Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Knives Out (2019)

Image is property of Lionsgate and Media Rights Capital

Knives Out – Film Review

Cast: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Christopher Plummer

Director: Rian Johnson

Synopsis: After a family patriarch dies in mysterious circumstances, a highly renowned private investigator is hired to lead the police inquiry…

Review: After making one of the most polarising blockbusters of all time in The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson would have been forgiven for taking a break from film-making, given the fierce, at times toxic, reaction that his Star Wars film generated. Yet, Johnson was having none of that and has wasted no time getting back into the game. After conceiving the idea of a murder mystery following the release of Looper, he takes obvious inspiration from the likes of Agatha Christie to give his own unique take on the “Whodunnit” genre, with extremely enthralling results.

As with all entertainment that centres on a murder mystery, it pays to know as little as possible about any plot details before diving head first into the madness. Therefore, vagueness is the name of the game from this point onwards. As he celebrates his 85th birthday party with his family, a family patriarch dies. Sensing something suspicious about the circumstances of the death, an official investigation is opened. As the tagline reads: “Hell, any of them could have done it.” As such, with everyone who attended the party a suspect, the detectives must interview the family members, and use those “little grey cells” in a bid to piece together the clues and to try and crack the case.

The most attractive group of suspects you’ll maybe ever see…

With such a stacked, A-list, ensemble cast, to give everyone their moment to shine would be extremely difficult. However, with a sharp and brilliantly witty script, Johnson does exactly that, and it enables him to get excellent performances out of everyone. Every member of this family is given fascinating, fleshed out back stories, which enables the audience to try and establish their potential motivations. Though, like all great murder mysteries, the audience is kept on their toes. Though, to go into too much detail about who gives the best performances is running the risk of getting into spoiler territory. With that in mind, let’s just say that, apart from Daniel Craig’s brilliant turn as the lead detective channelling his inner Poirot (if Poirot ever became a gruff Southern sleuth), the characters who wind up being at the centre of this investigation, are the best of a truly outstanding bunch.

There’s some ingenious subtext to the story that could have been a massive turn-off. However, it’s written so cleverly into the plot that makes it relevant and extremely entertaining. With every line of dialogue, Johnson’s passion for the genre comes across effortlessly, and he proves that he is a master of his craft. There’s also the distinct possibility that with some of the lines that these characters spit venomously at each other, that it’s Johnson’s subtle way of firing back, following the vitriol that was aimed in his direction following his Star Wars venture. For a film that centres on a murder investigation, it seems absurd that there’d be so many hilarious moments throughout. They are plentiful and they never feel out of place as the jokes keep the plot moving along at such a thrilling, kinetic pace. It ensures that not a single moment of the film’s run-time is wasted.

Bolstered by some immaculate, very colourful production design, this was the perfect film for Johnson to “bounce back” from the endless mire of the The Last Jedi backlash. It proves, if it were somehow ever in doubt that, Johnson’s mastery of the craft remains intact, and that he’s at the very top of his game as a writer and a director. Furthermore, it’s evident from every frame, that the cast are having a blast with this script, and there’s a good chance that this feeling will be reciprocal for the audience. It will make them want to grab their deerstalker hat and magnifying glass, and strive to  solve the riddle at the centre of this enthralling mystery.

A razor sharp, ingenious screenplay, backed by an impeccable ensemble cast ensures that Johnson’s modern update on the Whodunnit genre is an audacious, riveting spectacle. 

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Jojo Rabbit (2019)

Image is property of Fox Searchlight

Jojo Rabbit – Film Review

Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson

Director: Taika Waititi

Synopsis: When a young lad in the Hilter Youth finds out that his mother is hiding a Jewish girl in the attic of their house, he starts to question the ideology that’s been drummed into him from a young age…

Review: Whenever a comedy is pitched to a studio, it’s hard to imagine a premise would the centre of that pitch involve the presence of one of the most evil men of the 20th century and set slap bang in the middle of Nazi Germany. For it to also be pitched as a comedy/satire, it’s a concept that seems so absurd, there would have been a good chance that you’d get laughed out of the room. In the wrong hands, such an idea could have been a catastrophe of enormous proportions in its execution. Yet in the hands of Taika Waititi, the whimsical New Zealand comedian/director, it’s an absolute masterstroke.

