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.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Little Women (2019)

Image is property of Columbia Pictures, Regency Enterprises and Sony Pictures

Little Women – Film Review

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Chris Cooper

Director: Greta Gerwig

Synopsis: Telling the lives of the March sisters as they navigate the transition from adolescence to adulthood in a post Civil War USA…

Review: After the storming success of her unique and original debut film, that added her name to the select few women to have been nominated for an Oscar for directing, the world was the oyster for Greta Gerwig. For her sophomore feature, she would have likely had the green light to make anything that she so desired. Therefore, to give the beloved novel by Louisa May Alcott another adaptation seemed to be unnecessary. However, Gerwig has taken on this adaptation, and breathed new life into this beloved story, in magnificent style.

In a post Civil War United States, we meet the March sisters: Jo (Ronan), Meg (Watson), Amy (Pugh) and Beth (Scanlen). We see their lives from two different time periods, firstly in a post Civil War setting, mixed in with flashbacks to their time spent growing up together in Massachusetts. Jo is determined to make her own way in the world to pursue a career as a writer, Amy wishes to become an artist, Meg dreams of becoming an actress, and Beth aspires to be a musician. They assist their mother (Dern) in any way they can while their father is away fighting in the war. Growing up, the sisters spend a lot of their time together, supporting their mother any way they can as their lack of money means that luxuries are extremely hard to come by.

Straight away, the chemistry between the four sisters leaps off the screen. There is a warm feeling that comes off in the relationships that they have with each other. Their chemistry feels very sincere and genuine, which is a credit to the talent of the actresses playing them. As anyone who grew up with one or more siblings will tell you, they love and care for each other. Yet, at any given moment, that can flip on its head and that love can turn to loathing. Every member of this cast delivers delightful performances, from Meryl Streep’s hilarious turn as their snidey (but hilarious) Aunt, to Laura Dern as their steadfast and extremely patient mother, to Timothee Chalamet as their childhood friend, who becomes the man that they all would dream of marrying.

However, the stars of the show (as they should be), are the titular little women, the March sisters. Gerwig’s screenplay explores in great detail the pressures that women like the sisters would have faced during that time period. Finding themselves in a position where they would love nothing more than to follow their hearts, but they are frustrated due to the constraints that society placed on women at the time. The strength of the screenplay ensures that Gerwig gives each of her stars excellent material to work with. It enables each of their personalities to shine through and though each of them all give sincere performances, the performances by Saoirse Ronan’s Jo and Florence Pugh’s Amy shine the brightest.

The score by Alexandre Desplat is befitting of the warm and delightful ambience that the film generates. Similarly, Jacqueline Durran’s wonderful costumes perfectly illustrate the calibre of such an esteemed, Oscar winning costume designer. The film adopts a non-linear approach to its storytelling, which can perhaps be a little jarring at first to any viewers who may be unfamiliar with the source material. It’s a testament to the Alcott’s novel that it can still resonate with people over a century and a half after it was first published, proving it to be a timeless piece of storytelling. Furthermore, it has proved to be a springboard for a talent like Greta Gerwig to adapt it once again for the big screen so beautifully. She retains those powerful core messages that will especially resonate with everyone regardless, of their gender, but especially for women who grew up with sisters.

One might have argued that this beloved novel did not need yet another adaptation. However, a terrific ensemble cast led by Ronan and Pugh, combined with Gerwig’s excellent screenplay ensures that this latest adaptation will charm its way into your heart.

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

Just Mercy (2019)

Image is property of Warner Bros

Just Mercy – Film Review

Cast: Michael B Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Brie Larson, Tim Blake Nelson, Rob Morgan, O’Shea Jackson Jr, Rafe Spall

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

Synopsis: After a man is convicted of murder of a young woman and sent to death row, a defence attorney begins to uncover some startling facts about the case….

Review: It’s not exactly news that in the USA right now, the country has had, and continues to have a major issue with racism. Such an issue, extends to many facets of life in the country, and one particular example being the the justice system and the rule of law. A system that has some very fundamental flaws and biases, that can see people arrested for the most trivial of things. Likewise one that can see potentially innocent people, be sent to prison in spite of some very iffy/suspicious witness statements or evidence.

