Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Widows (2018)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox, Film4 Productions and Regency

Widows  – Film Review

Cast:  Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall, Jon Bernthal, Liam Neeson

Director: Steve McQueen

Synopsis: After a bank heist goes horribly wrong leading to the deaths of all the crew, their widows step up to finish what their husbands started…

Review: When as a director, you make one of the most heart-wrenching but extremely impactful pieces of cinema to come out in this decade. A film that landed you the Best Picture Oscar no less, how do you follow that up? For Steve McQueen, following on from his success with the aforementioned 12 Years A Slave, the answer is simple. You team up with another recent Oscar winner and make another exhilarating, heart-pounding piece of cinema. Namely a heist film quite unlike anything the genre has concocted before.

After a team of criminals are caught up in a heist that gets all of them killed, their widows are left in a very desperate situation. Veronica Rawlings (Davis) is the widow of the leader of the crew, Harry (Neeson). Not long after her husband’s death, she receives a rather uncomfortable visit from crime boss Jamal Manning, (Brian Tyree Henry) the target of the botched heist. Demanding repayment of the stolen money, and given a rather tight window in order to do so, Veronica has the plans for what would have been her husband’s next job. Needing her own crew to pull it off, recruits the other widows who also lost their husbands in the same heist, for a new mission to score the money that their husbands stole. Conceptually, though this may sound like your average heist film, in execution, it is a very different beast.

The screenplay, co-written by McQueen and Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn adds deep political subtext to this story that really gives the film a unique feel to it. Furthermore with such powerful women at the centre of this gripping story, in the era of the Me Too movement, it feels all the more powerful and relevant in modern times.  What McQueen and Flynn’s script does so excellently is give each woman involved in this daring heist a significant amount of development. Though they come from different backgrounds, each woman absolutely stands on her own two feet and all give excellent performances.

Leading the pack and fresh from her Oscar success, Viola Davis is once again superb in the role of Veronica. She is a woman who has been to hell and back again, both with events in her past and in the immediate aftermath of her husband’s demise. Yet her fiery spirit keeps her going through this turbulent time. Likewise for Alice (Debicki) and (Rodriguez), both of whom are also dealt with a torrid set of consequences in the wake of the heist that robbed them of their spouses. But with the resolute Veronica at the helm, there is no time to mope, they have some work to do.

Though the women have the spotlight absolutely deservedly on them, Daniel Kaluyya’s portrayal of Jamal’s brother, Jatamme is magnificent and absolutely terrifying in equal measure. A VERY different kind of role especially in comparison to his Oscar nominated performance in Get Out, but with every moment he has on screen, his cold demeanour and brutality is enough to send shivers down the spines of the audience. This is a man whose path you do not want to cross under any circumstances.

With the theme of powerful women front and centre, McQueen also brilliantly weaves political drama into the story. There is one moment in particular that really stands out in terms of how the scene is filmed. And by doing it this way, it really sends a startling message about modern day America and in particular modern American politics. It is another film released this year that feels very timely in terms of its themes, whilst also being not afraid to pull any punches, or to let the bullets fly.

A heist/thriller with a lot to say for itself, boosted an impeccable stellar ensemble cast and bold direction, another exhilarating addition to the filmography of Steve McQueen.

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Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Avatar (2009)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox, Lightstorm Entertainment, Dune Entertainment and Ingenious Film Partners

Avatar Film Review

Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribsi, Joel David Moore, C. C. H. Pounder, Laz Alonso

Director: James Cameron

Synopsis: A paraplegic former marine is recruited as part of a mission on the alien world of Pandora, to drive a hybrid body known as an Avatar, and soon finds himself with conflicting thoughts as to where his loyalty truly lies.

Review: If ever you were to talk about certain directors and their passion projects, then for the mastermind behind Aliens and the first two exceptional Terminator films, James Cameron, Avatar is most certainly his passion project. Back in 1994, the director wrote an 80 page vision for the film, yet his vision could not be realised due to the limited technology that was available to him at the time. As such, the project was put on the back burner, but years later after going through much effort to create a rich and immersive world, and finally that vision was truly realised, and it certainly was worth it.

The world of Pandora is immediately visually absolutely stunning and breath taking to look at, it looks and feels as though Pandora could be a place somewhere out there in the universe. The terrain and the wildlife are all so rich in detail, it is incredible to watch, and the indigenous people of Pandora, the Na’vi are also equally beautifully realised, again they feel as though they could be a species that actually inhabits a planet somewhere out there in the reaches of the universe. Cameron went to great effort to create their language and his endeavour absolutely pays off. It is so authentic and so beautiful, if it was a real place, admit it, you would want to go there. The visual effects are truly magnificent and the film absolutely deservedly bagged an Oscar for its astounding visual effects, it was a game changer when released back in 2009 and remains the absolute pinnacle of what a film can achieve in terms of visual effects.

Of course, a film with pretty visuals looks great but, being all style and no substance wouldn’t be any good to anybody. Fortunately, that isn’t the case as the screenplay, penned by Cameron does have substance to it. At the heart of the story is Jake Sully (Worthington) who after a death in the family is recruited to the Avatar programme, an arm of the human operation on Pandora which is seeking possession of an extremely rare mineral. With use of said avatars, Jake becomes a part of the Na’vi clan and soon falls head over heels for the fierce and strong willed Neytiri (Saldana). Yet the love story is only one facet of the story, with many themes running through it, some of them could be perceived as being very political, but it drives home the message in an emphatic manner, carrying plenty of emotion and suspense with it, and James Horner’s score, is equally brilliant.

As a leading man, Worthington is functional, but he could have been a lot more compelling and less monotone would have been helpful. Saldana though shines as Neytiri, she’s very well developed and a very capable warrior who certainly can hold her own against anyone. The chemistry between the two leads is for the most part, solid, but it is a bit iffy in other parts. Signourney Weaver is also excellent as Grace Augstine, the head honcho of the Avatar programme. The humans here though are the main baddies with Parker Selfridge (Ribsi) and Miles Quaritch (Lang) the principal antagonists, with Lang being the standout as a gruff colonel who won’t take any bullshit from anybody. Cameron is one masterful director and here he helms the action to an impeccable quality. It is a rare feat to make the audience want to see members of its own species fail, but everyone watching should definitely be on Team Na’vi when the shit starts to go down.

Avatar certainly was responsible for the resurgence in 3D, and that certainly helped boost its numbers at the box office, as it smashed records here, there and everywhere taking just seventeen days to make one billion dollars, before eventually ending up with a total of nearly THREE billion, or 2.788 billion to be exact, to earn the title of the highest grossing film of all time, a title it has retained to this day, and it will take an almighty force (Star Wars?) to take that title away. Or maybe given Cameron is planning on return to Pandora at some point down the line, that title will remain with this franchise, whenever that sequel will eventually arrive in cinemas.  One thing is for sure though, is when that sequel does arrive, there will be no shortage of people out there, keen to make a return to the vast and incredible world of Pandora.

An absolute visual masterpiece, rich with gorgeous and vivid detail, with some great characters and a for the most part compelling story with some powerful themes, Avatar remains a wonderful, breath-taking cinematic achievement.

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