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

Another Round (2020)

Image is property of Nordisk Film and StudioCanal

Another Round  – Film Review

Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe, Magnus Millang, Maria Bonnevie, Susse Wold

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Synopsis: With their work and social lives all seemingly going nowhere, four high school teachers take part in a risky experiment where they maintain a consistent level of alcohol in their blood…

Review: When many of us reach the end of our working weeks, we may well celebrate with a little, or a lot of alcohol. Similarly, when a special celebration such as a birthday, a wedding or Christmas comes around, chances are that alcohol will be consumed. Many of us will have undoubtedly experienced the instance where on such occasions, we’ve overindulged ourselves and had a little bit too much to drink. Save for any naughty/illegal intoxicated acts, drinking heavily is unlikely to have major ramifications, apart from a hangover the following day. However, it would be considerably more risky, if people were to have a drink whilst during their day job working during their workday, but that is precisely what four high school teachers decide to do in an intriguing social experiment.

Martin (Mikkelsen) is a high school teacher along with his friends, Tommy (Larsen), Peter (Ranthe) and Nikolaj (Millang). The four of them are all finding little enjoyment in their work, struggling to motivate their students, leaving them all deeply unsatisfied with their lives. This deep starts to have knock on effects for their personal lives. However as the four of them gather to celebrate Nikolaj’s 40th birthday, they come up with an experiment of maintaining a consistent level of alcohol (0.05%) in their blood. Initially, the experiment produces positive results as the four of them receive a boost to their confidence, and they start to enjoy their jobs again. Yet, as their dependency on alcohol increases, the more they all drink. The experiment dictates that they even drink whilst on school grounds, running the risk of major consequences if they are caught.

Much alcohol was likely consumed that night….

Following on from their work together on the Oscar nominated The Hunt, Mads Mikkelsen reunites with Vinterberg, and as he so often does whenever he’s on screen, Mikkelsen delivers an extremely charismatic and layered performance. Of all the four teachers at the centre of this story, Martin’s arc is given the most screen time. We see initially how his marriage, and his relationships with wife Trine (Bonnevie), and their two sons are breaking down pre-experiment, which is causing tensions between the two of them. However, his relationship and his job are given new leases of life when the experiment initially begins. This is also applicable for each of Martin’s friends. Right from their first appearance together on screen, it definitely feels as though these four men have been friends for a great many years, as the chemistry between them all is very strong.

However, when you’re making an experiment with something as addicting as alcohol, there may be a high for a period of time, but with every high, there will likely be a low. Namely, there will come a point there where the experiment starts to have severely adverse effects on not just their lives, but those of their loved ones. Much like how the wrong mixture of alcohol in a beverage can be lethal, mixing comedy with serious drama can be a dangerous concoction if the comedy negates the serious drama. Yet, Vinterberg walks this line expertly, as he uses the camera to ensure that the audience feels the relief and euphoria that these men experience at the start, which offers ripe comedic material. Though, when things go south, the laughter dissipates pretty quickly, as the consequences of what happens when a dependency on this drug, become painfully clear. Simultaneously, reminding us all, that like many things in life, moderation is key.

Bolstered by an extremingly charismatic leading performance from Mads Mikkelsen, Another Round presents a fascinating look at the midlife crisis, and the wave of emotions that one can experience when battling an addiction.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

Image is property of Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures and Netflix

The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Film Review

Cast: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Daniel Flaherty, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, Frank Langella, John Carroll Lynch, Noah Robbins, Mark Rylance, Alex Sharp, Jeremy Strong

Director: Aaron Sorkin

Synopsis: In the run up to the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the organisers of several protests at the time, who later became known as the Chicago 7, are put on trial by the Government…

Review: It’s hard to get away from the fact that in this most chaotic of years, that the world of politics, especially in the USA, is a very fraught and bitterly divided arena. As politics becoming increasingly partisan in nature, society has been reeling from the riots and civil unrest that has stemmed from senseless brutality from law enforcement, and a fundamentally flawed judicial system that significantly disadvantages ethnic minorities and people of colour. The parallels between the current situation and the unrest of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s are extremely hard to avoid, lending increased relevance to the second directorial effort from seasoned screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. To say this is “timely” is practically doing the film a disservice, for the simple reasons that right from the start, there’s a real sense of urgency about the film, with a message that needs to be heard around the world, because as they say in the film: “The whole world is watching.”

