Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Belle (2022)

© Studio Chizu and Toho

Belle  – Film Review

Cast: Kaho Nakamura, Ryō Narita, Shōta Sometani, Tina Tamashiro, Lilas Ikuta, Kōji Yakusho, Takeru Satoh

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Synopsis: When a shy teenage high school student discovers the online world of “U”, she disappears under her online persona of talented singer Bell, where she soon becomes a viral sensation…

Review: Life in the 21st-century has very much become a society where the internet and social media has become entrenched in just about every aspect of modern life. Having a presence on social media is of paramount importance, especially for younger generations. Social media can be a wonderful place, giving any individual the chance to connect with like-minded individuals and to offer an escape from the madness of the real world. While this vast digital platform does offer plentiful opportunities, it is not without its perils. For his latest film, Mamoru Hosada has crafted an exquisite piece of storytelling that examines this digital universe, whilst also providing a modern update for the tale as old as time.

Suzu is a high school student living in a rural village with her father. She has a passion for singing, but ever since an extremely traumatic incident when she was a child, she has struggled to rediscover that passion that she once had for singing and song-writing. Despite his best efforts, Suzu’s father is unable to connect with her, and their relationship has become extremely distant. When she discovers the vast virtual world of “U”, it’s a place that enables Suzu to disappear into a brand new digital world. In this world, she is able to rediscover her voice and adopts the online persona of Belle, where she quickly becomes a viral sensation with her incredible singing talent, attracting the attention of the entire population of “U”. Whilst enjoying the adulation and the spotlight, Belle discovers the mystery of another avatar, known only as The Dragon. She becomes intrigued and strives to know more about him.

The vast digital world that we have at our fingertips today is an incredible one that offers anyone a plethora of opportunities to follow and meet like-minded people and to express themselves creatively. This can be a positive outlet for people, which can help boost their creative sparks. However, it can also be an exceedingly dangerous place where people can be subjected to unspeakable cruelty and callousness. Hosoda’s screenplay is hugely ambitious in this respect, as it attempts to take a thorough exploration of both the positives and negatives when it comes to this vast digital platform. Marvelling at the power that such a digital world can do for a person’s morale, whilst simultaneously highlighting the dangers and dark sides that come with internet fame and popularity, such as trolls and cyberbullying.

However, this is merely scratching the surface of the story that Hosoda has penned. It is also a profound examination of the effect that bereavement can have on a child. Not only that, but it explores the adverse effect that this can have when it comes to a child’s creative outlets and how they want to express themselves. As if that wasn’t ambitious enough, the reinvention of the classic fairy-tale of Beauty and The Beast for a 21st-century audience, adds another fascinating layer to the story. In this world of “U”, Belle strives to understand who this beastly character is. Is he really is the terrible, and evil monster that the world of U portrays him as? Or could it be that he’s just misunderstood? With such an ambitious screenplay that has numerous different concurrent plot threads being weaved together, the film could have got convoluted very quickly. However, Hosada’s expertise shines through, and his screenplay weaves them all together in a thoroughly profound and emotionally resonant manner.

When it comes to modern animation, the technology that animators have at their disposal is so advanced that audiences have come to expect the best quality animation every time. Yet such effort takes a lot of work, and even with that weight of expectation, the work that the animation team accomplishes to make the world of “U” feels like a fully realised place is absolutely astounding. Using a perfect combination of more traditional hand-drawn animation, with CG animation, the work done by every animator is absolutely astounding. On top of which, the character designs for each of the avatars in “U” is absolutely extraordinary. From Belle’s long pink hair, to her freckles, to the extraordinary detail on the Dragon. Every character in this world feels less like they are an online persona, and more like a real person. If at the mere touch of a button, there was such a vast digital world that offers a wealth of opportunities for individuals to reinvent themselves, it’s surely an opportunity that anyone would surely seize with both hands.

 An emotional and profound examination of the wonders and perils of the digital age, intertwined with a beautiful reimagining of a classic fairy-tale. Mamoru Hosoda has crafted a stunning and heart-wrenching masterpiece.

a 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Don’t Look Up (2021)

© Netflix

Don’t Look Up  – Film Review

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Scott Mescudi

Director: Adam McKay

Synopsis: When two astronomers discover a deadly comet is directly on a collision course with Earth, they try to sound the alarm to the rest of the world…

Review: It’s one of the most pressing matters that humanity in the 21st century is having to contend with: the future of the planet that we call home.  It’s an issue that has attracted the attention of the world’s media and has prompted figures from all corners of the globe to take a stand and urge those in positions of power to act before it is too late. Yet, in recent years, we have seen some world leaders fail to recognise what is truly at stake for the future of our planet. Having turned his eye on the 2008 Economic crash and the rise and fall of US Vice President Dick Cheney, Adam McKay has now turned his attention to this impending threat facing humanity, the responses of those who wield the power to do something about it, and how various aspects of modern life cover this pressing issue our planet is facing. And he does so, in the smuggest and most pompous manner possible.

