Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

In the Heights (2021)

© Warner Bros

In The Heights  – Film Review

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

Director: Jon M. Chu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Father (2021)

© Lionsgate, Film4 and Canal+

The Father  – Film Review

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

Director: Florian Zeller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

A Quiet Place Part II (2021)

© Paramount Pictures and Platinum Dunes

A Quiet Place Part II  – Film Review

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

Director: John Krasinski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Godzilla vs Kong (2021)

Image is property of Warner Bros and Legendary

Godzilla vs Kong  – Film Review

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

Director: Adam Wingard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021)

© Netflix, Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation

The Mitchells vs. the Machines  – Film Review

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

Directors: Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Nomadland (2021)

© Searchlight Pictures

Nomadland  – Film Review

Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Charlene Swankie, Bob Wells

Director: Chloé Zhao

Synopsis: After the death of her husband and the loss of her job, a woman purchases a van to live as a modern day nomad…

Review: Home, is where the heart is. Yet, for each and every one of us, this is a word that can mean many different things. For some, it could be that place you grew up, or a place that’s significant in your lives, or it could be where a person’s family resides. No matter what this word may mean to each and every one of us, there’s a moment early on in this beautiful film from director Chloe Zhao that perfectly captures the essence of this story. As a character is talking with Fern (McDormand) about a tattoo she has:”Home, is it just a word? Or is it something you carry within you?” With just this one simple song lyric, from “Home is a Question Mark” by The Smiths, it encapsulates the heart that is beating at the centre of the film.

Years prior to the events of the film, Fern lived and worked in Empire, Nevada, with her husband. They both had jobs working in a US Gypsum plant, and it’s immediately apparent that these were joyful years for Fern. Yet, times have sadly changed. As a result of the Great Recession of 2008, the plant that was essentially the glue that held together Empire’s economy closed, and Fern has lost her job. But the most devastatingly blow of all, is the death of her husband. Following the collapse of the town’s economy, Empire has become a ghost town and all of the residents have since moved on. With all the attachments she once had to Empire now gone, she sells most of her belongings and purchases a van and starts a new life for herself as a modern day nomad roaming the heart of the American West, taking seasonal work wherever she can find it.

Adapted from the non-fiction novel Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder, the premise of the film is simple, but sometimes there is beauty in the simplicity of life, and the film celebrates this. Thanks to the absolutely stunning cinematography from Joshua James Richards, the film shines a light on a way of life that many will no doubt be extremely unfamiliar with. There will be many who are no doubt accustomed to the metropolitan lifestyle of a city that never sleeps. The bright lights and the constant noise of the urban metropolis. A world where chatter is constant, life is almost always continually moving. There is none of that in this nomad lifestyle, just the quiet, peaceful atmosphere of the open road. Although such a lifestyle does come with its challenges, most notably the isolation.

It’s in no small part down to the extraordinary performance of Frances McDormand that pulls you into this story. Having won an Oscar a few years for her portrayal as a fierce and pissed off mother on the search for justice in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, this is a very different kind of role for the veteran actor. It’s much more withdrawn and subdued, and yet like the great actor she is, McDormand rises to the challenge in spectacular fashion. Aside from McDormand’s wonderful work, and an equally sincere performance from David Strathairn, as Dave, a fellow nomad who strikes up a close friendship with Fern. The rest of the film’s cast consists of real life nomads, and what could have been a somewhat risky move, instead turns out to be a masterstroke by Zhao. By choosing to have real life nomads, most of whom are portraying a fictionalised version of themselves, it lends an air of authenticity to the events that are being depicted on screen, which consequently helps you to sympathise with the people in this community, and the lives they lead.

The story does sometimes feels a bit aimless, and the pacing does stutter in one or two places. Yet, there’s a touching moment of poignancy throughout the film, that signifies the importance of remembering someone. An importance which is especially emotionally resonant for a community that could feel like it has been left behind by our modern day Capitalist society. In a similar vein to The Smiths lyric that is mentioned at the beginning, there’s another quote that feels especially emotionally resonant. “what’s remembered, lives.” Due to these emotionally trying times that we’re living in, where lots of people may have been feeling isolated and lonely, there’s a lot can be learned in being kind to one another, especially for those who may have a different lifestyle than what most people do.