With the 1968 Democratic National Convention taking place in Chicago, several different groups of people, with numerous leaders, converge on Chicago to protest the Vietnam War. With the Civil Rights Movement of the time in full swing, a tense atmosphere exists between the protestors and the police/National Guard who quickly arrive on the scene. It doesn’t take long for the situation to escalate into brutality and violence, leading to the arrests of the leaders, who would go on to become known as the Chicago 7. The Government, under President Richard Nixon, is eager to make an example of these protestors. Hence, they appoint a top prosecutor Richard Schultz (Gordon-Levitt) to seek prosecutions and lock these protestors up for allegedly inciting violence. The stage is now set for one of the most politicised trials in the history of the United States.

As he demonstrated with his slick and stylish debut feature Molly’s Game, Sorkin’s proved himself to be a confident director to combine perfectly with his skill as a master screenwriter. It’s to his great credit that he made stories about about numbers and baseball, and the social media company that would change the world, extremely compelling watches. It raises the possibility that Sorkin could craft something extremely riveting based on the most ordinary of tasks. Though, the events being depicted here are given extra significance by the politically charged nature of this story. There’s no holding back when it comes to its subject matter, and how these events that are being depicted over fifty years ago, are starkly relevant in today’s society. A society where those in positions of power seek to use the political and justice systems as weapons to punish those who dare to have a dissenting opinion. The dialogue, as you would expect from Sorkin, is sharp and engaging throughout, and he effortlessly blends the urgent and important drama, with some brilliant humour.

With a massively stacked cast, there’s always a risk that not everyone will get their moment in the spotlight, and while Sorkin does his level best to give each of the Chicago 7 a moment, some use their opportunity better than others. One of the brightest spots by far is Sacha Baron Cohen’s Abbie Hoffman. On first glance he might seem like nothing more than an eccentric hippie, but don’t let that fool you, for he is a man with razor sharp wit, with his finger on the pulse. While his accent wobbles in a few places, Eddie Redmayne’s Tom Hayden is another who uses his screen time effectively. He might seem like a more quiet and reserved individual, but he has his moments where he exhibits fierce passion for the cause that all of the defendants stand for. While there are clashes within the ranks of the Chicago 7, they remain committed to their goal of exposing this trial for what it is, a sham and politicised trial.

On the other side of the courtroom, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Richard Schultz is a little concerned about the Government’s position, but is determined to do his job to the best of his abilities. By contrast, Frank Langella’s Judge Hoffman is one character who will infuriate every time he’s on screen. The sheer contempt he exhibits for the defendants, their legal representatives, and the fact he fails to be impartial throughout illustrates how he’s unequivocally unfit to be a judge in this situation. Through his clear disdain for the defendants, it makes for some fiery (and sometimes entertaining) clashes between the Judge and the Chicago 7, as well as their legal counsel William Kunstler (a truly excellent Mark Rylance). Additionally, while they’re not in the film for sufficiently long enough, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Leader of the Black Panther Party Bobby Searle and Michael Keaton’s, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, both leave lasting impressions with their performances.

In this politically charged era that we’re currently living in, battlegrounds are being drawn between those on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Furthermore, as they were in 1968/69, those in power today are using the flawed justice system and the courts as a means of achieving their own ends. This powerful and urgent drama is an important reminder of the power of protest, and how people should use their voice to speak out and should not let government intimidation bully them into silence. Like they were fifty years ago, the whole world is watching, and it is essential to stand up for democracy, and ensure that people make themselves be counted.

Signature sharp Sorkin dialogue throughout, this urgent drama is a sharp and stinging look at social, legal and political issues that even after a generation, continue to be deep-rooted thorns in today’s society.