Walter McMillian, known to his friends and family as Johnny D, is on death row after he was found guilty of murdering a young woman. When attorney Bryan Stevenson takes on his case, he starts to investigate the case in substantial detail. Through some extensive and thorough examination of all the evidence, with the support of Eva Ansley (Larson), all is not what it seems with this case. Stevenson, believing that McMillan may have been wrongfully convicted through some spurious evidence and witness statements, makes it his mission to leave no stone unturned in his investigation, and to do all he can to clear McMillan of this crime.

Courtroom dramas such as these have definitely been adapted for the big screen before. However, while it doesn’t strive away from your typical courtroom drama, the sheer strength and emotional weight of the story are what bring the emotional levity to the situation. This film’s power and urgency lies in Andrew Lanham’s and director Destin Daniel Cretton’s script, which is not trying to be anything new in terms of courtroom dramas, and it doesn’t have to be in order to be extremely effective. Simply because it is trying to shine a light on an issue that is still prevalent in the US to this day. With people are being sent down for crimes they definitely didn’t commit, whilst simultaneously highlighting and the appalling institutional biases that still occur to this day in the US justice system, particularly for people of colour, it shows a fundamental problem that urgently needs addressing.

Michael B Jordan is nothing short of sensational as Bryan Stevenson, the attorney who bravely takes on McMillan’s case. Given the emotional magnitude surrounding the case, he would be forgiven for cracking under the intense pressure that comes along with taking what is to many people, an already closed case. While Larson’s screen time is limited, she is also excellent as the assistant to Jordan’s Stevenson. However, it’s Jamie Foxx’s heartbreaking performance that is by far and away, the most awards worthy. Giving his best performance since Django Unchained, you can see from his body language that the years on death row understandably have taken their toll on him. Yet through Stevenson’s relentless desire to uncover the truth, it brings him the faintest glimmer of hope in the darkest of situations for him and his family.

One of the many great aspects of film is its ability to shed light on such stories that people around the world may not know about. However, these hard-hitting stories need to be mandatory viewing for everyone. The whole point of a justice system, in any country the world over, is to hold a fair and unbiased trial that examines all the evidence without prejudice. Yet time after time in the US, the system is shown to be completely rigged to the extent that people, especially people of colour, are seemingly condemned before any trial has even begun. Changes will not happen but overnight, but with powerful pieces of storytelling like Just Mercy, one would hope that the tide eventually start to turn to prevent situations like this from happening again.

With a trio of fantastic performances at its centre, and an emotionally charged story packed with an urgent, powerful message that must be heard the world over. This is so much more than just your typical courtroom drama.

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

Waves (2019)

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Waves – Film Review

Cast: Kelvin Harrison Jr, Taylor Russell, Alexa Demie, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sterling K. Brown, Lucas Hedges

Director: Trey Edward Shults

Synopsis: Focusing on an African-American family, and the lives of the two children as they navigate the testing period between their teenage years and adulthood…

Review: No matter who you are, or where you’re from, there’s a lot of pressure on you when you’re young. The period between your teenage years and the transition to adulthood are extremely tough to negotiate as you try to figure out your path in life, and certain decisions can define your trajectory for a long time to come. With only his third feature film, writer/director Trey Edward Shults presents an emotional look at one family’s journey through this testing time, with some immensely powerful results.

Right from the get go, there’s something about the way Shults writes and directs this powerful story feels so raw and honest, and this translates into flawless performances from every member of the Williams family. At the head of the family is loving, but tough father Ronald (Brown), stepmother Catherine (Goldsberry), and the two children Tyler (Harrison Jr) and Emily (Russell). Initially, we see things from the perspective of Tyler, and on first glance, things appear to be going well for him. He has his place on the wrestling team and a loving girlfriend in Alexis (Demie). Through relentless pushing by his father, he strives for excellence in every aspect of his life. However, a startling revelation threatens to turn his idyllic life completely upside down, with potentially long-lasting consequences for him and everyone he loves.

In a film with impeccable performances across the board, Kelvin Harrison Jr leads the way with a tremendous, wounded performance as Tyler. He imbues this young man who’s not short of confidence and self-belief. However, underneath that exterior is someone who faces severe pressure of the expectations that society places on the shoulders of a young man like him. The whole time, he has something eating away at him. Amid the constant pushing from his father, he runs the risk of making a severe lapse in judgement. The film illustrates how young men all over the world can be overwhelmed by the weight of expectations that society places on them, and that it’s imperative for them to have figures of support to help them navigate the tricky journey that we call life.

