Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2020

Supernova (2020)

Image is property of BBC Films and StudioCanal

Supernova  – Film Review

Cast: Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci

Director: Harry Macqueen

Synopsis: As a middle-aged couple travel around England visiting family and friends, as one battles with his dementia diagnosis, the other must do whatever he can to care for his beloved partner…

Review: As human beings, mortality is something that we sadly have very little control over. The day when we, or someone very close to us, is struck down by a life changing disease is one that is fraught with sadness and uncertainty. Yet through every diagnosis, amidst all the immeasurable pain and heartache, light can be found. Something that we can always cling onto, is that the love of those we hold dear, whether from family, or friends, can be of invaluable support for those fighting their illness. It may be cliched to say, yet there’s truth in that this simple emotion holds so much power. It can be an immense source of light, even in the face of devastating circumstances.

Sam (Firth) and Tusker (Tucci) have spent many happy years together in a loving relationship having enjoyed careers as a musician and writer/novelist respectively. However, they have put their careers on hold as Tusker has been diagnosed with early onset dementia. As they both try their hardest to fight and overcome this illness, the tragic realisation dawns on them both that Tusker’s dementia diagnosis is causing his condition to tragically deteriorate, slowly but surely, beyond repair. As they travel around the country visiting family and friends in their campervan, the two of them are determined to do whatever they can to love each other, and keep going through this adversity. Yet deep down, there’s a heart-breaking, but silent, realisation that this might well be the last moments where they can spend meaningful time together as a couple, before Tusker’s illness properly takes hold.

As the couple whose heart-breaking journey is at the centre of the film, both Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci’s performances are nothing short of exceptional. It’s crystal clear that, with every minute that these two acting powerhouses share on screen, there is a warm and affectionate chemistry between them both, and that they love and care for one another deeply. Though as with any relationship, a balance needs to be struck between our own needs and the needs of the other person. Having made their relationship last over numerous years, it’s evident that both men have strived to make their relationship an unbreakable bond. Though, when you’ve been dealt with a crushing diagnosis of a life changing illness like dementia, there are inevitably those moments where the selfish tendencies of one of them threatens to tear their relationship apart.

While it’s hard to get away from the fact that a diagnosis like this is unspeakably painful for all concerned, Harry Macqueen’s beautiful script finds ways to inject a little bit of humour to what is a desperately testing time for this couple. There are wonderful moments of sharp and delightful humour, be it a witty remark about a Sat-nav, or a delightfully humorous moment as Sam an Tusker are winding down for the night. These moments, can be few and far between in such a dire predicament, but they can really make a massive difference. Furthermore, the film perfectly captures the warmth that can come when time with family and friends is well spent, and how precious these moments can be, especially in the midst of such crushing adversity.

The sheer visual majesty of the Lake District is captured so beautifully by the gorgeous glow of Dick Pope’s cinematography. Every single frame has been crafted with the utmost care and Macqueen’s direction is raw, honest and beautiful. It’s a simple story, but sometimes the beauty lies in the simplicity and Macqueen imbues that with an honest and compassionate look about this illness and the upsetting effects it can have. Above all else, it serves as an essential reminder to use your time on this planet wisely. Live your life to the fullest, and love and cherish all those who you hold dear, because when we combine all that together; it is, much like a supernova, an almighty force to be reckoned with.

Acted to absolute perfection by Firth and Tucci and uncomplicated by its simplicity. Supernova will break your heart, whilst simultaneously leaving you in awe of its breath-taking beauty.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2020

Wolfwalkers (2020)

Image is property of Cartoon Saloon, WildCard Productions and Apple TV+

Wolfwalkers – Film Review

Cast: Honor Kneafsey, Sean Bean, Eva Whittaker, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Simon McBurney, Tommy Tiernan

Directors: Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart

Synopsis: After moving from England to Ireland with her father, a young girl discovers a remarkable secret when she meets a fierce girl who lives in the woods with a pack of wolves…

Review: There are animated studios that everyone will likely instinctively think of when it comes to producing wonderful works of animated magic. With animation being an art form that offers endless possibilities of worlds to explore, and characters to create, many studios have had numerous decades to cement their reputations as animated movie maestros. However, one name that may not be as familiar to many, but have been consistently producing some absolutely marvellous films, is that of Cartoon Saloon. With what is only their fourth animated feature, the studio are continuing to enhance their reputation as the next big name in feature film animation, as well as being the Irish answer to Studio Ghibli.

Robyn Goodfellowe (Kneafsey) is a fiercely independent girl living with her father Bill (Bean) in 17th century Ireland. Her father works as a hunter tasked with hunting down a pack of wolves living in the nearby forest, that have the town’s residents in a panic. Her curious nature, and desire to become a hunter like her father, leads her to the forest. By chance, she meets and befriends a free-spirited girl Mebh (Whittaker) who lives with the wolves in question. As the two build up a friendship, Robyn uncovers a revelatory secret about a rumoured extraordinary ability that Mebh possesses, which will change the way Robyn views the world forever.

