Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2021

King Richard (2021)

© Warner Bros. Pictures, Westbrook Studios, Star Thrower Entertainment and Keepin’ It Reel

King Richard – Film Review

Cast: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Tony Goldwyn, Jon Bernthal

Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green

Synopsis: Telling the true story of Richard Williams, who played an influential role in shaping the early tennis careers of his daughters Venus and Serena Williams…

Review: Whenever anyone talks about the greatest athletes of all time, there are two names whose places in that conversation are absolutely assured: Venus and Serena Williams. Here are two extraordinary women, with an incredible 30 Grand Slam wins between them, whose achievements across their glittering careers will have undoubtedly inspired countless generations of young girls to pick up tennis rackets and to follow in their footsteps. However, there is someone, that the Williams sisters have said that none of their success could have been possible without. That person, is their father, Richard Dove Williams Jr.

As the proud parents of Venus (Sidney) and Serena (Singleton), Richard (Smith) and his wife Brandy (Ellis) are committed to helping their daughters to one day become professional tennis players. With the strong emotional support of Brandi propelling Richard, Venus, and Serena in equal measure, Richard serves as their coach. Both Richard and Brandy work incredibly hard at their day jobs. Additionally, through many hours of training on the tennis court, he’s motivated by his ambition to help his daughters become professional tennis players. He’s a deeply driven and determined man, with a detailed and well-thought-out plan to ensure his daughters become two of the best tennis players to have ever played the game.

Given this is a story about two of the best players to have ever played the sport of tennis, it might seem odd to frame this story mainly from the perspective of their father. Yet, when you watch Will Smith’s performance as this father who will stop at nothing to help his daughters achieve their dreams, it pays incredible dividends as this is Smith’s best performance for quite some time. He’s a man who is fiercely protective of his family and is not afraid to stand up to anyone who is rude towards his daughters. Though while that may paint him as a kind and generous soul, this is not always the case. Richard has some very stubborn tendencies, and he will not be afraid to speak his mind during meetings. His stubbornness and unwillingness to change his methods and approach to how he conducts business threatens to ruin Venus’s and Serena’s careers before they have even begun.

While Smith’s performance is fully deserving of the plaudits, what must not be lost in the conversation is the performances of the women who are just as much at the center of this story as Richard. The most important of which is Aunjanue Ellis as Oracene “Brandy” Williams. While Richard is out there on the court, the part she plays to help Venus and Serena carries just as much importance. She lends the support that both her husband and her daughters need as they strive to make their dreams become reality. Though, she is absolutely not afraid to speak her mind when the situation calls for it and will take action into her own hands when she needs to. As the young Venus and Serena, Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton both have very bright futures ahead of them. There’s a genuine sisterly bond between them. They recognise that, in a society where being who they are comes with hardship and obstacles from the off, success for one of them will go a long way towards propelling both of them onwards in their careers.

What could have been a very generic story about how the Williams sisters became the superstars that they are, is instead played as an emotional family drama and a tribute to the parents who helped shape them into becoming two of the greatest tennis stars have ever played the game. Green gives plenty of time for the family dynamic to flourish, as it is integral to help shape the story. This is expertly combined with immaculately directed tennis matches as we watch the Williams sisters begin on their path towards tennis superstardom. It serves as a reminder that for every superstar athlete, there are parents who sacrifice so much. They work tirelessly to help mold and shape their children so that one day, they can change the world and write their names into the history books forevermore. This is precisely what Venus and Serena Williams have done. They will be remembered, not only as players who changed the face of the sport of tennis forever, but also two of the best athletes to have ever lived.

What could have been your typical sports biopic is anything but. With an ace of a central performance from Will Smith, King Richard is an inspirational and uplifting family drama that will have you punching the air in delight.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2021

The Harder They Fall (2021)

© Netflix

The Harder They Fall  – Film Review

Cast: Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield, RJ Cyler, Danielle Deadwyler, Edi Gathegi, Deon Cole

Director: Jeymes Samuel

Synopsis: When he learns that his bitter enemy has been sprung out of prison, an outlaw re-forms his gang to take his adversary down once and for all…

Review: What is the first thing that comes to mind when someone says the word “Western”? A shot of a rural town in the USA, showdown duels with guns, cowboy hats/boots, and the familiar sounds of the spurs on the boots, or the doors of a saloon opening and closing. Perhaps there’s also a musical number akin to something that you’d hear from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, is playing in the background, as a Caucasian hero strolls in on horseback to save the day? The Western is a genre that so often has white people at the forefront of the story. Yet too often, black people find themselves on the sidelines when it comes to these types of films. Hence, to see a Western that places the experiences of black people at this point in history at the forefront, with an all-star cast of some of the finest black actors currently working in Hollywood, is extremely refreshing, and long long overdue.

