Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

© Marvel Studios

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – Film Review

Cast: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, Michelle Yeoh

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

Synopsis: After living many years living a normal life in the USA, martial artist Shang-Chi (Liu) is forced to confront his past and his father’s organisation, The Ten Rings…

Review: In the years since the Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken over Hollywood, producing a remarkable interconnected universe, and smashing records here, there and everywhere, there has been no shortage of remarkable accomplishments and awards. Yet, there have also been historic and ground-breaking moments in terms of representation along the way. First there was Black Panther that was the first MCU film to feature a predominantly Black cast that celebrated Black culture. Then came Captain Marvel, which marked the first female-directed and driven film in the franchise. And now, the all-conquering juggernaut that is the MCU, has now provided us with its first Asian lead superhero film, alongside a predominantly Asian led cast.

Shang-Chi is a skilled martial arts warrior who spent his early life growing up in the shadow of his father Wenwu (Leung)’s organisation The Ten Rings. Wenwu is in possession of ten mystical and magical rings that grant him incredible power and immortality. With this incredible power in his possession, he has conquered pretty much anything and everything in his path over a great period of time. Also, in that time he raised a family, and put his children through rigorous and intense training. However, his son Shang-Chi has been for many years on a different path. Namely, the path of a normal life in the USA, working as a valet alongside his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). Until one day, his past catches up with him and he realises he can no longer escape his father’s shadow, coming face to face with his father once again.

To be tasked with the leading role in the first Asian led MCU film is a massive responsibility to have on the shoulders of the actor in question, especially if this is your first leading role in one of the biggest franchises in the world currently, such as the MCU. Fortunately, Simu Liu proves to be a perfect choice to play the titular role, as he has the charisma needed to carry the film on his shoulders. While Shang-Chi is unquestionably an extremely skilled warrior and martial arts expert, unlike say, a Tony Stark, there’s no arrogance or cockiness to him, he’s very humble and grounded. Alongside Shang-Chi is his best friend Katy, who is initially completely unaware of her friend’s past as a fierce warrior. Any MCU film is guaranteed to have a substantial amount of comedy, and a lot of this comes through Katy. The role of a comedy sidekick is one that Awkwafina has played before, and once again she’s perfect at it.

In a similar vein to Black Panther, there is a core of badass and powerful women alongside Shang-Chi. As well as Katy, Meng’er Zhang as Shang-Chi’s sister Xu Xialing threatens to steal the show from her brother. A feat that is all the more impressive when you consider that this is her first foray into the world of acting. Fala Chen and Michelle Yeoh may not have the most screen time, but both use the short amount of screen time they do have to wonderful effect. Marvel villains can often fall short of being memorable, or indeed not very threatening. This is most assuredly not the case with Tony Leung’s Wenwu. Right from the moment he’s on screen, armed with these powerful rings, he’s a very formidable foe who makes his presence known. However, there’s a lot more to his character than just being a skilled warrior in possession of ten magical rings. At the core of his character, is a desire to reconnect with his long lost children, and it represents the crucial emotional core that’s central to the story.

It is crystal clear that the iconic martial arts films of the past serve as an inspiration for the action scenes. Director Destin Daniel Cretton and the stunt teams here are paying the utmost respect to the Martial arts films of the past that inspired them. Consequently, there is a unique flair to some of the action scenes that’s never been captured in previous MCU films. While this is consistently maintained throughout, it does get to a point where the action becomes an abundance of CGI, particularly in the third act. This is not a bad thing by any means, due to the fact that emotional investment in the journey of these characters is strong. Yet, given how common it has become in superhero films, it is something that like to see superhero films move away from. Nevertheless, in the same way that Black Panther irrevocably changed the MCU forever, Shang-Chi is poised to follow suit by being a massive step forward for wider representation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

With the unique visual flair and choreography of its action sequences, and the committed performances of its cast, especially Liu, Zhang, and Yeung, all these factors combine to make Shang-Chi another superb MCU origin story. A new hero is born.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Freaky (2021)

© BlumHouse Productions and Universal Productions

Freaky  – Film Review

Cast: Kathryn Newton, Vince Vaughn, Celeste O’Connor, Misha Osherovich, Katie Finneran, Alan Ruck, Uriah Shelton, Dana Drori

Director: Christopher Landon

Synopsis: After a fateful encounter with a notorious serial killer, one high school student finds that she and the killer have switched bodies…

Review: When it comes to the horror genre, the possibilities that writers and directors have to provide chills and scares to audiences are endless. There is the the unique route of having extremely terrifying things happening in broad daylight. Or indeed, stick to the classic slasher sub genre that has worked so successfully for many decades. Additionally, the premise of a film that centres on two people swapping bodies is one that feels like it’s the perfect, almost tailor made for a slasher horror film. Sprinkle a bit of comedy in there for a good measure, and you have an extremely entertaining film that delivers gory moments and hilarity in equal measure.

