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. 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

CODA (2021)

© Apple TV+

CODA – Film Review

Cast: Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez, Troy Kotsur, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Daniel Durant, Marlee Matlin

Director: Sian Heder

Synopsis: As the only hearing member of her family, Ruby (Jones) acts as an interpreter for her family. When the family business comes under threat, she finds herself torn between helping her family, and pursuing her dreams…

Review:  Families, it can really mean the world of difference to have them around us as we navigate this storm that we call life. They can be our influences for what we want to do with our lives, as well as being essential pillars of support as we grow up, and navigate the testing periods of our lives. There might be situations where a barrier, such as a communication barrier, prevents someone from being truly unable to fully understand and appreciate the passion that drives someone to be who they want to be. When such barriers exist, the bond and the love that each family shares can be so strong, that it has the potential to break those barriers down.

High school student Ruby Rossi is a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), and the only hearing member of her family. When not at school, she works on her family’s fishing business. As she’s the only one in her family who can hear, she acts as a crucial link of communication between the family business and their bosses. Outside of school and her job with her family’s business, Ruby has a strong passion for singing and harbours ambitions to go to a prestigious musical college. However, this puts her in an extremely difficult position, as her family depend on her for the survival of their business. When she tells her family of her dreams, they don’t want her to go as she is integral to the survival of the business. Furthermore, because they are unable to fully appreciate her talent, they can’t understand why this means so much to Ruby. Consequently, this leaves Ruby in a difficult position as to whether she should continue to support the family business or pursue her dreams.

There’s been no shortage of coming-of-age stories over the decades. Hence, it would feel unlikely that a film in this genre could do much to reinvent the genre. In truth, there are extremely familiar beats throughout the film, but there’s something about CODA and its approach to its story that feels very sincere and authentic. A lot of this comes down to the extraordinary performances of the entire cast, but especially Emilia Jones’s wonderful leading performance as Ruby. Before production on the film started, Jones spent nine months learning American Sign Language. Putting in that time to initiate herself with what someone in that situation would go through requires an extraordinary amount of dedication and commitment. In turn, this translates into a very sweet and sincere dynamic between her and the rest of her family.

Speaking of the rest of the family, Troy Kotsur and Marlee Matlin, who are deaf in real life, give equally wonderful performances as Ruby’s parents, Frank and Jackie. Despite the communication barrier that exists between them and Ruby, they both want to do their utmost to connect with their daughter and understand her passion for singing.  The casting of real-life deaf actors is crucial, firstly because representation matters, but also because they add so much depth/sincerity to the emotional impact of the film. There’s always a risk that when it comes to such a heartwarming story like this one, it will come across as a bit too saccharine. However, Sian Heder’s script expertly strikes the right tone between the impactful family drama and outright hilarious scenes. These scenes involve some awkward moments between Ruby and her parents, who are blissfully unaware of how loud they are in certain situations, causing maximum embarrassment for Ruby.

Aside from the sweet and hilarious family dynamic that Ruby shares with her family, another crucial figure is Eugenio Derbez as Ruby’s choir teacher, Bernardo Villalobos. We may have all had one particular teacher at school who understood better than anyone else that passion you had for a particular subject. Yet, for whatever reason, be it due to bullying, or an unwillingness to come out of your shell, you were unable to fully translate that passion into realising what a true gift that you had. He’s that teacher who, through their sheer enthusiasm and passion for the subject, is able to unlock Ruby’s potential. Music teachers have sometimes been portrayed as quite the hostile and threatening type to demand excellence from their students. While Bernado is not quite on the level of throwing chairs at his students, he’s not afraid to say what he thinks when he senses the conflict that’s going on in Ruby’s mind and why she might be holding back from pursuing this dream.

The film does not reinvent the genre, because it does not need to. Its approach its story is so sweet and heartfelt, that it doesn’t matter that it plays out exactly how you would expect it to. They may be familiar beats of most coming-of-age stories, but when the characters are this well realised, in a story that’s likely to connect with all who watch that by the time the credits roll, you’ll be having a hard time trying to hold back the emotions.

