Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022)

© Lionsgate

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent – Film Review

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal, Sharon Horgan, Ike Barinholtz, Alessandra Mastronardi, Jacob Scipio, Neil Patrick Harris, Tiffany Haddish

Director: Tom Gormican

Synopsis: Faced with the prospect of a declining career, actor Nick Cage (Nicholas Cage) is offered the chance by a wealthy super-fan to revive his career, which gets him entangled with the CIA…

Review: For any actor, there is likely to be that one role that they dream of getting in their career. A role that will perhaps win them a prestigious award, or one that goes on to define their career. In the case of Nicolas Kim Coppola, or to give him the name many will undoubtedly know him by Nicolas Cage, pinpointing such a role is hard to nail down. For a career that began in 1981, he’s an actor that has gained a reputation, particularly in recent years, for his over-the-top and eccentric performances. Some of which, in the age of the internet and meme culture, become forever immortalised. But perhaps, the role that will define his career, is the one he’s playing here: a fictionalised version of himself.

Nick Cage is facing a career crisis. He’s trying hard to get major roles, but no one is willing to offer him the parts he’s going for. As such, he fears that his career as an actor may be coming to a close. As he has been solely focused on his career, his relationships with his ex-wife and daughter have become distant. However. when Javi (Pascal), a wealthy Nick Cage super fan, offers him one million dollars to be the guest of honour at his birthday party, it’s an offer he cannot refuse. The two men begin to strike up a friendship, bonding over their shared love of movies. This is until Cage soon finds himself unexpectantly working with the CIA when it’s revealed that Javi is a dangerous drug kingpin who they suspect could be behind a high profile kidnapping.

Pitching such a premise that is reliant on a very meta premise like this could have very easily gone horribly wrong and looked like the ultimate ego-driven and narcissistic vanity project for the actor at the centre of it. But fortunately, Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten’s script doesn’t come across that way at all. It is instead a tribute to an actor whose roles have given audiences so much over the years, from the award-worthy to the performances in films that are so bad they’re good. For passionate fans of Cage and his work, there are references aplenty to some of his most iconic performances of the past that die-hard Cage fans will absolutely love. But it would be easy for the film to just point out a previous performance and call back to it for some nice and easy nostalgia. The film finds plentiful amounts of humour in the situation that Cage finds himself in.

Speaking of Cage, having had something of a resurgence with his brilliant performance in last year’s Pig, this is yet another reminder of the man’s talents as an actor. Sure, playing yourself (or a somewhat fictionalised version) is not the most challenging of tasks, but Cage is clearly having a blast with this material and by consequence so will the audience, especially if you’re a fan of Cage’s filmography. Alongside Cage, Pedro Pascal is equally brilliant in his role as Nick’s new best friend/number one fan. The bromance the two of them strike up, bonding over their favourite movies is heart-warming, especially if you share that deep love of movies that these guys do. Furthermore, with some of the misadventures they get up to whilst Cage is staying at his home provides for plenty more moments of hilarity. The Cage/Javi bromance takes centre stage, which unfortunately means that the CIA side plot does feel tacked on, and both Tiffany Haddish and Ike Barinholtz do the best they can with what limited screen time they have.

The film does lose a bit of steam at various points when it deviates away from the central bromance. However, it’s not long enough to drag the movie down, especially given the man and the legend at the centre of it all. The funniest film of the year by far, and it will take some beating for another film to pip this one to the honour of the best title of the year as well. Two more worthy accolades in the career of someone whose work has already brought so much joy to so many. Long may that continue.

Brilliantly self-aware and doesn’t take itself too seriously, with a hilarious buddy comedy at its centre, a worthy celebration of the legend that is Nicolas Cage.

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Jurassic World Dominion (2022)

© Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment

Jurassic World Dominion  – Film Review

Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Isabella Sermon, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill, DeWanda Wise, Mamoudou Athie, BD Wong,

Director:  Colin Trevorrow

Synopsis: With humanity and dinosaurs now being forced to co-exist on the planet, the fate of both species is left hanging in the balance when a terrifying new threat to the food chain emerges…

Review: “I wanted to show them something that wasn’t an illusion. Something that was real, something that they could see and touch.” In many ways, these memorable words spoken by Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond during the original Jurassic Park film explaining his thought process for the creation of the attraction could reflect the vision of Steven Spielberg. Dinosaurs were creatures we all learned about in school and Spielberg’s genius vision for that very first film brought these magnificent creatures to life in ways that had never been previously imagined on the big screen, undoubtedly inspiring the imaginations of millions of audience members across the world. It’s a vision that, despite the best efforts of Hollywood, has never been fully replicated in spite of five films across nearly three decades.

Set four years after the events of Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom, dinosaurs are now living alongside humanity on Earth, threatening humanity’s position as the dominant species on the planet. Owen Grady (Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Howard) are trying their best to protect their adoptive daughter Maisie (Sermon) and the super-smart raptor Blue. However, upon the discovery of a horrifying new threat to the world’s global food chain, coinciding with a sinister plot by a mysterious new organisation to kidnap Blue, Owen and Clare must work together to uncover this plot and save the planet and humanity from extinction, which captures the attention of a trio of very familiar faces in Drs Alan Grant (Neil), Ellie Satler (Dern) and Ian Malcolm (Goldblum).