Astronomers Dr Randall Mindy (DiCaprio) and Dr Kate Dibiasky (Lawrence) make an alarming discovery: a giant comet is set to collide with Earth in around six months time. When it collides, it will cause catastrophic destruction on a global scale. Heading straight to Washington D.C. to inform the President (Streep) of their discovery, they are astounded when the White House doesn’t choose to take immediate action to stop the apocalyptic threat. Left with little option, they resort to other methods in order to inform the rest of the planet, in the hope that their warnings of impending doom will somehow prompt those in charge to take action to avert humanity’s destruction.

It is hard to ignore the fact that the idea for this film feels borne out of a particular world leader and his indifference towards the major issue of the environment, and the challenges that the human race faces over this important topic. This feels only exacerbated by the ongoing situation with the COVID-19 pandemic and the catastrophic failure by the US Government at the time, to deal with this crisis in a swift and efficient manner. These categorical failures of leadership seem to be McKay’s motivations for writing and directing his latest satirical attack on the current state of US politics, as well as numerous aspects of 21st-century life in general. Yet, there is absolutely no subtlety about who and what McKay is targeting. It comes across like he’s trying to say to the audience how funny or witty his satire is. When in reality, it comes across as extremely patronising. There’s an important lesson to be taken from the need to focus on the environment. However, as with both his previous films that were very much from a satirical perspective, there’s something that’s unbearably smug and arrogant about the manner in which he seeks to deliver this message.

Because of the gravity of the topic that’s being “satirised”, there was an opportunity to provide some thought-provoking, social satire that is nuanced and subtle in what it tried to convey, In reality, McKay’s screenplay, much like his previous films, is about as subtle as taking a sledgehammer to someone’s kneecaps. The satirical writing, or lack thereof, opts to beat the audience over the head with its themes so obnoxiously that it begins to actively make you angry that you don’t really care what he or the characters are trying to say, which is not good when there’s an important lesson for humanity to take away from the events being depicted. There’s no denying that McKay has assembled some of the biggest names in Hollywood for this cast, with lots of beloved actors. Yet, McKay’s dialogue is so overbearingly smug and obnoxious that you openly despise each and every single one of the characters, which makes the run time of the film feel two or three times as long.

The best of a bad bunch is easily Leonardo Di Caprio’s Dr Mindy, he tries his best but when he’s given such horrific material to work with, he can only do so much. Meryl Streep does a decent enough job at portraying a President who couldn’t give two shits about the public they’re meant to represent. However, it’s so painfully obvious who she, and her son (Hill) are meant to be a parody of, their characters might as well have been named Trump. Such a serious and important topic deserved a film worthy of this talented cast, and a director who did not take an infuriatingly offensive approach to the topic. You may well almost want the world to come to an end by the time this apocalyptic misfire of a film reaches the credits.

 What credit the film warrants for taking on such an important topic is immediately negated by its extremely condescending approach in how it chooses to approach the topic at hand. As a result, the whole film feels utterly pointless as a satire. 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Moonfall (2022)

© Lionsgate

Moonfall  – Film Review

Cast: Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, John Bradley, Michael Pena, Charlie Plummer, Kelly Yu, Donald Sutherland

Director: Roland Emmerich

Synopsis: When the moon is mysteriously knocked from its orbit, it threatens to cause a global catastrophe that would endanger all life on Earth…

Review: There’s something that’s oddly fascinating about the concept of a disaster movie. It’s something we hope we never actually have to live through, but when done well, it can be oddly entertaining to watch entire cities get obliterated as nature takes its revenge on us. There’s perhaps no one more synonymous with this genre than Roland Emmerich. One look at his filmography and it’s clear that he’s a director with a penchant for global destruction. So, you’d have thought that combining the concept of Earth’s only natural satellite falling out of the sky and destroying our planet, with a director whose modus operandi is worldwide global destruction would surely be a match made in disaster movie heaven? Well, no, not really.

Several years ago, astronaut Brian Harper (Wilson) was working on a routine mission with fellow astronaut Jocinda Fowler (Berry). However, the mission ends in tragedy and consequently, Harper’s reputation as a renowned astronaut is destroyed. When conspiracy theorist KC Houseman (Bradley), uncovers evidence that the moon has been knocked from its orbit, he tries to warn NASA of the impending doom, but is immediately dismissed. However, as catastrophic events start occurring across the globe, Fowler is left with little choice but to recruit Harper and Houseman for a last gasp mission to save Planet Earth before the impending moon fall destroys the planet.

