Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2022

Empire of Light (2022)

© Searchlight Pictures

Empire of Light  – Film Review

Cast: Olivia Colman, Micheal Ward, Monica Dolan, Tom Brooke, Tanya Moodie, Hannah Onslow, Crystal Clarke, Toby Jones, Colin Firth

Director:  Sam Mendes

Synopsis: On the south coast of England, a romance develops between two cinema employees…

Review: Where do you go after making what could feasibly be deemed your magnum opus? This would have been the question for Sam Mendes following the magnificent triumph of his captivating war film 1917.  It has been popular among big-time Hollywood directors to focus on films which illustrate the wonders of the big screen, understandable given the COVID-19 pandemic caused cinemas everywhere to remain dark for many months. Therefore, it seems a given a renowned director like Mendes would be able to bring something unique to this increasingly popular cinematic trend. Yet, despite some good intentions, Mendes’ follow-up to his World War I masterpiece is a crushing disappointment.

Set in the early 1980s on the South Coast of England, Hillary (Colman) is the manager of the Empire, a beautiful cinema in a prime location on the seafront. Despite being a consummate professional who is dedicated to doing her job to the best of her ability in spite of the presence of her rather unpleasant boss Mr Ellis (Firth), Hillary’s happiness is beginning to diminish as the job takes a toll on her mental health. However, with the arrival of Stephen (Ward), things initially start to seem a little brighter as the two of them develop a romance. However, it is a brief respite for Hillary as her mental health worsens, especially with the country sliding into recession, putting the cinema at risk, and the foul stench of racism clogging the seaside air.

The film marks Mendes’ first solo attempt at writing a screenplay and it is telling his efforts completely crumble under the enormous weight of the story it is trying to convey. It is all well and good to tackle important social issues such as the stigma which still surrounds mental health and the poisonous presence of racism in society. Yet, it is all rendered utterly meaningless as the attempts to tackle these issues are so hamfisted and underdeveloped, the film feels completely unsure of what it really wants to say. In doing so, it doesn’t add anything meaningful to the issues it is trying to address, even more so considering the film is also attempting to portray a love story between two cinema employees, while also coming across as a moving ode to the magic of the big screen, the latter of which seems to be tacked on as a mere afterthought. There are simply too many different subplots happening at one time and it ultimately proves too much for Mendes to weave these together all by himself.

Since winning her first Oscar in 2019, Olivia Colman has fast become something of an industry favourite among industry and audiences alike, given she has added two further nominations in the last two years. While both Colman and Michael Ward admirably try their hardest to elevate the poor and underdeveloped material they have both been given to work with, it proves to be too difficult a challenge for both of them to overcome. Their romance is by far and away the most developed part of the film, but even then it is not nearly given the attention it needs to flourish due to the numerous ongoing themes the film tries to explore. Furthermore, there is simply not enough chemistry between the two of them which makes it difficult to care about their romance. One of the film’s few bright sparks is the ever-reliable Toby Jones as Norman, the cinema’s resident projectionist.

Frequent Mendes collaborator Roger Deakins’s cinematography is immaculate, and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross do not disappoint with their score. It is therefore such a shame their fine work ultimately goes to waste on a film which should have been a sure bet in such capable hands. Yet, rather than recapture the feelings of joy and wonder which often comes from seeing films on the big screen in a packed auditorium, this is completely devoid of any charisma and charm, leaving nothing but an empty feeling inside. There will undoubtedly be many more films released in the coming years serving as a reminder of the power this medium can have on audiences, but this is one which misses the mark entirely.

Despite the best efforts of the cast and a very capable director, Empire of Light completely fails to dazzle due to its unfocused script, combining poorly developed social commentary with a half-hearted tribute to the beauty of cinema.

 

 

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Woman King (2022)

© Sony Pictures Releasing, TriStar Pictures, eOne and TSG Entertainment

The Woman King – Film Review

Cast: Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, John Boyega

Director:  Gina Prince-Bythewood

Synopsis: A group of all-female warriors in a West African kingdom seek to protect and defend their lands from enemy outsiders…

Review:  The subject of history is an endlessly fascinating one as it enables us to revisit specific periods of the past and learn about a plethora of different cultures and civilisations that have existed throughout the centuries human life has existed on this planet. Indeed, one of the many wondrous aspects of films is they can shine a spotlight on these civilisations and bring them to life in such a rich, beautiful and meaningful manner. While some societies have been covered more than others, there are others who have not been talked about as much as they should be. This is precisely what this enthralling historical epic from Gina Prince-Bythewood does, by shining a light on an incredibly fierce troop of all-female warriors, the Agojie.

Set in the Kingdom of Dahomey, West Africa, General Nanisca (Davis) is the commander of the Agojie, an all-female elite troop of warriors who are sworn to protect the Kingdom from enemy forces that wish to conquer them, most notably the Oyo Empire. Nanisca is seeking capable warriors from the next generation to join this prestigious arm and to prepare their people for the defence of their homeland. Seeking to prove herself worthy to be a part of this elite group of warriors is Nawi (Mbedu) who is determined to prove herself after being shunned by her family for refusing to be married off to suitors chosen by her father. Her ambition and relentless determination capture Nanisca’s and, and Igozie’s (Lynch) attention, the latter of whom resolves to provide Nawi with the tutelage she will need to succeed in her aim to become part of the Agojie and successfully defend their land.