Ever since this franchise came roaring back onto our screens with Jurassic World, it has always delivered one thing to the best of its ability, and that is the thing that most people come to these films for: namely, the dinosaurs. While nothing will ever top the moment we saw a dinosaur for the very first time in Spielberg’s classic (especially with that iconic John Williams score) the film finds new ways to incorporate these prehistoric beasts into play. Whether it is the wonder of seeing dinosaurs for the first time, the thrill of discovering new dinosaurs, or dinosaurs escaping a volcanic eruption, the franchise has consistently delivered enthralling dino action.

With this closing chapter clocking in at 146 minutes, Trevorrow and Emily Carmichael’s screenplay does little to justify to warrant such a runtime. The first act is a little rough as it tries to juggle one too many different plot threads, with what could have been some interesting ideas getting quickly discarded. However, once it finds its feet, it delivers the exciting dinosaur popcorn fun you’ve come to expect from the franchise. The standout moment comes in a particularly thrilling chase sequence that feels like a hybrid combination of Jurassic World meets Mission Impossible meets the Bourne franchise. You could very easily pick some enormous dinosaur-shaped holes in the plot, but there is no denying that it delivers some gargantuanly fun popcorn entertainment.

While Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard once again give serviceable performances as the franchise’s leads, the franchise has some exciting new blood in the form of DeWanda Wise’s Kayla, a badass pilot who lends her skills to help rescue Blue and uncover this threat to the word’s food supply, while Mamoudou Athie also injects some exciting new blood as an employee at what is essentially InGen mark II. However, by far and away, the joyful aspect of the film is the returns of the beloved original trio of Dern, Goldblum and Neil. While Dern and Neil haven’t been seen since the franchise’s nadir (Jurassic Park III, in case you were wondering) it is so pleasing to see this beloved trio reunite once more, and especially for Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm, who is thankfully given a lot more to do this time around and once again proves himself to be this franchise’s MVP with his wit and humour.

With such a magnificent start to the franchise, it is a shame that in all the three decades since that game-changing first film, there has never been a film that has come nearly as close to recapturing that majesty, and the one who arguably came closest was Spielberg himself with The Lost World: Jurassic Park. While this closing chapter is an improvement on its predecessor, it is getting to the point where you think that they have accomplished all that they can and that now it might be time to let this franchise rest.

While the whole film could have been devoured by an unfocused first act, once it finds its claws and with the delightful return of the beloved cast of the first film, this concluding chapter to the Jurassic franchise found a way to reach an imperfect, but satisfying conclusion.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Top Gun: Maverick (2022)

© Paramount Pictures, Skydance Media and Bruckheimer Films

Top Gun: Maverick – Film Review

Cast: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Ed Harris, Val Kilmer, Monica Barbaro, Charles Parnell, Jay Ellis, Danny Ramirez, Greg Tarzan Davis

Directors: Joseph Kosinski

Synopsis: After decades of service in the US Navy, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is called back to train some new recruits for a dangerous new mission…

Review: What more is there to be said about Tom Cruise? For over four decades, here’s an actor who has poured his heart and soul into his projects, pulling off death-defying stunts, all to provide the audience with thrilling entertainment, which has cemented his reputation as one of the best action movie stars of his generation. While his most jaw-dropping stunt work has come in the Mission: Impossible franchise, arguably the first of the many iconic roles that he’s provided audiences with over the years was the cocky US Navy Pilot in Top Gun.  Now, somewhat much later than planned due to numerous delayed release dates, Cruise is taking audiences back to the skies once more, for an utterly enthralling sequel that will please long time fans of the original and new fans alike.

After more than three decades of service in the US Navy, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is right where he wants to be, serving as one of the most skilled pilots whilst continuously avoiding the calling of a higher rank that would prevent him from taking flight ever again. However, upon the request of Tom “Iceman” Kazinsky (Kilmer), he’s called back to Top Gun to lead the training of a batch of new recruits, billed as the best that the Navy has to offer, for a highly perilous mission that will test their skills as pilots to the limit. However, whilst training these new recruits, Maverick must contend with the fact that one of the new recruits is Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Teller), the son of his late best friend Goose, who died whilst flying with Maverick.

To reprise a role after over 30 years can be a risk, as it can so often be one of two things. It can either tell a story that is worth telling, or it could (especially given Hollywood’s love for using nostalgia) be used as a mere excuse to print money at the box office. While this sequel does walk the line between being nothing more than a nostalgia trip for fans of the original, it does earn its place as a more than worthy sequel. However, while the script by Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie certainly weaves some of that nostalgia into the story by immediately blasting Kenny Loggins’s opening song in the opening credits, it is also a story that packs plenty of emotional weight, especially where Maverick, and where he is at this moment in his life, is concerned.

Cruise, as he so often is, is effortlessly watchable. He exudes the swagger, charisma and cockiness that made him such made Maverick such an instantaneous icon of 80s action cinema. However, through all that charisma and extraordinary skill to fly a fighter plane, there’s an overriding sense of guilt that despite being cleared of any blame for the death of Goose, Maverick still feels responsible for what happened. It is a responsibility that he is forced to confront when Goose’s son Rooster becomes one of his pupils. While Maverick has to balance his desire to be the father figure for Rooster that he never had, and his teacher, Rooster continues to harbour resentment for Maverick’s part in his father’s death. The dynamic between the two creates an emotional arc that drives the story forward, whilst giving Teller an opportunity to remind us of what a talented actor he is with an extremely impactful performance.