Nat Love (Majors) is an outlaw who has got a burning desire for revenge against Rufus Buck (Elba) after Buck committed an unforgivable crime when Nat was young. Now as an adult, when Nat learns that Buck has been freed from his incarceration as a prisoner, he’s out for revenge. He reforms The Nat Love gang, which includes real-life historical figure Stagecoach Mary (Beetz) and Cuffee (Deadwyler), to take down Buck once and for all. The only problem for Nat Love and his gang, is that Buck has his own gang surrounding him, including Treacherous Trudy Smith (King) and Cherokee Bill (Stanfield), determined to protect him at all costs. With the conflict between the two rival gangs boiling over into an all-out war, the bullets are gonna fly.

When taking one look at the cast that Samuel has assembled, there’s only one word that best describes it: stacked. No matter where you turn, there are actors with glittering careers everywhere you look. The end result is a brilliant cast, all of whom are in scintillating form. This crop of characters are certainly not ones you would want to cross, but that doesn’t mean that they are not extremely compelling and hilarious to watch. Jonathan Majors is someone who has burst onto the scene relatively late, in comparison to some of his cast members. Yet, in the few short years since he rose to prominence, he’s proven himself to be an extremely compelling on-screen presence. This continues with his performance as Nat. It’s quite the unenviable task to take a character like an outlaw, and add an incredible layer of depth and humanity to that role. Yet, with just about every performance he has given in recent years, Majors pulls it off brilliantly.

As Nat’s love interest, the relationship between Nat and Stagecoach Mary could have been very conventional. While the chemistry between the two is most assuredly there, Beetz plays this character as someone who is not subservient to Nat in any capacity, she’s more than capable of kicking Nat’s arse if she wanted to, and likewise for Cuffee. On the other side of this gang war, the character of Rufus Buck is someone who you dare not cross if you value your life, and Elba’s performance is suitably intimidating. Alongside him, Regina King is clearly relishing the opportunity to play an antagonist, and she’s absolutely terrific to watch. However, there’s far more to both their characters than just robbing banks and shooting down anyone in their way. As with Majors’ Nat Love, and indeed every character that you see on screen, there are subtle nuances to these characters that make them far more than just outlaws who are in this business for the money.

It is incredible to think that this is Samuel’s feature film directorial debut. While he has worked on music videos and short films with Jay-Z (who is one of the film’s producers), it’s quite the leap to go from directing short films and music videos, to directing a thrilling Western with some of Hollywood’s finest. Yet when you watch what Samuel, who also wrote the script, has concocted, it’s an absolutely breathtaking achievement. His direction is so confident and stylish, if you had no idea that this was his first feature film, you would be forgiven for thinking that he’s a seasoned director who has been doing this for years. It all translates into an enthralling and compelling story that grabs you from the word go.

Some may well struggle with the thick Texas accents that some of the characters speak with. However, by telling this story from the perspective of people who were not trapped in the brutal institution of slavery, it lends a much-needed new perspective to the people and the lives they led at this point in history. With such a confident and brilliant feature film debut, an exciting new voice has entered the world of filmmaking. No matter what project he chooses to do next, Jeymes Samuel will surely have captured the curiosity and the attention of audiences all over the world, and deservedly so.

The Western genre has been given a much-needed revitalisation. Impeccable performances from its all-star cast, combined with slick and stylish action, and the end result is a breath-taking feature film debut from Jeymes Samuel.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2021

Last Night in Soho (2021)

© Universal Pictures, Film4 Productions, Perfect World Pictures and Working Title Films

Last Night in Soho  – Film Review

Cast: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, Michael Ajao, Dame Diana Rigg

Director: Edgar Wright

Synopsis: An aspiring fashion student moves to London with dreams of becoming a fashion designer. However, she soon finds herself somehow being connected to a different era of London’s Soho…

Review: It’s a dream that plenty of us have at some point in our lives. Leave the comforts of the homes that we were raised in, and experience the bright lights, the busy streets, and the atmosphere and vibes that life in the big city can offer. Yet, for all the tourist attractions and the appealing allure of the big city life, every city (especially one as vast as London) can be overwhelming for people at first. Additionally, each city has a dark side, and both the celebration and the sinister dark side of London form the basis of the new film from one of the most unique voices in British film-making: Edgar Wright.

