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

Creed II (2018)

Image is property of MGM and Warner Bros

Creed II – Film Review

Cast:  Michael B Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Wood Harris, Phylicia Rashad, Dolph Lundgren, Florian Munteanu

Director: Steven Caple Jr

Synopsis: With the World Heavyweight Championship title now under his belt, Adonis Creed faces a new threat to his title, in the form of Viktor Drago, the son of Ivan, the man who killed his father Apollo…

Review: Every so often, a film comes almost completely out of nowhere, with little fanfare and just absolutely blows audiences away. An example of this would be 2015’s Creed, the seventh entry in the Rocky franchise. It reinvigorated a series that hadn’t had an entry for almost a decade. As such many might have assumed that it had fought its last fight and was out for the count, this is until one Ryan Coogler came along, and a new champion of the franchise was born.

That champion is Adonis Creed, who has in the wake of his bout with Ricky Conlan, has gone on to enjoy a tremendous run of success that leads him to the World Heavyweight Championship title. However trouble is brewing as Viktor Drago the son of Ivan Drago, is emerging as a very credible threat to his newly won title. Complications further arise when after Adonis proposes to Bianca (Thompson), she becomes pregnant with their first child, leaving Adonis with a dilemma as to whether he should take this challenge on, given what happened the last time a Creed faced off against a Drago. To say there’s history and bad blood between the Creeds and the Dragos would be putting it mildly.

One significant factor that made the first film such the knockout success it was, was the trio of terrific performances from its three leads and the chemistry that they had with each other. Michael B Jordan is once again terrific in the lead role, with excellent support from the great Sly Stallone once more. Likewise for Tessa Thompson, although she is an integral figure in Adonis’s life, as they are both about to go on the most personal of journeys together. There is considerably less development on her own life and career when compared to the first film.  Though this is understandable considering the challenge Creed is facing from Viktor Drago, who is desperate to prove himself to his father, and as a fighter. There is an attempt to develop his character, but it falls short of making him a truly compelling character. He is built like a tank though, and that doesn’t bode well for Adonis.

Due to his involvement with some rather obscure Marvel property called Black Panther, Coogler stepped down from directing duties. Now merely on board as executive producer, with those gloves were passed to Steven Caple Jr. Though not as visually as impressive as the work that was accomplished with the first film (there’s no masterful one take fight scene), Caple fills his shoes admirably well, as the fight scenes are once again very raw and rough in their execution. The camerawork really makes you feel those punches as they fly in, though some more footage of the fights would have been most welcome as some fights are montage-d through rather quickly.

This being the eight film in this franchise, it does follow similar paths that previous films in the franchise have, which may lead to criticism from some quarters. However, if you walk into a Rocky/Creed film, or indeed almost any boxing film, the chances of seeing a good training montage, some well executed fight scenes, mixed in with some deeply moving and personal family drama, are quite high. What matters is if the film is done with care and continues the story in a compelling manner that was brought to life so effectively with Creed, which this film does like a champ.

Though not as impactful as its predecessor, this second round of a revitalised franchise continues to bring that heart and emotion, boosted by three superb performances from its three leads, and some well executed fight scenes. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Black Panther (2018)

Image is property of Marvel Studios

Black Panther – Film Review

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Lupita Nyongo’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis

Director: Ryan Coogler

Synopsis: In the wake of his father’s death, T’Challa returns to his homeland of Wakanda, to be crowned King. Yet as he seeks to continue the Black Panther legacy, challenges to his rule begin to emerge…

Review: For all the might and marvel that the MCU has built and delivered to audiences all around the world, there was always something missing from this vast and enthralling universe. No, not a female led superhero film (though that is on its way), but a film that taps into a vast culture that up until now hadn’t really been explored. A culture that encompasses the beautiful continent of Africa, and all the beauty it has to offer. Indeed, little Easter Eggs were placed in earlier films but now at long last, it takes centre stage.

Following on from the events of Civil War, T’Challa returns to his home of Wakanda, a technologically advanced nation in Africa that has chosen to shield itself and its absolutely awesome technology away from the world. However, trouble is brewing for T’Challa as events from the past are threatening to reap terrible consequences on Wakanda and its people. All the while, T’Challa must balance his duties as the King of his country, whilst also being the iconic Black Panther, being a King is sometimes not the great thing it is so often cracked up to be.

