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The Professor and the Madman (2019)
Takes an otherwise improbable subject for onscreen treatment and turns it into something surprisingly entertaining
The Professor and the Madman is a biographical drama film based on the non-fiction book "The Surgeon of Crowthorne" by Simon Winchester. Starring Mel Gibson and Sean Penn in the leading roles, it takes an otherwise improbable subject for onscreen treatment and turns it into something surprisingly entertaining.
In 1872 in London, retired US Army doctor William Chester Minor (Sean Penn) is put on trial for the murder of an innocent man but is later found not guilty by reason of insanity and is sent to Broadmoor Mental Asylum. Meanwhile in Oxford, Professor James Murray (Mel Gibson) is given the monumental task of overseeing and editing a collection of every word used in the English language. In an attempt to aid him in this difficult assignment, Murray sends out written appeals to as many English speakers as possible around the world to contribute their own definitions of words. One of these appeals finds its way to Broadmoor, which Minor comes into possession of and decides to send in over 10,000 entries, some of which are of incredibly obscure and rarely used words. Stunned by these unique contributions, Murray decides to meet with Minor and the two form an unlikely partnership in creating what would later become the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.
On paper, the origins of the first English dictionary ever conceived sounds like it would never work as a film in the broadest of terms. However, thanks to the efforts of the great acting from its two leads and the proper treatment of its historical subject matter, "The Professor and the Madman" succeeds on screen for the most part. Throughout the film, we are reminded how large the English language truly is and how every contribution counts towards us gaining a better understanding of the importance of expanding our vocabularies. While I wouldn't say it's essential to have an unyielding love of etymology (the study of words) like I do, I believe it certainly comes in handy when watching something like this. Personally, I'm part of that niche audience who likes films about historical events no matter how overlooked they are so I can't really speak for all potential viewers out there. With that in mind though, I think there is enough for casual filmgoers to appreciate that shouldn't bore them too much.
Director Farhad Safinia, who previously collaborated with Mel Gibson in 2006's "Apocalypto", juggles the two intersecting plotlines of a schizophrenic doctor and an Oxford professor with varying degrees of success. He chooses to juxtapose the character of Dr. Minor, whose brilliant mind has been permanently damaged by his civil war PTSD, with that of the steadfast Professor Murray, who has a strong determination to complete what he has been assigned with, and this combination of conflicting personalities is what drove things along for me. The anticipation of knowing that these two will eventually meet and decide to work together makes for an intriguing story and had me curious as to how it will turn out. There were times, though, where it felt like moments of sensationalism were added in simply for entertainment purposes rather than as a means to advance the plot. For example, there were some long and drawn out scenes involving Dr. Minor's collapsing mental state that felt unnecessary and didn't really add anything to the story. Thankfully these weren't too frequent but they still left an unfavourable impression on me and likely anyone else who might be watching.
Both Sean Penn and Mel Gibson played their roles convincingly and had solid onscreen chemistry with one another. Their personal lives aside, I still think the two of them are great actors capable of holding the viewer's attention even through some of the most exposition laden of scenes. Penn has always had a knack for playing mentally unstable characters capable of bouts of impulsiveness whereas Mel Gibson has often shone as reserved individuals whose unpredictable nature may or may not be acted upon. This film uses their talents to its advantage and it comes as a surprise that this is the first time the two have starred alongside each other as their interactions felt uncannily natural to watch. I wouldn't mind seeing more films with these two actors in the future should they ever choose to work together again.
Overall, while casual viewers may be put off by the concept of a film about the origins of the dictionary, I think there should be a select few out there who will appreciate the efforts in bringing such an important but neglected historical event to the big screen. It's easy to take for granted the language that over 20% of the world's population speaks but it's nice to know that a film like this exists to help show us that it can still make for something entertaining. I do wonder, however, if there will be a spiritual sequel involving the creation of the Thesaurus. I guess we'll have to wait and see/view/perceive/observe/watch...
I rate it 7/10
The Call of the Wild (2020)
A good natured, albeit artistically uneven film about following your destiny and discovering your true potential
The Call Of The Wild is an adventure film based on the novel of the same name by Jack London. Starring Harrison Ford in the lead (human) role, it is a good natured, albeit artistically uneven film about following your destiny and discovering your true potential.
In the late 1800s, a large, overly friendly St. Bernard x Scotch Collie named "Buck" is abducted from his home in California and transported up north to the Yukon in Canada. Upon arrival, Buck returns a harmonica dropped on the ground to a man named John Thornton (Harrison Ford) shortly before being sold off as a sled dog to a pair of mail carriers. Due to him not being used to this new snowy environment, Buck struggles at first at becoming accustomed to his new life of pulling sleds but soon finds encouragement in his visions of a dark wolf guiding him through his challenges and obstacles to eventually gain the respect of not only his fellow canines but also the humans around him.
As yet another adaptation of a well-regarded American novel, this version of "The Call Of The Wild" should please casual audiences with its adorable four-legged star carrying the weight of the film through every step of the way. I am unsure, however, how closely it sticks to the original story as I have not read it in full so I can't fully determine how satisfied longtime fans of the source material will be, although from what I have researched, they seem to be somewhat divided on what has been omitted. Apparently, there have been some liberties taken with the overall mood of the film as the book reportedly has a much grittier feel that may have been toned down in an effort to create a more family friendly viewing experience. Normally, I would be annoyed at something like this happening but I actually felt more at ease while watching the film as it allowed me to take in more of the adventure without worrying too much about whether something terrible was about to happen. Some may argue that this is playing it safe but I'm not too bothered with that as I enjoy a good carefree romp in the wilderness so long as I can share it with characters I care about.
Chris Sanders, who makes his live-action directorial debut, having previously co-directed "Lilo & Stitch", "How to Train Your Dragon", and "The Croods", does handle the film quite well, showcasing his knack for creating memorable scenery and his fluid use of cinematography helped establish the wide expanse of the Yukon and the various oddities and perils that one might encounter on their travels. However, I believe he felt a little too worried about stepping outside his comfort zone as he did overuse CGI at times, to the point where it became highly distracting. For example, Buck would sometimes clearly be a real dog huffing and panting his way through the snow while other times his movements looked unnaturally cartoonish, notably in one scene involving him jumping up and down on a bed. We see his legs flail around like a ragdoll as he tries to wake up his master but anyone who has seen how dogs really jump will know that their legs stay straight when pouncing on something. Fortunately, most of this is forgivable as I can understand the difficulty in training a real dog to perform some of the actions shown in this film and CGI would obviously be a much cheaper alternative. It just proves that no matter how nice CGI may look on the surface, there is no substitute for the real thing.
I enjoyed Harrison Ford's performance as the stern but kindly wanderer John Thornton, who spends his time roughing it in the wilderness alongside his canine companion. Ford also narrates the film as well, in a manner that can be likened to a grandfather reading a bedtime story to his grandchildren, which adds a sense of childlike innocence that young viewers will definitely come to appreciate. Even though he may not have looked visually convincing at times, I loved seeing Buck and his journey from a pampered domesticated house pet to a hardened and respected dog of the outdoors. I suppose I'm just a sucker for dogs being the central role of a film as I have always had a soft spot for these wonderful animals and what they're capable of.
In conclusion, although I haven't read the original novel, this film has piqued my curiosity as it certainly feels like a story that would be better on paper than on screen. There's only so much that technology can produce before that sense of realism is severed from the audience. Despite this, the film is still worth seeing for those wanting a relatively laid-back adventure involving a dog and his master. If you're someone who loves dogs just as much as me, then this is the film for you.
