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‘Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV’ fails to stand alone as a movie

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Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV straddles an unusual middle ground between being a collection of video game cutscenes and a more typical movie. Unfortunately, it seems to portray the worst of both rather than the best of either. Kingsglaive is, before anything else, a lengthy advertisement for the upcoming game Final Fantasy XV.

The story begins with a flashback that’s much too heavy on exposition, explaining that the evil empire Niflheim is invading countries like wildfire, though the film never bothers to explain why this is. The kingdom of Lucius has been pushed back to their capital – Insomnia – which is protected by a wall, which in turn is powered by a magical crystal. While this will all sound very cliché and tired to some (and rightly so), it is at least in keeping with traditional Final Fantasy tropes.

After the opening scene, we flash twelve years forward to an intense battle scene, which also serves to introduce the majority of the cast. Here’s where we meet Nyx (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul), a key member of the titular Kingsglaive, a kind of strange breed of the royal guard and special operations team that can use magic normally only wielded by the royal family.

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There’s nothing particularly memorable about Nyx as a character or protagonist. He shows precious little development or personality, but he’s likeable enough, and Aaron Paul does a commendable job at doing his best with the lines he’s given.

Before we dive deeper into the story, though, it has to be said that this opening battle sequence is absolutely gorgeous, and the visual fidelity never really falters throughout the film. Every few seconds you’ll catch yourself gaping at the spectacle, even if it’s considerably marred at points by some questionable direction.

Seeing the Kingsglaive teleport about the battlefield as explosions kick up dust and monsters run amok is truly a joy. Members of the Glaive are capable of teleporting by throwing their weapons – a trick used repeatedly throughout the film – and it’s accompanied by gorgeous particle effects. The scope of battles is grand, and it’s easy to lose yourself in them.

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Unfortunately, it’s also easy to lose sight of the action itself. While the graphics are astounding, there wasn’t a single action sequence which didn’t seem a bit confusing. There’s simply far too much happening at any given moment, and there are only glimpses of what action actually matters. This is especially pronounced in the final action sequence – though grand, it loses itself in the spectacle, and becomes nearly impossible to be invested in.

Sadly, it’s also easy to lose any kind of emotional investment in the calmer moments of the film. The exposition from the opening scene never really lets up, with characters stopping at every opportunity to explain something in an unnecessarily long-winded fashion. Kingsglaive seems to be aware of how confusing it is, with all the names of characters and countries being thrown about, but instead of dialling back on the convolution it opts to simply explain everything at length.

As a result, the pacing suffers tremendously. Audiences go from one overly long fight scene to long conversations without any apparent relevance to the plot, then back to another fight scene that overstays its welcome.

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With the amazing character models, I’m unsure why Kingsglaive doesn’t try to explain more through movements and actions. The characters are more than capable of expressing themselves through facial expressions, and the writing feels like the bad habit of somebody used to working with older video game limitations, deciding that characters should explain their emotions rather than simply show them.

There’s a further disconnection in a lot of the voice acting. While the three biggest heavy hitters – Sean Bean as King Regis, Lena Headley as Princess Lunafreya and Aaron Paul as Nyx – all do a great job, the minor characters range from decent to bizarre. Some characters that are clearly meant to be quite old are voiced by very young actors, but the most awful of the lot is Libertus, an, unfortunately, major character who far overstays his welcome.

His lines are delivered seemingly at random, with no regard for the character’s emotional state. What’s worse is that the development of his character is similarly haphazard, and at a point where viewers are meant to either empathise with or pity him, I simply wanted him off the screen as fast as possible. There’s about a third of the movie in which Libertus doesn’t get much screen time, and unsurprisingly this is the best part of the movie by a mile.

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As mentioned above, Kingsglaive is essentially just an incredibly expensive trailer for Final Fantasy XV. And despite all the problems with the film, it does manage to succeed at this to a large degree. While the writing around the majority of the characters in the film doesn’t succeed, the world itself does. Modern technology and high-fantasy magic are blended seamlessly, and the capital city of Insomnia is gorgeous. Between the pristine streets around the palace and the Midgar-like slums, it’s a world worth exploring further.

That’s really the core of the problem. Kingsglaive manages to sell the world of Final Fantasy XV while bringing up concerns about plot and characterisation. If you’re already planning on picking FFXV up on launch day, this is a movie worth your time, despite the issues. It’s simply gorgeous, and fans of the franchise will find plenty of recognisable faces sneakily scattered throughout.

For those who aren’t fans of the franchise, though, this movie is likely to do a very poor job at selling the upcoming game. If you don’t recognise the name Noctis, this movie probably isn’t worth your time, unless you’re simply after a visual spectacle.