Eloise (McKenzie) is a fashion student who is a big fan of the 1960s and the music of that era. She moves from her cosy South West roots to the big bright lights of London to attend the London College of Fashion. She has big ambitions to realise her dreams and become a household name amongst the world’s fashion designers. Shortly after arriving, Eloise discovers that when she is asleep, she can travel back to a point during the Swinging Sixties in London where she mysteriously finds herself intertwined with the life of Sandy (Taylor-Joy), who aspires to become a singer. Initially, everything appears to be fine and dandy in the brightly lit neon streets of 1960s London. However, not everything is what it seems, and there’s a darker side to this city that Eloise is about to discover.

Having established herself with her stunning but subdued performance in Jojo Rabbit, this is another demonstration of Thomasin McKenzie’s extraordinary talents. When you make the move from the pleasant countryside to the big city, it can be overwhelming, especially if you’re a student who’s experiencing the madness that is Fresher’s Week. McKenzie’s performance perfectly encapsulates that feeling in an extremely relatable manner as she initially struggles to adapt to this new life. As time goes on, she develops more confidence, as she sees part of herself in Sandy, which inspires her to be more outgoing in her social life and with her fashion designs. As the woman at the centre of Eloise’s fascination, Taylor-Joy’s performance as Sandy is suitably captivating. Additionally, this film marks the final on-screen performance of the late, great Diana Rigg’s illustrious career, and it’s a wonderful final performance.

In a note from the cast and crew of the film that was posted on Twitter, the urge to keep the mystery surrounding this film intact was heavily emphasised. Or, as they put it “What happens in Last Night in Soho, stays in Soho.” Hence, the mystery that has been crafted by Wright and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns shall not be disclosed here. The film starts very strongly as we see Eloise blissfully experience her favourite time period through this vivid dream, but that blissful dream soon turns into a living nightmare when certain truths begin to emerge. As the mystery that’s at the centre of this film begins to unravel, the line between reality and fantasy begins to blur. This is down some extremely slick editing. Through this shift, the film descends into horror film territory, a genre that Wright is no stranger to, given that he expertly combined horror and comedy in Shaun of the Dead.

While there’s enough to make audiences jump out of their seat in terror, the scares can get a little wearisome and repetitive. Furthermore, the messages of the film feel a little muddled in parts, especially by the end of the third act. This is extremely frustrating because of the ambitious nature of the story. However, life in the big city can sometimes be overwhelming and too much for the senses. Wright’s love letter to this city, which clearly means so much to him, has much to be admired about it. There are a plethora of ideas thrown at the wall, but not all of them stick the landing. Hence, it does sometimes feel a bit unsure of what kind of film it wants to be and might have just bit off more than it can chew.

You cannot fault the ambition, but even with a committed performance from McKenzie, a slightly muddled screenplay prevents Last Night in Soho from becoming another classic in Wright’s filmography.

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Last Duel (2021)

© 20th Century Studios, Scott Free Productions, Pearl Street Films and TSG Entertainment

The Last Duel  – Film Review

Cast: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck

Director: Ridley Scott

Synopsis: In Medieval France, following an accusation of rape against his wife, a Knight challenges his former friend to a trial by combat…

Review: For as long as humanity has been around, our society has been a patriarchal one, with men more often than not in positions of power. At numerous points throughout history, and even in modern times, such men try to exhibit control over the lives of women and dictate the choices that they should be allowed to make with their own bodies. The Me Too Movement has forced us as a society to bring about change to the systemic belittlement, and sometimes ridicule, women get for coming forward when they’ve been a victim of sexual assault. While progress has been made, enter Ridley Scott with a powerful medieval drama that demonstrates that is a centuries-old problem that still exists in our society.

The setting is 14th century France, Jean de Carrouges (Damon) is an esteemed knight in the French army. He offers his hand in marriage to the beautiful Marguerite (Comer). Despite her marriage to Jean, Marguerite has another admirer, the squire Jacques Le Gris (Driver). When Le Gris’s attempts to woo Marguerite are unsuccessful, he brutally forces himself upon her. When Marguerite bravely stands up to accuse Le Gris of rape, it is determined that the matter will be settled in a trial by combat between Jean de Carrouges and Le Gris. There’s added pressure too for Marguerite because if her husband loses, she will be sentenced to death for false testimony.

