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)

Image is property of Sony and Columbia Pictures

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.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Frozen (2013)

Image is property of Disney Animation Studios

Frozen – Film Review

Cast:  Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk

Directors:  Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

Synopsis: When Elsa, the Queen of Arendelle, flees in panic after the people discover her magical icy powers, her fearless sister Anna ventures after her in a bid to prevent the Kingdom from being trapped in an eternal winter…

Review: No one really does fairytale stories quite like Walt Disney Animation Studios, they certainly are the Queens (and Kings) of this particular genre of animated movies. Every time they sprinkle some of that Disney magic, especially when it’s a story focusing on a Disney Princess, or in this case a pair of Disney princesses, it’s usually a surefire winning formula and one that will resonate with audiences the world over, and maybe melt their hearts along the way.

This icy tale from the Mouse House is inspired by inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Snow Queen.” Focusing on sisters Anna and Elsa, the latter of whom has magical icy powers. When they were growing up, a childhood accident forces the girls’ parents to erase Anna’s memory of her sister’s powers, causing the two of them to spend much of their lives growing up apart. As Elsa is about to be crowned Queen, an incident at her coronation triggers Elsa’s powers and turns their home of Arendelle into an unforeseen winter, causing Elsa to flee in panic. Needing Elsa to ensure Arendelle doesn’t get trapped in this eternal winter, it falls to Anna to go after her sister to save their homeland.

So often with these princess stories, there is usually a man involved. Therefore to see that cliche be flipped on its head, is extremely refreshing to see. Though it certainly wasn’t the first time that Disney has created a strong female protagonist, Elsa is nevertheless a very strong willed woman. She is firmly in charge of her own destiny, with her magical powers to help her along the way. Anna might not be as strong willed as her sister, but she is a good hearted soul determined to do whatever she can to help Elsa, and both ladies are voiced tremendously well by Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell respectively.

In terms of the supporting cast, Josh Gad gives a very memorable performance as the extremely sentient snowman Olaf. A character that could have been very hit or miss, he’s thankfully the former, as he gives the film the bulk of its laughter. The film has plenty of positive and celebratory themes, most notably about its empowerment of women, which are definitely worth celebrating. However, even when the film has really hit its stride, it cannot help but venture into some formulaic plot points. Nevertheless, as one would would expect from the Mouse House, the animation is of a very high standard. The sheer level of detail on certain items of clothing, most notably Elsa’s icy dress are extremely well detailed, not to mention Elsa’s very impressive icy powers.

Even if you had somehow never seen this film, chances are good that you would have heard the monster hit that was”Let it Go.” With its undeniably catchy tune and powerful lyrics, sung superbly by Menzel, it’s little wonder that the song scooped the Oscar for Best Original Song. Though “Let it Go” is the most popular song from the film’s soundtrack, it is just one of the many catchy songs sprinkled throughout this film that one would expect from a Disney fairytale. People the world over were struck by Frozen Fever, as it swept all before it on its way to becoming one of the highest grossing animated films of all time and it ensured that the Mouse House added another ice-solid entry to its fairytale collection.

Splendid animation but even with a strong collection of strong characters, a solid but formulaic plot prevents Frozen from melting your heart completely.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Lion King (2019)

Image is property of Disney

The Lion King (2019) – Film Review

Cast: Donald Glover, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, James Earl Jones, Florence Kasumba, Eric Andre, Keegan-Michael Key

Director: Jon Favreau

Synopsis: A live action retelling of the story of the king of a pride of lions, who prepares his son to become the future king, while the King’s brother plots to usurp the throne for himself.

Review: It is unquestionably, one of the most iconic openings to a film ever. The sun rises, and the unmistakable intro to The Circle of Life starts playing. The 1994 version of The Lion King remains to this day, one of the finest animated films ever made. Hence with Disney seemingly intent on remaking its entire animated back catalogue, Jon Favreau, after going into one Jungle with his live action reinterpretation of The Jungle Book, this time goes into the mighty jungle, where the lions sleep tonight.