Having a historical epic like this being led by a predominantly black, female cast is a hugely significant moment for these types of big-budget blockbusters, the importance of representation and giving a platform for filmmakers to tell stories from the perspective of these civilisations cannot be overstated. The screenplay from Dana Stevens tackles first and foremost, female empowerment and the sheer intensity and skill of the Agojie on the battlefield. However, it also drives the significance of home, a family and a vibrant community which would enable a new recruit to rise through the ranks and take her place as part of the Agojie, who served as the inspiration for the Dora Milaje from Black Panther. In addition, the film crucially does not shy away from the part the Dahomey Kingdom had in the slave trade.

To be the leader of the kingdom’s all-powerful group of female warriors, you need an actor who brings a commanding screen presence every time she steps in front of a camera. Someone who has the aura of someone you would dare not cross or talk back to, and Viola Davis brings both those qualities in abundance. Nanisca is the exact sort of leader you want to have on the front line of the battlefield. However, there is far more to Nanisca’s character than being the commander of the Kingsguard, there’s a very personal element to her story which comes to the fore when she meets Nawi. To be tasked to act alongside a legend of the industry like Davis is far from an easy feat. However, Mbedu rises to the challenge in spectacular fashion, a feat all the more impressive considering this is her feature film debut. Lashana Lynch’s career is going from strength to strength and she gives perhaps the performance of her career thus far, being the warrior to take Nawi under her wing and offer invaluable advice, while John Boyega is the perfect combination of gravitas and a surprising amount of humour with his role as King Ghezo.

Through all of the moving exploration of the community of the Agojie and the powerful bond between all of these amazing and brave warriors, under Prince-Bythewood’s soaring direction, the battle scenes are immaculately helmed and enthralling to watch. There is one minor side plot with a romance between Nawi and a man who is travelling with a group of slave traders which is not properly developed and could have easily been cut out from the final cut, but it is not enough to drag the film down. Historical epics have rarely been told from the perspectives of black women, and showcasing these extraordinary warriors deserves to be celebrated and championed.

Through its extraordinary ensemble cast, led by Viola Davis, The Woman King delivers emotionally resonant themes of female empowerment combined with enthralling action scenes that will have you bowing down in awe.

 

 

 

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)

© 20th Century Studios, TSG Entertainment and Lightstorm Entertainment

Avatar: The Way of Water – Film Review

Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Kate Winslet, Cliff Curtis, CCH Pounder, Jamie Flatters, Britain Dalton, Trinity Jo-Li Bliss and Jack Champion

Director:  James Cameron

Synopsis: After several years of peace, Jake Sully must do all he can when his adopted planet of Pandora comes under attack from a familiar foe…

Review: From an 80-page script drafted in 1994 to spending years crafting a constructed language and working with designers to design the world which came to be the planet of Pandora, James Cameron’s Avatar was a project long in the making. When it was finally released to the world in 2009, it became an instant cultural phenomenon, smashing box office records here, there and everywhere on its way to becoming the highest-grossing film of all time, a record it temporarily lost, but has since reclaimed after a brief tussle with the MCU. Such an accomplishment meant a sequel was inevitable, but as was the case with its predecessor, the sequel’s journey to the big screen has been beset with delays. Now, after a 13-year wait, it is finally time for audiences to return to Pandora, but was it worth the wait?

At least a decade has passed since the first film’s events, Jake (Worthington) having been permanently transferred into his Na’vi form, has started a family with Neytiri (Saldana), living peacefully raising their four children: Neteyam, Kiri, Lo’ak and Tukitrey. However, their peace is interrupted as the Sky People have returned, still desperate to utilise Pandora’s resources to save Earth. However, the mission has some added personal stakes for the humans as they are also out for revenge against Jake after he led the Na’vi to victory against them. Left with no choice, Jake and Neytiri are forced to relocate to take their family to a new region of Pandora, where they meet another Na’vi clan who, unlike the Omticaya, make their homes and livelihoods in the waters of Pandora.

When Avatar first came out, the one thing no one could deny was its utterly breathtaking visual effects combined with the pioneering motion capture technology. Combined together, these incredible feats of filmmaking brought the beauty of Pandora, its majesty, the Na’vi and the incredible array of characters which call this world home to life in a manner so vivid and fully realised, it could (almost) convince you Pandora is a planet which exists somewhere in the vast array of the universe.  Yet, having played his card of wowing audiences with astounding immersive visuals once, surely Cameron and his team of visual effects artists could not outdo themselves to create even more impressive visual effects this time around?

Srane (Na’vi for yes), srane they can! By taking this sequel to a whole new section of Pandora, it gives them what is essentially a whole new world to play in and the cast and crew dive (pun definitely intended) straight into the opportunity. The world of performance capture has come a long way since Avatar was released, but Cameron once again goes one better by pioneering incredible technology with visual effects company Weta, enabling the cast and crew to utilise motion capture technology, while actually filming scenes underwater. These scenes illustrate the incredible power of this technology and are so stunning and mesmerising to look at, illustrating there aren’t many better companies than Weta when it comes to crafting stunning visual effects. No words in the English (or Na’vi) language can do justice to how immaculate these visuals look on screen, and they deserve to be seen on the biggest screen you can find in order to appreciate them in all of their stunning glory. They might as well start engraving the names of the artists on the respective visual effects awards trophies now.

