Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Bombshell (2019)

Image is property of Lionsgate and Annapurna Pictures

Bombshell  – Film Review

Cast: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Kate McKinnon, Connie Britton, Malcolm McDowell, Allison Janney

Director: Jay Roach

Synopsis: As the United States gears up towards the 2016 Presidential Election, one of the country’s most prominent TV networks, Fox News, is rocked by allegations of sexual harassment allegations against its chairman Roger Ailes…

Review: Back in 2017, the shocking details of the sexual behaviour of powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, and his appalling conduct of sexually harassing women became public. The disclosure of such appalling revelations gave life to such powerful and important campaigns like Time’s Up and the Me Too movement, which have started vital discourses about sexual harassment. Yet, one year earlier, thanks to the brave courage of women, an equally loathsome dynasty, deservedly fell from grace.

The attention of the entire United States, and the wider world alike, is focusing on the 2016 Presidential election, with controversial candidate Donald Trump emerging as the front runner for the Republican Party. But behind the scenes at the conservative leaning Fox News, the company’s chairman, Roger Ailes, is perpetrating a rampant scheme of sexual harassment against his employees. With employees so often powerless to do anything about it, it goes unchallenged for a significantly long period of time. Until some decide, that it’s time to drop an explosive bombshell on their employers.

Thanks to the work of the makeup team (lead by Darkest Hour‘s Oscar winner Kazu Hiro) Charlize Theron puts in an excellent, transformative performance as notorious Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. She’s one of network’s greatest assets, but in the wake of wake of some sexist comments that are fired her way by following one of the televised debates, she becomes the centre of attention of not just Ailes the Fox News audience, but of the country as a whole. Kelly initially seems willing to let the matter slide, in order to further her career. But as time goes on, amid the rampant nature of the abuse that is going on, means that she has to take a stand.

The film approaches the matter from three perspectives, that of Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson (Kidman), and fictionalised producer Kayla Pospisil (Robbie). The contrast between Carlson and Pospisil could not be more apparent. The former is starting to get extremely tired of the culture that she’s witnessing at the network, and is preparing herself for a possible legal showdown. Meanwhile the latter is determined to forge a career at this network, an approach that begins to waiver when Ailes himself (a brilliantly slimy John Lithgow) takes a liking to Kayla, and subjects her to the sort of demeaning treatment that he almost certainly subjected many women to. It’s a deeply uncomfortable moment that puts this whole scandal into perspective.

While it would have made quite the statement had this film been written and directed by women, writer Charles Randolph and director Jay Roach approach this tricky and emotional subject matter from an empathetic standpoint. Pitching this as a satire ran the risk of negating the heavy subject matter and making light of the abuse that these women suffered. The approach taken is at times, rather sensationalist and is scratching at the surface. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take lightly the awful abuse that these women endured. Regardless of political persuasion, it serves as a necessary reminder that there’s the bigger picture to focus on. Specifically, that women to this day experience this sort of harassment in workplaces across the world.

It could have been overtly gratuitous with some decisions it makes, but it chooses to keep the awful treatment that these women were subjected to front and centre, and never is that more apparent than in a heart-breaking scene between Kayla and a co-worker. Ailes and Weinstein have deservedly fallen from grace, but the bigger picture remains that predators like them almost certainly remain very much at large, in workplaces all across the world. Crucially, women must not be afraid to speak out, because when they do, it can shine a light on individuals  who perpetrate such loathsome schemes. Change won’t happen overnight, but we can kickstart efforts to stamp out this repugnant behaviour.

Combining such weighty subject matter with satire is always risky. However, with a broadly empathetic approach to its storytelling combined with three strong performances, it’s a timely reminder of the vital importance of initiatives like Time’s Up and the Me Too Movement.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

1917 (2019)

Image is property of Universal, DreamWorks and New Republic Pictures

1917 – Film Review

Cast: Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch

Director: Sam Mendes

Synopsis: In the height of the First World War, two young English soldiers face a race against time in order to prevent a British battalion walking into a deadly enemy trap…

Review: When it comes to war films, filmmakers so often choose World War II, and/or the plethora of amazing human stories that took place during this time period as inspiration. However, for Sam Mendes, his inspiration for telling a story set in the heart of the First World War, came from a much more personal connection. After being inspired by the tales told by his grandfather during his time as a soldier, Mendes chooses World War I as the backdrop for his second foray into war film-making. He takes us straight to the front line, to the year seen by many as the turning point in the Great War, for an exhilarating cinematic experience that you’re unlikely to forget in a hurry.

Two young English soldiers, Privates Blake (Charles-Chapman) and Schofield (MacKay) are given an extremely perilous mission by their commanding officer. Intel has been received that one of their battalions is about to walk into a deadly enemy trap that would annihilate the battalion, and Blake’s brother is among their ranks. Setting off on a seemingly impossible mission, these two young soldiers must venture behind enemy lines and deliver the message calling off the attack, in order to prevent the massacre of his brother’s battalion.

As the two soldiers whose journey is at the centre of this pulsating story, the performances of Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay are phenomenal. The entire film is focused on their journey, meaning that it is all resting on their shoulders and they rise to that challenge in extraordinary fashion. The screenplay by Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, keeps things focused with military like precision on the two soldiers and their mission, while simultaneously fleshing both of them out to be so much more than just the uniforms they are wearing. The plethora of British acting talent that pop up throughout are welcome presences, but ultimately they are nothing more than extended cameos to drive the plot forward.

