Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Batman (2022)

© Warner Bros and DC Comics

The Batman  – Film Review

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell

Director: Matt Reeves

Synopsis: In his second year of crime-fighting in Gotham City, Batman begins to investigate a series of crimes that appear to be connected to a serial killer known as The Riddler…

Review: Ever since the character of Batman made his comics debut in 1939, there has been something that’s inescapably appealing about this iconic character. It’s a testament to Batman’s creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger, that in the ensuing decades, his popularity has not waned (pun absolutely intended). For generations of comic book fans, he has continued to be arguably the most recognisable, and popular superhero of all time. Given the character’s popularity, it’s no surprise that numerous directors have taken on the challenge of adapting him for the big screen. Over the years, we’ve seen the sublime, and the ridiculous. Now, under the vision of Matt Reeves, a fantastic new interpretation of the Dark Knight has been born.

Bruce Wayne (Pattinson) is in his second year of fighting crime in Gotham City as the masked vigilante known as Batman. Gotham is a city that’s seemingly trapped in perpetual rainfall, combined with the murky cloud of the city’s extensive criminal underworld. It’s a grim combination that gives Gotham an ominous, foreboding atmosphere, where crime is running rampant and the police are overwhelmed. When a series of brutal murders start taking place in the city, Batman and the Gotham City Police Force begin to investigate. As they begin to piece together the sadistic clues left behind at these grisly crime scenes, they begin to uncover evidence that all of these crimes are linked to a masked serial killer known only as The Riddler.

Donning The Bat’s cape and cowl is an extraordinary responsibility for the actor to take on. Many great actors have taken on this challenge, and every time, each one has brought something unique to the role. With Pattinson’s portrayal, he proves what an outstanding choice he was to take on the mantle. Batman is a character who has multiple aspects to his personality, the man he is behind the mask is a very different one to the one who dons the mask. Any actor tasked with this role must differentiate between these personalities, and Pattinson hits the mark perfectly. However, the casting of Batman is just one piece of the puzzle. One cannot have Batman without his trusted Police ally, Jim Gordon. Side by side with Batman as they solve this riddle, Wright brings his usual charisma to this role, and the pair of them make an effective crime-fighting duo. Plus, one cannot talk about Bruce Wayne’s allies without mentioning Alfred. It’s rare to see him outside of motion-capture performances, but in what screen time he has, Andy Serkis excels.

Casting is such an important part of film-making and it’s high time these people were recognised for their work, especially when the choices, like in this film are flawless. Selina Kyle/Catwoman is always a nuanced and fascinating character to explore. Not quite a hero, but far from a villain, especially when compared to some of the citizens of Gotham. We see a very interesting element to her backstory that’s seldom been explored before, and the chemistry between Kravitz and Pattinson’s Batman is extremely palpable. Of all the iconic superheroes that have graced the big screen over the years, there’s arguably no superhero that has quite more the eclectic gallery of villains than Batman. Though we’ve seen certainly seen some villains more than others. Hence, it is extremely pleasing to see the film bring to the fore many villains that haven’t had as much exposure as others.

Caking an actor in a considerable amount of makeup is not a guaranteed recipe for success, but in this instance, it works perfectly. Unrecognisable under said makeup as the dastardly Penguin, Colin Farell is clearly having a ball with this villainous role. However, in Paul Dano’s portrayal of the Riddler, here’s an extraordinary, terrifying performance that is destined to join the ranks of iconic villains that we have seen in Batman films over the last several decades. From the moment the Riddler makes his first appearance, he immediately sends chills down the spine, delightfully taunting Batman and the Gotham Police with the crimes he’s carrying out. Plus, with all the clues that he leaves at the crime scenes, it makes for a fascinating game of Cat (or should that be Bat?) and Mouse as Batman faces a race against time to solve these clues and figure out what The Riddler is planning.

After his extraordinary work with the two most recent Planet of the Apes films, self-confessed Batman fan Matt Reeves proves he was the perfect choice to helm this new take on this character. The script, written by Reeves and Peter Craig, remains gripping right throughout the 175-minute running time, whilst perfectly illustrating that Batman’s skills as a detective are second to none. Hence, the decision to pit him against the Riddler was proved to be an absolute masterstroke, as he’s a character someone who is well equipped to take on Batman in those psychological mind games. Combined with Greg Fraser’s suitably brooding cinematography that captures Gotham’s ominous atmosphere, Reeves’s direction, especially with those action scenes that are drenched in a continuous downpour, is especially thrilling. For a film that’s just shy of three hours, questions are always going to be asked about that run time, and the editing by William Hoy and Tyler Nelson ensures that the film is perfectly paced.

Through all the decades that we’ve seen Batman on screen, there’s been no shortage of memorable scores that have accompanied the Caped Crusader. Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer have both given this character an instantly recognizable theme. With his atmospheric score, Michael Giacchino can add his name to the list of composers who have provided iconic music for this character. Through each new portrayal, the enduring appeal of Batman has been passed down through generations of audiences. With this fantastic new incarnation, the legend of The Dark Knight continues to shine brightly, like the Bat-signal illuminating the skies of Gotham City. Bob Kane and Bill Finger would be immensely proud.

Dark and filled to the brim with nerve-shredding scenes that perfectly capture the essence of everything that makes Batman who he is. Matt Reeves’s vision of this iconic character is one that will stand the test of time, as one of the best versions ever produced. 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

CODA (2021)

© Apple TV+

CODA – Film Review

Cast: Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez, Troy Kotsur, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Daniel Durant, Marlee Matlin

Director: Sian Heder

Synopsis: As the only hearing member of her family, Ruby (Jones) acts as an interpreter for her family. When the family business comes under threat, she finds herself torn between helping her family, and pursuing her dreams…

Review:  Families, it can really mean the world of difference to have them around us as we navigate this storm that we call life. They can be our influences for what we want to do with our lives, as well as being essential pillars of support as we grow up, and navigate the testing periods of our lives. There might be situations where a barrier, such as a communication barrier, prevents someone from being truly unable to fully understand and appreciate the passion that drives someone to be who they want to be. When such barriers exist, the bond and the love that each family shares can be so strong, that it has the potential to break those barriers down.

High school student Ruby Rossi is a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), and the only hearing member of her family. When not at school, she works on her family’s fishing business. As she’s the only one in her family who can hear, she acts as a crucial link of communication between the family business and their bosses. Outside of school and her job with her family’s business, Ruby has a strong passion for singing and harbours ambitions to go to a prestigious musical college. However, this puts her in an extremely difficult position, as her family depend on her for the survival of their business. When she tells her family of her dreams, they don’t want her to go as she is integral to the survival of the business. Furthermore, because they are unable to fully appreciate her talent, they can’t understand why this means so much to Ruby. Consequently, this leaves Ruby in a difficult position as to whether she should continue to support the family business or pursue her dreams.