While the film’s visuals certainly leap off the screen, they cannot do all the heavy lifting and there’s still a need for the cast to deliver the performances required to drive the narrative forward.  The screenplay by Cameron, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, by expanding our horizons of what we know of Pandora, proved to be a smart decision, not just for the technology but for the story too. It puts the characters in a difficult position where they must learn to adapt to the ways in which this water-based Na’vi clan live their lives, which is especially hard for Jake and Neytiri’s children as their lives in the forest are all they have ever known. It is through their eyes that we see this acclimatisation to the new clan and their ways unfold. Each of these young actors’ performances (Jamie Flatters, Britain Dalton and Trinity Jo-Li Bliss) shines through motion capture technology.

However, the biggest revelation here is the portrayal of Kiri by frequent Cameron collaborator Sigourney Weaver as Kiri. It might have seemed an odd choice to have the legendary actor play a 14-year-old Na’vi child, but through the magic of seemingly Eywa herself, it works wonders. Also returning from the first film (in a slightly different role) is Stephen Lang’s villainous Quaritch, now taking the form of the Na’vi to utilise their speed and strength as a weapon against them as he leads the charge for the humans in seeking revenge against Jake.

While the change in location serves the story up to a point, with the film coming in with a run time of 192 minutes, the film does struggles to justify such a lengthy run time with an imperfect second act. Furthermore, by putting the focus to such an extent on the young Na’vi children, certain important characters are relegated to bit-part roles. There is undoubtedly a familiarity in terms of the narrative, but when it is time for the Na’vi and the humans to clash once more, it remains utterly compelling and reinforces Cameron’s credentials as a master of crafting action. It might have taken a bit longer to return to Pandora than he would have liked. Still, when you have a director like Cameron in his element, pioneering ground-breaking performance capture and visual effects,  all in the name of our entertainment, you just have to take your hat off to him and say, irayo (thank you).

While it can feel a bit repetitive in terms of its story, the long-awaited return to Pandora goes to extraordinary depths with stunningly immersive visuals which surpass its predecessor, reinforcing Cameron’s reputation as a master blockbuster filmmaker.

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)

© Marvel Studios

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – Film Review

Cast: Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Dominique Thorne, Florence Kasumba, Michaela Coel, Tenoch Huerta, Martin Freeman

Director:  Ryan Coogler

Synopsis: Following the passing of King T’Challa, the nation of Wakanda finds itself increasingly isolated and weakened as it faces a new threat in the form of Namor, the leader of an all-powerful underwater nation…

Review: It would be something of an understatement to say making a film is a massive undertaking which requires a herculean amount of effort from a troop of people both in front of and behind the camera, especially for a tentpole blockbuster. However, for the sequel to 2018’s phenomenally successful Black Panther, the typical challenges facing the cast and crew were compounded by the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman in 2020. The passing of the man who brought so much to a role which meant so much to millions of fans across the world, it begged the question as to how on earth could director Ryan Coogler and his crew overcome such a heart-breaking loss? It is therefore to their immense credit they have overcome the most devastating of obstacles to produce a film which not only beautifully honours Boseman’s legacy but delivers a worthy sequel to one of the best films in the MCU.

The nation of Wakanda finds itself in mourning following after their beloved King T’Challa dies from a mysterious illness. One year later, after a funeral and a beautiful celebration of his life, his sister Shuri (Wright) is struggling to come to terms with her loss and chooses to keep herself occupied with the Wakandan technology she pioneered. However, Wakanda finds itself under increasing scrutiny from the rest of the world which wants to see the country share its resources, most notably vibranium, putting pressure on Ramonda (Bassett) who has become Queen following T’Challa’s passing. However, the Wakandans face a further challenge when they encounter the ruthless Namor (Huerta), the leader of the underwater nation of Talokan, who is determined to wage war on all of the countries on the surface.

The task facing Coogler and his fellow screenwriter Joe Robert Cole to honour the legacy of Boseman in this sequel was an unenviable one, to say the least. Death is something we as human beings will all have to grapple with at some point in our lives. The grief and personal pain we experience when someone we love departs this world varies from person to person, and the screenplay offers a profoundly moving story which analyses how the grief and pain we endure manifests itself in individuals, whilst simultaneously illustrating the power of communities coming together to pay their respects to those who have passed on. It enables the performances of the characters, especially those of Letitia Wright and Angela Bassett, to flourish as their grief over the loss of their brother and son is raw, powerful and extremely emotional. We, as the audience, are grieving for them, and with them. As a result, their stories understandably take centre stage, but it does mean returning characters such as Nakia (Nyong’o), Okoye (Guiria) and M’Baku (Duke) feel somewhat underutilised.