Set in three distinct acts, each act recounts the events from three perspectives: Jean de Carrouages, Jacques Le Gris, and most importantly of all, Marguerite de Carrouages. Each act breaks down the person’s perspective on the events that preceded the horrendous crime, the crime itself, and the aftermath. The first act from Jean’s perspective, written by Damon, shows Jean as a very courageous, likable, and loyal man. Yet his efforts in battle are not well rewarded, with Le Gris getting the plaudits and the rewards that Jean clearly feels should be bestowed upon him. Despite his grievances at these slights, Jean initially refuses to hold a grudge against Le Gris.

The second act, from the perspective of Le Gris (written by Affleck), paints Le Gris as a man who is studious and good at numbers, which helps him favourably with his commander, Count Pierre d’Alençon (Affleck). As well as his studiousness, he clearly sees himself as a handsome chap who is popular with the ladies. Consequently, because of his bewitching good looks, all the ladies must surely want him as well. Not even a married woman like Marguerite could possibly turn down his advances. So when she does exactly that, he forces himself upon her when Jean is not at home. While there’s no attempt to deny or downplay what he did, in his mind, it is completely inconsequential due to the belief in his mind that Marguerite is unhappy with her marriage, and must have secretly yearned for it.

It isn’t until we arrive at the third and final perspective, that of Marguerite’s, that the film truly soars. This segment, written by Nicole Holofcener, is by far the strongest of the three acts. It puts us from the perspective of the person who matters the most in this tale. We see Marguerite as a woman who defies what society expects of her, playing an active role in the maintenance and upkeep of her husband’s properties while he is off fighting in wars. And crucially, we see from her perspective, the character flaws that exist in both Jean and Le Gris, that they are both completely oblivious to. While all of the performances around her are strong, Jodie Comer is, quite simply, head and shoulders above everyone else. Though, by telling this from two different perspectives, be warned, we are forced to watch this heinous crime a couple of times.

However, as uncomfortable as it is to watch such an unspeakable act of violence a couple of times, it feels integral to the plot to do so. The reason being is that it emphasises the contrasting emotions of both parties concerned. While there’s no pain for Le Gris, there’s a tremendous amount of pain, both physical and emotional, that is inflicted upon Marguerite, and by extension for Jean as well. To add insult to injury, at this time in history, rape was incredulously not considered to be a crime against a woman, but rather a crime against a man and his property. Hence, at a time when women were expected to be silent and to be subordinates to their husbands, it is incredibly courageous for Marguerite to speak out and level this accusation against Le Gris, which sets the stage for the titular duel.

Ridley Scott is no stranger to a medieval, swords and lances battleground. Given everything that has been established in the events leading up to it, the stakes could not be higher for these characters. As you would expect, Scott’s direction for this bloody battle to the death is marvellous and keeps you on the edge of your seat. Though as important as the duel is, what is of far more importance is how Marguerite’s story is still relevant in the society that we live in. Too often, after being subjected to unspeakable acts of male violence, women are powerless or are unable to bring the perpetrators to justice due to our patriarchal society. But, as this centuries-old tale proves, when women have the courage to speak out, they demand our attention as a society every time. Their words are powerful and must never ever fall on deaf ears.

Thought-provoking and enthralling in equal measure, with an outstanding Jodie Comer performance, this medieval epic is an important story that shamefully connects the dots to our present-day society.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Dune (2021)

© Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures

Dune  – Film Review

Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, David Dastmalchian, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Synopsis: On the harsh desert world of Arrakis, the Atreides family are entrusted with the stewardship of the planet that is home to the most valuable resource in the world….

Review: When it comes to science fiction and fantasy storytelling, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are two of the pinnacles of the genre, and have inspired generations of filmmakers and audiences. Yet, there is another body of work that is hugely influential to the genre. A story that featured a vast array of planets and civilisations, hailed by many as the greatest science fiction novel of all time. Now, in the hands of one of the finest directors working today, a new adaptation of Dune is here, and ready to win over a brand-new generation of fans.