There’s been no shortage of coming-of-age stories over the decades. Hence, it would feel unlikely that a film in this genre could do much to reinvent the genre. In truth, there are extremely familiar beats throughout the film, but there’s something about CODA and its approach to its story that feels very sincere and authentic. A lot of this comes down to the extraordinary performances of the entire cast, but especially Emilia Jones’s wonderful leading performance as Ruby. Before production on the film started, Jones spent nine months learning American Sign Language. Putting in that time to initiate herself with what someone in that situation would go through requires an extraordinary amount of dedication and commitment. In turn, this translates into a very sweet and sincere dynamic between her and the rest of her family.

Speaking of the rest of the family, Troy Kotsur and Marlee Matlin, who are deaf in real life, give equally wonderful performances as Ruby’s parents, Frank and Jackie. Despite the communication barrier that exists between them and Ruby, they both want to do their utmost to connect with their daughter and understand her passion for singing.  The casting of real-life deaf actors is crucial, firstly because representation matters, but also because they add so much depth/sincerity to the emotional impact of the film. There’s always a risk that when it comes to such a heartwarming story like this one, it will come across as a bit too saccharine. However, Sian Heder’s script expertly strikes the right tone between the impactful family drama and outright hilarious scenes. These scenes involve some awkward moments between Ruby and her parents, who are blissfully unaware of how loud they are in certain situations, causing maximum embarrassment for Ruby.

Aside from the sweet and hilarious family dynamic that Ruby shares with her family, another crucial figure is Eugenio Derbez as Ruby’s choir teacher, Bernardo Villalobos. We may have all had one particular teacher at school who understood better than anyone else that passion you had for a particular subject. Yet, for whatever reason, be it due to bullying, or an unwillingness to come out of your shell, you were unable to fully translate that passion into realising what a true gift that you had. He’s that teacher who, through their sheer enthusiasm and passion for the subject, is able to unlock Ruby’s potential. Music teachers have sometimes been portrayed as quite the hostile and threatening type to demand excellence from their students. While Bernado is not quite on the level of throwing chairs at his students, he’s not afraid to say what he thinks when he senses the conflict that’s going on in Ruby’s mind and why she might be holding back from pursuing this dream.

The film does not reinvent the genre, because it does not need to. Its approach its story is so sweet and heartfelt, that it doesn’t matter that it plays out exactly how you would expect it to. They may be familiar beats of most coming-of-age stories, but when the characters are this well realised, in a story that’s likely to connect with all who watch that by the time the credits roll, you’ll be having a hard time trying to hold back the emotions.

While it undoubtedly has familiar narrative beats that have been seen in many a coming-of-age story, thanks to the flawless performances of its cast, this beautiful and heartfelt coming of age drama hits all the right notes.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Don’t Look Up (2021)

© Netflix

Don’t Look Up  – Film Review

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Scott Mescudi

Director: Adam McKay

Synopsis: When two astronomers discover a deadly comet is directly on a collision course with Earth, they try to sound the alarm to the rest of the world…

Review: It’s one of the most pressing matters that humanity in the 21st century is having to contend with: the future of the planet that we call home.  It’s an issue that has attracted the attention of the world’s media and has prompted figures from all corners of the globe to take a stand and urge those in positions of power to act before it is too late. Yet, in recent years, we have seen some world leaders fail to recognise what is truly at stake for the future of our planet. Having turned his eye on the 2008 Economic crash and the rise and fall of US Vice President Dick Cheney, Adam McKay has now turned his attention to this impending threat facing humanity, the responses of those who wield the power to do something about it, and how various aspects of modern life cover this pressing issue our planet is facing. And he does so, in the smuggest and most pompous manner possible.

Astronomers Dr Randall Mindy (DiCaprio) and Dr Kate Dibiasky (Lawrence) make an alarming discovery: a giant comet is set to collide with Earth in around six months time. When it collides, it will cause catastrophic destruction on a global scale. Heading straight to Washington D.C. to inform the President (Streep) of their discovery, they are astounded when the White House doesn’t choose to take immediate action to stop the apocalyptic threat. Left with little option, they resort to other methods in order to inform the rest of the planet, in the hope that their warnings of impending doom will somehow prompt those in charge to take action to avert humanity’s destruction.

It is hard to ignore the fact that the idea for this film feels borne out of a particular world leader and his indifference towards the major issue of the environment, and the challenges that the human race faces over this important topic. This feels only exacerbated by the ongoing situation with the COVID-19 pandemic and the catastrophic failure by the US Government at the time, to deal with this crisis in a swift and efficient manner. These categorical failures of leadership seem to be McKay’s motivations for writing and directing his latest satirical attack on the current state of US politics, as well as numerous aspects of 21st-century life in general. Yet, there is absolutely no subtlety about who and what McKay is targeting. It comes across like he’s trying to say to the audience how funny or witty his satire is. When in reality, it comes across as extremely patronising. There’s an important lesson to be taken from the need to focus on the environment. However, as with both his previous films that were very much from a satirical perspective, there’s something that’s unbearably smug and arrogant about the manner in which he seeks to deliver this message.

Because of the gravity of the topic that’s being “satirised”, there was an opportunity to provide some thought-provoking, social satire that is nuanced and subtle in what it tried to convey, In reality, McKay’s screenplay, much like his previous films, is about as subtle as taking a sledgehammer to someone’s kneecaps. The satirical writing, or lack thereof, opts to beat the audience over the head with its themes so obnoxiously that it begins to actively make you angry that you don’t really care what he or the characters are trying to say, which is not good when there’s an important lesson for humanity to take away from the events being depicted. There’s no denying that McKay has assembled some of the biggest names in Hollywood for this cast, with lots of beloved actors. Yet, McKay’s dialogue is so overbearingly smug and obnoxious that you openly despise each and every single one of the characters, which makes the run time of the film feel two or three times as long.

The best of a bad bunch is easily Leonardo Di Caprio’s Dr Mindy, he tries his best but when he’s given such horrific material to work with, he can only do so much. Meryl Streep does a decent enough job at portraying a President who couldn’t give two shits about the public they’re meant to represent. However, it’s so painfully obvious who she, and her son (Hill) are meant to be a parody of, their characters might as well have been named Trump. Such a serious and important topic deserved a film worthy of this talented cast, and a director who did not take an infuriatingly offensive approach to the topic. You may well almost want the world to come to an end by the time this apocalyptic misfire of a film reaches the credits.

 What credit the film warrants for taking on such an important topic is immediately negated by its extremely condescending approach in how it chooses to approach the topic at hand. As a result, the whole film feels utterly pointless as a satire. 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Moonfall (2022)

© Lionsgate

Moonfall  – Film Review

Cast: Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, John Bradley, Michael Pena, Charlie Plummer, Kelly Yu, Donald Sutherland

Director: Roland Emmerich

Synopsis: When the moon is mysteriously knocked from its orbit, it threatens to cause a global catastrophe that would endanger all life on Earth…

Review: There’s something that’s oddly fascinating about the concept of a disaster movie. It’s something we hope we never actually have to live through, but when done well, it can be oddly entertaining to watch entire cities get obliterated as nature takes its revenge on us. There’s perhaps no one more synonymous with this genre than Roland Emmerich. One look at his filmography and it’s clear that he’s a director with a penchant for global destruction. So, you’d have thought that combining the concept of Earth’s only natural satellite falling out of the sky and destroying our planet, with a director whose modus operandi is worldwide global destruction would surely be a match made in disaster movie heaven? Well, no, not really.