Millie Kessler (Newton) is a high school student at Blissfield High, battling with cruel classmates and teachers alike. On one fateful evening after a high school football match, Millie comes face to face with the town’s serial killer: the Blissfield Butcher (Vaughn). After she’s attacked by the Butcher with a dagger (that may or may not have some mysterious qualities to it), the two wake up the following morning to find that they are in each other’s bodies. Now in the body of the killer, and with a limited time window before the switch becomes permanent, Millie must do all she can to ensure that the reign of terror that the Blissfield Butcher has inflicted on the town comes to an end.

Christopher Landon has previously found success with films that mesh horror and comedy with his Happy Death Day franchise. Hence, Freaky film feels like a perfect continuation for him. His script, co-written by Michael Kennedy, is a delightful twist on the 1972 novel Freaky Friday. While the script is unquestionably filled with some cheesy dialogue, there’s plenty comedic one liners that are expertly delivered by the cast. Meshing comedy with horror is a very fine line to walk, but Langdon walks it perfectly. Within the first ten minutes of the film, he quickly establishes the brutality of the Butcher, by dispatching of his first view victims in gruesome manner. The film presents itself initially as your standard slasher flick. This is until the Butcher meets Millie, and then the ol’ body switcheroo happens, and the two are in a race against time to get back in their bodies, or else the switch will become permanent.

As well as expertly combining the horror of the situation with the comedy, what really makes the film the bloody, and riotous blast of fun that it is, is the performances of Kathryn Newton, and especially Vince Vaughn. Vaughn in particular is clearly having a lot of fun pretending to have the mannerisms of a teenage girl who suddenly finds herself in the body of a six foot four ominous serial killer. Likewise for Newton, to go from being this timid, shy teenage girl, who’s being routinely picked on, to being this serial killer who exudes confidence and who kills teenagers for fun. It is a real change of direction and Newton goes all out in her performance. The complete shift in both their characters is pivotal to making the film work, and it’s to the credit of both actors that they are able to make the contrast in their personas so believable.

There’s no one in the rest of the cast who matches the quality of the performances from Newton and Vaughn. However, Celeste O’Connor and Misha Osherovich come very close to doing so.  As Millie’s best friends who must work with her to bring the Butcher’s rampage to its end, they have some of the best lines. While the film is perhaps a little bit predictable with how events play out, to take a body swap film and turn into a horror/comedy,  is extremely ingenious. Furthermore, thanks to the committed performances of its cast, the end product is an absolute bloody delight from start to finish.

Horror and comedy spliced together can often end badly. However with excellent performances by Newton and Vaughn, Freaky is an enthralling, bloody soaked blast of fun.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Suicide Squad (2021)

© Warner Bros and DC Films

The Suicide Squad  – Film Review

Cast: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Peter Capaldi, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior

Director: James Gunn

Synopsis: A team of high-powered supervillains are recruited into Task Force X, for a mission that takes them to a South American island to learn more details about a top secret scientific programme…

Review: It would be fair to say that the excitement for 2016’s Suicide Squad was palpable. An assortment of bad guys on a bonkers mission, from a director with proven experience under his belt, several excellent casting choices and some excellently cut trailers. It all looked so promising, and well, to say that the film didn’t work out as planned would be a massive understatement. Hence, anyone could have been forgiven for keeping their excitement in check when it was revealed that DC’s collection of B list supervillains/douchebags were getting a new big screen adaptation, courtesy of James Gunn. Would the man who successfully brought Marvel’s ragtag collection of loveable arseholes to life, be able to do justice to the DC equivalent on the big screen? Thankfully this time around, the answer is an emphatic YES.

Task Force X, led by the absolutely ruthless Amanda Waller (Davis), is once again recruiting high powered supervillains to to complete seemingly impossible missions, in order to get time off their prison sentences. Missions that will almost certainly lead to their deaths. This time around, the Task Force are sent to the South American island of Corto Maltese, where it’s believed that the Government is developing some kind of weapon that is known only as “Project Starfish.” Familiar faces Harley Quinn, Colonel Rick Flagg and Captain Boomerang are joined by an extremely eclectic range of bad guys on this dangerous mission. A mission where bloody and absolutely glorious mayhem ensues.

