Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Chicken Run (2000)

Image is property of Pathe, Aardman Animations, and Dreamworks

Chicken Run – Film Review

Cast: Julia Sawalha, Mel Gibson, Miranda Richardson, Tony Haygarth, Benjamin Whitrow, Timothy Spall, Phil Daniels, Jane Horrocks, Imelda Staunton, Lynn Ferguson

Directors: Nick Park and Peter Lord

Synopsis: When a hot headed rooster seemingly flies into their lives, a desperate group of captive chickens see him as their best chance to escape their captivity…

Review: What is the first thing you think of when you hear the name Aardman Animations? It’s quite likely that one would think of a man, and his faithful canine accomplice. With several Wallace and Gromit shorts enhancing their reputation as the undisputed champs of stop-motion clay animation, the transition to full feature film-making for Aardman was bound to happen sooner or later. Yet the studio’s star duo would have to wait their turn for the full length feature treatment. Instead, a plan was hatched, to take a humorous spoof of The Great Escape, but switch Steve McQueen out for some plasticine chickens, and the end result is poultry perfection.

On a farm run by the cruel Mrs Tweedy and her bumbling husband, dwell a deeply unhappy group of chickens. The birds’ lives are dominated by the fact that the must lay a sufficient amount of eggs, else be taken to meet a rather grim fate. The leader of this flock is Ginger (Sawalha) whose determination isn’t quite matched by her flock of hens as their numerous attempts of escape all end in disappointment. However, when the charismatic Rocky, or Rocky the Rhode Island Red to give him his full title (Gibson) by chance flies into their coop, Ginger realises that the power of flight represents their best shot at seeing their dreams of freedom come to fruition.

Poultry plotting…

Aardman showed to the world what they were capable of with their Wallace and Gromit short films. As such they made a seamless transition into into feature length film-making seamlessly, and their debut feature proved that they are the champs of claymation film-making. With every frame, it’s crystal clear that a considerable amount of care and effort that has gone into the frame’s creation. Each moment of the film has a plethora of detail, serving as a real testament to those animators who help bring these films to life. This in turn, is made all the more impressive, considering the sheer amount of time consuming effort that is required to animate each scene.

Ginger is certainly the star of the show here, but she’s given plenty of support from an array of colourful supporting characters. Ginger’s best friend, (and flying the flag for Scotland) is Mac, who is the brains behind many of the escape attempts. The dim-witted yet lovable Babs definitely utters the film’s more memorable and hilarious lines. Rounding out the core group of hens is Bunty, a hen with a sometimes aggressive streak to her character, who’s not afraid to say what she thinks about the plans to escape. As for the cockerels, there’s Fowler, the coop’s leader who enjoys a good reminisce about his RAF days (what, what!) who is left rather peeved when Rocky, with all of his cockiness and charisma, bursts onto the scene. This can also be said for Ginger, who’s left notably unimpressed by Rocky’s charismatic charms, which by contrast gets all of the other hens in a flap.

The plot is straightforward. However, it’s told in a very entertaining manner and the script gives the core group of hens, roosters, and a lovable pair of crafty rats, considerable depth that you care about each and every one them, and will them to escape the confines of their coop/prison. The film never fails to be consistently hilarious with lots of witty jokes and a handful of really impressive action set pieces with no shortage of fun nods to some cinematic classics of the past. While Aardman have made numerous films since Chicken Run flew into cinemas, it’s a testament to their debut feature, that it remains their most egg-ceptional, as well as still being their most successful film to date.

Exquisite animation, combined with colourful array of characters mixed in with some witty dialogue. A poultry perfect feature film debut for Aardman.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Da 5 Bloods (2020)

Image is property of Netflix

Da 5 Bloods – Film Review

Cast: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr, Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen
Jean Reno, Chadwick Boseman

Director: Spike Lee

Synopsis: Four Vietnam War veterans return to the country in search of the remains of their fallen squad leader and seek to obtain the stash of gold that the soldiers hid during the war…

Review: Cast your mind back to 2017, to the events of Charlottesville, USA. The world watched in horror, as it was given a brutal reminder of the sheer ugliness of the deeply entrenched racism still rampant in American society. A year or so after those ugly events, Spike Lee gave the world BlacKkKlansman, a film focusing on a true story about one man’s battle with rampant racism in one small town in America, before putting that into the wider context of Charlottesville and the racism that has been entrenched into American society for generations. Two years later after his last, and extremely thought-provoking joint, Lee is once again channelling his fury into another powerful, and in the wake of the appalling brutality that black communities in the US still face at the hands of law enforcement, extremely timely piece of film-making.