In an era that sees many studios use fully enhanced computer animation to make their films, it is wonderfully refreshing and endearing to see a studio opt for the more traditional, pencil drawn style of animation, which Cartoon Saloon have mastered. This wonderfully unique story is a vibrant combination of a fairytale, spliced together with a Celtic myth, with the added element of a tale that’s akin to The Legend of Zelda. It is clear that the filmmakers have put in considerable amounts of effort into establishing the historical setting of 17th Century Ireland, which adds considerable levels of authenticity to the animation. By marrying this up with the more fascinating and mystical elements of this wonderful story, that are equally stunning and detailed, it creates something truly unique. Every single aspect of the animation is breath-taking to watch and visually mesmerising.

With excellent and sincere voice work across the board, the characters are all extremely well-rounded and developed. Robyn is an immensely likeable heroine, and Kneafsay’s excellent performance gives her a fierce and independent streak. This helps her to connect with Mebh who’s even more fierce than Robyn, and Whittaker’s voice work is equally impressive. The mutual desire between these two like-minded young people to forge their own destinies in life helps to solidify that strong bond between the two of them. This strong bond, that beats at the heart of this magical adventure, only goes from strength to strength as the film progresses. Though this desire to not want to conform to what would be expected of women, puts Robyn into a difficult situation, with her stern, but loving father. Sean Bean’s familiar voice helps to lend an Eddard Stark-esque fatherly presence to Bill, a man who is also fiercely protective of his daughter.

Yet, as Bill works to protect his beloved daughter, it gets in the way of his work, putting him at odds with the town’s dastardly ruler Lord Protector, voiced with fittingly evil menace by Simon McBurney. While comparisons between this film and a certain Pixar adventure may well be drawn, there’s more than enough meat on its bones that enables Wolfwalkers to stand tall on its own paws. The wonderfully magical nature of this adventure will help the film to connect with audiences of all ages. Furthermore, with the perfect use of Aurora’s soaring vocals, this marvellously captivating tale lets its imagination, and the wolves run wild, and the end result is, simply put, perfection.

Packed with glowing, gorgeous animation and a vibrant exciting story, this enchanting and affectionate tale will charm and delight you, before howling its way into your heart.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2020

Mangrove (2020)

Image is property of BBC Studios, EMU Films and Turbine Studios

Mangrove – Film Review

Cast: Letitia Wright, Shaun Parkes, Malachi Kirby, Rochenda Sandall, Gershwyn Eustache Jnr, Gary Beadle, Jack Lowden , Alex Jennings, Llewella Gideon, Nathaniel Martello-White, Richie Campbell, Jumayn Hunter, Sam Spruell, Joseph Quinn, Derek Griffiths

Director: Steve McQueen

Synopsis: Telling the true story of the Mangrove Nine who after protesting against a series of racially motivated Metropolitan Police raids, were put on trial at the Old Bailey…

Review: There’s no getting away from the fact that a watershed moment for the peaceful Black Lives Matter movement happened in 2020. A movement of people across the world demanding equality for black communities, garnered seismic momentum following a handful of appalling acts of blatant racial prejudice, amidst the backdrop of a society that is deeply entrenched in racism and segregation. In the same year that a fiercely powerful and furiously relevant piece of filmmaking from Spike Lee reminded the world of the challenges the black communities face in the USA. It’s important to remember, that it’s not just confined to the USA where black communities have, for far too long, been dealing with the ugly nature of racism. Steve McQueen continues that trend, as Mangrove, the first of his Small Axe anthology films, brings into sharp focus that like the USA, Britain has been dealing with institutionalised racism for decades.

Set in 1960s London, Frank Crichlow (Parkes) runs the Mangrove restaurant, serving the finest Caribbean cuisine for the Notting Hill community. Yet despite no wrongdoing whatsoever, the restaurant is constantly being watched, and raided by the Police who are supposedly searching the business for drugs. Having become utterly and justifiably fed up of the constant and deliberately racially charged assault on the business, the black community protest against the Metropolitan Police and their appalling prejudice and bigotry. However, after the peaceful protest escalates into violence (due to the heavy handling of the demonstration by the police), the leaders of this new resistance find themselves in legal peril. Incredulously, they, not the police, are facing hefty criminal charges that could lead to substantial prison sentences.

Within the first few minutes of the film, McQueen establishes the Mangrove restaurant as a vibrant place to experience some excellent cuisine and enjoy the wonderful culture. With a thriving black community living in the area, for many people, the Mangrove restaurant represents their home away from home. Yet McQueen makes it disturbingly clear that not everyone in the community shares the love for the restaurant, its manager or its patrons. The first half of the film is an unflinching look at the institutionalised racism that the Metropolitan police bring down on this community, using blatantly fictitious excuses to carry out raids and stopping people in this community for no justifiable reason, purely down to the colour of their skin.