While it undoubtedly has familiar narrative beats that have been seen in many a coming-of-age story, thanks to the flawless performances of its cast, this beautiful and heartfelt coming of age drama hits all the right notes.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Don’t Look Up (2021)

© Netflix

Don’t Look Up  – Film Review

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Scott Mescudi

Director: Adam McKay

Synopsis: When two astronomers discover a deadly comet is directly on a collision course with Earth, they try to sound the alarm to the rest of the world…

Review: It’s one of the most pressing matters that humanity in the 21st century is having to contend with: the future of the planet that we call home.  It’s an issue that has attracted the attention of the world’s media and has prompted figures from all corners of the globe to take a stand and urge those in positions of power to act before it is too late. Yet, in recent years, we have seen some world leaders fail to recognise what is truly at stake for the future of our planet. Having turned his eye on the 2008 Economic crash and the rise and fall of US Vice President Dick Cheney, Adam McKay has now turned his attention to this impending threat facing humanity, the responses of those who wield the power to do something about it, and how various aspects of modern life cover this pressing issue our planet is facing. And he does so, in the smuggest and most pompous manner possible.

Astronomers Dr Randall Mindy (DiCaprio) and Dr Kate Dibiasky (Lawrence) make an alarming discovery: a giant comet is set to collide with Earth in around six months time. When it collides, it will cause catastrophic destruction on a global scale. Heading straight to Washington D.C. to inform the President (Streep) of their discovery, they are astounded when the White House doesn’t choose to take immediate action to stop the apocalyptic threat. Left with little option, they resort to other methods in order to inform the rest of the planet, in the hope that their warnings of impending doom will somehow prompt those in charge to take action to avert humanity’s destruction.

It is hard to ignore the fact that the idea for this film feels borne out of a particular world leader and his indifference towards the major issue of the environment, and the challenges that the human race faces over this important topic. This feels only exacerbated by the ongoing situation with the COVID-19 pandemic and the catastrophic failure by the US Government at the time, to deal with this crisis in a swift and efficient manner. These categorical failures of leadership seem to be McKay’s motivations for writing and directing his latest satirical attack on the current state of US politics, as well as numerous aspects of 21st-century life in general. Yet, there is absolutely no subtlety about who and what McKay is targeting. It comes across like he’s trying to say to the audience how funny or witty his satire is. When in reality, it comes across as extremely patronising. There’s an important lesson to be taken from the need to focus on the environment. However, as with both his previous films that were very much from a satirical perspective, there’s something that’s unbearably smug and arrogant about the manner in which he seeks to deliver this message.

Because of the gravity of the topic that’s being “satirised”, there was an opportunity to provide some thought-provoking, social satire that is nuanced and subtle in what it tried to convey, In reality, McKay’s screenplay, much like his previous films, is about as subtle as taking a sledgehammer to someone’s kneecaps. The satirical writing, or lack thereof, opts to beat the audience over the head with its themes so obnoxiously that it begins to actively make you angry that you don’t really care what he or the characters are trying to say, which is not good when there’s an important lesson for humanity to take away from the events being depicted. There’s no denying that McKay has assembled some of the biggest names in Hollywood for this cast, with lots of beloved actors. Yet, McKay’s dialogue is so overbearingly smug and obnoxious that you openly despise each and every single one of the characters, which makes the run time of the film feel two or three times as long.

The best of a bad bunch is easily Leonardo Di Caprio’s Dr Mindy, he tries his best but when he’s given such horrific material to work with, he can only do so much. Meryl Streep does a decent enough job at portraying a President who couldn’t give two shits about the public they’re meant to represent. However, it’s so painfully obvious who she, and her son (Hill) are meant to be a parody of, their characters might as well have been named Trump. Such a serious and important topic deserved a film worthy of this talented cast, and a director who did not take an infuriatingly offensive approach to the topic. You may well almost want the world to come to an end by the time this apocalyptic misfire of a film reaches the credits.

 What credit the film warrants for taking on such an important topic is immediately negated by its extremely condescending approach in how it chooses to approach the topic at hand. As a result, the whole film feels utterly pointless as a satire. 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Moonfall (2022)

© Lionsgate

Moonfall  – Film Review

Cast: Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, John Bradley, Michael Pena, Charlie Plummer, Kelly Yu, Donald Sutherland

Director: Roland Emmerich

Synopsis: When the moon is mysteriously knocked from its orbit, it threatens to cause a global catastrophe that would endanger all life on Earth…

Review: There’s something that’s oddly fascinating about the concept of a disaster movie. It’s something we hope we never actually have to live through, but when done well, it can be oddly entertaining to watch entire cities get obliterated as nature takes its revenge on us. There’s perhaps no one more synonymous with this genre than Roland Emmerich. One look at his filmography and it’s clear that he’s a director with a penchant for global destruction. So, you’d have thought that combining the concept of Earth’s only natural satellite falling out of the sky and destroying our planet, with a director whose modus operandi is worldwide global destruction would surely be a match made in disaster movie heaven? Well, no, not really.