Aside from the deeply personal tragedies facing its characters, in the same vein as its predecessor, Wakanda Forever also brilliantly factors geopolitical issues into its story. The first film grappled with Wakanda’s decision to hide itself and its resources away from the rest of the world. However, without their ruler and protector, the Wakandans are much more vulnerable, and this is something the rest of the world is keen to exploit. Consequently, this only causes Wakanda to find itself increasingly more isolated, which is where Namor, the leader of the underwater nation of Talokan comes in. In the same vein as Killmonger, Namor is a compelling villain, with a fascinating backstory. He too leads a nation which is isolated from the rest of the world, but one which is also steeped with resources and considerable military strength, which makes for a fascinating dynamic between Namor and the Wakandans, and Huerta’s performance is extremely captivating.

Returning costume designer Ruth Carter and production designer Hannah Beachler once again do a magnificent job of bringing Wakanda and Talokan to life, and while the first film’s cinematographer Rachel Morrison does not return for the sequel, Loki cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw steps up to the plate magnificently. The film can feel a little long in places and certain aspects of the film could arguably have been left on the cutting room floor. However, after the last few MCU films have been grappling with the concept of the multiverse and lots of big CGI battles, it is a refreshing change of pace to see Wakanda Forever dial this back to allow the characters and their journeys to take centre stage. This isn’t to say that there is no CGI battle, because it would not be an MCU film without one, and Coogler’s direction remains marvellous and the visual effects have considerably improved this time around.

It is next to impossible to imagine how tough it must have been for the cast and crew every day during production. However, in the face of such devastating tragedy, they have ensured Phase 4 of the MCU closes with one of its best films and serves as a fitting dedication to the legacy of Chadwick Boseman, who through his immense body of work, will live on in the hearts and minds of millions of fans forever.

Through unimaginably difficult circumstances, Wakanda Forever is a moving sequel, delivering a poignant reflection on grief and tragedy while serving as a beautiful and emotional tribute to the wonderful legacy of Chadwick Boseman. 

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2022

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

© Netflix and Lionsgate

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery  – Film Review

Cast: Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline, Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista

Director:  Rian Johnson

Synopsis: A group of friends are invited to a private island to take part in some murder mystery games, among the guest list is renowned detective Benoit Blanc…

Review: With its all-star cast and stark social commentary, Rian Johnson’s 2019 murder mystery Knives Out was the beginning of a renaissance for the murder mystery genre. Alongside a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Johnson’s screenplay, it ensured  Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc, with his “Kentucky-fried Foghorn Leghorn drawl”(as one character so memorably put it), ensured Monseur Blanc was another addition to the memorable detectives have graced our screens over the years. So it came as no surprise when Netflix sanctioned a $469m deal for the rights to two future sequels featuring everyone’s favourite Southern sleuth. Having set such high standards, does this sequel prove Johnson can match those with yet another all-star cast? The answer, is an emphatic, yes.

Set on a remote Greek island, a tech billionaire (Norton) has invited a group of people closest to him for a weekend of murder mystery-themed shenanigans. They include a fashion designer (Hudson), her assistant (Henwick), a politician (Hahn), a scientist (Odom Jr), a YouTuber/vlogger (Bautista) and his girlfriend (Cline), and a businesswoman (Monae). Yet, also along for the ride is, mysteriously, Monsieur Blanc, whose detective skills may well be called upon once more once the murder-mystery festivities have got underway.

Given the film’s trailers gave very little away, it would be remiss not to extend the same courtesy, so the name of the game will be to be as cryptic as possible from here on out. As with this film’s predecessor, the less you know going into the sequel the betterthe better. Benoit Blanc’s first mystery was far more than just your average run-of-the-mill whodunnit. It had a lot to say about privilege, class and politics while weaving a wonderfully clever murder mystery narrative into the story. So, it is immensely satisfying to see Johnson has lost none of his sharpness as he once again crafts a brilliantly witty and equally sharp screenplay keeps the audience very much on their toes. It maintains the wonderful humour of its predecessor (though sadly there are no hilarious monologues about doughnuts) whilst also retaining some very topical social commentary that makes this franchise stand out from the crowd amidst the resurgence in popularity of the murder mystery.

It seems a near impossible feat to have a more star-studded cast this time around when you look at the jam-packed A-list cast Johnson assembled for the first mystery, yet Glass Onion sure gives its predecessor a run for its money. Of course, the one constant throughout both these movies is Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc, and he is once again, a sheer joy to watch. Given for years, he embodied the sometimes cold and detached persona of James Bond, to see Craig throw himself back into Blanc’s shoes is wonderfully refreshing, and he is clearly once again having a blast working with Johnson’s writing. The same is also applicable to each and every member of the rest of the cast. It would be rude to go into specifics as to who shines the brightest, as this runs the risk of giving away the marvellous mystery Johnson has crafted. However, each and every one of them gets their moment to shine as the layers of this new murder mystery and what connects this group of friends are peeled back with glorious results.

What this new mystery definitely has in its favour is its exotic location, trading a Boston mansion for a luxurious Greek private island, which is captured so beautifully through Steve Yedlin’s cinematography. Equally, Rick Henrichs’ production design, particularly when it comes to the titular glass onion, is flawless. While it might disappoint some that there are no iconic sweaters this time around, costume designer Jenny Eagan more than makes up for the lack of unique knitwear, giving numerous characters plenty of colourful outfits which will surely be as memorable as those aforementioned sweaters.