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

Supernova (2020)

Image is property of BBC Films and StudioCanal

Supernova  – Film Review

Cast: Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci

Director: Harry Macqueen

Synopsis: As a middle-aged couple travel around England visiting family and friends, as one battles with his dementia diagnosis, the other must do whatever he can to care for his beloved partner…

Review: As human beings, mortality is something that we sadly have very little control over. The day when we, or someone very close to us, is struck down by a life changing disease is one that is fraught with sadness and uncertainty. Yet through every diagnosis, amidst all the immeasurable pain and heartache, light can be found. Something that we can always cling onto, is that the love of those we hold dear, whether from family, or friends, can be of invaluable support for those fighting their illness. It may be cliched to say, yet there’s truth in that this simple emotion holds so much power. It can be an immense source of light, even in the face of devastating circumstances.

Sam (Firth) and Tusker (Tucci) have spent many happy years together in a loving relationship having enjoyed careers as a musician and writer/novelist respectively. However, they have put their careers on hold as Tusker has been diagnosed with early onset dementia. As they both try their hardest to fight and overcome this illness, the tragic realisation dawns on them both that Tusker’s dementia diagnosis is causing his condition to tragically deteriorate, slowly but surely, beyond repair. As they travel around the country visiting family and friends in their campervan, the two of them are determined to do whatever they can to love each other, and keep going through this adversity. Yet deep down, there’s a heart-breaking, but silent, realisation that this might well be the last moments where they can spend meaningful time together as a couple, before Tusker’s illness properly takes hold.

As the couple whose heart-breaking journey is at the centre of the film, both Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci’s performances are nothing short of exceptional. It’s crystal clear that, with every minute that these two acting powerhouses share on screen, there is a warm and affectionate chemistry between them both, and that they love and care for one another deeply. Though as with any relationship, a balance needs to be struck between our own needs and the needs of the other person. Having made their relationship last over numerous years, it’s evident that both men have strived to make their relationship an unbreakable bond. Though, when you’ve been dealt with a crushing diagnosis of a life changing illness like dementia, there are inevitably those moments where the selfish tendencies of one of them threatens to tear their relationship apart.

While it’s hard to get away from the fact that a diagnosis like this is unspeakably painful for all concerned, Harry Macqueen’s beautiful script finds ways to inject a little bit of humour to what is a desperately testing time for this couple. There are wonderful moments of sharp and delightful humour, be it a witty remark about a Sat-nav, or a delightfully humorous moment as Sam an Tusker are winding down for the night. These moments, can be few and far between in such a dire predicament, but they can really make a massive difference. Furthermore, the film perfectly captures the warmth that can come when time with family and friends is well spent, and how precious these moments can be, especially in the midst of such crushing adversity.

The sheer visual majesty of the Lake District is captured so beautifully by the gorgeous glow of Dick Pope’s cinematography. Every single frame has been crafted with the utmost care and Macqueen’s direction is raw, honest and beautiful. It’s a simple story, but sometimes the beauty lies in the simplicity and Macqueen imbues that with an honest and compassionate look about this illness and the upsetting effects it can have. Above all else, it serves as an essential reminder to use your time on this planet wisely. Live your life to the fullest, and love and cherish all those who you hold dear, because when we combine all that together; it is, much like a supernova, an almighty force to be reckoned with.

Acted to absolute perfection by Firth and Tucci and uncomplicated by its simplicity. Supernova will break your heart, whilst simultaneously leaving you in awe of its breath-taking beauty.

