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.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

House of Gucci (2021)

© MGM, Bron Creative and Scott Free Productions

House of Gucci – Film Review

Cast: Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Salma Hayek

Director: Ridley Scott

Synopsis: Telling the true story of the family behind the iconic fashion brand, and their bitter power struggle as to who will have control over the company…

Review: When it comes to the world of fashion, there are several names that immediately leap to mind that everyone will know as the most iconic names in fashion. Names such as Louis Vuitton, Prada, Chanel, Versace, and Fendi to name but a few. When it comes to these fashion houses, there’s likely to be a fascinating backstory as to how they came to be the iconic labels that they are today. This is most certainly applicable to that of the brand Gucci, which as of 2021, is estimated to be worth around $15billion dollars. With his second film of the year, Ridley Scott tackles that fascinating backstory of the Gucci brand, and the family behind the business, with decidedly mixed results.

Patrizia Reggiani (Gaga), who works for her father’s business, meets Maurizio (Driver) at a party. As they strike up a conversation and get to know each other, their romance blossoms. However, it isn’t until Patrizia learns about Maurizio’s status as the heir to one of the biggest names in fashion, that changes everything. Maurizio and Patrizia marry but Maurizio’s father Rodolfo (Irons) doesn’t take kindly to Patrizia, as he deduces that Patrizia doesn’t love Maurizio for who he is as a person, but is solely after Maurizio’s money. But Maurizio’s uncle Aldo (Pacino) welcomes Patrizia into the family and takes them under his wing. As Patrizia’s influence grows, a bitter power struggle ensues as to who will ultimately take control of the brand, which will have dire consequences.

Adapted from the book The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour and Greed, by Sara Gay Forden, the title gives you an accurate indication of the shenanigans that are about to go down. A film that depicts all of the above, in the hands of a director with the calibre and experience of Ridley Scott had so much potential. Factor in an extremely talented cast, filled with Oscar nominees and winners, and yet the film falls well short of living up to that potential.  As Patrizia and Maurizio meet and fall in love, it starts off fairly strongly, as the chemistry between Lady Gaga and Driver sizzles. Following on from her breakout performance in A Star Is Bornthis role gives Gaga a chance to really flex her acting chops. To her credit, she easily gives the best performance in the whole film, which is no mean feat given the calibre of the actors around her.

As she marries Maurizio, she begins to exert her influence over the Gucci brand, whilst making moves to consolidate her power and influence on the Gucci brand. The film could (and perhaps should given the director) have soared from here, but instead, it is where the film really loses its way and never recovers. With all the scheming and backstabbing that goes on as individuals duel for controlling stake in the Gucci brand, like a Game of Thrones-style thriller, but instead of swords, dragons, and a battle for a throne, you have a battle for who will gain control over billions of dollars and dominion of high-end fashion. These moments have the odd spark that provides some entertainment, but they are not nearly enough to sustain the film’s two-and-a-half-hour runtime.

The screenplay from Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna seems to be two films that have been mixed into one. It flirts between wanting to be that serious crime drama and a much less serious film, with the camp factor dialled up to the maximum. This is an opportune moment to mention the enigma that is Jared Leto. Unrecognisable under a substantial amount of make-up as Paolo Gucci, his performance is mystifying, to say the least. With an accent that is so over-the-top and exaggerated, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was auditioning for a role in a new Mario video game. These moments of campy soap opera-like drama, and all of their over-the-topness are so out of place here, they undercut the very serious crime drama that the film could and probably should have focused on. While Leto is by far and away, the worst offender with the accents, the rest of the cast are not much better. The poor accents are also not helpful when trying to convey the serious nature of the crime drama that that aspect of the film is trying to tell.

The nature of this story is such ripe material for a compelling piece of storytelling. Even though parts of the film dragged on, given the timescale of the story, a mini-series could have been the better avenue to bring this story to audiences. Ridley Scott’s status as a legend of Hollywood is assured, but having said that even with a director of Scott’s experience, the complete mismatch of tones is a baffling style choice and one that ultimately sinks the film. Consistency when it comes to his directorial output has been a recurring problem for Scott. In a year when the veteran director has provided audiences with an extremely compelling and timely drama, it is disappointing that he couldn’t have made it two for two.