Poignant and quietly moving, with a subdued but touching leading performance from McDormand, Nomadland is an emotional and celebratory study at an underrepresented way of life.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Sound of Metal (2021)

© Amazon Studios

Sound of Metal  – Film Review

Cast: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci

Director: Darius Marder

Synopsis: A drummer in a death metal band has his life thrown into disarray as he begins to lose his hearing…

Review: Touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste, the five senses that we have as humans that we use to make sense of this crazy world and everything that goes on around us. Many of us will go through our lives with all of our five senses intact. However at some point, for any number of reasons, some of us may end up losing one or more of these senses. How does one cope when faced with such a tumultuous and life-changing event, especially when the sense that you’ve lost is intrinsically linked to your profession or the thing that you love doing the most? The answer to that question, and so much more, can be found in this thought-provoking, extremely moving directorial debut from Darius Marder.

Ruben (Ahmed) is the drummer and one half of the death metal band Blackgammon, along with his girlfriend Lou (Cooke) the band’s vocalist/guitarist. The two of them travel across the USA playing out gigs wherever they can find them, all the while living out of an RV. For deeply personal reasons, these two have formed a close bond, having been an integral part of each other’s recovery from addiction, and the chemistry between them is evident of just much they mean to each other. Yet one day during a gig, everything changes for Ruben when he suddenly finds that he’s starting to lose his hearing. This threatens to put his whole music career, and indeed his whole life with Lou by his side, in jeopardy. Determined to do whatever she can for him, Lou arranges for Ruben to visit a centre that helps people who are deaf, led by a very compassionate recovering war veteran Joe (Raci).

Ever since he burst onto the scene with his stunning breakout performance in 2014’s Nightcrawler, Riz Ahmed has been consistently putting in excellent performances. Yet his role as Ruben, is a stunning, career best central performance that has solidified Ahmed’s reputations as one of the best actors in the business. Listening to music is an experience that generates waves of emotion, and the same is almost certainly true for anyone who creates and plays music. For a musician, it is incomprehensible to think of the prospect of a future of being unable to hear the music that you are playing to the world, and the sudden loss of one’s hearing, especially in that field of work, is almost guaranteed to cause some anxiety and pain. Right from the moment he feels his hearing starting to fade, Ahmed portrays with heart-breaking authenticity the horror and devastation that someone in that situation would find themselves in, especially when music is Ruben’s life, and it is all he’s ever known.

While the first half of the film is resting on Ahmed’s shoulders to bring the emotional weight of this massive moment in his life, the performance of Paul Raci as Joe, the deaf former war veteran who is offering to help Ruben find his place in the world, is considerably more understated. Yet crucially, it is just as effective. The first half of the film as Ruben and Lou grapple with this, captures the drama and anguish of the situation. Yet the second half of the film is where the heart of the film lies as Ruben slowly but surely comes to terms with his ordeal. Through his own personal experiences, Joe teaches Ruben that while he may have lost a significant part of what made his life so enthralling in the creation and the playing of the music that he and Lou created and shared with the world, there is a whole other world that is opened to him as a result of his deafness. Or, to borrow a well known phrase, as one door closes, another must open.

When a film has “Sound” in its title, focus is inevitably going to turn towards the sound work, and the work done by the sound team of: Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michelle Couttolenc, Carlos Cortes, and Philip Bladh, is truly outstanding. Through every aspect of their incredible work, they fully immerse the audience into Ruben’s world. Right from the opening shot of the thrum of the music that Ruben and Lou are creating, to the distortion and muffling that Ruben starts to experience as we watch his hearing disappear before our eyes, to the sound of total silence that follows once Ruben’s hearing has completely disappeared. It all puts the audience in Ruben’s shoes and makes us understand his perspective. There’s been no shortage of films in the past year or so that have brought powerful and urgent messages, and Sound of Metal offers a powerful and meaningful message that deafness is not a handicap, or something that needs to be fixed.

