Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Creed II (2018)

Image is property of MGM and Warner Bros

Creed II – Film Review

Cast:  Michael B Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Wood Harris, Phylicia Rashad, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu

Director: Steven Caple Jr

Synopsis: With the World Heavyweight Championship title now under his belt, Adonis Creed faces a new threat to his title, in the form of Viktor Drago, the son of Ivan, the man who killed his father Apollo…

Review: Every so often, a film comes almost completely out of nowhere, with little fanfare and just absolutely blows audiences away. An example of this would be 2015’s Creed, the seventh entry in the Rocky franchise. It reinvigorated a series that hadn’t had an entry for almost a decade. As such many might have assumed that it had fought its last fight and was out for the count, this is until one Ryan Coogler came along, and a new champion of the franchise was born.

That champion is Adonis Creed, who has in the wake of his bout with Ricky Conlan, has gone on to enjoy a tremendous run of success that leads him to the World Heavyweight Championship title. However trouble is brewing as Viktor Drago the son of Ivan Drago, is emerging as a very credible threat to his newly won title. Complications further arise when after Adonis proposes to Bianca (Thompson), she becomes pregnant with their first child, leaving Adonis with a dilemma as to whether he should take this challenge on, given what happened the last time a Creed faced off against a Drago. To say there’s history and bad blood between the Creeds and the Dragos would be putting it mildly.

One significant factor that made the first film such the knockout success it was, was the trio of terrific performances from its three leads and the chemistry that they had with each other. Michael B Jordan is once again terrific in the lead role, with excellent support from the great Sly Stallone once more. Likewise for Tessa Thompson, although she is an integral figure in Adonis’s life, as they are both about to go on the most personal of journeys together. There is considerably less development on her own life and career when compared to the first film.  Though this is understandable considering the challenge Creed is facing from Viktor Drago, who is desperate to prove himself to his father, and as a fighter. There is an attempt to develop his character, but it falls short of making him a truly compelling character. He is built like a tank though, and that doesn’t bode well for Adonis.

Due to his involvement with some rather obscure Marvel property called Black Panther, Coogler stepped down from directing duties. Now merely on board as executive producer, with those gloves were passed to Steven Caple Jr. Though not as visually as impressive as the work that was accomplished with the first film (there’s no masterful one take fight scene), Caple fills his shoes admirably well, as the fight scenes are once again very raw and rough in their execution. The camerawork really makes you feel those punches as they fly in, though some more footage of the fights would have been most welcome as some fights are montage-d through rather quickly.

This being the eight film in this franchise, it does follow similar paths that previous films in the franchise have, which may lead to criticism from some quarters. However, if you walk into a Rocky/Creed film, or indeed almost any boxing film, the chances of seeing a good training montage, some well executed fight scenes, mixed in with some deeply moving and personal family drama, are quite high. What matters is if the film is done with care and continues the story in a compelling manner that was brought to life so effectively with Creed, which this film does like a champ.

Though not as impactful as its predecessor, this second round of a revitalised franchise continues to bring that heart and emotion, boosted by three superb performances from its three leads, and some well executed fight scenes. 

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

Image is property of Netflix

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – Film Review

Cast:  Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Zoe Kazan, Brendan Gleeson, Tom Waits

Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

Synopsis: A collection of six unique short stories, telling the plights of various people in very different situations in the West after the Civil War.

Review: Beginning, middle and end, a structure that films tend to adhere to. However, every once in a while, a film will come along that deviates from this structure. It may choose to tell the story in reverse order or to jump back and forth.  Hence this latest venture from Joel and Ethan Coen is unique in this respect, as instead of telling one story across two hours and ten minutes to be precise, they fill this by choosing to tell six unique stories charting the lives of a handful of different folk, each of whom are in a variety of different situations in the wake of the Civil War.

To tell six miniaturised stories as opposed to your more traditional three-structured film is an unconventional choice to say the least, but under the assured direction of the Coen brothers, it for the most part works a treat. Though some are much stronger than others, there is enjoyment to be hand in each of the stories that the Coens bring to life. Telling each story through the perspective of a storybook, we jump in with funnily enough Mr Buster Scruggs himself (Blake Nelson) a tootin’ cowboy who likes to play his guitar and sing a song for y’all. But, he is also a dab hand with a pistol, which inevitably leads to some trouble down the line.