While this new version barely references the 2016 version, returning faces Margot Robbie and Viola Davis once again excel as Harley Quinn and Amanda Waller respectively. Robbie especially has arguably never been better in the role than she is here, and in both cases, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else portraying those characters. Of all the new recruits, and there are a fair few of them, in Will Smith’s place as the team’s commander/sharpshooter, comes Idris Elba’s Bloodsport. His deadliness with firearms puts him at odds with John Cena’s Peacemaker, think Captain America but with an enormous ego and absolutely no morals whatsoever. As Peacemaker is also quite handy when it comes to guns, the testosterone-fuelled banter that constantly zips back and forth between these two is the source for much of the film’s uproarious comedy. Once you see David Dastmalchian’s Polka Dot Man, you won’t have to connect too many dots to figure out what his powers are. Meanwhile fan favourite King Shark, thanks to the voicework of Sylvester Stallone, is so wonderfully brought to life. However, the heart of the film very much lies in Daniela Melchior’s Ratcatcher 2, who has the ability to control rats.

As one might suspect from the film’s title, it’s safe to assume that there are going to be casualties, and they would be wise to have that assumption. Gunn really makes it feel like no one is safe, and that anyone could very easily meet their demise at any moment. As his early films as a director were very much rooted in the horror genre, he is clearly having lots of fun with the manner in choosing how to pick off certain characters. Though as he probably was restrained from turning up the dial on the violence factor for the Guardians films, he completely turbocharges the violence, with blood and guts galore. This is probably just as well given that there’s a humanoid shark present who has a craving for human flesh and has no qualms about tearing people apart limb from limb.

It is not news that audiences have in recent years become inundated with the plethora of superhero films. While so many have been undeniably extremely entertaining, there are plenty that have, in some cases through no fault of their own, failed to make themselves stand out from the crowd. This is something that this version of DC’s collection of supervillains avoids, in no small part, thanks to the R rating, the action sequences and the performances of all the cast. The absurdity of the mission, along with the humour and bickering that ensues between the characters, and the gravity of the situation is a tough balancing act for Gunn, but it’s one that they get (apart from one or two minor pacing issues) damn near perfectly right. What you’re left with after all that is, to put it simply: best DC Extended Universe film so far.

A riotous blast of fun from start to finish filled to the brim with well-rounded characters, a hilarious team dynamic and glorious action. James Gunn, it is good to have you back!

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Luca (2021)

© Disney and Pixar Animation Studios

Luca  – Film Review

Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Saverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph, Marco Barricelli, Jim Gaffigan, Sacha Baron Cohen

Directors: Enrico Casarosa

Synopsis:  In a picturesque town on the Italian Riviera, two young sea monsters go on a sun filled summer adventure above the waves…

Review: The summer, the time of year that promises super long days (depending on where you live), gloriously warm weather, and the prospect of making new friends and having an experience that you will never forget. However, what if say you’re a creature who lives beneath the waves, who desires to break free from his overly protective parents, and who yearns to experience live on the land that we humans dwell on? The answer lies in the form of the 24th feature film from Pixar Animation Studios.

Set in the picturesque town of Portorosso on the Italian Riviera, there are stories of terrifying sea monsters that lurk beneath the waves that have the residents of this town spooked. One such sea monster is Luca (Tremblay), who is categorically forbidden by his parents from ever venturing to the surface. His parents do not trusts those creatures that dwell on the land, and as it turns out, the feeling is mutual as the humans have a distrust for sea creatures. However, when Luca meets another young adventurous sea monster named Alberto (Grazer), the two of them form a friendship and head for the town for an adventure unlike anything that they have ever experienced before.

In any adventure/coming-of-age type story that features two characters going on a life-changing journey, the dynamic the two lead characters is fundamental as to whether this adventure sinks or swims. Fortunately, it’s the former as the voice performances of Jacob Tremblay and Jack Dylan Grazer are perfect, as they help to establish the friendship that quickly forms between these two young friends. These two are merely out to have the best time of their lives whilst they are living with the humans, and away from all they have ever known in their lives beneath the big ocean blue. Through all of this adventure, Luca and Alberto have their eyes on one prize, to own a Vespa, and this dream leads to Giulia (Berman), one of Portorosso’s residents who befriends Luca and Alberto. Instantaneously, there’s a connection between the three of them, as she is someone who is looked down by certain sections of the town.

Throughout all of their films, Pixar’s animation style has always been tremendous, and that streak continues with Luca. As Pixar has taken audiences on a couple of trips beneath the waves before, one could almost expect a similar style of animation when compared to those two films. Yet, the animation style feels much more different than not just the two Finding films, but rather any previous Pixar film in general. In many respects, what director Enrico Casarosa has crafted feels more reminiscent of Studio Ghibli than it does Pixar. The ensuing adventure that takes place between Luca, Alberto and Giulia is one that audiences will enjoy. The film is awash with plenty of laughter, emotion and familiar beats of not being afraid to be who you are. However, given that this studio has become known for those moments that pack the strongest of emotional punches to leave the audience’s emotions in pieces, there’s nothing of that nature to be found in this Italian Riviera themed adventure.