When young Johannes (Davis) or Jojo for short, joins the Hitler Youth, his love for his country, and his naïve belief in its ideals knows no bounds. With his imaginary friend, an ethnically inaccurate (and considerably more moronic) version of Hitler by his side, he strives to complete his time at the Hitler Youth with flying colours. However, when he uncovers the startling secret that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl (McKenzie) in the attic of his house, it brings Jojo back down to Earth with a jolt, and he must grapple with everything that has been taught to him throughout his childhood.

For his very first acting role, Roman Griffin Davis is nothing short of a revelation. He handles both the comedic elements of the story and the more dramatic moments like a seasoned actor with several roles already under his belt. Alongside him, Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa, the Jewish girl hiding in the attic, gives a wounded, but impactful performance, in a role that represents the heart and soul of the film. For the rest of the supporting cast, everyone does their job tremendously well, and there’s not a single performance out of place. From Sam Rockwell’s Nazi Commanding Officer, to Scarlett Johansson as Jojo’s compassionate mother. The true scene-stealer in all of this, is writer/director Waititi’s portrayal of the moronic version of Hitler. Any moment he pops into the frame, or opens his mouth, it will be next to impossible not to just burst into fits of laughter.

Adapted from the book Caging Skies, by Christine Leunens, Waititi’s screenplay expertly combines the comedy aspects with the much more dramatic/heavy moments. In Waititi’s signature idiosyncratic style, there’s tonnes of hilarious jokes peppered throughout the film. However, merging comedy with drama is always walking the very finest of fine lines, especially for a film set in this particular time period.  However, through Waititi’s skilled comedic timing and direction, the comedy never overshadows the moments of the film that require the audience to pause and reflect.

In a time when divisions in many societies across the world seem to be more fierce and toxic than ever, this is a very timely film. Poking fun at the absurdity of the Nazis and their ideologies is not exactly anything new and as such, the risk of the gags running out of steam very early on was very high. While the satirical nature of the comedy may not land with everyone, there’s a powerful message at the core of the film. Namely, it serves as a reminder of the power that love can conquer hate. Furthermore, despite any differences we share, there’s ultimately more that connects us, than separates us. Which, in this divisive era, is a message that society can definitely grab on to.

Blending satire with some heavy drama could have gone horribly wrong. Though, thanks to Waititi’s sharp screenplay and superb performances across the board, the end product is side-splitting and simultaneously incredibly poignant.

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Lighthouse (2019)

Image is property of A24, Focus Features and Regency Enterprises

The Lighthouse – Film Review

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe

Director: Robert Eggers

Synopsis: Tasked with the maintenance of a lighthouse on a remote island, two lighthouse keepers find themselves in an increasingly desolate existence, desperately striving to maintain their sanity…

Review: How would you cope with the unforgiving isolation of living and working on such a small patch of land? With day after day of heavy, exhausting work in the most brutal, relentless weather conditions? Granted, the wonder of modern technology would make that situation in today’s world much less depressing. However, for the two souls at the heart of this barmy tale from Robert Eggers, with no such technology at their disposal, it will be the ultimate psychological battle to keep their composure, and sanity in one piece.

Set on a remote and desolate New England island in the 1890s, after an introduction that establishes an extremely ominous and tense atmosphere. The two, initially nameless, lighthouse keepers (Pattinson and Dafoe) are tasked with the maintenance and upkeep of the lighthouse. As their assignment begins, the brutality and unforgiving nature of their living conditions begin to take an extremely heavy toll on both men. The longer that they spend on the island with no other company but each other’s, the more the two of them find themselves being driven slowly to the brink of madness.

After unsettling audiences with The Witch, Robert Eggers continues that streak with another deeply unnerving psychological drama. By shooting in a 4:3 ratio, in black and white, he enhances the feeling of dread and suspense that builds from the very first shot that continues to linger, like a pesky seagull that’s got its eyes on your food, and refuses to leave you alone. The extremely ominous score enhances that feeling of everlasting dread, as these two men are put through the most intense psychological test. With Jarin Blaschke’s portentous cinematography, Eggers’s direction is masterful. The way he chooses to position the camera, and with some of his directorial choices, there’s a foreboding, sinister atmosphere that is maintained right throughout the film.