To give credit where credit is due, the concept of the Moon falling off course and colliding with the planet is an extremely eccentric idea. It would certainly have been interesting to have been a fly on the wall when the concept was first pitched. The originality of the premise offers the opportunity to provide some visually eye-catching sequences, which the film does deliver. However, this is about the extent to which the film offers something that’s truly unique as the scenes of global destruction, such as massive tidal waves obliterating everything in their path, are things that we’ve seen disaster movies do countless times before. Such an idiosyncratic concept provided Emmerich with an opportunity to give audiences something as iconic as seeing the White House get blown to smithereens by an alien ship, but it failed to seize that opportunity.

Given such an absurdly bonkers premise, it would seem counterintuitive of the script to try and use science and logic to try and explain why these mysterious events are occurring. However, for some inexplicable reason, this is exactly what the film attempts. Logic and science should have been flung out of the window immediately, as these attempts to explain these events just do not serve the story in any shape or form. For the simple reason that no matter which way you slice it, the plot does not make an iota of sense at all. What should be a fun adventure of seeing a team of astronauts attempt to prevent total global destruction, becomes an unintentional comedy. This becomes all the more apparent, especially when the bigger picture of the reason why the Moon is falling comes into view.

When a script is this ridiculous, it does not make a difference as to who you cast, because every single character here is as paper-thin as they come.  Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson to their credit, do try their hardest, but to no avail. The character development, if you can really call it that, is non-existent. They’re also not helped by the fact that they’re given some of the cheesiest dialogue that you’re ever likely to hear. The primary focus should be the mission to investigate why the Moon is falling out of orbit and the ludicrously improbable mission to reverse it before it’s too late. However, the film also wastes an enormous amount of time focusing on bland and forgettable side characters that are nowhere near as interesting or compelling as the main crew. This should have been perfectly entertaining, leave-your-brain-at-home disaster movie entertainment. Which, in many ways, it is, but probably not in the way Emmerich intended it to be. Instead of laughing with it, you’re uproariously laughing at it.

In the hands of the master of disaster, this absurd concept should have been an absolute blast of lunar-themed destruction. However, it ultimately ends up being too ridiculous for its own good. 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Dune (2021)

© Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures

Dune  – Film Review

Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, David Dastmalchian, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Synopsis: On the harsh desert world of Arrakis, the Atreides family are entrusted with the stewardship of the planet that is home to the most valuable resource in the world….

Review: When it comes to science fiction and fantasy storytelling, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are two of the pinnacles of the genre, and have inspired generations of filmmakers and audiences. Yet, there is another body of work that is hugely influential to the genre. A story that featured a vast array of planets and civilisations, hailed by many as the greatest science fiction novel of all time. Now, in the hands of one of the finest directors working today, a new adaptation of Dune is here, and ready to win over a brand-new generation of fans.

In the far future, the most valuable resource is the spice Melange, harvested on the planet of Arrakis. For years, the planet and its people, the Fremen, have been under the brutal rule of the Harkonnens, who have ruled with an iron fist of fear. Now, it has been decreed that the planet, and the monumental task of mining the spice, will fall to the House Atreides, led by Duke Leto (Isaac). By his side, will be his son Paul (Chalamet) and Paul’s mother, the Lady Jessica (Ferguson), who belongs to a mystical order of powerful women known as the Bene Gesserit. There’s a lot of pressure on Paul’s shoulders, as the Bene Gesserit believe Paul could one day turn out to be the Chosen One.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that Frank Herbert’s novel has been adapted for the big screen. However, for reasons that are far too numerous to list here, David Lynch promptly disowned his 1984 adaptation upon release. Villeneuve has cited Dune as one of his favourite novels growing up, and from the very first minute, it is clear why he was the perfect director to helm this new adaptation. A glance at Villeneuve’s body of work has demonstrated his outstanding skill to bring jaw-dropping visuals to any story he directs, often in part due to astounding cinematography. While there’s no Roger Deakins behind the camera here, Greig Fraser is an extremely capable replacement. The gorgeous visuals are expertly combined with the sheer scale of this universe, and it is nothing short of epic.

Due to the extremely dense nature of the source material, it is a necessity for Villeneuve and writers Eric Roth and Jon Spaihts, to take their time. There is a staggering amount of existing lore and mythology to establish, as well all the various planets and Houses that exist within this story. It would be easy for any newcomers to get lost in the enormity of the world-building. Hence, the screenplay bides its time, and gives the audience ample opportunity to take everything in. The use of the practical, real life sets for the film’s production design, such as the immense Jordanian desert amplifies the impressive nature of the construction of this universe. As Villeneuve memorably said in an interview last year, “They didn’t shoot Jaws in a swimming pool!” The use of practical sets adds so much richness to the film and ultimately it makes it unlike anything that we’ve seen in this type of big-budget blockbuster filmmaking in a very long time.