There is perhaps an assumption that any film that carries the Pixar name will have deeply philosophical themes throughout. Furthermore, given many of their prior films have for instance, touched on deep questions about life and the passions we have, our deep connection with life and music, or the emotions that guide us through life. Indeed, when their films attempt to answer these philosophical questions, is arguably where Pixar have excelled the most, whilst reducing audiences to emotional wrecks. On the one hand, it is the case that due to this lack of emotional depth, Luca is unable to surpass those films that have come before it. Yet on the other hand, it is perhaps a bit unfair to expect every Pixar film to tackle these existential themes every time is perhaps a bit unfair. Luca promises a sun soaked adventure filled with laughs, friendship and, yes, dreams about one day owning a Vespa, and that’s what it delivers. Magnifico!

It may be more simplistic and formulaic than many of previous Pixar films, yet thanks to the performances of its three leads, and a vibrant style of animation, this sun-soaked adventure will warm your heart.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Black Widow (2021)

© Marvel Studios

Black Widow  – Film Review

Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, Rachel Weisz

Directors: Cate Shortland

Synopsis: Set between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, something from Natasha Romanoff’s past draws her back to her early days as a KGB assassin and her training in the ominous Red Room…

Review: Since making her MCU debut back in 2010, it didn’t take long for Natasha Romanoff to establish herself as an integral part of the MCU and its core group of badass superheroes who will stop at nothing to save the world. Even if it comes at great personal cost for the hero, as Natasha’s MCU journey brought was brought to a devastating conclusion where in 2019’s Avengers: Endgame, she heroically sacrificed herself to ensure that all those who were snapped away, were eventually able to come back. Given that tragic fate in Endgame, it does seem a bit odd to have a Black Widow solo film be released now. However, even though it has definitely come a few years too late, it is joyous to see this beloved character finally get her own moment in the spotlight.

Picking up just after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Natasha is on the run from the authorities having violated the Sokovia Accords. She is laying low in some picturesque terrain, in the middle of nowhere, planning her next move. When she receives a package from someone in her past that connects to her training in the mysterious Red Room and the Black Widow programme, she heads to Budapest. Whilst there, she reunites with her “sister”, and fellow Black Widow recruit, Yelena Belova (Pugh). When deadly forces come after them, they resolve to find the Red Room, and bring down the man behind it, the villainous Dreykov (Winstone).

Given that she has played this role for over a decade, Scarlett Johansson once again shines as Natasha/Black Widow, in what is in all likelihood, her last ever appearance in this role. Though given we know what ultimately happens to her character, the journey that screenwriter Eric Pearson takes her on for this film gives the audience an understanding of certain events in Natasha’s past that previous MCU films had only given the most brief of references to. While Johansson has plenty of moments to shine, Florence Pugh as Yelena is the one who ends up stealing the show. Given the MCU’s use of humour, a lot of these moments come about in interactions between Yelena and Natasha, as well as their adoptive parents Alexei (Harbour) and Melina (Weisz), the former of whom is clearly having a lot of fun in this role as Red Guardian, the Russian equivalent to Captain America.

With so many MCU films having come before it, it’s almost an expectation at this point that the film will be accompanied by exhilarating action scenes, which this film has. While they are unquestionably exciting to watch and competently directed, action scenes like this have become so commonplace that you have to make something special to stand out, and unfortunately, the action scenes here are very much run-of-the-mill for the MCU. While the performances of all the main cast shine, what is often a big problem for MCU films is their villains are disappointing, and sadly the film’s antagonists very much fall into that bracket. While Winstone is menacing as Dreykov, his iffy Russian accent leaves a lot to be desired. Likewise, for the film’s secondary villain Taskmaster. Those who have played the PS4 Spider-Man game will know what this character can be like, and unfortunately, this on screen iteration of Taskmaster feels but a poor imitation of what had the potential to be a very intriguing antagonist.

While the second and third acts are thrilling to watch due to its strong themes of female empowerment, and the Captain America: Winter Soldier-esque espionage thriller elements that are at play, there’s unfortunately one inescapable fact that this film cannot shake off. Namely that, as this new phase of Marvel kicks off, the films and TV shows becoming inter-twined, the potential impact that a Black Widow solo film could have had on this franchise has been lost due to the time in which it has taken for it to come to fruition.  Due to the knowledge that we have as to where this character’s arc ultimately concludes, releasing it as the first film to launch Phase 4 means that the lack of stakes present here really hamper the potential that it had to become a top-tier, game-changing MCU film. What might have been had the film been released during Phase 3 instead?

