Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

© Marvel Studios

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – Film Review

Cast: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, Michelle Yeoh

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

Synopsis: After living many years living a normal life in the USA, martial artist Shang-Chi (Liu) is forced to confront his past and his father’s organisation, The Ten Rings…

Review: In the years since the Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken over Hollywood, producing a remarkable interconnected universe, and smashing records here, there and everywhere, there has been no shortage of remarkable accomplishments and awards. Yet, there have also been historic and ground-breaking moments in terms of representation along the way. First there was Black Panther that was the first MCU film to feature a predominantly Black cast that celebrated Black culture. Then came Captain Marvel, which marked the first female-directed and driven film in the franchise. And now, the all-conquering juggernaut that is the MCU, has now provided us with its first Asian lead superhero film, alongside a predominantly Asian led cast.

Shang-Chi is a skilled martial arts warrior who spent his early life growing up in the shadow of his father Wenwu (Leung)’s organisation The Ten Rings. Wenwu is in possession of ten mystical and magical rings that grant him incredible power and immortality. With this incredible power in his possession, he has conquered pretty much anything and everything in his path over a great period of time. Also, in that time he raised a family, and put his children through rigorous and intense training. However, his son Shang-Chi has been for many years on a different path. Namely, the path of a normal life in the USA, working as a valet alongside his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). Until one day, his past catches up with him and he realises he can no longer escape his father’s shadow, coming face to face with his father once again.

To be tasked with the leading role in the first Asian led MCU film is a massive responsibility to have on the shoulders of the actor in question, especially if this is your first leading role in one of the biggest franchises in the world currently, such as the MCU. Fortunately, Simu Liu proves to be a perfect choice to play the titular role, as he has the charisma needed to carry the film on his shoulders. While Shang-Chi is unquestionably an extremely skilled warrior and martial arts expert, unlike say, a Tony Stark, there’s no arrogance or cockiness to him, he’s very humble and grounded. Alongside Shang-Chi is his best friend Katy, who is initially completely unaware of her friend’s past as a fierce warrior. Any MCU film is guaranteed to have a substantial amount of comedy, and a lot of this comes through Katy. The role of a comedy sidekick is one that Awkwafina has played before, and once again she’s perfect at it.

In a similar vein to Black Panther, there is a core of badass and powerful women alongside Shang-Chi. As well as Katy, Meng’er Zhang as Shang-Chi’s sister Xu Xialing threatens to steal the show from her brother. A feat that is all the more impressive when you consider that this is her first foray into the world of acting. Fala Chen and Michelle Yeoh may not have the most screen time, but both use the short amount of screen time they do have to wonderful effect. Marvel villains can often fall short of being memorable, or indeed not very threatening. This is most assuredly not the case with Tony Leung’s Wenwu. Right from the moment he’s on screen, armed with these powerful rings, he’s a very formidable foe who makes his presence known. However, there’s a lot more to his character than just being a skilled warrior in possession of ten magical rings. At the core of his character, is a desire to reconnect with his long lost children, and it represents the crucial emotional core that’s central to the story.

It is crystal clear that the iconic martial arts films of the past serve as an inspiration for the action scenes. Director Destin Daniel Cretton and the stunt teams here are paying the utmost respect to the Martial arts films of the past that inspired them. Consequently, there is a unique flair to some of the action scenes that’s never been captured in previous MCU films. While this is consistently maintained throughout, it does get to a point where the action becomes an abundance of CGI, particularly in the third act. This is not a bad thing by any means, due to the fact that emotional investment in the journey of these characters is strong. Yet, given how common it has become in superhero films, it is something that like to see superhero films move away from. Nevertheless, in the same way that Black Panther irrevocably changed the MCU forever, Shang-Chi is poised to follow suit by being a massive step forward for wider representation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

With the unique visual flair and choreography of its action sequences, and the committed performances of its cast, especially Liu, Zhang, and Yeung, all these factors combine to make Shang-Chi another superb MCU origin story. A new hero is born.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Freaky (2021)

© BlumHouse Productions and Universal Productions

Freaky  – Film Review

Cast: Kathryn Newton, Vince Vaughn, Celeste O’Connor, Misha Osherovich, Katie Finneran, Alan Ruck, Uriah Shelton, Dana Drori

Director: Christopher Landon

Synopsis: After a fateful encounter with a notorious serial killer, one high school student finds that she and the killer have switched bodies…

Review: When it comes to the horror genre, the possibilities that writers and directors have to provide chills and scares to audiences are endless. There is the the unique route of having extremely terrifying things happening in broad daylight. Or indeed, stick to the classic slasher sub genre that has worked so successfully for many decades. Additionally, the premise of a film that centres on two people swapping bodies is one that feels like it’s the perfect, almost tailor made for a slasher horror film. Sprinkle a bit of comedy in there for a good measure, and you have an extremely entertaining film that delivers gory moments and hilarity in equal measure.

Millie Kessler (Newton) is a high school student at Blissfield High, battling with cruel classmates and teachers alike. On one fateful evening after a high school football match, Millie comes face to face with the town’s serial killer: the Blissfield Butcher (Vaughn). After she’s attacked by the Butcher with a dagger (that may or may not have some mysterious qualities to it), the two wake up the following morning to find that they are in each other’s bodies. Now in the body of the killer, and with a limited time window before the switch becomes permanent, Millie must do all she can to ensure that the reign of terror that the Blissfield Butcher has inflicted on the town comes to an end.