When the second half and the much publicised trial begins, it’s at this point that the film gets even better, and becomes considerably more tense. Every single one of these performances shine, but special mention must go to Shaun Parkes, Letitia Wright and Malachi Kirby. As the man who’s at the centre of this battleground, Parkes’s performance as Frank is initially quiet and reserved. He’s a man who just wants to run his business peacefully. Though understandably, when it comes under constant attack, he gets very animated when it comes to defending his business and his customers. Letitia Wright’s work with the Marvel Cinematic Universe has garnered her popularity across the world. However with this heart-breaking performance as Altheia Jones-LeCointe, the leader of the British Black Panther movement and a figurehead for those standing up against a system that is rigged against them, she gives the performance of her career. Likewise for Malachi Kirby’s Darcus Howe, a prominent Black Panther activist.

It’s hard to watch the trial unfold and and not be thoroughly disgusted at the blatant racism being depicted. From the treatment of the Mangrove restaurant to certain decisions made during the trial, as well the behaviour of some individuals during the trial. It’s indicative of the appalling nature of the crooked and corrupt system that they were up against. As events in 2020 have demonstrated, the issue of racism and equality for black and ethnic minority communities is one that feels more timely than ever. At one point a character utters the memorable line “Together we become stronger.” In this one of the most turbulent of years in living memory, this line of dialogue speaks volumes of the power of unity and togetherness, one that we as humanity, the single species that we are, must continuously unite behind.

Flawlessly acted, with a powerful and timely message at its heart, Mangrove shines an urgent spotlight on the deep rooted institutional racism that’s sadly still relevant in modern society.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Gentlemen (2020)

Image is property of Miramax

The Gentleman – Film Review

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan, Colin Farrell, Hugh Grant

Director: Guy Ritchie

Synopsis: When word gets out that the head of profitable drugs empire plans to take a step back from his business, the bids to assume control of the business between the various interested parties threatens to boil over…

Review: Whenever you think of certain directors, you’re likely to associate them with certain genres. So for example, when the name Guy Ritchie is mentioned, the classic British gangster flicks, or Sherlock Holmes, may come to mind. When he hopped on Disney’s magic carpet for the live action remake of Aladdin, it seemed to be an unlikely match. Undeniably a profitable venture for both Ritchie and the House of Mouse, yet the end product was considerably uninspiring. Hence, it’s little surprise that Ritchie has gone back to what he knows best, and all the better for it, as his latest film is one that feels very much cut from the same cloth as his classic Gangster flicks.

Micky Pearson (McConaughey) is the founder of a marijuana business that he established in his university days. Having turned it into a very lucrative venture over many years, with Raymond (Hunnam) as his assistant, he has made a decision to cash in and sell as he desires to spend more time with his wife Ros (Dockery). Yet, before he can sign off on a very profitable deal, a number of pesky, scheming individuals are lurking and plotting to take control of the business for themselves. These conniving individuals include the slimy billionaire Matthew (Strong), ruthless gangster boss Dry Eye (Golding), and the wily and deceptive private investigator Fletcher (Grant).

It goes without saying that the key players of a crime/gangster flick are probably not going to be the nicest of people, which would be problematic if they were not compelling characters. Fortunately, with this pitch perfect cast that Ritchie has assembled, there’s not a bad performance to be found. McConaughey is his usual charming and charismatic self, but for a man of his position, a dark and menacing side lays beneath his suave demeanour. Henry Golding has so often portrayed charming gentleman-esque characters. Hence to see him flip that that perception of him on its head and portray a cold and calculating gangster is delightful to see, and he does it brilliantly. Through all of this though, it’s Hugh Grant’s gleefully enthusiastic performance as the dastardly Fletcher, who steals the entire film. He presents himself as a charming geezer, but underneath that charade, there’s something quite mischievous about his character.

In a rather ingenious move by Ritchie, he uses Fletcher to establish the key players, and the events that have led up to the events of the film. Fletcher’s mischievous tendencies mean that you take his narration with a huge pinch of salt. All is almost certainly not what it seems as he narrates the state of play. With all the numerous schemes and plots that are all happening simultaneously, the film can be a little hard to follow. Yet, it crucially never loses its sense of intrigue, and as Ritchie connects all the dots, it’s nothing short of delightfully entertaining. Ritchie combines this sense of intrigue with some excellent lines of dialogue, and no shortage of violent action scenes.

The abundance of extremely politically incorrect language that’s littered throughout the film may turn off some viewers. Furthermore, the film really squanders the potential that Michelle Dockery’s Ros offered. She could have been a very interesting character to explore, but her development is threadbare and she’s not given enough screen time to significantly develop her character or her relationship with her husband. In spite of that, Ritchie has put the disappointment of his Disney venture behind him, and shown the when he is the one who makes the rules, it can be a blast from start to finish. The Guv’nor of the British gangster flicks is back to rule, and let’s hope he’s here to stay.