The wait for a solo Black Widow film limits its overall impact on the MCU in general. However, thanks to its strong story and the introduction of some exciting new characters, Johansson’s swansong in this role does justice to this beloved character that played such an integral role in the MCU over many years.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

In the Heights (2021)

© Warner Bros

In The Heights  – Film Review

Cast: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV, Jimmy Smits

Director: Jon M. Chu

Synopsis: In the Washington Heights area of New York City, the owner of a bodega aspires to one day relocate to the Dominican Republic to fulfil a childhood dream…

Review: Whenever someone mentions the name Lin-Manuel Miranda, many will undoubtedly immediately think of his work with the hugely popular musical Hamilton. Winner of an incredible 11 Tony Awards, thanks to a release of a recording of the show on Disney+ last year, it gave those who hadn’t had the chance to see it revel in its wonderful performances and irresistibly catchy tunes. Yet, Hamilton was not Miranda’s first foray into the world of musicals. Before he enjoyed phenomenal success with his adaptation of the life of one of the founding fathers of the United States, there was In the Heights, a musical penned by Miranda about the place where he grew up. Now, in the hands of director Jon M. Chu, comes an adaption that, it will not shock you to learn, is an absolutely euphoric blast of sun-soaked joy.

For any musical, the opening number is arguably the most important one of them all, as it has the task of setting the scene and getting the audience in the mood. Through this absolute bop of an opener, we meet our protagonist Usnavi (Ramos) the owner of a bodega in the Washington Heights area of New York City. Usnavi has fond memories of his childhood and the beach bar in the Dominican Republic that was once run by his father. With the bodega, and a handful of other businesses in the area at risk of going out of business, he becomes determined to raise enough money to leave New York behind and return to the Dominican Republic to reopen his family’s bar. But over the course of one summer in this vibrant Latino community in Washington Heights, as Usnavi meets with old friends and makes some new connections, there’s every chance that this will be a special, unforgettable summer.

The opening musical number introduces us to an array of the people and their livelihoods in this particular neighbourhood in the Big Apple. From Usnavi’s cousin Sonny (Diaz) who helps him run the bodega, Abuela Claudia (Merediz), the neighbourhood’s matriarch who played an integral role in raising Usnavi, Kevin the owner of a nearby business and his daughter Nina who’s returned to the area after a year in college, her relationship with Benny (Hawkins), to finally Vanessa (Barrera) an aspiring fashion designer, who Usnavi has developed a massive crush on. For each and every single person in this neighbourhood, they are all motivated by their own “sueñitos”(little dreams).

As the film’s central character, Usnavi is immediately a very charming and likeable presence. Following on from his role in Hamilton, this is Anthony Ramos’s shot at a leading role, and he does not throw it away. He’s constantly thinking about his sueñito, to run that beach bar that was such an integral part of his life growing up. Yet he’s reminded of just how special this area of New York, and the people who make it home are to him. Chief among these people is his crush Vanessa. For her, her sueñito is to become a fashion designer, and Barrera’s performance is equally impressive and emotionally heartfelt in a terrific cast. There is not a false note to be found anywhere in any of their performances.

As one comes to expect when Lin-Manuel Miranda pens the music, the soundtrack is packed to the brim with irresistibly catchy and joyful songs that will be filling your eardrums for weeks afterwards. As well as the irresistibly catchy music, what is equally impressive is the choreography that accompanies each and every musical number. Furthermore, each song and musical number has its own unique vibe, which comes from the variety of backdrops for each song, and the excellent use of lighting and camerawork that director Jon. M. Chu utilises. The screenplay by Quiara Alegría Hudes touches on a number of very topical themes like family, identity, aspirations, and what it means to be a part of a community. Given that the original musical was written in 2005, Hudes’s screenplay has made some important changes to the plot that makes it in tandem with modern day events, such as the aspirations of the Dreamers. This crucially lends an extra weight to the stories of the people that are being brought to life on screen, because they will undoubtedly reflect many of the hopes and dreams of the people in this community.

While each and every song here are certified jams, the film is just ever slightly let down by some pacing issues in and around the middle act of the film. However, if you’re going to pick a soundtrack to be the music to your summer, you’re unlikely to find a more vibrant, soulful and downright joyous than this one. It might have taken a while for this adaptation of this musical to lift our spirits and infect our eardrums with its joyful tunes. After the difficult time that has been had by all over the last year or so, this is the perfect blast of euphoric enjoyment that we all need and deserve, and it was certainly worth the wait.

Filled with a plethora of wonderful characters, and some certifiable bops jammed packed throughout, In The Heights is the positive, life-affirming blast of joy that the world needs right now.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Father (2021)

© Lionsgate, Film4 and Canal+

The Father  – Film Review

Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Mark Gatiss, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell, Olivia Williams

Director: Florian Zeller

Synopsis: An elderly man suffering from dementia refuses any assistance from carers or his family as he ages. As his condition begins to worsen, he tries to make sense of his situation…

Review: As human beings, we go through our lives so often surrounded by our loved ones, and for many, nothing can beat the warm embrace that family and friends can provide for us. But, what if one day, someone who you’re very close to, suddenly turned around had no idea who you are, or what they used to do for a living? There’s no getting away from the fact that dementia can have a devastating effect on a person’s mind. It is estimated that around 54 million people around the world currently living with dementia. Through his directorial debut, Florian Zeller provides a unique look at this disease can have on not just the sufferer, but their closest relatives as well.