Christopher Landon has previously found success with films that mesh horror and comedy with his Happy Death Day franchise. Hence, Freaky film feels like a perfect continuation for him. His script, co-written by Michael Kennedy, is a delightful twist on the 1972 novel Freaky Friday. While the script is unquestionably filled with some cheesy dialogue, there’s plenty comedic one liners that are expertly delivered by the cast. Meshing comedy with horror is a very fine line to walk, but Langdon walks it perfectly. Within the first ten minutes of the film, he quickly establishes the brutality of the Butcher, by dispatching of his first view victims in gruesome manner. The film presents itself initially as your standard slasher flick. This is until the Butcher meets Millie, and then the ol’ body switcheroo happens, and the two are in a race against time to get back in their bodies, or else the switch will become permanent.

As well as expertly combining the horror of the situation with the comedy, what really makes the film the bloody, and riotous blast of fun that it is, is the performances of Kathryn Newton, and especially Vince Vaughn. Vaughn in particular is clearly having a lot of fun pretending to have the mannerisms of a teenage girl who suddenly finds herself in the body of a six foot four ominous serial killer. Likewise for Newton, to go from being this timid, shy teenage girl, who’s being routinely picked on, to being this serial killer who exudes confidence and who kills teenagers for fun. It is a real change of direction and Newton goes all out in her performance. The complete shift in both their characters is pivotal to making the film work, and it’s to the credit of both actors that they are able to make the contrast in their personas so believable.

There’s no one in the rest of the cast who matches the quality of the performances from Newton and Vaughn. However, Celeste O’Connor and Misha Osherovich come very close to doing so.  As Millie’s best friends who must work with her to bring the Butcher’s rampage to its end, they have some of the best lines. While the film is perhaps a little bit predictable with how events play out, to take a body swap film and turn into a horror/comedy,  is extremely ingenious. Furthermore, thanks to the committed performances of its cast, the end product is an absolute bloody delight from start to finish.

Horror and comedy spliced together can often end badly. However with excellent performances by Newton and Vaughn, Freaky is an enthralling, bloody soaked blast of fun.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Suicide Squad (2021)

© Warner Bros and DC Films

The Suicide Squad  – Film Review

Cast: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Peter Capaldi, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior

Director: James Gunn

Synopsis: A team of high-powered supervillains are recruited into Task Force X, for a mission that takes them to a South American island to learn more details about a top secret scientific programme…

Review: It would be fair to say that the excitement for 2016’s Suicide Squad was palpable. An assortment of bad guys on a bonkers mission, from a director with proven experience under his belt, several excellent casting choices and some excellently cut trailers. It all looked so promising, and well, to say that the film didn’t work out as planned would be a massive understatement. Hence, anyone could have been forgiven for keeping their excitement in check when it was revealed that DC’s collection of B list supervillains/douchebags were getting a new big screen adaptation, courtesy of James Gunn. Would the man who successfully brought Marvel’s ragtag collection of loveable arseholes to life, be able to do justice to the DC equivalent on the big screen? Thankfully this time around, the answer is an emphatic YES.

Task Force X, led by the absolutely ruthless Amanda Waller (Davis), is once again recruiting high powered supervillains to to complete seemingly impossible missions, in order to get time off their prison sentences. Missions that will almost certainly lead to their deaths. This time around, the Task Force are sent to the South American island of Corto Maltese, where it’s believed that the Government is developing some kind of weapon that is known only as “Project Starfish.” Familiar faces Harley Quinn, Colonel Rick Flagg and Captain Boomerang are joined by an extremely eclectic range of bad guys on this dangerous mission. A mission where bloody and absolutely glorious mayhem ensues.

While this new version barely references the 2016 version, returning faces Margot Robbie and Viola Davis once again excel as Harley Quinn and Amanda Waller respectively. Robbie especially has arguably never been better in the role than she is here, and in both cases, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else portraying those characters. Of all the new recruits, and there are a fair few of them, in Will Smith’s place as the team’s commander/sharpshooter, comes Idris Elba’s Bloodsport. His deadliness with firearms puts him at odds with John Cena’s Peacemaker, think Captain America but with an enormous ego and absolutely no morals whatsoever. As Peacemaker is also quite handy when it comes to guns, the testosterone-fuelled banter that constantly zips back and forth between these two is the source for much of the film’s uproarious comedy. Once you see David Dastmalchian’s Polka Dot Man, you won’t have to connect too many dots to figure out what his powers are. Meanwhile fan favourite King Shark, thanks to the voicework of Sylvester Stallone, is so wonderfully brought to life. However, the heart of the film very much lies in Daniela Melchior’s Ratcatcher 2, who has the ability to control rats.

As one might suspect from the film’s title, it’s safe to assume that there are going to be casualties, and they would be wise to have that assumption. Gunn really makes it feel like no one is safe, and that anyone could very easily meet their demise at any moment. As his early films as a director were very much rooted in the horror genre, he is clearly having lots of fun with the manner in choosing how to pick off certain characters. Though as he probably was restrained from turning up the dial on the violence factor for the Guardians films, he completely turbocharges the violence, with blood and guts galore. This is probably just as well given that there’s a humanoid shark present who has a craving for human flesh and has no qualms about tearing people apart limb from limb.

It is not news that audiences have in recent years become inundated with the plethora of superhero films. While so many have been undeniably extremely entertaining, there are plenty that have, in some cases through no fault of their own, failed to make themselves stand out from the crowd. This is something that this version of DC’s collection of supervillains avoids, in no small part, thanks to the R rating, the action sequences and the performances of all the cast. The absurdity of the mission, along with the humour and bickering that ensues between the characters, and the gravity of the situation is a tough balancing act for Gunn, but it’s one that they get (apart from one or two minor pacing issues) damn near perfectly right. What you’re left with after all that is, to put it simply: best DC Extended Universe film so far.