Opposite him, Taylor Russell delivers an equally sensational performance as Tyler’s sister Emily. Though Tyler gets the limelight in the early stages of the film, Emily very much represents that vital figure of support that her brother really needs, even though she too is facing pressure of her own. The film is very much told in two halves, first from Tyler’s perspective, and then from Emily’s perspective. The first half of the screenplay is the stronger of the two due because of the sheer strength of the emotion of the situation that builds between these characters. Though, there comes a point about half way through where that emotion builds to a crescendo, and hits you like a ton of bricks.

Like a wave itself that has its highs and then it comes crashing back down, the second half of the story very much represents the point after the wave has reached its crescendo. It’s not emotionally powerful as the preceding half, but it serves as a necessary after-effect for the events that precede it. There’s a very intimate and personal manner to the way Shults directs the film, which gives the story a authentic vibe to this touching, and emotional story. Bolstered by a superb score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the film serves as a reminder that growing up is far from an easy time, and that love and support can go a long way to building long-lasting relationships, with family and with friends in equal measure.

Flawless performances across the board, especially from Harrison Jr and Russell, bolstered by a well developed, and powerful story told with raw honesty. Be prepared for the extraordinary emotional journey that Waves will take you on.

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

The Report (2019)

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The Report – Film Review

Cast: Adam Driver, Annette Bening, Ted Levine, Michael C. Hall, Tim Blake Nelson, Corey Stoll, Maura Tierney, Jon Hamm

Director: Scott Z. Burns

Synopsis: In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, a United States Senate staffer is tasked with leading an enquiry into the use of torture by the CIA with some shocking discoveries…

Review: September 11, 2001 is one of those days that if you were alive, everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing on that terrible day. In the wake of such unimaginable devastation and loss of life, any government would be under pressure to bring the perpetrators of such a callous attack to justice. But as we know, the war that was waged in response to 9/11 had long lasting consequences, and not all of it has been widely available public knowledge.

Daniel Jones (Driver) is a Senate Staffer who’s recruited to work for Senator Dianne Feinstein (Benning). Tasked with investigating the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that were used by the CIA to try and extract information from Al-Qaeda terrorists to give them intelligence. Spending many years of his life, trawling through thousands upon thousands of pages of rather chilling evidence, the details that are uncovered are startling. To further complicate matters, politicians clamour to prevent the full details of his report from being made public.

In this inescapable partisan nature of politics in this day and age, to craft a compelling balanced narrative out of such heavy and hard-hitting material is a tall order, but writer/director Scott Z. Burns does exactly that. In a drama that relies on people spending most of their time on screen either sitting at their desks researching on computers, or having conversations with politicians. It’s imperative that the script be well-written and on point to carry the film’s narrative throughout. Furthermore, to avoid getting bogged down in partisan politics, the film clearly illustrates that no side of the political spectrum is absolved of blame when it came to the attempts to block the report from being made public.

Given his status as one of the most prolific actors currently in the business, it should come as no surprise that Adam Driver once again gives an excellent performance. In the same vein that Official Secrets was resting on Keira Knightley’s shoulders, the onus is on Driver’s Daniel Jones to navigate the audience through this important period in modern US history and leave no stone unturned in what went on, and who was responsible for allowing this to happen. By his side through all of this is Annette Bening’s excellent turn as Dianne Feinstein. A politician who is resolute in her belief to do the right thing, whilst ensuring she is not too overtly biased towards her side of the political spectrum.

The torture scenes in the film make for, as you might expect, uncomfortable viewing. However, they are necessary to put the events, and the work that is carried out by Jones and his team, into context. The editing is a little uneven in the first act as the film between the investigative work being carried out, and the torture scenes. While these do serve their purpose, they can get a bit tiresome very quickly. Thankfully these are not focused on for too long. The report itself and the efforts to bring it to the attention of the public become the sole attention. There’s nothing remarkable about Burns’s direction, but the gripping subject matter and some excellent performances maintain the investment in the story.

The world, in particular the world of politics is a scary place right now. In a time when politics, and by consequence politicians are becoming increasingly fraught, bitterly divided on allegiances to an individual and or a particular party. Rather than be beholden to blind allegiances, it pays to be open-minded and to not let party politics cloud your judgement, especially when it comes to examples of blatant wrongdoing that should not be buried behind mountains of legal paperwork.

Hard-hitting and timely, The Report speaks volumes about this extremely divisive political era, reminding us value of integrity, and the importance of holding those in power to account.