Several years ago, astronaut Brian Harper (Wilson) was working on a routine mission with fellow astronaut Jocinda Fowler (Berry). However, the mission ends in tragedy and consequently, Harper’s reputation as a renowned astronaut is destroyed. When conspiracy theorist KC Houseman (Bradley), uncovers evidence that the moon has been knocked from its orbit, he tries to warn NASA of the impending doom, but is immediately dismissed. However, as catastrophic events start occurring across the globe, Fowler is left with little choice but to recruit Harper and Houseman for a last gasp mission to save Planet Earth before the impending moon fall destroys the planet.

To give credit where credit is due, the concept of the Moon falling off course and colliding with the planet is an extremely eccentric idea. It would certainly have been interesting to have been a fly on the wall when the concept was first pitched. The originality of the premise offers the opportunity to provide some visually eye-catching sequences, which the film does deliver. However, this is about the extent to which the film offers something that’s truly unique as the scenes of global destruction, such as massive tidal waves obliterating everything in their path, are things that we’ve seen disaster movies do countless times before. Such an idiosyncratic concept provided Emmerich with an opportunity to give audiences something as iconic as seeing the White House get blown to smithereens by an alien ship, but it failed to seize that opportunity.

Given such an absurdly bonkers premise, it would seem counterintuitive of the script to try and use science and logic to try and explain why these mysterious events are occurring. However, for some inexplicable reason, this is exactly what the film attempts. Logic and science should have been flung out of the window immediately, as these attempts to explain these events just do not serve the story in any shape or form. For the simple reason that no matter which way you slice it, the plot does not make an iota of sense at all. What should be a fun adventure of seeing a team of astronauts attempt to prevent total global destruction, becomes an unintentional comedy. This becomes all the more apparent, especially when the bigger picture of the reason why the Moon is falling comes into view.

When a script is this ridiculous, it does not make a difference as to who you cast, because every single character here is as paper-thin as they come.  Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson to their credit, do try their hardest, but to no avail. The character development, if you can really call it that, is non-existent. They’re also not helped by the fact that they’re given some of the cheesiest dialogue that you’re ever likely to hear. The primary focus should be the mission to investigate why the Moon is falling out of orbit and the ludicrously improbable mission to reverse it before it’s too late. However, the film also wastes an enormous amount of time focusing on bland and forgettable side characters that are nowhere near as interesting or compelling as the main crew. This should have been perfectly entertaining, leave-your-brain-at-home disaster movie entertainment. Which, in many ways, it is, but probably not in the way Emmerich intended it to be. Instead of laughing with it, you’re uproariously laughing at it.

In the hands of the master of disaster, this absurd concept should have been an absolute blast of lunar-themed destruction. However, it ultimately ends up being too ridiculous for its own good. 

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

Belfast (2021)

© TKBC, Northern Ireland Screen, Focus Features and Universal Pictures

Belfast  – Film Review

Cast: Jude Hill, Caitríona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Lewis McAskie, Judi Dench, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Morgan

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Synopsis: Telling the story of the lives of one family living in Belfast during the 1960s…

Review: Irrespective of where we’re born, there’s a universal truth to the saying: “Home is where the heart is.” No matter who you are or where you come from, there’s likely to be a particular place on this Earth that means a great deal to you. Perhaps it is the town where you were born, or perhaps it is the place where you made those first memories that will shape you and who you are for the rest of your life? That special ode to your hometown and the immeasurable impact it can have on your life during your formative years is the heart beating at the centre of this deeply personal film from Kenneth Branagh.

Buddy (Hill) is a young boy living in Belfast during the late 1960s. He’s surrounded by his loving family, which consists of Ma (Balfe), Pa (Dornan), his brother (McAskie), and his paternal grandparents (Dench and Hinds). Like any child, Buddy goes to school, works hard in class, and seeks to win the heart of a girl in school who he has a crush on. Outside of school, playing on the street with his friends, and going to the pictures with his family, all with the carefree innocence that any child would have. It should be the perfect family life, but it’s about to be turned upside down. The country is about to be engulfed in political tension and violence which, will bring much uncertainty to this tight-knit Northern Irish family.