A riotous blast of fun from start to finish filled to the brim with well-rounded characters, a hilarious team dynamic and glorious action. James Gunn, it is good to have you back!

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

In the Heights (2021)

© Warner Bros

In The Heights  – Film Review

Cast: Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV, Jimmy Smits

Director: Jon M. Chu

Synopsis: In the Washington Heights area of New York City, the owner of a bodega aspires to one day relocate to the Dominican Republic to fulfil a childhood dream…

Review: Whenever someone mentions the name Lin-Manuel Miranda, many will undoubtedly immediately think of his work with the hugely popular musical Hamilton. Winner of an incredible 11 Tony Awards, thanks to a release of a recording of the show on Disney+ last year, it gave those who hadn’t had the chance to see it revel in its wonderful performances and irresistibly catchy tunes. Yet, Hamilton was not Miranda’s first foray into the world of musicals. Before he enjoyed phenomenal success with his adaptation of the life of one of the founding fathers of the United States, there was In the Heights, a musical penned by Miranda about the place where he grew up. Now, in the hands of director Jon M. Chu, comes an adaption that, it will not shock you to learn, is an absolutely euphoric blast of sun-soaked joy.

For any musical, the opening number is arguably the most important one of them all, as it has the task of setting the scene and getting the audience in the mood. Through this absolute bop of an opener, we meet our protagonist Usnavi (Ramos) the owner of a bodega in the Washington Heights area of New York City. Usnavi has fond memories of his childhood and the beach bar in the Dominican Republic that was once run by his father. With the bodega, and a handful of other businesses in the area at risk of going out of business, he becomes determined to raise enough money to leave New York behind and return to the Dominican Republic to reopen his family’s bar. But over the course of one summer in this vibrant Latino community in Washington Heights, as Usnavi meets with old friends and makes some new connections, there’s every chance that this will be a special, unforgettable summer.

The opening musical number introduces us to an array of the people and their livelihoods in this particular neighbourhood in the Big Apple. From Usnavi’s cousin Sonny (Diaz) who helps him run the bodega, Abuela Claudia (Merediz), the neighbourhood’s matriarch who played an integral role in raising Usnavi, Kevin the owner of a nearby business and his daughter Nina who’s returned to the area after a year in college, her relationship with Benny (Hawkins), to finally Vanessa (Barrera) an aspiring fashion designer, who Usnavi has developed a massive crush on. For each and every single person in this neighbourhood, they are all motivated by their own “sueñitos”(little dreams).

As the film’s central character, Usnavi is immediately a very charming and likeable presence. Following on from his role in Hamilton, this is Anthony Ramos’s shot at a leading role, and he does not throw it away. He’s constantly thinking about his sueñito, to run that beach bar that was such an integral part of his life growing up. Yet he’s reminded of just how special this area of New York, and the people who make it home are to him. Chief among these people is his crush Vanessa. For her, her sueñito is to become a fashion designer, and Barrera’s performance is equally impressive and emotionally heartfelt in a terrific cast. There is not a false note to be found anywhere in any of their performances.

As one comes to expect when Lin-Manuel Miranda pens the music, the soundtrack is packed to the brim with irresistibly catchy and joyful songs that will be filling your eardrums for weeks afterwards. As well as the irresistibly catchy music, what is equally impressive is the choreography that accompanies each and every musical number. Furthermore, each song and musical number has its own unique vibe, which comes from the variety of backdrops for each song, and the excellent use of lighting and camerawork that director Jon. M. Chu utilises. The screenplay by Quiara Alegría Hudes touches on a number of very topical themes like family, identity, aspirations, and what it means to be a part of a community. Given that the original musical was written in 2005, Hudes’s screenplay has made some important changes to the plot that makes it in tandem with modern day events, such as the aspirations of the Dreamers. This crucially lends an extra weight to the stories of the people that are being brought to life on screen, because they will undoubtedly reflect many of the hopes and dreams of the people in this community.

While each and every song here are certified jams, the film is just ever slightly let down by some pacing issues in and around the middle act of the film. However, if you’re going to pick a soundtrack to be the music to your summer, you’re unlikely to find a more vibrant, soulful and downright joyous than this one. It might have taken a while for this adaptation of this musical to lift our spirits and infect our eardrums with its joyful tunes. After the difficult time that has been had by all over the last year or so, this is the perfect blast of euphoric enjoyment that we all need and deserve, and it was certainly worth the wait.

Filled with a plethora of wonderful characters, and some certifiable bops jammed packed throughout, In The Heights is the positive, life-affirming blast of joy that the world needs right now.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Father (2021)

© Lionsgate, Film4 and Canal+

The Father  – Film Review

Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Mark Gatiss, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell, Olivia Williams

Director: Florian Zeller

Synopsis: An elderly man suffering from dementia refuses any assistance from carers or his family as he ages. As his condition begins to worsen, he tries to make sense of his situation…

Review: As human beings, we go through our lives so often surrounded by our loved ones, and for many, nothing can beat the warm embrace that family and friends can provide for us. But, what if one day, someone who you’re very close to, suddenly turned around had no idea who you are, or what they used to do for a living? There’s no getting away from the fact that dementia can have a devastating effect on a person’s mind. It is estimated that around 54 million people around the world currently living with dementia. Through his directorial debut, Florian Zeller provides a unique look at this disease can have on not just the sufferer, but their closest relatives as well.

Anthony (Hopkins) is a man who is suffering from dementia and is slowly starting to lose his grip on reality. His daughter Anne (Colman) tries to plead with her father to get him a professional carer to help him with his condition. However, Anthony point blank refuses, as he believes there is nothing wrong with himself, and is determined to live his life on his own terms. Consequently, by rebuffing her offers of assistance, it begins to erode Anne’s patience with her father, which has a knock-on effect on Anne’s relationship with her husband, especially as all is not what it seems in Anthony’s mind. As his grip on reality slowly starts to dissipate with each passing day.