At the centre of all this is Chalamet’s Paul. He’s an actor who has carved himself a career in a plethora of Indie films over the years. The central role in a gargantuan behemoth that is Dune, is quite the step up. However, he makes that transition into a leading man seamlessly. Ferguson as the Lady Jessica is a fierce and strong-willed woman. However, there is a vulnerability that she brings to the role as she is fiercely protective of her son and the gifts that he possesses. This adds considerable depth and nuance to the relationship between Paul and Jessica. Oscar Isaac brings a lordly aura to that of Duke Leto. Yet, despite his very many duties as the leader of a great House, he still exhibits warmth, especially where Paul is concerned.

Meanwhile, the characters of Jason Momoa’s Duncan Idaho and Josh Brolin’s Gurney Halleck, core components of the inner circle of House Atreides, are the notable standouts. Opposing the Atreides, is the ruthless House Harkonnen. Right from the moment they are introduced, they are instantaneously the foreboding and ominous threat that any film with such a richly developed universe, incomparable in its scope and majesty, requires. Furthermore, Stellan Skarsgård as the villainous Baron, is an on-screen presence that you will not be forgetting in a hurry.

Reuniting with Villeneuve after collaborating on Blade Runner 2049, it feels like there aren’t enough superlatives to describe just how special this score by Hans Zimmer really is. The true power of a good film score is how a single note can transport you into that world, and this score by Zimmer will take you back to Arrakis in an instant. While the cast are all phenomenal in their roles, given the obvious influences of Arab culture into the source material, it is disappointing that there is a distinct lack of MENA cast members present. However, as this film only represents one half of Herbert’s novel, a second part would give Villeneuve the chance to rectify that missed opportunity.

To give audiences one half of this incredible story, only to not tell the second half would be extremely disappointing. Sweeping epics like this seldom come around very often. Hence, the spice must flow sufficiently enough to ensure that second part will come to fruition, and not be something that will be swirling in our dreams from the deep forever more.

It was said to be unfilmable. Yet with a superb cast, incredible world-building and a sweeping and enthralling narrative, Denis Villeneuve has accomplished something truly special, and we’re only halfway through the story.

a

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Tenet (2020)

Image is property of Warner Bros and Syncopy

Tenet – Film Review

Cast: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, Michael Caine, Aaron Taylor-Johnson,

Director: Christopher Nolan

Synopsis: A CIA Agent is recruited into a top secret program of international espionage on the trail of the possession of technology that can invert time…

Review: 2020 will certainly go down as one of the most unprecedented years in recent memory, as cinemas and many other businesses lay empty for many months. However, in those long months that the projectors were switched off and the screens remained dark, there was one film that was continuously being talked about as the film that would trigger a revival for the cinema industry. The new film, from a director who is a firm champion of the big screen, was being pitched as the film to goad audiences back to the cinema. While its taken its time to arrive, with a few shuffled release dates en route, in a world that will remain uncertain for the foreseeable future, one thing remains abundantly clear. Christopher Nolan hasn’t lost his ability to create a completely unique piece of cinema.

In a world of international espionage, the Protagonist (Washington), armed with only the use of a single word “Tenet”, must venture into this dangerous and complex world, with the goal of preventing a global catastrophe from occurring. While this sounds like your typical spy/espionage thriller, but in Nolan’s hands this is anything but. The key twist is that in this world, it’s one where cutting edge technology to invert objects through time has been invented, threatening the world with as one character says “something worse” than a nuclear Armageddon.

With Nolan’s previous filmography, he has shown a liking for dabbling with the concept of time and all of the mind-bending possibilities that these offer. Memento was his original head-scratching masterpiece, and amid further exploration of time with the ambitious Interstellar, and the ingenious inter-weaving of three inter-connected events of Dunkirk. Though with Tenet, this is perhaps is most ambitious exploration of time to date, if this was somehow even possible. Packing a lot into its running time, the plot keeps things moving at a fairly brisk pace. However, there are times when so much happening at once that the audience barely has time to stop for breath. Hence, keeping up with the film’s super complex time-bending narrative will almost certainly be a challenge.

Yet, for all the complexities that Nolan’s script throws at the audience, it is a challenge, but it is a rewarding one. The director’s previous films have certainly gone ambitious with many of its action set pieces, and Nolan does his best to outdo himself with a number of extremely ambitious, and well-directed set pieces that’s certainly going to get the pulses racing, and make the audiences’ brains go haywire. In terms of his cast, Nolan has once again delivered an exquisite collection of characters. Following his star turn in BlacKkKlansman, John David Washington delivers another excellent leading performance as the film’s Protagonist. Possessing his father’s charisma in abundance, he brings his own suave almost 007-esque charm to this leading role in a tentpole blockbuster, that will only further his reputation as a leading man. Alongside him, Robert Pattinson continues to forge his own exciting career path. Much like Washington’s Protagonist, he carries a likeable presence, whilst boasting charisma and charm to boot.