Given their immense talent as actors, it should come as no surprise that Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe give hypnotically magnificent performances. The relationship between them starts off on good terms and there’s a mutual respect. However, this doesn’t last as with each passing day of their solitude, it all begins to unravel. As both of them appear to be hiding something from the other, they both try to maintain their composure and sanity, all the while the distrust threatens to erupt into violence. The film screams volumes about themes of isolationism, and loneliness, and conveys them in an extremely unique manner. The tension builds to such a frightening extent that you could probably cut it with the bluntest of knives. With a script co-written by Eggers and his brother Max, there’s certainly an idiosyncratic factor to the events that unfold. Though while these may provoke emotions ranging from awe to dread, the magnetic performances will keep your attention on the screen.

Some of the actions depicted on screen will likely make you laugh, or wince in horror, or maybe a combination of the two. Furthermore, with undertones of a not very subtle nature, this film is most assuredly not for everyone. While the dialogue can be quite tricky to understand in places, Eggers has crafted a film that’s wholly original and extremely unique in terms of its production.  With only his second feature film, along with the likes of Ari Aster and Jordan Peele, Eggers has firmly stamped his mark on the horror genre, whilst simultaneously ensuring that any job applications for a vacant lighthouse keeper position may potentially diminish as a result.

Brooding and uncompromising, with sublime direction from Eggers, and a pair magnetic performances from the Pattinson and Dafoe, The Lighthouse is a film you definitely won’t forget in a hurry.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Harriet (2019)

Image is property of Focus Features and Perfect World Pictures

Harriet – Film Review

Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Joe Alwyn, Leslie Odom Jr, Janelle Monáe, Clarke Peters

Director: Kasi Lemmons

Synopsis: A look at the life of Harriet Tubman, who after escaping the cruelty of slavery, becomes a leading figure in the fight against its abolition…

Review: There’s no getting away from the fact that slavery in the 1800s represents one of the darkest points in human history. While this period was full of appalling atrocities committed against human beings, even in such troubling times, such powerful and uplifting stories can be brought to light. Stories of amazing courage and perseverance, stories that deserve and, arguably need to be brought to a wider audience, and one such example of this, is the amazing inspirational story of Harriet Tubman.

Having spent her entire life in slavery, Harriet strives to breath the free air. When an attempt to secure her freedom, via legal methods, is vehemently rejected, she senses that she might face severe punishment for trying to secure her freedom. Fearing for her safety, she decides to take matters into her own hands. She bravely runs away in a desperate bid to secure her freedom, which proves to be successful. Upon gaining her freedom, she makes it her mission to liberate slaves from their masters, and becomes a leader in the abolitionist movement to end this cruel and barbaric practice.

Having burst onto the scene in 2018 with Widows and Bad Times at the El Royale, Cynthia Erivo demonstrated her considerable talents to audiences the world over. However with this role, she produces an astonishing, career best performance. She imbues Harriet with a strong willed fearlessness, and a resolute determination in her mission to win her freedom. This doesn’t waiver in her later exploits, as she uses this tenacity and bravery to go out and strive to position to free as many of the people that have fallen into slavery as she possibly can. It is her movie and she carries it magnificently. Outside of Erivo’s sublime performance, Leslie Odom Jr is solid as an abolitionist ally and Joe Alwyn as Harriet’s slave master, has the callous and nasty personality you’d expect from a slave master. On the other hand, though she’s also is on reliably good form, Janelle Monae’s character could definitely have done with more screen time.

The screenplay’s approach to its subject matter, written by Lemmons and Gregory Allen Howard, doesn’t really break any new ground for the biopic genre. However, this doesn’t act as a hindrance to the film, simply because, the incredible circumstances that surround the story of this remarkable woman are more than enough to craft a compelling story on their own merit. With a story that consistently manages to be riveting throughout, the approach taken by Lemmons through the script and her direction, does Harriet Tubman’s remarkable story justice. When a story has this much power behind it, it doesn’t need to reinvent the biopic genre, but instead honours this remarkable woman whose exploits deserve to be well known across the world.