Adapted from the play “Le Père“, approaching a film that deals with such delicate subject matter is always a challenge for the filmmakers. However, the screenplay by Zeller (who also wrote the play) and Christopher Hampton takes an extremely innovative approach in how it tells its story. Namely, it chooses to frame the film entirely from the perspective of its lead character. By doing this, it lets the audience into the mind of Anthony himself, to see how living with this disease can have such a debilitating effect on the person’s day to day life. Day-to-day conversations are continuously changing. One minute, there’s someone on screen informing Anthony (and the audience) as to who they are. Yet in the very next scene, they might be someone completely different. Through Zeller’s brilliant direction, you wonder are they who they say they are? And crucially, the audience gets a glimpse of what living with this disease must be like.

Anthony Hopkins is an actor who needs no introduction. With his distinguished career whose career is now in its seventh decade, he has given so many brilliant performances across a lifetime of wonderful work. Yet with this heart-breaking performance, it’s easily the best performance he has given in a very long time. He starts off the film in a very buoyant mood, but with each passing scene, it becomes clear that this disease is taking an immeasurable toll on his well being. Given that his character shares his name with the actor portraying him, it is evident that Zeller had Hopkins in mind when bringing this performance to life, and it pays off massively with an astonishing performance. Alongside him, Colman’s role of Anne is more subdued, but we sympathise with her as she tries to show love towards her father, even if that is starting to wear extremely thin as Anthony’s condition takes hold, and his stubborn refusal to accept her help.

This is far from an easy watch, but what Zeller has accomplished through this study of this disease, is an emotionally powerful film that will hopefully be extremely effective in increasing awareness about this disease. Given that it is estimated that the number of people suffering from dementia across the world will rise to 130 million by 2050, this is fast becoming a very serious issue that demands our increased awareness as a society. For the simple reason that it is entirely possible that we, or that someone we love, may well suffer from this disease at one point in our lives.

A careful approach to its subject matter, extremely innovative direction, and an absolutely heart-breaking lead performance from Hopkins, all combine to make The Father an extremely moving, and unforgettably devastating drama.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Godzilla vs Kong (2021)

Image is property of Warner Bros and Legendary

Godzilla vs Kong  – Film Review

Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza González, Julian Dennison, Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir, Kaylee Hottle

Director: Adam Wingard

Synopsis:  When the Monarch corporation seeks to use Kong for a secret mission, their plan puts Kong on a direct collision course with Godzilla, and almighty battle for monster supremacy ensues….

Review: It feels like that for as long as cinema has been around, the cinematic powerhouses of King Kong and Godzilla have roared and stomped their way to establish themselves as iconic pop culture titans. Titans that in years gone by, would have no problems drawing massive crowds into packed cinemas across the world. While the former made his first big screen appearance in 1933, and the latter in 1954, their first on screen meeting came in 1962. Yet, ever since the wheels of the MonsterVerse were first put back in motion in 2014, it feels like the franchise has been building towards another clash between these two legendary monsters. Nearly half a century after their first meeting, and armed with the wonders that modern CGI can produce, these two cinematic behemoths are once again, scrapping it out for titan supremacy.

The film picks up a number of years since the events of King of the Monsters. In that time, the Monarch corporation has been observing Kong at his home on Skull Island. A team of scientists led by Nathan Lind (Skarsgard) and Illene Andrews (Hall) are seeking to locate what they believe to be some kind of unique power source that supposedly can be found in a mythical location, somewhere on the planet. For this mission to succeed, they believe that Kong is best placed to guide them to this mystical location. However, before they can get started with their mission, they cross paths with Godzilla who is seemingly being provoked into hurting people, which may or may not be connected to something another sinister corporation’s mysterious activities. So when these two cross paths, a gargantuan clash between two of cinema’s greatest titans erupts.

When it comes to these films, the audience is there for one thing, and that is to see giant monsters beat the ever living shit out of each other. To their credit, all of the films have had their satisfying moments with these enormous showdowns, though admittedly some have done it better than others.  With Godzilla Vs Kong, the battle scenes depicted here are potentially some of the best that this franchise has ever produced, as they are extremely entertaining to watch, and the work that is done by the visual effects artists is extraordinary. With these monsters movies, a sense of scale is imperative, you need to feel the size and the scale of these monsters, and with the enthralling showdowns that the film gives us, they succeed whilst making us humans feel like teeny ants by comparison.

For all the fun and exhilaration that the gargantuan showdowns, this franchise has (with the odd exception) had a difficult ability to craft human characters that are well developed and to really make the audience care about them. Once again, for the most part, the human characters have the most minimal amount of development, and exist in this franchise to mainly serve up exposition to the audience. It has been a common theme in this franchise to have such talented actors involved, only for them to be serviceable pieces to the plot, when they have the potential to be so much more. While the overwhelming majority of the human characters here, both old and new, are once again serviceable to the plot at best, the one exception to this is the connection that Kong has with Jia, a young deaf girl. The arc of her character ensures that she is, by far and away, one of the most well developed human characters this franchise has produced.

The plot concerning the human characters is extremely silly, and one can definitely question whether any aspect of the screenplay makes one iota of sense. However, that isn’t strictly necessary when it comes to a film that features a giant ape and a giant lizard squaring off against one another. You come to watch two cinematic titans having a good old scrap, and that is exactly what this film delivers. Furthermore, in a year that has been turbulent for the big screen experience that has seen cinemas for the most part stay shut, this is the sort of film that audiences need to just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride that is depicted on screen. As Ishirō Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) said way back in 2014’s Godzilla said, “Let them fight,” and watch the monster mayhem unfold in all of its glory.

