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

Another Round (2020)

Image is property of Nordisk Film and StudioCanal

Another Round  – Film Review

Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe, Magnus Millang, Maria Bonnevie, Susse Wold

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Synopsis: With their work and social lives all seemingly going nowhere, four high school teachers take part in a risky experiment where they maintain a consistent level of alcohol in their blood…

Review: When many of us reach the end of our working weeks, we may well celebrate with a little, or a lot of alcohol. Similarly, when a special celebration such as a birthday, a wedding or Christmas comes around, chances are that alcohol will be consumed. Many of us will have undoubtedly experienced the instance where on such occasions, we’ve overindulged ourselves and had a little bit too much to drink. Save for any naughty/illegal intoxicated acts, drinking heavily is unlikely to have major ramifications, apart from a hangover the following day. However, it would be considerably more risky, if people were to have a drink whilst during their day job working during their workday, but that is precisely what four high school teachers decide to do in an intriguing social experiment.

Martin (Mikkelsen) is a high school teacher along with his friends, Tommy (Larsen), Peter (Ranthe) and Nikolaj (Millang). The four of them are all finding little enjoyment in their work, struggling to motivate their students, leaving them all deeply unsatisfied with their lives. This deep starts to have knock on effects for their personal lives. However as the four of them gather to celebrate Nikolaj’s 40th birthday, they come up with an experiment of maintaining a consistent level of alcohol (0.05%) in their blood. Initially, the experiment produces positive results as the four of them receive a boost to their confidence, and they start to enjoy their jobs again. Yet, as their dependency on alcohol increases, the more they all drink. The experiment dictates that they even drink whilst on school grounds, running the risk of major consequences if they are caught.

Much alcohol was likely consumed that night….

Following on from their work together on the Oscar nominated The Hunt, Mads Mikkelsen reunites with Vinterberg, and as he so often does whenever he’s on screen, Mikkelsen delivers an extremely charismatic and layered performance. Of all the four teachers at the centre of this story, Martin’s arc is given the most screen time. We see initially how his marriage, and his relationships with wife Trine (Bonnevie), and their two sons are breaking down pre-experiment, which is causing tensions between the two of them. However, his relationship and his job are given new leases of life when the experiment initially begins. This is also applicable for each of Martin’s friends. Right from their first appearance together on screen, it definitely feels as though these four men have been friends for a great many years, as the chemistry between them all is very strong.

However, when you’re making an experiment with something as addicting as alcohol, there may be a high for a period of time, but with every high, there will likely be a low. Namely, there will come a point there where the experiment starts to have severely adverse effects on not just their lives, but those of their loved ones. Much like how the wrong mixture of alcohol in a beverage can be lethal, mixing comedy with serious drama can be a dangerous concoction if the comedy negates the serious drama. Yet, Vinterberg walks this line expertly, as he uses the camera to ensure that the audience feels the relief and euphoria that these men experience at the start, which offers ripe comedic material. Though, when things go south, the laughter dissipates pretty quickly, as the consequences of what happens when a dependency on this drug, become painfully clear. Simultaneously, reminding us all, that like many things in life, moderation is key.

Bolstered by an extremingly charismatic leading performance from Mads Mikkelsen, Another Round presents a fascinating look at the midlife crisis, and the wave of emotions that one can experience when battling an addiction.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

Image is property of Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures and Netflix

The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Film Review

Cast: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Daniel Flaherty, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, Frank Langella, John Carroll Lynch, Noah Robbins, Mark Rylance, Alex Sharp, Jeremy Strong

Director: Aaron Sorkin

Synopsis: In the run up to the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the organisers of several protests at the time, who later became known as the Chicago 7, are put on trial by the Government…

Review: It’s hard to get away from the fact that in this most chaotic of years, that the world of politics, especially in the USA, is a very fraught and bitterly divided arena. As politics becoming increasingly partisan in nature, society has been reeling from the riots and civil unrest that has stemmed from senseless brutality from law enforcement, and a fundamentally flawed judicial system that significantly disadvantages ethnic minorities and people of colour. The parallels between the current situation and the unrest of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s are extremely hard to avoid, lending increased relevance to the second directorial effort from seasoned screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. To say this is “timely” is practically doing the film a disservice, for the simple reasons that right from the start, there’s a real sense of urgency about the film, with a message that needs to be heard around the world, because as they say in the film: “The whole world is watching.”

With the 1968 Democratic National Convention taking place in Chicago, several different groups of people, with numerous leaders, converge on Chicago to protest the Vietnam War. With the Civil Rights Movement of the time in full swing, a tense atmosphere exists between the protestors and the police/National Guard who quickly arrive on the scene. It doesn’t take long for the situation to escalate into brutality and violence, leading to the arrests of the leaders, who would go on to become known as the Chicago 7. The Government, under President Richard Nixon, is eager to make an example of these protestors. Hence, they appoint a top prosecutor Richard Schultz (Gordon-Levitt) to seek prosecutions and lock these protestors up for allegedly inciting violence. The stage is now set for one of the most politicised trials in the history of the United States.