With films such as 12 Years A Slave and now Harriet, these powerful dramas serve to remind everyone about the painful nature of the horrors that this institution brought upon so many people. However, they also serve as a powerful reminder that through sheer perseverance, grit and determination, anyone, no matter who they are, can accomplish anything they set their mind to. Furthermore, truly remarkable feats that end up changing the course of human history will absolutely stand the test of time.

With a sublime lead performance from Cynthia Erivo at its core, Harriet is a compelling and rewarding drama that pays tribute to an influential figure in American history, and honours her extraordinary legacy.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Joker (2019)

Image is property of DC Films and Warner Bros Pictures

Joker  – Film Review

By Aiden Mills

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert DeNiro, Zazie Beetz, Brian Tyree Henry

Director: Todd Phillips 

Synopsis: Struggling comedian Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) finds himself rock bottom and ostracised from society until a series of violent incidents leads him to find a new purpose in life.

Review: When the news came out that DC and Warner Bros were making a standalone Joker film with Todd Phillips at the helm, the red flags started waving. Even when news that Scorsese was on-board as Producer and the phenomenal Joaquin Phoenix was cast as the infamous villain, doubts still lingered in the minds of DC fans. Since Heath Ledger’s much loved portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime, could anyone go some way to matching that iconic performance? Well, rest assured, they have.

Joker starts with struggling comedian Arthur Fleck looking at himself in the mirror and forcing himself to smile, a single tear rolling down his cheek. Hunched over, and with a body shape reminiscent of Christian Bale in The Machinist, we know from the very get go that this is a man on the outskirts of society, no more than a cockroach living in the shadows. A man metaphorically and literally beaten down by the world around him, before a series of violent events leads him to fall into a cocoon of insanity before emerging as the villain we all know and love dancing and prancing through the streets of Gotham City, a crazy butterfly. While this is for all intents and purposes an “origin story,” it is more of a character study as well as a test to the audience. Specifically, how far can this guy go before our empathy runs out?

The world Phillips builds is phenomenal. With the use of a moody and ominous soundtrack, a vibrant use of neon lighting and a gloomy filter, he manages to seamlessly blend Scorsese’s New York with Tim Burton’s Gotham- the perfect stomping ground for Phoenix’s Joker. The Gotham we see in Joker is one on the verge of eruption, unemployment and poverty is on the rise along with crime and corruption. Garbage litters the streets and to top it all off super rats are running wild. The people are angry and are out for justice and are quick to direct their anger at the rich one percent who run Gotham.  Arthur is a product of these hostile societies, a person on the brink who is ostracised and isolated from everyone around him and left alone with his negative thoughts. He idolises Talk Show Host, Murray Franklin (Robert DeNiro) and sees him as the father figure he never had.

If a laugh could say a thousand words that would be Phoenix’s. At times it carries a great measure of pain and angst which is being bellowed out, at others, like a true psychopath. It is empty, hollow, and like the noise a hyena makes, almost a reflex. Phoenix is truly a behemoth to hold as he gives a breathtaking performance, one of which just holds your attention at every frame. In some ways this is an end to his “Lonely Man Trilogy” (Her, The Master) and perhaps his best iteration. Phoenix does a masterful job in making a complex character and creates a myriad of feelings from the audience.  To compare Phoenix to Ledger however would be a disservice to both actors, Arthur is a completely different Joker to the one in The Dark Knight and both give completely different powerhouse performances.

Recently this film has come under scrutiny for its use of violence and focus in on a traditional villain, but Phoenix says it best, the film cannot be accountable for the moralities of the people who watch it.  If it is championed by the “incels” and violent males as an anthem, we should look at the society who breeds these people as opposed to a film that condemns it. If the take away is that Arthur is the hero of this story, you would have completely missed the point of the film.

