Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Lightyear (2022)

© Disney and Pixar Animation Studios

Lightyear – Film Review

Cast: Chris Evans, Keke Palmer, Peter Sohn, James Brolin, Taika Waititi, Dale Soules, Uzo Aduba, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Efren Ramirez, Isiah Whitlock Jr.

Director:  Angus MacLane

Synopsis: After being marooned on a hostile alien planet, Space Ranger Buzz Lightyear leads a mission to work out how to get himself and his crew home…

Review: Cast your minds back to 1995 and a little film called Toy Story was released in cinemas. The first fully CG animated film, and the start of an incredibly successful franchise for Pixar Animation Studios where a group of beloved toys. owned by a young boy named Andy. were introduced to the arrival of a flashy new toy that will soon take his place as Andy’s most beloved possession. That toy is, of course, the one and only Buzz Lightyear. However, what was it about this toy that made him so unique, the must-have toy that all the kids wanted? As a title card at the start of the film explains, this is the film that made the Buzz Lightyear action figure that kids would go to infinity and beyond to get their hands on.

Buzz Lightyear (now voiced by Chris Evans) is a confident and cocky young Space Ranger eager to prove himself to his commanding officer, Commander Alisha Hawthorne (Aduba). Investigating a planet to explore its resource potential, the mission is soon forced to be abandoned they are following an encounter with bug-like creatures. However, in the ensuing escape, the crew’s ship crashes, leaving Buzz and the entire crew marooned on the planet with seemingly no way of getting home. Blaming himself for the mission’s failure, Buzz devises a plan to use hyperspeed travel to get him and his crew back home.

Pixar might have dabbled with science fiction (with perhaps a little dose of science fact) with 2008’s WALL-E. However, given the premise of faster than light travel is not yet a reality in our world, this is the first film of theirs that is 100% science fiction. The screenplay by Jason Headley and Angus MacLane, co-director of Finding Dory, is a fascinating constellation of a series of popular space films that have all been into both the more recent variety, as well as some of the classics. Taking such ambitious and potentially tricky sci-fi tropes and weaving them into an exciting space adventure for audiences of all ages could have very easily represented a massive black hole that the film fell into. However, MacLane’s direction, combined with the to-be-expected top-tier animation ensures that the film is a riveting blast of fun. Furthermore, there are plenty of neat callbacks to the original Toy Story that fans who grew up with those films will love.

Given that this is the tale that inspired the Buzz Lightyear action figure, it makes sense to have a different actor to differentiate between the two. In Chris Evans, you have an actor who played one of the most iconic heroes for well over a decade, so he could probably voice a hero character in his sleep. Evans proves to be a perfect fit for the role. While he has a Han Solo-esque cockiness to him, Evans gives Buzz the heroic qualities that you’d come to expect. He is brave, fearless and resourceful, but crucially he is not infallible and can make mistakes. The real star of the show, however, is Buzz’s robotic feline companion Sox, who functions as Buzz’s computer/guide and easily becomes one of the most iconic side characters in any Pixar film ever. You’ll be hard-pressed to not find yourself saying “meow-meow-meow” or “beep-boop beep-boop-beep-boop” next time you’re trying to work something out.

Given that this is a film primarily about Buzz and his mission, aside from Sox, there is very little room for character development for anyone else in the film, most notably when it comes to Buzz’s makeshift crew that he needs to help complete his mission, namely Izzy (Palmer), Mo (Waititi) and Darby (Soules). They provide some moments of comedy but are all outshone by that little robotic feline. Where the film doesn’t quite stick the landing most of all though is the villain, the original Evil Emperor Zurg, what could have been an extremely interesting backstory is ultimately left to be the perhaps the most underdeveloped aspect of the whole adventure.

Pixar’s filmography often has a tendency to reduce their audiences to emotional wrecks, and while there’s nothing quite level on say a Coco, or a Toy Story 3, there is one extremely touching moment that is guaranteed to pull on those ol’ heartstrings. Furthermore, it is extremely significant for a Pixar film that depicts meaningful LGTB representation depicted on screen that is far more than just a fleeting, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference. Fans might have wondered if this prequel would have been an excuse to cash in on the nostalgia that many have for the Toy Story franchise. However, they needn’t have worried, because this is a film befitting of the world’s greatest superhero and the world’s greatest toy.

 While it is nothing you haven’t seen before in terms of a space adventure, excellent voice work, and a compelling story ensure that this is a fun interstellar adventure worth going to infinity and beyond for.

 

 

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.