Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox, Regency, and Queen

Bohemian Rhapsody – Film Review

Cast:  Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Allen Leech, Mike Myers

Director(s): Bryan Singer (Dexter Fletcher)

Synopsis: A look at the lives of the legendary rock band Queen, charting their formative years and initial success leading up to their Live Aid concert performance in 1985.

Review: There’s a moment in this biopic where one music executive completely rubbishes the idea a song that spans six minutes could possibly become a radio hit. Oh how wrong he was. That six minute song in question is of course “Bohemian Rhapsody” and the band behind this true masterpiece of a song was Queen. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that as a band, Queen produced some thumping great tunes, and the legacy and impact that they have had on the music industry is truly substantial, and will likely continue to endure for decades to come.

Of course, not every band achieves such phenomenal success instantaneously so when we first meet Farrokh Bulsara as he was known before adopting his more familiar name, he spends his days working at London’s Heathrow Airport and going to gigs at night. During one such gig, he meets Roger Taylor (Hardy) and Brian May (Lee), who as luck would have it need a new singer, which Freddie gladly accepts. With John Deacon (Mazzello) also on board as the bass player, their royal highness, Queen was born.

However, the journey to get this Queen biopic to the big screen has not been an easy one. With original director Singer having been fired quite late into filming, up stepped Dexter Fletcher to complete the film. In circumstances like this, there’s a substantial risk that the whole film could completely fall apart. Though Singer gets the sole director credit, the work that both directors put in ensures that this biopic does not bite the dust.

The screenplay by Anthony McCarten, does feel a little paint by-numbers in terms of its structure. The film spends a substantial amount of time focusing on Freddie’s relationship with Mary Austin. Which ultimately does leave certain aspects such as his relationships with men, and his battle with AIDS as something of an afterthought.  These aspects are touched upon, but it is perhaps in not the extensive detail that it maybe could have been. However, what this film does above all else, is choose to celebrate the band’s incredible music, which given how utterly amazing said music is, that’s not a bad thing at all.

The man to step into the great Freddie Mercury’s shoes was a bit uncertain for a long time. Initially it was Sacha Baron Cohen, then came Ben Whishaw, but ultimately Rami Malek was the man who stepped up to the microphone. Though it would have been interesting to see what the former could have done with the role, Malek is simply outstanding giving such an incredible performance that sees him pretty much transform into Freddie Mercury himself. Everything from the hair and make up, to the costumes is completely on point. Though Malek’s Mercury does steal pretty much every scene he’s in, the rest of the band mates are also excellent, but their development is scarce at best.

Towards the second act is where the tension is really injected into the film, but again certain aspects of Freddie’s career are only given the barest minimum of development. It is when we get to the Live Aid performance, that the film really perks right back up again. The work that is done to recreate that is just simply breath-taking, you will have a hard time not singing along. As Queen themselves sang “We Will Rock You,” Malek and co do exactly that. Killer Queen(s) indeed.

Though the screenplay could have gone into much more depth, Malek’s career-defining performance and the celebration of their stellar music ensures that this biopic hits (mostly) all the right notes.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

First Man (2018)

Image is property of Universal and Dreamworks

First Man  – Film Review

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Ciarán Hinds

Director: Damien Chazelle

Synopsis: Telling the true story of astronaut Neil Armstrong and how, through many years of intense training at NASA, he became the first man to walk on the surface of the Moon.

Review: In terms of the greatest historical moments of the 20th century, there is perhaps few that could rival the moment where for the very first time, the world watched as the human race set foot upon the surface of the moon. The man who took that very first step, and uttered the immortal line “One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for Mankind,” was Neil Armstrong.  It is this man’s remarkable life and journey that incredibly hasn’t really been explored to such an extent on the big screen before, this is until Damien Chazelle came along.

After working together so successfully on La La Land, Gosling re-teams with Chazelle to play Armstrong, and Gosling once again excels. Right from when we meet him, you get the impression that this guy is focused and determined, something that has run through both of Chazelle’s last two films. He’s much more stoic here, but no less resolute in his mission, except there’s no jazz clubs involved this time. Josh Singer’s script goes into some quite personal detail that people might know about Armstrong including his family life, and the deeply personal tragedy that he goes through in the early stages, whilst also focusing on his NASA training, and all the perils that he faced on his journey to becoming the first man to walk on the moon.

Claire Foy, having donned the crown of Queen Elizabeth II, steps into a very different role as Armstrong’s wife Janet. A role that is quite clichéd for sure, yet it’s one she absolutely shines in alongside Gosling to be there as his figure of support, and at the same time, when it comes to the eve of his lunar mission, to voice her fury at the very real possibility that her husband might never see their kids again. Their relationship is the fierce beating heart of this story, and while the rest of the cast all give solid performances to complete a solid ensemble cast, no one else apart from Foy really has enough time to shine alongside Gosling.