Joker seamlessly blends some of the classic films of the 70s/80s with comic culture in a truly breathtaking and emotionally challenging film. It’s a character study on a complex and troubled individual delivered by a beautifully nuanced performance from Phoenix. Joker puts its foot on your throat from the very start and doesn’t let go until the credits roll.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Farewell (2019)

Image is property of A24

The Farewell  – Film Review

Cast: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, Jiang Yongbo

Director: Lulu Wang

Synopsis: After receiving the heart-breaking news that her grandmother has terminal cancer, a young woman flies over to China to be with her beloved grandmother and her family. However, to ease her pain, her relatives have vowed to not inform their matriarch of her fatal diagnosis….

Review: There’s something special and unique about the bonds that we share with the people that we call family. Whether they live just a few blocks away, or maybe across an ocean, the bonds that family members form can be unbreakable and resolute. Within the first few minutes of this semi-biographical film from Lulu Wang, she establishes one such connection between a woman and her dearly beloved Grandma (or Nai Nai as she’s affectionately known). Instantly, from the first few minutes, we are reminded of the power that this institution can have over our lives.

The centrepiece of this heartfelt drama is Billi (Awkwafina), a struggling writer living in New York City. When Billi learns of her Grandmother’s terminal diagnosis, an impromptu celebration is organised so that everyone can bid their matriarch farewell. The only thing is, due to cultural traditions, everyone is under extremely strict instructions not to disclose anything relating to her diagnosis so as to ease her suffering, and let her enjoy her final few weeks of life. Having grown up outside of this cultural tradition, this approach does not sit well with Billi. As the gathering gets started, the entire time, Billi finds herself immensely conflicted.

Having made her name with, and nearly stolen the entire show in Crazy Rich Asians, Awkwafina gives a heart-wrenching, powerful performance. It’s a very different role when compared to her one in Crazy Rich Asians, but one that she pulls off magnificently. Right throughout the film, there are moments where you can just see this conflict eating away at her, and at numerous times, she seems like she might crack. However despite her intense frustrations, at the urging of her other relatives, she strives to hold firm and maintain the pretence. Though other relatives have their moments with her, the spotlight is firmly on Nai Nai’s relationship with Billi, which is built on nothing but unequivocal love and respect for one another.

For a film that features a family saying goodbye to a dearly beloved relative, it would seem unlikely to have comedy woven throughout the story. However, Lulu Wang’s screenplay expertly combines the comedy and drama, and the results are entertaining and poignant. This balancing act mainly comes down to the wonderful performance of Nai Nai (Shuzhen). While everyone around her is fighting so hard, repressing their sadness, this lady remains blissfully unaware of everything and living her life without a care in the world. In a world where humanity can become cocooned by our own cultures and ways of life, it’s always fascinating to see another culture be brought to a wider audience. Furthermore, irrespective of their own culture, any audience member can appreciate, and be moved by, the traditions of the culture on screen.

The importance of family, and everything that this institution can teach us all as human beings has been depicted in movies before. Therefore, it is to this film’s immense credit that it manages to provide a refreshing take on this important theme and message, with a story that will almost certainly tug on those heartstrings. What’s more, for those that are blessed to still have their grandparents with them, it ought to make them want to reach out and ensure that they take heed to any pearl of wisdom that their grandparents can impart, and to cherish every second of time that you’re able to spend with them.

Poignant and comedic, anchored by a powerful performance from Awkwafina, The Farewell is an emotional family drama that will touch the hearts and minds of any audience member, regardless of culture or creed.  

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Ad Astra (2019)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox, Regency Enterprises and Plan B

Ad Astra – Film Review

Cast: Brad Pitt, Liv Tyler, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland

Director: James Gray

Synopsis: After the Earth experiences deadly power surges, astronaut Roy McBride (Pitt) is recruited for a top secret space mission, in the belief that the events may be connected to his father’s own space mission that blasted off several years prior…

Review: Ever since humanity first blasted off into space back in 1961, there’s always been something of a fascination with what’s out there in the great chasm that is space, and the solar system. Indeed it is a subject that has inspired many filmmakers to try and approach this fascinating, and at the same time, terrifying void of eternal emptiness. Through all the space films that have graced the big screen over the years, one thing is crystal clear: being an astronaut takes some very serious guts.