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

Mangrove (2020)

Image is property of BBC Studios, EMU Films and Turbine Studios

Mangrove – Film Review

Cast: Letitia Wright, Shaun Parkes, Malachi Kirby, Rochenda Sandall, Gershwyn Eustache Jnr, Gary Beadle, Jack Lowden , Alex Jennings, Llewella Gideon, Nathaniel Martello-White, Richie Campbell, Jumayn Hunter, Sam Spruell, Joseph Quinn, Derek Griffiths

Director: Steve McQueen

Synopsis: Telling the true story of the Mangrove Nine who after protesting against a series of racially motivated Metropolitan Police raids, were put on trial at the Old Bailey…

Review: There’s no getting away from the fact that a watershed moment for the peaceful Black Lives Matter movement happened in 2020. A movement of people across the world demanding equality for black communities, garnered seismic momentum following a handful of appalling acts of blatant racial prejudice, amidst the backdrop of a society that is deeply entrenched in racism and segregation. In the same year that a fiercely powerful and furiously relevant piece of filmmaking from Spike Lee reminded the world of the challenges the black communities face in the USA. It’s important to remember, that it’s not just confined to the USA where black communities have, for far too long, been dealing with the ugly nature of racism. Steve McQueen continues that trend, as Mangrove, the first of his Small Axe anthology films, brings into sharp focus that like the USA, Britain has been dealing with institutionalised racism for decades.

Set in 1960s London, Frank Crichlow (Parkes) runs the Mangrove restaurant, serving the finest Caribbean cuisine for the Notting Hill community. Yet despite no wrongdoing whatsoever, the restaurant is constantly being watched, and raided by the Police who are supposedly searching the business for drugs. Having become utterly and justifiably fed up of the constant and deliberately racially charged assault on the business, the black community protest against the Metropolitan Police and their appalling prejudice and bigotry. However, after the peaceful protest escalates into violence (due to the heavy handling of the demonstration by the police), the leaders of this new resistance find themselves in legal peril. Incredulously, they, not the police, are facing hefty criminal charges that could lead to substantial prison sentences.

Within the first few minutes of the film, McQueen establishes the Mangrove restaurant as a vibrant place to experience some excellent cuisine and enjoy the wonderful culture. With a thriving black community living in the area, for many people, the Mangrove restaurant represents their home away from home. Yet McQueen makes it disturbingly clear that not everyone in the community shares the love for the restaurant, its manager or its patrons. The first half of the film is an unflinching look at the institutionalised racism that the Metropolitan police bring down on this community, using blatantly fictitious excuses to carry out raids and stopping people in this community for no justifiable reason, purely down to the colour of their skin.

When the second half and the much publicised trial begins, it’s at this point that the film gets even better, and becomes considerably more tense. Every single one of these performances shine, but special mention must go to Shaun Parkes, Letitia Wright and Malachi Kirby. As the man who’s at the centre of this battleground, Parkes’s performance as Frank is initially quiet and reserved. He’s a man who just wants to run his business peacefully. Though understandably, when it comes under constant attack, he gets very animated when it comes to defending his business and his customers. Letitia Wright’s work with the Marvel Cinematic Universe has garnered her popularity across the world. However with this heart-breaking performance as Altheia Jones-LeCointe, the leader of the British Black Panther movement and a figurehead for those standing up against a system that is rigged against them, she gives the performance of her career. Likewise for Malachi Kirby’s Darcus Howe, a prominent Black Panther activist.

It’s hard to watch the trial unfold and and not be thoroughly disgusted at the blatant racism being depicted. From the treatment of the Mangrove restaurant to certain decisions made during the trial, as well the behaviour of some individuals during the trial. It’s indicative of the appalling nature of the crooked and corrupt system that they were up against. As events in 2020 have demonstrated, the issue of racism and equality for black and ethnic minority communities is one that feels more timely than ever. At one point a character utters the memorable line “Together we become stronger.” In this one of the most turbulent of years in living memory, this line of dialogue speaks volumes of the power of unity and togetherness, one that we as humanity, the single species that we are, must continuously unite behind.

