Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2022

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

© Netflix and Lionsgate

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery  – Film Review

Cast: Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline, Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista

Director:  Rian Johnson

Synopsis: A group of friends are invited to a private island to take part in some murder mystery games, among the guest list is renowned detective Benoit Blanc…

Review: With its all-star cast and stark social commentary, Rian Johnson’s 2019 murder mystery Knives Out was the beginning of a renaissance for the murder mystery genre. Alongside a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Johnson’s screenplay, it ensured  Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc, with his “Kentucky-fried Foghorn Leghorn drawl”(as one character so memorably put it), ensured Monseur Blanc was another addition to the memorable detectives have graced our screens over the years. So it came as no surprise when Netflix sanctioned a $469m deal for the rights to two future sequels featuring everyone’s favourite Southern sleuth. Having set such high standards, does this sequel prove Johnson can match those with yet another all-star cast? The answer, is an emphatic, yes.

Set on a remote Greek island, a tech billionaire (Norton) has invited a group of people closest to him for a weekend of murder mystery-themed shenanigans. They include a fashion designer (Hudson), her assistant (Henwick), a politician (Hahn), a scientist (Odom Jr), a YouTuber/vlogger (Bautista) and his girlfriend (Cline), and a businesswoman (Monae). Yet, also along for the ride is, mysteriously, Monsieur Blanc, whose detective skills may well be called upon once more once the murder-mystery festivities have got underway.

Given the film’s trailers gave very little away, it would be remiss not to extend the same courtesy, so the name of the game will be to be as cryptic as possible from here on out. As with this film’s predecessor, the less you know going into the sequel the betterthe better. Benoit Blanc’s first mystery was far more than just your average run-of-the-mill whodunnit. It had a lot to say about privilege, class and politics while weaving a wonderfully clever murder mystery narrative into the story. So, it is immensely satisfying to see Johnson has lost none of his sharpness as he once again crafts a brilliantly witty and equally sharp screenplay keeps the audience very much on their toes. It maintains the wonderful humour of its predecessor (though sadly there are no hilarious monologues about doughnuts) whilst also retaining some very topical social commentary that makes this franchise stand out from the crowd amidst the resurgence in popularity of the murder mystery.

It seems a near impossible feat to have a more star-studded cast this time around when you look at the jam-packed A-list cast Johnson assembled for the first mystery, yet Glass Onion sure gives its predecessor a run for its money. Of course, the one constant throughout both these movies is Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc, and he is once again, a sheer joy to watch. Given for years, he embodied the sometimes cold and detached persona of James Bond, to see Craig throw himself back into Blanc’s shoes is wonderfully refreshing, and he is clearly once again having a blast working with Johnson’s writing. The same is also applicable to each and every member of the rest of the cast. It would be rude to go into specifics as to who shines the brightest, as this runs the risk of giving away the marvellous mystery Johnson has crafted. However, each and every one of them gets their moment to shine as the layers of this new murder mystery and what connects this group of friends are peeled back with glorious results.

What this new mystery definitely has in its favour is its exotic location, trading a Boston mansion for a luxurious Greek private island, which is captured so beautifully through Steve Yedlin’s cinematography. Equally, Rick Henrichs’ production design, particularly when it comes to the titular glass onion, is flawless. While it might disappoint some that there are no iconic sweaters this time around, costume designer Jenny Eagan more than makes up for the lack of unique knitwear, giving numerous characters plenty of colourful outfits which will surely be as memorable as those aforementioned sweaters.

But, through all it all, everything comes back to the genius of Rian Johnson. It is so wonderful to see a director who feels thoroughly at home with this genre be given carte blanche to realise his vision for this franchise, especially when the results are this good. While we can be thankful there will be at least one more case to be solved. However, given the quality of the first two entries, there are likely going to be very few complaints if Johnson continues to use his little grey cells to craft more entries in this franchise for many more years to come.

It might have seemed an impossible task to match Benoit Blanc’s first case. Yet, with its equally impressive all-star cast and an impeccably sharp and hilarious script, the master of the modern murder mystery strikes again.

