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

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019)

Image is property of TriStar Pictures and Sony Pictures

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood – Film Review

Cast: Matthew Rhys, Tom Hanks, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper

Director: Marielle Heller

Synopsis: An investigative journalist is sent to do a small piece on the popular children’s TV personality Fred Rogers. As the two begin to strike up a friendship, it changes both of their lives forever…

Review: Growing up as children, we all had that one programme that was our favourite. The one that we would watch religiously, and many many times over. For countless upon countless children who grew up in the United States, that programme would undoubtedly have been “Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood.” The star of that show, was Fred Rogers, a figure beloved by millions and one whose impact on the world of Children’s TV, and one journalist, simply cannot be overstated.

The aforementioned journalist is Lloyd Vogel (Rhys) who’s in a rough spot in his life. His wife has just had a child, and his estranged father (Cooper) tries to contact him. Though, Lloyd is absolutely not interested, and firmly rejects his father’s attempts to reconnect. When Lloyd is sent by his employer to do a piece on Fred Rogers, he is extremely reluctant to put it mildly. However through each meeting, the two begin to strike up a friendship that helps Lloyd see the relationships in his life, as well as his job from a wholly different perspective. Through this, it enables him to begin to rebuild the bridges between him and his father.

In terms of perfect casting choices, you couldn’t have picked a more perfect actor to portray Fred Rogers than Tom Hanks. Hanks has proven time after time of his sheer talent as an actor, and once again he’s such a pleasure to watch. He imbues Rogers with such a warm and friendly personality that you can’t help but just fall in love with him and his joyful personality. Opposite him, when you first meet him, Lloyd is the antithesis of joyful. Battling being a father whilst simultaneously dealing with the difficult relationship with his own father. Initially, he doesn’t take on his assignment with Mr Rogers with much enthusiasm. Yet, as his time with Mr Rogers goes on, it completely transforms his life for the better.

There’s one particular moment when the two of them are out in public that could have come across as too saccharine for its own good. However, the moment is so touching and emotional that it should without fail, warm your heart and leave you smiling from ear to ear. For any viewer who may be unfamiliar with Rogers’s show, director Marielle Heller wonderfully recreates scenes from Mister Rogers’s Neighbourhood so that anyone who has never watched an episode can be brought up to speed and appreciate the wonderful work that has gone into recreating these scenes. Given that the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? told Fred Rogers’s story in detail, writers Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster make the wise choice to tell the story through Lloyd’s perspective, based on the article “Can You Say… Hero?” by the real life Lloyd, Dan Junod.

While Lloyd’s stiffness towards Rogers could grating to some, it’s understandable given the pressure he’s facing. The story is a little predictable in the direction that it goes in.  Yet given that such a story is filled with such positivity, is certainly not problematic by any means. It serves its purpose in telling this story effectively. Indeed, in an age where people are becoming more and more aggressive towards each other due to any number of factors, this is a film with an extremely timely message. It can serve as a very strong reminder of what Fred Rogers stood for, that kindness and affection towards not just your neighbour, but for everyone in general, can go a long way towards making society a better place for everyone.

With yet another superb performance from Hanks at its core, in a society that is becoming all the more fraught and divided, this is the film, and in particular a message, that at this moment in time, the world would do well to take heed to.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Bombshell (2019)

Image is property of Lionsgate and Annapurna Pictures

Bombshell  – Film Review

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

Director: Jay Roach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ford V Ferrari (2019)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox

Ford V Ferrari (Le Mans ’66) – Film Review

Cast: Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Jon Bernthal, Tracy Letts, Caitriona Balfe, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, Remo Girone

Director: James Mangold

Synopsis: Telling the true story of how a team of engineers, employed by Ford, set out to build a car capable of usurping Ferrarri’s dominance at the 24 hour race at Le Mans in 1966…

Review: When certain sports events come around every once in a while, it seems like the whole world just stops and watches with interest. For instance, events like the Olympics, the Football World Cup or the Superbowl capture the hearts and minds of viewers all across the world. Meanwhile, events though they might be just as compelling to some, events like the 24 Hour race at Le Mans do not nearly have the same level of global coverage. However, this is certainly no barrier for director James Mangold to craft an utterly captivating spectacle of one particular year’s version of this sporting showdown.