After working wonders with Jungle Book, Favreau once again produces some visual magic with the recreation of these animals and the habitats in which they dwell. It all looks and feels as though the film was shot somewhere on the blessed plains of Africa. There’s not much deviation in terms of the story, as it sticks closely to its animated predecessor, as young Simba (JD McCrary) is being prepared by his father Mufasa (voiced by the one and only James Earl Jones) to rule the Pride Lands one day. However, in the shadows, the King’s dastardly brother Scar (Ejiofor) is secretly scheming, with his hyena chums, to depose Mufasa and seize the throne for himself.

Given that the animated film ran at just shy of 90 minutes, Favreau and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson, have tweaked certain elements of the story to make it a couple of hours. There are some alterations to some of the dialogue, and some extra scenes have been added. However, it is by and large, the story you know and love. Much of the original’s music and songs have been recreated, but the results are decidedly mixed. Most regrettably though is the fact that there’s a serious dearth of emotion with the film’s more emotional, heart-breaking moments (if you have seen the original, you know the ones). It just goes to show that while something may well work in animation, it doesn’t always translate perfectly to “live action.”

Apart from James Earl Jones, no one else from the animated film reprise their roles, which does help the film stand on its own four paws, to a certain extent. The standouts of the new additions are Seth Rogen’s Pumba and Billy Eichner’s Timon who, as they did in the animated film, give the film an injection of much needed humour. Though they have strong support in that department from John Oliver’s Zazu, who gives his own snarky, hilarious interpretation of the little Hornbill. Donald Glover and Beyoncé give solid leading performances as Simba and Nala, but disappointingly, no one really outshines anyone from the animated film. Though Chiwetel Ejiofor comes close with his very intimidating interpretation of the villainous Scar.

The trouble with these films is that no matter what they do, they are always going to be compared with their animated counterparts. This can be a problem for this film when its animated counterpart is cinematic perfection. Yet, even if one has (somehow) never seen the 1994 flick, there’s still enjoyment to be had, even if it all feels a bit hollow. For those who were born in the 1990s and grew up loving the animated film, they probably won’t feel the love for this re-telling. In that case, Hakuna Matata, because the original animated film, is and always will be, a classic.

Visually stunning, but even with a super talented voice cast, a lack of emotional connection to these photo-realistic characters prevents this re-imagining from roaring to those great heights set by its predecessor.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)

Image is property of Marvel Studios, Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures

Spider-Man: Far from Home – Film Review

Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Samuel L Jackson, Cobie Smoulders, Jake Gyllenhaal, Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Jacob Batalon

Director: Jon Watts

Synopsis: Following on from the events of Avengers: Endgame, Peter Parker is preparing to go on a school trip with his friends around Europe. However, in a world that will never be the same again, a new threat is lurking in the form of the mysterious Elementals…

Review: After twenty-two films and an utterly incredible journey, the Marvel Cinematic Universe culminated in Avengers: Endgame, a film that has changed the MCU forever more. However, even after all that drama and heartbreak, the MCU is not slowing down. Previously, after their flagship Avengers ensemble showdowns, Marvel turned to the smallest hero in their roster, namely Ant-Man. Now though,  it’s up to everyone’s favourite friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man to pick up the pieces in the wake of the earth-shattering events of that climatic battle with the Mad Titan Thanos.

In the months since that intense battle, Peter is in an extremely tough spot, having lost his friend and mentor Tony Stark. On top of that he is trying to balance school life with his superhero web-slinging duties. With an upcoming school trip to Europe, Peter hopes that will take his mind off things and allow him to live a normal life. However, whilst he is off seeing the sights of Europe and trying to tell his crush MJ (Zendaya) how he really feels about her, a terrifying new threat emerges in the form of the Elementals. Whilst simultaneously, a mysterious new force in the form of Quentin Beck (AKA Mysterio) emerges, who claims to be from an alternate dimension.

“Karen, activate stealth mode….”