With no expense spared for the production design or costumes, Lady Gaga gives it everything she has as Patrizia Reggiani. However, the tonal mismatch of the story, and some of the acting, proves to be the film’s undoing. Style over substance, quite literally.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Eternals (2021)

© Marvel Studios

Eternals  – Film Review

Cast: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, Harish Patel, Kit Harington, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie

Director: Chloé Zhao

Synopsis: A group of immortal beings, known as the Eternals, are sent to planet Earth to protect humanity from an evil race of aliens known as the Deviants…

Review: When you have created an all-encompassing cinematic universe that has spanned over a decade and 25 films, making cinematic history along the way. There does come a point for Marvel Studios, where they will need to think about, where do they go from here? When you’ve created a universe that has conquered all before it, how do you reinvent the wheel and keep things fresh and interesting for audiences to maintain interest in the universe going forward? Well, the answer seems to be, hire the most recent Academy Award winner for Best Director, and introduce a brand new crop of characters.

7000 years ago, a group of all-powerful beings known as the Celestials, created a powerful race of beings called the Eternals and sent them to Earth to protect humanity from their Celestial’s evil counterparts, known as the Deviants. For millennia, the Eternals have been watching from the sidelines, protecting humanity from any Deviant attacks. As they watch from the sidelines, some begin to develop a fondness for humanity. Yet, they have been under strict instructions to not interfere in any human conflict, unless the Deviants are involved. This all changes when an event known as The Emergence threatens to bring about unprecedented destruction, the Eternals must unite to prevent humanity’s destruction.

From the opening crawl, akin to something out of Star Wars, this film is in every sense, a brand new chapter for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What they accomplished with the first three Phases of their Universe is undeniably incredible and nothing can take that away from them. However, that era of Marvel has come to a close, and with this film, this feels like they are in many senses, starting fresh. All franchises that go on for any length of time will inevitably develop a formula. While that formula has served the MCU so successfully over the years, there was a need to step away from it. To its credit, Eternals tries extremely hard to deviate from that, with varying degrees of success.

Fresh from her Oscar triumphs With Nomadland, a film that shined a light on a group of people who are cut adrift from society, whilst touching on themes of finding a belonging. Chloé Zhao’s Oscar winner touched on themes of individuals who have found themselves cut adrift from society, roaming from place to place, without somewhere to call home. This is a theme that feels very much relevant to the Eternals. They watch humanity from afar, intervening only when they must. The first two acts of the film where the Eternals are battling with this dilemma of interfering or not when it comes to human conflicts is compelling because, like most things in our lives, there is a difference of opinion amongst these incredibly powerful beings.

What Eternals brings to the table is an extremely rich and diverse cast, filled with extremely talented actors. The most memorable of these are Gemma Chan’s Sersi and Angelina Jolie’s Thena. Sersi is very much the leader of the Eternals and Chan’s performance is easily the most memorable. For Thena, there’s a fascinating internal struggle that she’s battling with, and it makes for an intriguing relationship between her and the rest of the Eternals as she battles to control that. On top of which, the film doesn’t shy away from diversity. There’s a landmark moment for LGBT representation, the very first ever sex scene, and the MCU’s very first superhero with a disability in Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari as both the actor and the character are deaf.

Unfortunately, because there are so many new characters that are appearing on screen together for the first time, developing all of them is a near enough impossible task to fit into a two-and-a-half-hour film, even for a director as talented as Zhao is. Some characters have barely any depth or personality. As such, it gives the audience little reason to care about them, as there is no emotional connection that has been built up over many years of different MCU films. Plus, as different as the film tries to be from all the previous MCU films that came before it, some familiar MCU tropes are present. Credit where credit is due for the screenplay’s ambition and scope. However, you cannot help but wonder if, had these characters been introduced via a TV show, it might have been better suited to give all these brand new characters sufficient time to make an impact.

