is, Po’s story arc is complete, though it may have been a little lacklustre in places. Please, DreamWorks, leave it be…

Overall, it was a fun film, if not as good as it’s predecessors – the curse of all sequels. I would give it 7/10 for general enjoyment.

Now, we await the new Ice Age (groan)….

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Review: L’Oreal Voluminous Mascara in ‘Extra Black’

The Beauty ‘guru’ bloggersphere has been awash for years with recounts of the wonderful L’Oreal Voluminous Carbon Black – a particular favourite of Makeup Geek founder, Marlena. However, is it as good as all that?

The mascara is one of the cheaper ones in L’Oreal’s range, which is appealing in and of itself as L’Oreal tends to be slightly ‘up there’ in terms of high street prices. It retails at £8.49, a good few pounds cheaper than others in the range, though obviously still more expensive than other drugstore products. It also features an old-school mascara wand, with bristles. Now, preference dominates here – personally, I don’t feel especially strongly about which type of mascara wand I prefer. My criteria for a mascara is that I want it to give me more volume, make my lashes darker and I want it to be easy to remove at the end of the day. I refuse to ‘build’ mascara – because who has time? – and frankly, I have never found one that can deal with more than one or maybe two initial coats without getting clumpy. This is no exception.

Despite the cheap price tag, and the potentially favourable return to the old-school bristle brush, the main problem with this formula is that it is too wet. This always seems like a silly complaint, but what it actually means is that I can never put it on my eyelashes without also getting it in my eyebrows. Which is a more of a statement than I really want. Furthermore, the wet formula lends itself to becoming easily clumpy, as eyelashes stick together and ‘clots’ (ew) form in the mascara itself. This all means that you have to be pretty careful actually applying the mascara, which irritates me as I really don’t like to spend much time fussing over my make up. Comparatively, I think I prefer the L’Oreal Volume Million Mascara, which has a plastic wand and is not nearly as wet – and as such, it doesn’t clump.

I will say, however, that in the few weeks that I have been using this mascara, it has improved. It is clearly going to be one of those mascaras that gets better with age (if only that were true for all of us!). On the one hand, this is frustrating as you are not getting the best product at time of purchase, on the other hand, this kind of extends the longevity of the mascara – but only if you are willing to dismiss, or take with a generous helping of salt, the recommended three month deadline.

Despite my reservations with this product, I have had compliments – which is unusual. As a glasses wearer, people very rarely comment on my eyelashes/makeup at all, so it must be doing something right, right? I certainly notice that it does give me volume now – it didn’t initially – but now that it has dried slightly it does, and I do enjoy this effect as my lashes are pretty long naturally and any more length lends them a little to spidery for my tastes.

Finally, a trite observation, but it is a very nice shade of black – my tube is ‘Extra Black’ rather than ‘Carbon Black’ which is often attributed to this mascara – it doe not come across as grey or wishy-washy, which is important.

Overall, I’m still on the fence. I would definitely buy it again as it is pretty affordable and does work well eventually. However, this is a far cry from achieving the ‘holy grail’ status some people attribute it too – but we’re all different, I suppose.

This product is available from Boots/Superdrug for £8.49

Review: The Wrong Mans

The Wrong Mans (BBC, 2013) is the brain child of James Cordon  (see: Gavin and Stacey) and Matthew Baynton, who you may recognize from The Horrible Histories (a great TV series for all ages).

The Wrong Mans is about Sam (Baynton) who finds himself witness to a car crash, in which he picks up a mobile phone which is not his own and finds himself embroiled in a criminal plot. Confiding in his colleague  – although he only works in the building – and ‘friend’ Phil (Corden), they decide to take care of it themselves rather than go to the police. Despite Sam’s intentions to do the right thing, the pair find themselves in over their heads and repeatedly in danger.

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

This series is charming, and really, can be put no other way. It is obviously taking the mickey of Television Crime Dramas (particularly American ones) and seems to function in a similar way to Simon Pegg and Nick’s Frost’s films, where the hapless duo blunder into situations they only ever make worse. Seemingly, a very British trope.

Baynton steals the show, Corden is good – he has a lot of coverage at the moment, and his career is really booming, however, in this I felt that Baynton as Sam was brilliant. Sam is a very likable character, if a bit of a wet blanket, but absolutely the voice of reason (voice of niceness, perhaps?) in the show. Phil on the other hand, is irritating – this is, of course, part of his character – and hyperbolic to the point of being unbelievable. This serves to put the emphasis back on Sam and Baynton’s performance, In short, not the best performance of Cordens’.

The use of humour in the series is what really stands out. The comedic undercutting of situations creates a very subtle comedy that is undeniably British.

One of the best example of this is perhaps the scene in the getaway car (one of many, to be fair. This is the second episode I think). They make their escape and dash to the car, Sam launching into the driver’s seat and Phil struggling with a stowed away criminal in the back, engaged in an all-out fist fight.