Given that we see the entire film from Buddy’s perspective, there’s a lot riding on Hill’s shoulders. Fortunately, he carries the film beautifully, balancing the naivety of youth, with an acute awareness of the tricky situation that’s developing. Alongside a brilliant leading performance from Hill, the rest of the cast are faultless in their performances. As Buddy’s parents, Ma and Pa are faced with an increasingly difficult choice of what to do and how best to raise their children in the politically charged circumstances that they find themselves in. Pa’s job in England is the main source of income for the family, hence money is tight. It’s a dilemma that puts a strain on their relationship, which is only compounded by the fact that he’s away for so much of the time.

Plus with the ongoing political tension that Belfast is engulfed in, there’s a dilemma as to whether they should leave the city that means so much to both of them behind? Do they want to uproot their two children from the lives that they have built in the city? Special mentions must go to Catriona Balfe and Jamie Dornan, both of whom give career-best performances. They clearly both love one another and care deeply for their children. So, they want to do what is best for them. Furthermore, due to his father’s absence, Buddy’s mother has quite the job to raise both him and his brother, mostly by herself. As such, Ma has a tendency to be quite overprotective of both her sons, but especially Buddy. They’re not on screen together a lot, but when they are, Balfe and Dornan’s wonderful chemistry helps add so much depth and layers to their characters. It’s always the sign of a quality performance that you no longer see the actor, instead, you see the character that they are playing, and this is true across the entire cast.

For a film that’s set in a time where political tensions are on a knife-edge, where violence could erupt at any given moment, it seems unlikely that the story would allow for much humour. Yet, Branagh’s screenplay allows for plenty of humorous moments to shine through. A lot of the humour comes from the dynamic between Buddy and his grandparents. Both of them impart their wisdom and knowledge to Buddy as he negotiates this difficult period in his life. This is where Ciaran Hinds, in particular, really excels. As well as being the kind and gentle grandfatherly figure, be a little cheeky and share a humorous moment with Buddy.

Branagh’s screenplay expertly walks the line between the dark and tense nature of the political tension of the time, with the family dynamic. It would be easy for Branagh’s screenplay to get bogged down by the intense nature of the politics of the time. However, the film avoids this by keeping it focused on seeing the world, and the ongoing situation, from Buddy’s perspective. Branagh has crafted a story that anyone will be able to connect with. No matter where you are from, or no matter how far you go in this world we live in, you never forget your roots.

The most personal film that Branagh has ever made, and quite possibly his best. A beautiful celebration of childhood, the places and the people that make us who we are.

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

The Power of the Dog (2021)

© Netflix

The Power of the Dog  – Film Review

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Thomasin McKenzie, Genevieve Lemon, Keith Carradine, Frances Conroy

Director: Jane Campion

Synopsis:  The relationship of two brothers in 1920s Montana is put to the test when one brother settles down and introduces his new wife, and her son, to the other brother…

Review: What does it to be a man? Even in modern times, the stereotype of the masculine man is someone who is expected to be hard, tough, and forbidden from displaying any sort of emotion that might deem them as being “weak” and “unmanly”. While someone on the outside may present themselves as tough and strong, inside they can easily be the polar opposite. They could potentially be hiding some pretty big insecurities. While we have broken down some of those absurd barriers of men being unallowed to express emotions, back in the 1920s, such an idea was unheard of. In her first film for 12 years, Jane Campion explores the concept of toxic masculinity from the perspective of two very different people.

The setting is Montana in 1925, and brothers Phil (Cumberbatch) and George Burbank (Plemons) are very successful ranch owners. Phil is the tough, masculine, and considerably more cruel brother. He regularly likes to throw around insults, especially towards George. George, by contrast, is in every sense, the polar opposite to Phil, who is considerably more friendly, gentle, and hospitable. When George meets Rose (Dunst), he becomes instantly smitten with her, and the two marry. When George brings Rose and her son Peter (Smit-McPhee) home to the Burbank ranch, it doesn’t sit well with Phil at all. Phil becomes determined to do all he can to make Rose’s and Peter’s lives a misery, which will only add further strain to the tense relationship that already exists between the two brothers.

When you picture the average Western, you may picture a scene that depicts cowboys standing outside a saloon with their guns drawn in some rural town in the Wild Wild West. While the setting is sort of the same (substitute the majestic hills of New Zealand for those of rural USA), Campion instead takes a considerably different approach to this story. Adapted from the 1967 novel of the same name by Thomas Savage, her screenplay takes a considerably slow-burn approach to the story, that’s bathed in the gorgeous cinematography from Ari Wegner. Campion is clearly not interested in those tense shootouts, and is instead more focused on who the characters are as human beings. This is a personal, emotionally character-driven piece that thrives by taking its time to thoroughly examine the internal conflicts that are brewing inside these characters, and how these can spill over into their relationships with the other characters.