Anthony (Hopkins) is a man who is suffering from dementia and is slowly starting to lose his grip on reality. His daughter Anne (Colman) tries to plead with her father to get him a professional carer to help him with his condition. However, Anthony point blank refuses, as he believes there is nothing wrong with himself, and is determined to live his life on his own terms. Consequently, by rebuffing her offers of assistance, it begins to erode Anne’s patience with her father, which has a knock-on effect on Anne’s relationship with her husband, especially as all is not what it seems in Anthony’s mind. As his grip on reality slowly starts to dissipate with each passing day.

Adapted from the play “Le Père“, approaching a film that deals with such delicate subject matter is always a challenge for the filmmakers. However, the screenplay by Zeller (who also wrote the play) and Christopher Hampton takes an extremely innovative approach in how it tells its story. Namely, it chooses to frame the film entirely from the perspective of its lead character. By doing this, it lets the audience into the mind of Anthony himself, to see how living with this disease can have such a debilitating effect on the person’s day to day life. Day-to-day conversations are continuously changing. One minute, there’s someone on screen informing Anthony (and the audience) as to who they are. Yet in the very next scene, they might be someone completely different. Through Zeller’s brilliant direction, you wonder are they who they say they are? And crucially, the audience gets a glimpse of what living with this disease must be like.

Anthony Hopkins is an actor who needs no introduction. With his distinguished career whose career is now in its seventh decade, he has given so many brilliant performances across a lifetime of wonderful work. Yet with this heart-breaking performance, it’s easily the best performance he has given in a very long time. He starts off the film in a very buoyant mood, but with each passing scene, it becomes clear that this disease is taking an immeasurable toll on his well being. Given that his character shares his name with the actor portraying him, it is evident that Zeller had Hopkins in mind when bringing this performance to life, and it pays off massively with an astonishing performance. Alongside him, Colman’s role of Anne is more subdued, but we sympathise with her as she tries to show love towards her father, even if that is starting to wear extremely thin as Anthony’s condition takes hold, and his stubborn refusal to accept her help.

This is far from an easy watch, but what Zeller has accomplished through this study of this disease, is an emotionally powerful film that will hopefully be extremely effective in increasing awareness about this disease. Given that it is estimated that the number of people suffering from dementia across the world will rise to 130 million by 2050, this is fast becoming a very serious issue that demands our increased awareness as a society. For the simple reason that it is entirely possible that we, or that someone we love, may well suffer from this disease at one point in our lives.

A careful approach to its subject matter, extremely innovative direction, and an absolutely heart-breaking lead performance from Hopkins, all combine to make The Father an extremely moving, and unforgettably devastating drama.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

A Quiet Place Part II (2021)

© Paramount Pictures and Platinum Dunes

A Quiet Place Part II  – Film Review

Cast: Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Cillian Murphy, John Krasinski, Djimon Hounsou

Director: John Krasinski

Synopsis: The surviving members of the Abbott family, now armed with the knowledge as to how to defeat the terrifying creatures that have hypersensitive hearing, head out into what remains of civilisation…

Review: There’s something that feels rather eerie about a film that features a world that’s forever changed by a deadly event, especially when you consider when it was poised to be released to the world. The time was March 2020, the premiere had taken place, and the film was due to be released to the world, until it was forced to be delayed due to the global pandemic that was sweeping the planet. Additionally, for a film that has a premise that centres on a world where being silent is of the utmost importance, it was reminiscent of when in those early months of the pandemic, those usually packed streets that we see across the world, became eerily quiet for an extended period of time. As such, there’s much about this franchise that feels very relevant for the tough times that we have been experiencing in the past year.

Following an extended, and thrilling, prologue that shows the very first day when these terrifying creatures began to wreak unspeakable devastation on our very noisy world, things fast forward to the present day of this world. We pick up right where they left off for the Abbott family. Following the events of the first film, Evelyn (Blunt), their new born son, deaf daughter Reagan (Simmonds), and son Marcus (Jupe) depart from their now destroyed home, in search of a new place to find shelter away from the monsters. Their search leads them to a base that’s currently occupied by  Emmett (Murphy), a man whose experiences in this apocalyptic world have made him very suspicious of what remains of humanity.