Like his father before him, Roy McBride is an astronaut, and a damn good one at that too. When some unnatural power surges start to cause some problems back on Earth, a top secret briefing leads Roy back to the mission that his father Clifford (Jones) departed for several decades ago. Believing that said mission could pose some extremely serious risks to the survival of humanity, Roy must venture deep into the unforgiving world of space in the pursuit of his seemingly long lost father, and the answers to some essential questions that NASA believe Clifford possesses, that could be integral to humanity’s survival.

Given that the majority of the film features his character’s crucial mission, the entire movie is resting on Brad Pitt’s shoulders. It’s a responsibility he carries faultlessly as he turns in a very subdued, sombre, but yet extremely powerful performance. Though regrettably, the fact that Roy’s main mission is the focus for the majority of the film, it means that pretty much every other member of this cast is severely underutilised. None of them have enough screen time to make you care about their plight, which is frustrating as there definitely was potential for a further exploration of some of the other characters’s stories. This is especially frustrating when considering the talent of some of these actors and this is best exemplified by a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her performance from Roy’s distant wife, played by Liv Tyler.

After going on an interstellar journey with Christopher Nolan, Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography gives the film a rich visual majesty that perfectly captures the beauty and the terror that is space in equal measure. The production design and visual effects are so meticulously crafted, it makes it feel like the cast and crew actually went to the Moon and to the other planets beyond to film. James Gray’s screenplay, co-written with Ethan Gross, is cognitive and thoughtful. There are one or two action set pieces to get the pulses racing, but the film’s pacing is patient and methodical. There’s been no shortage of space films that have had awe-inspiring, heart-pounding intense scores, but Max Richter’s haunting, powerful score is right up there with the very best of them.

Though the film is not, and was never intending to be, an enthralling action spectacle set in the deepest depths of space. The film’s deliberately slowed-down pacing may begin to test the patience of the audience, particularly once the third act has come into view. Though not bereft of drama, the screenplay has some thought-provoking and bold ideas behind it. However. it doesn’t come nearly as close as other recent films of this genre in crafting something that has resonated as strongly as previous space films. Though if anyone was scared of space beforehand, after watching this, it will only reinforce their perspective that space is absolutely, completely terrifying.

Like astronauts themselves, the story’s extremely ambitious. However, even with an excellent performance from Brad Pitt, and some striking visuals, this thought-provoking adventure aims for the stars, but only just falls short.  

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Hustlers (2019)

Image is property of STX Films and Gloria Sanchez Productions

Hustlers  – Film Review

Cast:  Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo

Director: Lorene Scafaria

Synopsis: When business at their strip club starts to diminish, a group of the club’s employees devise a scheme to turn the tables on the wealthy clientele that frequent their establishment…

Review: In the wake of the #MeToo movement that shook Hollywood to its core, it seems timely, one could argue even necessary, for more films to be made that feature women front and centre. Films that feature women in empowering situations, not being beholden to any men, and firmly in control of their own destinies. Furthermore, for a film that features women in a line of work that a debate could rage all day and all night about whether said line of work is objectification, or empowerment. In this case, it is absolutely, unequivocally the latter.

Destiny (Wu) is a young woman, who with people she needs to take care of, finds herself struggling to earn a decent living whilst working in a strip club. This is until she meets the confident Ramona (Lopez), who soon takes Destiny under her wing. Under Ramona’s tutelage, Destiny learns how to make more money for herself while she’s on the job. Things start off well, but when the establishment’s customers (and by consequence the money) start to diminish, these women take matters into their own hands to make their living and provide for those they care about. In doing so, they may just manipulate some wealthy individuals along the way.

Right from the very first moment she’s introduced, you know straight away that Ramona is Queen Bee (no, not that one) of this establishment, and our central group of women. Lopez possesses such a commanding on screen presence, and it helps her to own every minute of screen time that she has, delivering arguably her best ever performance. Destiny is at first a little unsure of herself but under Ramona’s tutelage she absolutely comes into her own Ramona, and Constance Wu turns in a solid performance. Though other ladies (Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart) become part of the titular hustle, the film’s focus is squarely on Ramona and Destiny, and the sweet and sincere friendship that they have. Their chemistry is the glue that binds the whole film together.