For the majority of the new recruits, while they are all charismatic presences, any attempt at a backstory or character development for any of them, apart from Rooster, is minimal at best. This also goes for much of the rest of the new cast. There is an extremely emotional moment between Maverick and Val Kilmer’s Iceman. Jon Hamm shines with what little screen time he has as a Vice Admiral who would love nothing more than to ground Maverick for good. For Maverick’s love interest, there’s no mention of Kelly McGillis’s Charlotte. Instead, she is replaced by Jennifer Connolly’s Penny, a past flame of Maverick’s whose only purpose is to give him the motivation to ensure he makes it back home.

Re-teaming with Joseph Kosinski, who helmed Tron Legacy and Oblivion with Cruise, it’s not overstating it to say that these aerial action scenes are some of the most exhilarating action scenes that have ever been put to film. It is estimated that a whopping 800 hours worth of footage inside real-life planes was shot, enough time to watch the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy approximately 70 times over! It is an extraordinary herculean endeavour from all of the crew, from Kosinski’s immaculate direction to the terrific sound work, it puts the audience in the cockpit of these planes like they are in the cockpit with these incredibly skilled pilots as they train for the toughest mission of their naval careers.  When it comes time for the mission during the all-important third act, the tension is dialled to the maximum and never lets up for the rest of the film. After all those delays due to the pandemic, Top Gun: Maverick earns its wings by becoming a rare sequel that surpasses its predecessor in just about every single way.

A spectacular combination of pulsating spectacle, combined with a grounded and emotional story that pulls on the heartstrings, ensures that this is a sequel that passes with flying colours and will truly take your breath away. 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022)

© A24

Everything Everywhere All At Once – Film Review

Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Jenny Slate, Harry Shum Jr., James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis

Directors: Daniel Kwan and Dan Scheinert

Synopsis: Staring at the looming possibility of her business being forcibly closed down and amid rocky relationships with her family, a woman discovers she has the ability to travel through the multiverse…

Review: Humanity has long had a fascination with the concept of the multiverse, which has often found its way into the media that we consume. Most notably with science fiction and the realm of superhero movies, particularly the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It does make you wonder, what if there was an alternative version of you living in a universe in conjunction with this mad world we find ourselves living in? How would their life be different from the one you currently have and how different their world would be compared to ours? The answers to those questions, and so much more, can be found in one of the best explorations of this concept that’s ever been put to film.

Evelyn (Yeoh) is a Chinese-American woman who owns a laundromat whilst living in a tiny cramped flat above the laundromat with her husband Waymond (Quan). Her business is currently under audit by the IRS and Evelyn is up to her eyeballs in paperwork to sift through. To make matters worse, she’s presently enduring some troubled relationships with her family. Her marriage is teetering on the brink of divorce, her ailing father (Hong) is coming to visit and her relationship with her daughter Joy (Hsu) is breaking down to potentially the point of no return. Everything comes to a head when Evelyn realises, whilst in a crucial meeting with the IRS, that she has the power to travel through the multiverse. She’s able to see the various different lives she could have led, and as it turns out, is humanity’s last hope as a grave threat threatens to destroy not just her universe, but every single universe in existence.

If you have seen the previous film from Daniel Kwan and Dan Scheinert, collectively known as Daniels, where a farting corpse discovers the meaning of life and friendship, you know to expect the unexpected. But even with that caveat, nothing can truly quite prepare the audience for the breathtaking film that they are about to experience. Effortlessly combining multiversal travel, with flawlessly executed kung-fu inspired action scenes, absurd moments of brilliant comedy and a very sincere heartfelt story sounds like an impossible job for one film to accomplish. It would be very easy for any film dealing with multiverses to get lost in the madness and for things to spiral hopelessly out of control to the point where it’s nought but an incoherent mess that has scrambled your brain. Fortunately, Daniels’ screenplay is extremely airtight. The imagination to have come up with such a brilliantly realised story is beyond impressive. However, to go into much more detail and to give away some of the hilarious jokes and gags would be a disservice to the genius of Daniels’ brilliantly bonkers vision.

Michelle Yeoh has always been a very prominent figure across a plethora of Hollywood movies, from her memorable turns as a Bond lady in Tomorrow Never Dies to her scene-stealing work in Crazy Rich Asians, but it’s usually been from a supporting perspective. So, to see her given her first leading role in a Hollywood film is so immensely satisfying, because it is what an actor of her immense talent truly deserves. Yeoh throws everything she has into this role, doing all of her own stunts, and in turn, gives the many different lives of Evelyn that we see on screen so much depth. She demonstrates just why she’s such a revered actor and Yeoh gives the performance of her career. While the film belongs to Yeoh, the work of the supporting cast must not be discounted.

Having had a very small role in last year’s Shang-Chi, Stephanie Hsu gets her chance to shine as Evelyn’s disgruntled daughter Joy and she seizes that opportunity with both hands. There is so much depth and nuance to Joy and the relationship between Joy and her mother. Ke Huy Quan, who shot to fame with his early performances in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies had been away from the acting game for a while, so it is fantastic to see him return and give such a brilliant performance as Evelyn’s goofy husband Waymond. The icing on the cake is Jamie Lee Curtis’s hilarious turn as the grumpy IRS agent who’s leading the audit into Evelyn’s business.

