Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Jurassic World Dominion (2022)

© Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment

Jurassic World Dominion  – Film Review

Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Isabella Sermon, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill, DeWanda Wise, Mamoudou Athie, BD Wong,

Director:  Colin Trevorrow

Synopsis: With humanity and dinosaurs now being forced to co-exist on the planet, the fate of both species is left hanging in the balance when a terrifying new threat to the food chain emerges…

Review: “I wanted to show them something that wasn’t an illusion. Something that was real, something that they could see and touch.” In many ways, these memorable words spoken by Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond during the original Jurassic Park film explaining his thought process for the creation of the attraction could reflect the vision of Steven Spielberg. Dinosaurs were creatures we all learned about in school and Spielberg’s genius vision for that very first film brought these magnificent creatures to life in ways that had never been previously imagined on the big screen, undoubtedly inspiring the imaginations of millions of audience members across the world. It’s a vision that, despite the best efforts of Hollywood, has never been fully replicated in spite of five films across nearly three decades.

Set four years after the events of Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom, dinosaurs are now living alongside humanity on Earth, threatening humanity’s position as the dominant species on the planet. Owen Grady (Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Howard) are trying their best to protect their adoptive daughter Maisie (Sermon) and the super-smart raptor Blue. However, upon the discovery of a horrifying new threat to the world’s global food chain, coinciding with a sinister plot by a mysterious new organisation to kidnap Blue, Owen and Clare must work together to uncover this plot and save the planet and humanity from extinction, which captures the attention of a trio of very familiar faces in Drs Alan Grant (Neil), Ellie Satler (Dern) and Ian Malcolm (Goldblum).

Ever since this franchise came roaring back onto our screens with Jurassic World, it has always delivered one thing to the best of its ability, and that is the thing that most people come to these films for: namely, the dinosaurs. While nothing will ever top the moment we saw a dinosaur for the very first time in Spielberg’s classic (especially with that iconic John Williams score) the film finds new ways to incorporate these prehistoric beasts into play. Whether it is the wonder of seeing dinosaurs for the first time, the thrill of discovering new dinosaurs, or dinosaurs escaping a volcanic eruption, the franchise has consistently delivered enthralling dino action.

With this closing chapter clocking in at 146 minutes, Trevorrow and Emily Carmichael’s screenplay does little to justify to warrant such a runtime. The first act is a little rough as it tries to juggle one too many different plot threads, with what could have been some interesting ideas getting quickly discarded. However, once it finds its feet, it delivers the exciting dinosaur popcorn fun you’ve come to expect from the franchise. The standout moment comes in a particularly thrilling chase sequence that feels like a hybrid combination of Jurassic World meets Mission Impossible meets the Bourne franchise. You could very easily pick some enormous dinosaur-shaped holes in the plot, but there is no denying that it delivers some gargantuanly fun popcorn entertainment.

While Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard once again give serviceable performances as the franchise’s leads, the franchise has some exciting new blood in the form of DeWanda Wise’s Kayla, a badass pilot who lends her skills to help rescue Blue and uncover this threat to the word’s food supply, while Mamoudou Athie also injects some exciting new blood as an employee at what is essentially InGen mark II. However, by far and away, the joyful aspect of the film is the returns of the beloved original trio of Dern, Goldblum and Neil. While Dern and Neil haven’t been seen since the franchise’s nadir (Jurassic Park III, in case you were wondering) it is so pleasing to see this beloved trio reunite once more, and especially for Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm, who is thankfully given a lot more to do this time around and once again proves himself to be this franchise’s MVP with his wit and humour.

With such a magnificent start to the franchise, it is a shame that in all the three decades since that game-changing first film, there has never been a film that has come nearly as close to recapturing that majesty, and the one who arguably came closest was Spielberg himself with The Lost World: Jurassic Park. While this closing chapter is an improvement on its predecessor, it is getting to the point where you think that they have accomplished all that they can and that now it might be time to let this franchise rest.

While the whole film could have been devoured by an unfocused first act, once it finds its claws and with the delightful return of the beloved cast of the first film, this concluding chapter to the Jurassic franchise found a way to reach an imperfect, but satisfying conclusion.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Top Gun: Maverick (2022)

© Paramount Pictures, Skydance Media and Bruckheimer Films

Top Gun: Maverick – Film Review

Cast: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer, Monica Barbaro, Charles Parnell, Jay Ellis, Danny Ramirez, Greg Tarzan Davis

Directors: Joseph Kosinski

Synopsis: After decades of service in the US Navy, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is called back to train some new recruits for a dangerous new mission…

Review: What more is there to be said about Tom Cruise? For over four decades, here’s an actor who has poured his heart and soul into his projects, pulling off death-defying stunts, all to provide the audience with thrilling entertainment, which has cemented his reputation as one of the best action movie stars of his generation. While his most jaw-dropping stunt work has come in the Mission: Impossible franchise, arguably the first of the many iconic roles that he’s provided audiences with over the years was the cocky US Navy Pilot in Top Gun.  Now, somewhat much later than planned due to numerous delayed release dates, Cruise is taking audiences back to the skies once more, for an utterly enthralling sequel that will please long time fans of the original and new fans alike.

After more than three decades of service in the US Navy, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is right where he wants to be, serving as one of the most skilled pilots whilst continuously avoiding the calling of a higher rank that would prevent him from taking flight ever again. However, upon the request of Tom “Iceman” Kazinsky (Kilmer), he’s called back to Top Gun to lead the training of a batch of new recruits, billed as the best that the Navy has to offer, for a highly perilous mission that will test their skills as pilots to the limit. However, whilst training these new recruits, Maverick must contend with the fact that one of the new recruits is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Teller), the son of his late best friend Goose, who died whilst flying with Maverick.

To reprise a role after over 30 years can be a risk, as it can so often be one of two things. It can either tell a story that is worth telling, or it could (especially given Hollywood’s love for using nostalgia) be used as a mere excuse to print money at the box office. While this sequel does walk the line between being nothing more than a nostalgia trip for fans of the original, it does earn its place as a more than worthy sequel. However, while the script by Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie certainly weaves some of that nostalgia into the story by immediately blasting Kenny Loggins’s opening song in the opening credits, it is also a story that packs plenty of emotional weight, especially where Maverick, and where he is at this moment in his life, is concerned.

Cruise, as he so often is, is effortlessly watchable. He exudes the swagger, charisma and cockiness that made him such made Maverick such an instantaneous icon of 80s action cinema. However, through all that charisma and extraordinary skill to fly a fighter plane, there’s an overriding sense of guilt that despite being cleared of any blame for the death of Goose, Maverick still feels responsible for what happened. It is a responsibility that he is forced to confront when Goose’s son Rooster becomes one of his pupils. While Maverick has to balance his desire to be the father figure for Rooster that he never had, and his teacher, Rooster continues to harbour resentment for Maverick’s part in his father’s death. The dynamic between the two creates an emotional arc that drives the story forward, whilst giving Teller an opportunity to remind us of what a talented actor he is with an extremely impactful performance.

For the majority of the new recruits, while they are all charismatic presences, any attempt at a backstory or character development for any of them, apart from Rooster, is minimal at best. This also goes for much of the rest of the new cast. There is an extremely emotional moment between Maverick and Val Kilmer’s Iceman. Jon Hamm shines with what little screen time he has as a Vice Admiral who would love nothing more than to ground Maverick for good. For Maverick’s love interest, there’s no mention of Kelly McGillis’s Charlotte. Instead, she is replaced by Jennifer Connolly’s Penny, a past flame of Maverick’s whose only purpose is to give him the motivation to ensure he makes it back home.

Re-teaming with Joseph Kosinski, who helmed Tron Legacy and Oblivion with Cruise, it’s not overstating it to say that these aerial action scenes are some of the most exhilarating action scenes that have ever been put to film. It is estimated that a whopping 800 hours worth of footage inside real-life planes was shot, enough time to watch the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy approximately 70 times over! It is an extraordinary herculean endeavour from all of the crew, from Kosinski’s immaculate direction to the terrific sound work, it puts the audience in the cockpit of these planes like they are in the cockpit with these incredibly skilled pilots as they train for the toughest mission of their naval careers.  When it comes time for the mission during the all-important third act, the tension is dialled to the maximum and never lets up for the rest of the film. After all those delays due to the pandemic, Top Gun: Maverick earns its wings by becoming a rare sequel that surpasses its predecessor in just about every single way.