Flawlessly acted, with a powerful and timely message at its heart, Mangrove shines an urgent spotlight on the deep rooted institutional racism that’s sadly still relevant in modern society.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Mulan (2020)

Image is property of Disney

Mulan (2020) – Film Review

Cast: Liu Yifei, Donnie Yen, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Gong Li, Jet Li, Tzi Ma

Director: Niki Caro

Synopsis: Following an enemy invasion, the Emperor decrees that one man from every family must fight in the Chinese Imperial army. Disguising herself as a man, a young woman rides off to war, taking her ailing father’s place…

Review: It is hard to look past the fact that since Disney started to up the ante with their live action remakes, it has been a lucrative venture. From 2015’s Cinderella to last year’s The Lion King, these six films combined have brought home a near total of six billion dollars in box office receipts. However for all that success, one could make the case that these films have (admittedly some more than others) done very little to justify their existence. It comes a relief to say, that after some utterly soulless adaptations, Mulan brings the honour back to these live action remakes.

When an invasion from Northern invaders, the Rourans, threatens the safety of the country and its people, the Emperor (Jet Li) decrees that one man from every family is to be conscripted into the Imperial Army, to stand and fight. With her father’s health in decline after spending many years of his life fighting for his country, Mulan bravely decides to take a stand. In order to save his life, she disguises herself as a man and takes his place in the army, knowing that if her true identity is revealed, it would have deadly ramifications.

When looking at these live action remakes, it’s next to impossible to not compare them to their animated predecessors. Furthermore, it’s probably an understatement to say that the 1998 animated adaptation would have been an important film for anyone growing up in the 1990s. At its core, there was an empowering message for girls and women everywhere: to not let societal constraints restrict them from being who they want to be. Yet, for all the wonderful things about the animated adaptation of this classic tale of a legendary Chinese warrior, historical inaccuracies meant its reception in China was far from the one Disney would have hoped. Hence for this new adaptation, much has been changed as it strives for a more realistic, gritty tone that honours the tale of the legendary figure it depicts.

For starters, there are no spontaneous moments where a character bursts into song, and the comic relief that was Mushu is also nowhere to be seen. Instead, the intent is clearly there to faithfully depict the story of this legendary figure as accurately as possible. Liu Yifei gives a sincere performance in the titular role. She imbues her with the three characteristic traits that ultimately define who she is a person: loyalty, bravery, and being true to who she is. She also has the added bonus of being an extremely skilled warrior. Unlike the animated film, the majority of her fellow recruits are barely given any development, save for Honghui (Yoson An) and her commander General Tung (Yen), both of whom serve as replacements for General Shang: her love interest in the the animated adaptation.

The 1998 film’s villain Shan Yu, was a suitably ominous and terrifying foe that you would not want to cross paths with. In his place comes Bori Khan, who in spite of a concerted effort to give him some backstory and flesh out his motivations, is a very one dimensional antagonist. His severe lack of charisma and screen presence prevents means he is nowhere nearly as intimidating as his animated counterpart. A completely new presence in this version, Gong Li’s Xian Jang, a witch who fights alongside Bori Khan, had potential to be an exciting antagonist. Though her presence here feels completely unnecessary, as her role is underwritten, consequently taking the spotlight away from Bori Khan.

The film’s battle sequences are breath-taking to watch. The assured direction from Niki Caro, combined with the use of stunning practical, mountainous sets, provides rich visual majesty to Mandy Walker’s cinematography. With Mulan marking only the second time being the second time Disney has backed a female directed project with a budget of over 100 million dollars, the studio has put their money where their mouth is. Instead of using the nostalgia of these animated classics, as an excuse to merely print money, they have delivered a live action re-imagining that actually justifies its existence. Though in a year where cinema releases have been severely blighted, it’s a real shame that the film didn’t get the big screen treatment it deserved.

It may not quite live up to its animated predecessor. However, this adaptation gets down to business and honours the Hua Mulan legend, whilst simultaneously setting to set the benchmark for future live action adaptations.