Chloe Zhao works magic by bringing the humanity to these incredibly powerful beings. However, while it is to be commended, the ambition of introducing so many new characters in one go prevents the film from truly soaring.

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

King Richard (2021)

© Warner Bros. Pictures, Westbrook Studios, Star Thrower Entertainment and Keepin’ It Reel

King Richard – Film Review

Cast: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Tony Goldwyn, Jon Bernthal

Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green

Synopsis: Telling the true story of Richard Williams, who played an influential role in shaping the early tennis careers of his daughters Venus and Serena Williams…

Review: Whenever anyone talks about the greatest athletes of all time, there are two names whose places in that conversation are absolutely assured: Venus and Serena Williams. Here are two extraordinary women, with an incredible 30 Grand Slam wins between them, whose achievements across their glittering careers will have undoubtedly inspired countless generations of young girls to pick up tennis rackets and to follow in their footsteps. However, there is someone, that the Williams sisters have said that none of their success could have been possible without. That person, is their father, Richard Dove Williams Jr.

As the proud parents of Venus (Sidney) and Serena (Singleton), Richard (Smith) and his wife Brandy (Ellis) are committed to helping their daughters to one day become professional tennis players. With the strong emotional support of Brandi propelling Richard, Venus, and Serena in equal measure, Richard serves as their coach. Both Richard and Brandy work incredibly hard at their day jobs. Additionally, through many hours of training on the tennis court, he’s motivated by his ambition to help his daughters become professional tennis players. He’s a deeply driven and determined man, with a detailed and well-thought-out plan to ensure his daughters become two of the best tennis players to have ever played the game.

Given this is a story about two of the best players to have ever played the sport of tennis, it might seem odd to frame this story mainly from the perspective of their father. Yet, when you watch Will Smith’s performance as this father who will stop at nothing to help his daughters achieve their dreams, it pays incredible dividends as this is Smith’s best performance for quite some time. He’s a man who is fiercely protective of his family and is not afraid to stand up to anyone who is rude towards his daughters. Though while that may paint him as a kind and generous soul, this is not always the case. Richard has some very stubborn tendencies, and he will not be afraid to speak his mind during meetings. His stubbornness and unwillingness to change his methods and approach to how he conducts business threatens to ruin Venus’s and Serena’s careers before they have even begun.

While Smith’s performance is fully deserving of the plaudits, what must not be lost in the conversation is the performances of the women who are just as much at the center of this story as Richard. The most important of which is Aunjanue Ellis as Oracene “Brandy” Williams. While Richard is out there on the court, the part she plays to help Venus and Serena carries just as much importance. She lends the support that both her husband and her daughters need as they strive to make their dreams become reality. Though, she is absolutely not afraid to speak her mind when the situation calls for it and will take action into her own hands when she needs to. As the young Venus and Serena, Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton both have very bright futures ahead of them. There’s a genuine sisterly bond between them. They recognise that, in a society where being who they are comes with hardship and obstacles from the off, success for one of them will go a long way towards propelling both of them onwards in their careers.

What could have been a very generic story about how the Williams sisters became the superstars that they are, is instead played as an emotional family drama and a tribute to the parents who helped shape them into becoming two of the greatest tennis stars have ever played the game. Green gives plenty of time for the family dynamic to flourish, as it is integral to help shape the story. This is expertly combined with immaculately directed tennis matches as we watch the Williams sisters begin on their path towards tennis superstardom. It serves as a reminder that for every superstar athlete, there are parents who sacrifice so much. They work tirelessly to help mold and shape their children so that one day, they can change the world and write their names into the history books forevermore. This is precisely what Venus and Serena Williams have done. They will be remembered, not only as players who changed the face of the sport of tennis forever, but also two of the best athletes to have ever lived.

What could have been your typical sports biopic is anything but. With an ace of a central performance from Will Smith, King Richard is an inspirational and uplifting family drama that will have you punching the air in delight.