For a director who’s only 33, he has already had a remarkable run of success with his previous two films Whiplash and La La Land, both garnering critical praise and awards aplenty, including the Best Director Oscar for Chazelle for the latter. The ambition for a film like this almost goes without saying, but Chazelle rises to the challenge and delivers another immensely well crafted film. Re-teaming with some of his frequent collaborators in the cinematography (Linus Sandgren), score (Justin Hurwitz) and editing (Tom Cross) departments, the film is crafted to perfection. The space scenes, especially the final lunar landing are so masterfully executed, it feels so real and authentic, and Hurwitz’s score is just superb.

Given the scope of this story, spanning almost over a decade into just over two hours, seems like an impossible task but Singer manages to streamline it as effectively as he can. Yet the pacing does suffer around the second act, especially when there is not a great deal happening down on Earth. However once, we gear up for the all important third act, the spectacle is turned up to ten, and never ceases for the rest of the film. For a director as young as Chazelle, to have an absolutely stellar hat-trick of films already under his belt is a remarkable accomplishment.

A remarkable and fascinating look at the mission to the moon and the man at the centre of it, with superb performances from Foy and Gosling. Another out of this world addition to the stellar filmography of Damien Chazelle.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox

Bad Times at the El Royale – Film Review

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Chris Hemsworth

Director: Drew Goddard

Synopsis: The once famous El Royale hotel in Lake Tahoe has become a shadow of its former self. However, when a bunch of mysterious individuals all check into the hotel on the same day, it promises to be an eventful evening…

Review: If a film pitches itself as a mystery/thriller, there has got to be an almost immediate moment in the first few minutes that grabs the audience’s attention and ensure they become subsequently absorbed into the ensuing suspense of the unfolding drama. Within the opening moments of writer/director Drew Goddard’s second directorial effort, you get just a taste of the drama and intrigue of what’s to come, with more than a few dashes of neo-noir thrown in for good measure.

It is 1960s America, and the titular El Royale hotel has, shall we say, seen better days. However things begin to take a turn for the interesting when an unusual collection of folks all rock up looking for some lodgings. It doesn’t however take long before things begin to unravel and our guests may not be who they appear to be. These guests consist of a Priest (Bridges) , a singer trying to catch her break (Erivo) , a smarmy salesman (Hamm) and a woman (Johnson), whose identity is initially withheld. There’s something immediately suspicious about each member of this cast, as to who they really are, and what secrets they’re hiding.

Every member of this cast is on their best form, and there is not one performance that feels out of place. However somewhat unsurprisingly, Jeff Bridges is leading the way, being his usual charismatic self in a role that (probably) was exclusively written with him in mind. A relative newcomer, Cynthia Erivo shines very brightly as a singer who really hits those notes both in terms of her incredible singing ability and her performance. Yet the scene stealer in all of this is Chris Hemsworth, once again not shy in showing the world his muscles. He gives an astonishing performance, the likes of which we haven’t really seen from him before, certainly a world away from his work in the realm of Norse mythology.

Welcome to the El Royale ab show….

A quick glance at Goddard’s resume shows some impressive projects, such as the scribe of The Martian, the show-runner of season 1 of Netflix’s Daredevil, and his directorial debut The Cabin in the Woods. It is a resume not to be sneezed at. For the remarkable array of acting talent he has assembled here, his screenplay is ambitious to say the least in the way it chooses to present itself to the audience. It seems apparent that Goddard was inspired by Quentin Tarantino, and the ways that the latter has used to tell some of his stories, to great effect.

It is smart and ambitious story-telling on Goddard’s part, but there are instances where the momentum that is being built in a certain scene is lost, as the perspective of the story changes. This can, and does have an extremely negative impact on the film’s pacing, which is just a tad problematic for a film that centres on a mystery. Nevertheless, despite that problematic pacing, the film really starts to click once we reach that all important third act and everything that these interwoven stories have been building towards comes to an exciting, and nerve-shredding climax.

When such original pieces of work like this come along, something that is increasingly rare these days, they must not be overlooked. However, for all of its originality with its premise, its eclectic array of characters and very colourful and stylish production design, that potential is never fully realised. Hence, those who check-in to the El Royale, may just check out with not as much satisfaction as they almost certainly would want to.

Goddard turns on the style with some lavish production design and a unique bunch of characters, but the screenplay just feels too ambitious for its own good, and is at certain points a case of style over substance.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Venom (2018)

Image is property of Sony, Columbia and Marvel

Venom – Film Review

Cast: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate, Reid Scott

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Synopsis: Investigative journalist Eddie Brock investigates the Life Foundation and its shady experiments. In doing so, he becomes one with a sinister alien symbiote that gives him superhuman abilities..

