Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

In the Heights (2021)

© Warner Bros

In The Heights  – Film Review

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

Director: Jon M. Chu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Father (2021)

© Lionsgate, Film4 and Canal+

The Father  – Film Review

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

Director: Florian Zeller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Nomadland (2021)

© Searchlight Pictures

Nomadland  – Film Review

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

Director: Chloé Zhao

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Sound of Metal (2021)

© Amazon Studios

Sound of Metal  – Film Review

Cast: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci

Director: Darius Marder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Promising Young Woman (2021)

© Focus Features , LuckyChap Entertainment and FilmNation Entertainment

Promising Young Woman  – Film Review

Cast: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, Connie Britton, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Chris Lowell, Alfred Molina

Director: Emerald Fennell

Synopsis: After a traumatic event in her past, a young woman goes to bars and nightclubs pretending to be drunk in order to catch out men who try to take advantage over her while they believe her to be intoxicated…

Review: For the the past few years, a number of movements have risen up about urgent topics that have demanded the world to sit up, take notice, and to initiate conversations to enact meaningful changes in our society. As an example, it was thanks to the bravery of those who launched the Me Too and the Time’s Up movements. These movements forced the world to have some much needed conversations about sexual harassment and abuse. For far too long, women were being subjected to harassment and unwanted advances by men, in just about every aspect of day-to-day life. This need for a film, that holds up a mirror to our society, demanding everyone to talk about sexual harassment and rape, plays heavily into the feature film debut of Emerald Fennell.

Cassie (Mulligan) is a 30 year old who earns her living working in a coffee shop. Years earlier, she began med school with much promise about her future. This is until everything changed, as she was forced to drop out, due an extremely traumatic incident involving a very close friend. Years later, having never fully recovered, Cassie goes to nightclubs and bars in the evening, pretending to be totally drunk. This inevitably attracts the attention of men, who initially offer to take her home, which quickly changes to back to their place for a few more drinks and to try and take advantage of her while they believe her to be too drunk to give consent. However, by revealing that she is completely stone cold sober every time, she turns the tables on these men, giving them a revelatory lesson about their predatory behaviour. Yet through every interaction with one of these men, Cassie has one ulterior motive, and it is revenge.

The well known saying “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” could definitely be applied to numerous characters throughout film history. Yet, one could make the argument that it has never been more applicable when it comes to Cassie, and Carey Mulligan’s performance is absolutely electrifying to watch. There are so many layers to her character as to start with, she has to portray the vulnerability of the character given everything she’s been through. She expertly contrasts the scenes where she is pretending to be drunk, with the scenes where she completely turns the tables on the men who were poised to take advantage of her. From that moment on, it is absolutely crystal clear that it is Cassie who’s the one in control of the situation, while these so called “nice guys” squirm with discomfort.

Whenever a film is brave enough to tackle two almost completely different genres together into one film, it’s definitely a risk, and there has need to ensure that the right balance is struck. Through her direction, Fennell pulls this off magnificently. The film dips in and out between being an almost horror film-esque revenge thriller, whilst also being a colourful rom-com as Cassie connects with a character from her Med School past (played excellently by Bo Burnham). Yet, the rom-com element never negates the revenge-thriller aspect, and vice versa.  There is a brief lag in the film’s pacing in and around the second/third act. However, this is definitely a momentary lapse, before Cassie’s endgame comes into view, as the events that set her off on this path of revenge come full circle.

The film is once again a timely reminder of the work that needs to be done when it comes to dealing with harassment, in just about every single walk of life, and how society once again fails to protect women who fall victim to the predatory behaviour that they too often experience at the hands of men. Certain elements of the film may be uncomfortable to sit through, but it’s clear that Fennell’s goal is not to provide comfort to the audience. Her aim is to open their eyes, especially those of men, and remind them of the seemingly never ending barrage of unwanted attention and harassment that women get on a constant basis. In the years since the Me Too movement sparked those much needed conversations, a few films have made efforts to tackle the subject. However, no film has done it such a daring, yet successful manner. Whenever a film comes along that strives to hold up a mirror to the society we’re living in, it must leave a lasting impression, and Emerald Fennell’s directorial debut does not miss.