As the man at the centre of this story, Benedict Cumberbatch gives a terrific performance as Phil Burbank. Due to his tendency to willfully bully and insult others around him, he is definitely not the easiest character to spend some time with. He takes great satisfaction and joy in the mistreatment of others. Yet, as the film progresses, that brash and cruel exterior is peeled away, as not everything is what appears to be with Phil, and Cumberbatch’s nuanced performance captures this superbly. There’s an internal struggle within himself, and with some of the other characters that keep you invested as the film goes on, especially between Phil and Peter. Initially, one of the targets of Phil’s cruel insults due to his lisp and some of his mannerisms, it becomes fascinating to see how the relationships change once certainly layers are peeled back. Like Phil, there’s more to Peter than what you see at first glance, and Smit-McPhee’s performance is as equally nuanced as Cumberbatch’s.

As the dynamic between Phil and Peter is the one that is given the most screentime, it does mean that some of the others, most notably between Phil and George and Rose are not given enough screentime as they maybe could and should have. Plemons is severely underutilised once we reach the second half of the film. What’s more, for all of her strengths as an actress, Dunst also doesn’t have much to do except cower in fear whenever she comes face to face with Phil. This fear of her brother-in-law leads her down a dark path of addiction. While Dunst excels with the material she’s given, there was scope for a further exploration of the demons that she’s facing. Nevertheless, Campion’s slow-burn approach to this story and to the characters ensures that the mysteries that are at the centre of the film are extremely compelling to watch as they unravel. The Power of the Dog packs plenty of both bark and bite in equal measure.

A Western unlike any other. Campion’s long-awaited return to the director’s chair bides its time with its story, which makes the film’s atmospheric journey, and the mysteries contained within, all the more enthralling to watch.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

© Marvel Studios, Sony and Columbia Pictures

Spider-Man: No Way Home   – Film Review

Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, J. B. Smoove, Benedict Wong, Jamie Foxx, Alfred Molina, Willem Dafoe

Director: Jon Watts

Synopsis: After his identity is revealed to the world, Peter Parker asks for the help of Doctor Strange in a desperate attempt to make everyone forget he is Spider-Man…

This review will be 100% spoiler-free…

Review: Back in 2019, when Marvel Studios released Avengers: Endgame to the world, it was the crowning and unprecedented achievement of a decade-long cinematic adventure. Unlike anything that had ever been accomplished before in cinematic history it broke box office records, and – for a time – held the title of the highest-grossing film of all time. After the conclusion of that thrilling journey, Marvel would have been forgiven for spending five or so years to take stock of what they’ve achieved. The pandemic might have forced them to wait a bit, but this year Marvel have gone full steam ahead with the continuation of their Cinematic Universe. Phase 4 is beginning to take shape, and now, perhaps the biggest film of this phase thus far, and certainly the biggest since Endgame, has arrived.

Set immediately after the events of Spider-Man: Far From Home, Spider-Man’s identity has, thanks to Quentin Beck/Mysterio been revealed to the world. Consequently, Peter’s whole life has been turned upside down. With his identity now a known fact, it’s having an adverse impact on the lives of his family and friends as well. Desperate for help, he turns to Doctor Strange and asks him to cast a spell that makes the world forget his secret identity. However, when Peter attempts to tamper with the spell, it goes horribly wrong and unleashes the Multiverse, as hinted at in Disney+’s Loki. The Multiverse is something that they know, as Strange puts it, “frighteningly little about.” The corrupted spell causes strange visitors and foes from different universes to arrive in our world, and it’s up to Peter to stop them and send them back to their own realities.

After two MCU Spider-Man films that very much dealt with the impact that Tony Stark/Iron Man had on Peter Parker and his early career as everyone’s friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, this concluding chapter is a welcome departure from that. With Iron Man having passed on, it’s left Peter Parker with no choice but to grow up, stand on his own two feet and wrestle with the fallout from his identity being revealed. Though that’s all with the help of a certain magic Sorcerer, who thankfully is not predictably stepping up to the mentor void left by Iron Man. Tom Holland has proven himself to be a fan favourite in this role with his numerous appearances across the MCU, but it’s here which he gives his absolute best performance. Being the hero that he is, there’s a lot resting on his shoulders, to save the world and to also protect those he cares about from being harmed by his mistakes.