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2022

She Said (2022)

© Universal, Annapurna Pictures and Plan B

She Said – Film Review

Cast: Zoe Kazan, Carey Mulligan, Patricia Clarkson, Jennifer Ehle, Angela Yeoh, Samantha Morton, Andre Braugher, Ashley Judd

Director:  Maria Schrader

Synopsis: Telling the true story of the two reporters from The New York Times whose reporting uncovered the truth behind the sexual assault allegations that sparked a worldwide movement…

Review: 5th October 2017, a date that will go down as the day that not just the film industry, but the world changed forever. It is the date when the shocking truth behind the repeated abuse and sexual misconduct committed by numerous powerful men, most notably Harvey Weinstein, against countless women came to light in an exposé published by The New York Times. A story that sparked a global movement of women to come forward to report their own allegations against numerous high-powered individuals who used their positions of power to sexually assault women in multiple industries. However, what is not nearly as well known is the tireless and vital work done by the heroic journalists whose courageous and resolute reporting helped to spark the Me Too and Time’s Up campaigns, and ignite a much-needed conversation about sexual harassment and treatment of women the world over.

The film opens in 2016, with investigative reporters Jodi Kantor (Kazan) and Megan Twohey (Mulligan) reporting on the 2016 US Presidential election, the sexual assault allegations made against the then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, and later when similar accusations against prominent Fox News TV host Bill O’Reilly came to light. Flash forward several months, and the two of them are assigned to investigate allegations of appalling misconduct perpetuated by Weinstein against several women that worked for one of his studios. The two soon uncover a shocking system that protects high-profile individuals committing these horrific abuses by bullying the women into silence, either through cash settlements or non-disclosure agreements and any attempts to publicise the story are derailed by Weinstein and his lawyers. Consequently, Kantor and Twohey become even more determined to speak to victims and attempt to persuade them to go on the record to tell their story to bring down someone whose rampant abusive behaviour had been left unchecked for decades.

Given that the rise of the Me Too and the Time’s Up Movements represent very recent history, it was of critical importance for the film to approach this story and subject matter with the utmost respect. It would have been so easy for the film to devolve into a puff piece where the reporters pat themselves on the back for a report that brought to an end the system abuse by a man who was regarded as one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood, but Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s screenplay (based on the book: She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement by Kantor and Twohey) is having none of it. In a similar manner to the Oscar-winning Spotlight, the film expertly walks the line between demonstrating the pain-staking work that went into the investigation, and the effect that such work has on the personal lives of these journalists, whilst paying tribute to these courageous victims who came forward to speak out and help bring down someone who wrought so much devastation on the lives of countless women.

Kazan and Mulligan are both exceptional as the journalists at the centre of this investigation. As their investigation progresses and they uncover more and more evidence through speaking to these witnesses, the emotional weight of the horror that these people experienced, begins to take a hefty toll, especially when it comes to their personal lives. However, they remain undeterred, because they know the importance of the work that they are carrying out and amid the threat hanging over them that Weinstein might bury the story before they have a chance to publish. The supporting performances of everyone most notably Samantha Morton, Angela Yeoh, Jennifer Ehle, and Ashley Judd, the latter of whom plays herself, help ground the film in reality and provide a significant amount of emotional heft as they recount the horrific nature of their experiences.

Nicholas Britell’s stripped-back score captures the gravity of the situation and when necessary shifts gear to the urgency of the reporters attempting to get their story into the public domain. The work of the Me Too campaign is an ongoing struggle, and much more work will need to be done. However, the brilliant work of Maria Schrader and her predominantly female crew represents another timely reminder of the importance of investigative journalism, and the hugely essential stories it can bring to a global audience, stories that may well have never seen the light of day had certain people got their way. But it is much more than that, it is also the essential fact that when it comes to telling these stories, it is imperative that the voices of women come to the fore when telling these stories. It is a testament to those who would not let themselves be intimidated, and who raised their voices when it mattered the most.

Emotionally riveting, with compelling performances across the board in a vitally important film that pays tribute to journalistic integrity and the extraordinary combined with the bravery of those who came forward to spark an incredibly important movement.

a

 

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2022

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

© Searchlight Pictures, Film4 Productions and TSG Entertainment

The Banshees of Inisherin – Film Review

Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan

Director:  Martin McDonagh

Synopsis: Tensions arise between two friends when one of them decides to end their friendship…

Review: Friendships can be of tremendous value to us as we navigate this crazy journey that we call life. Yet, sometimes, there can be those situations where a friendship comes to an end, which can be challenging to accept for all the parties involved. What do you do? Allow yourself to accept the situation and move on? Or do you refuse to take no for an answer and make efforts to rekindle the friendship? After setting his last film in the USA, playwright-turned-director Martin McDonagh moves closer to home to deliver another hilarious black comedy, set against the backdrop of the Irish Civil War.

