Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2021

The Harder They Fall (2021)

© Netflix

The Harder They Fall  – Film Review

Cast: Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield, RJ Cyler, Danielle Deadwyler, Edi Gathegi, Deon Cole

Director: Jeymes Samuel

Synopsis: When he learns that his bitter enemy has been sprung out of prison, an outlaw re-forms his gang to take his adversary down once and for all…

Review: What is the first thing that comes to mind when someone says the word “Western”? A shot of a rural town in the USA, showdown duels with guns, cowboy hats/boots, and the familiar sounds of the spurs on the boots, or the doors of a saloon opening and closing. Perhaps there’s also a musical number akin to something that you’d hear from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, is playing in the background, as a Caucasian hero strolls in on horseback to save the day? The Western is a genre that so often has white people at the forefront of the story. Yet too often, black people find themselves on the sidelines when it comes to these types of films. Hence, to see a Western that places the experiences of black people at this point in history at the forefront, with an all-star cast of some of the finest black actors currently working in Hollywood, is extremely refreshing, and long long overdue.

Nat Love (Majors) is an outlaw who has got a burning desire for revenge against Rufus Buck (Elba) after Buck committed an unforgivable crime when Nat was young. Now as an adult, when Nat learns that Buck has been freed from his incarceration as a prisoner, he’s out for revenge. He reforms The Nat Love gang, which includes real-life historical figure Stagecoach Mary (Beetz) and Cuffee (Deadwyler), to take down Buck once and for all. The only problem for Nat Love and his gang, is that Buck has his own gang surrounding him, including Treacherous Trudy Smith (King) and Cherokee Bill (Stanfield), determined to protect him at all costs. With the conflict between the two rival gangs boiling over into an all-out war, the bullets are gonna fly.

When taking one look at the cast that Samuel has assembled, there’s only one word that best describes it: stacked. No matter where you turn, there are actors with glittering careers everywhere you look. The end result is a brilliant cast, all of whom are in scintillating form. This crop of characters are certainly not ones you would want to cross, but that doesn’t mean that they are not extremely compelling and hilarious to watch. Jonathan Majors is someone who has burst onto the scene relatively late, in comparison to some of his cast members. Yet, in the few short years since he rose to prominence, he’s proven himself to be an extremely compelling on-screen presence. This continues with his performance as Nat. It’s quite the unenviable task to take a character like an outlaw, and add an incredible layer of depth and humanity to that role. Yet, with just about every performance he has given in recent years, Majors pulls it off brilliantly.

As Nat’s love interest, the relationship between Nat and Stagecoach Mary could have been very conventional. While the chemistry between the two is most assuredly there, Beetz plays this character as someone who is not subservient to Nat in any capacity, she’s more than capable of kicking Nat’s arse if she wanted to, and likewise for Cuffee. On the other side of this gang war, the character of Rufus Buck is someone who you dare not cross if you value your life, and Elba’s performance is suitably intimidating. Alongside him, Regina King is clearly relishing the opportunity to play an antagonist, and she’s absolutely terrific to watch. However, there’s far more to both their characters than just robbing banks and shooting down anyone in their way. As with Majors’ Nat Love, and indeed every character that you see on screen, there are subtle nuances to these characters that make them far more than just outlaws who are in this business for the money.

It is incredible to think that this is Samuel’s feature film directorial debut. While he has worked on music videos and short films with Jay-Z (who is one of the film’s producers), it’s quite the leap to go from directing short films and music videos, to directing a thrilling Western with some of Hollywood’s finest. Yet when you watch what Samuel, who also wrote the script, has concocted, it’s an absolutely breathtaking achievement. His direction is so confident and stylish, if you had no idea that this was his first feature film, you would be forgiven for thinking that he’s a seasoned director who has been doing this for years. It all translates into an enthralling and compelling story that grabs you from the word go.

Some may well struggle with the thick Texas accents that some of the characters speak with. However, by telling this story from the perspective of people who were not trapped in the brutal institution of slavery, it lends a much-needed new perspective to the people and the lives they led at this point in history. With such a confident and brilliant feature film debut, an exciting new voice has entered the world of filmmaking. No matter what project he chooses to do next, Jeymes Samuel will surely have captured the curiosity and the attention of audiences all over the world, and deservedly so.

The Western genre has been given a much-needed revitalisation. Impeccable performances from its all-star cast, combined with slick and stylish action, and the end result is a breath-taking feature film debut from Jeymes Samuel.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Joker (2019)

Image is property of DC Films and Warner Bros Pictures

Joker  – Film Review

By Aiden Mills

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert DeNiro, Zazie Beetz, Brian Tyree Henry

Director: Todd Phillips 

Synopsis: Struggling comedian Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) finds himself rock bottom and ostracised from society until a series of violent incidents leads him to find a new purpose in life.

Review: When the news came out that DC and Warner Bros were making a standalone Joker film with Todd Phillips at the helm, the red flags started waving. Even when news that Scorsese was on-board as Producer and the phenomenal Joaquin Phoenix was cast as the infamous villain, doubts still lingered in the minds of DC fans. Since Heath Ledger’s much loved portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime, could anyone go some way to matching that iconic performance? Well, rest assured, they have.

Joker starts with struggling comedian Arthur Fleck looking at himself in the mirror and forcing himself to smile, a single tear rolling down his cheek. Hunched over, and with a body shape reminiscent of Christian Bale in The Machinist, we know from the very get go that this is a man on the outskirts of society, no more than a cockroach living in the shadows. A man metaphorically and literally beaten down by the world around him, before a series of violent events leads him to fall into a cocoon of insanity before emerging as the villain we all know and love dancing and prancing through the streets of Gotham City, a crazy butterfly. While this is for all intents and purposes an “origin story,” it is more of a character study as well as a test to the audience. Specifically, how far can this guy go before our empathy runs out?

