Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Soul (2020)

Image is property of Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios

Soul – Film Review

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Tina Fey, Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, Angela Bassett, Graham Norton

Directors: Pete Docter and Kemp Powers

Synopsis: When his soul is separated from his body after an accident, a passionate about jazz musician finds himself in a mysterious realm called the Great Before, a place where new souls get their personality traits before heading to Earth.

Review: As each and everyone one of us goes through life, we will have undoubtedly asked those many existential questions. Questions that we can spend a considerable portion of our lives striving to find the answers to. For instance, what is the meaning of life? Or what is the the thing that we feel like we were put on this Earth to do? The films from animation giants Pixar, especially those from Pete Docter, have attempted to pose some answers to those existential questions. These questions have been posed to a whole range of beings, from monsters, to humans, and even to emotions themselves. Yet with his fourth film with the animation powerhouse, this could well be the most profound look at life, and existence that studio has produced to date.

Joe Gardner (Foxx) is a passionate jazz musician, who earns his living as a middle school band teacher. However, he dreams of being a full time jazz musician, but the opportunities to make that possible are becoming increasingly rare. However, when the chance to play for a prestigious jazz band fronted by Dorothea Williams (Bassett) opens up, Joe is given a shot and is determined to land the permanent gig. But before he has the chance to perform, and to do what he loves the most, an accident separates Joe’s soul from his body. His soul lands onto the path to the Great Beyond, a destination for souls to go once they have lived their lives on Earth. Believing he still has more to give, Joe escapes and instead finds himself in The Great Before, a place where new souls go before heading to Earth.

It’s here in The Great Before that he gets paired up with Soul #22 (Fey), a fledgling soul who is completely disinterested about leaving the Great Before to have a life on Earth. Joe must do all he can to help #22 realise that a life on Earth is worth living, whilst trying to return to his own body before it is too late. The screenplay, by co-directors Docter, Powers and Mike Jones is perhaps the most contemplative screenplay that the studio has brought to fruition. While they’ve never been afraid to attempt to answer those burning questions that many of us have about our existence, they take it a step further with some deep probing about the lives we lead, what our passions are, and is this thing that we call life really worth pursuing in the first place?

Marking the first time that a Black character has been the lead in a Pixar film, Foxx’s voice work is excellent. He gives Joe Gardner a distinct personality and a desire to achieve his dream that anyone watching, no matter what their hopes and aspirations are, can easily connect with. Alongside him, Tina Fey lends her brilliant comedic talents to tremendous effect as the soul that couldn’t be less interested in what it means to have a life on this world. They are complete polar opposites, which gives the dynamic that they share ample opportunities for some excellent comedic moments. However, for all the strength of the voice work, and the significant step forward for representation on screen, the majority of the supporting characters don’t have a great deal of screen time. Furthermore, there’s one aspect of the film that could be seen as problematic and a hindrance to the film’s attempts to make positive, forward strides in terms of representation.

With Pixar, it is practically a sure bet that the animation is going to be outstanding. While this is once again the case, the work done for this film is something truly exceptional, and some of the best work that the studio has produced. Not only is the vibrancy of New York City and the atmosphere (at least pre-pandemic) brought to life in such rich and incredible detail. Furthermore, the imagination and the vivid colours of the places like The Great Before are also absolutely stunning, and they are perfectly complemented by ethereal score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. While taking on such fundamental aspects of life, there’s only so much that can be tackled over the course of one feature length film. Yet, as they have proved through their previous films, Pixar have delivered another bold and profound piece of storytelling.

It might lack the emotional punch of some of the studio’s previous work, but with gorgeous animation and a bold and contemplative look at the lives we lead, Soul is another splendid addition to Pixar’s filmography.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Bumblebee (2018)

Image is property of Paramount Pictures, Di Bonaventura Pictures and Allspark Pictures

Bumblebee – Film Review

Cast:  Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr, John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon, Dylan O’Brien, Peter Cullen, Angela Bassett, Justin Theroux

Director: Travis Knight

Synopsis: With war ravaging Cybertron, the Autobot Bumblebee arrives on Earth in 1987, where he comes into contact with Charlie (Steinfeld) a young woman who is desperately to adapt and find her place in the world in the wake of personal tragedy….

Review: Flash your minds back to 2007, when for the very first time, a film that featured cars transforming into giant robots ready to do battle, made its way onto the big screen. The expectation was sky high, and though it started out fairly promisingly, the live action Transformers franchise quickly deteriorated. With each new entry, it was starting to feel this series had run out of fuel (and ideas). It was time for some much needed new blood and metal.

For as long as he was in charge of these films, Michael Bay certainly knew one thing, how to blow a lot of shit up. Though there were some undeniably entertaining moments, the familiarity with which Bay told each of his films became extremely tiresome. Thankfully, new director Travis Knight of Kubo and the Two Strings fame comes in , making his first foray into live action film-making. Right from the opening moments of this prequel, you just know that this is going to be a completely different and refreshing experience when compared to the previous films.

For one thing, Knight has significantly dialled back the action scenes (and the explosions) in favour of more heart and character. For a bot that cannot talk Bumblebee certainly showed plenty of heart, and here once again he is brimming with that friendly personality that makes Bumblebee the lovable Autobot that he is. Right in the middle of all this is Charlie, a teenager trying to get her life together and in desperate need of a car. When she stumbles across what she suspects is your run of the mill VW Beetle, she gets caught up in a devastating and deadly conflict between the Autobots and the Decepticons.