This new joint from the fiercely vocal director, and staunch Trump critic, once again provides a stark reminder of the brutality that Black people have, and continue to face in today’s society, with the war in Vietnam serving as the backdrop. Four African-American Vietnam War veterans: Paul (Lindo), Eddie (Lewis), Melvin (Whitlock Jr) and Otis (Peters) reunite for a deeply personal mission. They’ve returned the country, along with Paul’s son David (Majors), in search of the remains of their fallen squad leader Norm (Boseman) so that he can be brought home and properly commemorated. Simultaneously, they’ve returned to recapture the stash of buried gold that their unit was protecting during the war.

In a similar manner to what he did with BlacKkKlansman, Lee puts the events of the war, the experiences of these four veterans, and its unpopularity back in the USA into a wider context, that of a society that has been crippled with racism for generations. The battle that veterans, such as these four men, experienced in Vietnam may have ended many years ago. Yet for all their years of service, they continue to find themselves in an ongoing battle for equality and an end to a fundamentally racist system that has disproportionately affected the black community, for generations. A fundamental injustice that given rise to the Black Lives Matter movement, a movement whose voice and message, especially in the wake of the appalling murder of black people by police departments across the country, has taken hold not just in America, but across the world.

Each and every one of these actors turn in exceptional performances. The chemistry between the four veterans really shines through, they have certainly have been through hell and back together, which solidified the bonds that they have as brothers-in-arms. However, as the five them set off on their mission, tensions between them begin to mount over various subjects, tensions which threaten to tear their mission, and the bonds built between they have built as soldiers, apart. Lee is certainly a man who isn’t afraid to say what he thinks, and with this film that’s certainly applicable to what these soldiers are experiencing, but this is a joint that is about so much more than just the Vietnam War.

The performance that shines brightest though is by far and away, is Delroy Lindo as Paul. His fierce pro Trump views certainly don’t sit well with the rest of his fellow veterans, and that by consequence, will likely be the case with the audience too. While war does have long lasting consequences, for any soldier, it’s an experience that leaves its mark. This is certainly true for all the Bloods, but it’s especially applicable for Paul. With every word he utters, it’s crystal clear that the effects of the Vietnam War, and the years that have followed, have inflicted deep emotional turmoil upon him. Turmoil that makes you sympathise with him, as it has fundamentally changed him forever, resulting in a very fractured relationship with his son.

Chadwick Boseman might have garnered worldwide fame for his work in bringing Marvel’s Black Panther to life. However, this performance as the leader of this band of brothers, is a subdued, but emphatic display of his abilities as an actor, and the impact of what he brings to the film cannot be overstated. While Lee employs some slick editing, expertly combining present day with flashbacks to the fighting occurring in Vietnam. Though it is for the most part, slickly edited together, it does feel a tad overlong in places, and could have potentially shaved ten to fifteen minutes off its running time. Nevertheless, that does not minimise the film’s impact, as it shows how the battle continues for veterans such as these men, long after they have returned from the war. Their fight against the sheer ugliness of a society entrenched in systemic racism has continued in the decades that followed.

Given the appalling brutality that remains an ugly stain on American society, one can hope that the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement, can bring seismic, and much needed, needed change to end a society that is systemically rigged against veterans like the titular Bloods, and the black community as a whole. Though it is hard to ignore the current President and his deliberate attempts to stoke that racial division, that has enabled voices such as Spike Lee and the Black Lives Matter movement to emerge and use their platforms, to fight those fires of division and to spread these pivotal messages, messages that are crucially resonating with people across the world.