With the flawless acting in front of the camera, the work done behind the camera is equally sublime. In the build up to the film’s release, there was considerable promotion of the one shot method that Sam Mendes utilises to tell this story. While this could be a seen as a gimmick, its use here is tremendously effective to fully immerse the audience in this setting, which is likely to be in no small part down to Roger Deakins.  After finally grabbing that long overdue Oscar, Deakins continues to be at the peak of his powers as a cinematographer. While Blade Runner 2049 showed him at his visual best, the work that he does in making the continuous tracking shot to be such an effective method of story-telling for this mission proves once again that in terms of cinematographers working today, he is almost second to none.

By all accounts, life in the trenches during WW1 was horrendous. and the work of the production design team to recreate these horrors are jaw-dropping. The sheer amount of meticulous details that are present in these sets is completely astounding, it only helps to add to the increasing suspense of the unfolding mission. Likewise for the sound teams, with every bullet fired and every time a plane flies overhead, you feel every moment of it, capturing the brutality of war with frightening realism. It makes you feel like you’re on that front-line with these men, every step of the way.

After a staggering fourteen Oscar nominations and no win to his name, this has to be the time for Thomas Newman to break his Oscar hoodoo, as his accompanying score is truly breath-taking and befitting of the emotional journey that is being depicted on screen. Mendes and every single member of his crew have pulled off an astonishing, remarkable cinematic triumph. Above all, thank you to Alfred Mendes for telling your stories, that will now live on forever.

From the powerfully emotional performances of its leading men, to the technical mastery behind the camera, 1917 is simply put, one of the finest war films that has ever been put to screen.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Little Women (2019)

Image is property of Columbia Pictures, Regency Enterprises and Sony Pictures

Little Women – Film Review

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Chris Cooper

Director: Greta Gerwig

Synopsis: Telling the lives of the March sisters as they navigate the transition from adolescence to adulthood in a post Civil War USA…

Review: After the storming success of her unique and original debut film, that added her name to the select few women to have been nominated for an Oscar for directing, the world was the oyster for Greta Gerwig. For her sophomore feature, she would have likely had the green light to make anything that she so desired. Therefore, to give the beloved novel by Louisa May Alcott another adaptation seemed to be unnecessary. However, Gerwig has taken on this adaptation, and breathed new life into this beloved story, in magnificent style.

In a post Civil War United States, we meet the March sisters: Jo (Ronan), Meg (Watson), Amy (Pugh) and Beth (Scanlen). We see their lives from two different time periods, firstly in a post Civil War setting, mixed in with flashbacks to their time spent growing up together in Massachusetts. Jo is determined to make her own way in the world to pursue a career as a writer, Amy wishes to become an artist, Meg dreams of becoming an actress, and Beth aspires to be a musician. They assist their mother (Dern) in any way they can while their father is away fighting in the war. Growing up, the sisters spend a lot of their time together, supporting their mother any way they can as their lack of money means that luxuries are extremely hard to come by.

Straight away, the chemistry between the four sisters leaps off the screen. There is a warm feeling that comes off in the relationships that they have with each other. Their chemistry feels very sincere and genuine, which is a credit to the talent of the actresses playing them. As anyone who grew up with one or more siblings will tell you, they love and care for each other. Yet, at any given moment, that can flip on its head and that love can turn to loathing. Every member of this cast delivers delightful performances, from Meryl Streep’s hilarious turn as their snidey (but hilarious) Aunt, to Laura Dern as their steadfast and extremely patient mother, to Timothee Chalamet as their childhood friend, who becomes the man that they all would dream of marrying.

However, the stars of the show (as they should be), are the titular little women, the March sisters. Gerwig’s screenplay explores in great detail the pressures that women like the sisters would have faced during that time period. Finding themselves in a position where they would love nothing more than to follow their hearts, but they are frustrated due to the constraints that society placed on women at the time. The strength of the screenplay ensures that Gerwig gives each of her stars excellent material to work with. It enables each of their personalities to shine through and though each of them all give sincere performances, the performances by Saoirse Ronan’s Jo and Florence Pugh’s Amy shine the brightest.

The score by Alexandre Desplat is befitting of the warm and delightful ambience that the film generates. Similarly, Jacqueline Durran’s wonderful costumes perfectly illustrate the calibre of such an esteemed, Oscar winning costume designer. The film adopts a non-linear approach to its storytelling, which can perhaps be a little jarring at first to any viewers who may be unfamiliar with the source material. It’s a testament to the Alcott’s novel that it can still resonate with people over a century and a half after it was first published, proving it to be a timeless piece of storytelling. Furthermore, it has proved to be a springboard for a talent like Greta Gerwig to adapt it once again for the big screen so beautifully. She retains those powerful core messages that will especially resonate with everyone regardless, of their gender, but especially for women who grew up with sisters.

One might have argued that this beloved novel did not need yet another adaptation. However, a terrific ensemble cast led by Ronan and Pugh, combined with Gerwig’s excellent screenplay ensures that this latest adaptation will charm its way into your heart.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Feature

Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2020

Happy new year cinephiles! It is 2020, a brand new decade is upon us, and that means there’s a lot of exciting films to come our way over the next 12 months.  So without further ado, I present to you my picks for my top 10 most anticipated films that are set to hit UK cinemas in 2020.

