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.

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

Baby Driver (2017)

Image is property of Tristar Pictures, Working Title Films and Big Talk Productions

Baby Driver – Film Review

Cast: Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Jon Bernthal, Eiza González

Director: Edgar Wright

Synopsis: Whilst working for a ruthless crime boss, a young get away driver becomes one of the best in the business. When he meets a woman, he sees a chance to make his escape, but not before one last job…

Review: Whenever there’s a film that is released in the middle of the crowded summer movie season, that boasts a wholly original and extremely intriguing premise, that is always something to savour. Furthermore when you find out that said original film is from the man who gave the world the glorious Cornetto trilogy, that immediately is something to look forward to.

This is a project that Edgar Wright had in the works for well over two decades now. Yet it was only until after a messy exit from Marvel’s Ant-Man which he had been scheduled to direct, he turned his attentions back to his passion project, and hit the accelerator. Focusing on Baby (Elgort) a supremely talented get away driver who plays music via an iPod to drown out the tinnitus he suffered following a childhood accident. He’s one of the best in the business and Doc, the crime boss running the operations (Spacey), knows it. However when Baby falls head over heels for a waitress named Debora (James) he sees his chance to make his escape from the lifestyle. Unfortunately, Doc has other ideas, and one last heist beckons.

Leading the way in an impeccably acted cast, Elgort is immediately very likeable in the lead role as Baby. You have sympathy for him and his circumstances, and he has the charisma to carry the film on his shoulders. Likewise for Lily James as Debra, the two of them build a relationship and the chemistry between them is excellent. As the head honcho crime boss, Spacey too bosses every second of screen time he has, with the usual authority he brings to his roles, yet he can also show his more compassionate side. Jamie Foxx, for a man named Bats feels somewhat appropriate as he’s the most batshit crazy one of the group. Completing the core gang is Jon Hamm’s Buddy and Eiza González’s Darling, neither of whom have a great amount of backstory and character development, but are effortlessly watchable.

The coolest get away driver in the world…

Wright’s screenplay does occasionally meander, there are moments where you feel like it could be something of a dead end, but everything is eventually steered back on course. The Cornetto trilogy demonstrated great humour throughout and there’s just the right amount of humour to be found here. With a premise that focuses on heists and getaways, it’s a given that there’s going to be some rather high octane action scenes, and that is most certainly the case. Wright steers these scenes superbly, the editing is slick and the action is so fast paced, there’s a very good chance that the audience is going to be on the edge of their seats throughout. Sure we have had heist movies in the past with a great get away driver, but Wright pulls it off in a manner that makes it feel fresh. Furthermore, the accompanying soundtrack, is one of, if not the best we have had so far in 2017.

The first two acts keep things for the most part at a steady pace, yet the third act is when things really move into the fast lane. It’s something to to savour, and could also lay claim to the best third act we have seen so far this year. It is breathless stuff that hits top speed in no time at all and barely slows down until the final credits. This might be a movie almost twenty years in the making, and to see it come to fruition in such spectacular style, is extremely satisfying, especially when it’s a movie that takes a very familiar concept, and makes it feel so unique and original, that has to be applauded.

Stylish, with slickly made action scenes that are pulsating to watch accompanied by a stellar soundtrack, fasten your seat-belts ladies and gentlemen, you’re in for one hell of a ride!

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Django Unchained (2012)

Image rights belong to Columbia Pictures and The Weinstein Company

Django Unchained – Film Review

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo Di Caprio, Kerry Washington and Samuel L Jackson

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Synopsis: A freed slave sets out on a mission to  rescue his wife from the clutches of a crooked slave owner, aided by a German dentist turned bounty hunter.

Review: In his latest work, director Quentin Tarantino again gives his audience another thrilling spectacle of blood and revenge. Like Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino sets his latest story in a historical context. With the former set in the World War II era, Django Unchained is set in the Deep South of the United States, with the slave trade and shortly before the outbreak of the Civil War.

All the film’s principal cast play their roles to perfection. Special mentions go out to Foxx and Waltz. Foxx delivers a powerful performance, as he goes from being a really timid and weak slave to a confident bounty hunter under the guidance of his German partner. Another stellar performance also comes from Waltz in his second film with Tarantino, the first being Inglorious Basterds. His performance here, like in Basterds, was one in the Austrian excelled and landed him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for the second time, a rare achievement in Hollywood. Waltz and Foxx have great chemistry on screen and as the film develops, their partnership only gets stronger. Leonardo DiCaprio also excels in his role as Calvin Candie, the cruel and brutal owner of the plantation on which Django’s wife is held in captivity. Similarly, Samuel L Jackson, plays Candie’s fiercely loyal house slave, Stephen, and again, the performance by Jackson was incredible.

While Candie, initially appears to be the film’s main villain, it could be said that it is Stephen who plays the main antagonist. His relationship, or lack of it with Django is almost instantaneously hostile and only worsens as the plot develops. Meanwhile, the camaraderie between Stephen and Candie is fascinating to watch as Stephen is forever lurking over his master’s shoulder like a predator that is lurking, waiting for the right moment to pounce on its prey. The dialogue between the main characters is outstanding.

In true Tarantino style, the film has some very violent moments, some of which may cause the viewer to wince in horror. Yet, at other times, the violence is at times somewhat over the top, or excessive. Yet the violence is Tarantino’s signature piece and he delivers in emphatic style with some great action sequences. Nevertheless, the films offers moments that will keep you glued to your seat, or maybe hiding behind the couch in fear. However, the film offers comedy value and it has its comedic moments that will get the audience laughing. The length of the film may put some people off, as Tarantino films have had tendencies to drag on for a little bit too long. However, with Django Unchained, every minute counts and is important to the plot.

Another top drawer aspect of this film, as with many Tarantino films, is the soundtrack. With the likes of John Legend, Jerry Goldsmith, 2pac and Luis Bacalov, the soundtrack delivers the tone of each scene perfectly and hats off to Mr Tarantino for that. However, along with some criticism over the violence, the constant use of the N word in this film is another aspect has attracted a lot of disapproval from some viewers. In spite of this, Django Unchained is a terrific film and in my opinion, is Tarantino’s best yet. The character development, particularly Django’s is just superb. Similarly, the acting is fantastic all round with some terrific action sequences and a superb soundtrack. Waltz deserved his second Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Tarantino deserved his second Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Without doubt, it is a film that breaks boundaries, and goes places where some directors would not dream to go. It is controversial of course, but controversy and Quentin Tarantino practically go hand in hand. The film delivers on all fronts and it is a must see.

With top notch performances, excellent directing, a funny and sharp script, with over the top violence, this is Tarantino at his very best. 

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