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

King Richard (2021)

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

King Richard – Film Review

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

Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Harder They Fall (2021)

© Netflix

The Harder They Fall  – Film Review

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

Director: Jeymes Samuel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Night in Soho (2021)

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

Last Night in Soho  – Film Review

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

Director: Edgar Wright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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