Next we move onto ‘Near Algodones’ a nameless-up-to-no-good cowboy (Franco) who finds himself in a tricky predicament when he tries to rob a bank, with some hilarious results. “Meal Ticket’ features Liam Neeson and Harry Melling as a theatre double act, the latter of whom has no arms or legs. Despite putting on a good show, they find their numbers and income decreasing, which puts Neeson’s character in a tricky situation as to what to do with his companion. While there is some intriguing moments with both of these two segments, they do end somewhat abruptly, which is frustrating, particularly in the case of the latter, it really would have benefited with a bit more closure to the story.

The next two stories are where the film really starts to shine. ‘All Gold Canyon’ features Tom Waits as a prospector seeking the fortune of a rather large collection of gold located in an absolutely beautiful valley. Now would be a good time to mention Bruno Delbonnel’s superb cinematography which is on point across every story, but it is here especially is where it shines brightest. Waits is great as this wacky prospector seeking this fortune that, perhaps unsurprisingly has attracted the attention of some other folk looking for this fortune for themselves. ‘The Gal Who Got Rattled features Zoe Kazan as a young woman who after a family tragedy is seeking a new opportunity. It’s more dialogue heavy than the preceding stories, but Kazan’s excellent performance makes it extremely compelling to watch.

Finally, the last segment  ‘The Mortal Remains’ retains the intrigue but being the most dialogue heavy of all the stories, it is considerably not as interesting as the preceding stories. Though the dialogue is well written once again, it is really quite underwhelming as a final chapter to a rather fascinating collection of short stories. All six stories do explore similar themes about the human struggle as we all navigate this small little thing called life that we as human beings all negotiate, and the rather significant matter of death. However, to ensure that it is not all doom and gloom, The Coens, much like we all do with our own lives, fill each of these segments with their signature style of comedy that, for the most part, serves each story really rather well.

The short nature of each story will undoubtedly leave some viewers unfulfilled. Nevertheless, the thought provoking themes that beat at the heart of all six of the stories, plus some exquisite work in the cinematography, production design and costume department give this anthology film some mighty visual splendour. Though this is not on the level of say a No Country for Old Men or True Grit, given the rambling mess that was Hail! Caesar, a return to the Wild West, and indeed a much more coherent film from the duo is a darn good thing y’all.

Combining comedy and some very dark and dramatic moments, with some strong themes that beat at the heart of all six stories, this is a most welcome to return to form for the Coen brothers. 

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Widows (2018)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox, Film4 Productions and Regency

Widows  – Film Review

Cast:  Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall, Jon Bernthal, Liam Neeson

Director: Steve McQueen

Synopsis: After a bank heist goes horribly wrong leading to the deaths of all the crew, their widows step up to finish what their husbands started…

Review: When as a director, you make one of the most heart-wrenching but extremely impactful pieces of cinema to come out in this decade. A film that landed you the Best Picture Oscar no less, how do you follow that up? For Steve McQueen, following on from his success with the aforementioned 12 Years A Slave, the answer is simple. You team up with another recent Oscar winner and make another exhilarating, heart-pounding piece of cinema. Namely a heist film quite unlike anything the genre has concocted before.

After a team of criminals are caught up in a heist that gets all of them killed, their widows are left in a very desperate situation. Veronica Rawlings (Davis) is the widow of the leader of the crew, Harry (Neeson). Not long after her husband’s death, she receives a rather uncomfortable visit from crime boss Jamal Manning, (Brian Tyree Henry) the target of the botched heist. Demanding repayment of the stolen money, and given a rather tight window in order to do so, Veronica has the plans for what would have been her husband’s next job. Needing her own crew to pull it off, recruits the other widows who also lost their husbands in the same heist, for a new mission to score the money that their husbands stole. Conceptually, though this may sound like your average heist film, in execution, it is a very different beast.