While beset with the familiar issue of (mostly) uninteresting and disposable human characters, when it comes to the main event of titans engaging in a fight to the death, this epic showdown is a roaring success.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021)

© Netflix, Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation

The Mitchells vs. the Machines  – Film Review

Cast: Danny McBride, Abbi Jacobson, Maya Rudolph, Michael Rianda, Eric Andre, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, John Legend, Chrissy Teigen, Blake Griffin, Conan O’Brien

Directors: Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe

Synopsis: When a robot uprising occurs during a family road trip, one dysfunctional family becomes the last hope for humanity…

Review: It isn’t exactly news that humanity as a species have become rather obsessed with all gadgets of various shapes and sizes that have a screen in them. Whether it be phones, laptops, tablets or TVs, if we’re not working, chances are high that we will have our eyes glued to those gadgets that are “bathed in ghoulish blue light”. But what if those machines that we are so dependent on, instead decided to do away with humanity as a species and rule this planet for themselves? While humanity’s over-reliance on technology is far from an original concept, in the hands of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the duo who helped to bring the visual wizardry of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to life, they’ve turned that concept into this bonkers, but uproariously entertaining adventure.

Katie (Jacobson) is as an aspiring filmmaker, who is one step closer to her dream job after being accepted into a film school. Her ambitions don’t sit well with her technophobe father Rick (McBride). Due to her ambitions and his own issues with technology, he struggles to connect with Katie. Fearing that they may drift apart for good once Katie has settled into college, Rick decides to take the entire the family go on a cross-country road trip, which is meant to be in theory one last family outing. Unfortunately for the Mitchell family, their family trip coincides with the beginning of a robot uprising determined to eradicate humanity from the face of the Earth. Consequently, this quirky, oddball family find themselves as the last hope for humanity to stop the robot apocalypse.

While many may well see Disney and its subsidiary Pixar as the top dogs of animation movie making, there are certainly plenty of studios that are producing some stellar animation flicks that are certainly capable of challenging Disney and Pixar’s status as animation top dogs. For Sony Pictures Animation, Into The Spider-Verse was the perfect example of an innovative, unique stunningly crafted piece of film-making that really pushed the boundaries of what this medium could accomplish. Under the direction of first time directors Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe, this enthralling adventure continues that trajectory with a unique and exhilarating blend of 2D and 3D animation styles.

As with the animation, the voice work of the cast is exceptional across the board. As the film’s central protagonist, much is resting on Katie’s shoulders and through the excellent voice work by Abbi Jacobsen, she carries the film marvellously well. There will be many out there who empathise with Katie as a quiet somewhat introverted individual who’s passionate about what she does, and Jacobson imbues Katie with a fiercely independent, yet extremely likeable personality. Due to his difficult relationship, and his immense disdain for technology, the strained relationship between Rick and Katie features at the centre of the film. McBride excels as a father who strives to find the balance between being the stern parent trying to steer his children away from the allure of the screens, whilst simultaneously trying to do his best for his daughter.

While the voice talents of Jacobsen and McBride are given most of the spotlight, the performances of Maya Rudolph and co-director Michael Rianda are perfect as mother Lin and Katie’s brother Aaron, are given plenty of screen time to flesh out their characters. Though, like with any film that features a robot apocalypse, the need for a strong villain is imperative. In this instance, that antagonist is PAL, a super intelligent AI who’s basically like if the personal assistant in your phone went rogue and tried to kill you and all of humanity in the process. Proving that the no one plays an antagonist better than the British, the casting of Olivia Colman in this menacingly evil, and simultaneously hilarious role, is an absolute masterstroke.

At 113 minutes, the film is certainly longer than average when compared to most animated adventures. However, from the word go, the momentum that’s generated from the film’s wild and exhilarating story ensures that at no point does the film lose the momentum that it has generated. It moves from fun road trip film to a battle for humanity’s survival with effortless ease, as a wild mixture of hilarious gags and thrilling action help to keep the plot going at a frenetic and exhilarating pace. Furthermore, it packs plenty of heart-warming character moments in between absolutely thrilling action scenes that will definitely be appreciated by man and machine-kind alike in equal measure.

With its perfect combination of bonkers and hilarious action and sincere heartfelt character moments, the latest Lord/Miller collaboration sets the bar high for the rest of 2021’s animated offerings.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Nomadland (2021)

© Searchlight Pictures

Nomadland  – Film Review

Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Charlene Swankie, Bob Wells

Director: Chloé Zhao

Synopsis: After the death of her husband and the loss of her job, a woman purchases a van to live as a modern day nomad…

Review: Home, is where the heart is. Yet, for each and every one of us, this is a word that can mean many different things. For some, it could be that place you grew up, or a place that’s significant in your lives, or it could be where a person’s family resides. No matter what this word may mean to each and every one of us, there’s a moment early on in this beautiful film from director Chloe Zhao that perfectly captures the essence of this story. As a character is talking with Fern (McDormand) about a tattoo she has:”Home, is it just a word? Or is it something you carry within you?” With just this one simple song lyric, from “Home is a Question Mark” by The Smiths, it encapsulates the heart that is beating at the centre of the film.