The world Phillips builds is phenomenal. With the use of a moody and ominous soundtrack, a vibrant use of neon lighting and a gloomy filter, he manages to seamlessly blend Scorsese’s New York with Tim Burton’s Gotham- the perfect stomping ground for Phoenix’s Joker. The Gotham we see in Joker is one on the verge of eruption, unemployment and poverty is on the rise along with crime and corruption. Garbage litters the streets and to top it all off super rats are running wild. The people are angry and are out for justice and are quick to direct their anger at the rich one percent who run Gotham.  Arthur is a product of these hostile societies, a person on the brink who is ostracised and isolated from everyone around him and left alone with his negative thoughts. He idolises Talk Show Host, Murray Franklin (Robert DeNiro) and sees him as the father figure he never had.

If a laugh could say a thousand words that would be Phoenix’s. At times it carries a great measure of pain and angst which is being bellowed out, at others, like a true psychopath. It is empty, hollow, and like the noise a hyena makes, almost a reflex. Phoenix is truly a behemoth to hold as he gives a breathtaking performance, one of which just holds your attention at every frame. In some ways this is an end to his “Lonely Man Trilogy” (Her, The Master) and perhaps his best iteration. Phoenix does a masterful job in making a complex character and creates a myriad of feelings from the audience.  To compare Phoenix to Ledger however would be a disservice to both actors, Arthur is a completely different Joker to the one in The Dark Knight and both give completely different powerhouse performances.

Recently this film has come under scrutiny for its use of violence and focus in on a traditional villain, but Phoenix says it best, the film cannot be accountable for the moralities of the people who watch it.  If it is championed by the “incels” and violent males as an anthem, we should look at the society who breeds these people as opposed to a film that condemns it. If the take away is that Arthur is the hero of this story, you would have completely missed the point of the film.

Joker seamlessly blends some of the classic films of the 70s/80s with comic culture in a truly breathtaking and emotionally challenging film. It’s a character study on a complex and troubled individual delivered by a beautifully nuanced performance from Phoenix. Joker puts its foot on your throat from the very start and doesn’t let go until the credits roll.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Deadpool 2 (2018)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox and Marvel

Deadpool 2 – Film Review

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Zazie Beetz, Brianna Hildebrand, Julian Dennison, TJ Miller

Director: David Leitch

Synopsis: When the menacing mutant Cable travels back in time and threatens the life of a troubled young mutant, Deadpool must bring together a team of heroes and to stop him.

Review: The journey for Wade Wilson AKA Deadpool to get to the big screen for his first outing a couple of years ago was a troubled one. Yet when he finally arrived in all of his red spandex glory, it smashed all sorts of records and changed the game as far as comic book and superhero films go. Though in Deadpool’s case, the hero “tag” is perhaps not one he is best suited to. Nevertheless, the fans responded and, with his katana in hand, the Merc with a mouth cut box office records cut in half, and it was inevitable that a sequel would be given the thumbs up.

While the first film was your classic origins story about how the man became the Merc. This time around, we meet Wade trying to balance his Deadpool duties with his personal life with Vanessa. This is until his path crosses with Russell, a mutant with some fire abilities, and the villainous Cable, who travels back from the future with the sole goal to kill this boy. Part of what made the first film the juggernaut of the success it was its routine fourth wall breaking, pop culture references, quite excessive uses of profanity and upping the violence factor considerably. If the first film was not your thing, chances are this film will not bring you over. The story does go in interesting and ballsy directions that keeps things moving swiftly along in a gleefully bloody direction.

Just casually jumping out of a plane, as you do…

Every once in a while, when an actor takes on a superhero role, they are just such a perfect fit that you just cannot see anyone else stepping into their shoes, and Reynolds fits into this description with his performances, gone be the memories of the first time he stepped into the role of this character. Likewise to that other time he took on the mantle of a different hero. Aside from the returning Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, there are a plethora of new characters this time around. Though many are just filler, the main ones to focus on are the lucky superhero Domino (Beetz) and Josh Brolin’s Cable, clearly having not filled his villainous boots after going after those Infinity Stones as Thanos.

The film boasts considerably more action than its predecessor, and having suited up John Wick for the first time (in addition to having killed his dog), former stuntman David Leitch takes over from Tim Miller as director. Like he demonstrated with John Wick, the action scenes are slickly produced and just extremely entertaining to watch. Though the film is for the most part extremely entertaining with some excellent gags to some classic Hollywood cinema (one will stick out in your mind in particular) the plot while undoubtedly entertaining, does run out of steam in a few places, and is a little bit thin on the ground.  Furthermore, you will find it difficult to look at certain plot points and think back to certain films of the past.

In any case, with the memories of the ill-fated first time he stepped into the role, it is great to see Reynolds seemingly have such an absolute blast with the role that he has completely made his own. In this era of superhero and comic book genre dominance, it is refreshing to see this type of superhero film that just honestly doesn’t give a shit and just wants to serve the audience up with a quality sized slice of hilarious, fourth-wall breaking and crude entertainment. If that is what you’re after, then Mr Deadpool is the man to provide that, in hilarious and extremely bloody fashion too.

As crude as its predecessor, all while delivering much bigger action set pieces and some very amusing gags, all while building depth to the Merc with a Mouth’s character. Maximum effort, maximum enjoyment.