The screenplay, co-written by McQueen and Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn adds deep political subtext to this story that really gives the film a unique feel to it. Furthermore with such powerful women at the centre of this gripping story, in the era of the Me Too movement, it feels all the more powerful and relevant in modern times.  What McQueen and Flynn’s script does so excellently is give each woman involved in this daring heist a significant amount of development. Though they come from different backgrounds, each woman absolutely stands on her own two feet and all give excellent performances.

Leading the pack and fresh from her Oscar success, Viola Davis is once again superb in the role of Veronica. She is a woman who has been to hell and back again, both with events in her past and in the immediate aftermath of her husband’s demise. Yet her fiery spirit keeps her going through this turbulent time. Likewise for Alice (Debicki) and (Rodriguez), both of whom are also dealt with a torrid set of consequences in the wake of the heist that robbed them of their spouses. But with the resolute Veronica at the helm, there is no time to mope, they have some work to do.

Though the women have the spotlight absolutely deservedly on them, Daniel Kaluyya’s portrayal of Jamal’s brother, Jatamme is magnificent and absolutely terrifying in equal measure. A VERY different kind of role especially in comparison to his Oscar nominated performance in Get Out, but with every moment he has on screen, his cold demeanour and brutality is enough to send shivers down the spines of the audience. This is a man whose path you do not want to cross under any circumstances.

With the theme of powerful women front and centre, McQueen also brilliantly weaves political drama into the story. There is one moment in particular that really stands out in terms of how the scene is filmed. And by doing it this way, it really sends a startling message about modern day America and in particular modern American politics. It is another film released this year that feels very timely in terms of its themes, whilst also being not afraid to pull any punches, or to let the bullets fly.

A heist/thriller with a lot to say for itself, boosted an impeccable stellar ensemble cast and bold direction, another exhilarating addition to the filmography of Steve McQueen.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox, Regency, and Queen

Bohemian Rhapsody – Film Review

Cast:  Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Allen Leech, Mike Myers

Director(s): Bryan Singer (Dexter Fletcher)

Synopsis: A look at the lives of the legendary rock band Queen, charting their formative years and initial success leading up to their Live Aid concert performance in 1985.

Review: There’s a moment in this biopic where one music executive completely rubbishes the idea a song that spans six minutes could possibly become a radio hit. Oh how wrong he was. That six minute song in question is of course “Bohemian Rhapsody” and the band behind this true masterpiece of a song was Queen. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that as a band, Queen produced some thumping great tunes, and the legacy and impact that they have had on the music industry is truly substantial, and will likely continue to endure for decades to come.

Of course, not every band achieves such phenomenal success instantaneously so when we first meet Farrokh Bulsara as he was known before adopting his more familiar name, he spends his days working at London’s Heathrow Airport and going to gigs at night. During one such gig, he meets Roger Taylor (Hardy) and Brian May (Lee), who as luck would have it need a new singer, which Freddie gladly accepts. With John Deacon (Mazzello) also on board as the bass player, their royal highness, Queen was born.

However, the journey to get this Queen biopic to the big screen has not been an easy one. With original director Singer having been fired quite late into filming, up stepped Dexter Fletcher to complete the film. In circumstances like this, there’s a substantial risk that the whole film could completely fall apart. Though Singer gets the sole director credit, the work that both directors put in ensures that this biopic does not bite the dust.

The screenplay by Anthony McCarten, does feel a little paint by-numbers in terms of its structure. The film spends a substantial amount of time focusing on Freddie’s relationship with Mary Austin. Which ultimately does leave certain aspects such as his relationships with men, and his battle with AIDS as something of an afterthought.  These aspects are touched upon, but it is perhaps in not the extensive detail that it maybe could have been. However, what this film does above all else, is choose to celebrate the band’s incredible music, which given how utterly amazing said music is, that’s not a bad thing at all.