Boasting a career best performance from Carey Mulligan, thanks to its bold and daring approach to its timely subject matter, Emerald Fennell’s directorial debut is perhaps the most important film in the post #MeToo era of Hollywood.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Minari (2021)

Image is property of A24 and Plan B

Minari – Film Review

Cast: Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Youn Yuh-jung, Will Patton

Director: Lee Isaac Chung

Synopsis: In the 1980s, a South Korean family who have emigrated to the United States arrive in Arskansas, with the goal of achieving the American dream…

Review: For decades now, the idea of moving to the United States of America, to realise a dream where anyone can accomplish economic success in a society has been sown into the ideals of the country. As the plaque on the statue of Liberty reads “Give me your tired, your poor, yearning to breathe free”. The desire to move to a society where anyone can achieve some sort of economic success is one that many people may have had when emigrating to the USA. Regardless of their circumstances, the notion that people can make it in the “Land of the Free” has been the basis of the American Dream for many decades now. This desire to achieve happiness and prosperity, for yourself and your family, is the basis for this semi-biographical film, recounting the young life of director Lee Isaac Chung.

After moving to the United States a decade ago, Jacob (Yeun) and his wife Monica (Ye-ri) spent many a years working in a chicken factory in California, separating male and female chicks. However, despite him being very good at this job, Jacob finds the work tedious and strives for something more rewarding. Hence, the Yi family have now uprooted from California to live in rural Arkansas. With this move, and with the purchase of his own patch of land, Jacob aims to operate a successful farm business, growing Korean vegetables to supply to nearby businesses. This is where Jacob strives to achieve his own version of the American dream, but his ambition doesn’t fill his wife Monica with the same passion that motivates Jacob every single day.

There’s something that feels very sincere and genuine about Chung’s script, and the performances from the entire cast match are all equally heartfelt and genuine, to the extent that you can it sometimes feels like the events being depicted on screen are real life. Leading the way is Steven Yeun’s heartfelt performance as this family’s patriarch. As the head of this, family Jacob has to walk that line between being the loving father, but has to balance that with the need to to be stern and authoritative where necessary, especially when it comes to his youngest child David. Their father-son dynamic is the heartbeat that drives the film forward, and Alan Kim’s performance is equally special. He is both simultaneously hilarious and mischievous, especially when it comes to his interactions with his grandmother (portrayed superbly by Youn Yuh-jung).

But through all that hilarity, what really makes the audience sympathise towards David is a condition involving his heart that could become a problem in later life. Because of this plight, it makes you really sympathetic towards him, especially as it’s one that proves to be one of the many sticking points between Jacob and Monica. There are plenty of tender moments that he shares not just with his grandma, but his parents, and his sister, as well.  Indeed, the performances of the entire cast match that sincerity but all put in sincere performances that make you care about the plight of the family. Some may find issue with the film’s pacing but while it may have one or two momentary lapses, Chung clearly is taking his time to tell the story of this family, and allow the events to play out as naturally as possible.

The themes of family, and identity have been explored on screen plenty of times throughout the years. Yet, despite this genre being a well worn one, Chung captures these themes in a rich and nuanced manner, that gives Minari its own identity. Furthermore, the score from Emile Mosseri captures the heart-warming and sincere vibe of the film perfectly. It may seem like a simple story, but there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface that gives the film significant emotional depth. The idea of someone moving to America to achieve their own version of the American Dream might feel somewhat tainted given the treatment that immigrants have received in recent times. Yet despite that, Chung’s film is a hopeful warm embrace that will hopefully bring some much needed warmth and happiness to all who watch it during these unprecedented and troubled times we’re all currently living in.