Having seen a previous, and beautifully animated, Spider-Man film brilliantly using the concept of a Multiverse; screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers had the unenviable task of adapting the Multiverse into this iteration of the character. They also had to make this third MCU Spider-Man film live up to the lofty expectations that fans had hoisted upon the film from its announcement. Depending on what you have seen in the build-up to the film, it may or may not live up to those expectations. The first act is a little rough to start off with, but once we get to the tampered spell, and the opening up of the multiverse the film finds its feet. Previous Spidey films have often been left to rue their mistakes when one too many villains get dragged into the picture, and the plot as a result gets severely messy. Thankfully, lightning doesn’t strike twice – or perhaps thrice – here as director Jon Watts is able to weave all these threads into a satisfying narrative that never feels as bloated as a Russian rhinoceros.

It would be easy to see this film as nothing more than just an enormous helping of fan service. While it is most certainly true in that regard, it does definitely have its moments that will undoubtedly please long-time fans of this character. However, it doesn’t negate what matters most to the character of Peter Parker, and the core values that the revered hero stands for. The character is one that has been a favourite for generations of comic book fans and thanks to our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, Phase 4 of the MCU has now opened the multiverse good and proper, and the possibilities that brings are plentiful and very very fantastic.

Juggling a lot of different plot webs has proven to be a stumbling block before, but with a career-best performance from Holland and an excellent cast of supporting characters, this Spider-Man threequel triumphantly swings its way to success.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Encanto (2021)

© Walt Disney Animation Studios

Encanto – Film Review

Cast: Stephanie Beatriz, John Leguizamo, María Cecilia Botero, Diane Guerrero, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Wilmer Valderrama

Directors: Byron Howard and Jared Bush

Synopsis: In an enchanted house in the hills of Colombia, live the Madrigal family, all of whom have magical gifts that help them give back to the community.

Review: Back in 1937, a certain company called Walt Disney Productions unveiled Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to the world. It was a truly historic and monumental achievement and one that would change the course of animation filmmaking forever. Though when celebrating their extraordinary accomplishment, probably not even Walt himself could have quite imagined the legacy that the film would leave. Indeed, over eighty years after that historic first film was released, the studio that bears his name would still be at the top of their game in terms of releasing top-quality animated films. Not only that, but they would be celebrating the release of their 60th animated feature film and a very magical one at that.

Set in the hills of Colombia, the Madrigal family live in an enchanted house that they call the Casita. Through incredible magic, each descendant of the family is granted an extraordinary gift. The Madrigal family, via their magical gifts, give back to the vibrant community that has built up over the years since the Casita was built. Though there’s one member of the family who doesn’t have a gift of any kind, and that is Mirabel (Beatriz). Due to her lack of a magical gift, Mirabel is convinced that she’s not as special as the rest of her family. However, when an incident threatens to erase the magic of the Casita, the task falls to Mirabel to establish what’s going on and to save the magic before it is too late.

With any animated film that is produced by the House of Mouse, it is a formality that the film’s animation is going to be flawless. After the previous 59 films, one would suspect that they have seen the best animation that the studio has to offer. Yet, with each new film that has its stamp, they continue to surprise and delight in equal measure. In the same way that Raya and the Last Dragon represented a landmark moment for representation for Southeastern Asian communities, Encanto does that, and more for the country of Colombia. The Colombian community is vibrant and colourful, and it’s clear that the filmmakers have gone to great lengths to honour this culture on screen. Furthermore, the magic that brings the Casita to life, and the breath-taking magical gifts of the Madrigal family are vibrant and leap off the screen.

Each member of the family has their own unique gift, whether it’s Luisa with her extraordinary strength, Isabela with her ability to make flowers appear at will, or Antonio’s ability to talk to animals. It would therefore be easy for the protagonist Mirabel to be, as she is the only family member sans magical powers, to be unmemorable. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. While she might be perceived as weird and different by the rest of her family, what Mirabel lacks in magical ability, she makes up for in her courageousness and bravery. She’s determined to be the one to save the magic of the Encanto and to save her family, and Stephanie Beatriz’s voice performance imbues her with the personality of a role model that anyone, especially those who hail from Latin America, can aspire to be.

2021 has already been quite the year for Lin-Manuel Miranda. First, there was the big-screen adaptation of his hit musical In the Heights, next came his directorial debut. Finally, to round out his phenomenal year, he reunites with Disney for another match made in heaven collaboration. Having worked to great effect with the Mouse House with the music and lyrics for Moana, Miranda is once again back on songwriting duty for this unique celebration of Colombian culture. The songs have the unique Lin-Manuel Miranda signature to them, hence making them all extremely catchy and enjoyable to listen to.