I rate it 7/10
Artemis Fowl (2020)
The most embarrassing, convoluted, and downright shameful adaptation of a popular young person's novel since A Wrinkle In Time
Artemis Fowl is a fantasy adventure film based on the series of books for young adults by Eoin Colfer. Directed by Kenneth Branagh (Henry V, Hamlet, Murder On The Orient Express, Thor), it is an inconsistent, chaotic mess on a scale not seen for quite some time.
On the Irish coast, 12-year-old prodigy Artemis Fowl Jr. (Ferdia Shaw) lives with his father Artemis Fowl Sr. (Colin Farrell), a famous businessman who harbours a large collection of stolen artefacts in their family's estate. One day, Artemis Sr. is kidnapped by a mysterious hooded figure and held to ransom for three days until he hands over the "Aculos", a powerful item that when wielded properly, will allow the user access to several magic abilities. With time quickly running out, Artemis Jr., along with his faithful butler Dom (Nonso Anozie), a fairy named Holly (Lara McDonnell), and an oversized dwarf named Mulch (Josh Gad) work together to recover the Aculos before a war between different species can break out.
As I have never read any of the novels from which it was based on, I can only view this film purely from an outsider's perspective. With that in mind, "Artemis Fowl" comes across as aggressively punishing towards any newcomers to the source material. From the very beginning, I was scratching my head as to what perplexed the filmmakers into thinking this screenplay was perfectly alright to greenlight in its current state. Rather than take the opportunity to gradually ease the audience into the world of its title character, the entire film feels like a rushed attempt to start a new franchise that the ever growing Disney empire will milk for its money's worth. This is evident in the blatant sequel-bait ending that apparently promises to fill in the crucial gaps that this one did not bother with in the first place. According to some post-viewing research, this adaptation has been in development since 2001 and encompasses elements from the first two of eight currently published novels. Additionally, the author described the original book as "Die Hard with fairies" which sounds like it could have been an amusing combination to see on screen. What we have gotten instead is the most embarrassing, convoluted, and downright shameful adaptation of a popular young person's novel since 2018's A Wrinkle In Time.
It took me by surprise to see that a director as talented as Kenneth Branagh was at the helm of this steaming pile of garbage. Several decades ago, Branagh made great film adaptations of classic Shakespeare plays like Henry V and Hamlet, so for him to sink as low as being associated with this monstrosity is quite painful to see. His choices in quick cutting between the humans on the surface and the fairies in their underground city made it near impossible to feel any real connection to which world the audience should be siding with. A sense of moral ambiguity over what side has the right to wield the powerful artefact would have made for a nice driving force to the plot had it been handled correctly. There is no such plot device to be seen here so if the filmmakers didn't bother to invest in something like this, then why should we care?
Speaking of not caring, there wasn't a single character I actually felt any emotional attachment to. Although, I will admit I think the young newcomer Ferdia Shaw, grandson of Robert Shaw (who played the shark hunter Quint in Jaws), did the best he could in the lead role despite his minimal screentime. That's right, the namesake character has a low amount of time on screen despite his name literally being what the movie is called! On the other hand, Colin Farrell feels like he's only in this film because there seems to be an unwritten law nowadays that if your film is set in Ireland and has Irish characters in it, he needs to be cast in some type of role, no matter how significant. However, the prize for looking most like they didn't want to be in this film goes to Judi Dench. The otherwise dignified actress looks bored as she unenthusiastically reads her lines in a croaky voice while wearing colourful outfits. I wished she would have taken the time to ham things up a bit to keep her performance interesting as it could have made for some funny and even redeeming moments but instead she remains poker faced throughout the whole thing.
As I mentioned earlier, I have not read any of the original books so I am no sure how accurate this adaptation is but from what I have seen, it does a huge disservice to the series and fans definitely have every right to be angry. It seems in an effort to please everyone, this film pleases no one. The fact that Disney actually thought an entire franchise could have been started here is laughable, as no sane person would want to sit through another one of these films again, whether it is streamed online or viewed at the cinema. Take it from me - your time is way more valuable than that.
I rate it 2/10
Rehashes virtually every cliche of both its genres to such an extent that it begs the question "why bother at all?"
Underwater is a sci-fi horror film directed William Eubank (The Signal, Love). Starring Kristen Stewart in the lead role, it rehashes virtually every cliche of both its genres to such an extent that it begs the question "why bother at all?"
Deep beneath the ocean at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the underwater drilling rig Kepler 822 is hit by a massive earthquake, destroying most of the structure and leaving its remaining crew stranded. Trying to reach the safety of a neighbouring rig over a mile away, mechanical engineer Norah Price (Kristen Stewart) leads a small collective of survivors across the treacherous ocean floor while wearing special pressurised suits. Unbeknownst to the crew, the earthquake was caused by a group of previously undiscovered creatures that are now in the process of stalking and picking them off one by one.
If the basic premise above sounds familiar to you, then that's because it is. "Underwater" shamelessly steals ideas and plot points from better, more entertaining films like Alien(s) and The Abyss, trying to pass them off as something new with the assumption that the audience should be admiring the filmmakers for this. Of course, it isn't uncommon for films to take influence or respectfully borrow from other sources but there needs to be a sense of nuance for that to work properly. This film doesn't so much use its influences wisely as much as rip them off entirely. While watching, I often found myself checking off the typical tropes one should expect in a movie like this - the tough female lead, the token friend who's only there to be killed off later on, the enigmatic monsters who want nothing more than to prey on the heroes, the overly complicated scientific jargon, the malfunctioning equipment at crucial times... I could go on but I think you get the idea.
The film's biggest faults, however, are its poor character development and unnecessarily fast pacing. Right from the beginning we are thrust into the action without properly establishing why these rigs are at the bottom of the ocean in the first place or why these particular people are operating them. It is hinted that some bigshot mining company is running things behind the scenes but the extent of their control over these underwater structures never truly feels as impactful as it should. Additionally, the lurid use of dark colours to emphasise its deep sea setting does a big disservice to the whole viewing experience. It became difficult to distinguish who was who in their suits while navigating the ocean floor and whenever danger was presented to them, I wasn't sure who had survived or not. Worst of all, by the time I had figured it out, I remembered that I didn't even care about that character to begin with so trying to ascertain who they were all along felt pointless in the end. In spite of this, there are some fleeting creative choices in cinematography, showcasing the backdrop of humanity's ignorance of our own ocean, for which we know less about than outer space. It's a shame moments like these are wasted in a film like this.
As far as the cast goes, I feel only Kristen Stewart is worth mentioning. Even though her character's backstory is woefully underwritten, to her credit, she still gives a surprisingly good performance as a mechanical engineer who understands the technical aspects of the rig she works on. Even though she comes off as a bit young to be playing a role like this in certain scenes, I think Stewart is a good actress overall who is clearly trying to escape the stigma of the Twilight franchise people still associate her with even to this day. However, scenes where she tries to fight off the monsters by herself never felt convincing enough for me to take seriously. It is clear she is trying to emulate the strong no nonsense female action heroes like Ellen Ripley in the Alien series, right down to the short hair, but she has a long way to go before she'll ever be on that same wavelength.
While it's not completely terrible, the film is just so frustratingly mediocre in its execution that it simply isn't worth one's time. There are so many other sci-fi horror films out there that you may as well be watching instead and this one will likely be forgotten about very shortly. At least, at only 95 minutes in length, it is all over before you know it.