Bursting with exciting action and a charismatic array of characters, The Gentlemen marks a much needed return to form for Guy Ritchie.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Mulan (2020)

Image is property of Disney

Mulan (2020) – Film Review

Cast: Liu Yifei, Donnie Yen, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Gong Li, Jet Li, Tzi Ma

Director: Niki Caro

Synopsis: Following an enemy invasion, the Emperor decrees that one man from every family must fight in the Chinese Imperial army. Disguising herself as a man, a young woman rides off to war, taking her ailing father’s place…

Review: It is hard to look past the fact that since Disney started to up the ante with their live action remakes, it has been a lucrative venture. From 2015’s Cinderella to last year’s The Lion King, these six films combined have brought home a near total of six billion dollars in box office receipts. However for all that success, one could make the case that these films have (admittedly some more than others) done very little to justify their existence. It comes a relief to say, that after some utterly soulless adaptations, Mulan brings the honour back to these live action remakes.

When an invasion from Northern invaders, the Rourans, threatens the safety of the country and its people, the Emperor (Jet Li) decrees that one man from every family is to be conscripted into the Imperial Army, to stand and fight. With her father’s health in decline after spending many years of his life fighting for his country, Mulan bravely decides to take a stand. In order to save his life, she disguises herself as a man and takes his place in the army, knowing that if her true identity is revealed, it would have deadly ramifications.

When looking at these live action remakes, it’s next to impossible to not compare them to their animated predecessors. Furthermore, it’s probably an understatement to say that the 1998 animated adaptation would have been an important film for anyone growing up in the 1990s. At its core, there was an empowering message for girls and women everywhere: to not let societal constraints restrict them from being who they want to be. Yet, for all the wonderful things about the animated adaptation of this classic tale of a legendary Chinese warrior, historical inaccuracies meant its reception in China was far from the one Disney would have hoped. Hence for this new adaptation, much has been changed as it strives for a more realistic, gritty tone that honours the tale of the legendary figure it depicts.

For starters, there are no spontaneous moments where a character bursts into song, and the comic relief that was Mushu is also nowhere to be seen. Instead, the intent is clearly there to faithfully depict the story of this legendary figure as accurately as possible. Liu Yifei gives a sincere performance in the titular role. She imbues her with the three characteristic traits that ultimately define who she is a person: loyalty, bravery, and being true to who she is. She also has the added bonus of being an extremely skilled warrior. Unlike the animated film, the majority of her fellow recruits are barely given any development, save for Honghui (Yoson An) and her commander General Tung (Yen), both of whom serve as replacements for General Shang: her love interest in the the animated adaptation.

The 1998 film’s villain Shan Yu, was a suitably ominous and terrifying foe that you would not want to cross paths with. In his place comes Bori Khan, who in spite of a concerted effort to give him some backstory and flesh out his motivations, is a very one dimensional antagonist. His severe lack of charisma and screen presence prevents means he is nowhere nearly as intimidating as his animated counterpart. A completely new presence in this version, Gong Li’s Xian Jang, a witch who fights alongside Bori Khan, had potential to be an exciting antagonist. Though her presence here feels completely unnecessary, as her role is underwritten, consequently taking the spotlight away from Bori Khan.

The film’s battle sequences are breath-taking to watch. The assured direction from Niki Caro, combined with the use of stunning practical, mountainous sets, provides rich visual majesty to Mandy Walker’s cinematography. With Mulan marking only the second time being the second time Disney has backed a female directed project with a budget of over 100 million dollars, the studio has put their money where their mouth is. Instead of using the nostalgia of these animated classics, as an excuse to merely print money, they have delivered a live action re-imagining that actually justifies its existence. Though in a year where cinema releases have been severely blighted, it’s a real shame that the film didn’t get the big screen treatment it deserved.

It may not quite live up to its animated predecessor. However, this adaptation gets down to business and honours the Hua Mulan legend, whilst simultaneously setting to set the benchmark for future live action adaptations.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Tenet (2020)

Image is property of Warner Bros and Syncopy

Tenet – Film Review

Cast: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, Michael Caine, Aaron Taylor-Johnson,

Director: Christopher Nolan

Synopsis: A CIA Agent is recruited into a top secret program of international espionage on the trail of the possession of technology that can invert time…

Review: 2020 will certainly go down as one of the most unprecedented years in recent memory, as cinemas and many other businesses lay empty for many months. However, in those long months that the projectors were switched off and the screens remained dark, there was one film that was continuously being talked about as the film that would trigger a revival for the cinema industry. The new film, from a director who is a firm champion of the big screen, was being pitched as the film to goad audiences back to the cinema. While its taken its time to arrive, with a few shuffled release dates en route, in a world that will remain uncertain for the foreseeable future, one thing remains abundantly clear. Christopher Nolan hasn’t lost his ability to create a completely unique piece of cinema.