While the protagonists certainly carry likeable auras, Kenneth Branagh’s turn as the intimidating Russian oligarch who’s seeking the time-twisting technology, is anything but likeable. His performance is fittingly ominous and menacing, there’s a dark and scary history to this man, which is substantially explored in his abusive relationship with his wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki). On paper, This is a role that could have been extremely problematic, as it runs the risk of making her into a tired and cliched damsel-in-distress. However, with an actor of Debicki’s immense talent, she gives an excellent performance. There’s no shortage of substance to her character and she’s thankfully given enough material so that she has doesn’t fall into that damsel-in-distress cliche.

With long time collaborator Hans Zimmer unavailable, Ludwig Goransson steps in to fill that void, and he does so in spectacular style with a score that fits the fast paced nature of the film. Though impressive as it maybe, it can at times be almost too overpowering, making the dialogue difficult to understand in places. While its plot is undeniably complex, with a lot to digest, there’s no denying that Christopher Nolan remains one of the most unique and visionary directors working today. When the day comes that we’re all freely able to go back to the cinema without any risk, the work of these visionaries must be supported and championed. We’ll just need to make sure we don’t run into any time inverted traps along the way.

It wouldn’t be a Christopher Nolan film if it wasn’t mind-bendingly complex. Yet through it all, the visionary director has once again crafted something extremely unique and compelling. The film industry is certainly a much more interesting place with directors like Nolan in the business.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

The Invisible Man (2020)

Image is property of Universal and Blumhouse

The Invisible Man – Film Review

Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman, Oliver Jackson-Cohen

Director: Leigh Whannell 

Synopsis: After her abusive boyfriend commits suicide, Cecilia (Moss) finds herself being tormented by a mysterious presence that has her convinced that somehow, he’s still alive, and is out to torment her…

Review: Shared cinematic universes certainly became all the rage following the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it left many studios wanting to get their own shared universes off the ground. Universal’s plans for a Dark Universe certainly offered much potential, but as its first film tanked, down went the hopes of getting it truly off the ground. A reboot of the 1933 film The Invisible Man was among the projects lined up for the doomed universe. While those plans never come to fruition, thanks to a combined effort of Universal and Blumhouse has brought it to the big screen.

Cecilia is in a relationship with Adrian (Jackson-Cohen) which has ultimately deteriorated beyond repair due to his extensive abuse and she consequently becomes determined to leave him once and for all. When she learns that he’s committed suicide, Cecilia is initially elated that she’s finally free of him. However, her joy immediately turns to horror after finding herself being subjected to some inexplicable, and traumatic events. She soon becomes convinced that Adrian is not dead, and that somehow, he’s the one tormenting her as revenge for trying to leave him.  

As the woman at the centre of this nightmare, Elisabeth Moss gives a truly outstanding performance. The film is reliant on her ability to convey the true horror of this inexplicable nightmare that she finds herself in, and she rises to the occasion magnificently. In many instances in the film, she is acting against a presence that cannot be seen, but she is convinced that there’s something there. Even as everyone, even those really closest to her, think that she’s lost her mind, and is completely paranoid. She is unwavering in her belief that this imperceptible presence that is subjecting her to this torment is somehow, Adrian himself. While Moss is the unquestioned star of the show, each member of the supporting cast all deliver from Harriet Reid as Cecilia’s sister, to Aldis Hodge as her childhood friend James, and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid).

In the era of the Me Too movement, the decision to frame the titular character as a vicious, domestic abuser was a brave decision that could have backfired. However, thanks to Moss’s excellent performance and Whannell’s sharp screenplay and direction, it serves as an effective means of telling this suspenseful, and thoroughly gripping story that has a lot to say about relationships, and the consequences that can happen when they turn abusive. With every moment of the film’s two hour and five minute run time, the excellent camerawork helps to build up the tension masterfully. Even such numerous every day scenarios as making breakfast are utilised to build suspense and dread among the audience leaving them, fearful as to what fresh horror this unseen menace will unleash on Cecilia next. 

While at the time, Universal head honchos would have undoubtedly been immensely frustrated with the Dark Universe falling apart after just one film, it has ultimately proved to be a blessing in disguise. Instead of pouring all their efforts into crafting a pulsating action packed cinematic universe juggernaut that are a dime a dozen nowadays. It’s safe to assume that a decision was made to pull back and instead utilise their efforts to craft a story that’s doesn’t rely on well worn horror tropes. Furthermore, by grounding it in such timely subject matter, it serves as a sharp reminder of the stark consequences of domestic abuse, and how it can reap devastating consequences on the lives of those who suffer from domestic abuse.