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

The Harder They Fall (2021)

© Netflix

The Harder They Fall  – Film Review

Cast: Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield, RJ Cyler, Danielle Deadwyler, Edi Gathegi, Deon Cole

Director: Jeymes Samuel

Synopsis: When he learns that his bitter enemy has been sprung out of prison, an outlaw re-forms his gang to take his adversary down once and for all…

Review: What is the first thing that comes to mind when someone says the word “Western”? A shot of a rural town in the USA, showdown duels with guns, cowboy hats/boots, and the familiar sounds of the spurs on the boots, or the doors of a saloon opening and closing. Perhaps there’s also a musical number akin to something that you’d hear from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, is playing in the background, as a Caucasian hero strolls in on horseback to save the day? The Western is a genre that so often has white people at the forefront of the story. Yet too often, black people find themselves on the sidelines when it comes to these types of films. Hence, to see a Western that places the experiences of black people at this point in history at the forefront, with an all-star cast of some of the finest black actors currently working in Hollywood, is extremely refreshing, and long long overdue.

Nat Love (Majors) is an outlaw who has got a burning desire for revenge against Rufus Buck (Elba) after Buck committed an unforgivable crime when Nat was young. Now as an adult, when Nat learns that Buck has been freed from his incarceration as a prisoner, he’s out for revenge. He reforms The Nat Love gang, which includes real-life historical figure Stagecoach Mary (Beetz) and Cuffee (Deadwyler), to take down Buck once and for all. The only problem for Nat Love and his gang, is that Buck has his own gang surrounding him, including Treacherous Trudy Smith (King) and Cherokee Bill (Stanfield), determined to protect him at all costs. With the conflict between the two rival gangs boiling over into an all-out war, the bullets are gonna fly.

When taking one look at the cast that Samuel has assembled, there’s only one word that best describes it: stacked. No matter where you turn, there are actors with glittering careers everywhere you look. The end result is a brilliant cast, all of whom are in scintillating form. This crop of characters are certainly not ones you would want to cross, but that doesn’t mean that they are not extremely compelling and hilarious to watch. Jonathan Majors is someone who has burst onto the scene relatively late, in comparison to some of his cast members. Yet, in the few short years since he rose to prominence, he’s proven himself to be an extremely compelling on-screen presence. This continues with his performance as Nat. It’s quite the unenviable task to take a character like an outlaw, and add an incredible layer of depth and humanity to that role. Yet, with just about every performance he has given in recent years, Majors pulls it off brilliantly.

As Nat’s love interest, the relationship between Nat and Stagecoach Mary could have been very conventional. While the chemistry between the two is most assuredly there, Beetz plays this character as someone who is not subservient to Nat in any capacity, she’s more than capable of kicking Nat’s arse if she wanted to, and likewise for Cuffee. On the other side of this gang war, the character of Rufus Buck is someone who you dare not cross if you value your life, and Elba’s performance is suitably intimidating. Alongside him, Regina King is clearly relishing the opportunity to play an antagonist, and she’s absolutely terrific to watch. However, there’s far more to both their characters than just robbing banks and shooting down anyone in their way. As with Majors’ Nat Love, and indeed every character that you see on screen, there are subtle nuances to these characters that make them far more than just outlaws who are in this business for the money.

It is incredible to think that this is Samuel’s feature film directorial debut. While he has worked on music videos and short films with Jay-Z (who is one of the film’s producers), it’s quite the leap to go from directing short films and music videos, to directing a thrilling Western with some of Hollywood’s finest. Yet when you watch what Samuel, who also wrote the script, has concocted, it’s an absolutely breathtaking achievement. His direction is so confident and stylish, if you had no idea that this was his first feature film, you would be forgiven for thinking that he’s a seasoned director who has been doing this for years. It all translates into an enthralling and compelling story that grabs you from the word go.

Some may well struggle with the thick Texas accents that some of the characters speak with. However, by telling this story from the perspective of people who were not trapped in the brutal institution of slavery, it lends a much-needed new perspective to the people and the lives they led at this point in history. With such a confident and brilliant feature film debut, an exciting new voice has entered the world of filmmaking. No matter what project he chooses to do next, Jeymes Samuel will surely have captured the curiosity and the attention of audiences all over the world, and deservedly so.