A key element of what made the first film the unique and nerve shredding experience it was, was the marvellous way the film uses sound to put the audience on the ground with these characters.  Going into the sequel, one might have wondered if Krasinski and his sound team had caught lighting in a bottle, and would be unable to repeat their feat this time around.  However, not only have they managed to recapture that brilliance, they have arguably gone better with their sound work. Through Krasiniski’s screenplay, that tension that was expertly crafted into the first film is brilliantly recaptured here, keeping the audience on the edge of their seat as they, like the characters on screen, strive to not make a sound. Krasinski builds on his brilliant directorial debut, opting in numerous instances to use multiple long takes, showing the audience truly just how perilous this world is, and how even the slightest misstep could spell be your downfall.

Much like the first film, the performances from all of the cast are excellent. Though she has a much more withdrawn role this time around, Emily Blunt is once again as the parent who must take care of a new born infant, and at the same, time defend her family. Though given the tragic fate that her husband Lee in the first film, there’s a void to be filled there, and Millicent Simmonds is the one who steps up to fill that void. This sequel shifts its focus from the older generation to the younger, and Simmonds steps up to the challenge, and gives the best performance in the film. Given that she herself is deaf, it adds so much authenticity to the character and the challenge that she faces to protect her family in this perilous world. With Blunt in a more withdrawn role, this gives Cillian Murphy’s Emmett the lead role amongst the adult cast, and he seizes that opportunity with both hands.

Given how much of a success the first film turned out to be, Krasinski would be forgiven if he had taken a silent moment before committing to making a sequel to A Quiet Place. Therefore, it is testament to him that with two extremely well made horror films now under his belt, he has cemented his growing reputation as a director to watch. After the extremely tough year that cinemas have had to endure since were first forced to shut their doors, films like A Quiet Place Part II serve as a powerful reminder of the power that cinema can have, especially when it’s seen on the big screen.

A marvellous continuation into this terrifying world that expertly recaptures that builds upon the aspects of what made the first film such a special and unnerving experience. A perfect example of how to pull off a riveting sequel.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Godzilla vs Kong (2021)

Image is property of Warner Bros and Legendary

Godzilla vs Kong  – Film Review

Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza González, Julian Dennison, Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir, Kaylee Hottle

Director: Adam Wingard

Synopsis:  When the Monarch corporation seeks to use Kong for a secret mission, their plan puts Kong on a direct collision course with Godzilla, and almighty battle for monster supremacy ensues….

Review: It feels like that for as long as cinema has been around, the cinematic powerhouses of King Kong and Godzilla have roared and stomped their way to establish themselves as iconic pop culture titans. Titans that in years gone by, would have no problems drawing massive crowds into packed cinemas across the world. While the former made his first big screen appearance in 1933, and the latter in 1954, their first on screen meeting came in 1962. Yet, ever since the wheels of the MonsterVerse were first put back in motion in 2014, it feels like the franchise has been building towards another clash between these two legendary monsters. Nearly half a century after their first meeting, and armed with the wonders that modern CGI can produce, these two cinematic behemoths are once again, scrapping it out for titan supremacy.

The film picks up a number of years since the events of King of the Monsters. In that time, the Monarch corporation has been observing Kong at his home on Skull Island. A team of scientists led by Nathan Lind (Skarsgard) and Illene Andrews (Hall) are seeking to locate what they believe to be some kind of unique power source that supposedly can be found in a mythical location, somewhere on the planet. For this mission to succeed, they believe that Kong is best placed to guide them to this mystical location. However, before they can get started with their mission, they cross paths with Godzilla who is seemingly being provoked into hurting people, which may or may not be connected to something another sinister corporation’s mysterious activities. So when these two cross paths, a gargantuan clash between two of cinema’s greatest titans erupts.

When it comes to these films, the audience is there for one thing, and that is to see giant monsters beat the ever living shit out of each other. To their credit, all of the films have had their satisfying moments with these enormous showdowns, though admittedly some have done it better than others.  With Godzilla Vs Kong, the battle scenes depicted here are potentially some of the best that this franchise has ever produced, as they are extremely entertaining to watch, and the work that is done by the visual effects artists is extraordinary. With these monsters movies, a sense of scale is imperative, you need to feel the size and the scale of these monsters, and with the enthralling showdowns that the film gives us, they succeed whilst making us humans feel like teeny ants by comparison.

For all the fun and exhilaration that the gargantuan showdowns, this franchise has (with the odd exception) had a difficult ability to craft human characters that are well developed and to really make the audience care about them. Once again, for the most part, the human characters have the most minimal amount of development, and exist in this franchise to mainly serve up exposition to the audience. It has been a common theme in this franchise to have such talented actors involved, only for them to be serviceable pieces to the plot, when they have the potential to be so much more. While the overwhelming majority of the human characters here, both old and new, are once again serviceable to the plot at best, the one exception to this is the connection that Kong has with Jia, a young deaf girl. The arc of her character ensures that she is, by far and away, one of the most well developed human characters this franchise has produced.