In the far future, the most valuable resource is the spice Melange, harvested on the planet of Arrakis. For years, the planet and its people, the Fremen, have been under the brutal rule of the Harkonnens, who have ruled with an iron fist of fear. Now, it has been decreed that the planet, and the monumental task of mining the spice, will fall to the House Atreides, led by Duke Leto (Isaac). By his side, will be his son Paul (Chalamet) and Paul’s mother, the Lady Jessica (Ferguson), who belongs to a mystical order of powerful women known as the Bene Gesserit. There’s a lot of pressure on Paul’s shoulders, as the Bene Gesserit believe Paul could one day turn out to be the Chosen One.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that Frank Herbert’s novel has been adapted for the big screen. However, for reasons that are far too numerous to list here, David Lynch promptly disowned his 1984 adaptation upon release. Villeneuve has cited Dune as one of his favourite novels growing up, and from the very first minute, it is clear why he was the perfect director to helm this new adaptation. A glance at Villeneuve’s body of work has demonstrated his outstanding skill to bring jaw-dropping visuals to any story he directs, often in part due to astounding cinematography. While there’s no Roger Deakins behind the camera here, Greig Fraser is an extremely capable replacement. The gorgeous visuals are expertly combined with the sheer scale of this universe, and it is nothing short of epic.

Due to the extremely dense nature of the source material, it is a necessity for Villeneuve and writers Eric Roth and Jon Spaihts, to take their time. There is a staggering amount of existing lore and mythology to establish, as well all the various planets and Houses that exist within this story. It would be easy for any newcomers to get lost in the enormity of the world-building. Hence, the screenplay bides its time, and gives the audience ample opportunity to take everything in. The use of the practical, real life sets for the film’s production design, such as the immense Jordanian desert amplifies the impressive nature of the construction of this universe. As Villeneuve memorably said in an interview last year, “They didn’t shoot Jaws in a swimming pool!” The use of practical sets adds so much richness to the film and ultimately it makes it unlike anything that we’ve seen in this type of big-budget blockbuster filmmaking in a very long time.

At the centre of all this is Chalamet’s Paul. He’s an actor who has carved himself a career in a plethora of Indie films over the years. The central role in a gargantuan behemoth that is Dune, is quite the step up. However, he makes that transition into a leading man seamlessly. Ferguson as the Lady Jessica is a fierce and strong-willed woman. However, there is a vulnerability that she brings to the role as she is fiercely protective of her son and the gifts that he possesses. This adds considerable depth and nuance to the relationship between Paul and Jessica. Oscar Isaac brings a lordly aura to that of Duke Leto. Yet, despite his very many duties as the leader of a great House, he still exhibits warmth, especially where Paul is concerned.

Meanwhile, the characters of Jason Momoa’s Duncan Idaho and Josh Brolin’s Gurney Halleck, core components of the inner circle of House Atreides, are the notable standouts. Opposing the Atreides, is the ruthless House Harkonnen. Right from the moment they are introduced, they are instantaneously the foreboding and ominous threat that any film with such a richly developed universe, incomparable in its scope and majesty, requires. Furthermore, Stellan Skarsgård as the villainous Baron, is an on-screen presence that you will not be forgetting in a hurry.

Reuniting with Villeneuve after collaborating on Blade Runner 2049, it feels like there aren’t enough superlatives to describe just how special this score by Hans Zimmer really is. The true power of a good film score is how a single note can transport you into that world, and this score by Zimmer will take you back to Arrakis in an instant. While the cast are all phenomenal in their roles, given the obvious influences of Arab culture into the source material, it is disappointing that there is a distinct lack of MENA cast members present. However, as this film only represents one half of Herbert’s novel, a second part would give Villeneuve the chance to rectify that missed opportunity.

To give audiences one half of this incredible story, only to not tell the second half would be extremely disappointing. Sweeping epics like this seldom come around very often. Hence, the spice must flow sufficiently enough to ensure that second part will come to fruition, and not be something that will be swirling in our dreams from the deep forever more.

It was said to be unfilmable. Yet with a superb cast, incredible world-building and a sweeping and enthralling narrative, Denis Villeneuve has accomplished something truly special, and we’re only halfway through the story.

a

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

No Time To Die (2021)

© Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Eon Productions

No Time To Die – Film Review

Cast: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Léa Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ana de Armas, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes

Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga

Synopsis: After spending time living a peaceful, retired life, James Bond is brought back to the world of assassins and espionage when an old friend approaches him to request his help for a new mission…

Review: It has been a difficult journey for the 25th instalment of the James Bond franchise to make its way to the big screen. A planned November 2019 release date that never materialised due to creative differences, which led to initial director Danny Boyle to depart the project. The injury that star Daniel Craig suffered during its production. All of which were compounded by the multiple enforced delays to its planned release due to the COVID pandemic. It was beginning to feel like there was an unbreakable curse on this film, that would prevent it from ever seeing the light of a big cinema screen. For a film that was marketed as Daniel Craig’s final bow in this role, it has been an agonising wait for it to finally be unveiled to the public. Now at last, Craig’s Bond takes aim at his final mission, and it was worth the wait.