A spectacular combination of pulsating spectacle, combined with a grounded and emotional story that pulls on the heartstrings, ensures that this is a sequel that passes with flying colours and will truly take your breath away. 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022)

© A24

Everything Everywhere All At Once – Film Review

Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Jenny Slate, Harry Shum Jr., James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis

Directors: Daniel Kwan and Dan Scheinert

Synopsis: Staring at the looming possibility of her business being forcibly closed down and amid rocky relationships with her family, a woman discovers she has the ability to travel through the multiverse…

Review: Humanity has long had a fascination with the concept of the multiverse, which has often found its way into the media that we consume. Most notably with science fiction and the realm of superhero movies, particularly the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It does make you wonder, what if there was an alternative version of you living in a universe in conjunction with this mad world we find ourselves living in? How would their life be different from the one you currently have and how different their world would be compared to ours? The answers to those questions, and so much more, can be found in one of the best explorations of this concept that’s ever been put to film.

Evelyn (Yeoh) is a Chinese-American woman who owns a laundromat whilst living in a tiny cramped flat above the laundromat with her husband Waymond (Quan). Her business is currently under audit by the IRS and Evelyn is up to her eyeballs in paperwork to sift through. To make matters worse, she’s presently enduring some troubled relationships with her family. Her marriage is teetering on the brink of divorce, her ailing father (Hong) is coming to visit and her relationship with her daughter Joy (Hsu) is breaking down to potentially the point of no return. Everything comes to a head when Evelyn realises, whilst in a crucial meeting with the IRS, that she has the power to travel through the multiverse. She’s able to see the various different lives she could have led, and as it turns out, is humanity’s last hope as a grave threat threatens to destroy not just her universe, but every single universe in existence.

If you have seen the previous film from Daniel Kwan and Dan Scheinert, collectively known as Daniels, where a farting corpse discovers the meaning of life and friendship, you know to expect the unexpected. But even with that caveat, nothing can truly quite prepare the audience for the breathtaking film that they are about to experience. Effortlessly combining multiversal travel, with flawlessly executed kung-fu inspired action scenes, absurd moments of brilliant comedy and a very sincere heartfelt story sounds like an impossible job for one film to accomplish. It would be very easy for any film dealing with multiverses to get lost in the madness and for things to spiral hopelessly out of control to the point where it’s nought but an incoherent mess that has scrambled your brain. Fortunately, Daniels’ screenplay is extremely airtight. The imagination to have come up with such a brilliantly realised story is beyond impressive. However, to go into much more detail and to give away some of the hilarious jokes and gags would be a disservice to the genius of Daniels’ brilliantly bonkers vision.

Michelle Yeoh has always been a very prominent figure across a plethora of Hollywood movies, from her memorable turns as a Bond lady in Tomorrow Never Dies to her scene-stealing work in Crazy Rich Asians, but it’s usually been from a supporting perspective. So, to see her given her first leading role in a Hollywood film is so immensely satisfying, because it is what an actor of her immense talent truly deserves. Yeoh throws everything she has into this role, doing all of her own stunts, and in turn, gives the many different lives of Evelyn that we see on screen so much depth. She demonstrates just why she’s such a revered actor and Yeoh gives the performance of her career. While the film belongs to Yeoh, the work of the supporting cast must not be discounted.

Having had a very small role in last year’s Shang-Chi, Stephanie Hsu gets her chance to shine as Evelyn’s disgruntled daughter Joy and she seizes that opportunity with both hands. There is so much depth and nuance to Joy and the relationship between Joy and her mother. Ke Huy Quan, who shot to fame with his early performances in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies had been away from the acting game for a while, so it is fantastic to see him return and give such a brilliant performance as Evelyn’s goofy husband Waymond. The icing on the cake is Jamie Lee Curtis’s hilarious turn as the grumpy IRS agent who’s leading the audit into Evelyn’s business.

Regardless of the medium, an exploration of the multiverse offers filmmakers/showrunners so many possibilities. However, the film doesn’t lose sight of its core story about the importance of family and finding one’s place in the world. It gives the audience that and an enthralling ride along the way that they are unlikely to forget any time soon. Films like Everything Everywhere All At Once don’t come around too often, but when they do, they demand to be celebrated and cherished. For as long as the cinematic art form exists, films like this one are a powerful reminder of the wonder that this medium can accomplish.

Taking a plethora of genres and throwing them all into one film could have very easily backfired. However, with a career-best performance from Michelle Yeoh, this cinematic masterpiece fully lives up to its title by being hilarious, exhilarating and heartfelt all at once.

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Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

© Marvel Studios

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – Film Review

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, Michael Stuhlbarg, Rachel McAdams

Director: Sam Raimi

Synopsis:  After an encounter with a girl who has the ability to travel in between different multiverses, Doctor Strange begins to fully grapple with the concept of the multiverse and the horrors it could unleash….

This review will be 100% spoiler-free…

 

Review:  The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become such a gargantuan cinematic juggernaut of an impressively inter-woven universe that has successfully tackled a plethora of different genres across 28 different films. However, despite all of its incredible accomplishments, there is one particular genre that (for understandable reasons) the MCU has avoided tackling, and that is horror. Multiple projects of Phase Four have established the multiverse as a central aspect to their stories, and an endless number of doors have simultaneously been opened for Marvel in Phase Four and beyond. Now, with the Multiverse in full swing, it has allowed Marvel to fully embrace this concept, and what better director to bring this to life, than Sam Raimi.

Following on from the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home, Dr Stephen Strange is beginning to grapple with the multiverse and all of its infinite possibilities. Whilst at the wedding of his former co-worker and one-time love interest Christine (McAdams) he encounters a girl named America Chavez (Gomez) who has the power to travel in-between multiverses. Strange quickly realises that with the scope of her powers, it is extremely likely that some dangerous individuals will soon be making their play, wanting her power for their own ends. Fearing the consequences if that came to pass, he seeks the help of someone else who has knowledge of the multiverse, Wanda Maximoff (Olsen), to help protect America and prevent her power from falling into the wrong hands.

In what is his sixth time playing the ex-Sorceror Supreme, Benedict Cumberbatch once again excels in the role. It is clear when we meet him that this is a man with a lot on his mind, especially since he played such an integral role along with Spider-Man (remember him?) in establishing the multiverse and all of its perils as a very real danger to the world that he is sworn to protect. Furthermore, even though his actions helped restore the universe to undo the consequences of the Blip, there are some decisions that Strange is grappling with. Most notably, concerning his one-time flame Christine. However, with the arrival of America Chavez, Strange knows that he cannot afford to dwell on the past, because dangers both old and new, are threatening to reap unimaginable destruction on not just our world, but every world out there. Given how central her character is to the film, Xochitl Gomez brings likeability, fearlessness and determination to the role of America Chavez, and she stands toe to toe with the experienced MCU regulars.

While Cumberbatch excels, the even bigger star of the show here is Olsen’s latest portrayal of Wanda Maximoff. The events of WandaVision gave Olsen a chance to dive deep and fully explore the tragedy of this character. Having seen what her life could have been through those alternate realities, this is a woman who is on a deeply personal mission. Now fully embracing her Scarlet Witch mantra and fuelled by a frightening combination of rage, grief and heartache for her long lost family, it enables Olsen to demonstrate a side to Wanda that’s unlike anything we’ve seen before, an extremely powerful being who’s more than capable of giving any character in this universe a run for their money, and more than likely, a good arse-kicking.

With his experience with both the realm of Marvel with the original Spider-Man trilogy, along with the Evil Dead trilogy that launched his career as a director, it is fantastic to see Sam Raimi back in the director’s chair after a nearly decade long hiatus since his last project in 2013. The visual effects wizards once again bring the magic when it comes to the actions scenes, but it is no coincidence that with Raimi at the helm, the film really pushes the boundaries of the 12A/PG 13 rating, in a way that the MCU has never done up to this point. Some scenes definitely have a more noticeably horror movie element to them, and are much more violent. It could have been a match made in multiversal heaven. However, it’s really disappointing that Michael Waldron’s (who wrote the Disney+ TV show Loki) screenplay quickly becomes very convoluted and is filled with a frustrating amount of exposition that really drags the film down, with certain scenes serving as little more than fan service that doesn’t drive the plot forward.

With a title like In the Multiverse of Madness, audiences would surely have expected a thrilling ride that delves deep into the madness of the concept of a multiverse, especially given what the MCU has already explored with the concept thus far. Yet, the reality is that what’s presented here only really scratches the surface of what it could have explored in the 126 minute run time. Multiversal shenanigans are enjoying an unprecedented spell of popularity at this moment in time, and the potential was there for another great entry into this particular sub-genre. Yet, even with the recruitment of Raimi, not even his wizardry can conjure away the feeling that this is a massive missed opportunity.