Filled with sincere and heartfelt performances, Minari tells a universal story that is filled with captured with genuine warmth and sincerity that should resonate with everyone the world over.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

Image is property of Warner Bros, Participant and Bron Creative

Judas and the Black Messiah  – Film Review

Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Daniel Kaluuya, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Lil Rel Howery, Algee Smith Martin Sheen

Director: Shaka King

Synopsis: After being caught committing a crime, a man is given a chance by law enforcement to become an FBI informant as they seek to infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, and keep tabs on its chairman, Fred Hampton…

Review: If someone were to ask you about the influential leaders of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, names like Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Rosa Parks may jump to mind.  These are the names of extremely influential individuals who are the subject of curriculums worldwide, and have been the subject of numerous films, so that just about everyone on Planet Earth is likely to know who they are. Yet, there are certain influential figures that may not garner quite the level of attention, but when you learn more about them, it’s a wonder why they are not as well known as some of the the other influential leaders of this movement. This is most definitely applicable in the case of Frederick Allen Hampton, the chairman of the Illinois branch of the Black Panther Party, and the deputy chairman of the national BPP.

Having been caught committing a crime by the police, Bill O’Neal (Stanfield) finds himself in a very perilous position. If he’s charged, he faces almost certain prison time. However, there’s another option for him, as he’s given a chance to escape a jail sentence by becoming an FBI informant. The FBI are seeking to infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the BPP, to keep tabs on the activities of Fred Hampton and do whatever they can to suppress the party and Hampton’s agenda to help the lives of numerous people oppressed by the society they’re living in. Yet in the eyes of the government, and the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover, they consider Hampton to be a radical figure, and a substantial threat. Having had the most fleeting of appearances in last year’s The Trial of the Chicago 7, this is 100% Hampton’s story, and, from the very first minute, it’s an informative, exhilarating and extremely maddening chapter of US history that demands to be told.

Daniel Kaluuya is an actor who has been consistently pulling amazing performances over the last few years. From a run that started with his Oscar nominated turn in Get Out, to last year’s Queen & Slim, he has consistently proved why he is one of the best actors currently in the business. With this transformative turn as Hampton, it’s another absolutely magnetic performance to add to that list. Every time he speaks, his words captivate the crowds he’s talking to, which extends to the audience. You see a man who’s passionate about helping people who are oppressed by a government and a society that is built upon systemic racism. While Kaluuya’s performance is absolutely worthy of all the superlatives in the world, the equally impressive work of Lakeith Stanfield must not be overlooked, as it is, and an integral part of what makes the film work. We watch through his eyes as he initially is forced into this role of infiltration, and it’s a role that makes you want to hate him. Yet, as he spends more time by Hampton’s side, it’s plain to see that he’s starting to believe in the causes that Hampton and the Black Panthers are championing.

Alongside the outstanding performances of Stanfield and Kaluuya, are an equally impressive collection of supporting characters that includes, Dominique Fishback’s beautiful performance as Deborah, the most important person in Fred’s personal life. Additionally, there’s a great performance from Jesse Plemons as Roy Mitchell, the slimy and manipulative FBI agent who’s keeping tabs on O’Neal as he goes about his task of infiltration. With every word spoken in the film, it is clear what screenwriters, Shaka King, the Lucas brothers, and Will Berson are hoping to accomplish with this film. A clip plays near the beginning of the film of news reels from the time says “Those are not riots, they are rebellions, people are rebelling because of the conditions, and not because of individuals, no individual creates a rebellion.” When you watch the film’s events play out, it is fairly easy to connect the dots between the 1960s and the 21st century.

Given the horrifying events that the world saw in 2020, Shaka King’s film provides an urgent message that demands everyone’s attention. It is a damning indictment that in the decades since Hampton fought against this unjust society, that not nearly enough progress has been made. Furthermore, the events of not just last year, but of many years gone by, have shown that it is infuriatingly plain for all to see that the systemic oppression against people of colour in our society has not been dismantled. The rebellion that people like Hampton fought for, is one that must continue. “You can kill a revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution.” It is a testament to Hampton that in the years since he uttered those famous words: that they ring truer now more than ever. The fires of revolution are burning stronger than perhaps ever before, and long may that continue.