Review: It would not exactly be an astute observation to say that over the last few years, Hollywood has treated audiences to a rather large amount of superhero films. The market has become extremely well saturated and so in order to make an impression in this crowded field, you really have got to stand out. Hence, a film that focuses on a character who is not exactly a hero by any stretch of the imagination, can give you that opportunity. While this is not exactly new ground (see Deadpool), it nevertheless gives you a chance to create something unique. Specifically in Eddie Brock/Venom, you have a chance to truly show that “the world has enough superheroes.” Unfortunately, this chance is completely squandered.

Immediately, you know that this is not in the hands of those folks who, piece by piece, put together the wonder that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It starts off interestingly enough though as a mission by the Life Foundation brings these alien symbiotes back down to earth to use them for experiments, and our eponymous anti-hero is born when investigative journalist Eddie (Hardy) merges with one of these symbiotes when clandestinely investigating this organisation. Now Eddie and this Venom creature must learn to live and co-operate with each other whilst trying to prevent the organisation and its CEO Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) from carrying out future experiments.

“Bring Your Symbiote to Work Day” did not end well…

Given that a previous version of this character was completely shoehorned into Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, and was only given the most briefest of nods in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a solo film seemed like a good idea, and on paper, the potential is there. With an actor as good as Tom Hardy in the lead, there is cause to be optimistic. While he is certainly trying his best, there is something about his performance that just doesn’t quite click, and his accent is a little iffy in places. Opposite him, Michelle Williams also tries her best, but the lack of chemistry between her and Hardy really hinders the plot. The screenplay also really doesn’t help matters as the set up of Brock becoming Venom is really sloppy in its execution. Also Riz Ahmed is completely wasted in a villainous role, that had this been part of the MCU, would put him in the not-so-prestigious company of some of the weaker MCU villains. Also his main goal just does not make any sense whatsoever.

The dialogue all round here is generally pretty poor. There are some funny moments but it is definitely more of a case of laughing at the characters, rather than with them. What is somewhat interesting is the dynamic between Brock and the villainous symbiote. There is at the very least a solid distinction that they are two very different people, something that the Topher Grace iteration of the character didn’t quite get right. What’s more, moments that are clearly intending to be funny, just come across as awkward, embarrassing and extremely painful to watch.

Fleischer’s past works include Zombieland and Gangster Squad, so he knows how to craft action scenes. While there are some competently made action scenes, we have seen the Marvel Cinematic Universe really show us how it is done when it comes to this aspect. There is nothing here that stands out when you compare it with some of the work that has come from the MCU. Furthermore, a film such as this is tailor-made to push the boundaries and go for some really strong violence, but it doesn’t utilise this opportunity and that is extremely disappointing.

Much like Universal’s Dark Universe, that has seemingly died a death after one film, it might well be the case that Sony’s Marvel Universe is over before it has a chance to get going. However, if he became part of the MCU, the potential that is there for a such an interesting character to be given the big screen treatment that could maybe do the character justice, which would be most welcome after two cinematic misfires.

An insipid and lacklustre attempt to bring something new to the genre, complete with a messy screenplay, and extremely bland and uninteresting characters.

We… are most definitely NOT Venom.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

A Star is Born (2018)

Image is property of Warner Bros. Pictures, Live Nation Entertainment and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

A Star is Born – Film Review

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle, Andrew Dice Clay

Director: Bradley Cooper

Synopsis: Renowned musician Jackson Maine (Cooper) meets and falls in love with aspiring singer Ally (Gaga). As their romance blossoms, her career starts to take off, while his is on the wane…

Review: Hollywood right now certainly isn’t shy of remaking a great many films over the years. While some remakes can completely miss the mark entirely, there are instances in which a remake can achieve something remarkable. No matter what is being remade, one has to take whatever was made previously and make it feel new something new and fresh, a story that deserves to be introduced to a whole new generation, and that is precisely what writer/director/producer/star Bradley Cooper does.

Cooper is Jackson Maine, a singer who is no doubt talented at what he does. Yet right from when we meet him, it is clear that he is battling some intense personal demons, and is in the twilight of what seemed to be a glittering career. After one gig, he find a bar where Ally is performing, and almost instantaneously he is smitten by her and her incredible voice. The two begin a romance and during one show he invites her onto the stage to perform, and as the title of the film suggests, a star is most definitely born as Ally’s career begins a stratospheric rise to the top. Yet it is not all good for Ally, as Jackson’s demons begin to take a toll on him, which threatens to tear their relationship apart.

Cooper has shown his versatility in recent years with a diverse range of characters that has seen him pick up four Oscar nominations, but his portrayal of this troubled singer is potentially some of his best ever work in the acting department. You can just feel his anger at various things that have happened to him in his life, and the intense personal battles he is currently fighting that are just wearing him down. But it is Lady Gaga who is the real acting revelation. Though she has graced the silver screen before, her performance is nothing short of astonishing. She captures that anxiety of a woman who wants to pursue her dream, but is unsure of whether she really has the ability to make a success of it.