The man to step into the great Freddie Mercury’s shoes was a bit uncertain for a long time. Initially it was Sacha Baron Cohen, then came Ben Whishaw, but ultimately Rami Malek was the man who stepped up to the microphone. Though it would have been interesting to see what the former could have done with the role, Malek is simply outstanding giving such an incredible performance that sees him pretty much transform into Freddie Mercury himself. Everything from the hair and make up, to the costumes is completely on point. Though Malek’s Mercury does steal pretty much every scene he’s in, the rest of the band mates are also excellent, but their development is scarce at best.

Towards the second act is where the tension is really injected into the film, but again certain aspects of Freddie’s career are only given the barest minimum of development. It is when we get to the Live Aid performance, that the film really perks right back up again. The work that is done to recreate that is just simply breath-taking, you will have a hard time not singing along. As Queen themselves sang “We Will Rock You,” Malek and co do exactly that. Killer Queen(s) indeed.

Though the screenplay could have gone into much more depth, Malek’s career-defining performance and the celebration of their stellar music ensures that this biopic hits (mostly) all the right notes.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

First Man (2018)

Image is property of Universal and Dreamworks

First Man  – Film Review

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Ciarán Hinds

Director: Damien Chazelle

Synopsis: Telling the true story of astronaut Neil Armstrong and how, through many years of intense training at NASA, he became the first man to walk on the surface of the Moon.

Review: In terms of the greatest historical moments of the 20th century, there is perhaps few that could rival the moment where for the very first time, the world watched as the human race set foot upon the surface of the moon. The man who took that very first step, and uttered the immortal line “One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for Mankind,” was Neil Armstrong.  It is this man’s remarkable life and journey that incredibly hasn’t really been explored to such an extent on the big screen before, this is until Damien Chazelle came along.

After working together so successfully on La La Land, Gosling re-teams with Chazelle to play Armstrong, and Gosling once again excels. Right from when we meet him, you get the impression that this guy is focused and determined, something that has run through both of Chazelle’s last two films. He’s much more stoic here, but no less resolute in his mission, except there’s no jazz clubs involved this time. Josh Singer’s script goes into some quite personal detail that people might know about Armstrong including his family life, and the deeply personal tragedy that he goes through in the early stages, whilst also focusing on his NASA training, and all the perils that he faced on his journey to becoming the first man to walk on the moon.

Claire Foy, having donned the crown of Queen Elizabeth II, steps into a very different role as Armstrong’s wife Janet. A role that is quite clichéd for sure, yet it’s one she absolutely shines in alongside Gosling to be there as his figure of support, and at the same time, when it comes to the eve of his lunar mission, to voice her fury at the very real possibility that her husband might never see their kids again. Their relationship is the fierce beating heart of this story, and while the rest of the cast all give solid performances to complete a solid ensemble cast, no one else apart from Foy really has enough time to shine alongside Gosling.

For a director who’s only 33, he has already had a remarkable run of success with his previous two films Whiplash and La La Land, both garnering critical praise and awards aplenty, including the Best Director Oscar for Chazelle for the latter. The ambition for a film like this almost goes without saying, but Chazelle rises to the challenge and delivers another immensely well crafted film. Re-teaming with some of his frequent collaborators in the cinematography (Linus Sandgren), score (Justin Hurwitz) and editing (Tom Cross) departments, the film is crafted to perfection. The space scenes, especially the final lunar landing are so masterfully executed, it feels so real and authentic, and Hurwitz’s score is just superb.

Given the scope of this story, spanning almost over a decade into just over two hours, seems like an impossible task but Singer manages to streamline it as effectively as he can. Yet the pacing does suffer around the second act, especially when there is not a great deal happening down on Earth. However once, we gear up for the all important third act, the spectacle is turned up to ten, and never ceases for the rest of the film. For a director as young as Chazelle, to have an absolutely stellar hat-trick of films already under his belt is a remarkable accomplishment.