With a powerful and informative screenplay, combined with its two towering central performances, Shaka King’s film ensures that not only the world will know Fred Hampton’s name, they will never forget it.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Malcolm & Marie (2021)

Image is property of Netflix

Malcolm & Marie  – Film Review

Cast: Zendaya and John David Washington

Director: Sam Levinson

Synopsis: Following the premiere of his film, a filmmaker and his girlfriend talk about their relationship, their careers, and the life they share together…

Review: The power of film and its ability to creating lasting impressions on us all is something that has perhaps come into sharp focus by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. For as long as our cinemas have remained closed, there’s been a desire for all of us who love this art form to be reminded of just why we adore this art form. Irrespective of whether someone works in the industry, or if they are a critic, or just someone who has a passion for watching films, there’s no getting away from one simple fact. Namely, everyone will have their own unique experience about said film, which can in turn influence their opinion on any particular film. The power of film and its ability to leave a lasting impression on not just the viewer but on the creators themselves, which can in turn influence their own relationships, is a powerful and resonating sentiment that beats at the heart of this latest film from Euphoria creator Sam Levinson.

Malcolm (Washington) is a filmmaker who’s just had his film premiere, to much critical acclaim. After a successful evening in the spotlight in the company of his actors, film critics and other people in the industry, accompanied by his girlfriend Marie (Zendaya), the couple come home to celebrate. However, throughout the course of the evening, something has been gnawing away at Marie and having kept it to her herself throughout the course of the evening, she cannot stay silent about it any more. Over the course of what is meant to be a celebratory night, a discussion about the evening’s events descend into a heated argument between the two of them, and the sparks begin to fly as they squabble about numerous topics from films, filmmaking, to film criticism, all framed from the perspective of where they are in their lives at this moment in time, and the state of their relationship.

With production of the film having taken place in the summer of 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, the film’s production was all understandably, fairly minimal. However, this does not prevent writer/director Levinson from crafting a very compelling piece of filmmaking, which is in many ways an autobiographical look at Levinson’s own journey through Hollywood. With it all taking place in one luxurious house seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the stripped back setting and production values could have been a hindrance, since the film is relying on the strength of the screenplay/dialogue, and the performances of the two cast members, and Levinson’s direction. The screenplay has a lot to say about the industry, and while it does have some interesting observations to make, there’s an heir of self-indulgency when it comes to certain aspects. thanks to the performances of his actors, and the gorgeous black and white cinematography from Marcell Rév is gorgeous to look at.

As they are the only actors in the film, everything is on the shoulders of both Zendaya and John David Washington to make the film work. Given the immense talents of both actors, it is no surprise that both give absolutely electric performances. The chemistry that they share leaps off the screen, and the range of emotions that shines through in both their performances is extraordinary. It’s clear that these two people do love each other, yet despite that love, there’s something boiling away inside both of them that is seemingly holding them back. Yet despite that, each time these two actors engage in a verbal bout of topics like the film industry, critics and reviewers, and how society engages with these industries, you just cannot take your eyes off the screen as these two trade verbal blows, putting each other through an intense emotional wringer.

The film is almost guaranteed to ruffle some feathers from those who work in the industry, and especially for those in the film critic circles. Similarly, the self-indulgent nature of his script, and the obvious nods to Levinson’s own career, may well put some people off. While both these actors are some of the finest of their generation, as well as usually being likeable presences on screen, the same cannot be said for their characters here. There is an heir of sympathy for Marie, and some of the plight that her character has endured, but even with that in mind, it is difficult to imagine wanting to have people like this in your personal/professional life. Yet that doesn’t prevent either actor from giving a tour-de-force performance in a film that is going to generate lots of discussion in the industry in the coming months.