Years prior to the events of the film, Fern lived and worked in Empire, Nevada, with her husband. They both had jobs working in a US Gypsum plant, and it’s immediately apparent that these were joyful years for Fern. Yet, times have sadly changed. As a result of the Great Recession of 2008, the plant that was essentially the glue that held together Empire’s economy closed, and Fern has lost her job. But the most devastatingly blow of all, is the death of her husband. Following the collapse of the town’s economy, Empire has become a ghost town and all of the residents have since moved on. With all the attachments she once had to Empire now gone, she sells most of her belongings and purchases a van and starts a new life for herself as a modern day nomad roaming the heart of the American West, taking seasonal work wherever she can find it.

Adapted from the non-fiction novel Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder, the premise of the film is simple, but sometimes there is beauty in the simplicity of life, and the film celebrates this. Thanks to the absolutely stunning cinematography from Joshua James Richards, the film shines a light on a way of life that many will no doubt be extremely unfamiliar with. There will be many who are no doubt accustomed to the metropolitan lifestyle of a city that never sleeps. The bright lights and the constant noise of the urban metropolis. A world where chatter is constant, life is almost always continually moving. There is none of that in this nomad lifestyle, just the quiet, peaceful atmosphere of the open road. Although such a lifestyle does come with its challenges, most notably the isolation.

It’s in no small part down to the extraordinary performance of Frances McDormand that pulls you into this story. Having won an Oscar a few years for her portrayal as a fierce and pissed off mother on the search for justice in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, this is a very different kind of role for the veteran actor. It’s much more withdrawn and subdued, and yet like the great actor she is, McDormand rises to the challenge in spectacular fashion. Aside from McDormand’s wonderful work, and an equally sincere performance from David Strathairn, as Dave, a fellow nomad who strikes up a close friendship with Fern. The rest of the film’s cast consists of real life nomads, and what could have been a somewhat risky move, instead turns out to be a masterstroke by Zhao. By choosing to have real life nomads, most of whom are portraying a fictionalised version of themselves, it lends an air of authenticity to the events that are being depicted on screen, which consequently helps you to sympathise with the people in this community, and the lives they lead.

The story does sometimes feels a bit aimless, and the pacing does stutter in one or two places. Yet, there’s a touching moment of poignancy throughout the film, that signifies the importance of remembering someone. An importance which is especially emotionally resonant for a community that could feel like it has been left behind by our modern day Capitalist society. In a similar vein to The Smiths lyric that is mentioned at the beginning, there’s another quote that feels especially emotionally resonant. “what’s remembered, lives.” Due to these emotionally trying times that we’re living in, where lots of people may have been feeling isolated and lonely, there’s a lot can be learned in being kind to one another, especially for those who may have a different lifestyle than what most people do.

Poignant and quietly moving, with a subdued but touching leading performance from McDormand, Nomadland is an emotional and celebratory study at an underrepresented way of life.

Posted in 2020-2029, Awards Season, Ranking

93rd Academy Awards: Best Picture Nominees Ranked

After what is one of the longest awards seasons in living memory, it is finally time for Hollywood to pay tribute to the best cinematic offerings of 2020/21. It was certainly a strange year that forced cinemas to stay shut for many months, hence the slight delay to the main event this weekend. But that didn’t prevent a number of outstanding films from being released. With a total of eight films up for the big prize this year: including the behind the scenes of how one of the most iconic films of all time came to be, a couple of heart-warming tales about life in America (from two very different perspectives), a gripping and timely courtroom drama, a heart-breaking character study of a man suffering from a terrible disease, an urgent film about an overlooked figure of history, and a dark and thrilling tale of revenge.

There’s lots of quality cinema in this year’s crop, but only one scoop that Best Picture crown. So, without further ado, let us rank these from worst to best (as always per the opinion of yours truly), starting with….

8. Mank

It seems like every year there’s always one film, no matter who you are, that you just don’t get the fuss about, and this year Mank is that film. I never thought a film by David Fincher would be the bottom of this list, yet here we are. When you have get a maestro like Fincher directing a film, that covers how the script of one of the most influential films of all time Citizen Kane came to be, expectations are going to be set high. Having watched (and loved) Citizen Kane for the first time just before watching Mank, it raised my expectations even higher. Furthermore, with a cast that is packed with talent like Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried and Charles Dance, surely that’s a sure-fire hit for cinematic gold. Yet, sadly for me, this film just didn’t match those lofty expectations.

To give credit where credit is due, Fincher directs the film beautifully. The production design, costumes and cinematography are all absolutely stunning, and the performances across the board are all very good, with Amanda Seyfried being a particular highlight. What let the film down for me is the script, it had its moments, but I just wasn’t as intrigued by the film as I wanted/expected to be, and that is really disappointing.

7. Minari

Full review here

For generations and generations of people looking to migrate to the United States, the notion of the American Dream to achieve economic success has been the source of their desire to move to the country. Yet, that desire to achieve that dream is not always so straightforward, and in this semi-autobiographical film from Lee Isaac Chung, Minari captures one family’s trials and tribulations as they bid to achieve that dream by opening and running their own farm in 1980s Arkansas.

The cast is filled with impeccable performances, from Steven Yeun’s loving but stern portrayal as the family’s patriarch, to Youn Yuh-jung’s likely Oscar winning turn as the family’s Grandmother. The interaction between her and little David (Alan Kim) is extremely heart-warming, but also extremely amusing. While the film focuses on the lives of this one family, the themes about finding identity in what can be at times (especially right now), a very unforgiving world, is something that we can all relate to.

 

6. The Father

Full review coming soon

Sir Anthony Hopkins is an an actor whose career started all the way back in 1960. Over the years, he’s given us plenty of extraordinary performances. Yet, as his career reaches its seventh decade, it is quite the accomplishment to say that a film released in 2020/21, could arguably be the greatest performance that he has given across his glittering career. In this heart-breaking film from Florian Zeller, it might just have got the best ever performance out of this veteran actor, or at least his best performance since his memorable Oscar winning turn in Silence of the Lambs.