As he demonstrated with his slick and stylish debut feature Molly’s Game, Sorkin’s proved himself to be a confident director to combine perfectly with his skill as a master screenwriter. It’s to his great credit that he made stories about about numbers and baseball, and the social media company that would change the world, extremely compelling watches. It raises the possibility that Sorkin could craft something extremely riveting based on the most ordinary of tasks. Though, the events being depicted here are given extra significance by the politically charged nature of this story. There’s no holding back when it comes to its subject matter, and how these events that are being depicted over fifty years ago, are starkly relevant in today’s society. A society where those in positions of power seek to use the political and justice systems as weapons to punish those who dare to have a dissenting opinion. The dialogue, as you would expect from Sorkin, is sharp and engaging throughout, and he effortlessly blends the urgent and important drama, with some brilliant humour.

With a massively stacked cast, there’s always a risk that not everyone will get their moment in the spotlight, and while Sorkin does his level best to give each of the Chicago 7 a moment, some use their opportunity better than others. One of the brightest spots by far is Sacha Baron Cohen’s Abbie Hoffman. On first glance he might seem like nothing more than an eccentric hippie, but don’t let that fool you, for he is a man with razor sharp wit, with his finger on the pulse. While his accent wobbles in a few places, Eddie Redmayne’s Tom Hayden is another who uses his screen time effectively. He might seem like a more quiet and reserved individual, but he has his moments where he exhibits fierce passion for the cause that all of the defendants stand for. While there are clashes within the ranks of the Chicago 7, they remain committed to their goal of exposing this trial for what it is, a sham and politicised trial.

On the other side of the courtroom, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Richard Schultz is a little concerned about the Government’s position, but is determined to do his job to the best of his abilities. By contrast, Frank Langella’s Judge Hoffman is one character who will infuriate every time he’s on screen. The sheer contempt he exhibits for the defendants, their legal representatives, and the fact he fails to be impartial throughout illustrates how he’s unequivocally unfit to be a judge in this situation. Through his clear disdain for the defendants, it makes for some fiery (and sometimes entertaining) clashes between the Judge and the Chicago 7, as well as their legal counsel William Kunstler (a truly excellent Mark Rylance). Additionally, while they’re not in the film for sufficiently long enough, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Leader of the Black Panther Party Bobby Searle and Michael Keaton’s, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, both leave lasting impressions with their performances.

In this politically charged era that we’re currently living in, battlegrounds are being drawn between those on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Furthermore, as they were in 1968/69, those in power today are using the flawed justice system and the courts as a means of achieving their own ends. This powerful and urgent drama is an important reminder of the power of protest, and how people should use their voice to speak out and should not let government intimidation bully them into silence. Like they were fifty years ago, the whole world is watching, and it is essential to stand up for democracy, and ensure that people make themselves be counted.

Signature sharp Sorkin dialogue throughout, this urgent drama is a sharp and stinging look at social, legal and political issues that even after a generation, continue to be deep-rooted thorns in today’s society.

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

Supernova (2020)

Image is property of BBC Films and StudioCanal

Supernova  – Film Review

Cast: Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci

Director: Harry Macqueen

Synopsis: As a middle-aged couple travel around England visiting family and friends, as one battles with his dementia diagnosis, the other must do whatever he can to care for his beloved partner…

Review: As human beings, mortality is something that we sadly have very little control over. The day when we, or someone very close to us, is struck down by a life changing disease is one that is fraught with sadness and uncertainty. Yet through every diagnosis, amidst all the immeasurable pain and heartache, light can be found. Something that we can always cling onto, is that the love of those we hold dear, whether from family, or friends, can be of invaluable support for those fighting their illness. It may be cliched to say, yet there’s truth in that this simple emotion holds so much power. It can be an immense source of light, even in the face of devastating circumstances.

Sam (Firth) and Tusker (Tucci) have spent many happy years together in a loving relationship having enjoyed careers as a musician and writer/novelist respectively. However, they have put their careers on hold as Tusker has been diagnosed with early onset dementia. As they both try their hardest to fight and overcome this illness, the tragic realisation dawns on them both that Tusker’s dementia diagnosis is causing his condition to tragically deteriorate, slowly but surely, beyond repair. As they travel around the country visiting family and friends in their campervan, the two of them are determined to do whatever they can to love each other, and keep going through this adversity. Yet deep down, there’s a heart-breaking, but silent, realisation that this might well be the last moments where they can spend meaningful time together as a couple, before Tusker’s illness properly takes hold.