Several years ago, astronaut Brian Harper (Wilson) was working on a routine mission with fellow astronaut Jocinda Fowler (Berry). However, the mission ends in tragedy and consequently, Harper’s reputation as a renowned astronaut is destroyed. When conspiracy theorist KC Houseman (Bradley), uncovers evidence that the moon has been knocked from its orbit, he tries to warn NASA of the impending doom, but is immediately dismissed. However, as catastrophic events start occurring across the globe, Fowler is left with little choice but to recruit Harper and Houseman for a last gasp mission to save Planet Earth before the impending moon fall destroys the planet.

To give credit where credit is due, the concept of the Moon falling off course and colliding with the planet is an extremely eccentric idea. It would certainly have been interesting to have been a fly on the wall when the concept was first pitched. The originality of the premise offers the opportunity to provide some visually eye-catching sequences, which the film does deliver. However, this is about the extent to which the film offers something that’s truly unique as the scenes of global destruction, such as massive tidal waves obliterating everything in their path, are things that we’ve seen disaster movies do countless times before. Such an idiosyncratic concept provided Emmerich with an opportunity to give audiences something as iconic as seeing the White House get blown to smithereens by an alien ship, but it failed to seize that opportunity.

Given such an absurdly bonkers premise, it would seem counterintuitive of the script to try and use science and logic to try and explain why these mysterious events are occurring. However, for some inexplicable reason, this is exactly what the film attempts. Logic and science should have been flung out of the window immediately, as these attempts to explain these events just do not serve the story in any shape or form. For the simple reason that no matter which way you slice it, the plot does not make an iota of sense at all. What should be a fun adventure of seeing a team of astronauts attempt to prevent total global destruction, becomes an unintentional comedy. This becomes all the more apparent, especially when the bigger picture of the reason why the Moon is falling comes into view.

When a script is this ridiculous, it does not make a difference as to who you cast, because every single character here is as paper-thin as they come.  Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson to their credit, do try their hardest, but to no avail. The character development, if you can really call it that, is non-existent. They’re also not helped by the fact that they’re given some of the cheesiest dialogue that you’re ever likely to hear. The primary focus should be the mission to investigate why the Moon is falling out of orbit and the ludicrously improbable mission to reverse it before it’s too late. However, the film also wastes an enormous amount of time focusing on bland and forgettable side characters that are nowhere near as interesting or compelling as the main crew. This should have been perfectly entertaining, leave-your-brain-at-home disaster movie entertainment. Which, in many ways, it is, but probably not in the way Emmerich intended it to be. Instead of laughing with it, you’re uproariously laughing at it.

In the hands of the master of disaster, this absurd concept should have been an absolute blast of lunar-themed destruction. However, it ultimately ends up being too ridiculous for its own good. 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2021

Belfast (2021)

© TKBC, Northern Ireland Screen, Focus Features and Universal Pictures

Belfast  – Film Review

Cast: Jude Hill, Caitríona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Lewis McAskie, Judi Dench, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Morgan

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Synopsis: Telling the story of the lives of one family living in Belfast during the 1960s…

Review: Irrespective of where we’re born, there’s a universal truth to the saying: “Home is where the heart is.” No matter who you are or where you come from, there’s likely to be a particular place on this Earth that means a great deal to you. Perhaps it is the town where you were born, or perhaps it is the place where you made those first memories that will shape you and who you are for the rest of your life? That special ode to your hometown and the immeasurable impact it can have on your life during your formative years is the heart beating at the centre of this deeply personal film from Kenneth Branagh.

Buddy (Hill) is a young boy living in Belfast during the late 1960s. He’s surrounded by his loving family, which consists of Ma (Balfe), Pa (Dornan), his brother (McAskie), and his paternal grandparents (Dench and Hinds). Like any child, Buddy goes to school, works hard in class, and seeks to win the heart of a girl in school who he has a crush on. Outside of school, playing on the street with his friends, and going to the pictures with his family, all with the carefree innocence that any child would have. It should be the perfect family life, but it’s about to be turned upside down. The country is about to be engulfed in political tension and violence which, will bring much uncertainty to this tight-knit Northern Irish family.

Given that we see the entire film from Buddy’s perspective, there’s a lot riding on Hill’s shoulders. Fortunately, he carries the film beautifully, balancing the naivety of youth, with an acute awareness of the tricky situation that’s developing. Alongside a brilliant leading performance from Hill, the rest of the cast are faultless in their performances. As Buddy’s parents, Ma and Pa are faced with an increasingly difficult choice of what to do and how best to raise their children in the politically charged circumstances that they find themselves in. Pa’s job in England is the main source of income for the family, hence money is tight. It’s a dilemma that puts a strain on their relationship, which is only compounded by the fact that he’s away for so much of the time.

Plus with the ongoing political tension that Belfast is engulfed in, there’s a dilemma as to whether they should leave the city that means so much to both of them behind? Do they want to uproot their two children from the lives that they have built in the city? Special mentions must go to Catriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan, both of whom give career-best performances. They clearly both love one another and care deeply for their children. So, they want to do what is best for them. Furthermore, due to his father’s absence, Buddy’s mother has quite the job to raise both him and his brother, mostly by herself. As such, Ma has a tendency to be quite overprotective of both her sons, but especially Buddy. They’re not on screen together a lot, but when they are, Balfe and Dornan’s wonderful chemistry helps add so much depth and layers to their characters. It’s always the sign of a quality performance that you no longer see the actor, instead, you see the character that they are playing, and this is true across the entire cast.

For a film that’s set in a time where political tensions are on a knife-edge, where violence could erupt at any given moment, it seems unlikely that the story would allow for much humour. Yet, Branagh’s screenplay allows for plenty of humorous moments to shine through. A lot of the humour comes from the dynamic between Buddy and his grandparents. Both of them impart their wisdom and knowledge to Buddy as he negotiates this difficult period in his life. This is where Ciaran Hinds, in particular, really excels. As well as being the kind and gentle grandfatherly figure, be a little cheeky and share a humorous moment with Buddy.

Branagh’s screenplay expertly walks the line between the dark and tense nature of the political tension of the time, with the family dynamic. It would be easy for Branagh’s screenplay to get bogged down by the intense nature of the politics of the time. However, the film avoids this by keeping it focused on seeing the world, and the ongoing situation, from Buddy’s perspective. Branagh has crafted a story that anyone will be able to connect with. No matter where you are from, or no matter how far you go in this world we live in, you never forget your roots.