In all, Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV fails to stand alone as a movie. The plot is too far-strung and convoluted, characterisation is weak and the action is poorly directed, despite the otherwise incredible graphics. If you’re already a fan of the franchise, consider having a look; the plot still won’t be worth your time, but you’ll probably be able to enjoy the action and franchise references enough to get your time and money’s worth all the same.

Rowan is a lifelong gamer, and has spent a socially unacceptable amount of time playing them. His favourite games are "Metal Gear Solid 3", "The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker", and "Trying to get a job".

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Izsak “Khane” Barnette

    August 30, 2016 at 12:47 am

    It sounds like this movie suffers from the same issues that Advent Children did. AC had the same poor exposition and confusing action as this seems to have. I just want to see someone else besides SE explore life-like fidelity in film.

    • Rowan

      August 31, 2016 at 7:35 am

      Yeah, it does for sure. At least in the case of Advent Children it was a direct sequel to a game, where as Kingsglaive acts like a prequel for something that nobody’s experienced yet.

      So on that note, the esotericism in AC is arguably more forgivable. It assumes that you know these characters and their journey and is quite unapologetic about that.

      Kingsglaive feels like it’s made the same assumptions, only nobody has had a chance to experience the world before (outside of pre-release material and the short anime episodes), so it’s quite jarring.

  2. Mike Worby

    August 30, 2016 at 12:50 am

    I’m struggling with the overall negative tone of the review vs. the relatively high score. It sounds like you didn’t like the film very much, yet you’ve given it the equivalent of a 7/10. Just my two cents.

    • Ricky D

      August 30, 2016 at 1:20 am

      I think he meant to give it 3 out of 10 but forgot to switch the format. I’ll email him about it.

    • Rowan

      August 31, 2016 at 7:32 am

      Hey Mike,

      I actually struggled a lot with the score on this one. I’d almost give it two scores – one for fans of the franchise, ones for newcomers. I’m not really a fan of scores in general to be honest, as I feel they detract from the review itself.

      The score was actually incorrect originally (7/10, should’ve been 6/10). It has a whole host of problems (as I mentioned), but the aesthetics really are fantastic, and the franchise throwbacks can be quite fun. The film isn’t without redeeming qualities, and what’s done well is done very well.

      Of course, the problems are huge as well, and they’re a lot more glaring for people who can’t enjoy the rest quite as well. I’d be tempted to score it 5 or maybe even 4/10 for those who have never touched a Final Fantasy game.

      I definitely see your problem with the score vs review, but I hope you take away what I’ve said more than what the number suggests. These things are had to gauge!

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‘Uncut Gems’ Sends Adam Sandler Through the Ringer

The Safdie Brothers have crafted a hectic, abrasive crime thriller that revels in its misery.

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Uncut Gems

The Safdie Brothers have followed up their grimy, abrasive Good Time with a film that never quite reaches those levels of tension, but is nevertheless cut from the same cloth. With Uncut Gems, the directing duo has crafted something so loud and chaotic — led by a perfectly-cast Adam Sandler — that there is no denying it’s a fun ride, even when it is not so fun to watch. Digging through the grit of loan sharks and a dog-eat-dog world, Uncut Gems is another bonafide hit by the Safdie brothers, but one that works when it piles on the misery — which it often does, rather than find a shred of happiness.

Evading debt collectors throughout New York City, Howard (Sandler) runs a jewelry shop in the Diamond District where he sells to many high-profile celebrities. When a new opal arrives at his shop from Ethiopia, he can’t help but show it off to Boston Celtics player Kevin Garnett (who stars as himself in a fun role that never feels out-of-place), who becomes obsessed with the rock and borrows it with the hope of eventually convincing Howard to let him buy it. Of course, Howard has other plans, as the rock is allegedly worth a million dollars if sold at an auction in which he has already purchased a spot. When Garnett doesn’t return the stone, everything starts going horribly awry in Howard’s life as he juggles a failing marriage, his Jewish family ties, and keeping the loan sharks at bay.

Right out of the gate, Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) hits the ground hard with a score that carries the cosmic and reverberating effects of the titular uncut gems. When Garnett stares into the opal, he sees exactly what Howard tells him he’s supposed to see: the universe. In that, Lopatin provides a sonic scape so expansive and yet violently singular in its aesthetic that it provides much of Uncut Gems with a mystical aura. Drenched in gritty camerawork that gets up close to show the blemishes of everyone, there’s no denying the film’s mean and potent intensity.

Where Uncut Gems often stumbles is in its narrative threads. While the Garnett storyline weaves in and out, providing a lot of fun as well as hectic tension, it’s a piece of stunt casting that works, while also highlighting one that very clearly doesn’t involve R&B singer The Weekend. Why he is in the movie is baffling, other than perhaps because he evokes a further sense that Howard is in a very upscale world — something we already know by his clientele, multiple properties, and the wealth he actually wears. The Weekend ends up as a weird diversion that can take viewers out of the experience, even if his presence does lead to a further escalation in problems for Howard.