Combining timely subject matter to a classic story, mixed in with excellent camerawork and a terrific, wounded lead performance all results in a perfect example of a reboot done just right.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Image is property of Lucasfilm and Disney

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Film Review

Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Domnhall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Keri Russell, Kelly Marie Tran, Billy Dee Williams

Director: J.J Abrams

Synopsis: The First Order, under the leadership of Kylo Ren, seeks to consolidate its power following the deaths of Luke Skywalker and Leader Snoke. Meanwhile Rey leads the rest of the Resistance in a bid to restore peace in the Galaxy…

This review will be 100% spoiler free

Review: For over four decades, ever since a little film called Star Wars was unleashed on the world, it became this massive pop culture phenomenon, with an immeasurable, ever-lasting impact on the world of entertainment. Several times over the last few decades, we have seen this franchise take its supposed final bow. First came 1983, then in 2005, closing out the prequel trilogy after two lacklustre preceding films. Following Disney’s overtaking of the franchise, a new trilogy came into being. Four years since this trilogy blasted its way into existence, the time has come for it, and The Skywalker Saga, to take its proper final bow, in rather disappointing fashion.

Having lost instrumental figures following the events of The Last Jedi, both The Resistance and the First Order are seeking to take advantage of the power vacuum in the Galaxy and vanquish the other side once and for all. This galactic power struggle is thrown into further chaos when a mysterious entity, of a terrible foe long since thought to be dead, is threatening to unleash a new terror upon the Galaxy to ensure that the Dark Side will triumph once and for all.

It is not exactly news to anyone who has followed this franchise over the years that after The Force Awkakens chose to play things safe for the reintroduction to this franchise, The Last Jedi made some bold choices in a bid to try and take the franchise forward. In so doing, it caused an enormous divide among fans upon its release. Therefore having retaken the reins from Johnson, the onus was on JJ Abrams to steer this ship home, but it definitely hasn’t come home in one piece. The screenplay from Abrams and Chris Terrio feels very haphazardly put together, giving the impression that a slew of ideas were thrown at the wall and  meshed together, which produced decidedly mixed results. Having managed to craft a pretty airtight script for The Force Awakens, it’s extremely perplexing how the script this time around is full of what feels like unnecessary side quests, consequently feeling rather unfocused.

What’s worse is that some of the dialogue borders on prequel level of how cringe-inducing it is. To add further insult to injury, the directions that some of the characters go in are just completely baffling, and in some cases, are borderline insulting. In the wake of the backlash that was directed at TLJ, all the promising potential that TLJ offered is firmly discarded. All the intriguing plot points put forward are retconned in favour of a script that just for want of a better word, was nothing more than pandering to try and get the fans back onside following The Last Jedi. Favouring appeasement of the fans over bold and creative storytelling feels like an enormous cop-out, and could set a worrying precedent.

This isn’t to say that the whole thing is a complete waste of time, as Abrams brings his usual visual panache to the direction and the lightsabre battles that are present are exhilarating to watch, and for all of the story’s faults, there was potential there. Yet, for all that technical marvel, nothing shown here remotely represents an improvement on what came before it, and everything feels completely inconsequential. Therefore credit where credit’s due as all of the principal cast do excellent jobs reprising their roles, in spite of the less than stellar material they were given to work with, all. The leading lights are once again, Daisy Ridley’s Rey and Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren who by far and away are giving the best performances in the film.

It’s fantastic to see Billy Dee Williams reprise his role as Lando Calrissian but he is frustratingly given sparse to do, and same goes for the rest of the new crop of supporting characters, none of whom are remotely memorable in the slightest, apart from Richard E Grant’s brilliant turn as a First Order officer. Completing the arc of General Leia cannot have been easy considering Carrie Fisher’s tragic passing. However, through the use of archived footage, which surprisingly fits into the story fairly seamlessly, credit can be taken for giving this beloved character a satisfying concluding arc, one that is not a slap in the face to the fans.

No matter what you feel about the preceding two films in in this franchise, they represented the opportunity for the franchise to go in some bold new directions. Thus, to see that all ultimately get thrown away in favour of the direction they did go in is extremely disappointing. For a franchise that has meant so much to so many people throughout the decades, everything was in place for Abrams to wrap up this trilogy in triumphant fashion, but unfortunately, stick the landing, it does not.

