Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox

Alita: Battle Angel – Film Review

Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Keean Johnson

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Synopsis: Set in the 26th century,  a compassionate doctor finds an abandoned cyborg whom he names Alita (Salazar). Upon reawakening, Alita with no recollection or memories of her previous life, goes in search of answers…

Review: If you’re looking for a big name film-maker to get an ambitious project off the ground, James Cameron is not a bad choice to turn to. For here is a director who boasts the two highest grossing films of all time in his repertoire, as well as being the one of the two brains behind the Terminator franchise. But even with the involvement of such a talent as Cameron, and director Robert Rodriguez, sometimes, it just not enough to save the project.

After humanity has been seriously affected by a deadly war, Dr Dyson Ido (Waltz) finds the remains of a female cyborg in a scrapyard, brings her body back to his lab and restores her to life. However, Alita with no memory of who she was in her previous life, is determined to get some answers. Right away the film throws the audience head first into the thick of what is evidently a planet that has clearly been effected heavily by war. Yet the screenplay, penned by Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis, doesn’t really provide any context for the preceding war that has seemingly crippled this society. Furthermore, an overwhelming majority of the dialogue feels very stilted.

As the main character, Alita is certainly a likeable protagonist that you want to root for, even if the CGI on her is a little jarring to begin with. You want her to find out the answers that she’s seeking and it is extremely entertaining to watch her throw down against some of the slimy, nefarious people that inhabit this world. But of course, they had to add a romance into the mixture with Alita falling for Hugo (Keean Johnson). It’s functional to the plot as he helps Alita acclimatise to the new world she is discovering but, there’s not a great deal of chemistry between the two of them, and while not as laughable as some of the romantic dialogue that the Star Wars prequels served up, it’s still pretty cringey.

The rest of the cast are also functional at best, which is extremely frustrating when you have Oscar winning talents like Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali. It just feels like their considerable talents are wasted on what could have been a much better script. What’s more, the motivations/purposes of some characters for doing what they’re doing are extremely vague, with scope clearly being left for future instalments. The CGI on the whole is very hit or miss, sometimes it looks really impressive, and there are other instances where it looks extremely cheap. This is problematic for a big budget blockbuster, especially since Cameron’s Avatar, a film that came out a decade ago, showed the world what CGI could accomplish.

For what is clearly striving to be a film that is trying to be its own franchise, it tries so hard to set up a sequel that it negates telling a worthwhile story to begin with. There are some entertaining scenes but again, there’s nothing here that really stands out to differentiate it from the plethora of films in this genre, that have been far more memorable. For any film that spends a long time stuck in development hell, it always feels like the odds are against it. Despite the best efforts of all concerned to bring this property to the big screen, and even with such star power, both in front of and behind the camera, this is a classic case of style over substance.

One cannot fault the ambition, but even with a solid lead performance from Salazar, the extremely corny dialogue and a rather messy plot just cannot save this film from its place on the scrapheap.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2019)

Image is property of Fox Searchlight

Can You Ever Forgive Me? – Film Review

Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E Grant

Director: Marielle Heller

Synopsis: When biographer Lee Israel’s (McCarthy) work dries up, she discovers some personal documents and manages to make an extortionate amount of money by forging these documents…

Review: For certain actors, they can be well known for a certain type of role that they tend to play quite a lot, they run a risk of getting typecast in that particular roleYet, every so often an actor breaks that typecast. This is certainly applicable for Melissa McCarthy, who has so often played roles of a similar ilk to her vulgar but extremely hilarious turn in Bridesmaids. Yet, for this considerably more dramatic role, it’s quite the transformative change for her, and it might just be the best performance of her career.

It is 1991 and Lee Israel’s life and career has hit a dead end, having found herself out of a job and new opportunities are becoming increasingly very hard to come by. Furthermore, she has very few acquaintances to share her life with. It is all rather gloomy until, quite by chance, she finds some unique personal artefacts of celebrities that she forges to her advantage. In doing this, she earns a substantial amount of money, and through these acts of forgery, she runs across fellow outcast Jack Hock (Grant), who aids her in these acts of deception.