It’s a joy to see Sam Raimi return to the realm of superhero filmmaking. Though, even with him working his magic, this multiversal adventure never fully lives up to the potential teased by its bonkers title.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Turning Red (2022)

© Disney and Pixar Animation Studios

Turning Red  – Film Review

Cast: Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Hyein Park, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, James Hong

Director: Domee Shi

Synopsis: The life of 13-year-old girl life is turned upside down when she discovers that whenever she experiences increased levels of emotion, she turns into a giant red panda…

Review: No matter who you are, growing up is tough. Making that transition from childhood to those teenage years, there is an awful lot to contend with. There are changes to your body that you’ve got to contend with, but also changes to your life as you take on increased responsibilities and gradually gain more and more independence from your parents as the years go by. Pixar Animation Studios have often enjoyed phenomenal success in exploring some of the many changes that life throws at us, such as moving house, the loss of a loved one or the massive existential question of what we were put on this Earth to do. The studio’s 25th feature film doesn’t quite go that existential, but it explores a beast that we all have to contend with at some point in our lives.

The year is 2002 and Meilin “Mei” Lee (Chang) is a bright and determined 13-year-old living in Toronto. She excels in school, gets top grades and has a great group of friends. As it is the early 2000s, the boyband craze is thriving as Mei and her friends share a deep and passionate adoration for popular boyband 4*Town. Despite being a very confident and outgoing person, Mei is experiencing a substantial internal conflict, in that she wants to be herself, but her mother Ming’s (Sandra Oh) expectations of her to be the perfect daughter give her considerable anxiety, to the extent that she has to hide certain aspects of her personality. On the cusp of those chaotic teenage years, Meilin realises that whenever she experiences a heightened state of emotion, be it positive or negative, she turns into a giant, fluffy red panda.

Coming-of-age stories have often explored the concept of puberty, but it is so often from the perspective of male characters. Therefore, it is extremely refreshing to see this topic approached entirely from the perspective of a female character, particularly because there’s still a bizarre stigma when it comes to the topics of periods and menstruation, which is completely absurd. However, this isn’t to say that the film is exclusively aimed at women and girls, because as they so often do, Pixar give their films a universal appeal. What makes Domee Shi and Julia Chao’s screenplay so effective to appeal to a universal audience, irrespective of gender, is the thorough examination of the changes that go on in your life when puberty strikes, and we make that transition from childhood into your utterly mental teenage years.

These are years which can be completely chaotic and full of awkward interactions, as you begin to potentially form the friendships you hope to make for life. It’s the time in your life when you find yourself wanting to rebel more and more against your parents. Whether you begin to develop feelings for someone or take up a new hobby, above all, these are the years where your life really begins to take shape as you become your own person. Rosalie Chiang’s brilliant voice performance encapsulates this perfectly. She thinks knows herself and her personality (at least until the transformation into the red panda enters the picture) and that puts her on a direct collision course with her mother. Ming struggles to accept that Mei is not the perfect daughter that Ming wants her to be.

Having won an Oscar for the adorable short film Bao, becoming the first woman to direct a short for Pixar in the process, Domee Shi continues her trailblazing legacy by becoming the first woman to solely direct a feature-length film for the studio. The quality of the animation never disappoints when it comes to Pixar, with the scenes involving the red panda transformations being particular standouts. However, the visuals have an unmistakable anime inspiration to them, which in turn helps give them a certain visual uniqueness that’s unlike anything else in the studio’s catalogue. Pixar films can so often reduce the audience to blubbering messes. Their latest doesn’t have that emotional gut-punching moment, but it took a risk by tackling subject matter that’s still weirdly taboo in the hope of eliminating that stigma, which deserves to be celebrated.

A hilarious and heartfelt tribute to those chaotic pre-teenage years. Breaking new ground in its approach with its approach to its subject matter ensures that Turning Red is a furry triumph for Domee Shi and Pixar.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Northman (2022)

© Universal Pictures, Regency Enterprises and Perfect World Pictures

The Northman  – Film Review

Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk, Willem Dafoe

Director: Robert Eggers

Synopsis: A Viking Prince swears brutal revenge after witnessing his father’s death at the hands of his traitorous uncle…

Review: Over the last few years, there have been several up-and-coming directors who have made a significant impact with their careers, establishing their reputations as sought after talent, with every film they make becoming event-worthy. One such director would be Robert Eggers. His first two films, The Witch and The Lighthouse, with a combined budget of $15million, became indie darlings that were both released to critical acclaim. With that success to his name, it has given Eggers the platform to go all out, backed by a studio’s considerably larger budget (between $70 and 90 million), and make his biggest and most visually striking film to date.

Prince Amleth is a happy young Viking boy living with his father King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke) and his mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman). Aurvandill is aware that the time will come for Amleth to one day assume the responsibilities of King in his stead. However, before Aurvandill can properly prepare him for his role as King, Auravandill is betrayed and murdered by his brother Fjölnir (Claes Bang). Faced with the prospect of certain death at his uncle’s hands, Amleth is forced to flee but vows brutal revenge against his Uncle for his crimes. Several decades later, the now-adult Amleth (Skarsgård) has transformed into a fierce and brutal Viking warrior. Having lost sight of his original mission for vengeance, a chance meeting with a seeress (a brilliant cameo by Icelandic singer Björk), reminds him of the promise he made to himself all those years ago.

Welcome to the Viking gun show…

Based on the legend of Amleth, which served as the inspiration for the character of Hamlet in the famous play by Shakespeare, Eggers and the Icelandic poet and novelist Sjón, have crafted a screenplay that is so steeped in the richness of Norse mythology, that there probably could be a whole short film devoted to the extensive research that undoubtedly went into the making of the film. While it is first and foremost a tale of one man’s mission for revenge, Eggers takes a lot of time in the first act to establish the culture and the mythology that was central to the civilisation at the time, while simultaneously incorporating the visually striking aesthetics he’s renowned for.  By taking his time to explore the complexities of Norse mythology, Eggers is able to immerse his audiences with scenes of wild rituals, songs and spells and sacrifices. While it is true that at its heart, the plot is very much one man’s quest for bloody revenge against the man who committed a terrible atrocity against him many years ago. However, that does the plot a disservice, as there’s so much more meat on the bones to this story.

Such a physical and brutal film requires a committed leading performance, and in Alexander Skarsgård’s leading turn as Amleth, you have that and then some. His physical transformation for this role is extremely impressive, practically at times having transformed himself into a terrifying feral creature that’s more animal than man. He’s an absolute behemoth of a warrior that you would categorically not want to find yourself in battle with. While his physical prowess cannot be denied, there’s unfortunately not a lot of room for character development, beyond his desire for revenge. The character of Fjölnir could have been a very cliched villain who commits an act of betrayal against his family out of jealousy towards his brother. But as a terrifying and ruthless antagonist, Claes Bang imbues him with nuances and motivations that flesh him out.

Re-teaming with Eggers, after The Witch, Anya Taylor-Joy’s Olga is perhaps the character who is given the most development as the sorceress Olga. A witch who’s resourceful and with a cunning intellect, she works closely with Amleth to help him achieve his goal. A further reunion comes in the form of Willem Dafoe, who is clearly having a riot in his small but significant role of Helmir the Fool. Given she’s reduced to a cameo appearance in the first two acts, you’d have been forgiven for forgetting Kidman was even in the film at all. However, this all dramatically changes as she really stamps her authority onto the scene during the climactic third act.

As this is a tale about vengeance, some violence was inevitable, but this time around, Eggers holds nothing back. The violence is uncompromisingly brutal that will test even the strongest of stomachs. The thrum of the booming drums that make up a considerable chunk of the score is the perfect complement to the sweeping visual majesty of the rip-roaring spectacle. Even with one or two pacing issues in and around the middle, it’s not enough to drag down the sheer epicness of what Eggers brings to this tale. Into the halls of Valhalla, we go!

Bloody, ferocious and wildly entertaining, with an exceptional cast and an extraordinarily committed leading performance from Skarsgård, an ascension into the halls of the greatest revenge films of all time awaits.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Morbius (2022)

© Sony Pictures, Columbia Pictures and Marvel

Morbius  – Film Review

Cast: Jared Leto, Matt Smith, Adria Arjona, Jared Harris, Al Madrigal, Tyrese Gibson

Director: Daniel Espinosa

Synopsis: In search of a cure for his rare condition, a doctor inadvertently transforms himself into a super-human vampire…

Review: Vampires, creatures of the night that humanity has always had a fascination with. From the sparkly to the scary, there’s been no shortage of stories over the years that have depicted these mythical creatures. This is especially the case where comic book films are concerned. For Marvel, the Blade series is arguably the franchise that laid the groundwork for the explosion of popularity that comic book films have enjoyed in recent years. Yet, there’s another character in the Marvel realm who dwells among the world of vampires, Michael Morbius. His journey to the big screen is the latest film to emerge from Sony’s Spider-Man Universe. Blighted by numerous COVID release delays, while these have not always been a curse, in this instance, this is a truly cursed film that is pretty much dead on arrival.