I rate it 4/10
A bland, paint-by-the-numbers attempt at starting a cinematic universe for a lesser known comic book company
Bloodshot is a sci-fi action film based on the superhero comic series of the same name. Starring Vin Diesel in the title role, it is a bland, paint-by-the-numbers attempt at starting a cinematic universe for a lesser known comic book company.
After he is killed in battle, elite soldier Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) is brought back to life by the Rising Spirit Tech (RST) company with the help of advanced nanorobotic technology. Thanks to his newly acquired nanite powers, Ray now has superhuman strength and accelerated healing, essentially turning him into the perfect soldier. Plagued by memories of his wife's death at the hands of a dangerous mercenary, Ray escapes from the RST lab to hunt him down and swiftly enact his revenge.
Save for a few scenes near the end, Bloodshot is so poorly paced, repetitive, and surprisingly boring that it amazes me that the filmmakers legitimately thought that they could create a whole cinematic universe out of it. There is hardly anything in this film that hasn't been done before in the action thrillers of several years (and even decades) past. The main character is good at what he does, he loves his wife, his wife dies, he is put out of commission, he comes back, he swears revenge on the perpetrator. Rinse and repeat. This would have fared much better had it come out ten to twenty years ago but today it just feels like lazy filmmaking, especially when watched during this golden age of comic book movies.
I haven't read the original Bloodshot comic from which this was based on, but that shouldn't really matter considering how much it seemingly has going for it. The whole concept of nanotechnology is becoming more and more a reality, so had this idea been handled better, we could have been treated to an interesting commentary on how human beings are adapting this into our lives. Instead, the film goes for the cliched approach to our hero using this innovation to blow up cars and fight hand-to-hand combat against the bad guys. Granted, the military implications are probably the first and most obvious things that such a technological marvel would be applied to, but it's all handled in such a clumsy, surface-level manner that it never truly leaves any long lasting impression. I'm not saying I expected this film to be some kind of sophisticated piece of art that dissects the notions of man versus machine but I at least hoped for something along the lines of this as a means of finding a redeeming trait. No such luck I'm afraid.
Vin Diesel once again plays his stoic one-man-army action hero self, saying little and kicking plenty of ass whenever he needs to. He keeps the film watchable whenever he is on-screen, despite his character being relatively one-dimensional. A good amount of his actions are shown on the computer screen he is being tracked on and most of the injuries he sustains are merely implied, robbing the film of any tension the audience should be feeling. The rest of the cast are highly forgettable. Aside from Guy Pearce, every other actor was just there to either spout exposition or show up later on for a contrived action scene. It doesn't give the audience much reason to care about what is happening in the story if the characters aren't interesting enough to hold one's attention.
In the end, I just don't see how this whole thing could work as a cinematic franchise. It simply fails to establish a firm foundation from where it can stand alongside other better cinematic universes like Marvel and even Vin Diesel's own Fast and Furious series. Considering how poorly the film has done at the box office (although most of this is due to the COVID-19 pandemic), it is unlikely there will be a sequel any time soon, which comes as a bittersweet relief to someone like me.
I rate it 4/10
Passable entertainment for today's young audiences and hardcore fans but forgettable mediocrity for everyone else
"Scoob!" is a CGI animated film reboot of the Scooby-Doo franchise created by Hanna-Barbera Productions. Featuring the voices of Will Forte, Zac Efron, Amanda Seyfried, and Jason Isaacs, it is passable entertainment for today's young audiences and hardcore fans but forgettable mediocrity for everyone else.
Since they were little, Shaggy (voiced by Will Forte), his dog Scooby-Doo (voiced by Frank Welker), and his friends Fred (voiced by Zac Efron), Velma (voiced by Gina Rodriguez), and Daphne (voiced by Amanda Seyfried) have been solving mysteries together as the group known as "Mystery Inc." One day, Shaggy and Scooby decide to go their separate ways from the quintet after being told by the group's investor that their addition to the team is useless. Shortly afterwards, the two of them are attacked by robots at a bowling alley but are eventually rescued by the superhero Blue Falcon (voiced by Mark Wahlberg) and his partners Dynomutt the Dog Wonder (voiced by Ken Jeong) and Dee Dee Skyes (voiced by Kiersey Clemons). The three heroes inform Shaggy and Scooby that the robots belong to the supervillain Dick Dastardly (voiced by Jason Isaacs), who plans to use Scooby as part of his plan to resurrect the monstrous three-headed dog Cerberus from the underworld to bring about the end of days.
Continuing the trend of contemporary film reboots to TV shows from several decades past, "Scoob!" is yet another typical example of something old hastily trying to adjust itself to the current trends of today's audiences with mostly embarrassing results. We see Shaggy listening to Spotify on his phone, Blue Falcon sharing his heroic escapades on Instagram, and Fred having a startling revelation that Netflix actually costs money (Shocking, right?!). Perhaps I am showing my age here, but I don't find any of this particularly funny and I think it feels like a desperate attempt to stay relevant and as a result, it loses a great deal of what made Scooby-Doo special in the first place. I suppose really little kids who don't know any better may derive some enjoyment from this, but most older viewers like me will be rolling their eyes in annoyance. I'll admit there was one scene involving Fred interacting with an attractive female police officer that made me chuckle so there's that at least.
In terms of what happens in the story, there isn't really that much mystery solving going on, as we are merely told about Mystery Inc.'s past successes in foiling the bad guys' plans rather than being shown directly. This is a big missed opportunity for the audience to see how tight-knit the group's relationship is with each other and it doesn't give us that much reason to care about them in the long run. Only Shaggy and Scooby had some scenes where the friendship between the two of them felt genuine but as for Fred, Velma, and Daphne, their interactions with the former two were so limited that if I weren't familiar with the source material, I'd say they were more work acquaintances than long-time friends.
The film's use of CGI looks nice as the animators did a good job capturing the likeness of Scooby-Doo and the other Hanna-Barbera characters in a 3D art style. However, as I was watching, I couldn't help but miss the old hand-drawn style of the original cartoon series. In this deluge of CGI animated feature films being made left, right, and centre, I realise that I have become somewhat desensitised to how nice they all look, and because of this, none of it wows me anymore. For this reason, I believe that Scooby-Doo was made to be done in hand-drawn format only, as no other style comes close to recapturing that charm.
Each of the actors played their characters well, with Frank Welker as Scooby-Doo, the only one from the original cast to reprise his role, clearly being a standout. It is hard to imagine any other actor voicing the iconic talking dog considering how long he has played him for. Welker was also the original voice for Fred but that role has since been taken over by Zac Efron in this film. This was likely done to make him sound more youthful and even though Efron doesn't do a bad job, he just doesn't sound as good as Welker did. Additionally, Will Forte gives Shaggy that likeable laid back vibe that fits well alongside his dog friend and Gina Rodriguez and Amanda Seyfried also had their fair share of fun moments as Velma and Daphne, respectively. However, it is Jason Isaacs who steals the show as the devious Dick Dastardly, giving the character that sinister British drawl in his own personal style, separating himself from Dastardly's long running actor Paul Winchell. I hope Isaacs sees fit to reprise the role should we see Dastardly in a future Hanna-Barbera film adaptation (a Wacky Races movie perhaps?).