The plot concerning the human characters is extremely silly, and one can definitely question whether any aspect of the screenplay makes one iota of sense. However, that isn’t strictly necessary when it comes to a film that features a giant ape and a giant lizard squaring off against one another. You come to watch two cinematic titans having a good old scrap, and that is exactly what this film delivers. Furthermore, in a year that has been turbulent for the big screen experience that has seen cinemas for the most part stay shut, this is the sort of film that audiences need to just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride that is depicted on screen. As Ishirō Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) said way back in 2014’s Godzilla said, “Let them fight,” and watch the monster mayhem unfold in all of its glory.

While beset with the familiar issue of (mostly) uninteresting and disposable human characters, when it comes to the main event of titans engaging in a fight to the death, this epic showdown is a roaring success.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021)

© Netflix, Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation

The Mitchells vs. the Machines  – Film Review

Cast: Danny McBride, Abbi Jacobson, Maya Rudolph, Michael Rianda, Eric Andre, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, John Legend, Chrissy Teigen, Blake Griffin, Conan O’Brien

Directors: Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe

Synopsis: When a robot uprising occurs during a family road trip, one dysfunctional family becomes the last hope for humanity…

Review: It isn’t exactly news that humanity as a species have become rather obsessed with all gadgets of various shapes and sizes that have a screen in them. Whether it be phones, laptops, tablets or TVs, if we’re not working, chances are high that we will have our eyes glued to those gadgets that are “bathed in ghoulish blue light”. But what if those machines that we are so dependent on, instead decided to do away with humanity as a species and rule this planet for themselves? While humanity’s over-reliance on technology is far from an original concept, in the hands of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the duo who helped to bring the visual wizardry of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to life, they’ve turned that concept into this bonkers, but uproariously entertaining adventure.

Katie (Jacobson) is as an aspiring filmmaker, who is one step closer to her dream job after being accepted into a film school. Her ambitions don’t sit well with her technophobe father Rick (McBride). Due to her ambitions and his own issues with technology, he struggles to connect with Katie. Fearing that they may drift apart for good once Katie has settled into college, Rick decides to take the entire the family go on a cross-country road trip, which is meant to be in theory one last family outing. Unfortunately for the Mitchell family, their family trip coincides with the beginning of a robot uprising determined to eradicate humanity from the face of the Earth. Consequently, this quirky, oddball family find themselves as the last hope for humanity to stop the robot apocalypse.

While many may well see Disney and its subsidiary Pixar as the top dogs of animation movie making, there are certainly plenty of studios that are producing some stellar animation flicks that are certainly capable of challenging Disney and Pixar’s status as animation top dogs. For Sony Pictures Animation, Into The Spider-Verse was the perfect example of an innovative, unique stunningly crafted piece of film-making that really pushed the boundaries of what this medium could accomplish. Under the direction of first time directors Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe, this enthralling adventure continues that trajectory with a unique and exhilarating blend of 2D and 3D animation styles.

As with the animation, the voice work of the cast is exceptional across the board. As the film’s central protagonist, much is resting on Katie’s shoulders and through the excellent voice work by Abbi Jacobsen, she carries the film marvellously well. There will be many out there who empathise with Katie as a quiet somewhat introverted individual who’s passionate about what she does, and Jacobson imbues Katie with a fiercely independent, yet extremely likeable personality. Due to his difficult relationship, and his immense disdain for technology, the strained relationship between Rick and Katie features at the centre of the film. McBride excels as a father who strives to find the balance between being the stern parent trying to steer his children away from the allure of the screens, whilst simultaneously trying to do his best for his daughter.

While the voice talents of Jacobsen and McBride are given most of the spotlight, the performances of Maya Rudolph and co-director Michael Rianda are perfect as mother Lin and Katie’s brother Aaron, are given plenty of screen time to flesh out their characters. Though, like with any film that features a robot apocalypse, the need for a strong villain is imperative. In this instance, that antagonist is PAL, a super intelligent AI who’s basically like if the personal assistant in your phone went rogue and tried to kill you and all of humanity in the process. Proving that the no one plays an antagonist better than the British, the casting of Olivia Colman in this menacingly evil, and simultaneously hilarious role, is an absolute masterstroke.

At 113 minutes, the film is certainly longer than average when compared to most animated adventures. However, from the word go, the momentum that’s generated from the film’s wild and exhilarating story ensures that at no point does the film lose the momentum that it has generated. It moves from fun road trip film to a battle for humanity’s survival with effortless ease, as a wild mixture of hilarious gags and thrilling action help to keep the plot going at a frenetic and exhilarating pace. Furthermore, it packs plenty of heart-warming character moments in between absolutely thrilling action scenes that will definitely be appreciated by man and machine-kind alike in equal measure.

With its perfect combination of bonkers and hilarious action and sincere heartfelt character moments, the latest Lord/Miller collaboration sets the bar high for the rest of 2021’s animated offerings.