It is 1923 on the fictional remote Irish island of Inisherin. Padraic (Farrell) and Colm (Gleeson) were at one time in their lives, the best of friends and had been for a number of years. However, one day, Colm decides to abruptly end their friendship, which Padriac has difficulties coming to terms with and demands a reason why, which Colm refuses to acknowledge. Wondering what it was that caused Colm to end their friendship, Padriac becomes determined to make amends but these attempts only cause more tension between the two (former) friends, which threatens to boil over into something much more unpleasant that neither of them will like.

Black comedy is an extremely difficult genre to successfully pull off, yet McDonagh is one of those directors who has proven himself to be one of the best in the business when it comes to writing razor-sharp and hilarious dialogue from the bleakest subject matters you could possibly imagine. His last film was filled with some biting social commentary about racism and police brutality in the USA, set against the backdrop of the murder of a young woman.  By contrast, Banshees is a bit more dialled back in terms of the melancholic nature of the comedy, focusing on the (failed) friendship of two men. That being said, by framing this bitterness and anger, ragainst the context of the Irish Civil War, the film offers an extremely compelling analytical look at themes of nihilism, isolation and loneliness. It is perhaps not nearly as thought-provoking as Three Billboards, but it is not a million miles away.

Reuniting with McDonagh after working together to wonderful effect for In Bruges, it is a sheer joy to see both Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson share the screen once more. The pair of them strike comedic gold once again, even if they are not together on screen as much as you would perhaps want them to be. Farrell’s Padraic is by his own admission, a bit of a simple man who enjoys tending to his animals, whilst enjoying a good tipple in the evening. The limelight belongs to Farrell and he is truly wonderful to watch and makes the perfect contrast to Colm. The latter of whom is a cultured man without a doubt but one who makes it quite clear that he simply does not have time or willingness to be in Padraic’s presence anymore, and is willing to go to drastic measures to prove his point. The friendship that has now turned to bitterness and hostility between them gives McDonagh license to craft hilarious dialogue, and he does not disappoint, providing numerous moments that will have you howling with laughter.

While both Farrell and Gleeson are in brilliant form, it is Kerry Condon (who made the most of her small role in Three Billboards) who comes the closest to stealing the show from both of them as Siobhan, Padraic’s sister. She provides tenderness and warmth to the story, which can at times be a much-needed respite from not only the cold and detached nature of her brother and Colm’s ruined friendship but from the island of Inisherin as well. Ben Davis’s cinematography manages to simultaneously capture the beauty of the country, yet at the same time, the unwelcoming atmosphere which hangs over the majority of the island, accompanied by another excellent score from Carter Burwell. A story about two friends falling out might seem like an unlikely vessel for hilarity, but McDonagh proves once again that when it comes to crafting comedy from the dreariest of situations, there aren’t many writers/directors who can do it better.

Boasting brilliant performances from Farrell and Gleeson, combined with extremely witty and sharply written dialogue ensures The Banshees of Insherin is another masterclass of bleak hilariousness from Martin McDonagh. 

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Bullet Train (2022)

© Columbia Pictures, North Productions and Sony Pictures

Bullet Train  – Film Review

Cast: Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry, Andrew Koji, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benito A Martínez Ocasio, Zazie Beetz, Sandra Bullock

Director:  David Leitch

Synopsis: A group of assassins aboard a high-speed train in Japan discover that their respective missions are interconnected…

Review:  Trian delays and cancellations, expensive fares and overcrowding in stations and on platforms, are some of the many problems that can all quickly turn the most pleasant of journeys into a nightmare. Hence, the idea of a super-fast train that could get you to your destination in an even shorter time seems like it would be the speediest and most stress-free commute ever. Yet, imagine if your train had several dangerous, highly skilled assassins, sitting in its carriages, it might well persuade someone to look for alternative routes. However, with director David Leitch the conductor of this service, this is one train ride you will definitely want to board.