Overall, it was inevitable that Scooby-Doo would get a reimagining for today's tech-savvy audience, as it happened similarly with the early 2000s live action films. I personally believe that the more modern something becomes, the more it loses sight of what made it so popular in the first place. I miss that sense of mystery and that rawness to the animation of the older cartoons that this one is lacking. Sure, the original series was far from perfect, but it still has that appeal that made it an enduring mainstay in pop culture whereas this one will likely be forgotten about in a matter of years. All I can say is that young kids will probably enjoy it but all others need not apply.
I rate it 5.5/10
Does nothing to attempt to make such a well known crime figure's last days even remotely interesting to the audience
Capone is a biographical drama film edited, written, and directed by Josh Trank (Chronicle, Fant4stic) based on the life of the infamous gangster Al Capone. Starring Tom Hardy in the title role, it does nothing to attempt to make such a well known crime figure's last days even remotely interesting to the audience.
After serving almost ten years in prison for tax evasion, the notorious Prohibition gangster Al Capone (Tom Hardy) is released into the custody of his family in Palm Springs, Florida. As he is suffering from a combination of neurosyphilis and dementia, Capone's mind is slowly deteriorating, causing him to hallucinate and lose the most basic of motor functions in his body. Convinced he is faking the whole thing, the FBI keeps Capone under constant surveillance, believing he is using this as a means to cover up his knowledge of where he has hidden over $10 million away from the public.
By now, there have been several forms of media that depict Al Capone at certain points in his life, whether it be his upbringing, his rise to power, or his eventual arrest and detainment for tax reasons. Off the top of my head, I cannot recall any other film that shows Capone during his final years, where his mental state was rotting away to the point where he ended up with the brain capacity of a small child. It was a bold move to create a film like this to distinguish itself from all the others that make Capone out to be the notoriously dangerous gangster he was and I have a minimal degree of respect for the filmmakers in taking this different approach. However, this is where my praise for the film abruptly ends. Virtually everything else about it feels like a huge slog to sit through as the convoluted screenplay and terrible pacing ruin any moment that could be considered watchable. Scenes of Capone forgetting who he's talking to and later losing bowel movement while in bed were long and drawn out to the point of repetition. In addition to this, there were several missed opportunities to show Capone in a somewhat sympathetic light to remind the audience that he was still a flesh and blood human being despite the horrible crimes he committed. Rather, each time a moment like this was there, we were instead treated to constant surface level dementia hardships that only feel like they were there for padding purposes. An example of something that did this well was the 2004 German film "Downfall", which controversially showed Adolf Hitler in a vulnerable state during his last moments in spite of the atrocities he was responsible for. That film succeeded in showing some human-like aspects to Hitler, whereas this film fails spectacularly in doing the same for Capone, someone who carried out deeds almost as evil.
Josh Trank, who returns to the director's chair after his terrible attempt at rebooting the Fantastic Four back in 2015, merely shows that he should probably just retire from filmmaking and be happy he has one good film under his belt, that being 2012's Chronicle. It is clear that Trank at least has some solid knowledge of Capone's life and character but has no idea how to convey this onscreen. As previously mentioned, instead of showing fleeting examples of sympathy to Capone's character, all we get are repetitive scenes of his lapses in brain activity and soiling himself. This went on for so long that it became increasingly boring to watch. You can only show so many scenes like this before the audience will lose interest and stop caring altogether, and this is especially a sad case when the subject matter is such a prominent figure of the gangster world.
With an actor as talented as Tom Hardy in the lead role, he can at least be some saving grace, right? Wrong. Not once throughout the film did I ever believe Hardy was the infamous gangster, even though he was obviously doing the best he could with the material given to him. He mumbles and croaks his way through the film's weak dialogue and has hallucinations so surreal that even David Lynch would be scratching his head over what he has just seen. Worth mentioning as well was the poor use of makeup on Hardy's face so he would appear older and wrought with sickness. The entire time it looked as though someone just hastily powdered his face white before they started shooting and said "That will be fine. No one will notice". This stuck out to me as lazy and amateurish, especially when he is required to be in water, where the powder washed off and showed Hardy's natural skin colour.
As I said, while I still respect that the filmmakers wanted to show something different regarding the life of Al Capone, it just wasn't worth it for this awful final product. It is especially frustrating that the potential is right there but it all went to waste due to the incompetence of its writer/director/editor. If you value your time or intelligence, avoid this one at all costs.
I rate it 2.5/10
A wonderful continuation of that unique Pixar charm that never stops being fun
Onward is a CGI fantasy film created by PIXAR. Featuring the voices of Tom Holland and Chris Pratt in the lead roles, it is a wonderful continuation of that unique Pixar charm that never stops being fun.
In a fantasy world populated with mythical beings, elven high schooler Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland) lives with his older brother Barley (voiced by Chris Pratt) and their widowed mother Laurel (voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) in the town of Mushroomton. On Ian's sixteenth birthday, he and Barley receive a gift from their deceased father Wilden containing a magical staff, a powerful gem, and a spell that will allow the brothers to bring their father back to life for just one day only. Later that night, Ian accidentally recites the spell to himself which results in his father's bottom half materialising in front of him and the gem disappearing. With less than 24 hours until their father vanishes for good, the two brothers set off with Wilden's bottom half on an adventure to find another gem that will hopefully bring the rest of Wilden's body back into existence.
Although the film's simplistic plot is essentially a journey from A to B, Onward more than makes up for this with its wonderfully written characters and heartwarming charm that virtually all audiences can enjoy. There is just so much to admire in the way we watch the two brothers bond with each other as they travel across this now urbanised magical world inhabited with various species of fantasy creatures who have since conformed to a life of normality due to the advancement of technology. This, of course, draws parallels to the real life world, where humans have eased up on our abilities as hunter/gatherers in favour of an easier life thanks to more revolutionary methods of survival. I did feel that this satirical commentary on what has become of our lives in the resulting centuries was a bit lightweight at certain times but I still appreciate that we were shown enough to get the point across and I applaud the writers for this. Additionally, the film is quite funny at times, with most of the comic relief relying on the conflicting personality traits of the brothers as well as some witty sight gags involving the world's whimsical inhabitants going about their daily lives in the most menial of fashion. All of these jokes were properly implemented into the story and never feel like afterthoughts merely written in for runtime padding.
As far as animation and visuals go, there is not much more to say than what has already been said for other recent Pixar films. It is beautiful to look at and the nature of the character's movements are as nice as ever. I'll admit I was hesitant about how the final product would look as viewing the film's first trailer didn't excite me all that much but upon seeing the completed film, I was actually taken by surprise at how great it often looked. Characters emote realistically and the fluidity of how they moved said so much more than any amount of dialogue ever did. This is especially the case with Wilden, who despite being primarily a pair of legs, had so much readable body language that even though he was unable to speak, we could still understand how he felt in a particular scene due to how cleverly animated his movements were.
I absolutely loved the brotherly love depicted between the two Lightfoot siblings, mainly due to the great performances of both Tom Holland and Chris Pratt. Holland plays his character Ian in a similar way to how he plays Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Multiverse, a bit awkward but at the same time endearing to the audience. We all can't help but want him to succeed in seeing his father again, even if it is for only one day. Chris Pratt has a great time playing to his talents as the loveable goofball Barley, who despite his somewhat man-child demeanor, is a lot more mature in certain aspects that what he is aware of. Seeing how the two almost polar-opposite characters played off one another provided most of the film's emotional centre and it was wonderful to see how they both stuck together throughout their various challenges and obstacles. However, it is also worth mentioning that the boys' mother Laurel had her fair share of fun moments as well, especially in her scenes with a humorous Manticore named "Corey" (voiced by Octavia Spencer). Unfortunately, we don't see enough of these two in action but in the fleeting amount of times they were on-screen provided some great fun. If we ever get a sequel, I hope we see more of their antics.