With Ferrari consistently bettering Ford in the 24 Hours of Le Mans over a number of years, Ford head honcho Henry Ford II is determined to usurp Ferrari’s dominance. To achieve that end, he commissions engineer Carroll Shelby (Damon) to use whatever resources he needs to build a car that would have the capabilities and the endurance to not only survive the 24 hour race, but to pip Ferrari to the post. Believing him to be the best in the business, Shelby recruits the extremely talented driver, and uber intense petrol-head Ken Miles (Bale) to be Ford’s driver for the race. A decision that, due to Miles’s brash personality, causes friction in the higher echelons of the company.

And the award for looking menacing in a pair of shades goes to….

As was with the case with Ron Howard’s Rush, you most assuredly do not need to be the most devout follower of the 24 hour race at Le Mans, or indeed any particular racing event for that matter, to be completely invested in this story. Whilst Rush‘s focal point was the rivalry between two legendary F1 drivers, Ford v Ferrari‘s central premise is on the friendship between Damon’s Shelby and Bales’s Miles, and the build up to this hugely important race. It’s this friendship, and the high stakes that both of them are facing in the build up to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966, that drives the film forwards.

Given that their friendship is at the centre of the film, Matt Damon and Christian Bale are absolutely outstanding in their roles. Their friendship might not be the most seamless, but there’s a solid respect for one another as they both appreciate the role that the other plays in this team. You can have the best car in the world, but the perfect car is just one half of the equation. This is because without the best driver, you do not stand a chance of winning a race that requires a multitude of factors to ensure that your car comes out on top. Tracy Letts leads the way in an effective ensemble cast as the commanding Henry Ford II, closely followed by Jon Bernthal’s polished Ford Executive, who contrasts quite brilliantly opposite Josh Lucas’s Ford Executive, the latter of whom is considerably more slimy, and openly distrustful of Shelby’s methods.

Having dabbled in the world of superheroes, and more specifically ones with claws, for his last two films, James Mangold switches from the superhero gear to this one effortlessly. With some excellent cinematography, camerawork, and the brilliant work of the sound team, the audience is put very firmly in the driver’s seat, as if they were the ones at the wheel of these remarkable machines. Whether you couldn’t care less about cars, or if you’re the biggest petrol-head going, there’s an intensity to the racing scenes that make them extremely exhilarating to watch. However, the foot is not on the accelerate pedal the entire time. The screenplay balances these high octane, adrenaline-fuelled scenes with some more personal moments.

Through Mangold’s excellent steering, he makes the two and a half hours fly by, in a similar vein to how a super-fast car would whizz by the audience in a flash. Though the ending is a little bit rushed, there’s never any severely problematic pacing issues that could have caused the entire film to crash and burn. With a stirring, emotional score from Marco Beltrami, the film roars past that finishing line with flying colours.

Magnificently crafted racing scenes, combined with a fascinating story about two men and their respective search for greatness. Ladies and Gentlemen, please fasten your seat-belts, you’re in for an adrenaline-fuelled, enthralling ride.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Official Secrets (2019)

Image is property of Entertainment One

Official Secrets – Film Review

Cast: Keira Knightley, Matt Smith, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans, Adam Bakri, Ralph Fiennes, Conleth Hill

Director: Gavin Hood

Synopsis: Telling the true story of a GCHQ employee who, in violation of the Official Secrets Act of 1998, leaked a top secret memo containing information relating to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq to the press.

Review: One of the many wonderful aspects about film is that it can shine a light on an event from decades ago, and reintroduce it into the public consciousness for a whole new generation to learn about. This can also be applicable for historic events set in more modern times, as certain stories can get buried in the sea of round-the-clock news that the world has become. Stories that deserve to be known to people across the globe. One such example is that of a Government employee and her courageous decision to go against her government, at the very real risk of prosecution is a very brave one, especially in this day and age of emotionally charged political discourse.

The government employee in question here is GCHQ employee Katharine Gun (Knightley). On what appears to be a regular work day, an email comes through containing a memo with some top secret information relating to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, and whether certain countries were being coerced into voting for a resolution to go to war. Feeling that such information deserves to be shared with the wider world, and not buried behind legal barriers, she leaks the memo via a close confidante. Soon enough, the memo lands in the hands of the Press, who are left with their own risky decision as to whether they should invoke the fury of the government, and run the story.