Powerful and heart-wrenching performances, especially from Lindo, mixed in with fierce and urgent messages that resonate with today’s society, now more than ever. Da 5 Bloods is the film that this year really needed.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Ready or Not (2019)

Image is property of Searchlight Pictures

Ready or Not  – Film Review

Cast: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Nicky Guadagni, Kristian Bruun, Elyse Levesque, John Ralston

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

Synopsis: As she marries into a wealthy family that owns a considerable empire built upon board games, a bride’s wedding night turns violent when she’s forced into a deadly game of hide and seek…

Review: When you think of a wedding, you picture them to be joyful, happy occasions filled with family, drinks and memories that will last a lifetime. Or, that’s at least how they usually go. However, for anyone marrying into a family that has a vast and considerable empire built upon board games, their wedding night will not involve a disco, lots of drinks and some joyous music. Instead, it will involve a game, a game of the considerably more bloody variety that pits everyone in a brutal battle for survival.

Grace (Weaving) is excited to finally be marrying into the Le Domas family as she ties the knot with her fiance Alex (O’Brien). Once the ceremony is concluded, Grace is invited by her new relatives to take part in a game that the Le Domas clan do every time someone new enters the family. When Grace chooses the “hide and seek” card, she initially believes that they will be playing a typical, innocent game of hide and seek. However, she soon realises that it it is anything but, as due to a curse that they believe an ancestor has placed on them, her crazed new relatives believe they must kill Grace, before the next morning, at all costs.

With such an absurd, and just completely bonkers premise, had the film taken a more serious approach it with itstone, it likely would have fallen flat on its face. However, the film knows what it is, and it uses the absurdity of that premise to its advantage. Writers Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy use this ludicrous premise, and transform it from your typical run-of-the-mill horror/slasher film, into a batshit, and brilliantly entertaining horror that expertly manages the balance between the comedic and horror elements of the story. It is made all the better by peppering brilliant moments of dark humour throughout, whilst significantly turning up the dial on some very over-the-top violence.

As the woman who’s forced into this deadly fight for survival, Samara Weaving, having had the smallest of roles in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, gives a spectacular, memorable breakthrough performance. Right from the moment you meet her, she’s an immensely likeable protagonist, and you will her to find the courage and resourcefulness to escape this dangerous life or death situation, that she finds herself in. The main source of comedy largely comes from the Le Domas clan, who clearly have no idea how to handle the rather antiquated weapons they’re using to try and eliminate Grace, which leads to some spectacularly entertaining moments.

Boasting some excellent production design, and likewise with the costumes, most notably Grace’s wedding dress, that goes through just a few wears and tears as the night wears on. While it almost never fails to be entertaining throughout its 95 minute run time, it does get to a point where the violence becomes so over the top and ridiculous, that the comedic aspect of it does begin to wear off a little bit. Touching upon themes of marriage, family, and a bitter class divide, the scope was there for these to be explored a little more. Though, it may make someone think twice before agreeing to marry into an eccentric and wealthy family in the future.

A brilliantly, and entertainingly bonkers blend of horror and comedy, with a truly memorable performance from Samara Weaving. This brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “till death do us part.”

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

Image is property of Paramount Pictures and Sega

Sonic the Hedgehog – Film Review

Cast: James Marsden, Ben Schwartz, Tika Sumpter, Jim Carrey

Director: Jeff Fowler

Synopsis: When a police offer finds a small, speedy blue hedgehog, he must do all he can to prevent him from falling into the hands of the nefarious Dr Robotnik..

Review: For anyone who grew up in the 90s, the video gaming industry was, by and large, dominated by two very prominent characters, that of an Italian plumber with a red hat, and a super-fast blue hedgehog. While the former has been brought to the big screen once before, albeit not very successfully, the latter’s journey to the big screen has at last arrived, and while it has been far from the speedy one he would have liked, it’s one that has defied the odds and delivered the goods.

When Sonic is forced to flee his home world, using the power of his magical rings, he arrives on Earth. Initially, his existence is completely unknown to everyone for a significant period of time. Though, when Sonic accidentally reveals his presence to local police officer Tom Wachowski (Marsden), the pair strike up a friendship. This puts Tom on a collision course with the Government, as they recruit the dastardly Dr Robotnik (Carrey), to pursue and capture Sonic for experimentation, which forces the two of them to flee for their lives.