Regardless of the medium, an exploration of the multiverse offers filmmakers/showrunners so many possibilities. However, the film doesn’t lose sight of its core story about the importance of family and finding one’s place in the world. It gives the audience that and an enthralling ride along the way that they are unlikely to forget any time soon. Films like Everything Everywhere All At Once don’t come around too often, but when they do, they demand to be celebrated and cherished. For as long as the cinematic art form exists, films like this one are a powerful reminder of the wonder that this medium can accomplish.

Taking a plethora of genres and throwing them all into one film could have very easily backfired. However, with a career-best performance from Michelle Yeoh, this cinematic masterpiece fully lives up to its title by being hilarious, exhilarating and heartfelt all at once.

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Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

© Marvel Studios

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – Film Review

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, Michael Stuhlbarg, Rachel McAdams

Director: Sam Raimi

Synopsis:  After an encounter with a girl who has the ability to travel in between different multiverses, Doctor Strange begins to fully grapple with the concept of the multiverse and the horrors it could unleash….

This review will be 100% spoiler-free…

 

Review:  The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become such a gargantuan cinematic juggernaut of an impressively inter-woven universe that has successfully tackled a plethora of different genres across 28 different films. However, despite all of its incredible accomplishments, there is one particular genre that (for understandable reasons) the MCU has avoided tackling, and that is horror. Multiple projects of Phase Four have established the multiverse as a central aspect to their stories, and an endless number of doors have simultaneously been opened for Marvel in Phase Four and beyond. Now, with the Multiverse in full swing, it has allowed Marvel to fully embrace this concept, and what better director to bring this to life, than Sam Raimi.

Following on from the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home, Dr Stephen Strange is beginning to grapple with the multiverse and all of its infinite possibilities. Whilst at the wedding of his former co-worker and one-time love interest Christine (McAdams) he encounters a girl named America Chavez (Gomez) who has the power to travel in-between multiverses. Strange quickly realises that with the scope of her powers, it is extremely likely that some dangerous individuals will soon be making their play, wanting her power for their own ends. Fearing the consequences if that came to pass, he seeks the help of someone else who has knowledge of the multiverse, Wanda Maximoff (Olsen), to help protect America and prevent her power from falling into the wrong hands.

In what is his sixth time playing the ex-Sorceror Supreme, Benedict Cumberbatch once again excels in the role. It is clear when we meet him that this is a man with a lot on his mind, especially since he played such an integral role along with Spider-Man (remember him?) in establishing the multiverse and all of its perils as a very real danger to the world that he is sworn to protect. Furthermore, even though his actions helped restore the universe to undo the consequences of the Blip, there are some decisions that Strange is grappling with. Most notably, concerning his one-time flame Christine. However, with the arrival of America Chavez, Strange knows that he cannot afford to dwell on the past, because dangers both old and new, are threatening to reap unimaginable destruction on not just our world, but every world out there. Given how central her character is to the film, Xochitl Gomez brings likeability, fearlessness and determination to the role of America Chavez, and she stands toe to toe with the experienced MCU regulars.

While Cumberbatch excels, the even bigger star of the show here is Olsen’s latest portrayal of Wanda Maximoff. The events of WandaVision gave Olsen a chance to dive deep and fully explore the tragedy of this character. Having seen what her life could have been through those alternate realities, this is a woman who is on a deeply personal mission. Now fully embracing her Scarlet Witch mantra and fuelled by a frightening combination of rage, grief and heartache for her long lost family, it enables Olsen to demonstrate a side to Wanda that’s unlike anything we’ve seen before, an extremely powerful being who’s more than capable of giving any character in this universe a run for their money, and more than likely, a good arse-kicking.

With his experience with both the realm of Marvel with the original Spider-Man trilogy, along with the Evil Dead trilogy that launched his career as a director, it is fantastic to see Sam Raimi back in the director’s chair after a nearly decade long hiatus since his last project in 2013. The visual effects wizards once again bring the magic when it comes to the actions scenes, but it is no coincidence that with Raimi at the helm, the film really pushes the boundaries of the 12A/PG 13 rating, in a way that the MCU has never done up to this point. Some scenes definitely have a more noticeably horror movie element to them, and are much more violent. It could have been a match made in multiversal heaven. However, it’s really disappointing that Michael Waldron’s (who wrote the Disney+ TV show Loki) screenplay quickly becomes very convoluted and is filled with a frustrating amount of exposition that really drags the film down, with certain scenes serving as little more than fan service that doesn’t drive the plot forward.

With a title like In the Multiverse of Madness, audiences would surely have expected a thrilling ride that delves deep into the madness of the concept of a multiverse, especially given what the MCU has already explored with the concept thus far. Yet, the reality is that what’s presented here only really scratches the surface of what it could have explored in the 126 minute run time. Multiversal shenanigans are enjoying an unprecedented spell of popularity at this moment in time, and the potential was there for another great entry into this particular sub-genre. Yet, even with the recruitment of Raimi, not even his wizardry can conjure away the feeling that this is a massive missed opportunity.