Michael Morbius (Leto) is a brilliant but arrogant doctor whose work has helped save millions of lives. Despite his success, he’s never been able to cure either himself or his surrogate brother Milo (Smith), both of whom suffer from a rare blood disease that is slowly killing them. When Morbius attempts a very dangerous experiment in a bid to find a cure, he finds success, but at a cost. The experiment turns him into a vampire-like creature with enhanced speed and strength, but the drawback is he suddenly has a craving for human blood and must find a way to stop this before he starts feeding on the innocent people of New York City.

It’s not exactly news that comic book movies have come into their own in the last few years as they continue to enjoy almost unprecedented popularity. Given that there are so many films now in this genre, there’s an imperative need for any superhero film being released in today’s saturated market to stand out from the crowd. There needs to be a unique selling point and the script from Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless completely misses the mark as it is as bland and generic as they come. There is nothing we’ve not seen before, and above all else, it commits the biggest sin of being exceedingly boring. The stakes (pun absolutely intended) are non-existent, and nowhere near enough work is done to flesh out Morbius as a compelling and well-developed character that the audience should be invested in.

Jared Leto’s an actor that always seems to attract attention, particularly with his committed method-acting to prepare for roles. Whether he’s sending rats to his castmates to prep for a role as The Joker in Suicide Squad, or dialling up the camp factor to the maximum for House of Gucci, he certainly goes all in for the roles he chooses, but his performances, particularly where those two films are concerned left a lot to be desired. The same once again is applicable to his portrayal of the titular character here. Given Leto’s tendency to go all out, this is dialled back a bit, but like the film’s dull and uninspiring script, Leto does nothing to elevate the film. A vampiric anti-hero could, and really should have been a really interesting character, but he turns in such a dull and stoic performance, it’s almost as if his transition into a vampire drained the film out of every last drop of charisma it could have had.

This is even more doubly frustrating as the talents of the supporting crew are completely wasted on such poor material. Matt Smith is the only one who seems to have got the message to have some fun as he provides some sparks as Morbius’s brother Milo, who becomes jealous when Morbius gets his powers and wants to find the cure for himself, despite the downsides it may bring. The relationship between Morbius and his partner Martine Bancroft (Arjona), a fellow doctor, could have been an interesting plot point. However, like so many aspects of the film, it’s completely under-developed and the chemistry between the two of them is essentially non-existent. Jared Harris and Tyrese Gibson do what they can with their roles, but their talents also completely go to waste due to the poor material they’re given to work with.

The exploration of Morbius’s powers offers the opportunity to utilise some exciting visuals, but beyond that, there’s nothing that director Daniel Espinosa can do to elevate the action sequences. By and large, in spite of the film being released in 2022, everything about the film has the look and feel of a lesser comic book movie that would have been released in the 2000s as the CGI is shockingly sub-par in more than a few places. By the arrival of the third act, the film devolves into a messy, and unexciting CGI battle of two-similar powered beings squaring up to one another. While this is a very common trope of the genre, there’s an inclination to let it slide if the central hero is well developed, and the action is exciting to watch. Morbius ticks neither of these boxes. Like a vampire draining the blood of its victim, what fun could have been had here is completely drained out by this exceedingly dull affair.

Distinctly lacking an iota of personality and with absolutely no unique stylistic choices, Morbius takes what could have been an exciting story and fritters away that potential over 104 joyless minutes.

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Awards Season, Oscars

94th Academy Awards: Final Predictions

Well, it’s that time of year again. After the elongated awards season window of the 93rd Academy Awards due to the pandemic, the current awards season we’ve had feels somewhat shortened. But in that time, we’ve had the welcome return of cinemas, and there’s nothing better than seeing films where they belong, on the big screen. With that, a plethora of brilliant and exciting films have been recognised by the Academy this year and Hollywood’s biggest night is once again upon us.

Last year’s scaled-down ceremony was a controversy-free event, until the ending when a change-up of the presenting order meant it all went very badly wrong. This year, the controversy has almost been ever-present as the absolutely nonsensical idea of presenting some of the categories off-air has been resurrected. Spoiling the moment of glory for those prospective winners and denying them their moment in the spotlight. A ceremony that honours the craft of movies and movie-making should be giving every recipient of an Oscar a chance to have their moment in the spotlight and this decision does a disservice to all those nominees.

Despite this ridiculous decision, there are still 23 golden statues up for grabs, the question remains as to who will claim Oscar glory? Time to have a gaze at my metaphorical crystal ball and give my predictions, as well as give my thoughts on each category, minus the documentaries and the short films.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Ciarán HindsBelfast
  • Troy Kotsur CODA
  • Jesse Plemons The Power of the Dog
  • J. K. Simmons Being the Ricardos
  • Kodi Smit-McPheeThe Power of the Dog

Kicking things off is a race that, for the third year in a row, has seen double nominees from the same film, after Judas and the Black Messiah and The Irishman. Apart from previous winner J.K. Simmons’s nomination, the rest of the pack are picking up their first nominations. Simmons’s nomination in Being the Ricardos is a sign that Aaron Sorkin’s latest film is well-loved by the Actors branch, but given that Ricardos is the only one without a Best Picture nomination, Simmons’s chances of a repeat win are extremely unlikely, especially as he’s very much bringing up the rear in this crop of performances. Plemons does great work, but he’s very much outshone by his co-stars. Ciarán Hinds’s beautiful turn as the cheeky Grandpa in Belfast would be a worthy winner, as would his co-star Jamie Dornan, who really should have been nominated ahead of Simmons for my money.

However, throughout this race, it’s very much been a battle between CODA‘s Troy Kotsur and Kodi Smit-McPhee’s layered work in The Power of the Dog. CODA‘s ensemble win at the SAG awards could tip the scales in Kotsur’s favour. He would make history as the first male deaf actor to win an Oscar, and his turn as the raunchy but heartfelt father in CODA was hilarious and emotional, he was able to break your heart with just one word.

Will Win: Troy Kotsur 

Should Win: Troy Kotsur

Could have been nominated: Jamie Dornan for Belfast

 

Best Supporting Actress

  • Jessie BuckleyThe Lost Daughter
  • Ariana DeBoseWest Side Story
  • Judi DenchBelfast
  • Kirsten DunstThe Power of the Dog
  • Aunjanue EllisKing Richard

As was the case with Supporting Actor, there’s one performance that can be discounted right out of the gate, as her film lacks a Best Picture nomination, which is a shame as Jessie Buckley’s work in The Lost Daughter outshines her co-stars. Kirsten Dunst has finally landed a nomination, and it’s quite fitting that she’s nominated the same year that her husband Jesse Plemons receives his first nomination. To go toe-to-toe with Will Smith is not an easy feat but Aunjanue Ellis’s performance manages exactly that. Judi Dench’s turn in Belfast was a welcome return to form for her after appearing in a couple of critical and commercial flops, but with eight nominations under her belt, she didn’t need another nomination, especially when her co-star Caitriona Balfe had the more emotionally impactful role which was much more deserving of a nomination.

However, there’s been one performance that has emerged as the clear favourite. Ever since West Side Story was finally opened to audiences, Ariana DeBose’s performance as Anita has swept all before her. It’s quite poetic that 60 years after Rita Moreno’s historic win in this very same category, playing the same character, that history will repeat itself. DeBose will also become the first openly queer actress to win this award. This is an exceedingly competitive category, but Ruth Negga’s brilliant and nuanced work in Passing being overlooked is a massive head-scratching snub.

Will Win:  Ariana DeBose

Should Win: Ariana DeBose

Could have been nominated: Catriona Balfe for Belfast or Ruth Negga for Passing

Best Original Screenplay

  • Belfast – Written by Kenneth Branagh
  • Don’t Look Up – Screenplay by Adam McKay; Story by Adam McKay and David Sirota
  • King Richard – Written by Zach Baylin
  • Licorice Pizza – Written by Paul Thomas Anderson
  • The Worst Person in the World – Written by Eskil Vogt and Joachim Trier

Along with his nominations for Best Picture, and Best Director, Kenneth Branagh has written himself into Oscars history as the first person to be recognised in seven separate categories (Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay and Live-Action Short). It’s an extraordinary achievement for Branagh and he deserves to crown that with an Oscar for his beautiful semi-autobiographical film, especially given that he’s unlikely to triumph in the Director or Picture category. Yet there’s a chance that Licorice Pizza could rain on Branagh’s parade and end Paul Thomas Anderson’s long wait for an Oscar. Plus, The Worst Person in the World is wildly popular and could be the dark horse of this year’s race.