The most personal film that Branagh has ever made, and quite possibly his best. A beautiful celebration of childhood, the places and the people that make us who we are.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Feature, Ranking

Best Films of 2021

2021, a year that initially began as 2020 ended, with the cinemas still closed amid a continuing lockdown that kept us at home. New releases were being brought to us through the streaming services, but it was wonderful to see the cinemas finally reopen in May. That feeling of being back in the cinema, watching films where they are meant to be seen, there’s honestly nothing like it. Given that the year saw the release of many films that were pushed back, there were lots of films for cinephiles to enjoy, and so let’s have a look and see what was the best films that 2021 had to offer.

Whenever I compile these end-of-year lists, the aim is always to include films that are listed as 2021 releases on IMDB. Yet, as will probably be the case till the end of time, some films had very staggered release dates. Consequently, there are some films appearing on this list that came out in 2020, but they weren’t available to UK audiences until 2021. Hence, this makes them available for this year’s list. Also, as much as I would want to, I’ve not seen every film that was released this year, so apologies if your favourite is not on here, as I may not have seen it. On the flip side to that, some films featured here that are listed as 2021 releases on IMDB, haven’t yet made their way to UK cinemas. However, as I was able to see some of these at London Film Festival this year, this means they are eligible for inclusion here.

Additionally, as I say every year, the grades I give the films do not determine the rankings of these films. A film that gets a perfect grade is not guaranteed to be my favourite film of the year. Lists like these are always a chance for the person compiling them to be as biased as they want to be. These are the films that, for me personally, defined 2021 as a strong year for film.

Before I get into the main list, I must give a shout out to some honourable mentions. These films are excellent that you should definitely check out, but they just didn’t quite make the list:

The Power of the Dog [review]. 12 years after her last film, Jane Campion returns to the director’s chair for an enthralling Western that focuses less on the cowboys and the shootouts, and more on the tense relationship between two brothers on a 1925 Montana ranch.

Encanto [review] The first, and not the last, film on this list that has the involvement of Lin-Manuel Miranda. Disney celebrated their landmark 60th animated feature film in some style, with a beautifully animated film that depicted a heartfelt story to prove the House of Mouse still has the magic touch.

Spencer [review]. Princess Diana’s story is one that is all too well known. A tragic figure in British history, Pablo Larrain’s unconventional biopic zeroes in on a time when Diana’s marriage to Prince Charles had grown cold. There’s a lot of creative liberties in terms of the story, but it all comes together thanks to an astonishing, transformative Kristen Stewart performance as Diana.

A Quiet Place Part II [review]. The first film that I saw in cinemas when they reopened. John Krasinski returned to the director’s chair to bring us a sequel to one of the most unique horror films of recent years. Recapturing that tension that of the first film was always going to be a tough ask, but Krasinski pulled it off, delivering a sequel that proved to be a worthy follow up to the original, with an incredible performance from Millicent Simmonds.

Spider-Man: No Way Home [review]. Since the pandemic began, there’s arguably not been a film that had quite the level of hype going into it as the concluding chapter to Tom Holland’s Spider-Man trilogy. Where previous Spider-Man sequels failed, this threequel webbed all of its plot threads tremendously well and delivered an extremely satisfying film that should change the MCU as we know it.

 

Honourable mentions honoured. Now, since we had so many films this year, let’s dive into the top 15

15. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

 

review

It had been a long time coming, but at long last this year, the MCU made a film that was led by an Asian superhero, alongside a predominantly Asian led cast. A landmark moment, and thanks to the outstanding stunt work, the film brought a unique visual style to the action scenes that are unlike anything that previous MCU films had brought to the table. Thanks to the brilliant performance of Simu Liu in the titular role, a new hero was born. Plus, in Tony Leung’s Wenwu, you have one of the best MCU villains in years.

14. tick, tick… BOOM!

As time goes by and we hit the later years in life, we begin to feel the pressure of wanting to leave our mark on the world. Taking the truly tragic story of Jonathan Larson and his struggles to craft the missing pieces of the puzzle for a play he’s writing doesn’t sound like the most invigorating combo in concept. But when you have a career-best performance from Andrew Garfield, and the usual catchiness of the songs that Lin-Manuel Miranda pens, and you have an extremely emotionally impactful combination that is beautifully directed by Miranda.

 

13. In the Heights

review

Continuing on the subject of Lin-Manuel Miranda, after being delayed by a year due to the pandemic, this Jon. M Chu-directed adaptation of Miranda’s 2005 musical was the much-needed blast of sun-soaked joy that we needed after many months of cinemas being shut. Filled to the brim with a plethora of memorable songs, all of which had a unique visual style to them. The film’s screenplay packed some important changes that made it extremely topical for the political landscape of 2021. In a year that saw a number of musicals, this is the best of them all and further proof that 2021 was the year of Lin-Manuel Miranda supremacy.

 

12. Belfast

review coming soon

In this beautiful semi-autobiographical film, director Kenneth Branagh tells the story about centres on a young boy growing up in the centre of Belfast just as the Troubles were beginning in Northern Ireland. Given that background, it seems unlikely that there’d be much room for humour, but Branagh works it so wonderfully well into his script, and gets awards-worthy performances out of every member of the main cast, especially Jamie Dornan and Catriona Balfe.

11. Raya and the Last Dragon

review

In all of the 58 Disney films that preceded this one, they’d never given audiences a heroine of South-Eastern Asian origin. As was the case with Shang-Chi, the film was a ground-breaking moment for representation that had been a long time coming. A lot of lore is packed into the story, but it married that up with an extremely exciting adventure. Plus, in Raya, you have yet another fearless and badass warrior princess that gives young girls a positive role model, and Awkwfinha as the voice of a dragon. One of Disney’s best films in years.

Now for the top 10…

 

 

10. No Time to Die

review

Being one of the first films to be affected by the pandemic, and being hit with a number of subsequent delays on top of that, it was starting to feel like we’d never get to see Daniel Craig’s final turn as James Bond. But thankfully this Autumn, it was finally released to the world, and it was worth the wait. The film had the extremely difficult task of tying all the loose ends from all of Craig’s previous Bond films, and managing the enormous expectations of the fans beforehand. Thankfully, while it wasn’t all plain sailing, it was mission accomplished with a compelling story that gave one of the best actors to play Bond a memorable final bow, and the send-off he deserved.

9. The Last Duel

review

Credit where credit is due for Ridley Scott. The veteran director is, at the age of 84, is still producing incredible pieces of cinema. He’s got a history with swords and sandals epic. However, what sets this apart from his previous films in this genre is that this is a medieval epic, with a modern, and very important message. Presenting its story in three distinct acts from a different person’s point of view, the first two acts are compelling and well written. However, it’s not until the third act, that the film truly soars, thanks to the award-worthy performance of Jodie Comer. This is, along with another film in this list, one of the most important films of the Post #MeToo Era of Hollywood, that absolutely did not deserve to be a box office bomb.