But, through all it all, everything comes back to the genius of Rian Johnson. It is so wonderful to see a director who feels thoroughly at home with this genre be given carte blanche to realise his vision for this franchise, especially when the results are this good. While we can be thankful there will be at least one more case to be solved. However, given the quality of the first two entries, there are likely going to be very few complaints if Johnson continues to use his little grey cells to craft more entries in this franchise for many more years to come.

It might have seemed an impossible task to match Benoit Blanc’s first case. Yet, with its equally impressive all-star cast and an impeccably sharp and hilarious script, the master of the modern murder mystery strikes again.

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2022

She Said (2022)

© Universal, Annapurna Pictures and Plan B

She Said – Film Review

Cast: Zoe Kazan, Carey Mulligan, Patricia Clarkson, Jennifer Ehle, Angela Yeoh, Samantha Morton, Andre Braugher, Ashley Judd

Director:  Maria Schrader

Synopsis: Telling the true story of the two reporters from The New York Times whose reporting uncovered the truth behind the sexual assault allegations that sparked a worldwide movement…

Review: 5th October 2017, a date that will go down as the day that not just the film industry, but the world changed forever. It is the date when the shocking truth behind the repeated abuse and sexual misconduct committed by numerous powerful men, most notably Harvey Weinstein, against countless women came to light in an exposé published by The New York Times. A story that sparked a global movement of women to come forward to report their own allegations against numerous high-powered individuals who used their positions of power to sexually assault women in multiple industries. However, what is not nearly as well known is the tireless and vital work done by the heroic journalists whose courageous and resolute reporting helped to spark the Me Too and Time’s Up campaigns, and ignite a much-needed conversation about sexual harassment and treatment of women the world over.

The film opens in 2016, with investigative reporters Jodi Kantor (Kazan) and Megan Twohey (Mulligan) reporting on the 2016 US Presidential election, the sexual assault allegations made against the then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, and later when similar accusations against prominent Fox News TV host Bill O’Reilly came to light. Flash forward several months, and the two of them are assigned to investigate allegations of appalling misconduct perpetuated by Weinstein against several women that worked for one of his studios. The two soon uncover a shocking system that protects high-profile individuals committing these horrific abuses by bullying the women into silence, either through cash settlements or non-disclosure agreements and any attempts to publicise the story are derailed by Weinstein and his lawyers. Consequently, Kantor and Twohey become even more determined to speak to victims and attempt to persuade them to go on the record to tell their story to bring down someone whose rampant abusive behaviour had been left unchecked for decades.

Given that the rise of the Me Too and the Time’s Up Movements represent very recent history, it was of critical importance for the film to approach this story and subject matter with the utmost respect. It would have been so easy for the film to devolve into a puff piece where the reporters pat themselves on the back for a report that brought to an end the system abuse by a man who was regarded as one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood, but Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s screenplay (based on the book: She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement by Kantor and Twohey) is having none of it. In a similar manner to the Oscar-winning Spotlight, the film expertly walks the line between demonstrating the pain-staking work that went into the investigation, and the effect that such work has on the personal lives of these journalists, whilst paying tribute to these courageous victims who came forward to speak out and help bring down someone who wrought so much devastation on the lives of countless women.

Kazan and Mulligan are both exceptional as the journalists at the centre of this investigation. As their investigation progresses and they uncover more and more evidence through speaking to these witnesses, the emotional weight of the horror that these people experienced, begins to take a hefty toll, especially when it comes to their personal lives. However, they remain undeterred, because they know the importance of the work that they are carrying out and amid the threat hanging over them that Weinstein might bury the story before they have a chance to publish. The supporting performances of everyone most notably Samantha Morton, Angela Yeoh, Jennifer Ehle, and Ashley Judd, the latter of whom plays herself, help ground the film in reality and provide a significant amount of emotional heft as they recount the horrific nature of their experiences.

Nicholas Britell’s stripped-back score captures the gravity of the situation and when necessary shifts gear to the urgency of the reporters attempting to get their story into the public domain. The work of the Me Too campaign is an ongoing struggle, and much more work will need to be done. However, the brilliant work of Maria Schrader and her predominantly female crew represents another timely reminder of the importance of investigative journalism, and the hugely essential stories it can bring to a global audience, stories that may well have never seen the light of day had certain people got their way. But it is much more than that, it is also the essential fact that when it comes to telling these stories, it is imperative that the voices of women come to the fore when telling these stories. It is a testament to those who would not let themselves be intimidated, and who raised their voices when it mattered the most.