Since this is before the time of Samuel Witwicky and his annoying parents, Steinfeld as Charlie is a very warm and welcome presence. She isn’t exactly in the most comfortable or easiest of places in her life but with Bee by her side, he is there to be a figure of support for her when she needs it most. Christina Hodson’s screenplay gives plenty of time for their relationship to develop and to grow into something truly unique that the previous movies really struggled to capture. Though her parents and brother can get marginally annoying at times, John Cena’s portrayal as a Sector 7 gives him a chance to flex his military tough guy muscles, and he’s clearly having a lot of fun with this role.

Though of course, it wouldn’t be a Transformers film if there wasn’t a scrap between Autobots and Decepticons and we get a much more in depth look at that conflict, with Peter Cullen once again voicing Optimus Prime in all of his Generation 1 glory. As usual there are a few up-to-no-good Decepticons seeking to hunt down and destroy Bumblebee and put an end to the Cybertronian Civil War. Knight’s direction is a lot more refined, choosing his moments when it comes to the action, which is a refreshing change from Bay’s wanton appetite to just blow everything to smithereens, whilst giving little thought to anything else.

By adding a plethora of 80s pop culture references into the mix, Knight and Hodson have hit upon a winning formula that provides the franchise with the CPR it needed to ensure it didn’t end up on the scrapheap. This is the film that the long time fans of the series have been wanting to see. The “Bayhem” of the previous five films are hopefully now consigned to the past, the future of the franchise now looks a lot more promising, and hopefully more films of this calibre will be transforming and rolling out in the not too distant future.

Full to the brim with heart and emotion, and a superb performance from Steinfeld ensures gives this franchise a much need course correction, whilst ensuring it is the best film in the series by a considerable margin.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Mission Impossible: Fallout (2018)

Image is property of Paramount, Bad Robot Productions and Skydance Media

Mission Impossible: Fallout – Film Review

Cast: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Alec Baldwin, Ving Rhames, Vanessa Kirby Michelle Monaghan, Henry Cavill, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Synopsis: When the IMF learns of an organisation in possession of some deadly nuclear weapons, they face a race against time in order to prevent global catastrophe…

Review: Though the word Impossible is in the title, the Mission Impossible franchise continues to prove that nothing is impossible when it comes to creating mind boggling stunts, and combining that with very well crafted and compelling stories. The remarkable stunts however are in no small part down to the incredible work of Tom Cruise who goes all out in terms of giving the audience the perfect, adrenaline fuelled thrill ride. And with each new entry into this franchise, it continues to offer that, and in jaw-dropping and spectacular fashion.

With this being the sixth entry into the franchise, this can be the point where things start to run out of steam, but this can definitely not be said for Mr Cruise who is showing no signs of slowing down even well into his fifties, and long may that continue. In the wake of the events of Rogue Nation, after a mission goes awry, a sinister group threatens to unleash global nuclear catastrophe. Consequently, the IMF once again finds itself in a desperate mission to save the world once more. However, it wouldn’t be a MI film if there weren’t some solid characters, a bunch of agendas flying around, people being double-crossed, and some people with some sinister motivations.

Bit high up here, isn’t it?

Cruise, as he has been across all 6 films, is once again terrific as Ethan Hunt, likewise for his IMF companions in Luther (Rhames) and the tech wizard Benji (Pegg). Though the absence of Jeremy Renner’s Brandt is never really explained. Also making her return is Ilsa (Ferguson), mysterious as ever, and out on her own mission that threatens to get in the way of Hunt’s. This in turn drags Sean Harris’s nefarious Solomon Lane back into the picture, which isn’t really good news for anyone. As for the newbies, Henry Cavill, and his well publicised moustache, certainly gives Hunt another headache that he could really do without. Fresh from her work on The Crown, Vanessa Kirby’s mysterious role was an interesting one, but sadly she is somewhat underused as is Angela Bassett as the new director of the CIA.

For each new entry into the franchise, a new director accepted the mission to helm the project. However, this time McQuarrie is once again writing and directing.  Given the slick style of action that he brought to the table, it is a welcome one to see him return. This film has almost every action set piece you can think of, and it’s just absolutely glorious to watch. There are some necessary breathers, which is helpful because by the time we reach the final action set piece, it really goes up a notch. The word tense REALLY just doesn’t do it justice, especially if you are afraid of heights. Sometimes you do wonder how on earth they accomplished what they did, this is action film-making at its absolute best.

The franchise has certainly seen absolutely batshit stunts like the thrilling Burj Khalifa scene in Ghost Protocol, but here Cruise might have just outdone himself with some of the stunts that are on show here, particularly in that enthralling final action scene. With each entry, this franchise just continues to just be a source of spectacular and electrifying entertainment, and arguably getting better with each instalment. The fallout of the film-making brilliance that you see on screen here means that should anyone choose to accept the mission to direct any future instalments, that itself is going to be its very own impossible mission. Good luck to whomever decides to take that challenge on.

A very well crafted and engaging story, fused with excellent action set pieces and some absolutely jaw-dropping stunts once more. Please fasten your seat-belts, you’re in for a pulsating ride.