While offering some exciting moments, the Skywalker saga ultimately wraps up with what is, comfortably, the weakest film in the trilogy. A disappointment not felt in the galaxy since the days of the Prequel trilogy.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Ad Astra (2019)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox, Regency Enterprises and Plan B

Ad Astra – Film Review

Cast: Brad Pitt, Liv Tyler, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Donald Sutherland

Director: James Gray

Synopsis: After the Earth experiences deadly power surges, astronaut Roy McBride (Pitt) is recruited for a top secret space mission, in the belief that the events may be connected to his father’s own space mission that blasted off several years prior…

Review: Ever since humanity first blasted off into space back in 1961, there’s always been something of a fascination with what’s out there in the great chasm that is space, and the solar system. Indeed it is a subject that has inspired many filmmakers to try and approach this fascinating, and at the same time, terrifying void of eternal emptiness. Through all the space films that have graced the big screen over the years, one thing is crystal clear: being an astronaut takes some very serious guts.

Like his father before him, Roy McBride is an astronaut, and a damn good one at that too. When some unnatural power surges start to cause some problems back on Earth, a top secret briefing leads Roy back to the mission that his father Clifford (Jones) departed for several decades ago. Believing that said mission could pose some extremely serious risks to the survival of humanity, Roy must venture deep into the unforgiving world of space in the pursuit of his seemingly long lost father, and the answers to some essential questions that NASA believe Clifford possesses, that could be integral to humanity’s survival.

Given that the majority of the film features his character’s crucial mission, the entire movie is resting on Brad Pitt’s shoulders. It’s a responsibility he carries faultlessly as he turns in a very subdued, sombre, but yet extremely powerful performance. Though regrettably, the fact that Roy’s main mission is the focus for the majority of the film, it means that pretty much every other member of this cast is severely underutilised. None of them have enough screen time to make you care about their plight, which is frustrating as there definitely was potential for a further exploration of some of the other characters’s stories. This is especially frustrating when considering the talent of some of these actors and this is best exemplified by a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her performance from Roy’s distant wife, played by Liv Tyler.

After going on an interstellar journey with Christopher Nolan, Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography gives the film a rich visual majesty that perfectly captures the beauty and the terror that is space in equal measure. The production design and visual effects are so meticulously crafted, it makes it feel like the cast and crew actually went to the Moon and to the other planets beyond to film. James Gray’s screenplay, co-written with Ethan Gross, is cognitive and thoughtful. There are one or two action set pieces to get the pulses racing, but the film’s pacing is patient and methodical. There’s been no shortage of space films that have had awe-inspiring, heart-pounding intense scores, but Max Richter’s haunting, powerful score is right up there with the very best of them.

Though the film is not, and was never intending to be, an enthralling action spectacle set in the deepest depths of space. The film’s deliberately slowed-down pacing may begin to test the patience of the audience, particularly once the third act has come into view. Though not bereft of drama, the screenplay has some thought-provoking and bold ideas behind it. However. it doesn’t come nearly as close as other recent films of this genre in crafting something that has resonated as strongly as previous space films. Though if anyone was scared of space beforehand, after watching this, it will only reinforce their perspective that space is absolutely, completely terrifying.

Like astronauts themselves, the story’s extremely ambitious. However, even with an excellent performance from Brad Pitt, and some striking visuals, this thought-provoking adventure aims for the stars, but only just falls short.  

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox

Alita: Battle Angel – Film Review

Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Keean Johnson

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Synopsis: Set in the 26th century,  a compassionate doctor finds an abandoned cyborg whom he names Alita (Salazar). Upon reawakening, Alita with no recollection or memories of her previous life, goes in search of answers…

Review: If you’re looking for a big name film-maker to get an ambitious project off the ground, James Cameron is not a bad choice to turn to. For here is a director who for a time, boasted the two highest grossing films of all time in his repertoire, as well as being the one of the two brains behind the Terminator franchise. But even with the involvement of such a talent as Cameron, and director Robert Rodriguez, sometimes, it just not enough to save the project.

After humanity has been seriously affected by a deadly war, Dr Dyson Ido (Waltz) finds the remains of a female cyborg in a scrapyard, brings her body back to his lab and restores her to life. However, Alita with no memory of who she was in her previous life, is determined to get some answers. Right away the film throws the audience head first into the thick of what is evidently a planet that has clearly been effected heavily by war. Yet the screenplay, penned by Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis, doesn’t really provide any context for the preceding war that has seemingly crippled this society. Furthermore, an overwhelming majority of the dialogue feels very stilted.

As the main character, Alita is certainly a likeable protagonist that you want to root for, even if the CGI on her is a little jarring to begin with. You want her to find out the answers that she’s seeking and it is extremely entertaining to watch her throw down against some of the slimy, nefarious people that inhabit this world. But of course, they had to add a romance into the mixture with Alita falling for Hugo (Keean Johnson). It’s functional to the plot as he helps Alita acclimatise to the new world she is discovering but, there’s not a great deal of chemistry between the two of them, and while not as laughable as some of the romantic dialogue that the Star Wars prequels served up, it’s still pretty cringey.