As the couple whose heart-breaking journey is at the centre of the film, both Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci’s performances are nothing short of exceptional. It’s crystal clear that, with every minute that these two acting powerhouses share on screen, there is a warm and affectionate chemistry between them both, and that they love and care for one another deeply. Though as with any relationship, a balance needs to be struck between our own needs and the needs of the other person. Having made their relationship last over numerous years, it’s evident that both men have strived to make their relationship an unbreakable bond. Though, when you’ve been dealt with a crushing diagnosis of a life changing illness like dementia, there are inevitably those moments where the selfish tendencies of one of them threatens to tear their relationship apart.

While it’s hard to get away from the fact that a diagnosis like this is unspeakably painful for all concerned, Harry Macqueen’s beautiful script finds ways to inject a little bit of humour to what is a desperately testing time for this couple. There are wonderful moments of sharp and delightful humour, be it a witty remark about a Sat-nav, or a delightfully humorous moment as Sam an Tusker are winding down for the night. These moments, can be few and far between in such a dire predicament, but they can really make a massive difference. Furthermore, the film perfectly captures the warmth that can come when time with family and friends is well spent, and how precious these moments can be, especially in the midst of such crushing adversity.

The sheer visual majesty of the Lake District is captured so beautifully by the gorgeous glow of Dick Pope’s cinematography. Every single frame has been crafted with the utmost care and Macqueen’s direction is raw, honest and beautiful. It’s a simple story, but sometimes the beauty lies in the simplicity and Macqueen imbues that with an honest and compassionate look about this illness and the upsetting effects it can have. Above all else, it serves as an essential reminder to use your time on this planet wisely. Live your life to the fullest, and love and cherish all those who you hold dear, because when we combine all that together; it is, much like a supernova, an almighty force to be reckoned with.

Acted to absolute perfection by Firth and Tucci and uncomplicated by its simplicity. Supernova will break your heart, whilst simultaneously leaving you in awe of its breath-taking beauty.

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

Wolfwalkers (2020)

Image is property of Cartoon Saloon, WildCard Productions and Apple TV+

Wolfwalkers – Film Review

Cast: Honor Kneafsey, Sean Bean, Eva Whittaker, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Simon McBurney, Tommy Tiernan

Directors: Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart

Synopsis: After moving from England to Ireland with her father, a young girl discovers a remarkable secret when she meets a fierce girl who lives in the woods with a pack of wolves…

Review: There are animated studios that everyone will likely instinctively think of when it comes to producing wonderful works of animated magic. With animation being an art form that offers endless possibilities of worlds to explore, and characters to create, many studios have had numerous decades to cement their reputations as animated movie maestros. However, one name that may not be as familiar to many, but have been consistently producing some absolutely marvellous films, is that of Cartoon Saloon. With what is only their fourth animated feature, the studio are continuing to enhance their reputation as the next big name in feature film animation, as well as being the Irish answer to Studio Ghibli.

Robyn Goodfellowe (Kneafsey) is a fiercely independent girl living with her father Bill (Bean) in 17th century Ireland. Her father works as a hunter tasked with hunting down a pack of wolves living in the nearby forest, that have the town’s residents in a panic. Her curious nature, and desire to become a hunter like her father, leads her to the forest. By chance, she meets and befriends a free-spirited girl Mebh (Whittaker) who lives with the wolves in question. As the two build up a friendship, Robyn uncovers a revelatory secret about a rumoured extraordinary ability that Mebh possesses, which will change the way Robyn views the world forever.

In an era that sees many studios use fully enhanced computer animation to make their films, it is wonderfully refreshing and endearing to see a studio opt for the more traditional, pencil drawn style of animation, which Cartoon Saloon have mastered. This wonderfully unique story is a vibrant combination of a fairytale, spliced together with a Celtic myth, with the added element of a tale that’s akin to The Legend of Zelda. It is clear that the filmmakers have put in considerable amounts of effort into establishing the historical setting of 17th Century Ireland, which adds considerable levels of authenticity to the animation. By marrying this up with the more fascinating and mystical elements of this wonderful story, that are equally stunning and detailed, it creates something truly unique. Every single aspect of the animation is breath-taking to watch and visually mesmerising.

With excellent and sincere voice work across the board, the characters are all extremely well-rounded and developed. Robyn is an immensely likeable heroine, and Kneafsay’s excellent performance gives her a fierce and independent streak. This helps her to connect with Mebh who’s even more fierce than Robyn, and Whittaker’s voice work is equally impressive. The mutual desire between these two like-minded young people to forge their own destinies in life helps to solidify that strong bond between the two of them. This strong bond, that beats at the heart of this magical adventure, only goes from strength to strength as the film progresses. Though this desire to not want to conform to what would be expected of women, puts Robyn into a difficult situation, with her stern, but loving father. Sean Bean’s familiar voice helps to lend an Eddard Stark-esque fatherly presence to Bill, a man who is also fiercely protective of his daughter.

