Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Invisible Man (2020)

Image is property of Universal and Blumhouse

The Invisible Man – Film Review

Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman, Oliver Jackson-Cohen

Director: Leigh Whannell 

Synopsis: After her abusive boyfriend commits suicide, Cecilia (Moss) finds herself being tormented by a mysterious presence that has her convinced that somehow, he’s still alive, and is out to torment her…

Review: Shared cinematic universes certainly became all the rage following the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it left many studios wanting to get their own shared universes off the ground. Universal’s plans for a Dark Universe certainly offered much potential, but as its first film tanked, down went the hopes of getting it truly off the ground. A reboot of the 1933 film The Invisible Man was among the projects lined up for the doomed universe. While those plans never come to fruition, thanks to a combined effort of Universal and Blumhouse has brought it to the big screen.

Cecilia is in a relationship with Adrian (Jackson-Cohen) which has ultimately deteriorated beyond repair due to his extensive abuse and she consequently becomes determined to leave him once and for all. When she learns that he’s committed suicide, Cecilia is initially elated that she’s finally free of him. However, her joy immediately turns to horror after finding herself being subjected to some inexplicable, and traumatic events. She soon becomes convinced that Adrian is not dead, and that somehow, he’s the one tormenting her as revenge for trying to leave him.  

As the woman at the centre of this nightmare, Elisabeth Moss gives a truly outstanding performance. The film is reliant on her ability to convey the true horror of this inexplicable nightmare that she finds herself in, and she rises to the occasion magnificently. In many instances in the film, she is acting against a presence that cannot be seen, but she is convinced that there’s something there. Even as everyone, even those really closest to her, think that she’s lost her mind, and is completely paranoid. She is unwavering in her belief that this imperceptible presence that is subjecting her to this torment is somehow, Adrian himself. While Moss is the unquestioned star of the show, each member of the supporting cast all deliver from Harriet Reid as Cecilia’s sister, to Aldis Hodge as her childhood friend James, and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid).

In the era of the Me Too movement, the decision to frame the titular character as a vicious, domestic abuser was a brave decision that could have backfired. However, thanks to Moss’s excellent performance and Whannell’s sharp screenplay and direction, it serves as an effective means of telling this suspenseful, and thoroughly gripping story that has a lot to say about relationships, and the consequences that can happen when they turn abusive. With every moment of the film’s two hour and five minute run time, the excellent camerawork helps to build up the tension masterfully. Even such numerous every day scenarios as making breakfast are utilised to build suspense and dread among the audience leaving them, fearful as to what fresh horror this unseen menace will unleash on Cecilia next. 

While at the time, Universal head honchos would have undoubtedly been immensely frustrated with the Dark Universe falling apart after just one film, it has ultimately proved to be a blessing in disguise. Instead of pouring all their efforts into crafting a pulsating action packed cinematic universe juggernaut that are a dime a dozen nowadays. It’s safe to assume that a decision was made to pull back and instead utilise their efforts to craft a story that’s doesn’t rely on well worn horror tropes. Furthermore, by grounding it in such timely subject matter, it serves as a sharp reminder of the stark consequences of domestic abuse, and how it can reap devastating consequences on the lives of those who suffer from domestic abuse.

Combining timely subject matter to a classic story, mixed in with excellent camerawork and a terrific, wounded lead performance all results in a perfect example of a reboot done just right.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Onward (2020)

Image is property of Disney and Pixar

Onward – Film Review

Cast: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer

Director: Dan Scanlon

Synopsis: After receiving a gift in the shape of a magical staff, two young brothers set off an exciting quest to discover if the power of magic could give them one last day with their late father….

Review: A world steeped in fantasy is something that human beings seem to be intrinsically drawn to because regrettably they are worlds that we will never get to experience for ourselves. Perhaps this is why stories set in places such as Middle Earth have that everlasting appeal. But what if you took a modern day metropolis and mixed in some fantasy elements, and add in a society that has consigned such elements to the past be just as enthralling? Thanks to the brilliant wizards at Pixar, the answer to that is a resounding yes.

In the town of New Mushroomton, where magical beings have very much settled for a life of the ordinary routine, reside the Lightfoot brothers, Barley (Pratt) and Ian (Holland) living with their mother Laurel (Louis-Dreyfus). Barley is the typical emo/grunge type who’s just a little bit too much into into his fantasy board games, who pines for a return to the bygone fantastical era. Meanwhile, Ian is someone who isn’t quite sure of himself yet. As a gift from their late father, they’re given a staff that was not to be opened until Ian’s 16th birthday. When they discover the staff has magical capabilities, the two brothers set off on a quest to discover if the magical staff could be used to bring their late father back to life for one day only.