Keira Knightely is an actor who certainly likes to pick roles in period dramas. However, here she comes back to modern(ish) times with a bang. She delivers a sensational performance as the woman who bravely takes a stand, when seemingly no one else would. Even though, such an action comes with the very severe risk of imprisonment. With each word, she displays her bravery and conviction in her belief that what she is doing is unequivocally the right thing to do. This is Knightley’s film and she carries it on her shoulders excellently, but she’s provided with a sea of strong supporting roles. Including the ever likeable Matt Smith as the leading journalist who first picks up the story, and a brief but effective performance from the consistently reliable Ralph Fiennes as the lawyer who represents Gun as she faces the threat of prosecution from the Government.

For a thriller that centres on espionage, especially one that doesn’t fire a single shot, there’s a necessity for a well written, sharp screenplay that keeps the audiences’s attention. There’s a risk that with this subject matter, that it could become perhaps a bit too dreary. However, with a script co-written by Gavin Hood, Gregory Bernstein and Sara Bernstein, the intrigue and the suspense is maintained throughout the film. Though there are one or two moments that feel somewhat overly dramatised, the film never fails to be gripping. As the top secret document passes from numerous parties, all while the very real threat of prosecution hangs over Katharine Gun’s shoulders.

For a film that depicts events that are relatively speaking, not actually that long ago, there’s a very important message in this film that needs to be seized upon and relayed the world over. Namely, that a time when governments the world over are under intense scrutiny, every day, people like Katharine Gun are standing up for what’s right and calling into account actions that must be brought into the public domain for everyone to know about. Furthermore, to ensure that in the future, damning information such as is not buried under mountains of government paperwork, only to be locked into a safe, never to be spoken about again.

With a magnificent lead performance from Knightley, Official Secrets brings to light a story of paramount importance, and one woman’s brave fight against her Government that feels extremely timely in this day and age of bitterly-divided, partisan politics.

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

The Irishman (2019)

Image is property of Netflix

The Irishman  – Film Review

Cast: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, Ray Romano, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Jesse Plemons, Harvey Keitel

Director: Martin Scorsese

Synopsis: An account of the life of Frank Sheeran, charting how he rose through the ranks of the mob, eventually arriving at the top where he meets the charismatic Jimmy Hoffa, and the circumstances that surrounded Hoffa’s disappearance…

Review: There’s no two ways about it, Martin Scorsese is the Godfather of gangster movies. With six of them to his name, the ones he has made rank as some of the very best films of this genre. They sit alongside the many incredible films that he has made throughout his long and illustrious career as a director. Though with his latest gangster epic, one of the most expensive Netflix productions to date, he has incredibly managed to surpass himself, by making one of the best crime/gangster films of the decade.

Spanning multiple decades, the film is told from the perspective of Frank Sheeran (De Niro). It begins with a flashback look at his early life, and how as a young man how he went from a soldier to becoming a hitman for the mob. Eventually, as he rises up the ranks gradually becoming more powerful and gaining more influence in the higher echelons, he meets and becomes close with the charismatic Union Leader Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino). Whilst simultaneously exploring how Frank became entwined in the circumstances that surrounded Hoffa’s disappearance.

It should come as no surprise given the stature of the three leading men, and the four Oscars between them, that each and every one of them give powerhouse performances. Marking his ninth collaboration with Scorsese, Robert De Niro gives his best performance in a long time as Frank Sheeran. He’s far from a good guy, yet with an actor of De Niro’s immense charisma, there are sympathetic elements to Sheeran’s character. Though he might have retired from acting in the late 1990s, Scorsese reunites with Joe Pesci, to wonderful effect as crime boss Russell Buffalino. Though, it is Al Pacino’s magnificent, arguably career best turn as Jimmy Hoffa that deserves the most plaudits. In a film with his fellow masters such as De Niro and Pesci, he steals the spotlight from just about every one of them.