Emotionally riveting, with compelling performances across the board in a vitally important film that pays tribute to journalistic integrity and the extraordinary combined with the bravery of those who came forward to spark an incredibly important movement.

a

 

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

See How They Run (2022)

© Searchlight Pictures, DJ Films and TSG Entertainment

See How They Run  – Film Review

Cast: Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Ruth Wilson, Reece Shearsmith, Harris Dickinson, Charlie Cooper, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Pearl Chanda, Sian Clifford, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd, David Oyelowo

Director:  Tom George

Synopsis: Plans for a movie adaptation of a popular murder mystery play are thrown into chaos when a key member of the crew is murdered…

Review: There is arguably no one more associated with the concept of a whodunnit murder mystery than the legendary Agatha Christie. The creator of staples of the genre like Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple has spawned countless film and TV adaptations over many years. Given the resurging popularity of murder mysteries as of late, it would be so easy for the creative team behind this latest incarnation of the genre to be another in the long line of adaptations of Christie’s works. Still, a direct adaptation, this is not. It very much taps into Christie’s legacy and gives the audience a thrilling and brilliantly funny slice of murder mystery mayhem.

It is 1953, in the heart of London’s West End. The cast and crew of Agatha Christie’s popular play The Mousetrap throw a party to celebrate their 100th show. Present at the party is prominent American film director Leo Köpernick (Brody), who is attempting to convince the play’s producer John Woolf (Shearsmith) during the party to let him make a film adaptation of the play. However, later that evening Kopernick is found to have been murdered by a mysterious assailant.  Charged with taking on the case are the jaded drunkard Detective Stoppard (Rockwell) and a very keen and eager new recruit Constable Stalker (Ronan) to investigate the circumstances surrounding Kopernick’s murder and apprehend the suspect.

The genre of the murder mystery/whodunnit has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, so one might expect to see this one follow all of those tropes to the letter, because as one character goes at the beginning “It’s a whodunnit. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” However, what makes this feature film directorial debut from Tom George so delightfully entertaining is it manages to collectively follow these tropes, whilst also providing some witty meta-commentary about the genre as a whole. But crucially, it never once comes off as condescending or patronising, as Mark Chappell’s screenplay is sharply written, keeping things moving along at a brisk pace, leaving the audience constantly on its toes as to who could this mystery assailant possibly be.

Equally, what makes this film such a joyous blast to watch are its characters. In its two lead detectives, you have two characters who could not be more opposite to one another if they tried, very much the chalk and cheese of their profession. In Rockwell’s Stoppard is a detective who has grown to be very weary, almost disinterested in his profession, and would much rather be getting drunk. Meanwhile, Ronan (who gets to use her native Irish accent) is the complete polar opposite. She is extremely eager, armed with her notepad without fail ready to jot down any information that might help them solve the case. Her love of the arts, as well as her perfect comedic timing, ensures she steals the show, an impressive feat considering the array of talent that has been assembled amongst this super-talented cast.

Through Amanda McArthur’s immaculate production design, and the snappy editing from Gary Dollner and Peter Lambert, there is a vibe throughout the whole film that is very reminiscent of a Wes Anderson production. Yet simultaneously, due to George’s direction being so confident and assured, never once feels like a rip-off or a cheap imitation, as George very much puts his own stamp on the film. When you have directors like Tom George and Rian Johnson producing films that are able to follow the genre’s well-worn tropes, yet simultaneously provide some witty social commentary, it is no surprise that the genre is enjoying a peak in its popularity, Agatha Christie would be very proud.

With its extremely witty dialogue and wonderfully drawn characters, especially those portrayed by Ronan and Rockwell, See How They Run marks another splendid addition to the whodunnit genre.

 

 

 

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2022

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

© Searchlight Pictures, Film4 Productions and TSG Entertainment

The Banshees of Inisherin – Film Review

Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan

Director:  Martin McDonagh

Synopsis: Tensions arise between two friends when one of them decides to end their friendship…

Review: Friendships can be of tremendous value to us as we navigate this crazy journey that we call life. Yet, sometimes, there can be those situations where a friendship comes to an end, which can be challenging to accept for all the parties involved. What do you do? Allow yourself to accept the situation and move on? Or do you refuse to take no for an answer and make efforts to rekindle the friendship? After setting his last film in the USA, playwright-turned-director Martin McDonagh moves closer to home to deliver another hilarious black comedy, set against the backdrop of the Irish Civil War.

It is 1923 on the fictional remote Irish island of Inisherin. Padraic (Farrell) and Colm (Gleeson) were at one time in their lives, the best of friends and had been for a number of years. However, one day, Colm decides to abruptly end their friendship, which Padriac has difficulties coming to terms with and demands a reason why, which Colm refuses to acknowledge. Wondering what it was that caused Colm to end their friendship, Padriac becomes determined to make amends but these attempts only cause more tension between the two (former) friends, which threatens to boil over into something much more unpleasant that neither of them will like.

Black comedy is an extremely difficult genre to successfully pull off, yet McDonagh is one of those directors who has proven himself to be one of the best in the business when it comes to writing razor-sharp and hilarious dialogue from the bleakest subject matters you could possibly imagine. His last film was filled with some biting social commentary about racism and police brutality in the USA, set against the backdrop of the murder of a young woman.  By contrast, Banshees is a bit more dialled back in terms of the melancholic nature of the comedy, focusing on the (failed) friendship of two men. That being said, by framing this bitterness and anger, ragainst the context of the Irish Civil War, the film offers an extremely compelling analytical look at themes of nihilism, isolation and loneliness. It is perhaps not nearly as thought-provoking as Three Billboards, but it is not a million miles away.