Yet, as Bill works to protect his beloved daughter, it gets in the way of his work, putting him at odds with the town’s dastardly ruler Lord Protector, voiced with fittingly evil menace by Simon McBurney. While comparisons between this film and a certain Pixar adventure may well be drawn, there’s more than enough meat on its bones that enables Wolfwalkers to stand tall on its own paws. The wonderfully magical nature of this adventure will help the film to connect with audiences of all ages. Furthermore, with the perfect use of Aurora’s soaring vocals, this marvellously captivating tale lets its imagination, and the wolves run wild, and the end result is, simply put, perfection.

Packed with glowing, gorgeous animation and a vibrant exciting story, this enchanting and affectionate tale will charm and delight you, before howling its way into your heart.

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

Mangrove (2020)

Image is property of BBC Studios, EMU Films and Turbine Studios

Mangrove – Film Review

Cast: Letitia Wright, Shaun Parkes, Malachi Kirby, Rochenda Sandall, Gershwyn Eustache Jnr, Gary Beadle, Jack Lowden , Alex Jennings, Llewella Gideon, Nathaniel Martello-White, Richie Campbell, Jumayn Hunter, Sam Spruell, Joseph Quinn, Derek Griffiths

Director: Steve McQueen

Synopsis: Telling the true story of the Mangrove Nine who after protesting against a series of racially motivated Metropolitan Police raids, were put on trial at the Old Bailey…

Review: There’s no getting away from the fact that a watershed moment for the peaceful Black Lives Matter movement happened in 2020. A movement of people across the world demanding equality for black communities, garnered seismic momentum following a handful of appalling acts of blatant racial prejudice, amidst the backdrop of a society that is deeply entrenched in racism and segregation. In the same year that a fiercely powerful and furiously relevant piece of filmmaking from Spike Lee reminded the world of the challenges the black communities face in the USA. It’s important to remember, that it’s not just confined to the USA where black communities have, for far too long, been dealing with the ugly nature of racism. Steve McQueen continues that trend, as Mangrove, the first of his Small Axe anthology films, brings into sharp focus that like the USA, Britain has been dealing with institutionalised racism for decades.

Set in 1960s London, Frank Crichlow (Parkes) runs the Mangrove restaurant, serving the finest Caribbean cuisine for the Notting Hill community. Yet despite no wrongdoing whatsoever, the restaurant is constantly being watched, and raided by the Police who are supposedly searching the business for drugs. Having become utterly and justifiably fed up of the constant and deliberately racially charged assault on the business, the black community protest against the Metropolitan Police and their appalling prejudice and bigotry. However, after the peaceful protest escalates into violence (due to the heavy handling of the demonstration by the police), the leaders of this new resistance find themselves in legal peril. Incredulously, they, not the police, are facing hefty criminal charges that could lead to substantial prison sentences.

Within the first few minutes of the film, McQueen establishes the Mangrove restaurant as a vibrant place to experience some excellent cuisine and enjoy the wonderful culture. With a thriving black community living in the area, for many people, the Mangrove restaurant represents their home away from home. Yet McQueen makes it disturbingly clear that not everyone in the community shares the love for the restaurant, its manager or its patrons. The first half of the film is an unflinching look at the institutionalised racism that the Metropolitan police bring down on this community, using blatantly fictitious excuses to carry out raids and stopping people in this community for no justifiable reason, purely down to the colour of their skin.

When the second half and the much publicised trial begins, it’s at this point that the film gets even better, and becomes considerably more tense. Every single one of these performances shine, but special mention must go to Shaun Parkes, Letitia Wright and Malachi Kirby. As the man who’s at the centre of this battleground, Parkes’s performance as Frank is initially quiet and reserved. He’s a man who just wants to run his business peacefully. Though understandably, when it comes under constant attack, he gets very animated when it comes to defending his business and his customers. Letitia Wright’s work with the Marvel Cinematic Universe has garnered her popularity across the world. However with this heart-breaking performance as Altheia Jones-LeCointe, the leader of the British Black Panther movement and a figurehead for those standing up against a system that is rigged against them, she gives the performance of her career. Likewise for Malachi Kirby’s Darcus Howe, a prominent Black Panther activist.

It’s hard to watch the trial unfold and and not be thoroughly disgusted at the blatant racism being depicted. From the treatment of the Mangrove restaurant to certain decisions made during the trial, as well the behaviour of some individuals during the trial. It’s indicative of the appalling nature of the crooked and corrupt system that they were up against. As events in 2020 have demonstrated, the issue of racism and equality for black and ethnic minority communities is one that feels more timely than ever. At one point a character utters the memorable line “Together we become stronger.” In this one of the most turbulent of years in living memory, this line of dialogue speaks volumes of the power of unity and togetherness, one that we as humanity, the single species that we are, must continuously unite behind.