Just a quick note to say that certain films that have marketed 2020 releases such as The Lighthouse, Waves, Just Mercy etc will not be counted here, partly because I have seen some of these at London Film Festival, and a few were included in my best of the year ranking, even though they are set to arrive into UK cinemas this year. Before we get into the main body of the list, I have a few honourable mentions, that I am looking forward to, but they just didn’t quite make the list. These are:

Venom 2, So if you saw my review of the first film, you’ll know that I hated it and it was one of the worst things I saw in 2018. However, Andy Serkis attached as director for this sequel has me intrigued. Given Serkis’s expertise with motion capture work, I hope that he can use that expertise to make something more compelling than that awful first film, and less of the horrendous cheesy dialogue would be great as well.

Godzilla VS Kong, The MonsterVerse hasn’t exactly had the easiest of starts to its existence as a cinematic universe. Both 2014’s Godzilla and 2017’s Kong: Skull Island were both beset by similar problems, namely too little screen-time for their eponymous titans, in favour of mostly very bland humans. Last year’s King of the Monsters certainly packed more action, but was bogged down by a problematic script. We go to these films to see giant monsters throw down, so if they can focus more on that and less on the humans, this titanic clash certainly could be an enthralling spectacle.

The French Dispatch, Wes Anderson’s films are almost always eccentric, but that eccentricity doesn’t prevent his films from being wonderfully crafted pieces of art. After making the wonderful Isle of Dogs in 2018, the quirky director makes his return to live action. With another stacked cast including Anderson regulars like Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Frances McDormand, Owen Wilson and Adrian Brody.

The EternalsThe Infinity Saga might have wrapped up 23 films worth of MCU build up, but even after all that, the folks at Marvel are not showing any signs of slowing down. The studio has proved that it can take lesser known properties in their roster of heroes, and make extremely entertaining movies out of them. With an exciting cast, the studio will be hoping they have another Guardians of the Galaxy on their hands.

Soul,The first of two Pixar films scheduled to come out in 2020, is from the mind of Pete Docter, the visionary genius behind two of the studio’s most emotional films in Up and Inside Out, which means the odds of this being another emotional tear-jerker from Pixar are extremely high.

Honourable mentions have been honoured, let’s see what cracked my top 10:

10. Birds of Prey

Release date: 7th February

By far and away, one of the best aspects of 2016’s Suicide Squad, was Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. So after said film seemingly left the DCEU in limbo, Margot Robbie is once again, suiting up once again as Harley Quinn. This time, however, she has ditched Jared Leto’s Joker, in favour of some more female company. Together, Harley and this group of women find themselves up against Ewan McGregor’s villain: Black Mask.

Of all the comic book movies slated to come out in 2020, four out of them will be directed by women, and all five of them feature women in significant, leading roles. This can only be a good thing not just for the comic book movie genre, for the film industry as a whole. Let’s hope that under Cathy Yan’s direction, that Harley and her band of vigilantes can start 2020’s superhero offerings with a bang.

 

9. Last Night in Soho

Release date: 18th September

The mere mention of certain directors can be enough to generate anticipation, and Edgar Wright is certainly one of those names. After directing the fast paced, and extremely entertaining Baby Driver, his next project as a director is being teased as a psychological horror film set in 1960s London with a cast that includes includes Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith and Dame Diana Rigg.

 

8. A Quiet Place: Part II

Release date: 20th March

For years, John Krasinski was most likely known from his role in the US version of The Office, but then he transitioned into a film director. As far as first films go, A Quiet Place was a masterfully well made horror film, that placed a real emphasis on sound. Having also written and starred in the first film, for reasons you will realise if you have seen the first film, Krasinski is just behind the camera this time.

The plot once again features real life wife Emily Blunt leading the Abbot family and her children, who have discovered some useful information that could defeat the terrifying sound monsters that have ravaged the planet. If this film can rebuild that tension that the first part was able to capture so masterfully, another horror gem could be on our hands. But, best be quiet about it.

7. Mulan

Release date: 27th March

Despite their three live action releases in 2019 enduring decidedly mixed reactions from audiences and critics, the Box Office returns for said films were more than prosperous for Disney, leaving them to continue on with their mission to remake all their live action classics. Next on their list is the 1996 classic Mulan.

From the trailers, this looks as though it has potential to be considerably more faithful to the Chinese legend, as there will be no Mushu to be found here. With an all Chinese cast, and this being only the second Disney film with a female director (Niki Caro) and a budget above $100 million, following A Wrinkle in Time, Disney will be hoping that this is the film that brings the honour back to their live action remakes.

 

6. Onward

Release date: 6th March

Pixar so often find that magic touch in their films that can make grown adults bawl their eyes out at the beauty and the emotion of the events on screen, and when the studio is focused on crafting original stories (e.g Coco and Inside Out), they usually craft something pretty special.

This tale of two brothers off on a magical quest has all the recipe of being another Pixar classic. With Chris Pratt and Tom Holland voicing the brothers and Julia-Louis Drefyus and Octavia Spencer also lending their voices, it has all the makings of potentially another Pixar classic that will get the audience sobbing uncontrollably.

5. No Time to Die

Release date: 2nd April

After what feels like an absolute eternity, and amid constant speculation as to whether Daniel Craig would hand back his license to kill, the actor’s final outing as 007 is finally making its way to cinemas. With a production that seemed to be cursed from the outset, most notably being original director Danny Boyle being forced to drop out and an injury to Craig on set, new director Cary Joji Fukunaga has an almighty mission to deliver the goods.