However, given the plethora of soaring and memorable ballads that have been heard in previous films, akin to Miranda’s “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana or a “Let it Go” from Frozen, there’s nothing that soars to quite the extent that those aforementioned songs do. The film’s narrative is definitely one you’ll have seen from previous Disney films, but the sheer quality of the craft of the animators, and the loving depiction of Colombian culture, ensures that Disney hits this creative landmark in beautiful style.

Filled with dazzling and vibrant animation, the narrative beats may be somewhat familiar, but even after 60 films down, the House of Mouse still has that magical touch.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

House of Gucci (2021)

© MGM, Bron Creative and Scott Free Productions

House of Gucci – Film Review

Cast: Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Salma Hayek

Director: Ridley Scott

Synopsis: Telling the true story of the family behind the iconic fashion brand, and their bitter power struggle as to who will have control over the company…

Review: When it comes to the world of fashion, there are several names that immediately leap to mind that everyone will know as the most iconic names in fashion. Names such as Louis Vuitton, Prada, Chanel, Versace, and Fendi to name but a few. When it comes to these fashion houses, there’s likely to be a fascinating backstory as to how they came to be the iconic labels that they are today. This is most certainly applicable to that of the brand Gucci, which as of 2021, is estimated to be worth around $15billion dollars. With his second film of the year, Ridley Scott tackles that fascinating backstory of the Gucci brand, and the family behind the business, with decidedly mixed results.

Patrizia Reggiani (Gaga), who works for her father’s business, meets Maurizio (Driver) at a party. As they strike up a conversation and get to know each other, their romance blossoms. However, it isn’t until Patrizia learns about Maurizio’s status as the heir to one of the biggest names in fashion, that changes everything. Maurizio and Patrizia marry but Maurizio’s father Rodolfo (Irons) doesn’t take kindly to Patrizia, as he deduces that Patrizia doesn’t love Maurizio for who he is as a person, but is solely after Maurizio’s money. But Maurizio’s uncle Aldo (Pacino) welcomes Patrizia into the family and takes them under his wing. As Patrizia’s influence grows, a bitter power struggle ensues as to who will ultimately take control of the brand, which will have dire consequences.

Adapted from the book The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour and Greed, by Sara Gay Forden, the title gives you an accurate indication of the shenanigans that are about to go down. A film that depicts all of the above, in the hands of a director with the calibre and experience of Ridley Scott had so much potential. Factor in an extremely talented cast, filled with Oscar nominees and winners, and yet the film falls well short of living up to that potential.  As Patrizia and Maurizio meet and fall in love, it starts off fairly strongly, as the chemistry between Lady Gaga and Driver sizzles. Following on from her breakout performance in A Star Is Bornthis role gives Gaga a chance to really flex her acting chops. To her credit, she easily gives the best performance in the whole film, which is no mean feat given the calibre of the actors around her.

As she marries Maurizio, she begins to exert her influence over the Gucci brand, whilst making moves to consolidate her power and influence on the Gucci brand. The film could (and perhaps should given the director) have soared from here, but instead, it is where the film really loses its way and never recovers. With all the scheming and backstabbing that goes on as individuals duel for controlling stake in the Gucci brand, like a Game of Thrones-style thriller, but instead of swords, dragons, and a battle for a throne, you have a battle for who will gain control over billions of dollars and dominion of high-end fashion. These moments have the odd spark that provides some entertainment, but they are not nearly enough to sustain the film’s two-and-a-half-hour runtime.

The screenplay from Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna seems to be two films that have been mixed into one. It flirts between wanting to be that serious crime drama and a much less serious film, with the camp factor dialled up to the maximum. This is an opportune moment to mention the enigma that is Jared Leto. Unrecognisable under a substantial amount of make-up as Paolo Gucci, his performance is mystifying, to say the least. With an accent that is so over-the-top and exaggerated, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was auditioning for a role in a new Mario video game. These moments of campy soap opera-like drama, and all of their over-the-topness are so out of place here, they undercut the very serious crime drama that the film could and probably should have focused on. While Leto is by far and away, the worst offender with the accents, the rest of the cast are not much better. The poor accents are also not helpful when trying to convey the serious nature of the crime drama that that aspect of the film is trying to tell.