Catch him if you can…

It’s no secret that when the first trailer for the film came out and the design of this iconic character was unveiled, it was to put it mildly, not well received at all. Fans gawped in horror at the design of Sonic. Hence, the film’s release was delayed so the design of Sonic could be re-jigged. A decision that paid dividends, as the revamped design of the titular character feels much more authentic, and less like some ungodly abomination that would have given viewers endless nightmares. Voiced and motion captured by Ben Schwartz, this redesign has the personality and the traits that make him feel like a version of the character that has been drawn from the games.

It wouldn’t be a Sonic film without his classic nemesis, and Jim Carrey gives everything he has into the role of Dr. Robotnik. This works a treat as he’s clearly having a tonne of fun playing such an eccentric antagonist, especially one that that enjoys twirling his moustache in the most hilarious cartoonishly evil manner. Carrey goes all in with his performance and it ensures that every moment he’s on screen is delightfully entertaining, and he’s easily the best aspect of the human cast. Aside from Carrey, Marsden is solid as the cop who must do all he can to prevent Sonic from falling into Robotnik’s hands. While the accompanying story of two unlikely individuals forming a friendship is nothing new, it serves the story of this little Blue ball of energy and how he strives to find his place on our world, very effectively.

While the action scenes are nothing particularly ground-breaking, seeing Sonic whizz across the globe duelling with Robotnik, with the iconic sound of Sonic’s rings as the perfect nostalgia boost for good measure, is undeniably entertaining. Though, there is one scene that, while you can understand why they would use a scene like it, feels like it’s a bit too similar to the iconic Quicksilver scene from Days of Future Past. Films based off video game franchises have often struggled to deliver the goods, and while it took time, eventually this adaptation has delivered a film worthy of bearing the name of one of the most beloved characters in video game history.

The story is cliched, but with a thankfully re-designed titular character and a pitch perfect villain, the film collects all the rings to deliver a worthwhile adaptation of a much beloved video game franchise.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Birds of Prey (2020)

Image is property of Warner Bros and DC

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)– Film Review

Cast: Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Chris Messina, Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong, Ewan McGregor

Director: Cathy Yan

Synopsis: Following a split from The Joker, Harley Quinn is determined to start fresh and get back on her feet. However, she soon realises that a number of people in Gotham want her dead…

Review: 2016, a year that promised so much for the DC Extended Universe. Two massive flagship blockbusters in the shape of Batman V Superman, and Suicide Squad were lined up. These were the two films that were supposed to kick-start their cinematic universe to the next level. Unfortunately, that hype soon turned to disappointment as neither lived up to those lofty expectations. Yet through that disappointment,  Margot Robbie’s performance bringing the much loved Harley Quinn to life proved to be one of the few rays of light. Subsequently along with a certain Amazonian warrior, a platform for the DCEU to build on going forward.

Following a brief recap of the events of Suicide Squad, Harley Quinn’s relationship with The Joker is over, something she announces in quite the dramatic fashion. Seeking to put this behind her and move on, it dawns on her that being with The Joker offered her protection from some of Gotham’s underworld. With that gone, a lot of these people are now baying for her blood, and they sense an opportunity to exact revenge on Harley for past grievances. Soon enough, Harley comes to the attention of crime boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) who’s seeking possession of a rare artefact that would enable him to take control of Gotham’s Underworld, putting him on a collision course with Harley and an array of other badass ladies.

Margot Robbie continues to prove that she was perfectly cast to bring the one of the most beloved comic book characters to life. She might (read probably) be a complete psychopath, but Robbie imbues Harley such charisma that it’s impossible not to get on her side. Gone are her Suicide Squad associates and in their place we are introduced to an exciting crop of badass heroines. We have Black Canary (Smollett-Bell), Cassandra Cain (Basco), Huntress (Winstead) and Renee Montaya (Perez). Though they all get a moment to shine, the most compelling character of the new crop is Huntress, an archer who is on a deeply personal mission of revenge, and who could definitely use her bow to kill you one hand tied behind her back.