Lorene Scafaria’s direction is confident and assured. Given the profession of these women, a choice could definitely have been made under a different to director to overly sexualise them. Thankfully, Scafaria is having none of that, simply because such a decision would be completely unnecessary. She chooses to structure the film with various cuts back and forth between the events of the hustle, and a journalist (Stiles) who’s interviewing the key players for an article that she’s writing about the hustle. While this choice could hamper the film’s flow, the screenplay is sharp and stylish enough to ensure, and the excellent editing ensures that the sharp pace of the film never waivers. The first half of the film takes its time, as it is the calm before the storm, of the hustle. Whereas the second half is relentlessly exciting as the events of the hustle play out, as well as the immediate aftermath.

The film doesn’t exactly paint these women as heroes, because what they are doing is, simply put, not legal. On the other hand, it refuses to completely vilify them. It makes you see where they are coming from and why they are targeting these well-off clients. Quite a few humorous moments are interjected throughout, mainly courtesy of Lili Reinhart’s Annabelle. However, though there may be upsides, it’s not going to be all fun, and games and shopping sprees. There will also likely be drama, and above all, there will be consequences, for the hustlers, and for the people caught up in it all.

With a career best performance from Lopez, and a sharp as a stiletto screenplay, Hustlers combines a gripping and dramatic story, whilst celebrating female empowerment in a respectful manner.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

It (2017)

Image is property of Warner Bros. Pictures and New Line Cinema

It – Film Review

Cast: Jaeden Martell, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Bill Skarsgård

Director: Andy Muschietti

Synopsis: After a number of children go missing in the town of Derry, a group of young outcasts get together to fight the mysterious entity that’s terrorising their town…

Review: Let’s be honest, even if you like them, there’s always been something mildly/extremely terrifying about clowns. Designed to be entertainers, bringing nothing but joy, more often than not, they make people want to run away in fear. Stephen King’s 1986 novel It certainly perpetuated that fear and equally, with the adaptation of the aforementioned novel back in 1990. Though this didn’t really float with viewers, Stephen King’s work has once again been brought to the big screen to remind us all why clowns are the terrifying entities many of us perceive them to be.

It is 1989 and in the town of Derry, Maine, an alarming number of children who have disappeared without a trace, never to be seen again. One of these victims is Georgie, the younger brother of Bill (Martell), who becomes determined to find out what really happened to his brother. He’s joined on his quest by his friends Richie, Eddie and Stan (Wolfhard, Grazer and Oleff) who are all the targets of the unpleasant bullies at their school. Recruiting Beverly (Lillis), Ben (Taylor) and Mike (Jacobs) and going under the name of the Losers Club, these seven misfits band together in a bid to defeat this dastardly clown and put an end to the nightmare that he’s inflicting on their town.

Run away, run away, run away, run away, run away…..

The chemistry between the members of the Losers’s Club is ultimately the core component of this story and though some performances are stronger than others, each member of the club brings something to the table. Being the one who has the significant emotional investment in this investigation, Jaeden Martell gives the strongest performance. Though he may stutter in his speech, but he poses a steely determination not to be unnerved by the sinister events that are occurring, though each member has their moment to shine. Yet being at the centre of this nightmare, Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise delivers a performance that’s profoundly creepy and unsettling. Though this is in no small part due to the excellent costume and make-up design, it’s almost a certainty that clowns, or certainly Pennywise at least, will be continuing to haunt nightmares for many years to come.

The early stages of the film chooses to use it as an opportunity to flesh out each member of the Loser’s Club lives, which while important to the story as these are the film’s protagonists, it means the pacing is a little rough.  As before any showdowns with that ominous clown, they have to deal with the horrible bullies at their school, as well as in some cases, in their own homes. Though it can be a bit of a chore to get through, it’s necessary set up, for these characters. However, once we have arrived at the film’s climatic third act, is when the film merges its coming-of-age and horror elements of the film combine. Bolstered by Andy Muschietti’s excellent direction, and excellent production design, all of the above ensure that Pennywise’s dwellings have an extremely ominous feel to them.