 

8. Sound of Metal

review

Losing one of your senses would undoubtedly be an extremely traumatic time in your life, especially if one of those senses was integral to your job as a drummer in a band. This is the devastating position that Ruben finds himself in, and must adapt to the changing circumstances of his life. With stunning sound work, the film puts you in Ruben’s (an extraordinary Riz Ahmed) position, and examines how his life will forever be changed by this painful diagnosis. An extraordinary directorial debut from Darius Marder that shines a deserved spotlight on deaf communities across the world.

7. King Richard

review

Serena and Venus Williams. Two names who need no introduction, as they have established themselves as two of the greatest athletes to have ever lived. What you probably don’t know, is the story of their father, Richard Williams, and the impact he had in shaping their early careers. The parents of any budding young superstar athletes undoubtedly have to work tirelessly to help their children achieve their dreams, and this uplifting family drama takes us on that journey. The film is packed with incredible performances, including an arguably career-best performance from Will Smith as Richard. He’s very ably supported by star-making turns from Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton as the young Venus and Serena respectively, likewise for Aunjanue Ellis as their mother Brandi.

 

6. The Harder They Fall

review

The Western genre is one that has so often been dominated by white lead characters. Meanwhile, for any black characters in these films, they are too often reduced to bit-part roles that don’t give them a chance to shine. However, as the words “These. People. Existed.” flash up on the screen at the start of this slick and stylish Western, it is a timely reminder that these people have stories of their own that deserve to be told. Enter Jeymes Samuel, with his feature film directorial debut that puts these characters front and centre.

Looking at what Samuel brings to the table in terms of his cast and the action scenes, it almost defies belief that this is his feature film debut. His passion for the genre comes through with every frame, and with the super talented cast he has at his disposal, it all meshes together tremendously well. An enthralling and much-needed revitalisation of the Western genre.

 

5. The Mitchells vs. the Machines

review

Technology has very much become a crucial aspect of modern life. From computers to mobile phones, it seems every so often we’re bathing our eyes in the blue light of some fanciful gadget. Films have often tackled the seemingly probable eventuality of a robot apocalypse, but what if when said robot uprising begins, humanity’s last hope is in the form of a hilarious, but extremely dysfunctional family? The answer is the latest hilarious film from those animated wizards at Sony Pictures Animation.

Filled to the brim with funny commentary about how dependent we are on our gadgets, the film’s animation brilliantly combines 2D and 3D styles of animation. The voice performances are all first-class, and the film has, hands down, THE best scene involving Furbies that will ever be seen in any film, ever.

 

4. The Suicide Squad

review

It’s fair to say that DC’s first attempt to bring their collection of super villains and mould them into a team of heroes didn’t get the reception and adulation that DC would have wanted. So what do you do to make a second attempt at this crop of characters work? Well, you bring in the guy who turned an obscure collection of Marvel anti-heroes into box office gold, and apply that to DC’s equivalent collection of characters.

While the film retains some characters from the 2016 film, it’s very much a soft reboot than a direct sequel. James Gunn brings his unique sense of humour to the story, and this new iteration expertly combines previous fan favourites, such as Harley Quinn, with exciting new recruits like a walking, talking humanoid shark, and a character who’s fond of rats. On paper, it sounds ridiculous but under Gunn’s direction, the end result is glorious and gory comic book movie mayhem.

 

 

Now, when it came to the top 3, putting these three films in some kind of order was extremely tough. At one point this year, I had all three of these at #1, and they all would be thoroughly deserving of that spot. If I could have them as a three-way tie for #1, I would. But as they must be ranked, we go on with…

 

3. Judas and the Black Messiah

review

The Civil Rights Movement in the US has seen a number of highly charismatic and influential leaders take a stand and leave their mark on history. The likes of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Muhammed Ali are all important figures whose story has been told throughout history. Yet there’s one important figure whose name has seldom been told, but who really should be held in the same breath as these aforementioned historical figures: Fred Hampton Jr.

The story and film’s message have only become more important and relevant in recent years since events in 2020 forced the world to have an urgent conversation about race relations in the US. LaKeith Stanfield’s leading performance as the FBI informant is incredible. However, it is Daniel Kaluuya’s transformative, Oscar-winning, supporting turn as Hampton himself that cements this biographical historical drama as one of the most important films of the year.

2. Promising Young Woman

review

Every so often there is a film that holds up a mirror to our society, that demands us to have a conversation about a particular topic. It’s the power of a truly great film. Not only do they generate a discussion, but they stay with you even after the credits have rolled. This was most definitely applicable for this enthralling directorial debut from Emerald Fennell.

Forced to drop out of med school, following a tragic incident involving her best friend, Cassie goes out at night pretending to be drunk, to catch in the act, would be sexual predators who would take advantage of a drunken woman. The film grips with you with the opening act, and only escalates when circumstances present Cassie with an opportunity to take revenge against the person who inflicted all that pain on her years ago. Fennell expertly juxtaposes bright and colourful romantic comedy moments, with the more dark and brutal revenge mission, all while getting a career-best performance from Carey Mulligan.

 

And so my favourite film of 2021 is

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1. Dune 

review

For two years running, this was my most anticipated film of the year, and it absolutely delivered on those lofty expectations. Denis Villeneuve has cemented himself as one of, if not, my favourite directors working today. He has consistently delivered incredible films every time, and it was clear from interviews in the build-up to the film’s release just how much of an impact Frank Herbert’s iconic novel had on him growing up. It was said to be an unfilmable book, but Villeneuve absolutely proved everybody wrong.

Right from the off, the film immediately pulls the audience into the world of Arrakis and Dune. Villeneuve brings the visual majesty that he brought to his previous sci-fi works, and with a packed ensemble cast tells an utterly enthralling story, or at least the first part of it. The scope of the novel meant that Villeneuve was able to take his time, and it pays off. Dune very much stands on its own as an enthralling piece of sci-fi storytelling, and it was made for the big screen. Experiencing films like this was an experience that was sorely missed in 2020, and so to get the opportunity to experience this on the biggest screen possible was absolutely special. Plus, the great news is that we’ve Part Two still to come.

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And that brings the curtain down on my list of the best that film had to offer in 2021. Thank you for reading, especially if you read all the way through! Let’s hope that it won’t be long before the cinemas reopen and we can witness more films on the big screen. What were your favourite films of 2021? Let me know in the comments below or you can find me on the following platforms: TwitterFacebook or Letterbox’d.

For my picks for my most anticipated films of 2022, please click here.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2021

The Power of the Dog (2021)

© Netflix

The Power of the Dog  – Film Review

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Thomasin McKenzie, Genevieve Lemon, Keith Carradine, Frances Conroy

Director: Jane Campion

Synopsis:  The relationship of two brothers in 1920s Montana is put to the test when one brother settles down and introduces his new wife, and her son, to the other brother…

Review: What does it to be a man? Even in modern times, the stereotype of the masculine man is someone who is expected to be hard, tough, and forbidden from displaying any sort of emotion that might deem them as being “weak” and “unmanly”. While someone on the outside may present themselves as tough and strong, inside they can easily be the polar opposite. They could potentially be hiding some pretty big insecurities. While we have broken down some of those absurd barriers of men being unallowed to express emotions, back in the 1920s, such an idea was unheard of. In her first film for 12 years, Jane Campion explores the concept of toxic masculinity from the perspective of two very different people.