This is his fifth outing as everyone’s friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, and Tom Holland proves once again that this is the perfect role for him, as he turns in another excellent performance . He’s got the bravado that a hero should have, but he’s still a lovable, if slightly awkward, dork. Though she had a relatively minor role in Homecoming, Zendaya’s MJ has a lot more screen time, given that she is now the subject of Peter’s affections, and the duo have solid chemistry. Similarly, the bromance between Peter and Ned is as strong as ever. Indeed, all of the class from Angourie Rice’s Betty to Tony Revelori’s Flash Thompson, have a lot more to do, likewise for the ever-reliable Happy Hogan.

Given how many Spider-Man films that have graced the big screen, it’s clear that director Jon Watts is aiming to broaden the horizons of Spider-Man. We have almost never seen him venture outside of the Big Apple, so to see him spin his webs around the globe is an extremely refreshing change. As these ominous Elementals threaten to wreak havoc on our world, which is where Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio comes into the picture. Mysterio by name, mysterious by nature as on first glance he seems like the kind of hero to fill the void that was left by Tony Stark, but that is just scratching the surface. When you get an actor of Gyllenhaal’s talents, it can only be a positive, and Gyllenhaal excels in this very intriguing role.

The screenplay by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, carries over the John Hughes esque high school comedy vibe from Homecoming, and the jokes remain witty and hilarious. With each movie that Marvel has made since they were able to incorporate him into the MCU, they have taken the character in directions that haven’t been attempted before, especially with a truly mind-bending, and awesome, third act. In a post Iron Man/Captain America MCU, Marvel will need heroes to step to fill that void as we move into Phase 4, and in everyone’s favourite friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, you have a hero who is more than capable of taking on that mantle.

Closing out Phase Three of the MCU, Far From Home is another fast paced, entertaining, globe trotting adventure that cements Tom Holland’s status as the best live action Spider-Man we’ve had to date.

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Midsommar (2019)

Image is property of A24

Midsommar  – Film Review

Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Archie Madekwe, Ellora Torchia, Will Poulter

Director: Ari Aster

Synopsis: After personal tragedy strikes, troubled student Dani travels to Sweden with her boyfriend Christian, and a group of their friends. What starts out as a pleasant trip, quickly descends into a nightmare as they become involved with a sinister pagan cult…

Review: Quite often, when you picture the setting of horror films, the scene of a house, set in the pitch black night-time may come to mind. However, this doesn’t have to always be the case. Case in point, in his follow up feature to Hereditary, Ari Aster proves that you don’t necessarily need the dead of night darkness to make something seem scary, as something just as horrifying or unnerving can occur when the sun is shining in the bright summer sky.

Dani (Pugh) is going through an extremely difficult time in her life in the wake of an unimaginable personal tragedy, and it’s having an adverse effect on her relationship with her boyfriend Christian (Reynor). When she finds out he’s heading off to Sweden with a few of their friends for a festival that only happens once every 90 years, she decides to join them hoping to take her mind off things. Upon arrival, while things start off nice and peaceful, it doesn’t take long for things to go sour as the festival quickly descends into a hellish nightmare, basking in the hot Swedish Summer sun.

There is no sense of urgency in which Aster chooses to tell his story. His screenplay deliberately bides its time so this enables each act of the film to serve a purpose to the story, though this slow pace could be problematic to some viewers. The first act is solely concentrated on Dani’s testing relationship with Christian that is on the brink of collapse, fuelling a sense of dread for Dani that lingers throughout the film.  Through all of the ensuing horror that the festival’s activities bring later on in the film, the relationship of these two people is at the centre of this sun-soaked nightmare.

Once we get to Sweden however, and the festivities have begun that things start to get deeply disturbing for Dani, Christian and their friends. To say that this film is not for the faint of heart would be an extreme understatement, due to quite the large amount of disturbing imagery. Though it would be easy to be shocking for the sake of being shocking, the imagery is thought provoking, with the themes of grief, loneliness and rejection are all present. With just about every frame, there’s a lot of symbolism to be extracted from the unnerving festivities, so much so that one could write pages upon pages of analysis of what is being depicted on-screen.