With the three leading men, all on outstanding form, there’s an excellent group of supporting characters to give them capable support. Stephen Graham’s mobster underling, who is definitely not afraid to offer a piece of his mind during meetings. Likewise for Ray Romano’s hilarious turn as a Buffalino family lawyer. On the other hand, there are a number of supporting characters who are criminally underutlised. The is best exemplified by Anna Paquin, as one of Sheeran’s daughters, especially as there was scope to explore her character in considerably more detail.

Coming in at just under three and a half hours, there’s extra pressure for a film of that length to hold the audience’s attention and justify that run-time. With his trusted editor Thelma Schoonmaker once again by his side, she ensures that the film is riveting enough to hold the audience’s attention. Though it’s necessary to help set the latter parts of the film, the first act of the film does take its time to get into its stride. Though, once the years have gone by and the endgame gradually comes into view, the thrills never let up once we arrive at the second and, especially the third act. Given that this is the shady underworld of the mob, violence is almost certainly commonplace. However for the purposes of the story, Scorsese deploys a clever technique to let the audience know of the fate that befell some of these characters. Instead he utilises the on-screen violence sporadically, for maximum impact.

Given the large amount of time that’s covered, the passage of time is illustrated through an excellent combination of hair and make up, and the de-aging technology that has been popularised by the likes of the of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Though there’s one scene where it looks a bit iffy, it’s well done and effective to tell the ambitious nature of the story. For all those who may write off Netflix and its eligibility for the big prizes during award seasons, one thing is for sure, is that they aren’t afraid to spend the big money on their productions. Furthermore, when you’re bankrolling a high calibre director like Scorsese, you simply can’t put a price when it comes to telling riveting cinema, featuring stories that absolutely deserve to be seen on the largest screen possible.

With three impeccable leading performances at its core, under the masterful vision of the Godfather of the Gangster movie, The Irishman is an ambitious, enthralling, and poignant triumph for a legendary filmmaker still at the top of his game.

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

Harriet (2019)

Image is property of Focus Features and Perfect World Pictures

Harriet – Film Review

Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Joe Alwyn, Leslie Odom Jr, Janelle Monáe, Clarke Peters

Director: Kasi Lemmons

Synopsis: A look at the life of Harriet Tubman, who after escaping the cruelty of slavery, becomes a leading figure in the fight against its abolition…

Review: There’s no getting away from the fact that slavery in the 1800s represents one of the darkest points in human history. While this period was full of appalling atrocities committed against human beings, even in such troubling times, such powerful and uplifting stories can be brought to light. Stories of amazing courage and perseverance, stories that deserve and, arguably need to be brought to a wider audience, and one such example of this, is the amazing inspirational story of Harriet Tubman.

Having spent her entire life in slavery, Harriet strives to breath the free air. When an attempt to secure her freedom, via legal methods, is vehemently rejected, she senses that she might face severe punishment for trying to secure her freedom. Fearing for her safety, she decides to take matters into her own hands. She bravely runs away in a desperate bid to secure her freedom, which proves to be successful. Upon gaining her freedom, she makes it her mission to liberate slaves from their masters, and becomes a leader in the abolitionist movement to end this cruel and barbaric practice.

Having burst onto the scene in 2018 with Widows and Bad Times at the El Royale, Cynthia Erivo demonstrated her considerable talents to audiences the world over. However with this role, she produces an astonishing, career best performance. She imbues Harriet with a strong willed fearlessness, and a resolute determination in her mission to win her freedom. This doesn’t waiver in her later exploits, as she uses this tenacity and bravery to go out and strive to position to free as many of the people that have fallen into slavery as she possibly can. It is her movie and she carries it magnificently. Outside of Erivo’s sublime performance, Leslie Odom Jr is solid as an abolitionist ally and Joe Alwyn as Harriet’s slave master, has the callous and nasty personality you’d expect from a slave master. On the other hand, though she’s also is on reliably good form, Janelle Monae’s character could definitely have done with more screen time.

The screenplay’s approach to its subject matter, written by Lemmons and Gregory Allen Howard, doesn’t really break any new ground for the biopic genre. However, this doesn’t act as a hindrance to the film, simply because, the incredible circumstances that surround the story of this remarkable woman are more than enough to craft a compelling story on their own merit. With a story that consistently manages to be riveting throughout, the approach taken by Lemmons through the script and her direction, does Harriet Tubman’s remarkable story justice. When a story has this much power behind it, it doesn’t need to reinvent the biopic genre, but instead honours this remarkable woman whose exploits deserve to be well known across the world.