The rest of the cast are also functional at best, which is extremely frustrating when you have Oscar winning talents like Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali. It just feels like their considerable talents are wasted on what could have been a much better script. What’s more, the motivations/purposes of some characters for doing what they’re doing are extremely vague, with scope clearly being left for future instalments. The CGI on the whole is very hit or miss, sometimes it looks really impressive, and there are other instances where it looks extremely cheap. This is problematic for a big budget blockbuster, especially since Cameron’s Avatar, a film that came out a decade ago, showed the world what CGI could accomplish.

For what is clearly striving to be a film that is trying to be its own franchise, it tries so hard to set up a sequel that it negates telling a worthwhile story to begin with. There are some entertaining scenes but again, there’s nothing here that really stands out to differentiate it from the plethora of films in this genre, that have been far more memorable. For any film that spends a long time stuck in development hell, it always feels like the odds are against it. Despite the best efforts of all concerned to bring this property to the big screen, and even with such star power, both in front of and behind the camera, this is a classic case of style over substance.

One cannot fault the ambition, but even with a solid lead performance from Salazar, the extremely corny dialogue and a rather messy plot just cannot save this film from its place on the scrapheap.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018)

Image is property of Universal, Amblin Entertainment and Legendary Pictures

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – Film Review

Cast: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, Justice Smith, Daniella Pineda, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine, Jeff Goldblum, B. D. Wong

Director: J.A. Bayona

Synopsis: Years after the destruction of the Jurassic World theme park, with the island’s volcano about to explode, a rescue operation is launched to save the island’s dinosaur population from almost certain extinction…

Review: There is a seemingly undying fascination that humanity as a species has with dinosaurs. With museums that boast fascinating old skeletons of these creatures to a series of films that began all the way back in 1993 with Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, a film that changed the movie industry forever as for the first time on the big screen, dinosaurs came to life. Though the 1997 and 2001 sequels never quite lived up to the majesty of the original, the fascination never died. Indeed, when Jurassic World came along in 2015 to try and reintroduce the franchise to a new generation, the box office roared accordingly, to the tune of $1.6 billion, and so this franchise finds a way to keep on going.

With the Jurassic World theme park having met a predictable fate, following some disastrous dino-experimentation, the dinosaurs that are still on Isla Nublar are in immediate danger due to the island’s volcano which is threatening to erupt. So Claire (Howard) re-teams with Owen (Pratt) to mount a rescue operation to save the pre-historic beasts. However, there is the question of whether these creatures should be saved, or should nature just take its course? With Colin Trevorrow now solely on writing credits along with Derek Connolly, in comes The Impossible director J.A.Bayona who injects some of his disaster movie expertise into the film. In doing so, providing some especially haunting shots of the now desolate park and one scene in particular that is especially melancholic.

Hold on to your butts, and run for your life!

Bayona does his best to replicate the visual majesty of the original, and while topping that is an almost impossible task, he does bring some really stellar action scenes to the mix. Yet the script could easily have done with having some of the DNA of the first film injected into it, as there is a severe lack of development on many of the humans. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard once again both give solid performances as our two main characters, but the development their characters is very limited. It is a similar story for those that are in the supporting roles, as they’re just not as memorable as say a John Hammond or Ian Malcolm. Speaking of, the Goldblum makes a welcome return, but his appearance is fleeting at best.

With Bayona bringing the visual splendour, Trevorrow and Connolly’s script doesn’t quite match up to that. The plot certainly goes in a very interesting direction, and it is very much a tale of two halves. One being the mission to the island, and the other being that mission’s aftermath. Plaudits must be given for them for trying something a bit different, but having said that, it is hard to ignore the similarities that this film has with its predecessors, and there are specific elements that you will look at think that you have seen this before, because we have.

What is cooked up by Bayona and Trevorrow delivers both what a sequel should do, but in other cases should not do. There is a much stronger attempt to bring a more coherent narrative to the story, which does bring more spectacle and emotion. What’s more, Bayona’s horror routes really shine through in a number of places. Yet the lack of development on many of the characters and the rehash of familiar plot elements is a massive frustration as we have seen franchises in the past take things in a brand new direction before. Blending classic Jurassic franchise tropes with some new elements, almost like trying to cook up the perfect dinosaur. The results are not catastrophic, but definitely nothing extraordinary.

The addition of Bayona as director provides some visual majesty that Spielberg would be proud of, but a tonally inconsistent script results in a dinosaur romp that will entertain, terrify and bemuse in equal measure.