With a career best performance from Ahmed, Darius Marder’s directorial debut is passionate film-making that, quietly and effectively, communicates a very powerful message that the demands to be seen and heard across the world.

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Promising Young Woman (2021)

© Focus Features , LuckyChap Entertainment and FilmNation Entertainment

Promising Young Woman  – Film Review

Cast: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, Connie Britton, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chris Lowell, Alfred Molina

Director: Emerald Fennell

Synopsis: After a traumatic event in her past, a young woman goes to bars and nightclubs pretending to be drunk in order to catch out men who try to take advantage over her while they believe her to be intoxicated…

Review: For the the past few years, a number of movements have risen up about urgent topics that have demanded the world to sit up, take notice, and to initiate conversations to enact meaningful changes in our society. As an example, it was thanks to the bravery of those who launched the Me Too and the Time’s Up movements. These movements forced the world to have some much needed conversations about sexual harassment and abuse. For far too long, women were being subjected to harassment and unwanted advances by men, in just about every aspect of day-to-day life. This need for a film, that holds up a mirror to our society, demanding everyone to talk about sexual harassment and rape, plays heavily into the feature film debut of Emerald Fennell.

Cassie (Mulligan) is a 30 year old who earns her living working in a coffee shop. Years earlier, she began med school with much promise about her future. This is until everything changed, as she was forced to drop out, due an extremely traumatic incident involving a very close friend. Years later, having never fully recovered, Cassie goes to nightclubs and bars in the evening, pretending to be totally drunk. This inevitably attracts the attention of men, who initially offer to take her home, which quickly changes to back to their place for a few more drinks and to try and take advantage of her while they believe her to be too drunk to give consent. However, by revealing that she is completely stone cold sober every time, she turns the tables on these men, giving them a revelatory lesson about their predatory behaviour. Yet through every interaction with one of these men, Cassie has one ulterior motive, and it is revenge.

The well known saying “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” could definitely be applied to numerous characters throughout film history. Yet, one could make the argument that it has never been more applicable when it comes to Cassie, and Carey Mulligan’s performance is absolutely electrifying to watch. There are so many layers to her character as to start with, she has to portray the vulnerability of the character given everything she’s been through. She expertly contrasts the scenes where she is pretending to be drunk, with the scenes where she completely turns the tables on the men who were poised to take advantage of her. From that moment on, it is absolutely crystal clear that it is Cassie who’s the one in control of the situation, while these so called “nice guys” squirm with discomfort.

Whenever a film is brave enough to tackle two almost completely different genres together into one film, it’s definitely a risk, and there has need to ensure that the right balance is struck. Through her direction, Fennell pulls this off magnificently. The film dips in and out between being an almost horror film-esque revenge thriller, whilst also being a colourful rom-com as Cassie connects with a character from her Med School past (played excellently by Bo Burnham). Yet, the rom-com element never negates the revenge-thriller aspect, and vice versa.  There is a brief lag in the film’s pacing in and around the second/third act. However, this is definitely a momentary lapse, before Cassie’s endgame comes into view, as the events that set her off on this path of revenge come full circle.

The film is once again a timely reminder of the work that needs to be done when it comes to dealing with harassment, in just about every single walk of life, and how society once again fails to protect women who fall victim to the predatory behaviour that they too often experience at the hands of men. Certain elements of the film may be uncomfortable to sit through, but it’s clear that Fennell’s goal is not to provide comfort to the audience. Her aim is to open their eyes, especially those of men, and remind them of the seemingly never ending barrage of unwanted attention and harassment that women get on a constant basis. In the years since the Me Too movement sparked those much needed conversations, a few films have made efforts to tackle the subject. However, no film has done it such a daring, yet successful manner. Whenever a film comes along that strives to hold up a mirror to the society we’re living in, it must leave a lasting impression, and Emerald Fennell’s directorial debut does not miss.