That all being said, Uncut Gems also brings Adam Sandler back into the fold as an actor who can do more than the drivel he has churned out over the decades. More evocative of his performance in Punch-Drunk Love than The Meyerowitz Stories, Sandler gives a comedic and sympathetic performance to a character for whom everything suddenly goes wrong. Living a manic, fast-paced lifestyle, Howard is impatient, aggressive, and greedy, but Sandler makes it possible to get on board with his plight at least partially (there is no way to be on his side completely). His vices are many, but the performance keeps him down to Earth even when it feels like everything is flying off the hinges.

There will likely be many that can’t get past how dirty this movie feels, as it treats many criminal activities as both simply the way things are and the way they always will be. Beyond that, however, the Safdie Brothers provide a nuanced look at Jewish culture, utilizing one of Hollywood’s most prolific Jewish actors, and treat it is as matter-of-fact. Uncut Gems is a frenetic crime film from a Jewish perspective and delivers on its promise of being a wild ride with a phenomenal Sandler performance. Just don’t expect there to be much hope present, as the Safdies revel in the misery as much as humanly possible, only using hope as a torture device to make the anguish all the more painful.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 14, 2019, as part of our coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival.

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The Best Movie Trailers of 2019

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Best Movie Trailers 2019

They exist to sell a product, but there’s also something about movie trailers that inspires certain ticket buyers to get to the theater early: the promise of movie magic. Before we have a chance to be disappointed by their final products, the best trailers are constructed to show off endless potential — the suggestion that audiences are in for an amazing cinematic treat. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way, but there’s nothing better than being seduced — and for a few moments, that’s exactly what the best movie trailers of 2019 do. Below are some of my favorites from the past year.

Smarmy Murder

Knives Out

Rian Johnson’s followup to The Last Jedi seems to have found a safer home for the director’s irreverence (I’m not aware of any diehard murder-mystery fans, at least), and it’s trailers have been free to lean heavily into that twisted playfulness. If you’ve gone to a theater in the last three months, it’s been hard to avoid seeing this one a million times (including at times as an ad before the previews), but the relentlessly snappy pacing, ironic edits, and pervasive shots of actors hamming it up really drive home that Knives Out is looking to be a wickedly fun romp. Whether it succeeds or not, there’s no question that the trailer makes me want it to. 

Ready or Not

This one hits more traditional beats when it comes to unspooling its gleefully barbarous premise, and knows just how to mix the tension with the violence with the cheeky one-liners. But it’s the use of The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” that really pushes this trailer over the top, as the song works brilliantly for both magnifying the drama during the screaming moments, and providing an excellent contrast between its blatant romantic sincerity and the sarcastic amorality of this bizarre predicament. Also, Henry Czerny.

The Hunt

This one’s a bit more subtle about its dark comedy, but there’s no question that there are plenty of smirks lurking just below the surface of this premise. A cabal of elitists hunting a bunch of backwoods yokels for sport is the kind of satiric setup that has potential for real bite (enough to get the film’s release indefinitely delayed, apparently), and this trailer does a great job of playing that element up, suggesting a more brutal and sardonic version of The Hunger Games. The tired look on Betty Gilpin’s face as she moseys down train tracks or calmly drives over someone’s head showcases a low-key humor that hopefully is reflected in the final product. Fingers crossed that The Hunt eventually sees the dark of theaters.

Moody, Mysterious Spooks

Midsommar

There’s always something refreshing about a horror story that takes place in the daylight, and the trailer for Midsommar appeals perfectly to this sentiment. Plucky strings, tribal drum beats, and plenty of off-kilter camera angles help set the creepy stage for a relationship problem that is about to manifest itself in a physical problem, but one that is smartly only hinted at. The bright, lush environment and comforting tradition initially draws you in (like any good cult would hope), but exactly what’s in store for this young woman and her companions? Flashes of gore and deformity near the end are what linger, even after a sunny visual finale. Very enticing.

The Lighthouse

It’s possible that this trailer could have just consisted of nothing but the weather-worn faces of Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe staring back at the audience, punctuated by the droning bellow of the fog horn, and that might have been enough to sell people on this thing. Of course, what follows is a stark, visual feast that also does a masterful job at dropping clues as to the possible supernatural mystery, but layering them in the potential madness. Dark, ominous trappings are slathered on as thick as the sea-faring accents, giving off an old-fashioned horror vibe. Despite a deep dislike for the actual film, I could watch this trailer forever, and dream of what else could have lurked out on that lonely island.