The way in which Zeller directs this film is extremely innovative, and it pays off as it is clearly to try and establish to the audience just how much of an effect a disease like dementia can have on the human brain. As well as Hopkins’s absolutely devastating performance, special mention must go to Olivia Colman’s tender performance as the daughter of Hopkin’s character. It cannot be easy to watch someone you love go through this terrible condition, and who is put in the most uncomfortable position of watching her father’s condition slowly deteriorate. The way the film is told from his perspective enables the audience to go into his mind as his grip on reality slowly begins to unravel, and it’s truly harrowing to watch, especially if someone you love has been affected by this terrible disease.

 

5. Nomadland

Full review coming soon

The Economic Crash of 2008 was undoubtedly an extremely tough time for lots of people. Countless jobs lost, lives and economic livelihoods shattered. For one woman, having lost everything that tied her to a town where she spent many happy years of her life, it leads her to selling most of her belongings and starting a new life as a modern day nomad, living in a caravan in the American West.

Written, directed, edited and produced by Chloe Zhao, Nomadland’s beauty lies in the depiction of the nomad lifestyle. It is a lifestyle that undoubtedly comes with its challenges, but due to the inspired casting of some real life nomads, it brings their lifestyle to life in a manner that is poignant and emotional. The beauty of the film shines through, in part thanks to the gorgeous cinematography, which makes it feel like a world away from the constant noise of the capitalist world that seemingly (at least pre the COVID-19 pandemic) never stops turning. At the centre of all of it, is a subdued, but wonderful performance from Frances McDormand. While it is not my favourite film of this year’s crop, it would be a very worthy winner if, as expected, it takes home the top prize on Oscar night.

 

4. Sound of Metal

Full review here

Imagine if you’re a musician, music is your passion and you live for the thrill of playing music to live crowds. But what if one day, you begin to realise that you are rapidly losing your hearing and your entire future career as a musician is in jeopardy? It’s a position that no one would want to be in, yet it is a position that Ruben (an extraordinary Riz Ahmed) finds himself in. Faced with an impossibly difficult decision, he must decide how to handle the devastating loss of one of his senses, and he seeks assistance from a centre for the deaf, led by a very compassionate recovering war veteran.

Directed beautifully by Darius Marder in a passionate directorial debut, the film shines a light on the deaf community in an extremely touching manner. Bolstered by some absolutely extraordinary sound work, the film’s heart comes from the time that Ruben spends with the deaf community. And most importantly of all, the film is a lesson about coming to term’s with one’s circumstances, whilst reminding the world that deafness is not a disability.

 

3. Trial of the Chicago 7

Full review here

There are certain names that automatically just capture attention whenever they’re brought up in discussions, and Aaron Sorkin is certainly one of those names. Having written a plethora of memorable screenplays over the years, he made a seamless transition to directing. for his second film, he writes and directs once again, to tremendous effect to tell the story of the Chicago 7, who were essentially put on trial in front of the whole world in the build up to the 1968 Democratic Convention.

The film draws a strong correlation between the protests that occurred in the 1960s over the Vietnam War to the protests that erupted across America in response to systemic racism, in a year that felt extremely politically charged due to the 2020 US Presidential Election, and the previous four years under an administration that sought to swiftly quash any dissent and protest. Filled to the brim with top performances, there’s so many that could have got nominations, but in the end it was Sacha Baron Cohen’s excellent turn as Abbie Hoffman that took the deserved plaudits. Once seen as perhaps the frontrunner, it might have lost a bit of steam since its release last October, but it still remains a powerful piece of filmmaking from Aaron Sorkin.

 

2. Promising Young Woman

Full review here

Rape and sexual assault are never comfortable subjects to talk about, but in the years since the Me Too Movement spoke out, it has forced the world to have an urgent conversation about these subjects, and how women are too often subjected to this kind of horrific abuse. In her bold and daring directorial debut, Emerald Fennell tackles these themes head on, and in so doing has created a film that holds a mirror to society in an extremely arresting manner.

At the centre of this thrilling tale of revenge is Carey Mulligan’s Cassie. A woman who once had a bright and promising future, but due to this traumatic incident, her once bright future has faded. Instead, she is focused purely on her revenge mission. Mulligan’s tour-de-force performances keeps you hooked from the get go as you watch her go about her mission to extract revenge against those who caused her that trauma all those years ago. The film keeps you guessing right until its ending, which has, and will undoubtedly continue to generate much discussion in the coming years.

1. Judas and the Black Messiah

Full review here

When you look back at how the Civil Rights movement is taught, there are certain powerful historical figures that are universally recognised all over the world. Names such as Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X to name but a few. Yet the name of Fred Hampton is not one that is nearly well known, probably because it is barely taught at all, and that is staggering. As when you watch this extraordinary film, it is incomprehensible to work out why this man’s name is not mentioned in the same breath as those other names.

What makes this film so relevant and so extremely powerful is the unmistakeable parallels between the time that Fred Hampton campaigned against injustice, and in the 21st century. To put it bluntly,  not a lot has happened in all those years as the systemic racism that Hampton rallied against is still very much present in our society, as demonstrated by the worldwide protests that took place in 2020, with people taking a stand. While LaKeith Stanfield does incredible work, it’s the absolutely scintillating performance from Daniel Kaluuya that drives the film forward as he imbues Fred Hampton with powerful leadership qualities. Every time Hampton is on screen talking, you’re listening to what he has to say.  “You can kill a revolutionary, but you can never kill the revolution.” Over fifty years later, and Hampton’s words are truer now than perhaps they’ve ever been.