With films such as 12 Years A Slave and now Harriet, these powerful dramas serve to remind everyone about the painful nature of the horrors that this institution brought upon so many people. However, they also serve as a powerful reminder that through sheer perseverance, grit and determination, anyone, no matter who they are, can accomplish anything they set their mind to. Furthermore, truly remarkable feats that end up changing the course of human history will absolutely stand the test of time.

With a sublime lead performance from Cynthia Erivo at its core, Harriet is a compelling and rewarding drama that pays tribute to an influential figure in American history, and honours her extraordinary legacy.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2019)

Image is property of Fox Searchlight

Can You Ever Forgive Me? – Film Review

Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E Grant

Director: Marielle Heller

Synopsis: When biographer Lee Israel’s (McCarthy) work dries up, she discovers some personal documents and manages to make an extortionate amount of money by forging these documents…

Review: For certain actors, they can be well known for a certain type of role that they tend to play quite a lot, they run a risk of getting typecast in that particular roleYet, every so often an actor breaks that typecast. This is certainly applicable for Melissa McCarthy, who has so often played roles of a similar ilk to her vulgar but extremely hilarious turn in Bridesmaids. Yet, for this considerably more dramatic role, it’s quite the transformative change for her, and it might just be the best performance of her career.

It is 1991 and Lee Israel’s life and career has hit a dead end, having found herself out of a job and new opportunities are becoming increasingly very hard to come by. Furthermore, she has very few acquaintances to share her life with. It is all rather gloomy until, quite by chance, she finds some unique personal artefacts of celebrities that she forges to her advantage. In doing this, she earns a substantial amount of money, and through these acts of forgery, she runs across fellow outcast Jack Hock (Grant), who aids her in these acts of deception.

The scene of the crime…

Though she comes off as quite the unlikable person, McCarthy is truly excellent in her performance. From the moment we first meet her, it is clear that she is difficult to work with and other people do not like her. These feelings are evidently reciprocal, as Lee clearly prefers the company of animals to people. The screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, adapted from Israel’s own memoir, goes about exploring how Lee intricately created her forgeries in an exciting fashion, whilst at the same time balancing that with Lee trying to build some sort of social connections with a select few people.

One of those few is Richard E Grant’s Jack Hock, who is something of an outcast himself and a recluse like Lee herself, similarly, he’s also a bit of an arsehole and not exactly the most pleasant man, but Grant is uproariously entertaining in this role. There is something heart-warming about watching these two connect despite their mutual difficulties of connecting with people, build a relationship and accomplish these naughty deeds, whilst having a tipple or two in their downtime. However, director Marielle Heller doesn’t shy away from the fact that what Lee is doing is a crime. Which, as various people begin to suspect that they have been deceived, the tension begins to grow as the authorities get involved.

Though the film does suffer from a few pacing issues, there is something about the story of Lee Israel that will be pertinent for that anyone who writes for a living, and equally so for those who dream of writing for a living. Equally so, if anyone has been an outsider, or has experienced difficulties in connecting with people, the struggles that people experience in those sorts of situations can undoubtedly take a heavy toll. And whenever people find themselves in those dark times, it can make people do things that they regret, or in Lee Israel’s case, do things and have the time of your life while doing so.

Simultaneously funny and tragic, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a poignant but fascinating study of one woman’s descent into deception, whilst getting arguably career best performances from both McCarthy and Grant.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Green Book (2019)

Image is property of Universal, Participant Media and Dreamworks

Green Book  – Film Review

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini

Director: Peter Farrelly

Synopsis: In need of work, Italian-American bouncer Tony Lip is recruited by renowned pianist Dr Don Shirley to be his driver/bodyguard as he embarks on a concert tour in the Deep South…

Review: One of the many wonderful thing about films is that they have the power to raise important messages about such important subjects, especially when such subjects are very topical right now. A prime example of this is racism which is an issue that is under more scrutiny than normal in recent years. Recently some film-makers have really been making some powerful films that hone in on this increasingly important issue, and in so doing, they make powerful statements, but some do it much better than others.