Flawlessly acted, with a powerful and timely message at its heart, Mangrove shines an urgent spotlight on the deep rooted institutional racism that’s sadly still relevant in modern society.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Gentlemen (2020)

Image is property of Miramax

The Gentleman – Film Review

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan, Colin Farrell, Hugh Grant

Director: Guy Ritchie

Synopsis: When word gets out that the head of profitable drugs empire plans to take a step back from his business, the bids to assume control of the business between the various interested parties threatens to boil over…

Review: Whenever you think of certain directors, you’re likely to associate them with certain genres. So for example, when the name Guy Ritchie is mentioned, the classic British gangster flicks, or Sherlock Holmes, may come to mind. When he hopped on Disney’s magic carpet for the live action remake of Aladdin, it seemed to be an unlikely match. Undeniably a profitable venture for both Ritchie and the House of Mouse, yet the end product was considerably uninspiring. Hence, it’s little surprise that Ritchie has gone back to what he knows best, and all the better for it, as his latest film is one that feels very much cut from the same cloth as his classic Gangster flicks.

Micky Pearson (McConaughey) is the founder of a marijuana business that he established in his university days. Having turned it into a very lucrative venture over many years, with Raymond (Hunnam) as his assistant, he has made a decision to cash in and sell as he desires to spend more time with his wife Ros (Dockery). Yet, before he can sign off on a very profitable deal, a number of pesky, scheming individuals are lurking and plotting to take control of the business for themselves. These conniving individuals include the slimy billionaire Matthew (Strong), ruthless gangster boss Dry Eye (Golding), and the wily and deceptive private investigator Fletcher (Grant).

It goes without saying that the key players of a crime/gangster flick are probably not going to be the nicest of people, which would be problematic if they were not compelling characters. Fortunately, with this pitch perfect cast that Ritchie has assembled, there’s not a bad performance to be found. McConaughey is his usual charming and charismatic self, but for a man of his position, a dark and menacing side lays beneath his suave demeanour. Henry Golding has so often portrayed charming gentleman-esque characters. Hence to see him flip that that perception of him on its head and portray a cold and calculating gangster is delightful to see, and he does it brilliantly. Through all of this though, it’s Hugh Grant’s gleefully enthusiastic performance as the dastardly Fletcher, who steals the entire film. He presents himself as a charming geezer, but underneath that charade, there’s something quite mischievous about his character.

In a rather ingenious move by Ritchie, he uses Fletcher to establish the key players, and the events that have led up to the events of the film. Fletcher’s mischievous tendencies mean that you take his narration with a huge pinch of salt. All is almost certainly not what it seems as he narrates the state of play. With all the numerous schemes and plots that are all happening simultaneously, the film can be a little hard to follow. Yet, it crucially never loses its sense of intrigue, and as Ritchie connects all the dots, it’s nothing short of delightfully entertaining. Ritchie combines this sense of intrigue with some excellent lines of dialogue, and no shortage of violent action scenes.

The abundance of extremely politically incorrect language that’s littered throughout the film may turn off some viewers. Furthermore, the film really squanders the potential that Michelle Dockery’s Ros offered. She could have been a very interesting character to explore, but her development is threadbare and she’s not given enough screen time to significantly develop her character or her relationship with her husband. In spite of that, Ritchie has put the disappointment of his Disney venture behind him, and shown the when he is the one who makes the rules, it can be a blast from start to finish. The Guv’nor of the British gangster flicks is back to rule, and let’s hope he’s here to stay.

Bursting with exciting action and a charismatic array of characters, The Gentlemen marks a much needed return to form for Guy Ritchie.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Mulan (2020)

Image is property of Disney

Mulan (2020) – Film Review

Cast: Liu Yifei, Donnie Yen, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Gong Li, Jet Li, Tzi Ma

Director: Niki Caro

Synopsis: Following an enemy invasion, the Emperor decrees that one man from every family must fight in the Chinese Imperial army. Disguising herself as a man, a young woman rides off to war, taking her ailing father’s place…

Review: It is hard to look past the fact that since Disney started to up the ante with their live action remakes, it has been a lucrative venture. From 2015’s Cinderella to last year’s The Lion King, these six films combined have brought home a near total of six billion dollars in box office receipts. However for all that success, one could make the case that these films have (admittedly some more than others) done very little to justify their existence. It comes a relief to say, that after some utterly soulless adaptations, Mulan brings the honour back to these live action remakes.

When an invasion from Northern invaders, the Rourans, threatens the safety of the country and its people, the Emperor (Jet Li) decrees that one man from every family is to be conscripted into the Imperial Army, to stand and fight. With her father’s health in decline after spending many years of his life fighting for his country, Mulan bravely decides to take a stand. In order to save his life, she disguises herself as a man and takes his place in the army, knowing that if her true identity is revealed, it would have deadly ramifications.