Mixed in with the usual faces are an intriguing crop of new cast members including Lashana Lynch as a new 00 agent, Ana De Armas as a CIA operative, and Rami Malek as a rather sinister looking villain. After two great films, and two so-so films under his belt, Daniel Craig will be aiming to bow out on a high note.

 

4. Wonder Woman 1984

Release date: 5th June

Back in 2017, the DCEU was in limbo somewhat having had its previous two entries the preceding year, take something of a critical mauling, Hence, a lot was riding on the first Wonder Woman film to succeed, which it did in emphatic style. Now with another blast back to the past, 1984 strangely enough, we see Diana Prince battle a new foe in the form of Pedro Pascal’s Maxwell Lord as well as possibly Kristen Wiig as the Cheetah.

Goodness knows what Diana has been doing with her time in the years between WW1 and 1984, but with Patty Jenkins back in the director’s chair for this sequel, along with Birds of Prey, there’s every chance that this sequel can replicate the success of the first WW film, and should it achieve that it will be a further boost for the DCEU as it bids to continue along the trajectory that’s been set by the first WW and last year’s Shazam!

3. Black Widow

Release date: 1st May

SPOILER ALERT if you’re one of the very few people who didn’t see Avengers: Endgame, but said film sadly marked the heroic demise of Natasha Romanoff as she sacrificed herself to help the Avengers gather the Infinity Stones to save the universe. For a long time now, fans have clamoured to see her get her own film, especially given the success of Captain Marvel. While it is a little strange that this film has come now, given her Endgame fate,  it is great to see it finally happening.

Rumoured to be set between the events of Civil War and Infinity War, it teases more of her back story that has been so often the subject of fleeting mentions in previous MCU films, so to see Scarlett Johansson back in this role is undeniably exciting. Add in a top drawer cast that includes Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz, and David Harbour, everything is in place to ensure that this off Phase Four of the MCU with a bang.

 

 

2. Tenet

Release date: 17th July

Christopher Nolan, a director who can generate anticipation by a mere mention of his name. There are many who believe that the director hasn’t made a bad film yet, and his latest promises to be the usual mind-bending wizardry that we have come to expect from Nolan. With a stellar cast that includes John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, and of course a customary appearance from Sir Michael Caine, expect more mind-bending awesomeness when this one debuts in cinemas….

 

And, my #1 most anticipated film of 2020 is……………………………………………………

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1. Dune

Release date: 18th December

In a similar vein to Christopher Nolan, Denis Villeneuve is another director who’s name just captures the attention. Having hit a hot streak with Sicario, Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve has proved himself to be one of the best directors working today, and now a fresh adaptation of the 1965 by Frank Herbert is in his sights.

In the wake of the film by David Lynch, which the director promptly disowned upon release, the potential for something truly special, especially with arguably the most stacked cast of the entire year that includes Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Rampling, Zendaya, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem and Jason Momoa. Fans of the novel can have hope that this masterful director can do the novel justice, which given that this is reportedly the first of two films, offers much promise.

Thus concludes my picks for the most anticipated films of 2020, What are your most anticipated films for this year? Let me know on any of the following platforms: Twitter, Facebook or Letterbox’d

Thanks for reading and here’s to another great year of cinema!

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Feature

Best Films of 2019

It is fitting in many ways, that as we reach the end of the decade, that a number of the franchises that have had a massive impact in the last ten years of cinema have been brought to a close. 22 films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe gave a very satisfying pay off, the curtain closed on the Skywalker saga for the final time, and the less said about that Game of Thrones finale, the better. Meanwhile, Netflix continues to assert itself in the industry producing some stellar content, all while an exhaustive amount of discourses and debates on a variety of subjects relating to film have raged all year long. It was certainly an eventful year of cinema to close out the decade, and so the time has come for me to rank all that 2019 had to offer on the big screen, at least of the films I saw.

Due to staggered UK release dates, it can be extremely messy to determine what film belongs in what year. Therefore regarding the eligibility of films for this list, I always aim to include films that are listed as 2019 releases on IMDB. Also, some of the films listed here haven’t yet made their way into UK cinemas, but since I was fortunate to be able to catch some of these films at London Film Festival this year, they are eligible for inclusion. On the other hand, there’s a 2019 release that doesn’t get its UK wide release until February 2020, so that film will be deferred for my 2020’s list, and I am absolutely certain that will make an appearance.

Secondly, the grade a film receives does not necessarily determine its place on the list. Getting the perfect grade does not mean it will rank higher than a film that got a lower grade. This is, as is the case for all of us who review films, our one chance to be completely biased about the films that we enjoyed the most, and these are the films that I will remember from 2018.  Before I get into the main list, some honourable mentions need to have their time to shine. These films are excellent that you should definitely check out, but they just didn’t quite make the list. First up…

Ad Astra [review] Many films have illustrated just how terrifying the eternal chasm that is space, and Brad Pitt’s enthralling turn as an astronaut who must venture deep into space in search of his long lost father is another example. It’s a slow burner, but well worth the investment.

Harriet [review] Harriet Tubman’s story is nothing short of inspirational, a woman born into slavery who escaped and then daringly made several missions to free people from this appalling institution. This biopic, while told in a very conventional manner, tells her story with sincerity, and boasts a magnificent performance from Cynthia Erivo, whose career as an actor is going from strength to strength.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood [review coming soon] Tom Hanks is simply put, one of the most charismatic answers in the business, and so the decision to cast him as the legendary TV children’s presenter Fred Rogers was an utter masterstroke. As you’d expect Hanks’s performance is wonderful and Marielle Heller’s direction is so charming, that it’s guaranteed to give you a warm feeling by the time the credits have begun to roll.