While it may not be as clever or emotional as some Pixar classics, the film has still rightly earned its place among the animation studio's best work. It once again proves that they are capable of creating entertaining films that people of all ages can enjoy and even see a bit of themselves in some of its characters. It is unknown if there will be sequel but I believe there is some potential should Pixar ever decide to make one. Either way, I am satisfied with what we have gotten.
I rate it 8.5/10
A generic kidnap and rescue story kept involving by its well shot action scenes and consistent performance by its main star
Extraction is an action thriller film based on the graphic novel "Ciudad" by Ande Parks. Starring Chris Hemsworth in the lead role and directed by stunt coordinator Sam Hargrave, it is a generic kidnap and rescue story kept involving by its well shot action scenes and consistent performance by its main star.
In Mumbai, India, Ovi Mahajan Jr (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), the son of a notorious Indian drug lord, is kidnapped and held to ransom by a group of gangsters working for Amir Asif (Priyanshu Painyuli), Bangladesh's most ruthless drug kingpin, and brought to the capital city of Dhaka. As Ovi's father is currently in prison, he is unable to properly pay the ransom and time is running out over whether or not Ovi will be brought home in one piece. To ensure Ovi's safe return, former soldier and black market mercenary Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) is recruited to travel to Dhaka to extract Ovi from his kidnappers and navigate through the dangerous city with Amir's gang and corrupt police officers hot on their tails.
While this genre isn't anything new, Extraction still proves that with the right amount of creative action and star power, there is still some entertainment value to be had. The story follows the typical plot line of an important individual being kidnapped and a tough macho protagonist attempting to rescue said individual. Cliched and silly? Yes, but if that's what you enjoy, then this is for you. The strong violence and gore will certainly be off-putting to casual audiences, but for the most part I think it looked stylised in the vein of the graphic novel from which it was based. With that said, some of it did feel excessive at times and served little purpose other than for sensationalistic action scenes involving the two main characters. In terms of the screenplay, some it felt confusing near the beginning as it didn't do that good of a job establishing the differences between the Indian and Bangladeshi characters to the viewer. We are shown that there is something of a rivalry amidst the two countries involving their drug empires but it isn't really communicated that clearly how severe it is over the course of the film. Also, we see how some of the police forces in each country are in cahoots with the drug lords as they have been bribed to work in their favour but they only really show up in one or two scenes and aren't ever mentioned again. This felt like a missed opportunity to offer a commentary on police corruption but instead it was brushed aside for some more action.
Stunt coordinator Sam Hargrave, making his directorial debut, showcases his talents for cleverly choreographed fight scenes and single take shots that keep the viewer on edge. There were parts where I was reminded of some the action-packed moments depicted in the John Wick films, in that the lead character made good use of the surrounding environment to take out his adversaries, even using simple everyday objects as weapons. He also shows how claustrophobic the densely populated cities of India and Bangladesh can be when trying to maneuver through the large number of people to get to where one is going, especially if you're being pursued by dangerous gang members. I still think he has a long way to go before he can be taken seriously as a storyteller, but he has certainly nailed the action and cinematography side of things.
Chris Hemsworth plays his usual badass action hero self, shooting, stabbing and punching his way through a seemingly endless number of foes. At this point, it's pretty much confirmed that this is the only type of role he is capable of playing but still, if it ain't broke. I particularly liked his scenes with the young Ovi Jr and how he becomes something of a father figure to him throughout the course of film. There is a nice back and forth dynamic between the two, clearly reflecting on Hemsworth's personal love of India and its people. Unfortunately his interactions with the rest of the cast felt lacking, save for a scene or two with David Harbour, who plays an old army acquaintance of his. These were the only parts of the film that offer some kind of emotional connection with the audience, as the rest is merely bullets flying and things being blown up.
As I mentioned earlier, this film offers nothing new from the kidnap and rescue genre but a great deal of its appeal comes from the action rather than the story. Reportedly, there is a sequel in development and although I don't really see this whole thing becoming a franchise, I think it does provide an opportunity for further world building and the ironing out of some this film's issues. If you have nothing better to watch on Netflix, then there's not much else to say but sit back and enjoy this for what it is.
I rate it 6.5/10
Quite possibly the most embarrassing thing that Robert Downey Jr has associated himself with since his infamous drug benders of the late 90s and early 2000s
Dolittle is a fantasy adventure film based on the Doctor Dolittle stories by Hugh Lofting. Starring Robert Downey Jr in the title role, it is quite possibly the most embarrassing thing that this otherwise talented actor has associated himself with since his infamous drug benders of the late 90s and early 2000s.
In early Victorian England, Doctor John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr), an eccentric veterinarian with an uncanny ability to talk with animals, lives as a recluse inside his large mansion after his wife is lost at sea, only tending to other animals and refusing contact with the outside world. One day, Dolittle is summoned to Buckingham Palace for his assistance after the Queen is found to be dying of a serious illness. Initially refusing, Dolittle is persuaded by his macaw Poly (voiced by Emma Thompson) to reconnect with other people and he later decides to head over there with his animal entourage. Upon arrival, Dolittle deduces that the Queen has ingested a deadly poison that can only be cured by the fruit of the Eden Tree, which grows exclusively on a faraway island. Dolittle then sets off on a journey with his new young apprentice Tommy (Harry Collett) and his animals in the hope of locating this mysterious fruit before the Queen's life is claimed by her sickness.
Despite the large amount of talent involved, Dolittle fails in almost every way possible at being an entertaining film for all ages, let alone as a worthy adaptation of a classic series of stories. The poorly paced, unfunny screenplay has the film moving with such a lack of care that it feels as though they were making it up as they went along. Characters felt underdeveloped and most gags were just annoying animal puns and/or fart jokes. I am fully aware that this film is intended for children but I'm sick and tired of people using that as an excuse to defend this lazy approach to filmmaking as a reason the audience should let it slide. There are plenty of films out there that are able to provide enough entertainment for children and adults alike without going down this easy route, even the 1998 Dr. Dolittle film starring Eddie Murphy, while not great by any means, had a better balance of entertainment value for everyone than this. I think I smiled once the entire film, and that was a scene involving a fly being freed from a flyswatter. When a fly made me feel more emotion than anything else happening in a film, that's where I realised there's a major problem.
The effects used on the animals are a mixed bag overall. Every now and then an animal looked reasonably well integrated into the real world environments while others were clearly CGI added in post-production. This film had a reported budget of $175 million, which is about the same as 2016's The Jungle Book, a film with more realistic looking CGI animals, so it comes as a surprise that the effects here felt so lacklustre in comparison. Personally, I would have much preferred the film's budget went towards hiring better screenwriters to touch up its terrible script as I can usually forgive mediocre CGI so long as the story is well-written, which this certainly isn't. According to further research, this film had three weeks of reshoots after poor test screenings so it wasn't as though the filmmakers were pressed for time when fixing things up, yet the final result is still as weak as ever.