The scene of the crime…

Though she comes off as quite the unlikable person, McCarthy is truly excellent in her performance. From the moment we first meet her, it is clear that she is difficult to work with and other people do not like her. These feelings are evidently reciprocal, as Lee clearly prefers the company of animals to people. The screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, adapted from Israel’s own memoir, goes about exploring how Lee intricately created her forgeries in an exciting fashion, whilst at the same time balancing that with Lee trying to build some sort of social connections with a select few people.

One of those few is Richard E Grant’s Jack Hock, who is something of an outcast himself and a recluse like Lee herself, similarly, he’s also a bit of an arsehole and not exactly the most pleasant man, but Grant is uproariously entertaining in this role. There is something heart-warming about watching these two connect despite their mutual difficulties of connecting with people, build a relationship and accomplish these naughty deeds, whilst having a tipple or two in their downtime. However, director Marielle Heller doesn’t shy away from the fact that what Lee is doing is a crime. Which, as various people begin to suspect that they have been deceived, the tension begins to grow as the authorities get involved.

Though the film does suffer from a few pacing issues, there is something about the story of Lee Israel that will be pertinent for that anyone who writes for a living, and equally so for those who dream of writing for a living. Equally so, if anyone has been an outsider, or has experienced difficulties in connecting with people, the struggles that people experience in those sorts of situations can undoubtedly take a heavy toll. And whenever people find themselves in those dark times, it can make people do things that they regret, or in Lee Israel’s case, do things and have the time of your life while doing so.

Simultaneously funny and tragic, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a poignant but fascinating study of one woman’s descent into deception, whilst getting arguably career best performances from both McCarthy and Grant.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

If Beale Street Could Talk (2019)

Image is property of AnnaPurna Pictures and Plan B

If Beale Street Could Talk – Film Review

Cast: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Ed Skrein, Brian Tyree Henry, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Dave Franco, Diego Luna
Pedro Pascal

Director: Barry Jenkins

Synopsis: After finding out she is expecting a baby with her partner, a young woman and her family seek to clear her lover’s name after he is arrested for a crime he did not commit…

Review: What do you do when only your second feature length directorial feature wins you an Academy Award for its screenplay, as well as (eventually) the Academy Award for Best Picture? This was the quandary for Barry Jenkins, the writer/director of Moonlight, having been catapulted him into the spotlight by the film’s incredible success. The answer to that question, is to make something that’s cut from a similar cloth as Moonlight, a story that tells a very human, emotional journey.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by James Baldwin, we are taken back to 1970s Harlem, where we meet Tish (Layne) and Alfonso (or Fonny as Tish affectionately calls him), two beautiful young people who, having been very close as children, have since become a blossoming couple, seemingly made for one another. However, their romantic bubble is burst when when Fonny is arrested and charged with a horrific crime that Tish insists he is innocent of, and Tish and her family must do whatever they can to clear Fonny of these charges.

On the surface, this would appear to be a simple story about the love that two young people have for each other, and the desperate bid to prove her husband-to-be innocent of the crime he is being accused of. And while it is undeniably beautiful and romantic to watch these two fall in love with each other, much like his work with Moonlight Jenkins’s screenplay goes much deeper than that exploring a variety of themes such as racism, family and the brutal horrors of the justice system that can bring such an unfair injustices to Black communities and devastate these families across America, even when people may be innocent of the crimes they are being accused of.

As the main couple, KiKi Layne and Stephan James are both excellent. Their chemistry is just so honest and authentic that you completely buy them as a couple. You revel in their moments of love and affection for one another, and are equally devastated when they are torn away from one another. As Tish’s mother Sharon, Regina King is just utterly marvellous as she leads the fight to win her prospective son-in-law’s freedom, even in the face of extremely long and difficult odds, and indifference from some members of Fonny’s family to Tish’s plight.