Hustlers [review] For women who work in a strip club, it can be a difficult situation to find themselves in. For one group of women however, it’s a situation they choose take full advantage of, by devising a scheme to get back at the wealthy patrons of the strip club that employs them. With an excellent group of actresses at its core, and a fascinating story, the entire show is stolen by an electric, awards worthy performance from Jennifer Lopez.

Toy Story 4 [review] After Toy Story 3 wrapped up one of the best animated trilogies ever, in beautiful and heart-wrenching fashion, many were left wondering, was there any need for another Toy Story? Fears that this would prove to be a cynical cash grab were soon dismissed as Pixar, as they so often do, delivered the goods with a fourth film that absolutely needed to be told. It doesn’t quite match the lofty standards set its predecessors, but it comes mighty close.

Captain Marvel [review] It shouldn’t have taken as long as it did, but 2019 marked the first time that the Marvel Cinematic Universe had a female led film, and it was certainly worth the wait. While the story was certainly a tad formulaic, it was extremely entertaining and flew its way to a billion dollars at the Worldwide Box Office, firmly shutting up those individuals that tried to derail the film prior to its release.

Little Women [review] Making yet another adaptation of the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott seemed to be a tad unnecessary. However, in the wake of her stunning directorial debut. Greta Gerwig took this beloved novel and put her own take on it, and in so doing may have created the definitive big screen adaptation.

Honourable mentions have been honoured, time to crack on with the main list, which due to the vast number of great films we have had this year I’ve made it into a top 15 list, and we begin with…

15. Official Secrets

review

Working for the government can put any employee in a difficult position, especially when they handle such confidential information. For one employee, deciding that a confidential memo demands to become public information, she bravely takes on her government by leaking the aforementioned memo to the Press.

The intrigue is maintained throughout thanks to some excellent writing and a sensational lead performance from Keira Knightley who carries the film on her shoulders magnificently. There’s a very important message at the centre of this gripping film that remains very relevant to the world we live in today, namely that governments need to be held to account when they try to sweep such damning information under the rug.

14. Midsommar

review

After terrifying audiences with his debut feature Hereditary, Ari Aster has reinforced his growing reputation as a horror maestro with his sophomore feature. Telling the story of a woman goes with her boyfriend to a Swedish Pagan festival, and some dark and disturbing events soon start to unfold.

With a magnificent, haunting, awards worthy lead performance from Florence Pugh, that captures raw grief and pain in such a powerful manner. One of the best directed films of the year, filled with some thought provoking themes and imagery, with plenty of scenes that I will certainly not be forgetting in a hurry.

13. Ford V Ferrari

review

The mark of a great film, especially one about a sporting event, is that you shouldn’t have to be the most devout follower of said sport to be thoroughly invested in it. The 24 Hour Race of Le Mans isn’t the most glamorous, or indeed the most iconic of sporting events, but that didn’t prevent James Mangold from crafting an extremely compelling film about it.

With a truly excellent cast full of excellent performances, the best work comes from Matt Damon, and especially Christian Bale. Mixing in the back and forth between company head honchos and the absorbing, immaculately crafted racing scenes ensures that makes for extremely compelling storytelling, that helps this film hit race past the finishing line in flying colours.

12. Marriage Story

review

The day the two people tie the knot is so often the happiest day of those people’s lives, but sometimes, that loving relationship can be soured, causing people to go their separate ways. The pain of the divorce process is captured so powerfully by director Noah Baumbach, as two people go through a problematic and painful divorce that will push both both parents to the limits, whilst trying to do what’s best for their son.

With awards worthy performances from just about everyone, though without any doubt, the spotlight shines brightest on Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. The performances of these two are arguably the best performances of the year. To go from a funny moment, to a remorseful moment in a heartbeat is a skill, and it’s a testament to the strength of Baumbach’s screenplay that he combines these two contrasting emotions so strongly, without tainting the experience.

11. The Farewell

review

Family, an institution that can mean so much to so many of us. When such sorrowful news about a loved one’s declining health reaches our ears, it can be difficult news to take. Especially when, the traditions between generations and cultures can be such a stark contrast.

The film is such a surprise with how much humour it finds in this situation, but Lulu Wang expertly balances the delightful moments, with ones that are just raw with emotion. At the centre of all, Awkwafina gives the performance of her career as a woman who’s caught between two different customs and traditions. No matter who you are or where you’re from, you’ll connect with this film in some capacity.

Now for the top 10…

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

Just Mercy (2019)

Image is property of Warner Bros

Just Mercy – Film Review

Cast: Michael B Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson, Tim Blake Nelson, Rob Morgan, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Rafe Spall

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

Synopsis: After a man is convicted of murder of a young woman and sent to death row, a defence attorney begins to uncover some startling facts about the case….

Review: It’s not exactly news that in the USA right now, the country has had, and continues to have a major issue with racism. Such an issue, extends to many facets of life in the country, and one particular example being the the justice system and the rule of law. A system that has some very fundamental flaws and biases, that can see people arrested for the most trivial of things. Likewise one that can see potentially innocent people, be sent to prison in spite of some very iffy/suspicious witness statements or evidence.