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Could/should have been nominated…

Every time I come to write this list, I always ask myself why the Academy doesn’t fill take the opportunity to nominate the maximum number of 10 films for the top honour? While these eight do all (just about in the case of one film) deserve their spot for the biggest prize of the night, I always like to have a look at what could have joined their ranks to compete for the top honour. So, what could have joined their company? Well if I had my way, Mank drops out, and then I choose the following three films to make it a perfect ten:

One Night in Miami (review): Four influential figures of the Civil Rights Movement, one fictionalised evening, directed by Academy Award winner Regina King, I mean what more needs to be said? Adapted from the Kemp Power’s stage play of the same name, the film isn’t held back by its stage play roots, as the four performances of the men playing these historical figures are all extraordinary. Furthermore, the screenplay that goes deep in exploring powerful historical themes that very much related to today’s society.

Another Round (review): There’s an undeniable joy that comes when no matter what the occasion, we sit down and have a tipple or two to celebrate. Yet you’d think that no one would have a drink whilst working on their day job Yet that is exactly what a group of four schoolteachers do to try and bring a bit of excitement back in their lives. Thomas Vinterberg’s film expertly walks the line between comedy and tragedy, whilst getting one of the best performances out of Mads Mikkelsen in a long time.

Wolfwalkers (review): Seldom do animated films make the leap from the animated category to competing for the top prize. Yet in the case of Cartoon Saloon’s Wolfwalkers, this is a film that absolutely deserves to make that list. In an era where most animation studios are going for fully CGI animation, there’s something to be admired about a studio that creates hand drawn animation, and Wolfwalkers is a magically enchanting tale that continues to enhance Cartoon Saloon’s growing reputation as a powerhouse animation studio.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Sound of Metal (2021)

© Amazon Studios

Sound of Metal  – Film Review

Cast: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci

Director: Darius Marder

Synopsis: A drummer in a death metal band has his life thrown into disarray as he begins to lose his hearing…

Review: Touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste, the five senses that we have as humans that we use to make sense of this crazy world and everything that goes on around us. Many of us will go through our lives with all of our five senses intact. However at some point, for any number of reasons, some of us may end up losing one or more of these senses. How does one cope when faced with such a tumultuous and life-changing event, especially when the sense that you’ve lost is intrinsically linked to your profession or the thing that you love doing the most? The answer to that question, and so much more, can be found in this thought-provoking, extremely moving directorial debut from Darius Marder.

Ruben (Ahmed) is the drummer and one half of the death metal band Blackgammon, along with his girlfriend Lou (Cooke) the band’s vocalist/guitarist. The two of them travel across the USA playing out gigs wherever they can find them, all the while living out of an RV. For deeply personal reasons, these two have formed a close bond, having been an integral part of each other’s recovery from addiction, and the chemistry between them is evident of just much they mean to each other. Yet one day during a gig, everything changes for Ruben when he suddenly finds that he’s starting to lose his hearing. This threatens to put his whole music career, and indeed his whole life with Lou by his side, in jeopardy. Determined to do whatever she can for him, Lou arranges for Ruben to visit a centre that helps people who are deaf, led by a very compassionate recovering war veteran Joe (Raci).

Ever since he burst onto the scene with his stunning breakout performance in 2014’s Nightcrawler, Riz Ahmed has been consistently putting in excellent performances. Yet his role as Ruben, is a stunning, career best central performance that has solidified Ahmed’s reputations as one of the best actors in the business. Listening to music is an experience that generates waves of emotion, and the same is almost certainly true for anyone who creates and plays music. For a musician, it is incomprehensible to think of the prospect of a future of being unable to hear the music that you are playing to the world, and the sudden loss of one’s hearing, especially in that field of work, is almost guaranteed to cause some anxiety and pain. Right from the moment he feels his hearing starting to fade, Ahmed portrays with heart-breaking authenticity the horror and devastation that someone in that situation would find themselves in, especially when music is Ruben’s life, and it is all he’s ever known.

While the first half of the film is resting on Ahmed’s shoulders to bring the emotional weight of this massive moment in his life, the performance of Paul Raci as Joe, the deaf former war veteran who is offering to help Ruben find his place in the world, is considerably more understated. Yet crucially, it is just as effective. The first half of the film as Ruben and Lou grapple with this, captures the drama and anguish of the situation. Yet the second half of the film is where the heart of the film lies as Ruben slowly but surely comes to terms with his ordeal. Through his own personal experiences, Joe teaches Ruben that while he may have lost a significant part of what made his life so enthralling in the creation and the playing of the music that he and Lou created and shared with the world, there is a whole other world that is opened to him as a result of his deafness. Or, to borrow a well known phrase, as one door closes, another must open.

When a film has “Sound” in its title, focus is inevitably going to turn towards the sound work, and the work done by the sound team of: Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michelle Couttolenc, Carlos Cortes, and Philip Bladh, is truly outstanding. Through every aspect of their incredible work, they fully immerse the audience into Ruben’s world. Right from the opening shot of the thrum of the music that Ruben and Lou are creating, to the distortion and muffling that Ruben starts to experience as we watch his hearing disappear before our eyes, to the sound of total silence that follows once Ruben’s hearing has completely disappeared. It all puts the audience in Ruben’s shoes and makes us understand his perspective. There’s been no shortage of films in the past year or so that have brought powerful and urgent messages, and Sound of Metal offers a powerful and meaningful message that deafness is not a handicap, or something that needs to be fixed.

With a career best performance from Ahmed, Darius Marder’s directorial debut is passionate film-making that, quietly and effectively, communicates a very powerful message that the demands to be seen and heard across the world.