A remarkable and fascinating look at the mission to the moon and the man at the centre of it, with superb performances from Foy and Gosling. Another out of this world addition to the stellar filmography of Damien Chazelle.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox

Bad Times at the El Royale – Film Review

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Jon Hamm, Cailee Spaeny, Lewis Pullman, Chris Hemsworth

Director: Drew Goddard

Synopsis: The once famous El Royale hotel in Lake Tahoe has become a shadow of its former self. However, when a bunch of mysterious individuals all check into the hotel on the same day, it promises to be an eventful evening…

Review: If a film pitches itself as a mystery/thriller, there has got to be an almost immediate moment in the first few minutes that grabs the audience’s attention and ensure they become subsequently absorbed into the ensuing suspense of the unfolding drama. Within the opening moments of writer/director Drew Goddard’s second directorial effort, you get just a taste of the drama and intrigue of what’s to come, with more than a few dashes of neo-noir thrown in for good measure.

It is 1960s America, and the titular El Royale hotel has, shall we say, seen better days. However things begin to take a turn for the interesting when an unusual collection of folks all rock up looking for some lodgings. It doesn’t however take long before things begin to unravel and our guests may not be who they appear to be. These guests consist of a Priest (Bridges) , a singer trying to catch her break (Erivo) , a smarmy salesman (Hamm) and a woman (Johnson), whose identity is initially withheld. There’s something immediately suspicious about each member of this cast, as to who they really are, and what secrets they’re hiding.

Every member of this cast is on their best form, and there is not one performance that feels out of place. However somewhat unsurprisingly, Jeff Bridges is leading the way, being his usual charismatic self in a role that (probably) was exclusively written with him in mind. A relative newcomer, Cynthia Erivo shines very brightly as a singer who really hits those notes both in terms of her incredible singing ability and her performance. Yet the scene stealer in all of this is Chris Hemsworth, once again not shy in showing the world his muscles. He gives an astonishing performance, the likes of which we haven’t really seen from him before, certainly a world away from his work in the realm of Norse mythology.

Welcome to the El Royale ab show….

A quick glance at Goddard’s resume shows some impressive projects, such as the scribe of The Martian, the show-runner of season 1 of Netflix’s Daredevil, and his directorial debut The Cabin in the Woods. It is a resume not to be sneezed at. For the remarkable array of acting talent he has assembled here, his screenplay is ambitious to say the least in the way it chooses to present itself to the audience. It seems apparent that Goddard was inspired by Quentin Tarantino, and the ways that the latter has used to tell some of his stories, to great effect.

It is smart and ambitious story-telling on Goddard’s part, but there are instances where the momentum that is being built in a certain scene is lost, as the perspective of the story changes. This can, and does have an extremely negative impact on the film’s pacing, which is just a tad problematic for a film that centres on a mystery. Nevertheless, despite that problematic pacing, the film really starts to click once we reach that all important third act and everything that these interwoven stories have been building towards comes to an exciting, and nerve-shredding climax.

When such original pieces of work like this come along, something that is increasingly rare these days, they must not be overlooked. However, for all of its originality with its premise, its eclectic array of characters and very colourful and stylish production design, that potential is never fully realised. Hence, those who check-in to the El Royale, may just check out with not as much satisfaction as they almost certainly would want to.

Goddard turns on the style with some lavish production design and a unique bunch of characters, but the screenplay just feels too ambitious for its own good, and is at certain points a case of style over substance.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Venom (2018)

Image is property of Sony, Columbia and Marvel

Venom – Film Review

Cast: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Jenny Slate, Reid Scott

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Synopsis: Investigative journalist Eddie Brock investigates the Life Foundation and its shady experiments. In doing so, he becomes one with a sinister alien symbiote that gives him superhuman abilities..

Review: It would not exactly be an astute observation to say that over the last few years, Hollywood has treated audiences to a rather large amount of superhero films. The market has become extremely well saturated and so in order to make an impression in this crowded field, you really have got to stand out. Hence, a film that focuses on a character who is not exactly a hero by any stretch of the imagination, can give you that opportunity. While this is not exactly new ground (see Deadpool), it nevertheless gives you a chance to create something unique. Specifically in Eddie Brock/Venom, you have a chance to truly show that “the world has enough superheroes.” Unfortunately, this chance is completely squandered.