The setting is Montana in 1925, and brothers Phil (Cumberbatch) and George Burbank (Plemons) are very successful ranch owners. Phil is the tough, masculine, and considerably more cruel brother. He regularly likes to throw around insults, especially towards George. George, by contrast, is in every sense, the polar opposite to Phil, who is considerably more friendly, gentle, and hospitable. When George meets Rose (Dunst), he becomes instantly smitten with her, and the two marry. When George brings Rose and her son Peter (Smit-McPhee) home to the Burbank ranch, it doesn’t sit well with Phil at all. Phil becomes determined to do all he can to make Rose’s and Peter’s lives a misery, which will only add further strain to the tense relationship that already exists between the two brothers.

When you picture the average Western, you may picture a scene that depicts cowboys standing outside a saloon with their guns drawn in some rural town in the Wild Wild West. While the setting is sort of the same (substitute the majestic hills of New Zealand for those of rural USA), Campion instead takes a considerably different approach to this story. Adapted from the 1967 novel of the same name by Thomas Savage, her screenplay takes a considerably slow-burn approach to the story, that’s bathed in the gorgeous cinematography from Ari Wegner. Campion is clearly not interested in those tense shootouts, and is instead more focused on who the characters are as human beings. This is a personal, emotionally character-driven piece that thrives by taking its time to thoroughly examine the internal conflicts that are brewing inside these characters, and how these can spill over into their relationships with the other characters.

As the man at the centre of this story, Benedict Cumberbatch gives a terrific performance as Phil Burbank. Due to his tendency to willfully bully and insult others around him, he is definitely not the easiest character to spend some time with. He takes great satisfaction and joy in the mistreatment of others. Yet, as the film progresses, that brash and cruel exterior is peeled away, as not everything is what appears to be with Phil, and Cumberbatch’s nuanced performance captures this superbly. There’s an internal struggle within himself, and with some of the other characters that keep you invested as the film goes on, especially between Phil and Peter. Initially, one of the targets of Phil’s cruel insults due to his lisp and some of his mannerisms, it becomes fascinating to see how the relationships change once certainly layers are peeled back. Like Phil, there’s more to Peter than what you see at first glance, and Smit-McPhee’s performance is as equally nuanced as Cumberbatch’s.

As the dynamic between Phil and Peter is the one that is given the most screentime, it does mean that some of the others, most notably between Phil and George and Rose are not given enough screentime as they maybe could and should have. Plemons is severely underutilised once we reach the second half of the film. What’s more, for all of her strengths as an actress, Dunst also doesn’t have much to do except cower in fear whenever she comes face to face with Phil. This fear of her brother-in-law leads her down a dark path of addiction. While Dunst excels with the material she’s given, there was scope for a further exploration of the demons that she’s facing. Nevertheless, Campion’s slow-burn approach to this story and to the characters ensures that the mysteries that are at the centre of the film are extremely compelling to watch as they unravel. The Power of the Dog packs plenty of both bark and bite in equal measure.

A Western unlike any other. Campion’s long-awaited return to the director’s chair bides its time with its story, which makes the film’s atmospheric journey, and the mysteries contained within, all the more enthralling to watch.

Posted in 2020-2029, Ranking

Most Anticipated Films of 2022

Happy new year cinephiles! 2021 was a very mixed year for cinephiles, we got a return to the big screen at long last, but it hasn’t been the complete return to normality that the cinema industry would have liked to see. Though the feeling of being back in the best place to watch films was truly special, and the 2021 box office was certainly an improvement on that of 2020’s. There’s still much uncertainty in the coming months, as we continue to struggle with the ongoing pandemic, but let’s hope that our cinemas stay open right throughout the year.

With that, let’s look ahead to the upcoming films that are scheduled to be released over the next 12 months. As may be the case for the foreseeable future, some films on this list may end up getting delayed into next year. But, hopefully, we will get to see all these films and many more in 2022. So let’s dive straight in with the films I am most excited to see. First thing’s first, let’s have a look at the honourable mentions (All current UK release dates unless specified):

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (release date: 1 April): So often do films based on video games disappoint, so it was a very welcome surprise when the first Sonic proved to be a blast of fun. The decision to delay the film so they could redesign the titular character worked wonders, and now the sequel will see Sonic team up with Tails, as they take on Dr Robotnik, and Knuckles the Echidna.

Jurassic World: Dominion (release date: 10 June)  Life finds a way, and for the concluding chapter in this Jurassic World trilogy, a few very familiar faces will be making their return for this dinosaur threequel. Namely Sam Neill and Laura Dern as Dr. Alan Grant and Dr. Ellie Sattler respectively, as well as Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm, who will hopefully have a much bigger role this time around.

The Flash (release date: 4 November) The DCEU has been through its ups and downs, but after a solid 2021 in which both Zack Snyder’s Justice League and The Suicide Squad pulled in good numbers on HBO Max, 2022 it’s looking like it will be a big year with three films being released. The most intriguing is Ezra Miller’s solo Flash film, which will reportedly borrow from the Flashpoint storyline in the comics. The film is set to introduce Supergirl, see the return of not only Ben Affleck’s Batman, but also Michael Keaton’s iteration of the Dark Knight as well.

Avatar 2 (release date: 16 December) Back in 2009, Avatar became a cultural phenomenon. Partly thanks to the revival of 3D, it stormed its way to the highest-grossing film of all time, which it held for over a decade, and has since retaken thanks to a rerelease in China. However, it has taken a while for James Cameron to get all of the pieces in place for the sequel to finally be released after numerous delays. Will Cameron recapture that enthusiasm that audiences had for a Pandoran adventure, or has the ship sailed? Time will tell.

Turning Red (release date: 11 March). Very few studios can sell a film based on the strength of their name alone, but Pixar is definitely one of those studios. With two films from Disney’s sister studio to look forward to this year, Focusing on a girl who turns into a giant red panda when she’s stressed out. Pixar can so often be at their brilliant, and emotional, best when crafting original stories, and this is their most unique film in quite some time.

Now, let’s see what cracked my top 10:

10. Lightyear

Release date: 17 June

The second Pixar offering of the year. Everyone knows the name Buzz Lightyear and his iconic catchphrase. However, what makes this film so intriguing is that it is not a direct continuation of the first four Toy Story films, but rather a look at how the Buzz Lightyear action figure came to be the #1 toy that all of the kids wanted to have. With Chris Evans taking over the voice duties from Tim Allen, this film promises to be an exciting space adventure that audiences will be wanting to go To Infinity and Beyond to see.