When looking at these live action remakes, it’s next to impossible to not compare them to their animated predecessors. Furthermore, it’s probably an understatement to say that the 1998 animated adaptation would have been an important film for anyone growing up in the 1990s. At its core, there was an empowering message for girls and women everywhere: to not let societal constraints restrict them from being who they want to be. Yet, for all the wonderful things about the animated adaptation of this classic tale of a legendary Chinese warrior, historical inaccuracies meant its reception in China was far from the one Disney would have hoped. Hence for this new adaptation, much has been changed as it strives for a more realistic, gritty tone that honours the tale of the legendary figure it depicts.

For starters, there are no spontaneous moments where a character bursts into song, and the comic relief that was Mushu is also nowhere to be seen. Instead, the intent is clearly there to faithfully depict the story of this legendary figure as accurately as possible. Liu Yifei gives a sincere performance in the titular role. She imbues her with the three characteristic traits that ultimately define who she is a person: loyalty, bravery, and being true to who she is. She also has the added bonus of being an extremely skilled warrior. Unlike the animated film, the majority of her fellow recruits are barely given any development, save for Honghui (Yoson An) and her commander General Tung (Yen), both of whom serve as replacements for General Shang: her love interest in the the animated adaptation.

The 1998 film’s villain Shan Yu, was a suitably ominous and terrifying foe that you would not want to cross paths with. In his place comes Bori Khan, who in spite of a concerted effort to give him some backstory and flesh out his motivations, is a very one dimensional antagonist. His severe lack of charisma and screen presence prevents means he is nowhere nearly as intimidating as his animated counterpart. A completely new presence in this version, Gong Li’s Xian Jang, a witch who fights alongside Bori Khan, had potential to be an exciting antagonist. Though her presence here feels completely unnecessary, as her role is underwritten, consequently taking the spotlight away from Bori Khan.

The film’s battle sequences are breath-taking to watch. The assured direction from Niki Caro, combined with the use of stunning practical, mountainous sets, provides rich visual majesty to Mandy Walker’s cinematography. With Mulan marking only the second time being the second time Disney has backed a female directed project with a budget of over 100 million dollars, the studio has put their money where their mouth is. Instead of using the nostalgia of these animated classics, as an excuse to merely print money, they have delivered a live action re-imagining that actually justifies its existence. Though in a year where cinema releases have been severely blighted, it’s a real shame that the film didn’t get the big screen treatment it deserved.

It may not quite live up to its animated predecessor. However, this adaptation gets down to business and honours the Hua Mulan legend, whilst simultaneously setting to set the benchmark for future live action adaptations.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Tenet (2020)

Image is property of Warner Bros and Syncopy

Tenet – Film Review

Cast: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, Michael Caine, Aaron Taylor-Johnson,

Director: Christopher Nolan

Synopsis: A CIA Agent is recruited into a top secret program of international espionage on the trail of the possession of technology that can invert time…

Review: 2020 will certainly go down as one of the most unprecedented years in recent memory, as cinemas and many other businesses lay empty for many months. However, in those long months that the projectors were switched off and the screens remained dark, there was one film that was continuously being talked about as the film that would trigger a revival for the cinema industry. The new film, from a director who is a firm champion of the big screen, was being pitched as the film to goad audiences back to the cinema. While its taken its time to arrive, with a few shuffled release dates en route, in a world that will remain uncertain for the foreseeable future, one thing remains abundantly clear. Christopher Nolan hasn’t lost his ability to create a completely unique piece of cinema.

In a world of international espionage, the Protagonist (Washington), armed with only the use of a single word “Tenet”, must venture into this dangerous and complex world, with the goal of preventing a global catastrophe from occurring. While this sounds like your typical spy/espionage thriller, but in Nolan’s hands this is anything but. The key twist is that in this world, it’s one where cutting edge technology to invert objects through time has been invented, threatening the world with as one character says “something worse” than a nuclear Armageddon.

With Nolan’s previous filmography, he has shown a liking for dabbling with the concept of time and all of the mind-bending possibilities that these offer. Memento was his original head-scratching masterpiece, and amid further exploration of time with the ambitious Interstellar, and the ingenious inter-weaving of three inter-connected events of Dunkirk. Though with Tenet, this is perhaps is most ambitious exploration of time to date, if this was somehow even possible. Packing a lot into its running time, the plot keeps things moving at a fairly brisk pace. However, there are times when so much happening at once that the audience barely has time to stop for breath. Hence, keeping up with the film’s super complex time-bending narrative will almost certainly be a challenge.