It’s a joy to see Sam Raimi return to the realm of superhero filmmaking. Though, even with him working his magic, this multiversal adventure never fully lives up to the potential teased by its bonkers title.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Turning Red (2022)

© Disney and Pixar Animation Studios

Turning Red  – Film Review

Cast: Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Hyein Park, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, James Hong

Director: Domee Shi

Synopsis: The life of 13-year-old girl life is turned upside down when she discovers that whenever she experiences increased levels of emotion, she turns into a giant red panda…

Review: No matter who you are, growing up is tough. Making that transition from childhood to those teenage years, there is an awful lot to contend with. There are changes to your body that you’ve got to contend with, but also changes to your life as you take on increased responsibilities and gradually gain more and more independence from your parents as the years go by. Pixar Animation Studios have often enjoyed phenomenal success in exploring some of the many changes that life throws at us, such as moving house, the loss of a loved one or the massive existential question of what we were put on this Earth to do. The studio’s 25th feature film doesn’t quite go that existential, but it explores a beast that we all have to contend with at some point in our lives.

The year is 2002 and Meilin “Mei” Lee (Chang) is a bright and determined 13-year-old living in Toronto. She excels in school, gets top grades and has a great group of friends. As it is the early 2000s, the boyband craze is thriving as Mei and her friends share a deep and passionate adoration for popular boyband 4*Town. Despite being a very confident and outgoing person, Mei is experiencing a substantial internal conflict, in that she wants to be herself, but her mother Ming’s (Sandra Oh) expectations of her to be the perfect daughter give her considerable anxiety, to the extent that she has to hide certain aspects of her personality. On the cusp of those chaotic teenage years, Meilin realises that whenever she experiences a heightened state of emotion, be it positive or negative, she turns into a giant, fluffy red panda.

Coming-of-age stories have often explored the concept of puberty, but it is so often from the perspective of male characters. Therefore, it is extremely refreshing to see this topic approached entirely from the perspective of a female character, particularly because there’s still a bizarre stigma when it comes to the topics of periods and menstruation, which is completely absurd. However, this isn’t to say that the film is exclusively aimed at women and girls, because as they so often do, Pixar give their films a universal appeal. What makes Domee Shi and Julia Chao’s screenplay so effective to appeal to a universal audience, irrespective of gender, is the thorough examination of the changes that go on in your life when puberty strikes, and we make that transition from childhood into your utterly mental teenage years.

These are years which can be completely chaotic and full of awkward interactions, as you begin to potentially form the friendships you hope to make for life. It’s the time in your life when you find yourself wanting to rebel more and more against your parents. Whether you begin to develop feelings for someone or take up a new hobby, above all, these are the years where your life really begins to take shape as you become your own person. Rosalie Chiang’s brilliant voice performance encapsulates this perfectly. She thinks knows herself and her personality (at least until the transformation into the red panda enters the picture) and that puts her on a direct collision course with her mother. Ming struggles to accept that Mei is not the perfect daughter that Ming wants her to be.

Having won an Oscar for the adorable short film Bao, becoming the first woman to direct a short for Pixar in the process, Domee Shi continues her trailblazing legacy by becoming the first woman to solely direct a feature-length film for the studio. The quality of the animation never disappoints when it comes to Pixar, with the scenes involving the red panda transformations being particular standouts. However, the visuals have an unmistakable anime inspiration to them, which in turn helps give them a certain visual uniqueness that’s unlike anything else in the studio’s catalogue. Pixar films can so often reduce the audience to blubbering messes. Their latest doesn’t have that emotional gut-punching moment, but it took a risk by tackling subject matter that’s still weirdly taboo in the hope of eliminating that stigma, which deserves to be celebrated.

A hilarious and heartfelt tribute to those chaotic pre-teenage years. Breaking new ground in its approach with its approach to its subject matter ensures that Turning Red is a furry triumph for Domee Shi and Pixar.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Northman (2022)

© Universal Pictures, Regency Enterprises and Perfect World Pictures

The Northman  – Film Review

Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk, Willem Dafoe

Director: Robert Eggers

Synopsis: A Viking Prince swears brutal revenge after witnessing his father’s death at the hands of his traitorous uncle…

Review: Over the last few years, there have been several up-and-coming directors who have made a significant impact with their careers, establishing their reputations as sought after talent, with every film they make becoming event-worthy. One such director would be Robert Eggers. His first two films, The Witch and The Lighthouse, with a combined budget of $15million, became indie darlings that were both released to critical acclaim. With that success to his name, it has given Eggers the platform to go all out, backed by a studio’s considerably larger budget (between $70 and 90 million), and make his biggest and most visually striking film to date.

Prince Amleth is a happy young Viking boy living with his father King Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke) and his mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman). Aurvandill is aware that the time will come for Amleth to one day assume the responsibilities of King in his stead. However, before Aurvandill can properly prepare him for his role as King, Auravandill is betrayed and murdered by his brother Fjölnir (Claes Bang). Faced with the prospect of certain death at his uncle’s hands, Amleth is forced to flee but vows brutal revenge against his Uncle for his crimes. Several decades later, the now-adult Amleth (Skarsgård) has transformed into a fierce and brutal Viking warrior. Having lost sight of his original mission for vengeance, a chance meeting with a seeress (a brilliant cameo by Icelandic singer Björk), reminds him of the promise he made to himself all those years ago.