Will Win: Belfast 

Should Win: Belfast

Should have been nominated: Fran Kanz for Mass

Best Adapted Screenplay

  • CODA – Screenplay by Sian Heder
  • Drive My Car – Screenplay by Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Takamasa Oe
  • Dune – Screenplay by Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, and Eric Roth
  • The Lost Daughter – Screenplay by Maggie Gyllenhaal
  • The Power of the Dog – Screenplay by Jane Campion

The first of several races this year that represents a fight between the two films that are the heavy favourites to be picking up the biggest prize of the night. The Power of the Dog was for a long time the heavy favourite for this award, but at the 11th hour, CODA charmed its way into hearts and minds and is poised to snatch several awards out of the dog’s jaws, and steal the thunder from Campion’s film, and it potentially won’t be for the first time if it does. However, the support Drive My Car is very strong and it could yet gazump everyone else in this category, and drive away with the Oscar.

Will Win: CODA

Should Win: CODA

Should have been nominated: The Last Duel

Best Animated Feature Film

  • EncantoJared Bush, Byron Howard, Yvett Merino, and Clark Spencer
  • FleeJonas Poher Rasmussen, Monica Hellström, Signe Byrge Sørensen, and Charlotte De La Gournerie
  • LucaEnrico Casarosa and Andrea Warren
  • The Mitchells vs. the MachinesMike Rianda, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and Kurt Albrecht
  • Raya and the Last DragonDon Hall, Carlos López Estrada, Osnat Shurer, and Peter Del Vecho

An impressively strong crop of nominees, and you could make a case for each of these films to triumph. Ever since this award was first introduced in 2001, a non-Disney film has only taken home the trophy six out of twenty times. With the House of Mouse representing three of the five nominees, another Disney success is on the cards as Encanto is the strong favourite to take home the statue. However, The Mitchells Vs The Machines is such an innovative and hilarious animated film about the perils of technology that is more than capable of extinguishing Encanto‘s miracle. It makes it all the more frustrating that it likely won’t, even though I do like Encanto.

But this crop could have been even stronger, as the exclusion of Mamoru Hosada’s magnificent Belle could and, maybe should have, taken the spot of one of the three Disney films.

Will Win: Encanto 

Should Win: The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Should have been nominated: Belle

Best International Feature Film

  • Drive My Car (Japan)  – directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi
  • Flee (Denmark) – directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen
  • The Hand of God (Italy) –  directed by Paolo Sorrentino
  • Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (Bhutan) – directed by Pawo Choyning Dorji
  • The Worst Person in the World (Norway) – directed by Joachim Trier

Drive My Car‘s Best Picture nominee status makes this one a pretty foregone conclusion.

Will Win: Drive My Car

Should Win: Drive My Car 

Best Original Score

  • Don’t Look UpNicholas Britell
  • DuneHans Zimmer
  • Encanto Germaine Franco
  • Parallel MothersAlberto Iglesias
  • The Power of the DogJonny Greenwood

The power of a great score is that within just a few notes, it can transport you to the setting of that particular film in a heartbeat, and no score this year typifies that than Hans Zimmer’s masterful work in Dune. 2021 was a stellar year for the legendary composer as well as reuniting with Denis Villeneuve to bring the world of Arrakis to life, his work for Daniel Craig’s final bow as James Bond in No Time To Die was also worthy of praise and could have seen Zimmer get two nominations. In either case, Zimmer’s wait for that second Oscar is coming to an end.

Someone else who also could have got two nominations is Jonny Greenwood. He has been producing some truly stellar scores over the last few years, and could and have got in this category twice for his stunning work in SpencerHis score for The Power of The Dog is tremendous, but the Power of the Dog is no match for desert power.

Will Win: Hans Zimmer 

Should Win: Hans Zimmer

Could have been nominated: Harry Gregson-Williams for The Last Duel 

Best Original Song

  • “Be Alive” from King Richard – Music and lyrics by DIXSON and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter
  • “Dos Oruguitas” from Encanto – Music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
  • “Down to Joy” from Belfast – Music and lyrics by Van Morrison
  • “No Time to Die” from No Time to Die – Music and lyrics by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell
  • “Somehow You Do” from Four Good Days – Music and lyrics by Diane Warren

Poor Diane Warren. Despite a staggering 13 nominations in this category, her wait for that first win is likely to go on, as this year’s race is looking like it will be a two-way fight between Lin-Manuel Miranda and Billie Eilish. The last two Bond films have both taken home this award, so the odds look good for Billie Eilish. However, if Miranda wins, he will become the youngest person in history to claim the EGOT. Miranda had a truly stellar 2021, and the EGOT would be the best way to reward his extraordinary achievements, especially as “Dos Oruguitas” is a heartbreakingly beautiful and emotional ballad. If it were to triumph, it would be a worthy winner to go with Encanto‘s likely Best Animated Feature Oscar.

It’s just a shame that they couldn’t nominate the irresistibly catchy and chart sensation “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” as well.

Will Win:  No Time To Die

Should Win: Encanto

Best Sound

  • Belfast Denise Yarde, Simon Chase, James Mather, and Niv Adiri
  • DuneMac Ruth, Mark Mangini, Theo Green, Doug Hemphill, and Ron Bartlett
  • No Time to DieSimon Hayes, Oliver Tarney, James Harrison, Paul Massey, and Mark Taylor
  • The Power of the DogRichard Flynn, Robert Mackenzie, and Tara Webb
  • West Side StoryTod A. Maitland, Gary Rydstrom, Brian Chumney, Andy Nelson, and Shawn Murphy

Like so many technical aspects of Denis Villeneuve’s masterpiece, the sound is one of the aspects that made it such an enthralling experience on the biggest screen possible. The work of Dune’s sound team helped bring the world of Arrakis to life in such a spectacular way and so they will be richly deserved winners of this trophy.

That being said, the work of the sound teams in No Time to Die and West Side Story are very strong and could upset the spice cart.

Will Win: Dune 

Should Win: Dune

Should have been nominated: The Last Duel

Best Production Design

  • Dune – Production Design: Patrice Vermette; Set Decoration: Zsuzsanna Sipos
  • Nightmare Alley – Production Design: Tamara Deverell; Set Decoration: Shane Vieau
  • The Power of the Dog – Production Design: Grant Major; Set Decoration: Amber Richards
  • The Tragedy of Macbeth – Production Design: Stefan Dechant; Set Decoration: Nancy Haigh
  • West Side Story – Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Rena DeAngelo

As was the case with the Sound category, the Production Design played an integral role in bringing the visual majesty of Arrakis to life. Dune has got potential to completely sweep through these production/technical categories, and given it has picked up a couple of the precursors, I think it will do so. However, there could be some surprises and one such surprise could be here as Guillermo Del Toro’s Nightmare Alley. The fact it did get into the Best Picture race shows there is support for it out there among the voters and if the Academy wants to spread the love, then this could be the opportunity for them to do so.

Will Win: Dune

Should Win: Dune

Should have been nominated: The Last Duel

Best Cinematography

  • Dune Greig Fraser
  • Nightmare Alley Dan Laustsen
  • The Power of the Dog Ari Wegner
  • The Tragedy of Macbeth Bruno Delbonnel
  • West Side StoryJanusz Kaminski

Five absolutely immaculately shot films makes this an insanely hard category to predict, as any of these cinematographers would be worthy of winning this award. Ari Wegner makes history as the second woman to be nominated in this category following Rachel Morrison’s ground-breaking nomination for Mudbound at the 90th Academy Awards, but it could have been even better had Claire Mathon also been nominated for Spencer. A triumph for Wegner would be a welcome (and long overdue) victory. However, given that he’s recently captured plaudits for his magnificent work in The Batman, it could tip the scales in Greig Fraser’s favour.

Will Win: Dune 

Should Win:  Dune

Should have been nominated: Claire Mathon for Spencer or Linus Sandgren for No Time To Die

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  • Coming 2 AmericaMike Marino, Stacey Morris, and Carla Farmer
  • CruellaNadia Stacey, Naomi Donne, and Julia Vernon
  • Dune Donald Mowat, Love Larson, and Eva von Bahr
  • The Eyes of Tammy Faye Linda Dowds, Stephanie Ingram, and Justin Raleigh
  • House of GucciGöran Lundström, Anna Carin Lock, and Frederic Aspiras

As impressive as the make-up and hairstyling work in films like House of Gucci and The Eyes of Tammy Faye is, when you realise the amount of work that was required to transform Stellan Skarsgard into the villainous Baron Harkonnen in Dune, this should be a no-brainer, but if Best Actress goes in a certain direction (more on that later), this could go in a different direction.

Will Win:  The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Should Win: Dune

Should have been nominated: The Last Duel

Best Costume Design

  • Cruella – Jenny Beavan
  • CyranoMassimo Cantini Parrini
  • DuneJacqueline West and Bob Morgan
  • Nightmare AlleyLuis Sequeira
  • West Side StoryPaul Tazewell

There’s some really impressive work across this category, but Cruella has been sweeping this category and those flashy and colourful dresses will power Jenny Beaven to her third Oscar.