Reuniting with McDonagh after working together to wonderful effect for In Bruges, it is a sheer joy to see both Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson share the screen once more. The pair of them strike comedic gold once again, even if they are not together on screen as much as you would perhaps want them to be. Farrell’s Padraic is by his own admission, a bit of a simple man who enjoys tending to his animals, whilst enjoying a good tipple in the evening. The limelight belongs to Farrell and he is truly wonderful to watch and makes the perfect contrast to Colm. The latter of whom is a cultured man without a doubt but one who makes it quite clear that he simply does not have time or willingness to be in Padraic’s presence anymore, and is willing to go to drastic measures to prove his point. The friendship that has now turned to bitterness and hostility between them gives McDonagh license to craft hilarious dialogue, and he does not disappoint, providing numerous moments that will have you howling with laughter.

While both Farrell and Gleeson are in brilliant form, it is Kerry Condon (who made the most of her small role in Three Billboards) who comes the closest to stealing the show from both of them as Siobhan, Padraic’s sister. She provides tenderness and warmth to the story, which can at times be a much-needed respite from not only the cold and detached nature of her brother and Colm’s ruined friendship but from the island of Inisherin as well. Ben Davis’s cinematography manages to simultaneously capture the beauty of the country, yet at the same time, the unwelcoming atmosphere which hangs over the majority of the island, accompanied by another excellent score from Carter Burwell. A story about two friends falling out might seem like an unlikely vessel for hilarity, but McDonagh proves once again that when it comes to crafting comedy from the dreariest of situations, there aren’t many writers/directors who can do it better.

Boasting brilliant performances from Farrell and Gleeson, combined with extremely witty and sharply written dialogue ensures The Banshees of Insherin is another masterclass of bleak hilariousness from Martin McDonagh. 

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Bullet Train (2022)

© Columbia Pictures, North Productions and Sony Pictures

Bullet Train  – Film Review

Cast: Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benito A Martínez Ocasio, Zazie Beetz, Sandra Bullock

Director:  David Leitch

Synopsis: A group of assassins aboard a high-speed train in Japan discover that their respective missions are interconnected…

Review:  Trian delays and cancellations, expensive fares and overcrowding in stations and on platforms, are some of the many problems that can all quickly turn the most pleasant of journeys into a nightmare. Hence, the idea of a super-fast train that could get you to your destination in an even shorter time seems like it would be the speediest and most stress-free commute ever. Yet, imagine if your train had several dangerous, highly skilled assassins, sitting in its carriages, it might well persuade someone to look for alternative routes. However, with director David Leitch the conductor of this service, this is one train ride you will definitely want to board.

Ladybug (Pitt), is a down-on-his-luck assassin, who while extremely good at his job is, determined to get out of the profession. Tasked by his handler (Bullock) to get on the world’s fastest bullet train travelling from Tokyo to Kyoto, retrieve a briefcase, and get off at the next stop seems like an easy enough assignment. However, matters get considerably complicated when Ladybug realises that he is not the only one aboard the train who has taken an interest in the briefcase. With a plethora of highly skilled assassins on board (with what at first glance appear to be unrelated missions), the realisation soon dawns on Ladybug that there is a connection between their presence and the highly dangerous criminal known only as The White Death. Turning what should have been a simple mission into a more complex one, Ladybug finds himself entangled in a brutal web of violence that goes off the rails in a thrilling manner.

Adapted from Kôtarô Isaka’s novel of the same name, Zak Olkewicz’s screenplay wastes very little time establishing the key characters at play that all for one reason or another, have an interest in this briefcase. The screenplay also utilises non-linear storytelling to establish each character’s motivations and who is in whose respective crosshairs. The use of non-linear storytelling can initially be a bit hard to follow. However, once you have reached the light at the end of this tunnel and the tracks converge, all becomes clear.

There are a pair of contract killers who go by the aliases of Tangerine (Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Tyree Henry), a mysterious assassin known as The Prince (King) who puts on a youthful persona to her advantage in order to deceive her enemies, an assassin known as the Wolf (Ocasio) is out on a deeply personal revenge mission. Lastly, there’s Yuichi Kimura (Andrew Koji), who like The Wolf, is also on a deeply personal mission following a family accident. Lastly, you have Kimura’s father, known only as the Elder (Sanada) who’s doing all he can to protect his family. However, for all of the wonderful talent that the film undeniably boasts, there is an element of whitewashing that is extremely difficult to overlook. Given the film’s source material and the setting, to have only two Japanese actors among the core cast feels like a massive missed opportunity.

Despite that misstep with the casting, every actor here is having a ton of fun with the material, and for the first two acts of the film, it is a delightfully riveting watch. Like the speeding bullet train, the mystery of this case, why all these different assassins with different agendas are after it begins to unravel in a gloriously bloody fashion. Brad Pitt is someone who has carved a career as one of the most recognisable A-listers working today, and once again, he brings his usual charisma. It is however Tyree Henry and Taylor-Johnson, as the hilarious double act of British assassins who steal the show. Sharing witty and often hilarious banter over topics such as Thomas the Tank Engine, these guys have built a very sincere familial-like friendship built over the missions they have shared together, making their relationship the heart and soul of the film.