In a world of international espionage, the Protagonist (Washington), armed with only the use of a single word “Tenet”, must venture into this dangerous and complex world, with the goal of preventing a global catastrophe from occurring. While this sounds like your typical spy/espionage thriller, but in Nolan’s hands this is anything but. The key twist is that in this world, it’s one where cutting edge technology to invert objects through time has been invented, threatening the world with as one character says “something worse” than a nuclear Armageddon.

With Nolan’s previous filmography, he has shown a liking for dabbling with the concept of time and all of the mind-bending possibilities that these offer. Memento was his original head-scratching masterpiece, and amid further exploration of time with the ambitious Interstellar, and the ingenious inter-weaving of three inter-connected events of Dunkirk. Though with Tenet, this is perhaps is most ambitious exploration of time to date, if this was somehow even possible. Packing a lot into its running time, the plot keeps things moving at a fairly brisk pace. However, there are times when so much happening at once that the audience barely has time to stop for breath. Hence, keeping up with the film’s super complex time-bending narrative will almost certainly be a challenge.

Yet, for all the complexities that Nolan’s script throws at the audience, it is a challenge, but it is a rewarding one. The director’s previous films have certainly gone ambitious with many of its action set pieces, and Nolan does his best to outdo himself with a number of extremely ambitious, and well-directed set pieces that’s certainly going to get the pulses racing, and make the audiences’ brains go haywire. In terms of his cast, Nolan has once again delivered an exquisite collection of characters. Following his star turn in BlacKkKlansman, John David Washington delivers another excellent leading performance as the film’s Protagonist. Possessing his father’s charisma in abundance, he brings his own suave almost 007-esque charm to this leading role in a tentpole blockbuster, that will only further his reputation as a leading man. Alongside him, Robert Pattinson continues to forge his own exciting career path. Much like Washington’s Protagonist, he carries a likeable presence, whilst boasting charisma and charm to boot.

While the protagonists certainly carry likeable auras, Kenneth Branagh’s turn as the intimidating Russian oligarch who’s seeking the time-twisting technology, is anything but likeable. His performance is fittingly ominous and menacing, there’s a dark and scary history to this man, which is substantially explored in his abusive relationship with his wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki). On paper, This is a role that could have been extremely problematic, as it runs the risk of making her into a tired and cliched damsel-in-distress. However, with an actor of Debicki’s immense talent, she gives an excellent performance. There’s no shortage of substance to her character and she’s thankfully given enough material so that she has doesn’t fall into that damsel-in-distress cliche.

With long time collaborator Hans Zimmer unavailable, Ludwig Goransson steps in to fill that void, and he does so in spectacular style with a score that fits the fast paced nature of the film. Though impressive as it maybe, it can at times be almost too overpowering, making the dialogue difficult to understand in places. While its plot is undeniably complex, with a lot to digest, there’s no denying that Christopher Nolan remains one of the most unique and visionary directors working today. When the day comes that we’re all freely able to go back to the cinema without any risk, the work of these visionaries must be supported and championed. We’ll just need to make sure we don’t run into any time inverted traps along the way.

It wouldn’t be a Christopher Nolan film if it wasn’t mind-bendingly complex. Yet through it all, the visionary director has once again crafted something extremely unique and compelling. The film industry is certainly a much more interesting place with directors like Nolan in the business.

Posted in 2010-2019, TV Review

Chernobyl (2019)

Image is property of HBO

Chernobyl – TV Miniseries Review

Main Cast: Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård, Emily Watson, Jessie Buckley, Paul Ritter, Adam Nagaitis, Con O’Neill, Adrian Rawlins, Sam Troughton, Robert Emms, David Dencik, Alan Williams, Ralph Ineson, Barry Keoghan, Michael McElhatton

Showrunner: Craig Mazin

Synopsis: An account of the events leading up to the nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, and the subsequent fallout of one of the deadliest man made disasters in history…

Review: As human beings, our lives can so often be irreversibly impacted by natural disasters. Though we are powerless to prevent them from happening, preparations can be made to mitigate the damage and devastation that they leave in their wake. It’s a stark contrast to the numerous man-made disasters that we have seen throughout history, that have also had similarly deadly consequences. However, when you look at how the events transpired, it’s hard to overlook the fact that someone was responsible for allowing these atrocities to happen, and how they could have very easily been prevented. One such disaster, arguably the worst man-made disaster in history, is that of the Chernobyl Nuclear power plant explosion. A tragedy of incomprehensible fallout, captured with horrifying realism in this tense and devastating HBO miniseries.