Will Win: Cruella

Should Win: Cruella

Should have been nominated: Janty Yates for The Last Duel

Best Film Editing

  • Don’t Look UpHank Corwin
  • Dune Joe Walker
  • King Richard Pamela Martin
  • The Power of the DogPeter Sciberras
  • tick, tick… BOOM!Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum

Editing and the now lone sound categories often go hand-in-hand with each other, so with that in mind, Dune should be locked. Yet, Pamela Martin took home the American Cinema Editor Award in the Drama category for her work in King Richard. Meanwhile, tick, tick… BOOM! triumphed in the Comedy or Musical category, which puts it in contention. However, the lack of a Best Picture nom will probably count against the latter. Dune’s desert power will see it triumph in a number of technical categories, but the wonderful work of Pamela Martin with the tennis scenes in King Richard was absolutely pulsating to watch.

Game. Set, and the Oscar goes to King Richard.

Will Win:  King Richard 

Should Win: King Richard

Should have been nominated: The Last Duel

Best Visual Effects

  • DunePaul Lambert, Tristen Myles, Brian Connor, and Gerd Nefzer
  • Free GuySwen Gillberg, Bryan Grill, Nikos Kalaitzidis, and Dan Sudick
  • No Time to DieCharlie Noble, Joel Green, Jonathan Fawkner, and Chris Corbould
  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Christopher Townsend, Joe Farrell, Sean Noel Walker, and Dan Oliver
  • Spider-Man: No Way Home Kelly Port, Chris Waegner, Scott Edelstein, and Dan Sudick

With its status as the lone Best Picture nominee here, and an enthralling combination of practical and visual effects, there’s nothing stopping Dune, not even an itsy bitsy Spider-Man.

Will Win: Dune 

Should Win: Dune

Should have been nominated: The Suicide Squad

Best Director

  • Kenneth Branagh Belfast
  • Ryusuke HamaguchiDrive My Car
  • Paul Thomas AndersonLicorice Pizza
  • Jane CampionThe Power of the Dog
  • Steven SpielbergWest Side Story

At the 66th Academy Awards, Campion and Spielberg went head to head in this category for Schindler’s List and The Piano respectively, with Spielberg emerging victorious. Though this time, with The Power of The Dog emerging as this year’s frontrunner, Campion is the heavy favourite to triumph here, even with some controversy following her completely unnecessary remarks against Venus and Serena Williams at the Critics Choice. ‘

This is one category where CODA cannot stop The Power of the Dog. If Campion does triumph, it would make her the third woman to win this award, and the first time two women have won this award in consecutive years. However, the absurdity of nominating Dune for just about everything else, except for the guy whose vision made it all possible is absolute madness. Hopefully, the Academy is keeping this award safe for Villeneuve for when the time comes to honour Dune: Part Two.

Will Win: Jane Campion

Should Win: Jane Campion

Could have been nominated: Denis Villeneuve for Dune

Best Actor in a Leading Role

  • Javier BardemBeing the Ricardos
  • Benedict CumberbatchThe Power of the Dog
  • Andrew Garfieldtick, tick… BOOM! 
  • Will SmithKing Richard
  • Denzel WashingtonThe Tragedy of Macbeth

Throughout this awards season, there have been four names consistently cropping up in this race: Cumberbatch, Garfield, Smith and Washington. All of whom are thoroughly deserving of their nominations. Washington’s performance in Macbeth is strong, but it’s not the finest performance of his career. Whereas for Cumberbatch and Garfield, this is most definitely the case. Similarly, Smith’s turn as Richard Williams, also represents some of his finest ever work.

The question as to who that fifth nominee could be was the source of much speculation. Given that the aforementioned four gentlemen have all been nominated before, there was an opportunity to hand someone their first-time nomination. Newcomer Jude Hill’s sweet and impactful debut performance in Belfast or to give Peter Dinklage’s beautiful performance in Cyrano would both have been very well deserved recipients of that nomination. Performances from giant blockbusters seldom cross into the Oscars, but a nomination for Daniel Craig for his final bow as James Bond in No Time To Die would also have been a worthy nominee. Instead, it feels like the Academy would have been a more worthy nomination than Bardem’s turn in Being the Ricardos, a nomination that’s just so safe and boring, that it’s extremely unsatisfying.

Yet irrespective of who that fifth nominee was in the end, it matters not because it will be the third time’s the charm for Will Smith, as nothing will stop him from collecting his first Oscar for his magnificent work portraying Richard Williams in King Richard

Will Win: Will Smith

Should Win: Will Smith

Should have been nominated: Jude Hill for Belfast or Peter Dinklage for Cyrano 

Best Actress in a Leading Role

  • Jessica ChastainThe Eyes of Tammy Faye
  • Olivia ColmanThe Lost Daughter
  • Penélope CruzParallel Mothers
  • Nicole KidmanBeing the Ricardos
  • Kristen StewartSpencer

Last year, this award was one of the most exciting and unpredictable races, and it looks like history is repeating itself. This year’s race is proving to be equally chaotic. With no one having the advantage of their film being a Best Picture nominee, it’s an extremely open race. However, unlike last year, this particular race feels quite weak by comparison.

Ever since Spencer first screened, Stewart was widely seen as the frontrunner, and fully deservingly so for her mesmerising and transformative turn as Princess Diana. Yet that early momentum evaporated, and there were question marks as to whether she would even secure that nomination, which would have been one of the biggest snubs in Oscars history. Cruz’s work in Parallel Mothers was a deeply powerful performance that even without their films getting Best Picture nominations, and also without picking up any of the precursor nominations, these performances are thoroughly deserving of their nominations. Jessica Chastain certainly goes all in with her Eyes of Tammy Faye performance, but ultimately it feels like a performance that’s a bit too flashy and is a case of style over substance.

Kidman’s nomination is probably the most deserving out of the three Ricardos nominations, but likewise, with her two co-stars, her nomination feels so uninspiring due to the sheer blandness of the film around her. The Academy clearly loves Olivia Colman, and while she was good in The Lost Daughter, she has definitely put in better performances in her career. Ultimately, the nominations of Colman and Kidman feel like nominations that are based purely on their name, and that’s really disappointing as the Academy really should have recognised the work from some of the Best Picture nominees, like Rachel Zegler from West Side Story or Emilia Jones from CODA, both of whom were far more deserving of nominations than Colman or Kidman.

But, like Will Smith, this is Chastain’s third nomination. She’s picked up a couple of the precursor awards, and if Tammy Faye takes home the Hair and Makeup Oscar, this could align for the first Oscar for Chastain. But honestly, it’s anyone’s guess.

However, what also really stings is the lack of nominations for actresses Jodie Comer and Tessa Thompson, whose fierce and powerful performances in films like The Last Duel and Passing respectively both utterly blow the majority of the competition out of the water.

Will Win: Jessica Chastain

Should Win: Kristen Stewart

Should have been nominated: Jodie Comer for The Last Duel, Tessa Thompson for Passing or Emilia Jones for CODA

And, last and certainly by no means least…

Best Picture

  • BelfastLaura Berwick, Kenneth Branagh, Becca Kovacik, and Tamar Thomas
  • CODA – Philippe Rousselet, Fabrice Gianfermi, and Patrick Wachsberger
  • Don’t Look UpAdam McKay and Kevin Messick
  • Drive My CarTeruhisa Yamamoto
  • DuneMary Parent, Denis Villeneuve, and Cale Boyter
  • King RichardTim White, Trevor White, and Will Smith
  • Licorice PizzaSara Murphy, Adam Somner, and Paul Thomas Anderson
  • Nightmare AlleyGuillermo del Toro, J. Miles Dale, and Bradley Cooper
  • The Power of the DogJane Campion, Tanya Seghatchian, Emile Sherman, Iain Canning, and Roger Frappier
  • West Side StorySteven Spielberg and Kristie Macosko Krieger

Click here to see my ranking of the Best Picture contenders.

It’s so pleasing to see the Academy complete the full set by giving ten films their moment in the spotlight, though some are far less deserving than others in this regard. It’s a joy to see such a mainstream juggernaut like Dune be a fierce competitor, and while it would be my choice this year, one hopes that the Academy will bestow all the awards when the time comes to honour Dune: Part Two. Parasite’s victory two years ago has opened doors for international features, and so it’s a joy to see films like Drive My Car get in the Best Picture race, though it will be great when there’s more than one international film in the race.