As much as love Robert Downey Jr, it pains me to say that not even he could make this film watchable. He overacts in every scene he is in, not even in a so-bad-it's-good kind of way but one that makes the viewer pity him. Additionally, his attempt at a Welsh accent for his character was about as convincing as his Australian accent in Natural Born Killers and Tropic Thunder, laughably inconsistent and easy to distinguish as fake to native speakers. I hope this film is but a mere hiccup in his post-Marvel Cinematic Universe roles as an actor as brilliant as him deserves much better. None of the voice cast for the animals were particularly memorable either, as their only contribution to the story was that they were simply talking animals voiced by celebrities helping the title character and the novelty of them being voiced by famous actors wore off very quickly. It got to the point where I felt like playing celebrity voice bingo when their names came up in the end credits. Tom Holland? Check. John Cena? Check. Emma Thompson? Check. Rami Malek? Check. Selena Gomez? Bingo!
In conclusion, as bad as the film was, I can at least say it is very easy to forget about shortly after you have seen it. Also, due to it underperforming at the box office (Universal Pictures have reportedly lost over $100 million as a result), it is unlikely that a sequel will ever be made. This whole experience was merely a waste of time for everyone involved, nothing more, nothing less.
I rate it 3/10
21 Bridges (2019)
A predictable but entertaining way to spend one's time if you have nothing better to do
21 Bridges is an action thriller film directed by Brian Kirk and co-produced by The Russo Brothers. Starring Chadwick Boseman in the lead role, it is a predictable but entertaining way to spend one's time if you have nothing better to do.
In New York City, Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) works as a police officer following in his father's footsteps, who was brutally killed on a case nineteen years earlier. Due to his personal determination to bring cop murderers to justice, Andre has earned a reputation for being a "killer of cop killers", although he is reluctant to embrace this label. Late one night, two young cocaine thieves (Taylor Kitsch and Stephan James) shoot dead seven police officers after their heist goes horribly wrong. With the criminals now on the loose in Manhattan, Andre convinces the Mayor to put the entire city into lockdown until 5:00 AM, closing off all modes of public transport and the city's twenty-one bridges until the two killers are found before they properly escape.
Although it offers little to the genre that hasn't been seen before, 21 Bridges still provides enough of an enjoyable experience to viewers thanks to its skillful editing and tense atmosphere. We are constantly reminded that New York City is indeed "the city that never sleeps" as we see just how many locations remain open for criminals to use as their base of operations regardless of the time. This, in turn, makes for a somewhat more grounded approach to showcasing how prevalent crime can be in such a large and well-known city as we see Andre weaving his way through these various places in pursuit of the two criminals. Additionally, the film also touches upon themes of corruption in the police force and how being labelled a killer can be twisted into both a positive and negative context. Sure, Andre may be bringing murdered cops to justice, but he has still taken lives in the process, and no matter what way you look at it he has still killed someone, a fact he is shown to be well aware of.
In terms of direction, Brian Kirk makes good use of the landscape of the concrete jungle that is Manhattan to emphasise how big a city it is and that it is no easy task finding two men in amongst all the chaos. He also keeps things moving along at a brisk pace with some creative editing, cutting between the criminals and Andre's pursuit of them, all while maintaining a solid balance between the two character plotlines. I do feel that there wasn't really enough focus shown on the lockdown of the entire city. Instead of obviously grinding everything to a halt, it only really comes across as a minor inconvenience to the New York City citizens and commuters. I understand that this takes place late at night, but as previously mentioned, we are meant to be shown that this is a city that never sleeps and so depicting the vulnerable points of this no matter what time it is would have been a great opportunity. This whole thing is especially annoying as I believe it robs the film of some much needed tension during the climax of the second act, and it does feel like a number of the surprises revealed near the end were unearned.
This film was clearly a one man show, with Chadwick Boseman successfully holding the viewer's attention throughout the story with his general likeability and admirable moral standards. I can't help but imagine that if this film had come out twenty years earlier, Denzel Washington could have played this character, as this seems like the type of role he could have portrayed just as well. Taylor Kitsch and Stephan James, who played the two cop killers, are also given a surprising amount of development in the story. We are treated to seeing things from their perspective and not merely to view them as one-dimensional criminals ready to be gunned down by the hero. Unfortunately the rest of the cast, which includes the likes of J.K. Simmons, Sienna Miller, and Keith David, weren't implemented into the story as well as they should have been. It just felt though they were written into the film as after-thoughts, with hardly anything for them to do other than spout exposition or provide some leverage to move the story along.
Overall, even though it likely won't stay with you for very long, the film may be just the right amount of laidback popcorn entertainment for the casual viewer with some time to kill. Most of its faults are forgivable simply for the enjoyment it offers without coming across as insulting to the audience's intelligence, unlike most modern films of this type. There's not much more to say but sit back and take it for the fairly generic cop thriller that it is.
I rate it 7/10
The Gentlemen (2019)
An entertaining return to that classic Guy Ritchie style of British gangster eccentricism
The Gentlemen is a crime comedy film written and directed by Guy Ritchie (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, Aladdin). Starring Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Colin Farrell, and Hugh Grant, it is an entertaining return to that classic Guy Ritchie style of British gangster eccentricism that has been missing for quite some time.
In London, Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey), a charismatic American drug kingpin who specialises in cannabis, attempts to sell off his business for $400,000,000 so he can retire in peace. After first offering the position to billionaire Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong), Mickey attracts the attention of Chinese gangster Dry Eye (Henry Golding), who tries to buy out the business for a considerably lower asking price, much to Mickey's displeasure. As a result of this, word gets out among the world's crime syndicates as various other high ranking racketeers pursue ways to steal Mickey's empire out from under him.
Much like "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" and "Snatch" before it, "The Gentlemen" wears its distinct British flavour on its sleeve as we are treated to an erratic and sometimes darkly funny look into the London criminal underworld. The unapologetic approach it takes to depicting violence, drug use, and political incorrectness will prove highly off-putting to any newcomers to the director's work but anyone longing for a return to the style of the aforementioned films will be greatly satisfied. It certainly feels refreshing to watch a movie that isn't afraid to push the boundaries of what would be considered appropriate for a modern gangster film, especially without seeming like it is trying too hard.
After experiencing something of a creativity drought in recent years, Guy Ritchie comes back with a vengeance, bringing his trademark fast paced editing and unmistakable British charm to a film much more suited to his personal preferences. Anyone who has seen his early work will remember that he will often punctuate a violent scene with tongue-in-cheek comic relief to help ease the audience through the severity of what they have just witnessed. There were a number of times where I laughed out loud at some of these moments, sometimes out of shock and sometimes out of the genuine comedic value on display. In addition, Ritchie's storytelling technique also remains the same, in that you really need to pay attention to every intricate detail of a character's actions to fully understand the entire plot. There are the odd blink-and-you-miss-it moments where I failed to understand something and needed to look it up later on but they didn't feel as punishing to the viewer as in some of the director's previous films. Once you get used to this style, Ritchie's films take on a unique life of their own and begin to feel as though they exist within their own custom-made universe.
Being an ensemble cast, each of the main actors shine in their own unique ways. Matthew McConaughey of course stands out as the main American in a predominantly British gangster world, exuding an unflappable confidence as he does business in a foreign land. Charlie Hunnam brings an intimidating stance to his role as McConaughey's right-hand man, often striking fear in other characters merely due to his presence in the room. Colin Farrell, while not receiving as much screen time as the rest of his co-stars, is his usual Irishman self with a penchant for saying the odd witty quip at the end of a scene. However, the role that surprised me the most was an almost unrecognisable Hugh Grant as a heavily-accented private detective. It actually took me a moment to realise it was even him near the beginning of the film but once I did I was treated to one of his best performances to date. I only wish he'd played roles like this much earlier in his career, as opposed to being typecast as the mild mannered Englishmen in romantic comedies but I suppose it's better late than never I guess.