Over the course of five nerve-shredding episodes, showrunner/writer Craig Mazin and director Johan Renck, explore the disaster and its horrific aftermath. Firstly, recounting the the night of the deadly disaster, and the catalogue of errors that led to the fatal explosion. Following on from that, looking at the attempts by the Soviet government to contain the fallout from the disaster. You watch with disbelief as they seek to prevent the already horrific situation from spiralling into something much worse, at times with shocking degrees of negligence and recklessness. Before ultimately, trying to establish how such a nuclear catastrophe on this scale could have ever happened in the first place. At numerous points throughout the series, this feels more like a documentary. This is largely down to the expert production design, which recreates the power plant, and the surrounding neighbourhoods, which feel remarkably authentic.

Irrespective of whether you’re coming to the series as someone who knows everything about the disaster, or if you know the barest minimum, Mazin’s scripts expertly combine informative scientific facts, with intense and devastating drama. With each episode, it’s made painstakingly clear to us all as to the full extent of the horrific nightmare that was unfolding, and enabling the audience to process just how an event like this could have ever happened. With the exception of a few artistic liberties, Mazin’s scripts faithfully recreate how events unfolded, and the excellent writing is brilliantly combined with Johan Renck’s masterful direction. Each episode expertly blends genres such as the intense drama, and the traumatic horror of those who were the first to be affected by the radiation, to those were recruited for some extremely perilous missions. Furthermore, the crackling sound of a dosimeter going haywire is a sound so unnerving, it may well invade your nightmares.

With brilliant writing, combined with expert direction, and along with Hildur Guðnadóttir’s haunting score, every member of this cast deliver sublime performances. However, the three who shine the brightest are the three characters whose arcs are the pillars of this miniseries, the biggest of those belongs to Jared Harris who is exceptional as Valery Legasov. Drafted in by the Soviet government to lead the efforts to mitigate the effects of the tragedy, he’s not afraid to speak up and the people in charge just sweep everything under the rug. By his side, Stellan Skarsgard is equally tremendous as Boris Scherbina, a Minister whose relationship with Legasov is initially frosty to say the least. However as the two men work closely together, to combat the scale of the disaster they’re dealing with, it strengthens their relationship immeasurably. Last and certainly by no means last is Emily Watson’s stirring work as Ulana Khomyuk. A composite character serving as the embodiment of the countless number of scientists who worked to uncover the full truth behind this unimaginable tragedy.

The show serves as a tribute to all those brave souls who risked their lives to prevent the catastrophe from turning into something that could have been even more cataclysmic than it already was. However, the central theme that beats at the heart of this miniseries is the extremely damaging effect that lies can have when a country is in the grip of a catastrophic event like the Chernobyl disaster. In the wake of a deadly catastrophe that has wreaked unimaginable havoc, electing to cover things up with lies and misinformation may seem like a good idea at the time. However, as was the case of Chernobyl, these lies and misinformation came at a substantial cost, which is still being felt today. This is something that the governments of today could and should definitely learn from, especially at a time when a global health crisis of a very different nature is ravaging the world.

Sublime work from every aspect of the production ensures that this gripping and heart-breaking drama, like the disaster it’s depicting, will never be forgotten. An essential, definitive look at the one of the worst man-made disasters in history. 

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Chicken Run (2000)

Image is property of Pathe, Aardman Animations, and Dreamworks

Chicken Run – Film Review

Cast: Julia Sawalha, Mel Gibson, Miranda Richardson, Tony Haygarth, Benjamin Whitrow, Timothy Spall, Phil Daniels, Jane Horrocks, Imelda Staunton, Lynn Ferguson

Directors: Nick Park and Peter Lord

Synopsis: When a hot headed rooster seemingly flies into their lives, a desperate group of captive chickens see him as their best chance to escape their captivity…

Review: What is the first thing you think of when you hear the name Aardman Animations? It’s quite likely that one would think of a man, and his faithful canine accomplice. With several Wallace and Gromit shorts enhancing their reputation as the undisputed champs of stop-motion clay animation, the transition to full feature film-making for Aardman was bound to happen sooner or later. Yet the studio’s star duo would have to wait their turn for the full length feature treatment. Instead, a plan was hatched, to take a humorous spoof of The Great Escape, but switch Steve McQueen out for some plasticine chickens, and the end result is poultry perfection.

On a farm run by the cruel Mrs Tweedy and her bumbling husband, dwell a deeply unhappy group of chickens. The birds’ lives are dominated by the fact that the must lay a sufficient amount of eggs, else be taken to meet a rather grim fate. The leader of this flock is Ginger (Sawalha) whose determination isn’t quite matched by her flock of hens as their numerous attempts of escape all end in disappointment. However, when the charismatic Rocky, or Rocky the Rhode Island Red to give him his full title (Gibson) by chance flies into their coop, Ginger realises that the power of flight represents their best shot at seeing their dreams of freedom come to fruition.