Following on from the events of Spectre, Bond and Madeleine (Seydoux) are living a peaceful, quiet life in picturesque Italy. However, it isn’t long before their romantic bubble is burst when some startling revelations about the past are uncovered, which threatens to tear their relationship apart. Determined to find some answers, Bond teams up with old ally Felix Leiter (Wright) who approaches Bond for his help with a mission that leads back to some familiar faces, whilst uncovering a deadly plot at the hands of the villainous Safin (Malek), that threatens to unleash global destruction.

For a time, it was very uncertain whether Craig would continue in the role due to some infamous comments that he once made when asked if he would return to the role. Right throughout his tenure, Craig has always thrown everything he’s got into the role, and it is fitting that his final turn as this iconic character is possibly his best performance. He’s a character who has been on quite the journey since we first met him back in Casino Royale. While he often exhibits the cold and stoic persona that would be demanded of a paid assassin, there is a substantial amount of emotion to his final portrayal of this character. Of the new cast members, the standout is easily Lashana Lynch’s Nomi, a new double 0 agent that Bond must work with on this mission. Ana de Armas as the CIA agent Paloma that Bond also teams up is also another delightful addition to this cast. Given that they worked together to wonderful effect in Knives Out, the chemistry between de Armas and Craig is perfect. Frustratingly, she’s given a scarce amount of screen time.

Following the tragic fate of Vesper Lynd, it would have seemed unlikely that any other woman would capture Bond’s heart. Yet, following on from her introduction in the previous film, Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann proved otherwise, given it was her that prompted Bond’s decision to retire from the life of a double 0-agent. Her performance, and the relationship that she shares with Bond here very much represents the heart of the film. There’s been no shortage of memorable women in the history of this franchise, and when looking back at this era of the Bond franchise, it will be hard not to recognise her as one of the more noteworthy Bond ladies. While Craig and Seydoux are the heart and soul of the film, it would not be a Bond film without the supporting cast. The familiar faces of Naomie Harris’s Moneypenny, Ralph Fiennes as M, and especially Ben Whishaw’s Q are all once again excellent.

The Craig era has introduced us to some of the most iconic villains, from Le Chiffre and Silva in Casino and Skyfall respectively, Malek’s Safin is not quite as memorable as the aforementioned villains. Nevertheless, he is a calm, methodical antagonist who proves to be more than a match for 007. While he was not the first choice for the director’s gig, Cary Fukunaga proved to be the perfect director for the task of giving Craig’s Bond the send off that he deserved. Craig’s Bond era has set the benchmark for gripping opening action scenes. From the enthralling opening action scene, to every action scene that the film packs into is run time, there’s a grittiness and intensity that is consistent throughout all of the action that gets the adrenaline pumping, aided by an excellent score from the maestro that is Hans Zimmer.

At 2 hours and 43 minutes, this is the longest film in the franchise’s history. Fukunaga worked on the script alongside franchise regulars Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. As such, the film is filled with everything you have come to expect from a Bond film, as well as one of the best one-liners in this franchise’s history. One suspects that could be down to the script polishes that came courtesy of Phoebe Waller-Bridge. However, that run time does feel overly long as the film does suffer from pacing issues in a handful of places. The James Bond franchise is one that has endured over multiple decades and with five films across nearly 15 years in this role, Daniel Craig bows out of this franchise with a legacy that will live forever.

The expectations were enormous, and after an agonisingly long wait, Craig’s final bow has met those expectations in an enthralling and stylish manner. A fitting send off for one of the best actors to ever don Bond’s tuxedo.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

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

© Marvel Studios

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

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

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Freaky (2021)

© BlumHouse Productions and Universal Productions

Freaky  – Film Review

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

Director: Christopher Landon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Suicide Squad (2021)

© Warner Bros and DC Films

The Suicide Squad  – Film Review

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

Director: James Gunn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Luca (2021)

© Disney and Pixar Animation Studios

Luca  – Film Review

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

Directors: Enrico Casarosa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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