Posted in 2010-2019, TV Review

Chernobyl (2019)

Image is property of HBO

Chernobyl – TV Miniseries Review

Main Cast: Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgård, Emily Watson, Jessie Buckley, Paul Ritter, Adam Nagaitis, Con O’Neill, Adrian Rawlins, Sam Troughton, Robert Emms, David Dencik, Alan Williams, Ralph Ineson, Barry Keoghan, Michael McElhatton

Showrunner: Craig Mazin

Synopsis: An account of the events leading up to the nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, and the subsequent fallout of one of the deadliest man made disasters in history…

Review: As human beings, our lives can so often be irreversibly impacted by natural disasters. Though we are powerless to prevent them from happening, preparations can be made to mitigate the damage and devastation that they leave in their wake. It’s a stark contrast to the numerous man-made disasters that we have seen throughout history, that have also had similarly deadly consequences. However, when you look at how the events transpired, it’s hard to overlook the fact that someone was responsible for allowing these atrocities to happen, and how they could have very easily been prevented. One such disaster, arguably the worst man-made disaster in history, is that of the Chernobyl Nuclear power plant explosion. A tragedy of incomprehensible fallout, captured with horrifying realism in this tense and devastating HBO miniseries.

Over the course of five nerve-shredding episodes, showrunner/writer Craig Mazin and director Johan Renck, explore the disaster and its horrific aftermath. Firstly, recounting the the night of the deadly disaster, and the catalogue of errors that led to the fatal explosion. Following on from that, looking at the attempts by the Soviet government to contain the fallout from the disaster. You watch with disbelief as they seek to prevent the already horrific situation from spiralling into something much worse, at times with shocking degrees of negligence and recklessness. Before ultimately, trying to establish how such a nuclear catastrophe on this scale could have ever happened in the first place. At numerous points throughout the series, this feels more like a documentary. This is largely down to the expert production design, which recreates the power plant, and the surrounding neighbourhoods, which feel remarkably authentic.

Irrespective of whether you’re coming to the series as someone who knows everything about the disaster, or if you know the barest minimum, Mazin’s scripts expertly combine informative scientific facts, with intense and devastating drama. With each episode, it’s made painstakingly clear to us all as to the full extent of the horrific nightmare that was unfolding, and enabling the audience to process just how an event like this could have ever happened. With the exception of a few artistic liberties, Mazin’s scripts faithfully recreate how events unfolded, and the excellent writing is brilliantly combined with Johan Renck’s masterful direction. Each episode expertly blends genres such as the intense drama, and the traumatic horror of those who were the first to be affected by the radiation, to those were recruited for some extremely perilous missions. Furthermore, the crackling sound of a dosimeter going haywire is a sound so unnerving, it may well invade your nightmares.

With brilliant writing, combined with expert direction, and along with Hildur Guðnadóttir’s haunting score, every member of this cast deliver sublime performances. However, the three who shine the brightest are the three characters whose arcs are the pillars of this miniseries, the biggest of those belongs to Jared Harris who is exceptional as Valery Legasov. Drafted in by the Soviet government to lead the efforts to mitigate the effects of the tragedy, he’s not afraid to speak up and the people in charge just sweep everything under the rug. By his side, Stellan Skarsgard is equally tremendous as Boris Scherbina, a Minister whose relationship with Legasov is initially frosty to say the least. However as the two men work closely together, to combat the scale of the disaster they’re dealing with, it strengthens their relationship immeasurably. Last and certainly by no means last is Emily Watson’s stirring work as Ulana Khomyuk. A composite character serving as the embodiment of the countless number of scientists who worked to uncover the full truth behind this unimaginable tragedy.

The show serves as a tribute to all those brave souls who risked their lives to prevent the catastrophe from turning into something that could have been even more cataclysmic than it already was. However, the central theme that beats at the heart of this miniseries is the extremely damaging effect that lies can have when a country is in the grip of a catastrophic event like the Chernobyl disaster. In the wake of a deadly catastrophe that has wreaked unimaginable havoc, electing to cover things up with lies and misinformation may seem like a good idea at the time. However, as was the case of Chernobyl, these lies and misinformation came at a substantial cost, which is still being felt today. This is something that the governments of today could and should definitely learn from, especially at a time when a global health crisis of a very different nature is ravaging the world.