If Only They Lost the Song

1917

Bolstered by gorgeous images courtesy of the great Roger Deakins (whose sumptuous cinematography can only help no matter what it’s in), this trailer does a masterful job at communicating to audiences just what a nail-biter this WWI story promises to be. Starting out with an innocuous shot of two soldiers lazing beneath a tree, and ending with one of them dodging explosions, the tension is meticulously built step by step, gunshot by gunshot…until a sappy, tone-deaf song called “Wayfaring Stranger” cuts in halfway through and tries to ruin everything with hammy emotional telegraphing. It’s a curious choice, as the textured, frank visuals and dialogue don’t otherwise give off a manipulative vibe. Still, there is stirring power in that imagery, enough to make me want to see more. Just…save the song for the end credits, please.

What. The. Hell.

Bird Talk

It’s generally not desirable to feel even slightly repulsed after viewing a movie trailer, but I have to confess that the bizarre images here are cut together in a way that doesn’t quite agree with me. So why is it good? Because that seems to be exactly the sort of note Xawery Zulawski’s film is trying to hit, with its disorienting fish-eye lenswork and indecipherable depictions of what seems like general depravity, even if I can’t point to exactly why. Even the special effect for that weird flaming car looks wonky and nightmarish. Not every film has to be pleasant to work, and neither does a trailer; Bird Talk looks intense and intriguing and indecipherable, and that’s good enough for me.

Pleading For Attention (and Actually Getting It)

Joker

Every year there are trailers for movies that desperately want to be taken seriously as films, and I’m not sure there was a better example of that in 2019 than Joker. With its gritty, scum-on-the-lens look, an early burst of cruelty, and use of Jimmy Durante’s “Smile” to lay the irony on thick, there’s no question of this promo distancing the final product from traditional ‘comic book’ movies. There’s also no question that the trailer does a magnificent job at showcasing the film’s best element: a writhing, tortured, smirking, dancing, on-the-edge Joaqin Phoenix. While it’s debatable whether Joker itself ultimately deserved all the attention, putting Phoenix’s performance front and center in the trailer was the best way to get it.

The Cream of the Trailer Crop

Richard Jewell

This is a fantastic example of how to communicate an overall old-fashioned approach to sharp storytelling, yet break up the standard formula with well-timed asides. The premise and protagonist are firmly established through standard trailer character development, but it’s the interspersing of those chilling interrogation scenes that really drive the point home and solidify the character as supremely sympathetic. The soft piano notes are joined by a growing orchestra, the frequency of these inserts picks up as the blatant railroading intensifies, and by the time the crescendo hits, the trailer has told a story that we want to see a resolution to — and that subtle nod suggests it’s going to be a very, very satisfying one.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Almost a mini-movie in itself, the trailer for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood spans the range of emotional beats found in the film it’s cut from, roughly (and impressively) in the same order, all while cementing the unmistakable tone of the film’s creator. What’s being sold here is exactly what audiences are going to get, and that’s a sprawling Hollywood epic filled with sharp dialogue, offbeat B-movie/TV show asides, and a undercurrent of a looming, horrific incident that will come to a head in the last reel. An aging cowboy, a loyal sidekick, a radiant princess, and a creepily smiling ogre are set in a neon fantasy land full of make believe, where dreams (and sometimes nightmares) come true. It’s a primer for a magical fairy tale, and also the most complete, all-encompassing, masterful trailer of the year.

***

Of course, these are just my picks for the best trailers of 2019 — what are yours?

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70 Best Movie Posters of 2019

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Best Movie Posters of 2019

Deciding the best movie posters is no easy task…

I remember when I was younger, I used to head to the video store and rent movies I’d never heard of based solely on the movie poster art. This was, of course, a different time— sure, the internet was a thing, but we didn’t have countless websites, not to mention social media platforms, promoting new movies online with news stories, movie stills, featurettes, teasers, trailers and so on. Not to say that sort of marketing didn’t exist in the past, because it did, but it wasn’t always in your face. For better or for worse, the internet changed the way studios market movies, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the use of a poster to help build excitement and anticipation for an upcoming film. Most posters continue to be an important marketing tool for filmmakers worldwide and so once again, we’ve decided to collect images of our favourite movie posters revealed over the past twelve months. If you checked out our list of the best movie posters of 2018, you’ll remember it included posters for indie gems, thrillers, horror movies, foreign language films, Hollywood blockbusters and everything in between. This year is no different, although it should be said that some marketing campaigns were so good, we’ve decided to include more than one poster for a few select films. Also worth noting, we didn’t include any fan-made poster art below. That out of the way, here are the best movie posters of 2019.

Click on any one of the images to enlarge the posters.

The Best Movie Posters of 2019

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