Welcome to the Viking gun show…

Based on the legend of Amleth, which served as the inspiration for the character of Hamlet in the famous play by Shakespeare, Eggers and the Icelandic poet and novelist Sjón, have crafted a screenplay that is so steeped in the richness of Norse mythology, that there probably could be a whole short film devoted to the extensive research that undoubtedly went into the making of the film. While it is first and foremost a tale of one man’s mission for revenge, Eggers takes a lot of time in the first act to establish the culture and the mythology that was central to the civilisation at the time, while simultaneously incorporating the visually striking aesthetics he’s renowned for.  By taking his time to explore the complexities of Norse mythology, Eggers is able to immerse his audiences with scenes of wild rituals, songs and spells and sacrifices. While it is true that at its heart, the plot is very much one man’s quest for bloody revenge against the man who committed a terrible atrocity against him many years ago. However, that does the plot a disservice, as there’s so much more meat on the bones to this story.

Such a physical and brutal film requires a committed leading performance, and in Alexander Skarsgård’s leading turn as Amleth, you have that and then some. His physical transformation for this role is extremely impressive, practically at times having transformed himself into a terrifying feral creature that’s more animal than man. He’s an absolute behemoth of a warrior that you would categorically not want to find yourself in battle with. While his physical prowess cannot be denied, there’s unfortunately not a lot of room for character development, beyond his desire for revenge. The character of Fjölnir could have been a very cliched villain who commits an act of betrayal against his family out of jealousy towards his brother. But as a terrifying and ruthless antagonist, Claes Bang imbues him with nuances and motivations that flesh him out.

Re-teaming with Eggers, after The Witch, Anya Taylor-Joy’s Olga is perhaps the character who is given the most development as the sorceress Olga. A witch who’s resourceful and with a cunning intellect, she works closely with Amleth to help him achieve his goal. A further reunion comes in the form of Willem Dafoe, who is clearly having a riot in his small but significant role of Helmir the Fool. Given she’s reduced to a cameo appearance in the first two acts, you’d have been forgiven for forgetting Kidman was even in the film at all. However, this all dramatically changes as she really stamps her authority onto the scene during the climactic third act.

As this is a tale about vengeance, some violence was inevitable, but this time around, Eggers holds nothing back. The violence is uncompromisingly brutal that will test even the strongest of stomachs. The thrum of the booming drums that make up a considerable chunk of the score is the perfect complement to the sweeping visual majesty of the rip-roaring spectacle. Even with one or two pacing issues in and around the middle, it’s not enough to drag down the sheer epicness of what Eggers brings to this tale. Into the halls of Valhalla, we go!

Bloody, ferocious and wildly entertaining, with an exceptional cast and an extraordinarily committed leading performance from Skarsgård, an ascension into the halls of the greatest revenge films of all time awaits.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Morbius (2022)

© Sony Pictures, Columbia Pictures and Marvel

Morbius  – Film Review

Cast: Jared Leto, Matt Smith, Adria Arjona, Jared Harris, Al Madrigal, Tyrese Gibson

Director: Daniel Espinosa

Synopsis: In search of a cure for his rare condition, a doctor inadvertently transforms himself into a super-human vampire…

Review: Vampires, creatures of the night that humanity has always had a fascination with. From the sparkly to the scary, there’s been no shortage of stories over the years that have depicted these mythical creatures. This is especially the case where comic book films are concerned. For Marvel, the Blade series is arguably the franchise that laid the groundwork for the explosion of popularity that comic book films have enjoyed in recent years. Yet, there’s another character in the Marvel realm who dwells among the world of vampires, Michael Morbius. His journey to the big screen is the latest film to emerge from Sony’s Spider-Man Universe. Blighted by numerous COVID release delays, while these have not always been a curse, in this instance, this is a truly cursed film that is pretty much dead on arrival.

Michael Morbius (Leto) is a brilliant but arrogant doctor whose work has helped save millions of lives. Despite his success, he’s never been able to cure either himself or his surrogate brother Milo (Smith), both of whom suffer from a rare blood disease that is slowly killing them. When Morbius attempts a very dangerous experiment in a bid to find a cure, he finds success, but at a cost. The experiment turns him into a vampire-like creature with enhanced speed and strength, but the drawback is he suddenly has a craving for human blood and must find a way to stop this before he starts feeding on the innocent people of New York City.

It’s not exactly news that comic book movies have come into their own in the last few years as they continue to enjoy almost unprecedented popularity. Given that there are so many films now in this genre, there’s an imperative need for any superhero film being released in today’s saturated market to stand out from the crowd. There needs to be a unique selling point and the script from Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless completely misses the mark as it is as bland and generic as they come. There is nothing we’ve not seen before, and above all else, it commits the biggest sin of being exceedingly boring. The stakes (pun absolutely intended) are non-existent, and nowhere near enough work is done to flesh out Morbius as a compelling and well-developed character that the audience should be invested in.

Jared Leto’s an actor that always seems to attract attention, particularly with his committed method-acting to prepare for roles. Whether he’s sending rats to his castmates to prep for a role as The Joker in Suicide Squad, or dialling up the camp factor to the maximum for House of Gucci, he certainly goes all in for the roles he chooses, but his performances, particularly where those two films are concerned left a lot to be desired. The same once again is applicable to his portrayal of the titular character here. Given Leto’s tendency to go all out, this is dialled back a bit, but like the film’s dull and uninspiring script, Leto does nothing to elevate the film. A vampiric anti-hero could, and really should have been a really interesting character, but he turns in such a dull and stoic performance, it’s almost as if his transition into a vampire drained the film out of every last drop of charisma it could have had.