Yet, for all the complexities that Nolan’s script throws at the audience, it is a challenge, but it is a rewarding one. The director’s previous films have certainly gone ambitious with many of its action set pieces, and Nolan does his best to outdo himself with a number of extremely ambitious, and well-directed set pieces that’s certainly going to get the pulses racing, and make the audiences’ brains go haywire. In terms of his cast, Nolan has once again delivered an exquisite collection of characters. Following his star turn in BlacKkKlansman, John David Washington delivers another excellent leading performance as the film’s Protagonist. Possessing his father’s charisma in abundance, he brings his own suave almost 007-esque charm to this leading role in a tentpole blockbuster, that will only further his reputation as a leading man. Alongside him, Robert Pattinson continues to forge his own exciting career path. Much like Washington’s Protagonist, he carries a likeable presence, whilst boasting charisma and charm to boot.

While the protagonists certainly carry likeable auras, Kenneth Branagh’s turn as the intimidating Russian oligarch who’s seeking the time-twisting technology, is anything but likeable. His performance is fittingly ominous and menacing, there’s a dark and scary history to this man, which is substantially explored in his abusive relationship with his wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki). On paper, This is a role that could have been extremely problematic, as it runs the risk of making her into a tired and cliched damsel-in-distress. However, with an actor of Debicki’s immense talent, she gives an excellent performance. There’s no shortage of substance to her character and she’s thankfully given enough material so that she has doesn’t fall into that damsel-in-distress cliche.

With long time collaborator Hans Zimmer unavailable, Ludwig Goransson steps in to fill that void, and he does so in spectacular style with a score that fits the fast paced nature of the film. Though impressive as it maybe, it can at times be almost too overpowering, making the dialogue difficult to understand in places. While its plot is undeniably complex, with a lot to digest, there’s no denying that Christopher Nolan remains one of the most unique and visionary directors working today. When the day comes that we’re all freely able to go back to the cinema without any risk, the work of these visionaries must be supported and championed. We’ll just need to make sure we don’t run into any time inverted traps along the way.

It wouldn’t be a Christopher Nolan film if it wasn’t mind-bendingly complex. Yet through it all, the visionary director has once again crafted something extremely unique and compelling. The film industry is certainly a much more interesting place with directors like Nolan in the business.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Da 5 Bloods (2020)

Image is property of Netflix

Da 5 Bloods – Film Review

Cast: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr, Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen
Jean Reno, Chadwick Boseman

Director: Spike Lee

Synopsis: Four Vietnam War veterans return to the country in search of the remains of their fallen squad leader and seek to obtain the stash of gold that the soldiers hid during the war…

Review: Cast your mind back to 2017, to the events of Charlottesville, USA. The world watched in horror, as it was given a brutal reminder of the sheer ugliness of the deeply entrenched racism still rampant in American society. A year or so after those ugly events, Spike Lee gave the world BlacKkKlansman, a film focusing on a true story about one man’s battle with rampant racism in one small town in America, before putting that into the wider context of Charlottesville and the racism that has been entrenched into American society for generations. Two years later after his last, and extremely thought-provoking joint, Lee is once again channelling his fury into another powerful, and in the wake of the appalling brutality that black communities in the US still face at the hands of law enforcement, extremely timely piece of film-making.

This new joint from the fiercely vocal director, and staunch Trump critic, once again provides a stark reminder of the brutality that Black people have, and continue to face in today’s society, with the war in Vietnam serving as the backdrop. Four African-American Vietnam War veterans: Paul (Lindo), Eddie (Lewis), Melvin (Whitlock Jr) and Otis (Peters) reunite for a deeply personal mission. They’ve returned the country, along with Paul’s son David (Majors), in search of the remains of their fallen squad leader Norm (Boseman) so that he can be brought home and properly commemorated. Simultaneously, they’ve returned to recapture the stash of buried gold that their unit was protecting during the war.

In a similar manner to what he did with BlacKkKlansman, Lee puts the events of the war, the experiences of these four veterans, and its unpopularity back in the USA into a wider context, that of a society that has been crippled with racism for generations. The battle that veterans, such as these four men, experienced in Vietnam may have ended many years ago. Yet for all their years of service, they continue to find themselves in an ongoing battle for equality and an end to a fundamentally racist system that has disproportionately affected the black community, for generations. A fundamental injustice that given rise to the Black Lives Matter movement, a movement whose voice and message, especially in the wake of the appalling murder of black people by police departments across the country, has taken hold not just in America, but across the world.

Each and every one of these actors turn in exceptional performances. The chemistry between the four veterans really shines through, they have certainly have been through hell and back together, which solidified the bonds that they have as brothers-in-arms. However, as the five them set off on their mission, tensions between them begin to mount over various subjects, tensions which threaten to tear their mission, and the bonds built between they have built as soldiers, apart. Lee is certainly a man who isn’t afraid to say what he thinks, and with this film that’s certainly applicable to what these soldiers are experiencing, but this is a joint that is about so much more than just the Vietnam War.