It is 1962, and Tony Vallelonga (Mortensen), known as Tony Lip, a native of the Bronx area of New York City, finds himself out of a job for a few months. When looking for something to fill that time, he is pointed in the direction of Don Shirley (Ali), a renowned concert pianist who is set to go on a concert tour of the Deep South of the USA, and is need of someone to be his driver/assistant/bodyguard, as that particular part of the country is/was not exactly the most hospitable of places.

What really shines through with this film are the excellent performances of both leading men. Mortensen as Tony is a brash self-proclaimed “bullshit artist” initially very much set in his ways. Meanwhile, Don is a much more suave, more refined gentleman, and some of Tony’s habits do not sit well with him. These two men are essentially complete polar opposites of one another, and though they initially clash over the other’s mannerisms and characteristics, they develop a solid understanding, almost a friendship if you will, as they embark on this slightly perilous journey. The chemistry between the actors really shows and it drives the film forward, particularly when they run into some trouble whilst on the tour.

For a film that is trying to go for the powerful themes of racism, the screenplay penned by Tony’s son Nick Vallelonga, along with Brian Hayes Currie and director Peter Farrelly is a little simplistic in how it chooses to handle the more heavier themes. It does show glimpses of the horrors of segregation in the 1960s and how black people were treated harshly for the colour of their skin, but one could simply pick up a history book to realise that. Unfortunately, it really only scratches the surface of what it could explore when it comes to this subject matter, particularly when other films have managed to strike a balance between that nuanced tone, and when it really needs to, emphatically and dramatically getting its point across to the audience.

In such a time when the issue of race in America has become increasingly in the public eye, given the quality of the actors and the really interesting nature of this story, the execution really just feels like a missed opportunity to tell something more riveting, something that really would have thrown the book at the status quo of the 1960s. The film has some undeniably good intentions and there are heart-warming sentiments behind its central story and the relationship of its two characters. However, given that there was scope for something much more powerful, it ultimately is a missed opportunity.

Excellent performances from Mortensen and Ali help keep the story moving along at a steady pace, but a rather simplistic approach of tackling a heavy issue such as race relations in 1960s America is undeniably frustrating, especially in these very emotionally charged times.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

First Man (2018)

Image is property of Universal and Dreamworks

First Man  – Film Review

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Ciarán Hinds

Director: Damien Chazelle

Synopsis: Telling the true story of astronaut Neil Armstrong and how, through many years of intense training at NASA, he became the first man to walk on the surface of the Moon.

Review: In terms of the greatest historical moments of the 20th century, there is perhaps few that could rival the moment where for the very first time, the world watched as the human race set foot upon the surface of the moon. The man who took that very first step, and uttered the immortal line “One small step for [a] man, one giant leap for Mankind,” was Neil Armstrong.  It is this man’s remarkable life and journey that incredibly hasn’t really been explored to such an extent on the big screen before, this is until Damien Chazelle came along.

After working together so successfully on La La Land, Gosling re-teams with Chazelle to play Armstrong, and Gosling once again excels. Right from when we meet him, you get the impression that this guy is focused and determined, something that has run through both of Chazelle’s last two films. He’s much more stoic here, but no less resolute in his mission, except there’s no jazz clubs involved this time. Josh Singer’s script goes into some quite personal detail that people might know about Armstrong including his family life, and the deeply personal tragedy that he goes through in the early stages, whilst also focusing on his NASA training, and all the perils that he faced on his journey to becoming the first man to walk on the moon.

Claire Foy, having donned the crown of Queen Elizabeth II, steps into a very different role as Armstrong’s wife Janet. A role that is quite clichéd for sure, yet it’s one she absolutely shines in alongside Gosling to be there as his figure of support, and at the same time, when it comes to the eve of his lunar mission, to voice her fury at the very real possibility that her husband might never see their kids again. Their relationship is the fierce beating heart of this story, and while the rest of the cast all give solid performances to complete a solid ensemble cast, no one else apart from Foy really has enough time to shine alongside Gosling.