As it stands, "The Gentlemen" may not leave as much of an impression on audiences as Guy Ritchie's earlier films but it still makes for a worthy addition to his filmography. There is definitely much to enjoy in seeing a filmmaker creating something for audiences who appreciate the craft of his work in spite of the failures and near-misses throughout his career. If anything, it proves that even after more than twenty years in the film business, he still has plenty more surprises for us to look forward to.
I rate it 8/10
The Addams Family (2019)
A mildly entertaining update to the beloved kooky family but stumbles at being a coherent adaptation at the most crucial of times
The Addams Family is a CGI animated film based on the series of cartoons created by Charles Addams. Featuring the voices of Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz, and Finn Wolfhard, it is a mildly entertaining update to the beloved kooky family but stumbles at being a coherent adaptation at the most crucial of times.
In New Jersey, the oddly ghoulish Addams family, consisting of patriarch Gomez (voiced by Oscar Isaac), his wife Morticia (voiced by Charlize Theron), daughter Wednesday (voiced by Chloe Grace Moretz), and son Pugsley (voiced by Finn Wolfhard) all make their home in an abandoned asylum on top of a hill far away from the rest of society. Blissfully unaware of the outside world, the family's idyllic, tight-knit existence is soon challenged by reality TV host Margaux Needler (voiced by Allison Janney), who plans to build a perfect happy community of "normal" people as a means to increase the ratings for her show. After the family refuses to conform to her standards, Margaux becomes determined to band her community together to run the Addams out of town once and for all, using the family's weird and frightening image as her main excuse.
Even though I appreciate what the filmmakers were trying to do for today's audiences, this modernised take on The Addams Family feels too watered down to leave the impact it should. The main issue here is the light-hearted tone, which detracts strongly from the source material's dark nature and satirical elements. I understand that this film is primarily aimed at young children and too much darkness may end up scaring them, but previous adaptations, both live action and animated, were able to strike the correct balance between horror and humour to appease all ages, yet this one does not. A more appropriate director at the helm, like Tim Burton, would have been a better choice for a film like this. In fact, as I am typing, I'm surprised this match made in heaven hasn't already happened by now.
Artwise, the film borrows heavily from the original Charles Addams cartoons, with the characters' proportions looking caricaturish and less human-like. Some viewers may be put off by this stylistic choice but I actually liked how the animators implemented it for the most part, as it shows respect to the material it has been adapted from. In addition to this, there is a nice use of juxtaposition of the bleak, drab appearance of each of the Addams family members with that of the brightly lit colours of the outside world, to further remind us of how much they stand out in a crowd.
All of the voice actors were perfectly cast, with each of them adding the right amount of macabre fun to their performances. Out of all of them, I found that Chloe Grace Moretz stood out the most as Wednesday Addams, playing the role in all her deadpan glory. This may be due to Wednesday always being my personal favourite member of the Addams family and that I find much to enjoy in seeing how she interacts with the outside world. I have always admired the way she (and the rest of her family for that matter) stayed true to herself, unlike the other supposedly "normal" people she comes into contact with. I still think Christina Ricci's portrayal of Wednesday in the early 90s live action films is the definitive version of the character but I am confident that Chloe Grace Moretz's interpretation will be enough to please today's generation of moviegoers.
Despite its obvious flaws, it's hard to truly hate this film due to some of the respectable care shown in bringing this gruesome family back to the big screen. There is certainly potential to iron out these problems in the upcoming sequel and return to the series' macabre roots. It happened with the live action films, with 1993's "Addams Family Values" proving to be stronger than its 1991 predecessor so it's reasonable to assume that the possibility will always be there.
I rate it 6/10
The Invisible Man (2020)
A slick, well-made adaptation that modernises a classic story for today's audiences without losing too much of its original appeal
"The Invisible Man" is a sci-fi horror film loosely based on the novel of the same name by H.G. Wells. Written and directed by Leigh Whannell (Insidious Chapter 3, Upgrade) and starring Elisabeth Moss in the lead role, it is a slick, well-made adaptation that modernises a classic story for today's audiences without losing too much of its original appeal.
In San Francisco, Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) lives with her abusive and manipulative boyfriend Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who just so happens to be a renowned wealthy technological engineer. One night, Cecilia escapes from this relationship by drugging Adrian and fleeing into the woods where her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) is waiting to pick her up. A couple of weeks later, Cecilia hears the news that Adrian has apparently committed suicide and left her a large sum of money in his will. Cecilia soon starts experiencing strange occurrences around her new living quarters from some kind of unseen force, leading her to believe that Adrian has faked his death and found an innovative way to continue tormenting her.
Rather than present us with the typical horror/slasher genre, "The Invisible Man" instead treats its audience to scares relying on paranoia and the haunting feeling of personal trauma. Anyone who has escaped a relationship with a manipulative significant other should find plenty to identify with in what Cecilia experiences from time to time. Seeing the way she senses Adrian's presence when he is not physically visible gives us the feeling that he is always there watching over her, allowing us to properly understand her mental anguish and the psychological pain she has endured. This is where I feel it stands out a great deal over many of today's horror films thanks to its clever underlying commentary on abusive relationships. In spite of this, there are one or two jumpscares at certain points but for the most part they felt earned and not merely shoehorned in for the sake of a cheap fright. It pleases me that the filmmakers have taken this approach in adapting a classic story in such a manner instead of taking the easy route of making its invisible man go crazy and try to kill everyone just so we can have an overblown action climax, which is what happened in 2000's "Hollow Man".
After writing and directing the underrated 2018 action thriller "Upgrade", Leigh Whannell returns with another film featuring the advancement of technology in ways we may not approve of. In addition to being about the aforementioned domestic abuse, the film also showcases how technological innovations can play a prominent part in our daily lives. We see how we must be careful to ensure that such electronics do not fall into the wrong hands as even devices with the best intentions can always be twisted and perverted into something evil. Whannell uses this stylistic approach wherever he can, heavily featuring scenes with hidden security cameras, mobile phones, and even something as simple as emailing to show how all of these things we take for granted have taken its toll on poor Cecilia throughout the story. Since the original novel was published in 1897, there obviously would not have been references to any of these electrical marvels in that era but thanks to inventive creativity of Whannell's writing, he manages to implement them into this film surprisingly well.
Elisabeth Moss gives one of her most intense dramatic performances to date, which truly shows her range as an actress. There isn't a single moment where I wasn't convinced she was wrought with trauma over the abuse she has tolerated for so long from her boyfriend. Oliver Jackson-Cohen was also great in the title role, despite spending most of the film not visible to the naked eye and saying very little. Interestingly, most of his character's backstory is shown either through implied events or brief expository dialogue, yet remarkably all of it works. Again, this may be due to Leigh Whannell's clever writing and direction that gets everything important across to the audience without dragging down the story's overall entertainment value.
In conclusion, even though I have not read the original novel in full, I can't help but feel that if he were alive today, H. G. Wells would likely be pleased with this adaptation. Wells was always fascinated yet cautionary with what technological achievements mankind will accomplish in the future, reflecting strongly in the novels he wrote. Because of this, I believe that if he were to see how a filmmaker who shares a similar mindset handles one of his stories for the big screen, he would be content that his warnings have been heeded in some way. However, what a modern audience will choose to make of these warnings, only time will tell.