Boasting a career best performance from Carey Mulligan, thanks to its bold and daring approach to its timely subject matter, Emerald Fennell’s directorial debut is perhaps the most important film in the post #MeToo era of Hollywood.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Minari (2021)

Image is property of A24 and Plan B

Minari – Film Review

Cast: Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Youn Yuh-jung, Will Patton

Director: Lee Isaac Chung

Synopsis: In the 1980s, a South Korean family who have emigrated to the United States arrive in Arskansas, with the goal of achieving the American dream…

Review: For decades now, the idea of moving to the United States of America, to realise a dream where anyone can accomplish economic success in a society has been sown into the ideals of the country. As the plaque on the statue of Liberty reads “Give me your tired, your poor, yearning to breathe free”. The desire to move to a society where anyone can achieve some sort of economic success is one that many people may have had when emigrating to the USA. Regardless of their circumstances, the notion that people can make it in the “Land of the Free” has been the basis of the American Dream for many decades now. This desire to achieve happiness and prosperity, for yourself and your family, is the basis for this semi-biographical film, recounting the young life of director Lee Isaac Chung.

After moving to the United States a decade ago, Jacob (Yeun) and his wife Monica (Ye-ri) spent many a years working in a chicken factory in California, separating male and female chicks. However, despite him being very good at this job, Jacob finds the work tedious and strives for something more rewarding. Hence, the Yi family have now uprooted from California to live in rural Arkansas. With this move, and with the purchase of his own patch of land, Jacob aims to operate a successful farm business, growing Korean vegetables to supply to nearby businesses. This is where Jacob strives to achieve his own version of the American dream, but his ambition doesn’t fill his wife Monica with the same passion that motivates Jacob every single day.

There’s something that feels very sincere and genuine about Chung’s script, and the performances from the entire cast match are all equally heartfelt and genuine, to the extent that you can it sometimes feels like the events being depicted on screen are real life. Leading the way is Steven Yeun’s heartfelt performance as this family’s patriarch. As the head of this, family Jacob has to walk that line between being the loving father, but has to balance that with the need to to be stern and authoritative where necessary, especially when it comes to his youngest child David. Their father-son dynamic is the heartbeat that drives the film forward, and Alan Kim’s performance is equally special. He is both simultaneously hilarious and mischievous, especially when it comes to his interactions with his grandmother (portrayed superbly by Youn Yuh-jung).

But through all that hilarity, what really makes the audience sympathise towards David is a condition involving his heart that could become a problem in later life. Because of this plight, it makes you really sympathetic towards him, especially as it’s one that proves to be one of the many sticking points between Jacob and Monica. There are plenty of tender moments that he shares not just with his grandma, but his parents, and his sister, as well.  Indeed, the performances of the entire cast match that sincerity but all put in sincere performances that make you care about the plight of the family. Some may find issue with the film’s pacing but while it may have one or two momentary lapses, Chung clearly is taking his time to tell the story of this family, and allow the events to play out as naturally as possible.

The themes of family, and identity have been explored on screen plenty of times throughout the years. Yet, despite this genre being a well worn one, Chung captures these themes in a rich and nuanced manner, that gives Minari its own identity. Furthermore, the score from Emile Mosseri captures the heart-warming and sincere vibe of the film perfectly. It may seem like a simple story, but there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface that gives the film significant emotional depth. The idea of someone moving to America to achieve their own version of the American Dream might feel somewhat tainted given the treatment that immigrants have received in recent times. Yet despite that, Chung’s film is a hopeful warm embrace that will hopefully bring some much needed warmth and happiness to all who watch it during these unprecedented and troubled times we’re all currently living in.