For a director who’s only 33, he has already had a remarkable run of success with his previous two films Whiplash and La La Land, both garnering critical praise and awards aplenty, including the Best Director Oscar for Chazelle for the latter. The ambition for a film like this almost goes without saying, but Chazelle rises to the challenge and delivers another immensely well crafted film. Re-teaming with some of his frequent collaborators in the cinematography (Linus Sandgren), score (Justin Hurwitz) and editing (Tom Cross) departments, the film is crafted to perfection. The space scenes, especially the final lunar landing are so masterfully executed, it feels so real and authentic, and Hurwitz’s score is just superb.

Given the scope of this story, spanning almost over a decade into just over two hours, seems like an impossible task but Singer manages to streamline it as effectively as he can. Yet the pacing does suffer around the second act, especially when there is not a great deal happening down on Earth. However once, we gear up for the all important third act, the spectacle is turned up to ten, and never ceases for the rest of the film. For a director as young as Chazelle, to have an absolutely stellar hat-trick of films already under his belt is a remarkable accomplishment.

A remarkable and fascinating look at the mission to the moon and the man at the centre of it, with superb performances from Foy and Gosling. Another out of this world addition to the stellar filmography of Damien Chazelle.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

BlacKkKlansman (2018)

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BlacKkKlansman – Film Review

Cast: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace, Laura Harrier

Director: Spike Lee

Synopsis: Suspecting that the Klu Klux Klan is planning an attack, black undercover police officer Ron Stallworth infiltrates the KKK and establishes contact, whilst another officer (Driver) poses as Stallworth when they meet face-to-face…

Review: It is scary to think that a film set in the 1960s could be a reflection of 21st century USA. Yet, Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit was exactly that, as it spoke volumes about the horrendous treatment of black people at the hands of police officers, something that is still horrifyingly relevant in 21st century USA. It is therefore all the more shocking that another filmmaker has come along, with another film (also based on true events) that also starkly reminds us just how racism and bigotry is startlingly prevalent in modern US society. Enter director Spike Lee, a man who isn’t afraid to speak his mind.

The setting this time is 1979, as Ron Stallworth (Washington) joins the Colorado Springs Police and is soon appointed to become an undercover officer. When he finds a leaflet for the local KKK organisation, he bravely establishes contact over the phone and almost instantaneously strikes up a connection. To maintain the ruse another officer, Flip Zimmerman, assumes Stallworth’s identity whenever the organisation meets up whilst the actual Ron works behind the scenes, looking for any indication as to what the organisation could be planning.

To think that this is based on real life events is just completely astonishing for one thing. But also, to think that such acts of blatant racism and bigotry are still prevalent is equally nauseating, given that the very idea of one race being superior to the other, is to put it bluntly, absolute bullshit. Washington is superb in this lead role, clearly showing the talent that runs in his family. He portrays Stallworth as a guy who is intelligent and immediately likeable and you watch in anxiety as he goes about this extremely risky endeavour. As after a few exchanges, it comes across pretty quickly that, the members of the KKK are deeply unpleasant people and the risk of this operation going sour is very high right from the very first meeting.

Though having said that, there are moments of humour throughout which in such a heavy film, could be a huge risk, yet it all flows pretty seamlessly.  Lee chooses to tell this story in a manner that emphatically pulls no punches whatsoever, though there are some moments in which the pacing does suffer. Subtlety in such a heavy hitting story like this would not have been a wise decision, and thankfully Lee doesn’t choose to go down this route. There are of course two sides to this story as the story focuses on the Black Panther Party, and there are some intriguing moments in which the two movements are essentially shown side by side. While some stylistic choices are inspired, others are a little bit perplexing.

Spike Lee is a man who has not been afraid to speak his mind when it comes to the current White House incumbent and his inability to make a stand in the face of hate and division. And with this movie, and in particular the closing credits scene that utilises real life footage of the horrific events in Charlottesville last year. It is extremely thought-provoking and deeply moving imagery that will stir up the emotions. This bigotry and hate is something that should have been long since consigned to the history books. Yet unfortunately the famous saying “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it” rings true now more than ever. Lee’s message is furious, it is loud, and it is crystal clear.

To think how relevant a film like this is, is frightening but the well balanced script, combined with excellent performances from Washington and Driver, make this an essential piece of cinema for this day and age.