“I’ve never driven a manual before!”, Sam cries out in his undeniably southern English accent. The use of ‘manual’ creating an opposition with the traditional American ‘Stick shift’ showing the irony of these Berkshire Council members occupying this traditional American detective role. Also – how many people in the UK don’t drive a Manual? I feel the implication here is that Sam is unusual in his inability to drive manual as most cars in the UK are manual. It kind of implies privilege: Automatic Cars tend to be expensive as they are more difficult to buy secondhand.

The fast paced action within the car, the camera positioned where the windshield would be, shows the fight in the backseat and Sam erratically changing gears. The scene is fast paced. Cut to the outside of the car, side on. The car screeches and grinds, jerking with sudden movements at about 5 miles an hour. This juxtaposition, the use of the second shot to undercut the first seems reminiscent of traditional European comedy: seen in Lubitsch and other classical films. It is so fantastically British, that you can’t help but laugh. This comes across also in the repeated jokes about working at Berkshire County Council as a town planning adviser. The fact that it is Berkshire – a most unassuming county in the Thames Valley, where wealthy commuters live to work in London – adds to the ridiculousness of the events within the series. The humour in the series is fantastic. It takes a lot for me to laugh out loud when I am watching on my own: this did it.

The story line between Sam and his girlfriend was weak, and perhaps unnecessary. It didn’t really go anywhere, though perhaps you could argue this is part of the undercutting humour – despite the dramatic rescue at the end, the cliche attempt to save the damsel in distress, they still remain separated.

In fact, the whole final episode was a bit of a let down. From Phil’s mum (Dawn French) turning out to be an undercover agent, to Phil’s obvious trick which saves the day, to the way they rescue the green space from the corrupt politician and walk away from their jobs to become something else: it kind of missed the mark for me. I know they were trying to show a hyperbole of these typical crime thriller tropes, but it became to cliche and lacked the irony it needed to show that they were mocking these tropes.

The bottom line is that this is a really great series. It has six episodes at 30 minutes each; will take you less than a week to watch. It is a lovely, gentle chuckle and well worth a watch.

Available to watch on Netflix.

Some Disjointed Opinions on… The Abominable Bride

Really loved it. But I never doubted I would.

~~~~~~SPOILERS~~~~~~

The hype was worth it, easily the best Christmas television on this year. And, whats more, they managed to tie it in with the whole series, which was always the great mystery of this Victorian spin-off.

The Victorian society presented in Sherlock is a ‘Sexy’ Victorian society, unlike, for instance, Dickensian, which is truly grim (review to come!). I guess this is part and parcel of the stylistic approach of Sherlock – whilst it is not nearly as ‘Sexy’ as the Sherlock Holmes films with Robert Downey Junior, which in my opinion are farcical, it is typical of a Christmas production, certainly in the UK, to indulge in the kind of romanticised past. Also: it sells. In this sense, it was never going to fail. The fact that it actually tied into the rest of the narrative: bonus!

It was hugely evident that Moffat, Gatiss and co were having so much fun with this episode, as is evident in the self-reflexivity, I loved the references to the fans, the awareness of the ‘bromance’ of Sherlock and Watson, this kinds reference was demonstrated in the Reichenbach Fall with Sherlock and Moriarty of course.

They were also loving their interesting transitions. A really interesting use of film-making, nearly unheard of in current television, I loved that about Sherlock from the start but it was obvious that the makers simply ran with it this time. I had my doubts at first, but I think the addressing of Sherlock’s drug use (finally!) made the transitions work as part of the narrative – which is always important if you are going to use such obvious editing. They, in the end, worked as part of the story, and in hindsight were truly enjoyable.

I liked the way they finally dealt with the drug use in Sherlock in a way they never have. It was also dealt with in a manner that conveyed a postmodern view of drugs, which I found interesting. I confess, I have’t read many of the actual stories, but it would be interesting to know how the books deal with Sherlock’s drug use to see if/what they changed. (note: drugs are bad kids). I like the blurring of the worlds as well, towards the end. The crossing between modern John and Victorian Watson was a clever way to create this as a psychological imagining, though it does continue to allows the makers to taunt tumblr with Johnlock references… a ‘Ship’ that appears to have not left the harbour just yet.

The Suffragettes, however, people seem to be having issues with. I feel some people on twitter are being necessarily nasty about the use of Feminism in the piece – I really don’t think the producers were trying to say that Feminism was the real killer… –  but I do concede that some type of moral (often glaringly obvious, and slightly weird) is a cornerstone for Christmas/New Year specials. Dr Who has stock in trade of them. I’m not ure how I feel about the use of it in The Abominable Bride but the overall experience was massively enjoyable, and that it what counts: that’s what gets bums on seats, that’s what gets ratings, and as my lecturers like to tell me, it doesn’t have to have a plot to be good…

Finally, it has been addressed: Moriarty is dead. And I believe them, though we all know by now Moffat will have his will. And the final question is… will there be a season 4…?

What did you think? Did you like it? Is Moriarty dead? When will there be another series?