The cinematography from James Laxton is once again sumptuous to look out, even when the circumstances may be extremely bleak, his cinematography shines a hopeful light on the situation of this couple. Nicholas Britell also returns to provide the score, and once again, the work he does to add to the romanticism and by contrast, the heartbreak of this story is remarkable. For those who might have had issues with Moonlight’s pacing, they could well run into some issues again here as Jenkins does take his time to slowly build up Tish and Fonny’s relationship. Though some scenes do feel necessary, others do drag on perhaps for a tad longer than they really need to.

For characters depicted in the 1970s, Jenkins’s characters feel very contemporary and the story and the themes are very topical, but the film never gets preachy with the events depicted on screen. It is above all else, a very sweet story about the love two people have for one another, and the challenge that the human spirit faces when facing the going up against the cruel nature of the world and its institutions, Barry Jenkins has once again crafted something that, in these very emotionally charged times, he has made a film that will speak something to everyone who sees it.

Beautiful and melancholic,sometimes in the same shot, with a fantastic ensemble of well realised characters, Jenkins once again crafts a moving tale of love and hope in the face of terrible adversity.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Green Book (2019)

Image is property of Universal, Participant Media and Dreamworks

Green Book  – Film Review

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini

Director: Peter Farrelly

Synopsis: In need of work, Italian-American bouncer Tony Lip is recruited by renowned pianist Dr Don Shirley to be his driver/bodyguard as he embarks on a concert tour in the Deep South…

Review: One of the many wonderful thing about films is that they have the power to raise important messages about such important subjects, especially when such subjects are very topical right now. A prime example of this is racism which is an issue that is under more scrutiny than normal in recent years. Recently some film-makers have really been making some powerful films that hone in on this increasingly important issue, and in so doing, they make powerful statements, but some do it much better than others.

It is 1962, and Tony Vallelonga (Mortensen), known as Tony Lip, a native of the Bronx area of New York City, finds himself out of a job for a few months. When looking for something to fill that time, he is pointed in the direction of Don Shirley (Ali), a renowned concert pianist who is set to go on a concert tour of the Deep South of the USA, and is need of someone to be his driver/assistant/bodyguard, as that particular part of the country is/was not exactly the most hospitable of places.

What really shines through with this film are the excellent performances of both leading men. Mortensen as Tony is a brash self-proclaimed “bullshit artist” initially very much set in his ways. Meanwhile, Don is a much more suave, more refined gentleman, and some of Tony’s habits do not sit well with him. These two men are essentially complete polar opposites of one another, and though they initially clash over the other’s mannerisms and characteristics, they develop a solid understanding, almost a friendship if you will, as they embark on this slightly perilous journey. The chemistry between the actors really shows and it drives the film forward, particularly when they run into some trouble whilst on the tour.

For a film that is trying to go for the powerful themes of racism, the screenplay penned by Tony’s son Nick Vallelonga, along with Brian Hayes Currie and director Peter Farrelly is a little simplistic in how it chooses to handle the more heavier themes. It does show glimpses of the horrors of segregation in the 1960s and how black people were treated harshly for the colour of their skin, but one could simply pick up a history book to realise that. Unfortunately, it really only scratches the surface of what it could explore when it comes to this subject matter, particularly when other films have managed to strike a balance between that nuanced tone, and when it really needs to, emphatically and dramatically getting its point across to the audience.

In such a time when the issue of race in America has become increasingly in the public eye, given the quality of the actors and the really interesting nature of this story, the execution really just feels like a missed opportunity to tell something more riveting, something that really would have thrown the book at the status quo of the 1960s. The film has some undeniably good intentions and there are heart-warming sentiments behind its central story and the relationship of its two characters. However, given that there was scope for something much more powerful, it ultimately is a missed opportunity.

Excellent performances from Mortensen and Ali help keep the story moving along at a steady pace, but a rather simplistic approach of tackling a heavy issue such as race relations in 1960s America is undeniably frustrating, especially in these very emotionally charged times.