The Western genre has been given a much-needed revitalisation. Impeccable performances from its all-star cast, combined with slick and stylish action, and the end result is a breath-taking feature film debut from Jeymes Samuel.

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

Last Night in Soho (2021)

© Universal Pictures, Film4 Productions, Perfect World Pictures and Working Title Films

Last Night in Soho  – Film Review

Cast: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, Michael Ajao, Dame Diana Rigg

Director: Edgar Wright

Synopsis: An aspiring fashion student moves to London with dreams of becoming a fashion designer. However, she soon finds herself somehow being connected to a different era of London’s Soho…

Review: It’s a dream that plenty of us have at some point in our lives. Leave the comforts of the homes that we were raised in, and experience the bright lights, the busy streets, and the atmosphere and vibes that life in the big city can offer. Yet, for all the tourist attractions and the appealing allure of the big city life, every city (especially one as vast as London) can be overwhelming for people at first. Additionally, each city has a dark side, and both the celebration and the sinister dark side of London form the basis of the new film from one of the most unique voices in British film-making: Edgar Wright.

Eloise (McKenzie) is a fashion student who is a big fan of the 1960s and the music of that era. She moves from her cosy South West roots to the big bright lights of London to attend the London College of Fashion. She has big ambitions to realise her dreams and become a household name amongst the world’s fashion designers. Shortly after arriving, Eloise discovers that when she is asleep, she can travel back to a point during the Swinging Sixties in London where she mysteriously finds herself intertwined with the life of Sandy (Taylor-Joy), who aspires to become a singer. Initially, everything appears to be fine and dandy in the brightly lit neon streets of 1960s London. However, not everything is what it seems, and there’s a darker side to this city that Eloise is about to discover.

Having established herself with her stunning but subdued performance in Jojo Rabbit, this is another demonstration of Thomasin McKenzie’s extraordinary talents. When you make the move from the pleasant countryside to the big city, it can be overwhelming, especially if you’re a student who’s experiencing the madness that is Fresher’s Week. McKenzie’s performance perfectly encapsulates that feeling in an extremely relatable manner as she initially struggles to adapt to this new life. As time goes on, she develops more confidence, as she sees part of herself in Sandy, which inspires her to be more outgoing in her social life and with her fashion designs. As the woman at the centre of Eloise’s fascination, Taylor-Joy’s performance as Sandy is suitably captivating. Additionally, this film marks the final on-screen performance of the late, great Diana Rigg’s illustrious career, and it’s a wonderful final performance.

In a note from the cast and crew of the film that was posted on Twitter, the urge to keep the mystery surrounding this film intact was heavily emphasised. Or, as they put it “What happens in Last Night in Soho, stays in Soho.” Hence, the mystery that has been crafted by Wright and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns shall not be disclosed here. The film starts very strongly as we see Eloise blissfully experience her favourite time period through this vivid dream, but that blissful dream soon turns into a living nightmare when certain truths begin to emerge. As the mystery that’s at the centre of this film begins to unravel, the line between reality and fantasy begins to blur. This is down some extremely slick editing. Through this shift, the film descends into horror film territory, a genre that Wright is no stranger to, given that he expertly combined horror and comedy in Shaun of the Dead.

While there’s enough to make audiences jump out of their seat in terror, the scares can get a little wearisome and repetitive. Furthermore, the messages of the film feel a little muddled in parts, especially by the end of the third act. This is extremely frustrating because of the ambitious nature of the story. However, life in the big city can sometimes be overwhelming and too much for the senses. Wright’s love letter to this city, which clearly means so much to him, has much to be admired about it. There are a plethora of ideas thrown at the wall, but not all of them stick the landing. Hence, it does sometimes feel a bit unsure of what kind of film it wants to be and might have just bit off more than it can chew.

You cannot fault the ambition, but even with a committed performance from McKenzie, a slightly muddled screenplay prevents Last Night in Soho from becoming another classic in Wright’s filmography.