This is even more doubly frustrating as the talents of the supporting crew are completely wasted on such poor material. Matt Smith is the only one who seems to have got the message to have some fun as he provides some sparks as Morbius’s brother Milo, who becomes jealous when Morbius gets his powers and wants to find the cure for himself, despite the downsides it may bring. The relationship between Morbius and his partner Martine Bancroft (Arjona), a fellow doctor, could have been an interesting plot point. However, like so many aspects of the film, it’s completely under-developed and the chemistry between the two of them is essentially non-existent. Jared Harris and Tyrese Gibson do what they can with their roles, but their talents also completely go to waste due to the poor material they’re given to work with.

The exploration of Morbius’s powers offers the opportunity to utilise some exciting visuals, but beyond that, there’s nothing that director Daniel Espinosa can do to elevate the action sequences. By and large, in spite of the film being released in 2022, everything about the film has the look and feel of a lesser comic book movie that would have been released in the 2000s as the CGI is shockingly sub-par in more than a few places. By the arrival of the third act, the film devolves into a messy, and unexciting CGI battle of two-similar powered beings squaring up to one another. While this is a very common trope of the genre, there’s an inclination to let it slide if the central hero is well developed, and the action is exciting to watch. Morbius ticks neither of these boxes. Like a vampire draining the blood of its victim, what fun could have been had here is completely drained out by this exceedingly dull affair.

Distinctly lacking an iota of personality and with absolutely no unique stylistic choices, Morbius takes what could have been an exciting story and fritters away that potential over 104 joyless minutes.

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Belle (2022)

© Studio Chizu and Toho

Belle  – Film Review

Cast: Kaho Nakamura, Ryō Narita, Shōta Sometani, Tina Tamashiro, Lilas Ikuta, Kōji Yakusho, Takeru Satoh

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Synopsis: When a shy teenage high school student discovers the online world of “U”, she disappears under her online persona of talented singer Bell, where she soon becomes a viral sensation…

Review: Life in the 21st-century has very much become a society where the internet and social media has become entrenched in just about every aspect of modern life. Having a presence on social media is of paramount importance, especially for younger generations. Social media can be a wonderful place, giving any individual the chance to connect with like-minded individuals and to offer an escape from the madness of the real world. While this vast digital platform does offer plentiful opportunities, it is not without its perils. For his latest film, Mamoru Hosada has crafted an exquisite piece of storytelling that examines this digital universe, whilst also providing a modern update for the tale as old as time.

Suzu is a high school student living in a rural village with her father. She has a passion for singing, but ever since an extremely traumatic incident when she was a child, she has struggled to rediscover that passion that she once had for singing and song-writing. Despite his best efforts, Suzu’s father is unable to connect with her, and their relationship has become extremely distant. When she discovers the vast virtual world of “U”, it’s a place that enables Suzu to disappear into a brand new digital world. In this world, she is able to rediscover her voice and adopts the online persona of Belle, where she quickly becomes a viral sensation with her incredible singing talent, attracting the attention of the entire population of “U”. Whilst enjoying the adulation and the spotlight, Belle discovers the mystery of another avatar, known only as The Dragon. She becomes intrigued and strives to know more about him.

The vast digital world that we have at our fingertips today is an incredible one that offers anyone a plethora of opportunities to follow and meet like-minded people and to express themselves creatively. This can be a positive outlet for people, which can help boost their creative sparks. However, it can also be an exceedingly dangerous place where people can be subjected to unspeakable cruelty and callousness. Hosoda’s screenplay is hugely ambitious in this respect, as it attempts to take a thorough exploration of both the positives and negatives when it comes to this vast digital platform. Marvelling at the power that such a digital world can do for a person’s morale, whilst simultaneously highlighting the dangers and dark sides that come with internet fame and popularity, such as trolls and cyberbullying.

However, this is merely scratching the surface of the story that Hosoda has penned. It is also a profound examination of the effect that bereavement can have on a child. Not only that, but it explores the adverse effect that this can have when it comes to a child’s creative outlets and how they want to express themselves. As if that wasn’t ambitious enough, the reinvention of the classic fairy-tale of Beauty and The Beast for a 21st-century audience, adds another fascinating layer to the story. In this world of “U”, Belle strives to understand who this beastly character is. Is he really is the terrible, and evil monster that the world of U portrays him as? Or could it be that he’s just misunderstood? With such an ambitious screenplay that has numerous different concurrent plot threads being weaved together, the film could have got convoluted very quickly. However, Hosada’s expertise shines through, and his screenplay weaves them all together in a thoroughly profound and emotionally resonant manner.

When it comes to modern animation, the technology that animators have at their disposal is so advanced that audiences have come to expect the best quality animation every time. Yet such effort takes a lot of work, and even with that weight of expectation, the work that the animation team accomplishes to make the world of “U” feels like a fully realised place is absolutely astounding. Using a perfect combination of more traditional hand-drawn animation, with CG animation, the work done by every animator is absolutely astounding. On top of which, the character designs for each of the avatars in “U” is absolutely extraordinary. From Belle’s long pink hair, to her freckles, to the extraordinary detail on the Dragon. Every character in this world feels less like they are an online persona, and more like a real person. If at the mere touch of a button, there was such a vast digital world that offers a wealth of opportunities for individuals to reinvent themselves, it’s surely an opportunity that anyone would surely seize with both hands.

 An emotional and profound examination of the wonders and perils of the digital age, intertwined with a beautiful reimagining of a classic fairy-tale. Mamoru Hosoda has crafted a stunning and heart-wrenching masterpiece.