9. Nope 

Release date: 22 July

With his first two films as a director, Jordan Peele has proved himself to be one of the new masters in horror filmmaking, creating thought-provoking and brilliantly terrifying films. One of which won him a well-deserved Oscar. Not much is known about the plot of his third film but with a cast that includes his Get Out star Daniel Kaluuya, as well as Keke Palmer and Steven Yeun. Was there a chance this was missing the list?

Well, erm, nope….. (I’ll see myself out..)

 

8. The Northman

Release date: 22 April

Along with Jordan Peele, another director that has come along in recent years and changed the horror genre is that of Robert Eggers. However, with his latest film, he seems to be stepping away from horror, into a more historical epic that focuses on one man’s quest to avenge the death of his father. With that super exciting first trailer, this promises to be an enthralling epic, with a stellar cast that includes Alexander Skarsgård, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicole Kidman, Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, and Bjork.

7. Don’t Worry Darling

Release date: 23 September 

Olivia Wilde successfully made her directorial debut with the hilarious Booksmart. For her second stint behind the camera, she’s going back to the 1950s for a mysterious thriller/horror about a married couple. Not much else is known about the film’s plot but when you have Florence Pugh and Harry Styles in the lead roles, with Gemma Chan, Chris Pine and Kiki Layne in supporting roles, well need I say anymore?

6. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Release date: 11 November 

The first Black Panther film was a landmark moment for the MCU as it was the first MCU film with a predominantly black cast, and it was a phenomenal success, winning the MCU their first 3 Oscars. But, as exciting as it will be to make a return to Wakanda, it will ultimately be a very bittersweet one given the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman.

It’s quite the unenviable task for director Ryan Coogler to honour Boseman’s extraordinary legacy, and simultaneously pass the mantle of the Black Panther onto a new character. Fortunately, as the first film introduced audiences to numerous memorable characters, Ryan Coogler will find a way to ensure that legacy of the Black Panther, and that of Chadwick Boseman, will live on. Plus, there’s been plenty of rumours as to who some of the new additions to the cast, such as Michaela Coel, might be playing.

5. Mission: Impossible 7

Release date: 30 September

Since Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, the MI franchise has somehow managed to find ways to keep going and just get better and better with every new instalment. This is no small part due to the willingness of the franchise’s star Tom Cruise to keep doing absolutely jaw-dropping and insane stunts that manage to outdo the last crazy stunt he did for the previous film, quite a feat for him as he’s fast approaching his 60th birthday.

While plot details remain unknown, all of the familiar faces seem to be back in action, and Christopher McQuarrie is once again calling the shots as the director. What’s more, the franchise has added some very exciting talents including Hayley Atwell, Pom Klementioff,  Esai Morales and Shea Whigham. Based on the above picture, audiences can surely expect more insane stunts and some thrilling action sequences.

 

4. Thor: Love and Thunder

Release date: 8 July

It took a while for Thor’s MCU solo films to really find their feet after a decent debut film, and a somewhat shaky second outing. However, in came director Taika Waititi in the director’s chair for the third film, and it proved to be a match made in heaven, with one of the funniest MCU films to date. So it’s thrilling to see Waititi return to helm this sequel that promises to somehow outdo the bonkers nature of Ragnarok, as if that was possible.

Natalie Portman will make her return as Jane Foster, but not only that, she will also be suiting up as the Mighty Thor. All of the supporting cast from Ragnarok like Valkyrie and Korg are expected to return. Plus, there’s also the strong possibility that the Guardians of the Galaxy will show up as well, all possibly taking on Gorr the God Butcher as played by Christian Bale.

 

 

3. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Part One)

Release date: October 7

2018’s Spider-Man Into The Spider-Verse was one of the most stylish and unique animated films to have come out in a long time, and it’s one of the best superhero films ever made. Introducing fan favourite Miles Morales as Spider-Man, its unique animation style made it feel like it was as if the animators were directly taking pages of a comic book and translating them onto the screen. Plus given lots of superhero films this year are all about the multiverse, it was a film ahead of the curve.

With this sequel, we can definitely expect more multiverse shenanigans, and the fact that this film will be part one is an extremely intriguing prospect. Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld and Jake Johnson will all be reprising their voice roles. On top of which, Oscar Isaac joining the cast as Spider-Man 2099 and Issa Rae as Spider-Woman.

2. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Release date: May 6

Phase 4 of the MCU has slowly but surely been building towards unleashing the Multiverse, and now thanks to the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home, it has finally arrived. Based on the teaser trailer for the film, one cannot help but wonder if we’re only just scratching the surface with the Multiverse in the MCU, and it’s going to be something that the MCU heroes will be dealing with for a long time to come. Based on what’s been teased, this could well be the closest thing the MCU may ever come to a horror film, and the trailer looked suitably ominous and foreboding.

Featuring the return of Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo and Rachel McAdams as Christine, the film will see Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange working with Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch. Given these two are arguably the two most strongest MCU heroes, it will be fascinating to watch these two team-up. The cherry on the cake, however, is that this will be directed by Sam Raimi, the director of the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man films. A director with a history when it comes to horror films.

 

And, my #1 most anticipated film of 2022 is.

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1.  The Batman

Release date: March 4

If you had to ask anyone to name five superheroes, chances are good that most people would name Batman among them. The character of Bruce Wayne/Batman is truly iconic, and it’s a role that has been held by a number of actors down the years. Now, Robert Pattinson is latest man to don the iconic cape and cowl.

What started out as a DCEU film to be directed by and starring Ben Affleck, has now become a stand alone DC film, under the direction of Matt Reeves. It looks like this iteration of the Dark Knight will be considerably more darker and brutal than those that came before it. Pattinson looks like an inspired choice for the titualr role, and when you add Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman, Jefffrey Wright as Commissioner Gordon, Andy Serkis as Alfred, Paul Dano as the Riddler, and an unrecognisable Colin Farrell as the Penguin, you have the makings of what could turn out to be the best Batman film ever made.

This concludes my picks for the most anticipated films of 2022, What are your most anticipated films for this year? Let me know on any of the following platforms: Twitter, Facebook or Letterbox’d

Thanks for reading. Here’s to a great 12 months of cinema (fingers crossed!)

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

© Marvel Studios, Sony and Columbia Pictures

Spider-Man: No Way Home   – Film Review

Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, J. B. Smoove, Benedict Wong, Jamie Foxx, Alfred Molina, Willem Dafoe

Director: Jon Watts

Synopsis: After his identity is revealed to the world, Peter Parker asks for the help of Doctor Strange in a desperate attempt to make everyone forget he is Spider-Man…

This review will be 100% spoiler-free…

Review: Back in 2019, when Marvel Studios released Avengers: Endgame to the world, it was the crowning and unprecedented achievement of a decade-long cinematic adventure. Unlike anything that had ever been accomplished before in cinematic history it broke box office records, and – for a time – held the title of the highest-grossing film of all time. After the conclusion of that thrilling journey, Marvel would have been forgiven for spending five or so years to take stock of what they’ve achieved. The pandemic might have forced them to wait a bit, but this year Marvel have gone full steam ahead with the continuation of their Cinematic Universe. Phase 4 is beginning to take shape, and now, perhaps the biggest film of this phase thus far, and certainly the biggest since Endgame, has arrived.