Sublime work from every aspect of the production ensures that this gripping and heart-breaking drama, like the disaster it’s depicting, will never be forgotten. An essential, definitive look at the one of the worst man-made disasters in history. 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Da 5 Bloods (2020)

Image is property of Netflix

Da 5 Bloods – Film Review

Cast: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr, Mélanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen
Jean Reno, Chadwick Boseman

Director: Spike Lee

Synopsis: Four Vietnam War veterans return to the country in search of the remains of their fallen squad leader and seek to obtain the stash of gold that the soldiers hid during the war…

Review: Cast your mind back to 2017, to the events of Charlottesville, USA. The world watched in horror, as it was given a brutal reminder of the sheer ugliness of the deeply entrenched racism still rampant in American society. A year or so after those ugly events, Spike Lee gave the world BlacKkKlansman, a film focusing on a true story about one man’s battle with rampant racism in one small town in America, before putting that into the wider context of Charlottesville and the racism that has been entrenched into American society for generations. Two years later after his last, and extremely thought-provoking joint, Lee is once again channelling his fury into another powerful, and in the wake of the appalling brutality that black communities in the US still face at the hands of law enforcement, extremely timely piece of film-making.

This new joint from the fiercely vocal director, and staunch Trump critic, once again provides a stark reminder of the brutality that Black people have, and continue to face in today’s society, with the war in Vietnam serving as the backdrop. Four African-American Vietnam War veterans: Paul (Lindo), Eddie (Lewis), Melvin (Whitlock Jr) and Otis (Peters) reunite for a deeply personal mission. They’ve returned the country, along with Paul’s son David (Majors), in search of the remains of their fallen squad leader Norm (Boseman) so that he can be brought home and properly commemorated. Simultaneously, they’ve returned to recapture the stash of buried gold that their unit was protecting during the war.

In a similar manner to what he did with BlacKkKlansman, Lee puts the events of the war, the experiences of these four veterans, and its unpopularity back in the USA into a wider context, that of a society that has been crippled with racism for generations. The battle that veterans, such as these four men, experienced in Vietnam may have ended many years ago. Yet for all their years of service, they continue to find themselves in an ongoing battle for equality and an end to a fundamentally racist system that has disproportionately affected the black community, for generations. A fundamental injustice that given rise to the Black Lives Matter movement, a movement whose voice and message, especially in the wake of the appalling murder of black people by police departments across the country, has taken hold not just in America, but across the world.

Each and every one of these actors turn in exceptional performances. The chemistry between the four veterans really shines through, they have certainly have been through hell and back together, which solidified the bonds that they have as brothers-in-arms. However, as the five them set off on their mission, tensions between them begin to mount over various subjects, tensions which threaten to tear their mission, and the bonds built between they have built as soldiers, apart. Lee is certainly a man who isn’t afraid to say what he thinks, and with this film that’s certainly applicable to what these soldiers are experiencing, but this is a joint that is about so much more than just the Vietnam War.

The performance that shines brightest though is by far and away, is Delroy Lindo as Paul. His fierce pro Trump views certainly don’t sit well with the rest of his fellow veterans, and that by consequence, will likely be the case with the audience too. While war does have long lasting consequences, for any soldier, it’s an experience that leaves its mark. This is certainly true for all the Bloods, but it’s especially applicable for Paul. With every word he utters, it’s crystal clear that the effects of the Vietnam War, and the years that have followed, have inflicted deep emotional turmoil upon him. Turmoil that makes you sympathise with him, as it has fundamentally changed him forever, resulting in a very fractured relationship with his son.

Chadwick Boseman might have garnered worldwide fame for his work in bringing Marvel’s Black Panther to life. However, this performance as the leader of this band of brothers, is a subdued, but emphatic display of his abilities as an actor, and the impact of what he brings to the film cannot be overstated. While Lee employs some slick editing, expertly combining present day with flashbacks to the fighting occurring in Vietnam. Though it is for the most part, slickly edited together, it does feel a tad overlong in places, and could have potentially shaved ten to fifteen minutes off its running time. Nevertheless, that does not minimise the film’s impact, as it shows how the battle continues for veterans such as these men, long after they have returned from the war. Their fight against the sheer ugliness of a society entrenched in systemic racism has continued in the decades that followed.