Netflix has been fiercely competing for its first Best Picture win over these last few years, and despite making a plethora of amazing films to try and bag that elusive Best Picture Oscar, it has not yet happened. With the most nominees this year, it was looking likely for a while that The Power of the Dog would become the first Netflix film to take home the Best Picture statute. However, Apple TV’s CODA has emerged at what has felt like at the last minute to potentially rain on Netflix’s parade.  The fact that these two films are the front runners, and that they’re both directed by women, is worthy of celebration. This really could go either way.

Will Win:  CODA 

Should Win: Dune 

Should have been nominated: The Last Duel and Passing 

————————————————–

Final counts

Will win:

  • Dune – 5
  • CODA – 3
  • Eyes of Tammy Faye – 2
  • King Richard – 2 
  • Belfast – 1
  • Cruella -1 
  • Drive My Car – 1
  • Encanto – 1
  • No Time To Die – 1
  • The Power of the Dog – 1
  • West Side Story -1

Should win:

  • Dune – 8
  • CODA – 2
  • King Richard – 2 
  • Belfast -1
  • Cruella – 1 
  • Drive My Car – 1
  • Encanto – 1
  • Mitchells vs The Machines -1
  • Spencer – 1
  • West Side Story – 1 
Posted in 2020-2029, Awards Season, Ranking

94th Academy Awards: Best Picture Nominees Ranked

Another awards season has come and gone. While this year’s awards season has unfortunately been full of controversy, it has been extremely satisfying to see films back on the big screen where they belong in 2021, after the previous year’s awards season was much changed due to the pandemic. With so many films coming out in 2021, it also is extremely satisfying to see ten films being selected for the top prize this year. This year’s crop includes a new adaptation of a classic musical, part one of an enthralling adaptation of a beloved sci-fi novel, a heartfelt coming-of-age story, the inspiring story of the father of two of the best athletes of all time, a gothic-noir thriller, and a beautiful semi-autobiographical film of the significance of the place we call home.

A (mostly) impressive crop of nominees, but as usual, only one film will emerge victorious. So, without any further ado, here’s my ranking of these films worst to best, starting with…

10. Don’t Look Up

Full review here

I always say, that every year there’s going to be one Best Picture nominee potentially that you are not going to get the fuss about. However, it has been a few years since a film has appeared in this lineup that I’ve completely and totally LOATHED. Adam McKay’s latest attempt at a satire takes that title this year, and the last time it happened, was another McKay film, Vice.

There’s not been a single one of McKay’s satirical films that I’ve enjoyed. The Big Short had its moments, but I was not a fan of it for the most part. It’s been a recurring theme throughout each of these films, there’s an overbearing smugness and pomposity to them that just winds me up something fierce. I thought Vice was bad, but here, that smugness was dialled up to the maximum, and it was just an extremely unbearable and rage-inducing film to sit through. There is an important, urgent message at its centre which I begrudgingly give the film credit for. However, by attempting to portray that message with the most unsubtle and unfunny satire, which is at times is practically insulting its audience, it renders the whole thing utterly pointless. The Academy clearly has a love for Adam McKay’s satires that I don’t think I will ever have. This film won’t want to look up and see its position in this list.

9. Licorice Pizza

It is incredible to think that for a director as beloved as Paul Thomas Anderson, he has so far, failed to win an Oscar, despite his films often getting recognition. There was much hype about his latest film, and on paper, it ticked all the boxes. A sweet 1970s set coming-of-age story, drenched in nostalgia. It could be the one film to end his long wait for an Oscar, but I for one, find the love for this film completely baffling. While it’s not as infuriatingly offensive as the preceding film on this list, it’s not a million miles off.

The film is immaculately shot and the performances of its leads Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim are excellent. However, there’s so much about this film that just fell completely flat. Firstly, the plot (if you can call really call it that) meanders and is at times extremely tedious, and it all felt extremely aimless and unconnected. But the film commits a couple of massive indiscretions that are just completely baffling, and avoidable. The first of which is the age gap between the leads. As a 25-year-old woman falling in love with a 15-year-old boy, the age gap felt extremely icky, especially as the film wanted these two to find a way to be together. If the genders were reversed, there would be a justifiable furious outcry. There’s a fantastic piece on why this age gap is so problematic, which you can read on In Session Film. It was a problem that could have been so easily avoided, Hoffman’s character is perceived to be grown up because of how mature he is, so why not just make him an adult? As if that wasn’t problematic enough, there are also two scenes that feature instances of a deeply uncomfortable depiction of a racist stereotype that serve no purpose to this story, and could have very easily been taken out of the film.

 

8. Nightmare Alley

Now, we’re into the stuff that actually deserves to be here. The newest film from Guillermo del Toro since he scooped Best Picture and Best Director for The Shape of Water at the 90th Academy Awards. Whenever you think of the Mexican auteur’s films, chances are you might associate them with the mythical monster genre. There’s nothing quite like that in his newest film, but there’s still a distinctly noir vibe to this enchanting mystery that pulls you in and keeps you engaged. A fascinating thriller focusing on Bradley Cooper’s Stanton Carlisle, a con man who charms his way into working at a carnival. As usual with any GDT picture, the production values are all excellent, from the stunning production design, Dan Lausten’s cinematography, it’s all visually immaculate. The first half is a bit sluggish in its pacing, but from the moment Dr. Lilith Ritter (a riveting Cate Blanchett) enters the picture, the film pulls you into the mystery and never lets up.

 

7. West Side Story

In 1961, Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’s West Side Story won a grand total of 10 Oscars, including Best Picture. 50 years later, acclaimed director Steven Spielberg took on the challenge of bringing this musical to a brand new generation. Quite the daunting task, especially for a director even one as acclaimed as Spielberg, especially when you consider that he’d never done a musical before!

In the hands of Spielberg, there was never any doubt that the film would be visually tremendous, even though Spielberg got a bit too trigger happy with the lens flares. Rachel Zegler, in her first film role, proves that she is an absolute star in the making with an incredible debut performance as Maria. Alongside her, Ariana DeBose excels as Anita with a performance that will surely land her a history-making Supporting Actress Oscar win. The story of finding love and hostility between rival communities remains as painfully relevant now as it did back in the 1960s. However, the presence of Ansel Elgort here really drags the film down. He lacks the charisma to be a leading man, but furthermore as everyone else around him by comparison, is a much more talented singer/performer, he really sticks out like a sore thumb.

 

6. Drive My Car

Grief is something that all we go through whenever someone near and dear to us departs this world. How does one process this when that happens to them? While there’s no right answer to that question, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s moving film provides a meditative and thorough examination of this process and how we as humans cope with it. Clocking in at three hours, the film does its best to keep the audience engaged right throughout as it takes a thought-provoking look at melancholy, and how we process the grief that we experience when someone extremely close to us has passed away.

The film focuses on a renowned theatre director (an outstanding Hidetoshi Nishijima), who’s struggling to come to terms with the loss of his beloved wife. To that end, he is driven to work by a chauffeur hired by the production company. A film that touches on such a difficult subject matter, with that runtime could have very easily been a recipe for disaster. While it is extremely heavy to watch, and you do begin to feel the three-hour run time by the end, Hamaguchi’s nuanced screenplay packs a lot of layers into the film and is a thought-provoking look at how we come to terms with grief and loss.

 

 

5. The Power of the Dog

Full review here

To the first film that is one of the two favourites to be the film that takes home the big prize of the evening. Jane Campion’s return to the director’s chair after a 12-year wait was a layered Western that has much more than shootouts on its mind than Cowboys and shootouts. Focusing on the tense relationship between two brothers in 1925 Montana, one very unhospitable and unkind to pretty much everyone and every one, one very much the opposite. So when one brother gets married,  it becomes a great source of tension between the more cruel and inhospitable brother and his more gentle brother’s new family.

Brilliantly acted by its entire cast, especially Cumberbatch and Smit-McPhee, Campion’s layered and nuanced screenplay slow-burner is a fascinating exploration of the concepts of toxic masculinity and homosexuality at a time when it would have been extremely taboo to talk about both. It bides its time with its script, thoroughly exploring the characters and the internal conflicts that are raging in them,

4. CODA

Full review here

And now to the second film that’s heavily tipped to take home the top prize. Coming-of-age stories have been plentiful over the years, so it can be hard to distinguish yourself from the crowd, but this is exactly what CODA does, and it does it in a beautiful and emotional manner. Focusing on Emilia Jones’s Ruby, a child of deaf adults, as she pursues her dream of going to a prestigious musical college. A dream that her deaf family can’t understand as they’re unable to appreciate Ruby’s talent.

There are familiar narrative beats that you will see in plenty of coming-of-age stories, and while CODA doesn’t deviate from these, it provides crucial representation for the deaf community. This is a very sweet and sincere love letter to the warm embrace and the emotional support that comes with being surrounded by a loving family, with Troy Kotsur stealing the show as Ruby’s father. With just one word, he was able to break the audience’s emotions into a million pieces. Plus, the fact that the two films that are the favourites to win Best Picture are both directed by women is something to be celebrated.