Having spent the last few years mostly focused on sequels, it’s always exciting to see the Pixar Brain Trust turn their creative minds into something fresh and original. As their previous films such as Inside Out and Coco demonstrate, when creating original content is usually when they strike gold. Yet again, their streak continues as Onward is further proof that they still have that magic touch, quite literally. As the two brothers at the centre of this quest, the voice work of Tom Holland and Chris Pratt is exceptional. Due to the strength of the voice work, the brotherly relationship that these two have immediately comes to the fore, and it helps to flesh both of them out as layered characters that you can empathise with.

The argument could definitely be made that there’s perhaps a formulaic nature to this story of two siblings going on a quest to establish and develop a great understanding between themselves. However, the screenplay by Scanlon and co-written by Jason Headley and Keith Bunin tell it in a manner that brilliantly utilises the modern aspects of our society, and simultaneously the elements of a fantasy world to drive the story forward. This also provides scope for them to brilliantly weave some humour, into what is yet another emotional story from this studio that has an everlasting knack to tug on your heartstrings.

With so much focus being on the brothers and their quest, it does mean that the supporting characters, such as their mother Laurel and a legendary former magical creature (Octavia Spencer), are relegated to sideline roles. However, the main quest and its impactful messages of the significance of brotherhood, will certainly not be lost on those who grew up with a brother in their lives. Even more so for those who have a brother that they look up to, and whose support when growing up can be of immeasurable value as they reach the adult years of their life.

Bolstered by excellent voice work, and a humorous blend of modern and fantasy ensure that those wizards at Pixar produce yet another magical and touching piece of storytelling.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Queen & Slim (2020)

Image is property of Universal, Makeready and eOne Entertainment

Queen & Slim – Film Review

Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Bokeem Woodbine, Chloë Sevigny, Flea, Sturgill Simpson, Indya Moore

Director: Melina Matsoukas

Synopsis: A young couple’s first date takes a considerably unexpected turn after being pulled over by the police…

Review: It’s hard to look past the inescapable fact that the United States has had, and continues to have, a major issue with racism. Similarly, It’s also an inescapable fact that endless number of stories that emerge of police officers who will be instantaneously overly aggressive/hostile in the most minor of situations, especially towards people of colour. Given that incidents such as these have caused innocent black people to lose their lives, it’s ripe for a filmmaker to use these injustices as an inspiration for a thought-provoking, powerful statement.

A young couple that we initially only know as Queen (Turner-Smith) and Slim (Kaluuya) are on their way home after a first date. After being pulled over by police for a supposed infraction, it doesn’t take long for the officer to get aggressive towards them. After pulling his gun following a tense exchange, it has disastrous consequences as he is shot dead by Slim in self-defence. As the police launch a manhunt and arrest warrants for the pair, knowing that they face a very severe punishment if they’re caught, the two of them have no choice but to go on the run and flee for their lives.

As the pair of tragic lovers at the centre of this, Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith both give layered, terrific performances. Kaluuya, following his Oscar nomination a few years ago, continues his hot streak with as he produces another sublime performance. Similarly, after a few bit part roles in a few films, this is Turner-Smith’s moment in the spotlight and she grabs it with both hands. Given that they’re initially on a first date, their chemistry isn’t exactly strong at first. However, as their journey goes on, you can feel these two grow closer together. Furthermore, if their characters not compelling on-screen presences, the film would run out of steam pretty quickly. However, they carry the film on their shoulders magnificently.

Matsoukas, having been quite prolific directing music videos, makes her feature film debut with real aplomb. She brings a bold vision to the film, that’s aided by some gorgeous cinematography. Whilst visually stunning, she imbues it with grittiness and realism, given that the events depicted feel very grounded in a 21st century America. However, the Achilles heel of the film is the script. Penned by Lena Waithe, while the film weaves important social themes into its script, it does suffer from pacing issues in a couple of places. There’s one intense scene in particular that puts the struggles that Queen and Slim, face into a much wider, and important context. Yet the decision made to pitch this side by side, with another scene that feels like a complete tonal mismatch, that adversely affects the pacing.

It would be easy for a film with subject matter like this to just rely on its timely, and urgent, social commentary. While that by itself is not enough to carry the film on its own, it simply doesn’t rely on these to tell its compelling story. Furthermore, the growing anger towards the treatment of African Americans at the hands of the police, that has fuelled movements such as Black Lives Matter gives the film some significant emotional significance. It’s powerful, for the simple reason that this is, inexcusably, an event that is all too common in modern day America.