Immediately, you know that this is not in the hands of those folks who, piece by piece, put together the wonder that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It starts off interestingly enough though as a mission by the Life Foundation brings these alien symbiotes back down to earth to use them for experiments, and our eponymous anti-hero is born when investigative journalist Eddie (Hardy) merges with one of these symbiotes when clandestinely investigating this organisation. Now Eddie and this Venom creature must learn to live and co-operate with each other whilst trying to prevent the organisation and its CEO Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) from carrying out future experiments.

“Bring Your Symbiote to Work Day” did not end well…

Given that a previous version of this character was completely shoehorned into Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, and was only given the most briefest of nods in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a solo film seemed like a good idea, and on paper, the potential is there. With an actor as good as Tom Hardy in the lead, there is cause to be optimistic. While he is certainly trying his best, there is something about his performance that just doesn’t quite click, and his accent is a little iffy in places. Opposite him, Michelle Williams also tries her best, but the lack of chemistry between her and Hardy really hinders the plot. The screenplay also really doesn’t help matters as the set up of Brock becoming Venom is really sloppy in its execution. Also Riz Ahmed is completely wasted in a villainous role, that had this been part of the MCU, would put him in the not-so-prestigious company of some of the weaker MCU villains. Also his main goal just does not make any sense whatsoever.

The dialogue all round here is generally pretty poor. There are some funny moments but it is definitely more of a case of laughing at the characters, rather than with them. What is somewhat interesting is the dynamic between Brock and the villainous symbiote. There is at the very least a solid distinction that they are two very different people, something that the Topher Grace iteration of the character didn’t quite get right. What’s more, moments that are clearly intending to be funny, just come across as awkward, embarrassing and extremely painful to watch.

Fleischer’s past works include Zombieland and Gangster Squad, so he knows how to craft action scenes. While there are some competently made action scenes, we have seen the Marvel Cinematic Universe really show us how it is done when it comes to this aspect. There is nothing here that stands out when you compare it with some of the work that has come from the MCU. Furthermore, a film such as this is tailor-made to push the boundaries and go for some really strong violence, but it doesn’t utilise this opportunity and that is extremely disappointing.

Much like Universal’s Dark Universe, that has seemingly died a death after one film, it might well be the case that Sony’s Marvel Universe is over before it has a chance to get going. However, if he became part of the MCU, the potential that is there for a such an interesting character to be given the big screen treatment that could maybe do the character justice, which would be most welcome after two cinematic misfires.

An insipid and lacklustre attempt to bring something new to the genre, complete with a messy screenplay, and extremely bland and uninteresting characters.

We… are most definitely NOT Venom.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

A Star is Born (2018)

Image is property of Warner Bros. Pictures, Live Nation Entertainment and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

A Star is Born – Film Review

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott, Dave Chappelle, Andrew Dice Clay

Director: Bradley Cooper

Synopsis: Renowned musician Jackson Maine (Cooper) meets and falls in love with aspiring singer Ally (Gaga). As their romance blossoms, her career starts to take off, while his is on the wane…

Review: Hollywood right now certainly isn’t shy of remaking a great many films over the years. While some remakes can completely miss the mark entirely, there are instances in which a remake can achieve something remarkable. No matter what is being remade, one has to take whatever was made previously and make it feel new something new and fresh, a story that deserves to be introduced to a whole new generation, and that is precisely what writer/director/producer/star Bradley Cooper does.

Cooper is Jackson Maine, a singer who is no doubt talented at what he does. Yet right from when we meet him, it is clear that he is battling some intense personal demons, and is in the twilight of what seemed to be a glittering career. After one gig, he find a bar where Ally is performing, and almost instantaneously he is smitten by her and her incredible voice. The two begin a romance and during one show he invites her onto the stage to perform, and as the title of the film suggests, a star is most definitely born as Ally’s career begins a stratospheric rise to the top. Yet it is not all good for Ally, as Jackson’s demons begin to take a toll on him, which threatens to tear their relationship apart.