There is not a single false note in any of the performances, but without doubt Dani is the heart and soul of the film, and Florence Pugh gives a wounded, layered, awards worthy performance. Among, Christian and the rest of their gang, it’s Will Poulter’s Mark who comes closest to stealing the spotlight as a man who’s less than impressed with the festival’s activities. This is something that the locals don’t take kindly to, and they consequently give off  sinister vibes to send a shiver (or two) down your spine.

Aster has crafted something that will be analysed for many years to come. The direction, combined with extremely beautiful cinematography and immaculate production design are all beautiful to look at. These juxtapose perfectly with the trauma of the events playing out in front of us, it manages to be simultaneously haunting and mesmerising to look at, with an unsettling score from The Haxan Cloak. Nightmares definitely can happen in broad daylight, hence, we should all just stay in doors.

Thematically thought-provoking, and visually immaculate, with a haunting but powerful lead performance from Florence Pugh. Ari Aster’s second foray into horror film-making is a beautiful nightmare come to life. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Yesterday (2019)

Image is property of Working Title Films and Universal Pictures

Yesterday – Film Review

Cast:  Himesh Patel, Lily James, Kate McKinnon, Joel Fry

Director: Danny Boyle

Synopsis: Struggling musician Jack Malik (Patel)  finds that he’s the only person on Earth who remembers the Beatles. Sensing an opportunity, he makes an attempt to pass their songs in a bid to achieve worldwide stardom…

Review: It’s almost inconceivable to imagine a world in which one of the greatest bands of all time had never existed, indeed the thought of such a world alone is a horrifying one. Given that two musical related biopics about two hugely influential British musical icons have recently graced the big screen, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a Beatles biopic. Though that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, this film is unique in that it’s not that, though the iconic music that Messrs McCartney, Lennon, Harrison and Starr created is front and centre.

Jack Malik is a talented musician doing little gigs here and there, desperately looking for his big break. He’s on the brink of giving his music career up but after a freak accident on his way home, he soon discovers that he’s the only one in the world who remembers the Beatles and their wonderful music. With this knowledge, he tries his best to reconstruct the iconic songs of The Beatles discography, and passes them off as his own work. As the whole world discovers this great music, seemingly for the first time ever, his popularity goes through the roof and he becomes an overnight superstar.

Of course the music of a great band alone, does not make a great film. With that in mind, screenwriter Richard Curtis crafts a very sweet story around this clever concept. Like any great song or piece of art, it all comes together (pun definitely not intended…) rather sweetly thanks to a very warm leading performance from Himesh Patel. He comes across as a very sincere, genuine hard working bloke just looking for that big break that he craves. However, as his career turns from pub singer to huge international superstar, it begins to test his relationship with his best friend/manager Ellie (James), who also gives a very sincere performance. Whilst at the same time, doubts begin to form in Jack’s mind as to whether he should admit the truth about the songs.

The screenplay blends the music of the Beatles with an insightful look at the music industry and what constitutes a successful career in that industry, with one current pop star in there for good measure. Danny Boyle on first glance might not seem the most obvious choice to direct a film like this, but he keeps everything moving along in a very light-hearted manner. Though the concept behind the film is extremely clever, it falls short in that certain things could could have explored in much more detail. In addition, it can’t help but be somewhat formulaic in terms of the ensuing drama and how everything plays out. It can come across as a bit saccharine, but if you are a fan of one of the Beatles, just let it be because Boyle and Curtis will sweep you along for a joyous ride.

No matter who we are, or what we do, music is an integral part of our lives, and our culture, and this film celebrates that in abundance. It just so happens to celebrate the music of one of the best bands to have ever graced our eardrums to tell its story, and you will find it difficult to not sing along and be smiling from ear to ear when the credits start to roll.

Taking some of the best songs ever recorded, and combining them with a sweet story about the music industry, and the end result is a charming, delightful ode to the Fab Four from Liverpool.