Fuelled by extremely compelling lead performances, combined with powerful and relevant social commentary. Queen & Slim is tragic love story that is unequivocally unafraid to pull any punches.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Feature

Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2020

Happy new year cinephiles! It is 2020, a brand new decade is upon us, and that means there’s a lot of exciting films to come our way over the next 12 months.  So without further ado, I present to you my picks for my top 10 most anticipated films that are set to hit UK cinemas in 2020.

Just a quick note to say that certain films that have marketed 2020 releases such as The Lighthouse, Waves, Just Mercy etc will not be counted here, partly because I have seen some of these at London Film Festival, and a few were included in my best of the year ranking, even though they are set to arrive into UK cinemas this year. Before we get into the main body of the list, I have a few honourable mentions, that I am looking forward to, but they just didn’t quite make the list. These are:

Venom 2, So if you saw my review of the first film, you’ll know that I hated it and it was one of the worst things I saw in 2018. However, Andy Serkis attached as director for this sequel has me intrigued. Given Serkis’s expertise with motion capture work, I hope that he can use that expertise to make something more compelling than that awful first film, and less of the horrendous cheesy dialogue would be great as well.

Godzilla VS Kong, The MonsterVerse hasn’t exactly had the easiest of starts to its existence as a cinematic universe. Both 2014’s Godzilla and 2017’s Kong: Skull Island were both beset by similar problems, namely too little screen-time for their eponymous titans, in favour of mostly very bland humans. Last year’s King of the Monsters certainly packed more action, but was bogged down by a problematic script. We go to these films to see giant monsters throw down, so if they can focus more on that and less on the humans, this titanic clash certainly could be an enthralling spectacle.

The French Dispatch, Wes Anderson’s films are almost always eccentric, but that eccentricity doesn’t prevent his films from being wonderfully crafted pieces of art. After making the wonderful Isle of Dogs in 2018, the quirky director makes his return to live action. With another stacked cast including Anderson regulars like Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Frances McDormand, Owen Wilson and Adrian Brody.

The EternalsThe Infinity Saga might have wrapped up 23 films worth of MCU build up, but even after all that, the folks at Marvel are not showing any signs of slowing down. The studio has proved that it can take lesser known properties in their roster of heroes, and make extremely entertaining movies out of them. With an exciting cast, the studio will be hoping they have another Guardians of the Galaxy on their hands.

Soul,The first of two Pixar films scheduled to come out in 2020, is from the mind of Pete Docter, the visionary genius behind two of the studio’s most emotional films in Up and Inside Out, which means the odds of this being another emotional tear-jerker from Pixar are extremely high.

Honourable mentions have been honoured, let’s see what cracked my top 10:

10. Birds of Prey

Release date: 7th February

By far and away, one of the best aspects of 2016’s Suicide Squad, was Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. So after said film seemingly left the DCEU in limbo, Margot Robbie is once again, suiting up once again as Harley Quinn. This time, however, she has ditched Jared Leto’s Joker, in favour of some more female company. Together, Harley and this group of women find themselves up against Ewan McGregor’s villain: Black Mask.

Of all the comic book movies slated to come out in 2020, four out of them will be directed by women, and all five of them feature women in significant, leading roles. This can only be a good thing not just for the comic book movie genre, for the film industry as a whole. Let’s hope that under Cathy Yan’s direction, that Harley and her band of vigilantes can start 2020’s superhero offerings with a bang.

 

9. Last Night in Soho

Release date: 18th September

The mere mention of certain directors can be enough to generate anticipation, and Edgar Wright is certainly one of those names. After directing the fast paced, and extremely entertaining Baby Driver, his next project as a director is being teased as a psychological horror film set in 1960s London with a cast that includes includes Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith and Dame Diana Rigg.

 

8. A Quiet Place: Part II

Release date: 20th March

For years, John Krasinski was most likely known from his role in the US version of The Office, but then he transitioned into a film director. As far as first films go, A Quiet Place was a masterfully well made horror film, that placed a real emphasis on sound. Having also written and starred in the first film, for reasons you will realise if you have seen the first film, Krasinski is just behind the camera this time.

The plot once again features real life wife Emily Blunt leading the Abbot family and her children, who have discovered some useful information that could defeat the terrifying sound monsters that have ravaged the planet. If this film can rebuild that tension that the first part was able to capture so masterfully, another horror gem could be on our hands. But, best be quiet about it.

7. Mulan

Release date: 27th March

Despite their three live action releases in 2019 enduring decidedly mixed reactions from audiences and critics, the Box Office returns for said films were more than prosperous for Disney, leaving them to continue on with their mission to remake all their live action classics. Next on their list is the 1996 classic Mulan.