For her first foray into the realm of super-hero film-making, Cathy Yan brings a vibrant, colourful energy to the action scenes, which never fail to be consistently entertaining. However, with the exception of one enthralling showdown in the second act, there’s a majority of these don’t take place until the film arrives at its concluding act, and all the pieces have fallen into place. Consequently, while they are consistently entertaining, there’s a distinct dearth of punch-the-air-in-delight moments, to really get the adrenaline pumping. With female empowerment beating at at the heart of the film, screenwriter Christina Hodson certainly captures that strong camaraderie and teamwork between the titular Birds of Prey. In spite of this being their first time on screen together, there’s a real feeling of sisterhood between the women, and it helps each of their performances shine.

Ewan McGregor as Roman Sionis was certainly a strong piece of casting and while he’s clearly having fun with playing a villain, he frustratingly doesn’t get enough material to sink his teeth into. While he’s certainly far from the least interesting to villain to have emerged from the DC Cinematic Universe, there’s just not enough material for him to create a lasting impression, which is a shame when you think of the calibre of dastardly villains that DC have in their repertoire, feels like a missed opportunity. Birds of Prey may not have been the home run DC wanted it to be, but with Harley and her baseball bat in hand, it’s certainly a solid swing in the right direction.

There’s vibrancy and entertainment to be found, but even with another pitch-perfect performance from Robbie, the screenplay frustratingly gives the titular team little time to shine.

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Image is property of Sony Pictures and Marvel

Spider-Man 2 Film Review

Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, Donna Murphy

Director: Sam Raimi

Synopsis: Now fully established as Spider-Man, Peter Parker struggles to balance his superhero duties, college and his personal life. All the while, after an experiment goes awry, the villainous Doctor Octopus is unleashed on New York City…

Review: When the line “with great power comes great responsibility” is uttered by Uncle Ben Parker around the middle of the first film in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, it was advice that Peter Parker brushed off at the time. However as the film’s events transpired and Peter became everyone’s friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, one of the last pieces of advice that Peter received from his beloved Uncle stuck with him, and transformed him into the wall-crawling badass. Furthermore, as a piece of advice that’s so powerful, it seems evident that it resonated the production team. As with the success that the first film enjoyed, the responsibility was on them to top that when it came to the sequel, and they absolutely delivered.

Having adopted his superhero mantra and doing a plethora of good deeds, not everything is going as Peter would want it to in terms of his personal life. He’s struggling at college and is struggling to connect with the love of his life MJ, whilst best friend Harry is still fuming with Spidey as believes Spider-Man was the man who killed his father. It’s a balancing act, and Peter just doesn’t quite have a hold on it. Things get even more tricky when brilliant scientist Dr Otto Octavius, who is aiming to change the world, sees an experiment go south and turns him into the villainous Doctor Octopus. It’s quite the job balancing all of these and not letting the plot get bogged down, but screenwriter Alvin Sargent balances all of these to keep the story moving swiftly along.

Maguire, Dunst and Franco are all once again tremendous in their roles. As the central characters you really feel for each of them, and the various situations they’re going through. Peter and MJ certainly made their feelings for each other known and you want to see them make it work. The very best superheroes have layers to them, that there’s so much more to them than the person behind the mask, and Maguire is very compelling as both Peter and the man behind the mask. Though Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin was a wonderful antagonist, he was sort of hampered by his costume. Fortunately there’s none of that here as Alfred Molina is superb in the dual role of the brilliant professor, Otto Octavius and the mad scientist super-villain with four mechanical arms, knock as Doc Ock after his experiment fails.

Raimi once again in the director’s web, and he does a tremendous job of fusing the injections of comedy that are peppered throughout the script, with some seriously dark and disturbing scenes. Much like its predecessor, there is one scene in particular that really pushes the boundary, and is perhaps a glorious nod to Raimi’s background in the horror genre. Though in terms of the action scenes, there’s absolutely nothing horrific here, just some crafted to perfection scenes that are pulsating to watch. Special mention to the battle on the train, which would surely rank as one of the best fight scenes in a superhero film without any question of a doubt.