Ladybug (Pitt), is a down-on-his-luck assassin, who while extremely good at his job is, determined to get out of the profession. Tasked by his handler (Bullock) to get on the world’s fastest bullet train travelling from Tokyo to Kyoto, retrieve a briefcase, and get off at the next stop seems like an easy enough assignment. However, matters get considerably complicated when Ladybug realises that he is not the only one aboard the train who has taken an interest in the briefcase. With a plethora of highly skilled assassins on board (with what at first glance appear to be unrelated missions), the realisation soon dawns on Ladybug that there is a connection between their presence and the highly dangerous criminal known only as The White Death. Turning what should have been a simple mission into a more complex one, Ladybug finds himself entangled in a brutal web of violence that goes off the rails in a thrilling manner.

Adapted from Kôtarô Isaka’s novel of the same name, Zak Olkewicz’s screenplay wastes very little time establishing the key characters at play that all for one reason or another, have an interest in this briefcase. The screenplay also utilises non-linear storytelling to establish each character’s motivations and who is in whose respective crosshairs. The use of non-linear storytelling can initially be a bit hard to follow. However, once you have reached the light at the end of this tunnel and the tracks converge, all becomes clear.

There are a pair of contract killers who go by the aliases of Tangerine (Taylor-Johnson) and Lemon (Tyree Henry), a mysterious assassin known as The Prince (King) who puts on a youthful persona to her advantage in order to deceive her enemies, an assassin known as the Wolf (Ocasio) is out on a deeply personal revenge mission. Lastly, there’s Yuichi Kimura (Andrew Koji), who like The Wolf, is also on a deeply personal mission following a family accident. Lastly, you have Kimura’s father, known only as the Elder (Sanada) who’s doing all he can to protect his family. However, for all of the wonderful talent that the film undeniably boasts, there is an element of whitewashing that is extremely difficult to overlook. Given the film’s source material and the setting, to have only two Japanese actors among the core cast feels like a massive missed opportunity.

Despite that misstep with the casting, every actor here is having a ton of fun with the material, and for the first two acts of the film, it is a delightfully riveting watch. Like the speeding bullet train, the mystery of this case, why all these different assassins with different agendas are after it begins to unravel in a gloriously bloody fashion. Brad Pitt is someone who has carved a career as one of the most recognisable A-listers working today, and once again, he brings his usual charisma. It is however Tyree Henry and Taylor-Johnson, as the hilarious double act of British assassins who steal the show. Sharing witty and often hilarious banter over topics such as Thomas the Tank Engine, these guys have built a very sincere familial-like friendship built over the missions they have shared together, making their relationship the heart and soul of the film.

David Leitch is well versed in the world of action filmmaking, especially given his prior stuntman experience. His attention to detail provides Bullet Train with an eye-pleasing visual aesthetic, that boasts highly stylised action scenes and violent payoffs. Confining the action scenes to the narrow aisles of a speeding train is a refreshing change of pace, as it gives the characters a real headache, forcing them to scrap in an area where there is not exactly much room to hide. Despite clocking in at two hours and six minutes, this particular train journey begins to run out of steam towards the end, and would have benefitted if it had concluded its journey a few stations prior. Nevertheless, the end product is such a riotous blast of fun that by the time this train has reached the end of the line, you will want to immediately book a return ticket.

It might seem like the commute from hell, but with pulsating action and every single member of the cast having a blast, makes this particular train journey an extremely enjoyable and exhilarating ride. 

 

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022)

© Lionsgate

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent – Film Review

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

Director: Tom Gormican

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Jurassic World Dominion (2022)

© Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment

Jurassic World Dominion  – Film Review

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

Director:  Colin Trevorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

© Marvel Studios

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – Film Review

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

Director: Sam Raimi

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

This review will be 100% spoiler-free…

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Turning Red (2022)

© Disney and Pixar Animation Studios

Turning Red  – Film Review

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

Director: Domee Shi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Northman (2022)

© Universal Pictures, Regency Enterprises and Perfect World Pictures

The Northman  – Film Review

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

Director: Robert Eggers

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

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

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

Welcome to the Viking gun show…

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Morbius (2022)

© Sony Pictures, Columbia Pictures and Marvel

Morbius  – Film Review

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

Director: Daniel Espinosa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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