Set immediately after the events of Spider-Man: Far From Home, Spider-Man’s identity has, thanks to Quentin Beck/Mysterio been revealed to the world. Consequently, Peter’s whole life has been turned upside down. With his identity now a known fact, it’s having an adverse impact on the lives of his family and friends as well. Desperate for help, he turns to Doctor Strange and asks him to cast a spell that makes the world forget his secret identity. However, when Peter attempts to tamper with the spell, it goes horribly wrong and unleashes the Multiverse, as hinted at in Disney+’s Loki. The Multiverse is something that they know, as Strange puts it, “frighteningly little about.” The corrupted spell causes strange visitors and foes from different universes to arrive in our world, and it’s up to Peter to stop them and send them back to their own realities.

After two MCU Spider-Man films that very much dealt with the impact that Tony Stark/Iron Man had on Peter Parker and his early career as everyone’s friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, this concluding chapter is a welcome departure from that. With Iron Man having passed on, it’s left Peter Parker with no choice but to grow up, stand on his own two feet and wrestle with the fallout from his identity being revealed. Though that’s all with the help of a certain magic Sorcerer, who thankfully is not predictably stepping up to the mentor void left by Iron Man. Tom Holland has proven himself to be a fan favourite in this role with his numerous appearances across the MCU, but it’s here which he gives his absolute best performance. Being the hero that he is, there’s a lot resting on his shoulders, to save the world and to also protect those he cares about from being harmed by his mistakes.

Having seen a previous, and beautifully animated, Spider-Man film brilliantly using the concept of a Multiverse; screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers had the unenviable task of adapting the Multiverse into this iteration of the character. They also had to make this third MCU Spider-Man film live up to the lofty expectations that fans had hoisted upon the film from its announcement. Depending on what you have seen in the build-up to the film, it may or may not live up to those expectations. The first act is a little rough to start off with, but once we get to the tampered spell, and the opening up of the multiverse the film finds its feet. Previous Spidey films have often been left to rue their mistakes when one too many villains get dragged into the picture, and the plot as a result gets severely messy. Thankfully, lightning doesn’t strike twice – or perhaps thrice – here as director Jon Watts is able to weave all these threads into a satisfying narrative that never feels as bloated as a Russian rhinoceros.

It would be easy to see this film as nothing more than just an enormous helping of fan service. While it is most certainly true in that regard, it does definitely have its moments that will undoubtedly please long-time fans of this character. However, it doesn’t negate what matters most to the character of Peter Parker, and the core values that the revered hero stands for. The character is one that has been a favourite for generations of comic book fans and thanks to our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, Phase 4 of the MCU has now opened the multiverse good and proper, and the possibilities that brings are plentiful and very very fantastic.

Juggling a lot of different plot webs has proven to be a stumbling block before, but with a career-best performance from Holland and an excellent cast of supporting characters, this Spider-Man threequel triumphantly swings its way to success.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Encanto (2021)

© Walt Disney Animation Studios

Encanto – Film Review

Cast: Stephanie Beatriz, John Leguizamo, María Cecilia Botero, Diane Guerrero, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Wilmer Valderrama

Directors: Byron Howard and Jared Bush

Synopsis: In an enchanted house in the hills of Colombia, live the Madrigal family, all of whom have magical gifts that help them give back to the community.

Review: Back in 1937, a certain company called Walt Disney Productions unveiled Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to the world. It was a truly historic and monumental achievement and one that would change the course of animation filmmaking forever. Though when celebrating their extraordinary accomplishment, probably not even Walt himself could have quite imagined the legacy that the film would leave. Indeed, over eighty years after that historic first film was released, the studio that bears his name would still be at the top of their game in terms of releasing top-quality animated films. Not only that, but they would be celebrating the release of their 60th animated feature film and a very magical one at that.

Set in the hills of Colombia, the Madrigal family live in an enchanted house that they call the Casita. Through incredible magic, each descendant of the family is granted an extraordinary gift. The Madrigal family, via their magical gifts, give back to the vibrant community that has built up over the years since the Casita was built. Though there’s one member of the family who doesn’t have a gift of any kind, and that is Mirabel (Beatriz). Due to her lack of a magical gift, Mirabel is convinced that she’s not as special as the rest of her family. However, when an incident threatens to erase the magic of the Casita, the task falls to Mirabel to establish what’s going on and to save the magic before it is too late.

With any animated film that is produced by the House of Mouse, it is a formality that the film’s animation is going to be flawless. After the previous 59 films, one would suspect that they have seen the best animation that the studio has to offer. Yet, with each new film that has its stamp, they continue to surprise and delight in equal measure. In the same way that Raya and the Last Dragon represented a landmark moment for representation for Southeastern Asian communities, Encanto does that, and more for the country of Colombia. The Colombian community is vibrant and colourful, and it’s clear that the filmmakers have gone to great lengths to honour this culture on screen. Furthermore, the magic that brings the Casita to life, and the breath-taking magical gifts of the Madrigal family are vibrant and leap off the screen.

Each member of the family has their own unique gift, whether it’s Luisa with her extraordinary strength, Isabela with her ability to make flowers appear at will, or Antonio’s ability to talk to animals. It would therefore be easy for the protagonist Mirabel to be, as she is the only family member sans magical powers, to be unmemorable. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. While she might be perceived as weird and different by the rest of her family, what Mirabel lacks in magical ability, she makes up for in her courageousness and bravery. She’s determined to be the one to save the magic of the Encanto and to save her family, and Stephanie Beatriz’s voice performance imbues her with the personality of a role model that anyone, especially those who hail from Latin America, can aspire to be.

2021 has already been quite the year for Lin-Manuel Miranda. First, there was the big-screen adaptation of his hit musical In the Heights, next came his directorial debut. Finally, to round out his phenomenal year, he reunites with Disney for another match made in heaven collaboration. Having worked to great effect with the Mouse House with the music and lyrics for Moana, Miranda is once again back on songwriting duty for this unique celebration of Colombian culture. The songs have the unique Lin-Manuel Miranda signature to them, hence making them all extremely catchy and enjoyable to listen to.

However, given the plethora of soaring and memorable ballads that have been heard in previous films, akin to Miranda’s “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana or a “Let it Go” from Frozen, there’s nothing that soars to quite the extent that those aforementioned songs do. The film’s narrative is definitely one you’ll have seen from previous Disney films, but the sheer quality of the craft of the animators, and the loving depiction of Colombian culture, ensures that Disney hits this creative landmark in beautiful style.

Filled with dazzling and vibrant animation, the narrative beats may be somewhat familiar, but even after 60 films down, the House of Mouse still has that magical touch.