Walter McMillian, known to his friends and family as Johnny D, is on death row after he was found guilty of murdering a young woman. When attorney Bryan Stevenson takes on his case, he starts to investigate the case in substantial detail. Through some extensive and thorough examination of all the evidence, with the support of Eva Ansley (Larson), all is not what it seems with this case. Stevenson, believing that McMillan may have been wrongfully convicted through some spurious evidence and witness statements, makes it his mission to leave no stone unturned in his investigation, and to do all he can to clear McMillan of this crime.

Courtroom dramas such as these have definitely been adapted for the big screen before. However, while it doesn’t strive away from your typical courtroom drama, the sheer strength and emotional weight of the story are what bring the emotional levity to the situation. This film’s power and urgency lies in Andrew Lanham’s and director Destin Daniel Cretton’s script, which is not trying to be anything new in terms of courtroom dramas, and it doesn’t have to be in order to be extremely effective. Simply because it is trying to shine a light on an issue that is still prevalent in the US to this day. With people are being sent down for crimes they definitely didn’t commit, whilst simultaneously highlighting and the appalling institutional biases that still occur to this day in the US justice system, particularly for people of colour, it shows a fundamental problem that urgently needs addressing.

Michael B Jordan is nothing short of sensational as Bryan Stevenson, the attorney who bravely takes on McMillan’s case. Given the emotional magnitude surrounding the case, he would be forgiven for cracking under the intense pressure that comes along with taking what is to many people, an already closed case. While Larson’s screen time is limited, she is also excellent as the assistant to Jordan’s Stevenson. However, it’s Jamie Foxx’s heartbreaking performance that is by far and away, the most awards worthy. Giving his best performance since Django Unchained, you can see from his body language that the years on death row understandably have taken their toll on him. Yet through Stevenson’s relentless desire to uncover the truth, it brings him the faintest glimmer of hope in the darkest of situations for him and his family.

One of the many great aspects of film is its ability to shed light on such stories that people around the world may not know about. However, these hard-hitting stories need to be mandatory viewing for everyone. The whole point of a justice system, in any country the world over, is to hold a fair and unbiased trial that examines all the evidence without prejudice. Yet time after time in the US, the system is shown to be completely rigged to the extent that people, especially people of colour, are seemingly condemned before any trial has even begun. Changes will not happen but overnight, but with powerful pieces of storytelling like Just Mercy, one would hope that the tide eventually start to turn to prevent situations like this from happening again.

With a trio of fantastic performances at its centre, and an emotionally charged story packed with an urgent, powerful message that must be heard the world over. This is so much more than just your typical courtroom drama.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Cats (2019)

Image is property of Universal, Working Title and Amblin Entertainment

Cats – Film Review

Cast: Francesca Hayward, Judi Dench, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, James Corden, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, Rebel Wilson

Director: Tom Hooper

Synopsis: A group of Cats known as the Jellicles come together to make a decision known as “the Jellicle choice,” a decision that will give one lucky cat an exciting new opportunity to start life anew….

Review: It was almost an event unto itself. Back in July this year, a trailer landed onto the internet, but this was no ordinary trailer, it was something much more horrifying, this being the trailer for Cats. Quickly becoming this overnight, much talked about sensation, but for all the wrong reasons. The collective claws of the internet came out and the film became the subject of much ridicule and being the butt (or should that be tail) of so many internet jokes, it seemed completely dead on arrival. It should come as no surprise to learn that it is a complete furry cat-astrophe.

The plot, if you can really call it that, is focused on a group of cats known as the Jellicle cats. An abandoned cat, Victoria (Hayward) is found by the group and they take her in. Every year, the leader of this group must make the Jellicle choice, a decision which will give one lucky cat the chance to start a new life. The big problem is this “plot” only comes into view about two thirds of the way through the film. For the first two thirds, a bunch of rather famous people take it in turns to sing a song. It almost feels screenwriter Lee Hall and writer/director Tom Hooper were playing with a proverbial ball of string before they realised they needed to have a plot, of some kind.

You’ll never look at your cat the same way ever again…

The only actor who can really take any sort of credit for their performance is that of newcomer Francesca Hayward, as she shows glimpses of her talent as a singer and a performer. Yet, in a cast filled to the brim with so much talent, you expect so much better considering the calibre of the likes of Judi Dench, Ian McKellen and Idris Elba. The most fundamental job for a musical is to have good music, and there are a couple of strong performances to be found. Jennifer Hudson’s rendition of “Memory” is impactful and “Beautiful Ghosts” written by Taylor Swift and Andrew Lloyd Webber certainly has some touching moments about it. The rest of the music is perfectly fine, but beyond those two songs, it is all just very generic and forgettable.

But what’s unfortunately not so forgettable, is the visuals, and more specifically the look of the actors in these bizarre concoctions of “cat-suits”. While certain elements such as the fur look at least somewhat plausible, overall they most assuredly don’t look completely look like cats, but nor are they human. It is the most peculiar hybrid that is guaranteed to invade your nightmares. The very fact that at times you can quite clearly see their human fingers, and other human like features is just comically inept and extremely distracting. Seemingly no effort whatsoever has been made to modify the appearances of the actors to make them even vaguely look feline. Their hands don’t look like paws, and their human noses are extremely noticeable. It’s just a gigantic mess.

Given that such high calibre films like The King’s Speech, and the 2012 version of Les Misérables on his CV, one would really expect better of Tom Hooper to try and make this musical adaptation translate to the big screen in a manner that is not inherently horrifying. Yet in spite of some visually splendid production design, this monstrosity proves that not everything translates to the big screen. This adaptation is one that should have stayed on the scratchpad of ideas, where it deserved to remain, eventually to be scratched into oblivion where it belongs. Someone should have paws-ed for thought before green-lighting this thing, but they didn’t, and this nightmare came to fruition, which isn’t good news for anyone.