The performance that shines brightest though is by far and away, is Delroy Lindo as Paul. His fierce pro Trump views certainly don’t sit well with the rest of his fellow veterans, and that by consequence, will likely be the case with the audience too. While war does have long lasting consequences, for any soldier, it’s an experience that leaves its mark. This is certainly true for all the Bloods, but it’s especially applicable for Paul. With every word he utters, it’s crystal clear that the effects of the Vietnam War, and the years that have followed, have inflicted deep emotional turmoil upon him. Turmoil that makes you sympathise with him, as it has fundamentally changed him forever, resulting in a very fractured relationship with his son.

Chadwick Boseman might have garnered worldwide fame for his work in bringing Marvel’s Black Panther to life. However, this performance as the leader of this band of brothers, is a subdued, but emphatic display of his abilities as an actor, and the impact of what he brings to the film cannot be overstated. While Lee employs some slick editing, expertly combining present day with flashbacks to the fighting occurring in Vietnam. Though it is for the most part, slickly edited together, it does feel a tad overlong in places, and could have potentially shaved ten to fifteen minutes off its running time. Nevertheless, that does not minimise the film’s impact, as it shows how the battle continues for veterans such as these men, long after they have returned from the war. Their fight against the sheer ugliness of a society entrenched in systemic racism has continued in the decades that followed.

Given the appalling brutality that remains an ugly stain on American society, one can hope that the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement, can bring seismic, and much needed, needed change to end a society that is systemically rigged against veterans like the titular Bloods, and the black community as a whole. Though it is hard to ignore the current President and his deliberate attempts to stoke that racial division, that has enabled voices such as Spike Lee and the Black Lives Matter movement to emerge and use their platforms, to fight those fires of division and to spread these pivotal messages, messages that are crucially resonating with people across the world.

Powerful and heart-wrenching performances, especially from Lindo, mixed in with fierce and urgent messages that resonate with today’s society, now more than ever. Da 5 Bloods is the film that this year really needed.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

Image is property of Paramount Pictures and Sega

Sonic the Hedgehog – Film Review

Cast: James Marsden, Ben Schwartz, Tika Sumpter, Jim Carrey

Director: Jeff Fowler

Synopsis: When a police offer finds a small, speedy blue hedgehog, he must do all he can to prevent him from falling into the hands of the nefarious Dr Robotnik..

Review: For anyone who grew up in the 90s, the video gaming industry was, by and large, dominated by two very prominent characters, that of an Italian plumber with a red hat, and a super-fast blue hedgehog. While the former has been brought to the big screen once before, albeit not very successfully, the latter’s journey to the big screen has at last arrived, and while it has been far from the speedy one he would have liked, it’s one that has defied the odds and delivered the goods.

When Sonic is forced to flee his home world, using the power of his magical rings, he arrives on Earth. Initially, his existence is completely unknown to everyone for a significant period of time. Though, when Sonic accidentally reveals his presence to local police officer Tom Wachowski (Marsden), the pair strike up a friendship. This puts Tom on a collision course with the Government, as they recruit the dastardly Dr Robotnik (Carrey), to pursue and capture Sonic for experimentation, which forces the two of them to flee for their lives.

Catch him if you can…

It’s no secret that when the first trailer for the film came out and the design of this iconic character was unveiled, it was to put it mildly, not well received at all. Fans gawped in horror at the design of Sonic. Hence, the film’s release was delayed so the design of Sonic could be re-jigged. A decision that paid dividends, as the revamped design of the titular character feels much more authentic, and less like some ungodly abomination that would have given viewers endless nightmares. Voiced and motion captured by Ben Schwartz, this redesign has the personality and the traits that make him feel like a version of the character that has been drawn from the games.

It wouldn’t be a Sonic film without his classic nemesis, and Jim Carrey gives everything he has into the role of Dr. Robotnik. This works a treat as he’s clearly having a tonne of fun playing such an eccentric antagonist, especially one that that enjoys twirling his moustache in the most hilarious cartoonishly evil manner. Carrey goes all in with his performance and it ensures that every moment he’s on screen is delightfully entertaining, and he’s easily the best aspect of the human cast. Aside from Carrey, Marsden is solid as the cop who must do all he can to prevent Sonic from falling into Robotnik’s hands. While the accompanying story of two unlikely individuals forming a friendship is nothing new, it serves the story of this little Blue ball of energy and how he strives to find his place on our world, very effectively.

While the action scenes are nothing particularly ground-breaking, seeing Sonic whizz across the globe duelling with Robotnik, with the iconic sound of Sonic’s rings as the perfect nostalgia boost for good measure, is undeniably entertaining. Though, there is one scene that, while you can understand why they would use a scene like it, feels like it’s a bit too similar to the iconic Quicksilver scene from Days of Future Past. Films based off video game franchises have often struggled to deliver the goods, and while it took time, eventually this adaptation has delivered a film worthy of bearing the name of one of the most beloved characters in video game history.

The story is cliched, but with a thankfully re-designed titular character and a pitch perfect villain, the film collects all the rings to deliver a worthwhile adaptation of a much beloved video game franchise.