After reinvigorating the Rocky franchise so succesfully with Creed, Ryan Coogler takes on what his comfortably his largest project to date. Yet much like Taika Waititi before him, he brings his own sense of style to the story and indeed to the wider Marvel Universe. The work that is done to establish this world of Wakanda is so breath-taking and done in such a vivid manner, it feels like it almost could be a place on this planet, which regrettably it is not. Of course it being an MCU film certain things are almost guaranteed to be present, such as the humour. While a few jokes can be hit or miss, for the most part, the humour adds to the scenes but never compromises the experience of what is ultimately a very personal story about a man, his duty to his country, and to his family, and what that means to his country.

Ready to pounce…

Speaking of which, Boseman continues his excellent work as both the man and the hero, but special mention must go Letitia Wright as the King’s technological whizkid of a sister, Shuri. She has all the technological toys that she and her brother get to utilise, and their chemistry is excellent. Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o is also on excellent form as the tough warrior Nakia, as is Danai Gurira as the head of the Dora Milaje, a fearsome squad of badass female warriors serving Wakanda. This cast packs plenty of stars and nearly all of them really get their moment in the spotlight. Coogler’s muse though seems to be Michael B Jordan, and as Erik Killmonger, he comes across as a strong villain who’s well fleshed out, and you fully understand his motivations.

Re-teaming with his cinematographer from Fruitvale Station, and recent first time Oscar nominee for cinematography  Rachel Morrison, the film is beautifully shot with stunning shots of the Wakanda landscape. There are more than a few insanely good action sequences to relish but the film is not reliant on these to tell the story and let the audience have fun. The deeply personal story that Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole craft is what makes this story so invigorating. It has central themes that will hit home with any and all who watch it. It’s extremely relevant and important film-making in this respect, and for Marvel to continue to break new barriers, after an incredible 18 films into their Universe, is an important and remarkable achievement.

 A gripping personal story, packed with vibrant colours and costumes, terrific characters and a fascinating look into a breath-taking civilisation, it’s another landmark achievement for the MCU. Wakanda forever!

 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Creed (2015)

creed
Image is property of New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures

Creed – Film Review

Cast: Michael B Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Tony Bellew

Director: Ryan Coogler

Synopsis: Adonis Creed is the son of the legendary boxer Apollo Creed, and when he realises he wants to emulate his father and become a professional boxer, he seeks out his father’s old rival, the one and only Rocky Balboa, to train him.

Review: You would think when a film series gets to its seventh instalment, that it’s possibly running out of ideas and that it may be time to put the series to bed. Yet certain franchises keep roaring on with some making over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office. While not quite making those mega bucks the likes of Star Wars and Fast and Furious has been making, the Rocky franchise has come out fighting with a remarkable revival and has reinvigorated the it when many thought it was on the ropes and down for the count for good.

The main focus of this new chapter is on that of Adonis “Donnie” Creed, played by Michael B Jordan who despite being in a decent well paid job, strives for something different, namely to become a legendary fighter and to emulate the great achievements of his father. With six chapters coming before it, the production team behind the film had a choice, do you go with the established formula that the previous films set out, or try to reinvent the wheel and start fresh. Thankfully, the decision was evidently made to go with the former and tread familiar ground by using most of the notes from mainly the very first film in the franchise, and it does this in glorious fashion, providing a brand new Rocky for a brand new generation.

With the abysmal critical and commercial failure that is Fant4stic unfortunately attached to his CV, Michael B Jordan really shows us what he’s all about as the titular character. He’s driven and determined, but at the same time, feels weighed down and somewhat insecure by the name that he possess and also the legacy of his father. His breakthrough role came with 2012’s Fruitvale Station (which Coogler also directed) and with this, he truly cements himself as one of the finest young actors working today. It is his movie, and he owns it, and was mighty unlucky not to land himself an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

Stallone as Balboa, in arguably the role that also made his name in Hollywood, is equally tremendous and gives quite possibly the finest performance ever in his long and illustrious career. The sheer enthusiasm of the young Creed gives him a new breath of life, after watching all those he loved slowly fritter away, and when Creed is offered a massive opportunity, it spurs Rocky on even more to see the young fighter succeed. Stallone has been getting nominations and awards aplenty, and a well deserved Oscar nomination too.

Coogler’s passion for the franchise is very apparent, and through his expert direction and the striking cinematography, the fight scenes are tremendously well handled. They’re extremely gripping to watch as you will Donny to succeed in his fight against some extremely obnoxious opponents. As the audience, you want him to succeed in his quest to become as good as his father was.

A perfect example of the underdog story, using the benchmark that was laid down by the first movie, and done right is just about every way possible. This re-imagining of the 1976 classic ensures that franchise is once again pulling punches aplenty, and will probably have a lot more fights in it in the years to come.

Uplifting, powerful and gripping, producing arguably career best performances from both Jordan and Stallone, Coogler has maybe given the franchise its best movie yet.

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