Cooper has shown his versatility in recent years with a diverse range of characters that has seen him pick up four Oscar nominations, but his portrayal of this troubled singer is potentially some of his best ever work in the acting department. You can just feel his anger at various things that have happened to him in his life, and the intense personal battles he is currently fighting that are just wearing him down. But it is Lady Gaga who is the real acting revelation. Though she has graced the silver screen before, her performance is nothing short of astonishing. She captures that anxiety of a woman who wants to pursue her dream, but is unsure of whether she really has the ability to make a success of it.

Given their relationship is a central piece of the film, Gaga and Cooper have excellent chemistry together, Like many relationships, they endure testing times, but you really feel their love for one another, even though they both have some concerns. For Jackson, it’s the direction that Ally’s career goes in, and for Ally, it is Jackson’s battles with addiction and substance abuse. The film has quite a bit to say about the modern music industry, that seems to favour extremely well polished and aesthetically pleasing artists, over those who harbour real musical talent. While Gaga has certainly had her controversial moments in the music business thus far, her talent as a singer cannot be disputed and along with Cooper, their is a plethora of raw and heartfelt emotion behind these beautiful songs.

There is a lot happening here but the screenplay by Cooper, along with Eric Roth and Will Fetters, does a tremendous job of balancing things out as for every euphoric moment of joy, comes a moment of melancholic sadness, but the film does not allow itself to get too bogged down in either for any significant amount of time. For a directorial debut, there is a lot to admire as to what Cooper brings to the table, most notably when it comes to the live performances. The camerawork and cinematography really makes you feel like you are at these gigs watching these talented performers bring these songs to life in a superb manner.

Remakes so often can feel like there simply was not a need for them to have been made. However the sterling work of Cooper and Gaga especially ensure that although this is the fourth version of this story to be told, it feels necessary for it to be retold to a new generation. With such raw emotion packed into its story and characters, A Star is Born will almost certainly be shining very brightly when we get to the business end of awards season.

Combining beautiful music with a story that packs emotion with extremely relevant themes for 21st century audiences, along with two electric leading performances, this is how you do a successful remake. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

A Simple Favour (2018)

Image is property of Lionsgate and Feigco Entertainment

A Simple Favour – Film Review

Cast: Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding

Director: Paul Feig

Synopsis: Single mother Stephanie (Kendrick) meets and befriends high-flying Emily (Lively). When Emily suddenly disappears without warning, Stephanie investigates the circumstances surrounding her disappearance…

Review: When any person goes missing without a trace, there is bound to be a plethora of questions surrounding that particular person’s disappearance. As a consequence of something like this, an intense media scrutiny can begin to surface as to what transpired. The impact of which often falls hardest on those that knew the person the most, but what if they knew more than they were letting on? 

An intense media furore is certainly something that director Paul Feig can certainly relate to, with the fierce backlash that ensued following his Ghostbusters reboot. However, in this interesting concoction of thriller meets comedy, that forensic media glare takes a backseat. Instead, the camera that we partly watch this story unfold from is the webcam belonging to single mother and vlogger Stephanie. When picking up her son from school, she crosses paths with the chic Emily who is also on the school collecting run. Though they are in many ways complete opposites, they form a close connection and become good friends. When Emily disappears one day after asking Stephanie to pick up her son from school, Stephanie starts to piece together the clues of what might have happened to Emily. 

As a director whose last few films have all had female leads, but in very much comedic central films, this is uncharted territory for Feig. As such, he has left behind frequent collaborator Melissa McCarthy and recruited Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively as his leading women this time. Kendrick as Stephanie has something that is very quirky and charming about her, but there is more to her goody mummy vlogger persona that she is letting on. Likewise for Lively as Emily who may dress in a suave manner, but there are some sinister secrets about her past also. Both give excellent performances, playing off each other tremendously well, though ultimately it is Lively who ends up stealing the show from Kendrick as well as her husband Sean (Henry Golding). 

The film pitches itself in a very Gone Girl-esque manner, and the screenplay from Jessica Sharzer certainly tries to capture that grittiness and suspense that Gone Girl had in abundance. While it does achieve this to a certain extent, it is nowhere near as compelling nor suspenseful as David Fincher’s aforementioned thriller. Unfortunately while trying to balance the comedic element of the story with the dark and gritty nature, there is a little bit of a mismatch when it comes to the overall tone of the film. Furthermore, by the time the film reaches the third act, it all feels a bit too rushed. As such the suspense that has been built up in the preceding two acts, is completely squandered on a finale that just packs so many twists and turns, it feels like a classic case of less would have been more. 