There is an element of repeating the tropes of the first film for sure, but given that it worked a treat the first time, you can hardly blame Raimi and co for wanting to change up the formula, especially since what they produced here was an improvement on the first film.  With Danny Elfman again providing a superb accompanying score, Raimi hit all the right notes and ensured that Spidey swung his way to success once more, deservedly regarded by many as the best Spidey film that has graced the silver screen.

Improving on the foundations of the web that was weaved by the first film, adding great new layers and depth to the characters whilst delivering some truly jaw-dropping action scenes.

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Invisible Man (2020)

Image is property of Universal and Blumhouse

The Invisible Man – Film Review

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

Director: Leigh Whannell 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Onward (2020)

Image is property of Disney and Pixar

Onward – Film Review

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

Director: Dan Scanlon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Queen & Slim (2020)

Image is property of Universal, Makeready and eOne Entertainment

Queen & Slim – Film Review

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

Director: Melina Matsoukas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019)

Image is property of TriStar Pictures and Sony Pictures

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood – Film Review

Cast: Matthew Rhys, Tom Hanks, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper

Director: Marielle Heller

Synopsis: An investigative journalist is sent to do a small piece on the popular children’s TV personality Fred Rogers. As the two begin to strike up a friendship, it changes both of their lives forever…

Review: Growing up as children, we all had that one programme that was our favourite. The one that we would watch religiously, and many many times over. For countless upon countless children who grew up in the United States, that programme would undoubtedly have been “Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood.” The star of that show, was Fred Rogers, a figure beloved by millions and one whose impact on the world of Children’s TV, and one journalist, simply cannot be overstated.

The aforementioned journalist is Lloyd Vogel (Rhys) who’s in a rough spot in his life. His wife has just had a child, and his estranged father (Cooper) tries to contact him. Though, Lloyd is absolutely not interested, and firmly rejects his father’s attempts to reconnect. When Lloyd is sent by his employer to do a piece on Fred Rogers, he is extremely reluctant to put it mildly. However through each meeting, the two begin to strike up a friendship that helps Lloyd see the relationships in his life, as well as his job from a wholly different perspective. Through this, it enables him to begin to rebuild the bridges between him and his father.

In terms of perfect casting choices, you couldn’t have picked a more perfect actor to portray Fred Rogers than Tom Hanks. Hanks has proven time after time of his sheer talent as an actor, and once again he’s such a pleasure to watch. He imbues Rogers with such a warm and friendly personality that you can’t help but just fall in love with him and his joyful personality. Opposite him, when you first meet him, Lloyd is the antithesis of joyful. Battling being a father whilst simultaneously dealing with the difficult relationship with his own father. Initially, he doesn’t take on his assignment with Mr Rogers with much enthusiasm. Yet, as his time with Mr Rogers goes on, it completely transforms his life for the better.

There’s one particular moment when the two of them are out in public that could have come across as too saccharine for its own good. However, the moment is so touching and emotional that it should without fail, warm your heart and leave you smiling from ear to ear. For any viewer who may be unfamiliar with Rogers’s show, director Marielle Heller wonderfully recreates scenes from Mister Rogers’s Neighbourhood so that anyone who has never watched an episode can be brought up to speed and appreciate the wonderful work that has gone into recreating these scenes. Given that the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? told Fred Rogers’s story in detail, writers Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster make the wise choice to tell the story through Lloyd’s perspective, based on the article “Can You Say… Hero?” by the real life Lloyd, Dan Junod.

While Lloyd’s stiffness towards Rogers could grating to some, it’s understandable given the pressure he’s facing. The story is a little predictable in the direction that it goes in.  Yet given that such a story is filled with such positivity, is certainly not problematic by any means. It serves its purpose in telling this story effectively. Indeed, in an age where people are becoming more and more aggressive towards each other due to any number of factors, this is a film with an extremely timely message. It can serve as a very strong reminder of what Fred Rogers stood for, that kindness and affection towards not just your neighbour, but for everyone in general, can go a long way towards making society a better place for everyone.

With yet another superb performance from Hanks at its core, in a society that is becoming all the more fraught and divided, this is the film, and in particular a message, that at this moment in time, the world would do well to take heed to.