Given their relationship is a central piece of the film, Gaga and Cooper have excellent chemistry together, Like many relationships, they endure testing times, but you really feel their love for one another, even though they both have some concerns. For Jackson, it’s the direction that Ally’s career goes in, and for Ally, it is Jackson’s battles with addiction and substance abuse. The film has quite a bit to say about the modern music industry, that seems to favour extremely well polished and aesthetically pleasing artists, over those who harbour real musical talent. While Gaga has certainly had her controversial moments in the music business thus far, her talent as a singer cannot be disputed and along with Cooper, their is a plethora of raw and heartfelt emotion behind these beautiful songs.

There is a lot happening here but the screenplay by Cooper, along with Eric Roth and Will Fetters, does a tremendous job of balancing things out as for every euphoric moment of joy, comes a moment of melancholic sadness, but the film does not allow itself to get too bogged down in either for any significant amount of time. For a directorial debut, there is a lot to admire as to what Cooper brings to the table, most notably when it comes to the live performances. The camerawork and cinematography really makes you feel like you are at these gigs watching these talented performers bring these songs to life in a superb manner.

Remakes so often can feel like there simply was not a need for them to have been made. However the sterling work of Cooper and Gaga especially ensure that although this is the fourth version of this story to be told, it feels necessary for it to be retold to a new generation. With such raw emotion packed into its story and characters, A Star is Born will almost certainly be shining very brightly when we get to the business end of awards season.

Combining beautiful music with a story that packs emotion with extremely relevant themes for 21st century audiences, along with two electric leading performances, this is how you do a successful remake. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

A Simple Favour (2018)

Image is property of Lionsgate and Feigco Entertainment

A Simple Favour – Film Review

Cast: Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding

Director: Paul Feig

Synopsis: Single mother Stephanie (Kendrick) meets and befriends high-flying Emily (Lively). When Emily suddenly disappears without warning, Stephanie investigates the circumstances surrounding her disappearance…

Review: When any person goes missing without a trace, there is bound to be a plethora of questions surrounding that particular person’s disappearance. As a consequence of something like this, an intense media scrutiny can begin to surface as to what transpired. The impact of which often falls hardest on those that knew the person the most, but what if they knew more than they were letting on? 

An intense media furore is certainly something that director Paul Feig can certainly relate to, with the fierce backlash that ensued following his Ghostbusters reboot. However, in this interesting concoction of thriller meets comedy, that forensic media glare takes a backseat. Instead, the camera that we partly watch this story unfold from is the webcam belonging to single mother and vlogger Stephanie. When picking up her son from school, she crosses paths with the chic Emily who is also on the school collecting run. Though they are in many ways complete opposites, they form a close connection and become good friends. When Emily disappears one day after asking Stephanie to pick up her son from school, Stephanie starts to piece together the clues of what might have happened to Emily. 

As a director whose last few films have all had female leads, but in very much comedic central films, this is uncharted territory for Feig. As such, he has left behind frequent collaborator Melissa McCarthy and recruited Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively as his leading women this time. Kendrick as Stephanie has something that is very quirky and charming about her, but there is more to her goody mummy vlogger persona that she is letting on. Likewise for Lively as Emily who may dress in a suave manner, but there are some sinister secrets about her past also. Both give excellent performances, playing off each other tremendously well, though ultimately it is Lively who ends up stealing the show from Kendrick as well as her husband Sean (Henry Golding). 

The film pitches itself in a very Gone Girl-esque manner, and the screenplay from Jessica Sharzer certainly tries to capture that grittiness and suspense that Gone Girl had in abundance. While it does achieve this to a certain extent, it is nowhere near as compelling nor suspenseful as David Fincher’s aforementioned thriller. Unfortunately while trying to balance the comedic element of the story with the dark and gritty nature, there is a little bit of a mismatch when it comes to the overall tone of the film. Furthermore, by the time the film reaches the third act, it all feels a bit too rushed. As such the suspense that has been built up in the preceding two acts, is completely squandered on a finale that just packs so many twists and turns, it feels like a classic case of less would have been more. 

For all the excessive twists and turns that the film offers, one thing that it certainly is not lacking in is style. Feig certainly brings this to his direction in a suitable manner that befits this stylish backdrop. There’s a very aesthetically pleasing visual style to aspects such as product design, and it is evident that no expense was spared on the costumes either, especially when it comes to Emily’s attire. However what the film brings to the table in style, it doesn’t deliver in terms of providing a truly gripping and unnerving thriller that just doesn’t pull as many punches that past films of a similar nature delivered in abundance. 

Stylish in its design, and bolstered by two assured leading performances, but a mismatch of tones and one too many twists result in a thriller that just doesn’t deliver many thrills.