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Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Batman (2022)

© Warner Bros and DC Comics

The Batman  – Film Review

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell

Director: Matt Reeves

Synopsis: In his second year of crime-fighting in Gotham City, Batman begins to investigate a series of crimes that appear to be connected to a serial killer known as The Riddler…

Review: Ever since the character of Batman made his comics debut in 1939, there has been something that’s inescapably appealing about this iconic character. It’s a testament to Batman’s creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger, that in the ensuing decades, his popularity has not waned (pun absolutely intended). For generations of comic book fans, he has continued to be arguably the most recognisable, and popular superhero of all time. Given the character’s popularity, it’s no surprise that numerous directors have taken on the challenge of adapting him for the big screen. Over the years, we’ve seen the sublime, and the ridiculous. Now, under the vision of Matt Reeves, a fantastic new interpretation of the Dark Knight has been born.

Bruce Wayne (Pattinson) is in his second year of fighting crime in Gotham City as the masked vigilante known as Batman. Gotham is a city that’s seemingly trapped in perpetual rainfall, combined with the murky cloud of the city’s extensive criminal underworld. It’s a grim combination that gives Gotham an ominous, foreboding atmosphere, where crime is running rampant and the police are overwhelmed. When a series of brutal murders start taking place in the city, Batman and the Gotham City Police Force begin to investigate. As they begin to piece together the sadistic clues left behind at these grisly crime scenes, they begin to uncover evidence that all of these crimes are linked to a masked serial killer known only as The Riddler.

Donning The Bat’s cape and cowl is an extraordinary responsibility for the actor to take on. Many great actors have taken on this challenge, and every time, each one has brought something unique to the role. With Pattinson’s portrayal, he proves what an outstanding choice he was to take on the mantle. Batman is a character who has multiple aspects to his personality, the man he is behind the mask is a very different one to the one who dons the mask. Any actor tasked with this role must differentiate between these personalities, and Pattinson hits the mark perfectly. However, the casting of Batman is just one piece of the puzzle. One cannot have Batman without his trusted Police ally, Jim Gordon. Side by side with Batman as they solve this riddle, Wright brings his usual charisma to this role, and the pair of them make an effective crime-fighting duo. Plus, one cannot talk about Bruce Wayne’s allies without mentioning Alfred. It’s rare to see him outside of motion-capture performances, but in what screen time he has, Andy Serkis excels.

Casting is such an important part of film-making and it’s high time these people were recognised for their work, especially when the choices, like in this film are flawless. Selina Kyle/Catwoman is always a nuanced and fascinating character to explore. Not quite a hero, but far from a villain, especially when compared to some of the citizens of Gotham. We see a very interesting element to her backstory that’s seldom been explored before, and the chemistry between Kravitz and Pattinson’s Batman is extremely palpable. Of all the iconic superheroes that have graced the big screen over the years, there’s arguably no superhero that has quite more the eclectic gallery of villains than Batman. Though we’ve seen certainly seen some villains more than others. Hence, it is extremely pleasing to see the film bring to the fore many villains that haven’t had as much exposure as others.

Caking an actor in a considerable amount of makeup is not a guaranteed recipe for success, but in this instance, it works perfectly. Unrecognisable under said makeup as the dastardly Penguin, Colin Farell is clearly having a ball with this villainous role. However, in Paul Dano’s portrayal of the Riddler, here’s an extraordinary, terrifying performance that is destined to join the ranks of iconic villains that we have seen in Batman films over the last several decades. From the moment the Riddler makes his first appearance, he immediately sends chills down the spine, delightfully taunting Batman and the Gotham Police with the crimes he’s carrying out. Plus, with all the clues that he leaves at the crime scenes, it makes for a fascinating game of Cat (or should that be Bat?) and Mouse as Batman faces a race against time to solve these clues and figure out what The Riddler is planning.

After his extraordinary work with the two most recent Planet of the Apes films, self-confessed Batman fan Matt Reeves proves he was the perfect choice to helm this new take on this character. The script, written by Reeves and Peter Craig, remains gripping right throughout the 175-minute running time, whilst perfectly illustrating that Batman’s skills as a detective are second to none. Hence, the decision to pit him against the Riddler was proved to be an absolute masterstroke, as he’s a character someone who is well equipped to take on Batman in those psychological mind games. Combined with Greg Fraser’s suitably brooding cinematography that captures Gotham’s ominous atmosphere, Reeves’s direction, especially with those action scenes that are drenched in a continuous downpour, is especially thrilling. For a film that’s just shy of three hours, questions are always going to be asked about that run time, and the editing by William Hoy and Tyler Nelson ensures that the film is perfectly paced.

Through all the decades that we’ve seen Batman on screen, there’s been no shortage of memorable scores that have accompanied the Caped Crusader. Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer have both given this character an instantly recognizable theme. With his atmospheric score, Michael Giacchino can add his name to the list of composers who have provided iconic music for this character. Through each new portrayal, the enduring appeal of Batman has been passed down through generations of audiences. With this fantastic new incarnation, the legend of The Dark Knight continues to shine brightly, like the Bat-signal illuminating the skies of Gotham City. Bob Kane and Bill Finger would be immensely proud.

Dark and filled to the brim with nerve-shredding scenes that perfectly capture the essence of everything that makes Batman who he is. Matt Reeves’s vision of this iconic character is one that will stand the test of time, as one of the best versions ever produced.