David Leitch is well versed in the world of action filmmaking, especially given his prior stuntman experience. His attention to detail provides Bullet Train with an eye-pleasing visual aesthetic, that boasts highly stylised action scenes and violent payoffs. Confining the action scenes to the narrow aisles of a speeding train is a refreshing change of pace, as it gives the characters a real headache, forcing them to scrap in an area where there is not exactly much room to hide. Despite clocking in at two hours and six minutes, this particular train journey begins to run out of steam towards the end, and would have benefitted if it had concluded its journey a few stations prior. Nevertheless, the end product is such a riotous blast of fun that by the time this train has reached the end of the line, you will want to immediately book a return ticket.

It might seem like the commute from hell, but with pulsating action and every single member of the cast having a blast, makes this particular train journey an extremely enjoyable and exhilarating ride. 

 

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Lightyear (2022)

© Disney and Pixar Animation Studios

Lightyear – Film Review

Cast: Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, James Brolin, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules, Uzo Aduba, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Efren Ramirez, Isiah Whitlock Jr.

Director:  Angus MacLane

Synopsis: After being marooned on a hostile alien planet, Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear leads a mission to work out how to get himself and his crew home…

Review: Cast your minds back to 1995 and a little film called Toy Story was released in cinemas. The first fully CG animated film, and the start of an incredibly successful franchise for Pixar Animation Studios where a group of beloved toys. owned by a young boy named Andy. were introduced to the arrival of a flashy new toy that will soon take his place as Andy’s most beloved possession. That toy is, of course, the one and only Buzz Lightyear. However, what was it about this toy that made him so unique, the must-have toy that all the kids wanted? As a title card at the start of the film explains, this is the film that made the Buzz Lightyear action figure that kids would go to infinity and beyond to get their hands on.

Buzz Lightyear (now voiced by Chris Evans) is a confident and cocky young Space Ranger eager to prove himself to his commanding officer, Commander Alisha Hawthorne (Aduba). Investigating a planet to explore its resource potential, the mission is soon forced to be abandoned they are following an encounter with bug-like creatures. However, in the ensuing escape, the crew’s ship crashes, leaving Buzz and the entire crew marooned on the planet with seemingly no way of getting home. Blaming himself for the mission’s failure, Buzz devises a plan to use hyperspeed travel to get him and his crew back home.

Pixar might have dabbled with science fiction (with perhaps a little dose of science fact) with 2008’s WALL-E. However, given the premise of faster than light travel is not yet a reality in our world, this is the first film of theirs that is 100% science fiction. The screenplay by Jason Headley and Angus MacLane, co-director of Finding Dory, is a fascinating constellation of a series of popular space films that have all been into both the more recent variety, as well as some of the classics. Taking such ambitious and potentially tricky sci-fi tropes and weaving them into an exciting space adventure for audiences of all ages could have very easily represented a massive black hole that the film fell into. However, MacLane’s direction, combined with the to-be-expected top-tier animation ensures that the film is a riveting blast of fun. Furthermore, there are plenty of neat callbacks to the original Toy Story that fans who grew up with those films will love.

Given that this is the tale that inspired the Buzz Lightyear action figure, it makes sense to have a different actor to differentiate between the two. In Chris Evans, you have an actor who played one of the most iconic heroes for well over a decade, so he could probably voice a hero character in his sleep. Evans proves to be a perfect fit for the role. While he has a Han Solo-esque cockiness to him, Evans gives Buzz the heroic qualities that you’d come to expect. He is brave, fearless and resourceful, but crucially he is not infallible and can make mistakes. The real star of the show, however, is Buzz’s robotic feline companion Sox, who functions as Buzz’s computer/guide and easily becomes one of the most iconic side characters in any Pixar film ever. You’ll be hard-pressed to not find yourself saying “meow-meow-meow” or “beep-boop beep-boop-beep-boop” next time you’re trying to work something out.

Given that this is a film primarily about Buzz and his mission, aside from Sox, there is very little room for character development for anyone else in the film, most notably when it comes to Buzz’s makeshift crew that he needs to help complete his mission, namely Izzy (Palmer), Mo (Waititi) and Darby (Soules). They provide some moments of comedy but are all outshone by that little robotic feline. Where the film doesn’t quite stick the landing most of all though is the villain, the original Evil Emperor Zurg, what could have been an extremely interesting backstory is ultimately left to be the perhaps the most underdeveloped aspect of the whole adventure.

Pixar’s filmography often has a tendency to reduce their audiences to emotional wrecks, and while there’s nothing quite level on say a Coco, or a Toy Story 3, there is one extremely touching moment that is guaranteed to pull on those ol’ heartstrings. Furthermore, it is extremely significant for a Pixar film that depicts meaningful LGTB representation depicted on screen that is far more than just a fleeting, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference. Fans might have wondered if this prequel would have been an excuse to cash in on the nostalgia that many have for the Toy Story franchise. However, they needn’t have worried, because this is a film befitting of the world’s greatest superhero and the world’s greatest toy.

 While it is nothing you haven’t seen before in terms of a space adventure, excellent voice work, and a compelling story ensure that this is a fun interstellar adventure worth going to infinity and beyond for.