Take away Francesca Hayward’s promising performance, along with a few good songs, and there’s really not that much to salvage from this monstrosity. A furry nightmare of hellish proportions.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Image is property of Lucasfilm and Disney

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Film Review

Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Domnhall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Keri Russell, Kelly Marie Tran, Billy Dee Williams

Director: J.J Abrams

Synopsis: The First Order, under the leadership of Kylo Ren, seeks to consolidate its power following the deaths of Luke Skywalker and Leader Snoke. Meanwhile Rey leads the rest of the Resistance in a bid to restore peace in the Galaxy…

This review will be 100% spoiler free

Review: For over four decades, ever since a little film called Star Wars was unleashed on the world, it became this massive pop culture phenomenon, with an immeasurable, ever-lasting impact on the world of entertainment. Several times over the last few decades, we have seen this franchise take its supposed final bow. First came 1983, then in 2005, closing out the prequel trilogy after two lacklustre preceding films. Following Disney’s overtaking of the franchise, a new trilogy came into being. Four years since this trilogy blasted its way into existence, the time has come for it, and The Skywalker Saga, to take its proper final bow, in rather disappointing fashion.

Having lost instrumental figures following the events of The Last Jedi, both The Resistance and the First Order are seeking to take advantage of the power vacuum in the Galaxy and vanquish the other side once and for all. This galactic power struggle is thrown into further chaos when a mysterious entity, of a terrible foe long since thought to be dead, is threatening to unleash a new terror upon the Galaxy to ensure that the Dark Side will triumph once and for all.

It is not exactly news to anyone who has followed this franchise over the years that after The Force Awkakens chose to play things safe for the reintroduction to this franchise, The Last Jedi made some bold choices in a bid to try and take the franchise forward. In so doing, it caused an enormous divide among fans upon its release. Therefore having retaken the reins from Johnson, the onus was on JJ Abrams to steer this ship home, but it definitely hasn’t come home in one piece. The screenplay from Abrams and Chris Terrio feels very haphazardly put together, giving the impression that a slew of ideas were thrown at the wall and  meshed together, which produced decidedly mixed results. Having managed to craft a pretty airtight script for The Force Awakens, it’s extremely perplexing how the script this time around is full of what feels like unnecessary side quests, consequently feeling rather unfocused.

What’s worse is that some of the dialogue borders on prequel level of how cringe-inducing it is. To add further insult to injury, the directions that some of the characters go in are just completely baffling, and in some cases, are borderline insulting. In the wake of the backlash that was directed at TLJ, all the promising potential that TLJ offered is firmly discarded. All the intriguing plot points put forward are retconned in favour of a script that just for want of a better word, was nothing more than pandering to try and get the fans back onside following The Last Jedi. Favouring appeasement of the fans over bold and creative storytelling feels like an enormous cop-out, and could set a worrying precedent.

This isn’t to say that the whole thing is a complete waste of time, as Abrams brings his usual visual panache to the direction and the lightsabre battles that are present are exhilarating to watch, and for all of the story’s faults, there was potential there. Yet, for all that technical marvel, nothing shown here remotely represents an improvement on what came before it, and everything feels completely inconsequential. Therefore credit where credit’s due as all of the principal cast do excellent jobs reprising their roles, in spite of the less than stellar material they were given to work with, all. The leading lights are once again, Daisy Ridley’s Rey and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren who by far and away are giving the best performances in the film.

It’s fantastic to see Billy Dee Williams reprise his role as Lando Calrissian but he is frustratingly given sparse to do, and same goes for the rest of the new crop of supporting characters, none of whom are remotely memorable in the slightest, apart from Richard E Grant’s brilliant turn as a First Order officer. Completing the arc of General Leia cannot have been easy considering Carrie Fisher’s tragic passing. However, through the use of archived footage, which surprisingly fits into the story fairly seamlessly, credit can be taken for giving this beloved character a satisfying concluding arc, one that is not a slap in the face to the fans.

No matter what you feel about the preceding two films in in this franchise, they represented the opportunity for the franchise to go in some bold new directions. Thus, to see that all ultimately get thrown away in favour of the direction they did go in is extremely disappointing. For a franchise that has meant so much to so many people throughout the decades, everything was in place for Abrams to wrap up this trilogy in triumphant fashion, but unfortunately, stick the landing, it does not.

While offering some exciting moments, the Skywalker saga ultimately wraps up with what is, comfortably, the weakest film in the trilogy. A disappointment not felt in the galaxy since the days of the Prequel trilogy.

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

Waves (2019)

Image is property of A24

Waves – Film Review

Cast: Kelvin Harrison Jr, Taylor Russell, Alexa Demie, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sterling K. Brown, Lucas Hedges

Director: Trey Edward Shults

Synopsis: Focusing on an African-American family, and the lives of the two children as they navigate the testing period between their teenage years and adulthood…

Review: No matter who you are, or where you’re from, there’s a lot of pressure on you when you’re young. The period between your teenage years and the transition to adulthood are extremely tough to negotiate as you try to figure out your path in life, and certain decisions can define your trajectory for a long time to come. With only his third feature film, writer/director Trey Edward Shults presents an emotional look at one family’s journey through this testing time, with some immensely powerful results.