Given the appalling brutality that remains an ugly stain on American society, one can hope that the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement, can bring seismic, and much needed, needed change to end a society that is systemically rigged against veterans like the titular Bloods, and the black community as a whole. Though it is hard to ignore the current President and his deliberate attempts to stoke that racial division, that has enabled voices such as Spike Lee and the Black Lives Matter movement to emerge and use their platforms, to fight those fires of division and to spread these pivotal messages, messages that are crucially resonating with people across the world.

Powerful and heart-wrenching performances, especially from Lindo, mixed in with fierce and urgent messages that resonate with today’s society, now more than ever. Da 5 Bloods is the film that this year really needed.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Queen & Slim (2020)

Image is property of Universal, Makeready and eOne Entertainment

Queen & Slim – Film Review

Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Bokeem Woodbine, Chloë Sevigny, Flea, Sturgill Simpson, Indya Moore

Director: Melina Matsoukas

Synopsis: A young couple’s first date takes a considerably unexpected turn after being pulled over by the police…

Review: It’s hard to look past the inescapable fact that the United States has had, and continues to have, a major issue with racism. Similarly, It’s also an inescapable fact that endless number of stories that emerge of police officers who will be instantaneously overly aggressive/hostile in the most minor of situations, especially towards people of colour. Given that incidents such as these have caused innocent black people to lose their lives, it’s ripe for a filmmaker to use these injustices as an inspiration for a thought-provoking, powerful statement.

A young couple that we initially only know as Queen (Turner-Smith) and Slim (Kaluuya) are on their way home after a first date. After being pulled over by police for a supposed infraction, it doesn’t take long for the officer to get aggressive towards them. After pulling his gun following a tense exchange, it has disastrous consequences as he is shot dead by Slim in self-defence. As the police launch a manhunt and arrest warrants for the pair, knowing that they face a very severe punishment if they’re caught, the two of them have no choice but to go on the run and flee for their lives.

As the pair of tragic lovers at the centre of this, Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith both give layered, terrific performances. Kaluuya, following his Oscar nomination a few years ago, continues his hot streak with as he produces another sublime performance. Similarly, after a few bit part roles in a few films, this is Turner-Smith’s moment in the spotlight and she grabs it with both hands. Given that they’re initially on a first date, their chemistry isn’t exactly strong at first. However, as their journey goes on, you can feel these two grow closer together. Furthermore, if their characters not compelling on-screen presences, the film would run out of steam pretty quickly. However, they carry the film on their shoulders magnificently.

Matsoukas, having been quite prolific directing music videos, makes her feature film debut with real aplomb. She brings a bold vision to the film, that’s aided by some gorgeous cinematography. Whilst visually stunning, she imbues it with grittiness and realism, given that the events depicted feel very grounded in a 21st century America. However, the Achilles heel of the film is the script. Penned by Lena Waithe, while the film weaves important social themes into its script, it does suffer from pacing issues in a couple of places. There’s one intense scene in particular that puts the struggles that Queen and Slim, face into a much wider, and important context. Yet the decision made to pitch this side by side, with another scene that feels like a complete tonal mismatch, that adversely affects the pacing.

It would be easy for a film with subject matter like this to just rely on its timely, and urgent, social commentary. While that by itself is not enough to carry the film on its own, it simply doesn’t rely on these to tell its compelling story. Furthermore, the growing anger towards the treatment of African Americans at the hands of the police, that has fuelled movements such as Black Lives Matter gives the film some significant emotional significance. It’s powerful, for the simple reason that this is, inexcusably, an event that is all too common in modern day America.

Fuelled by extremely compelling lead performances, combined with powerful and relevant social commentary. Queen & Slim is tragic love story that is unequivocally unafraid to pull any punches.

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.