A fascinating character study analysing plenty of deeply personal subjects, while not everything hits its mark, the exceptional performances of John David Washington and Zendaya make Malcolm & Marie an absorbing, if a little too indulgent, piece of film-making.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Pieces of a Woman (2020)

Image is property of Netflix

Pieces of a Woman – Film Review

Cast: Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBoeuf, Ellen Burstyn, Molly Parker, Sarah Snook, Iliza Shlesinger, Benny Safdie, Jimmie Fails

Director: Kornél Mundruczó

Synopsis: After a young couple experience unimaginable tragedy following a home birth, the devastation and grief of their loss begins to fracture their own relationship, as well as the relationship between their friends and family, in the days and months afterwards…

Review: There are no two ways about it, pregnancy is an incredible, yet simultaneously lengthy and arduous process, especially for the pregnant woman who is heroically bearing the heaviest of burdens. If everything has proceeded as expected after nine months, there will be brand new life at the end of it. Yet, sometimes tragedy can strike, and devastating heartbreak for the couple and their families ensues. For all the trauma that would follow in these particular circumstances, it seems incomprehensible that there’s a stigma/taboo that comes with such unimaginable heartache and tragedy, yet as two high profile examples from last year demonstrate, that stigma is very much apparent.

Therefore, it is to the great credit of writer Kata Wéber, and her partner Kornél Mundruczó, that they’ve made a film that shines a light on this difficult subject that is rarely touched upon in film. Martha (Kirby) and Sean (LaBoeuf) are an expectant couple, eagerly excited about becoming parents for the very first time. Within the first few establishing shots of the film, it’s established that Martha is heavily pregnant, expecting to give birth at any given moment. When the time comes for Martha to go into labour, the couple are dismayed when their midwife is unavailable, but are comforted when an assured and professional replacement midwife arrives. All appears to be going well for the couple, until the joy that they’re experiencing soon turns to devastation and unbearable sorrow.

Playing the woman at the centre of this devastating drama, Vanessa Kirby’s performance is nothing short of absolutely phenomenal. She embodies the incomprehensible feeling of anguish that continues to linger even many months after what was meant to be one of the best days of her life, but ultimately ended in devastating heartbreak. Initially, as she tries to return to her day-to-day life, Martha finds herself completely shut off and detached from her family and co-workers, and the relationship between her and her partner Sean (LaBeouf) is no exception. Yet as the months go by, the feelings of loss and anguish are just as raw, but the difference is that Martha is no longer cold and grief-stricken. Instead, she channels that heartache into fury against certain family members that try to goad her into things she has absolutely zero interest in wanting to be a part of.

LaBoeuf’s Sean, self-described as “boorish”, is definitely not the most likeable of presences. Like Martha, he finds himself stricken by the agony that his character finds himself in. Despite some questionable life choices in the aftermath of the tragedy, it is hard to not feel sympathetic towards his character in this situation. Through everything that’s going on, the presence of Martha’s domineering mother Elizabeth (Burstyn) looms over them both. The dynamic between mother and daughter in this situation is a crucial aspect of the film in the months following the tragedy, and alongside Kirby’s stunning work, Burstyn’s performance is equally phenomenal.

The film’s crowning directorial achievement however, is unquestionably, the birth sequence. Taking place in one, uninterrupted 24 minute take, the scene is undeniably tense, and extremely harrowing to watch, especially for anyone who will have found themselves in this situation. The camerawork, Mundruczó’s direction are both exceptional. Through the extraordinary performances of the three actors involved, the sequence captures the range of emotions that these characters experience throughout. As this is undoubtedly the most tense scene in the film, the film struggles to maintain the momentum that is built during the opening sequence, and as such, the rest of the film’s pacing does suffer at a handful of moments.

Yet, it is a credit to all concerned that a film exists that has taken on these topics with unflinching honesty. No matter how many months or years pass, the pain for those that have been through this situation will never subside. The couples that experience this go through unspeakable trauma, and they do not for one moment deserve stigma and or abuse. Hopefully, through films like this, we can as a society initiate a conversation with the goal of hopefully one day ensuring that that the frankly ridiculous stigma that surrounds miscarriage and child loss is eradicated once and for all.

 Presenting its heavy subject matter with raw honesty, Pieces of a Woman is a powerful and unflinching analysis of unbearable grief and loss, anchored by an exceptional leading performance from Vanessa Kirby.

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.