 

 

3. Belfast

Full review here

No matter where we go in this crazy world we live in, you never truly forget where you come from. Those formative years can play a massive part in shaping you as a person and they may well define the later years of your life, particularly if you’re growing up at a time when your country is in the midst of political turmoil and the threat of political violence erupting at any given moment. In what is his most personal film to date, Kenneth Branagh frames all this from the perspective of young Buddy, who watches all this unfold while trying to enjoy his childhood surrounded by his beloved family.

Jude Hill excels in what is a fantastic breakthrough performance as Buddy. He leads an outstanding cast of exceptional performances. From Jamie Dornan and Catriona Balfe as his loving parents, to Ciaran Hinds and Judi Dench as Buddy’s Grandparents. The mark of a quality performance is one where you see the character and not the actor, and this applies to every member of this cast.  Given when the film is set, it seems unlikely that there’d be much room for comedy, but Branagh’s screenplay expertly balances the political tensions with brilliant moments of humour.

2. King Richard

Full review here

Venus and Serena Wiliams: two of the most instantly recognisable names in any sport. Over the course of their careers, these fantastically gifted athletes have cemented themselves as two of the best athletes not just in the sport of tennis, but of all time. While you will undoubtedly know their name, someone whose name you might not know is their father: Richard Williams. This emotionally uplifting biopic provides a detailed look at the integral impact that Richard had on two of the best athletes of all time.

The film pays tribute to the parents who sacrifice so much so that their budding sports superstars can achieve their dreams of success. Will Smith’s likely Best Actor win will be so well deserved. He’s a man who’s committed to his plan to ensure his daughters achieve their superstar dreams, and will not suffer fools gladly. In a film that is the biopic of two of the biggest stars in the history of tennis, it might seem odd to frame it from Richard’s perspective, yet the film makes you understand just how much of an impact Richard had on his daughters’ early careers. Yet, crucially,  the film doesn’t lose sight of the women in this story. Aunjaune Ellis’s towering performance as Venus and Serena’s mother Brandy goes toe to toe with Richard, and Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton as the young versions Venus and Serena are all equally brilliant.

1. Dune

Full review here

In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the closure of cinemas across the world meant that there was a distinct lack of the iconic cinematic blockbusters that audiences have enjoyed for decades. With the return of cinemas last year, it was extremely pleasing to see these blockbusters return to where they belong. No film typifies the wondrous experience of seeing films on the big screen in 2021 than the first half of this adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel from visionary director Denis Villeneuve.

Villeneuve’s passion for the source material shines through with every frame. The sheer scale of the world-building is awe-inspiring, in a manner that’s akin to Lord of the Rings, for example. It sweeps the audience up with its breath-taking visual majesty, perfectly accompanied by Hans Zimmer’s score that will transport you back to Arrakis in an instant. The stacked ensemble cast is all pitch-perfect in their roles, and Villeneuve’s direction is masterful in every respect. The novel was said to be unfilmable, but Villeneuve proved everyone wrong. I cannot wait to make the trip back to Arrakis in 2023 to witness Part Two.

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Could/should have been nominated…

 

This year, for the first time in what feels like a long time, we have a full set of ten films that are up for the biggest prize. But like I do every year, I like to have a look at what could have been, because there are some films that simply put should not be in this year’s race. So if I was an Oscar voter, here are three films that would make a perfect Best Picture lineup this year. So out go Don’t Look Up, Licorice Pizza, and Nightmare Alley and in their place, we have:

The Last Duel (review). I am at a complete loss as to how this has completely missed the mark for this year’s awards season. It really should be a contender in numerous categories and should be absolutely running away with Best Actress, as with the exceptions of Kristen Stewart and Tessa Thompson, no one came close to matching Jodie Comer’s brilliant leading actress performance in this enthralling historical epic. Directed by the legendary Sir Ridley Scott, the film’s poor box office probably didn’t help matters, but that shouldn’t have mattered. Its important and timely themes meant that it should have been a frontrunner, and the fact that it’s not is something I will forever be bitter about.

Spencer (review). Speaking of Stewart, the fact that hers is the only Oscar nomination for Pablo Lorrain’s biopic of Princess Diana is so baffling. While that nomination is thoroughly deserved, the film was an extremely unique biopic that took creative liberties with the troubled marriage between Diana and Prince Charles as it was clear that the marriage had broken down. It should have been a shoo-in for production design and costumes at the very least…

Passing. The subject of race has been a major talking point over these last few years, and in her directorial debut, Rebecca Hall takes a considered and thought-provoking approach to this topical issue, and gets awards-worthy performances out of Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga. Two more actors who, along with Comer should have been nominated this year at the very least. Like The Last Duel, Passing being completely shut out of this year’s awards season is just beyond baffling.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Belle (2022)

© Studio Chizu and Toho

Belle  – Film Review

Cast: Kaho Nakamura, Ryō Narita, Shōta Sometani, Tina Tamashiro, Lilas Ikuta, Kōji Yakusho, Takeru Satoh

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Synopsis: When a shy teenage high school student discovers the online world of “U”, she disappears under her online persona of talented singer Bell, where she soon becomes a viral sensation…

Review: Life in the 21st-century has very much become a society where the internet and social media has become entrenched in just about every aspect of modern life. Having a presence on social media is of paramount importance, especially for younger generations. Social media can be a wonderful place, giving any individual the chance to connect with like-minded individuals and to offer an escape from the madness of the real world. While this vast digital platform does offer plentiful opportunities, it is not without its perils. For his latest film, Mamoru Hosada has crafted an exquisite piece of storytelling that examines this digital universe, whilst also providing a modern update for the tale as old as time.

Suzu is a high school student living in a rural village with her father. She has a passion for singing, but ever since an extremely traumatic incident when she was a child, she has struggled to rediscover that passion that she once had for singing and song-writing. Despite his best efforts, Suzu’s father is unable to connect with her, and their relationship has become extremely distant. When she discovers the vast virtual world of “U”, it’s a place that enables Suzu to disappear into a brand new digital world. In this world, she is able to rediscover her voice and adopts the online persona of Belle, where she quickly becomes a viral sensation with her incredible singing talent, attracting the attention of the entire population of “U”. Whilst enjoying the adulation and the spotlight, Belle discovers the mystery of another avatar, known only as The Dragon. She becomes intrigued and strives to know more about him.

The vast digital world that we have at our fingertips today is an incredible one that offers anyone a plethora of opportunities to follow and meet like-minded people and to express themselves creatively. This can be a positive outlet for people, which can help boost their creative sparks. However, it can also be an exceedingly dangerous place where people can be subjected to unspeakable cruelty and callousness. Hosoda’s screenplay is hugely ambitious in this respect, as it attempts to take a thorough exploration of both the positives and negatives when it comes to this vast digital platform. Marvelling at the power that such a digital world can do for a person’s morale, whilst simultaneously highlighting the dangers and dark sides that come with internet fame and popularity, such as trolls and cyberbullying.

However, this is merely scratching the surface of the story that Hosoda has penned. It is also a profound examination of the effect that bereavement can have on a child. Not only that, but it explores the adverse effect that this can have when it comes to a child’s creative outlets and how they want to express themselves. As if that wasn’t ambitious enough, the reinvention of the classic fairy-tale of Beauty and The Beast for a 21st-century audience, adds another fascinating layer to the story. In this world of “U”, Belle strives to understand who this beastly character is. Is he really is the terrible, and evil monster that the world of U portrays him as? Or could it be that he’s just misunderstood? With such an ambitious screenplay that has numerous different concurrent plot threads being weaved together, the film could have got convoluted very quickly. However, Hosada’s expertise shines through, and his screenplay weaves them all together in a thoroughly profound and emotionally resonant manner.

When it comes to modern animation, the technology that animators have at their disposal is so advanced that audiences have come to expect the best quality animation every time. Yet such effort takes a lot of work, and even with that weight of expectation, the work that the animation team accomplishes to make the world of “U” feels like a fully realised place is absolutely astounding. Using a perfect combination of more traditional hand-drawn animation, with CG animation, the work done by every animator is absolutely astounding. On top of which, the character designs for each of the avatars in “U” is absolutely extraordinary. From Belle’s long pink hair, to her freckles, to the extraordinary detail on the Dragon. Every character in this world feels less like they are an online persona, and more like a real person. If at the mere touch of a button, there was such a vast digital world that offers a wealth of opportunities for individuals to reinvent themselves, it’s surely an opportunity that anyone would surely seize with both hands.

 An emotional and profound examination of the wonders and perils of the digital age, intertwined with a beautiful reimagining of a classic fairy-tale. Mamoru Hosoda has crafted a stunning and heart-wrenching masterpiece.

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