Filled with sincere and heartfelt performances, Minari tells a universal story that is filled with captured with genuine warmth and sincerity that should resonate with everyone the world over.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

Image is property of Warner Bros, Participant and Bron Creative

Judas and the Black Messiah  – Film Review

Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Daniel Kaluuya, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Lil Rel Howery, Algee Smith Martin Sheen

Director: Shaka King

Synopsis: After being caught committing a crime, a man is given a chance by law enforcement to become an FBI informant as they seek to infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, and keep tabs on its chairman, Fred Hampton…

Review: If someone were to ask you about the influential leaders of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, names like Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Rosa Parks may jump to mind.  These are the names of extremely influential individuals who are the subject of curriculums worldwide, and have been the subject of numerous films, so that just about everyone on Planet Earth is likely to know who they are. Yet, there are certain influential figures that may not garner quite the level of attention, but when you learn more about them, it’s a wonder why they are not as well known as some of the the other influential leaders of this movement. This is most definitely applicable in the case of Frederick Allen Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois branch of the Black Panther Party, and the deputy chairman of the national BPP.

Having been caught committing a crime by the police, Bill O’Neal (Stanfield) finds himself in a very perilous position. If he’s charged, he faces almost certain prison time. However, there’s another option for him, as he’s given a chance to escape a jail sentence by becoming an FBI informant. The FBI are seeking to infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the BPP, to keep tabs on the activities of Fred Hampton and do whatever they can to suppress the party and Hampton’s agenda to help the lives of numerous people oppressed by the society they’re living in. Yet in the eyes of the government, and the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover, they consider Hampton to be a radical figure, and a substantial threat. Having had the most fleeting of appearances in last year’s The Trial of the Chicago 7, this is 100% Hampton’s story, and, from the very first minute, it’s an informative, exhilarating and extremely maddening chapter of US history that demands to be told.

Daniel Kaluuya is an actor who has been consistently pulling amazing performances over the last few years. From a run that started with his Oscar nominated turn in Get Out, to last year’s Queen & Slim, he has consistently proved why he is one of the best actors currently in the business. With this transformative turn as Hampton, it’s another absolutely magnetic performance to add to that list. Every time he speaks, his words captivate the crowds he’s talking to, which extends to the audience. You see a man who’s passionate about helping people who are oppressed by a government and a society that is built upon systemic racism. While Kaluuya’s performance is absolutely worthy of all the superlatives in the world, the equally impressive work of Lakeith Stanfield must not be overlooked, as it is, and an integral part of what makes the film work. We watch through his eyes as he initially is forced into this role of infiltration, and it’s a role that makes you want to hate him. Yet, as he spends more time by Hampton’s side, it’s plain to see that he’s starting to believe in the causes that Hampton and the Black Panthers are championing.

Alongside the outstanding performances of Stanfield and Kaluuya, are an equally impressive collection of supporting characters that includes, Dominique Fishback’s beautiful performance as Deborah, the most important person in Fred’s personal life. Additionally, there’s a great performance from Jesse Plemons as Roy Mitchell, the slimy and manipulative FBI agent who’s keeping tabs on O’Neal as he goes about his task of infiltration. With every word spoken in the film, it is clear what screenwriters, Shaka King, the Lucas brothers, and Will Berson are hoping to accomplish with this film. A clip plays near the beginning of the film of news reels from the time says “Those are not riots, they are rebellions, people are rebelling because of the conditions, and not because of individuals, no individual creates a rebellion.” When you watch the film’s events play out, it is fairly easy to connect the dots between the 1960s and the 21st century.

Given the horrifying events that the world saw in 2020, Shaka King’s film provides an urgent message that demands everyone’s attention. It is a damning indictment that in the decades since Hampton fought against this unjust society, that not nearly enough progress has been made. Furthermore, the events of not just last year, but of many years gone by, have shown that it is infuriatingly plain for all to see that the systemic oppression against people of colour in our society has not been dismantled. The rebellion that people like Hampton fought for, is one that must continue. “You can kill a revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution.” It is a testament to Hampton that in the years since he uttered those famous words: that they ring truer now more than ever. The fires of revolution are burning stronger than perhaps ever before, and long may that continue.

With a powerful and informative screenplay, combined with its two towering central performances, Shaka King’s film ensures that not only the world will know Fred Hampton’s name, they will never forget it.