Right from the get go, there’s something about the way Shults writes and directs this powerful story feels so raw and honest, and this translates into flawless performances from every member of the Williams family. At the head of the family is loving, but tough father Ronald (Brown), stepmother Catherine (Goldsberry), and the two children Tyler (Harrison Jr) and Emily (Russell). Initially, we see things from the perspective of Tyler, and on first glance, things appear to be going well for him. He has his place on the wrestling team and a loving girlfriend in Alexis (Demie). Through relentless pushing by his father, he strives for excellence in every aspect of his life. However, a startling revelation threatens to turn his idyllic life completely upside down, with potentially long-lasting consequences for him and everyone he loves.

In a film with impeccable performances across the board, Kelvin Harrison Jr leads the way with a tremendous, wounded performance as Tyler. He imbues this young man who’s not short of confidence and self-belief. However, underneath that exterior is someone who faces severe pressure of the expectations that society places on the shoulders of a young man like him. The whole time, he has something eating away at him. Amid the constant pushing from his father, he runs the risk of making a severe lapse in judgement. The film illustrates how young men all over the world can be overwhelmed by the weight of expectations that society places on them, and that it’s imperative for them to have figures of support to help them navigate the tricky journey that we call life.

Opposite him, Taylor Russell delivers an equally sensational performance as Tyler’s sister Emily. Though Tyler gets the limelight in the early stages of the film, Emily very much represents that vital figure of support that her brother really needs, even though she too is facing pressure of her own. The film is very much told in two halves, first from Tyler’s perspective, and then from Emily’s perspective. The first half of the screenplay is the stronger of the two due because of the sheer strength of the emotion of the situation that builds between these characters. Though, there comes a point about half way through where that emotion builds to a crescendo, and hits you like a ton of bricks.

Like a wave itself that has its highs and then it comes crashing back down, the second half of the story very much represents the point after the wave has reached its crescendo. It’s not emotionally powerful as the preceding half, but it serves as a necessary after-effect for the events that precede it. There’s a very intimate and personal manner to the way Shults directs the film, which gives the story a authentic vibe to this touching, and emotional story. Bolstered by a superb score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the film serves as a reminder that growing up is far from an easy time, and that love and support can go a long way to building long-lasting relationships, with family and with friends in equal measure.

Flawless performances across the board, especially from Harrison Jr and Russell, bolstered by a well developed, and powerful story told with raw honesty. Be prepared for the extraordinary emotional journey that Waves will take you on.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Frozen II (2019)

Image is property of Walt Disney Animation Studios

Frozen II – Film Review

Cast:  Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, Sterling K. Brown, Evan Rachel Wood, Alfred Molina

Directors:  Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

Synopsis: Set three years after the events of the first film, as a mysterious voice that calls out to Elsa, she must venture beyond Arendelle’s borders in search of the truth behind her powers…

Review: Cast your minds back to November 2013, the time when Frozen fever came, and quickly conquered all before it. No matter where you were, this phenomenon was inescapable as it swept across the globe, shattering box office records left, right and centre, eventually landing the title of highest grossing film of all time, a title it was to hold for six years. Furthermore, with the irresistibly catchy “Let it Go” a song that almost certainly got stuck in heads, especially those with children, several times over. It was a matter of time before Elsa’s powers brought a sequel into existence.

In the years since the events of the first film, the citizens of Arendelle are prospering under Elsa’s rule. With her relationship with Anna as strong as ever, Kristoff’s romance with Anna is going from strength to strength. Alongside them, with Kristoff’s trusted reindeer Sven and the sentient snowman Olaf by their side, all seems right with the world. However, when Elsa begins to hear a distant and mysterious voice that calls out to her, she and Anna must journey beyond Arendelle’s lands to seek out the voice that she suspects might have something to do with the origin of her powers.

Given the incredible phenomenon the preceding film became, when news that a sequel was in the works, the anticipation for it was at freezing boiling point. Taking a familiar Disney Princess trope and turning it on its head(ish), worked a treat for the first film. However, this time around they take the story into a much bolder direction. Rather than focusing on a fundamental battle of good vs evil, the screenplay recognises that the audience have grown up in the six years between the films. With that in mind, it aims to go into a much more nuanced, and mature direction. It’s an admirable approach, but despite a strong start, the plot is not as solid as its predecessor and does start to crack around half way through.

In terms of animation, Disney seldom disappoints and once again, they have delivered in some style. The animation is once again simply stunning to look at. There’s so much sophistication and detail in numerous aspects of the animation that are just make for some astounding visuals, especially when it comes to Elsa’s powers. Furthermore, what definitely helped the first film become the phenomenon it was, was down to the film’s music. Though there’s nothing here quite as powerful, or indeed as catchy as “Let it Go“, returning songwriters, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez have come up with a number of songs go mightily close to recapture those, soaring notes. most notably “Into the Unknown” that makes the best use of Idina Menzel’s remarkable vocals.

While Olaf’s humour worked in the first film, this time around though it is very hit and miss. There’s a few instances where he can be very funny, but at other times, his humour starts to become extremely grating. Thankfully though, it’s not enough to derail the film, as despite its shortcomings from a narrative aspect, the excellent voice work, the strong sisterly bond between Elsa and Anna, and the handful of memorable tunes go a long way to ensure that this latest venture to the land of Arendelle will not give you frostbite.

The plot is not on as solid ground as its predecessor, however the stunning animation, excellent voice work and soaring music ensure that this is an adventure into the unknown, that’s worth going on.