Jump scares are not anything new when it comes to scaring the audience, indeed when used poorly and frequently, they often become ineffective and lazy film-making tropes. However, Muschietti utilises them effectively, as they help to build and maintain the tension and dread in this climatic showdown. A showdown that is merely at the halfway point, because  as we know, the Losers Club have some unfinished business.

 A little sluggish in its opening stages, but the film truly floats once it finds its greatest strength: the strong relationships between the members of the Losers Club.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Film Review

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Kurt Russell, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Al Pacino

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Synopsis: Set in 1960s Hollywood, amid fears that the industry is leaving him behind, actor Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his stunt double Clith Booth (Pitt), try to reignite Dalton’s career, all the while new actors like Sharon Tate (Robbie) are becoming the new faces of the industry…

Review: There are certain directors who, whenever they come out with a new film, it becomes subject of much anticipation and hype in the build up to the film’s release, and Quentin Tarantino’s films definitely fall under that bracket. As he so often does, Tarantino fuses his passion for the craft of film-making, and blends that with his passion for a bygone era of Hollywood, as for his ninth and seemingly penultimate film, takes the viewers on a journey to 1960s Tinseltown.

It’s 1969 and after starring in a hugely popular TV show, actor Rick Dalton’s career has hit the rocks. He has a moment where reality bites hard, and he realises that his days as a leading man are seemingly drawing to a close, as the industry is leaving him by the wayside with other actors on their way to becoming the star that Rick used to be. Determined to stay relevant, alongside his stunt double and great friend Cliff Booth, Rick strives to pick himself up and reinvent his career.

Tarantino scripts of the past have thrived on the dialogue to drive the film forward, and in many cases given that it is superbly written dialogue, it serves the story extremely well. Through the sharp dialogue, it makes the lives of the charismatic characters that Tarantino so often brings to the screen absolutely worth investing in. Leo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are both on excellent form as Rick and Cliff. Though they might be as A list as you can get in present day Hollywood, both have excellent charisma and they form a solid friendship with one another. It’s not quite a Vincent Vega and Jules Winfield level of camaraderie, but it comes mighty close.

As well as the sharply written dialogue, a QT movie is known for being a touch on the violent side. However, in this instance the violence is dialled back significantly as Tarantino gives us a much more dialogue driven film. One that takes a nuanced, in-depth, fascinating look at the Golden Age of Hollywood, that has the careers of Rick and Cliff front and centre, with this era as the backdrop in all of its glory. Though these men are both fictionalised characters, there’s something about both their performances that makes them feel like they were cut from the same cloth as the stars that dominated the industry at this time. In a cast that is well stacked with considerable talent, the standouts besides DiCaprio and Pitt, are Margaret Qualley’s Manson family member, and a scene stealing performance from a young actor who gives Rick a damn good run for his money.

Though she was a perfect choice to play Sharon Tate, Margot Robbie, frustratingly, does not get nearly enough screen-time as her male lead co-stars. What’s more, in the scarce screen-time she is given, she has frustratingly few lines which feels like a scandalous waste of her talent. Nevertheless, Robbie works wonders with the little material she was given that honours the tragic actress. Given that a Tarantino Picture is usually in the realm of three hours, the first act of the film is a bit of a slow burn that, narratively speaking, is a tad uneven. It takes its time to find its footing and truly hit its stride. The excellent production design and costumes ensures that 1960s Hollywood is captured with a real sense of authenticity. Yet even with that, the near 2 hour 40 minute run time does feel somewhat excessive.

Meshing fact with fiction has produced some uproariously entertaining moments in previous Tarantino flicks, and OUATIH‘s best use of this blend of truth and fantasy, is in the film’s enthralling and nail-biting third act. You may know of the tragic fate that befell Sharon Tate on that fateful August night, but to see how those events would play out in Tarantino’s wacky, but brilliant mind is what you pay to see when you come to watch a flick by Quentin Tarantino. It may not be his strongest film that he has made in a glittering career, but like Tarantino reminiscing/pining for the Golden Age of Hollywood, present day Hollywood may find itself reminiscing if, after his tenth picture, Tarantino does decide to hang up the director’s chair for good.

A passionate love letter to the Hollywood of yesteryear, fused with the typical well written QT dialogue and a superb pair of leading performances from two of the most charismatic actors in the business.