From the trailers, this looks as though it has potential to be considerably more faithful to the Chinese legend, as there will be no Mushu to be found here. With an all Chinese cast, and this being only the second Disney film with a female director (Niki Caro) and a budget above $100 million, following A Wrinkle in Time, Disney will be hoping that this is the film that brings the honour back to their live action remakes.

 

6. Onward

Release date: 6th March

Pixar so often find that magic touch in their films that can make grown adults bawl their eyes out at the beauty and the emotion of the events on screen, and when the studio is focused on crafting original stories (e.g Coco and Inside Out), they usually craft something pretty special.

This tale of two brothers off on a magical quest has all the recipe of being another Pixar classic. With Chris Pratt and Tom Holland voicing the brothers and Julia-Louis Drefyus and Octavia Spencer also lending their voices, it has all the makings of potentially another Pixar classic that will get the audience sobbing uncontrollably.

5. No Time to Die

Release date: 2nd April

After what feels like an absolute eternity, and amid constant speculation as to whether Daniel Craig would hand back his license to kill, the actor’s final outing as 007 is finally making its way to cinemas. With a production that seemed to be cursed from the outset, most notably being original director Danny Boyle being forced to drop out and an injury to Craig on set, new director Cary Joji Fukunaga has an almighty mission to deliver the goods.

Mixed in with the usual faces are an intriguing crop of new cast members including Lashana Lynch as a new 00 agent, Ana De Armas as a CIA operative, and Rami Malek as a rather sinister looking villain. After two great films, and two so-so films under his belt, Daniel Craig will be aiming to bow out on a high note.

 

4. Wonder Woman 1984

Release date: 5th June

Back in 2017, the DCEU was in limbo somewhat having had its previous two entries the preceding year, take something of a critical mauling, Hence, a lot was riding on the first Wonder Woman film to succeed, which it did in emphatic style. Now with another blast back to the past, 1984 strangely enough, we see Diana Prince battle a new foe in the form of Pedro Pascal’s Maxwell Lord as well as possibly Kristen Wiig as the Cheetah.

Goodness knows what Diana has been doing with her time in the years between WW1 and 1984, but with Patty Jenkins back in the director’s chair for this sequel, along with Birds of Prey, there’s every chance that this sequel can replicate the success of the first WW film, and should it achieve that it will be a further boost for the DCEU as it bids to continue along the trajectory that’s been set by the first WW and last year’s Shazam!

3. Black Widow

Release date: 1st May

SPOILER ALERT if you’re one of the very few people who didn’t see Avengers: Endgame, but said film sadly marked the heroic demise of Natasha Romanoff as she sacrificed herself to help the Avengers gather the Infinity Stones to save the universe. For a long time now, fans have clamoured to see her get her own film, especially given the success of Captain Marvel. While it is a little strange that this film has come now, given her Endgame fate,  it is great to see it finally happening.

Rumoured to be set between the events of Civil War and Infinity War, it teases more of her back story that has been so often the subject of fleeting mentions in previous MCU films, so to see Scarlett Johansson back in this role is undeniably exciting. Add in a top drawer cast that includes Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz, and David Harbour, everything is in place to ensure that this off Phase Four of the MCU with a bang.

 

 

2. Tenet

Release date: 17th July

Christopher Nolan, a director who can generate anticipation by a mere mention of his name. There are many who believe that the director hasn’t made a bad film yet, and his latest promises to be the usual mind-bending wizardry that we have come to expect from Nolan. With a stellar cast that includes John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, and of course a customary appearance from Sir Michael Caine, expect more mind-bending awesomeness when this one debuts in cinemas….

 

And, my #1 most anticipated film of 2020 is……………………………………………………

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1. Dune

Release date: 18th December

In a similar vein to Christopher Nolan, Denis Villeneuve is another director who’s name just captures the attention. Having hit a hot streak with Sicario, Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve has proved himself to be one of the best directors working today, and now a fresh adaptation of the 1965 by Frank Herbert is in his sights.

In the wake of the film by David Lynch, which the director promptly disowned upon release, the potential for something truly special, especially with arguably the most stacked cast of the entire year that includes Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Rampling, Zendaya, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem and Jason Momoa. Fans of the novel can have hope that this masterful director can do the novel justice, which given that this is reportedly the first of two films, offers much promise.

Thus concludes my picks for the most anticipated films of 2020, What are your most anticipated films for this year? Let me know on any of the following platforms: Twitter, Facebook or Letterbox’d

Thanks for reading and here’s to another great year of cinema!