Poultry plotting…

Aardman showed to the world what they were capable of with their Wallace and Gromit short films. As such they made a seamless transition into into feature length film-making seamlessly, and their debut feature proved that they are the champs of claymation film-making. With every frame, it’s crystal clear that a considerable amount of care and effort that has gone into the frame’s creation. Each moment of the film has a plethora of detail, serving as a real testament to those animators who help bring these films to life. This in turn, is made all the more impressive, considering the sheer amount of time consuming effort that is required to animate each scene.

Ginger is certainly the star of the show here, but she’s given plenty of support from an array of colourful supporting characters. Ginger’s best friend, (and flying the flag for Scotland) is Mac, who is the brains behind many of the escape attempts. The dim-witted yet lovable Babs definitely utters the film’s more memorable and hilarious lines. Rounding out the core group of hens is Bunty, a hen with a sometimes aggressive streak to her character, who’s not afraid to say what she thinks about the plans to escape. As for the cockerels, there’s Fowler, the coop’s leader who enjoys a good reminisce about his RAF days (what, what!) who is left rather peeved when Rocky, with all of his cockiness and charisma, bursts onto the scene. This can also be said for Ginger, who’s left notably unimpressed by Rocky’s charismatic charms, which by contrast gets all of the other hens in a flap.

The plot is straightforward. However, it’s told in a very entertaining manner and the script gives the core group of hens, roosters, and a lovable pair of crafty rats, considerable depth that you care about each and every one them, and will them to escape the confines of their coop/prison. The film never fails to be consistently hilarious with lots of witty jokes and a handful of really impressive action set pieces with no shortage of fun nods to some cinematic classics of the past. While Aardman have made numerous films since Chicken Run flew into cinemas, it’s a testament to their debut feature, that it remains their most egg-ceptional, as well as still being their most successful film to date.

Exquisite animation, combined with colourful array of characters mixed in with some witty dialogue. A poultry perfect feature film debut for Aardman.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Da 5 Bloods (2020)

Image is property of Netflix

Da 5 Bloods – Film Review

Cast: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr, Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen
Jean Reno, Chadwick Boseman

Director: Spike Lee

Synopsis: Four Vietnam War veterans return to the country in search of the remains of their fallen squad leader and seek to obtain the stash of gold that the soldiers hid during the war…

Review: Cast your mind back to 2017, to the events of Charlottesville, USA. The world watched in horror, as it was given a brutal reminder of the sheer ugliness of the deeply entrenched racism still rampant in American society. A year or so after those ugly events, Spike Lee gave the world BlacKkKlansman, a film focusing on a true story about one man’s battle with rampant racism in one small town in America, before putting that into the wider context of Charlottesville and the racism that has been entrenched into American society for generations. Two years later after his last, and extremely thought-provoking joint, Lee is once again channelling his fury into another powerful, and in the wake of the appalling brutality that black communities in the US still face at the hands of law enforcement, extremely timely piece of film-making.

This new joint from the fiercely vocal director, and staunch Trump critic, once again provides a stark reminder of the brutality that Black people have, and continue to face in today’s society, with the war in Vietnam serving as the backdrop. Four African-American Vietnam War veterans: Paul (Lindo), Eddie (Lewis), Melvin (Whitlock Jr) and Otis (Peters) reunite for a deeply personal mission. They’ve returned the country, along with Paul’s son David (Majors), in search of the remains of their fallen squad leader Norm (Boseman) so that he can be brought home and properly commemorated. Simultaneously, they’ve returned to recapture the stash of buried gold that their unit was protecting during the war.

In a similar manner to what he did with BlacKkKlansman, Lee puts the events of the war, the experiences of these four veterans, and its unpopularity back in the USA into a wider context, that of a society that has been crippled with racism for generations. The battle that veterans, such as these four men, experienced in Vietnam may have ended many years ago. Yet for all their years of service, they continue to find themselves in an ongoing battle for equality and an end to a fundamentally racist system that has disproportionately affected the black community, for generations. A fundamental injustice that given rise to the Black Lives Matter movement, a movement whose voice and message, especially in the wake of the appalling murder of black people by police departments across the country, has taken hold not just in America, but across the world.

Each and every one of these actors turn in exceptional performances. The chemistry between the four veterans really shines through, they have certainly have been through hell and back together, which solidified the bonds that they have as brothers-in-arms. However, as the five them set off on their mission, tensions between them begin to mount over various subjects, tensions which threaten to tear their mission, and the bonds built between they have built as soldiers, apart. Lee is certainly a man who isn’t afraid to say what he thinks, and with this film that’s certainly applicable to what these soldiers are experiencing, but this is a joint that is about so much more than just the Vietnam War.