The nature of this story is such ripe material for a compelling piece of storytelling. Even though parts of the film dragged on, given the timescale of the story, a mini-series could have been the better avenue to bring this story to audiences. Ridley Scott’s status as a legend of Hollywood is assured, but having said that even with a director of Scott’s experience, the complete mismatch of tones is a baffling style choice and one that ultimately sinks the film. Consistency when it comes to his directorial output has been a recurring problem for Scott. In a year when the veteran director has provided audiences with an extremely compelling and timely drama, it is disappointing that he couldn’t have made it two for two.

With no expense spared for the production design or costumes, Lady Gaga gives it everything she has as Patrizia Reggiani. However, the tonal mismatch of the story, and some of the acting, proves to be the film’s undoing. Style over substance, quite literally.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Eternals (2021)

© Marvel Studios

Eternals  – Film Review

Cast: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, Harish Patel, Kit Harington, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie

Director: Chloé Zhao

Synopsis: A group of immortal beings, known as the Eternals, are sent to planet Earth to protect humanity from an evil race of aliens known as the Deviants…

Review: When you have created an all-encompassing cinematic universe that has spanned over a decade and 25 films, making cinematic history along the way. There does come a point for Marvel Studios, where they will need to think about, where do they go from here? When you’ve created a universe that has conquered all before it, how do you reinvent the wheel and keep things fresh and interesting for audiences to maintain interest in the universe going forward? Well, the answer seems to be, hire the most recent Academy Award winner for Best Director, and introduce a brand new crop of characters.

7000 years ago, a group of all-powerful beings known as the Celestials, created a powerful race of beings called the Eternals and sent them to Earth to protect humanity from their Celestial’s evil counterparts, known as the Deviants. For millennia, the Eternals have been watching from the sidelines, protecting humanity from any Deviant attacks. As they watch from the sidelines, some begin to develop a fondness for humanity. Yet, they have been under strict instructions to not interfere in any human conflict, unless the Deviants are involved. This all changes when an event known as The Emergence threatens to bring about unprecedented destruction, the Eternals must unite to prevent humanity’s destruction.

From the opening crawl, akin to something out of Star Wars, this film is in every sense, a brand new chapter for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What they accomplished with the first three Phases of their Universe is undeniably incredible and nothing can take that away from them. However, that era of Marvel has come to a close, and with this film, this feels like they are in many senses, starting fresh. All franchises that go on for any length of time will inevitably develop a formula. While that formula has served the MCU so successfully over the years, there was a need to step away from it. To its credit, Eternals tries extremely hard to deviate from that, with varying degrees of success.

Fresh from her Oscar triumphs With Nomadland, a film that shined a light on a group of people who are cut adrift from society, whilst touching on themes of finding a belonging. Chloé Zhao’s Oscar winner touched on themes of individuals who have found themselves cut adrift from society, roaming from place to place, without somewhere to call home. This is a theme that feels very much relevant to the Eternals. They watch humanity from afar, intervening only when they must. The first two acts of the film where the Eternals are battling with this dilemma of interfering or not when it comes to human conflicts is compelling because, like most things in our lives, there is a difference of opinion amongst these incredibly powerful beings.

What Eternals brings to the table is an extremely rich and diverse cast, filled with extremely talented actors. The most memorable of these are Gemma Chan’s Sersi and Angelina Jolie’s Thena. Sersi is very much the leader of the Eternals and Chan’s performance is easily the most memorable. For Thena, there’s a fascinating internal struggle that she’s battling with, and it makes for an intriguing relationship between her and the rest of the Eternals as she battles to control that. On top of which, the film doesn’t shy away from diversity. There’s a landmark moment for LGBT representation, the very first ever sex scene, and the MCU’s very first superhero with a disability in Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari as both the actor and the character are deaf.

Unfortunately, because there are so many new characters that are appearing on screen together for the first time, developing all of them is a near enough impossible task to fit into a two-and-a-half-hour film, even for a director as talented as Zhao is. Some characters have barely any depth or personality. As such, it gives the audience little reason to care about them, as there is no emotional connection that has been built up over many years of different MCU films. Plus, as different as the film tries to be from all the previous MCU films that came before it, some familiar MCU tropes are present. Credit where credit is due for the screenplay’s ambition and scope. However, you cannot help but wonder if, had these characters been introduced via a TV show, it might have been better suited to give all these brand new characters sufficient time to make an impact.

Chloe Zhao works magic by bringing the humanity to these incredibly powerful beings. However, while it is to be commended, the ambition of introducing so many new characters in one go prevents the film from truly soaring.