For all the excessive twists and turns that the film offers, one thing that it certainly is not lacking in is style. Feig certainly brings this to his direction in a suitable manner that befits this stylish backdrop. There’s a very aesthetically pleasing visual style to aspects such as product design, and it is evident that no expense was spared on the costumes either, especially when it comes to Emily’s attire. However what the film brings to the table in style, it doesn’t deliver in terms of providing a truly gripping and unnerving thriller that just doesn’t pull as many punches that past films of a similar nature delivered in abundance. 

Stylish in its design, and bolstered by two assured leading performances, but a mismatch of tones and one too many twists result in a thriller that just doesn’t deliver many thrills. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

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Crazy Rich Asians – Film Review

Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong

Director: Jon M. Chu

Synopsis: When an American woman is invited by her boyfriend to visit his family in Singapore ahead of his best friend’s wedding. Upon arrival, she soon realises that his family are insanely rich…

Review: Like almost any genre, the romantic comedy one is one that can provide audiences with films that tend to retread familiar tropes and don’t seek to bring something new to the market. Therefore when something does manage to be a delight breath of fresh air into the genre, it is undeniably wonderful to see. In recent years, two such films have met that criteria, namely last year’s The Big Sick and now, Crazy Rich Asians, have proved themselves to be massive hits that also break significant ground, the latter of which especially so since it is the first big budget Hollywood production to feature an all Asian cast in a quarter of a century.

At the centre of this romance is Rachel Chu (Wu) who is an Economics Professor at New York University. She has dated her boyfriend and fellow NYU Professor Nick Young (Golding) for around a year. Things get interesting for her when he invites her to Singapore to visit his family, ahead of the wedding of his best friend.  What Rachel doesn’t know, and soon begins to fully comprehend, is just how wealthy Nick’s family is. This starts to put a strain on their relationship, particularly when she meets his family and they seem to have their doubts about whether Rachel is the right match for him. It is a very familiar set up for a rom-com story, but the with their extravagant wealth that they possess, it puts the genre in some uncharted territory.

As the main couple in this story, Constance Wu and Henry Golding both excel as Rachel and Nick respectively. There is genuine chemistry between the two and perhaps the most key ingredient of any rom-com is you want these two to make it work. However, of course, that isn’t going to be easy as Nick’s uber rich family pose a few problems, in that Nick’s mother especially (an equally excellent Michelle Yeoh) does not view Rachel as being wholly suitable to become a part of their family. Given how one member just casually splashes around a million dollars on a pair of earrings like it’s mere loose change, which to them, it probably is.

There are a lot of characters at play here, but there are some notably memorable turns from Awkwafina as Rachel’s best friend at college, Goh Peik Lin and Ken Jeong as her wacky but extremely entertaining father. With such a large cast though there is always a risk that some cast members are under-utilised, and Gemma Chan’s Astrid, sister to Nick, is one such character who could have done with a lot more screen time as there is a plot with her own family life that could have benefited from being fleshed out a bit more. Nevertheless the screenplay adapted by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim manages to weave the family drama and the romance together tremendously well.

Where this film really shines is its visual splendour. The costumes on display here are very bright and colourful, and they perfectly illustrate the remarkable wealth that these people possess. The excellent production design also helps to really hit that point home, particularly when we get to the rather lavish wedding ceremony, one that would certainly give any member of any royal family around the world a run for their money. This is a very different film for director Jon M Chu, and while there are certain familiarities with rom coms of the past, he gives the movie a fresh vibe to it. It is somewhat surprising how it has been so long for a major Hollywood film to feature an all Asian cast, but with the success this film has had, more studios will hopefully soon follow suit.

Boasting some extremely resplendent production design, coupled with an extremely heart-warming tale that manages to breathe new life into the rom-com genre, whilst also being a landmark achievement for representation in Hollywood.