The performance that shines brightest though is by far and away, is Delroy Lindo as Paul. His fierce pro Trump views certainly don’t sit well with the rest of his fellow veterans, and that by consequence, will likely be the case with the audience too. While war does have long lasting consequences, for any soldier, it’s an experience that leaves its mark. This is certainly true for all the Bloods, but it’s especially applicable for Paul. With every word he utters, it’s crystal clear that the effects of the Vietnam War, and the years that have followed, have inflicted deep emotional turmoil upon him. Turmoil that makes you sympathise with him, as it has fundamentally changed him forever, resulting in a very fractured relationship with his son.

Chadwick Boseman might have garnered worldwide fame for his work in bringing Marvel’s Black Panther to life. However, this performance as the leader of this band of brothers, is a subdued, but emphatic display of his abilities as an actor, and the impact of what he brings to the film cannot be overstated. While Lee employs some slick editing, expertly combining present day with flashbacks to the fighting occurring in Vietnam. Though it is for the most part, slickly edited together, it does feel a tad overlong in places, and could have potentially shaved ten to fifteen minutes off its running time. Nevertheless, that does not minimise the film’s impact, as it shows how the battle continues for veterans such as these men, long after they have returned from the war. Their fight against the sheer ugliness of a society entrenched in systemic racism has continued in the decades that followed.

Given the appalling brutality that remains an ugly stain on American society, one can hope that the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement, can bring seismic, and much needed, needed change to end a society that is systemically rigged against veterans like the titular Bloods, and the black community as a whole. Though it is hard to ignore the current President and his deliberate attempts to stoke that racial division, that has enabled voices such as Spike Lee and the Black Lives Matter movement to emerge and use their platforms, to fight those fires of division and to spread these pivotal messages, messages that are crucially resonating with people across the world.

Powerful and heart-wrenching performances, especially from Lindo, mixed in with fierce and urgent messages that resonate with today’s society, now more than ever. Da 5 Bloods is the film that this year really needed.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Ready or Not (2019)

Image is property of Searchlight Pictures

Ready or Not  – Film Review

Cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Nicky Guadagni, Kristian Bruun, Elyse Levesque, John Ralston

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

Synopsis: As she marries into a wealthy family that owns a considerable empire built upon board games, a bride’s wedding night turns violent when she’s forced into a deadly game of hide and seek…

Review: When you think of a wedding, you picture them to be joyful, happy occasions filled with family, drinks and memories that will last a lifetime. Or, that’s at least how they usually go. However, for anyone marrying into a family that has a vast and considerable empire built upon board games, their wedding night will not involve a disco, lots of drinks and some joyous music. Instead, it will involve a game, a game of the considerably more bloody variety that pits everyone in a brutal battle for survival.

Grace (Weaving) is excited to finally be marrying into the Le Domas family as she ties the knot with her fiance Alex (O’Brien). Once the ceremony is concluded, Grace is invited by her new relatives to take part in a game that the Le Domas clan do every time someone new enters the family. When Grace chooses the “hide and seek” card, she initially believes that they will be playing a typical, innocent game of hide and seek. However, she soon realises that it it is anything but, as due to a curse that they believe an ancestor has placed on them, her crazed new relatives believe they must kill Grace, before the next morning, at all costs.

With such an absurd, and just completely bonkers premise, had the film taken a more serious approach it with itstone, it likely would have fallen flat on its face. However, the film knows what it is, and it uses the absurdity of that premise to its advantage. Writers Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy use this ludicrous premise, and transform it from your typical run-of-the-mill horror/slasher film, into a batshit, and brilliantly entertaining horror that expertly manages the balance between the comedic and horror elements of the story. It is made all the better by peppering brilliant moments of dark humour throughout, whilst significantly turning up the dial on some very over-the-top violence.

As the woman who’s forced into this deadly fight for survival, Samara Weaving, having had the smallest of roles in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, gives a spectacular, memorable breakthrough performance. Right from the moment you meet her, she’s an immensely likeable protagonist, and you will her to find the courage and resourcefulness to escape this dangerous life or death situation, that she finds herself in. The main source of comedy largely comes from the Le Domas clan, who clearly have no idea how to handle the rather antiquated weapons they’re using to try and eliminate Grace, which leads to some spectacularly entertaining moments.

Boasting some excellent production design, and likewise with the costumes, most notably Grace’s wedding dress, that goes through just a few wears and tears as the night wears on. While it almost never fails to be entertaining throughout its 95 minute run time, it does get to a point where the violence becomes so over the top and ridiculous, that the comedic aspect of it does begin to wear off a little bit. Touching upon themes of marriage, family, and a bitter class divide, the scope was there for these to be explored a little more. Though, it may make someone think twice before agreeing to marry into an eccentric and wealthy family in the future.

A brilliantly, and entertainingly bonkers blend of horror and comedy, with a truly memorable performance from Samara Weaving. This brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “till death do us part.”