I rate it 8/10
Superman: Red Son (2020)
An eye-opening yet inconveniently abridged take on the comic from which it was adapted
Superman: Red Son is an animated superhero film based on the 2003 DC Comics series of the same name. Featuring the voices of Jason Isaacs, Diedrich Bader, and Roger Craig Smith, it provides an eye-opening yet inconveniently abridged take on the comic from which it was adapted.
In 1953, the USSR unveils their latest weapon in a propaganda video; an alien being with superhuman strength later dubbed "The Soviet Superman" by the American press. In response, US President Eisenhower assigns scientist Lex Luthor with the task of developing a strategy to counteract this "Superman" and restore a sense of hope throughout the country. A short time later, Superman saves Metropolis from a crashing satellite and later agrees to an interview with Lois Lane, a reporter for "The Daily Planet" and wife of Lex Luthor. Upon their second meeting, Lois shows Superman secret documents detailing the oppressive measures and brutal punishments the regime he is allied with has had in place the entire time, causing him to question whether or not he is truly fighting for what is right.
While it still retains the core message of the comic, this adaptation of Superman: Red Son could have been considerably better in more ways than what we got. It just felt as though certain moments were cut from the film to simply to keep the runtime below 90 minutes and in doing so, a great deal of important backstories and character motivations were lost. This is especially noticeable in supporting characters like Batman and Wonder Woman, the former of which is only briefly touched upon before being brushed aside for other plot elements. Despite this, Superman himself was pretty solidly developed overall, with his moral compass being the driving force of the story, as he internally debates himself over whether communism or capitalism is the best future for humanity.
As far as animation goes, the quality featured in the film is reasonable but nothing to write home about. I'd say it felt about on level with that of the original Superman Animated Series of the 1990s, which looked great for its time but in this current year seems a bit dated. I cannot help but feel that this comic would have fared much better had it been adapted into live action instead. Sure, it would have cost a great deal more but this would have allowed for more creativity and room to expand upon the story without sacrificing too much. The original comic featured more in depth commentary on moral judgement based on one's upbringing as well as the legacy that both democracy and dictatorships will leave on the human race. Even though I am not saying it is impossible for an animated film to properly touch on subjects like this, I do believe that making a film with real human actors in it would have allowed for a wider audience to appreciate such elements without too many confines of a set runtime.
The voice acting was solid, with Jason Isaacs giving a great vocal performances in the lead role as Superman. Some viewers may be put off by the Russian accents, dismissing them as cartoonish, however this is actually how Russians sound when speaking English believe it or not (just watch a video of Vladimir Putin speaking English to understand what I mean). I do believe that instead they should have had most of the Soviet characters speaking Russian with English subtitles as it did eventually feel weird seeing so many of its citizens speaking English instead of their native language throughout the film. This may have been done so that people would not have to read subtitles but I think this detracts too much from any sense of realism they were going with and come across as cheap creative decision.
Overall, even though things could have been improved in a variety of ways, the film is still moderately entertaining and worth at least one viewing for anyone curious about this "what if?" scenario. I myself am a big fan of works dealing with alternate history as I find it curiously fun speculating how things could have turned out if something happened differently, and the original Superman: Red Son comic is one of the best examples of such a subject. Whereas this film took too many liberties for the sake of trimming down its runtime, I recommend checking out the comic if you are a fan of both Superman or alternate history in general.
I rate it 6.5/10
The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)
A sweet-natured, feel good adventure that helps to reinforce the belief that we are all more capable of certain things than we realise
The Peanut Butter Falcon is a comedy-drama film written and directed by Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz. Starring Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, and Zack Gottsagen, it is a sweet-natured, feel good adventure that helps to reinforce the belief that we are all more capable of certain things than we realise.
In North Carolina, Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with down syndrome, lives in a nursing home in the care of social worker Eleanor (Dakota Johnson). Zak has dreams of meeting of his favourite professional wrestler "The Salt Water Redneck" (Thomas Haden Church) and manages to sneak out of the facility one night to attend a wrestling school run by the Redneck himself. With Eleanor pursuing him not far behind, Zak stows away on a boat owned by Tyler (Shia LeBeouf), a rogue fisherman and petty thief on the run from an angry pair of crabbers. Eventually, Tyler soon discovers Zak hiding underneath some sheets and agrees to accompany him, giving him life advice and even the odd tip about wrestling on their journey.
Even though the final outcome is predictable from the start, "The Peanut Butter Falcon" still revels in its affable traits enough to charm even the most hardened of viewers. There is plenty to admire in watching how Zak follows his goal of meeting his hero and along the way gaining a newfound sense of self-confidence in spite of his disability. Oftentimes, I found myself forgetting that Zak even had down syndrome as the film does a wonderful job of inviting its audience to see beyond the handicap and focus on the curious yet determined young man instead. It would have been easy to simply make us feel sorry for Zak at every opportunity for some cheap sympathy, but due to his strong characterisation, each touching moment felt rightly earned whenever necessary.
Writer/directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz handle this film's subject matter with a careful amount of precision to avoid it going down the route of becoming expendable sentimentality. The two of them apparently wrote the film around actor Zack Gottsagen's desire to become an actor and their respect for his dreams certainly shows. In addition to this, their use of the North Carolina scenery shows the tricky but fascinating environment the main characters must traverse to reach their destination. One scene in particular features a bird's eye view of an open grass field with Tyler navigating through it easily while Zak follows behind at a great distance. This is likely to show how big the real world is to Zak, who is used to being trapped inside a small nursing home while to the more experienced Tyler, this is simply a minor obstacle.
Newcomer Zack Gottsagen gives a touching, believable performance in the lead role, clearly letting his own personal traits flow through his character. It was enjoyable to see him interact with those who believe in him and want him to succeed, which in turn makes the audience hope he does at the same time. Both Shia LaBeouf and Dakota Johnson were great additions to the cast, with LaBeouf's motivational speeches occasionally drawing humorous comparisons to his infamous "Just Do It!" meme from 2015. In Johnson's case, she is shown to be a caring sister-figure to Zak who despite some of her disciplinary tactics, still wants him to achieve his dream.
In the end, although the film isn't groundbreaking by any means, it still serves as an entertaining reminder that no matter what we think is holding us back, we should still believe in our dreams and continue to find ways to achieve them. There may still be several obstacles to overcome, but in the long run, it all comes down to how we choose to approach such impediments.
I rate it 7.5/10
One of the better entries in Emmerich's filmography, but only barely
Midway is a war drama film directed by Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Patriot, 2012) based on the decisive Battle of Midway during World War II. Starring Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Dennis Quaid, Aaron Eckhart, and Woody Harrelson, it is one of the better entries in Emmerich's filmography, but only barely.
In 1941, America chooses to remain neutral to the ongoing conflict raging across the globe. On December 7th of that same year, the American naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii is attacked by the Japanese, killing several people and forcing the US to enter the war. In the aftermath of this preemptive strike, the US stages the battle of Midway six months later, a subsequent retaliation against the Japanese at the US territory of the Midway Islands in the Pacific Ocean.
There's no denying the actual effort being put into making it look as modern and unbiased as possible, but this retelling of the battle of Midway still has some glaring issues. For a start, the film treads cliched territory with corny dialogue and flat characterisation of its real life subjects. Lines such as "This is for Pearl Harbor!" and "We have awoken a sleeping giant", (the latter of which was taken from the 1970 film "Tora! Tora! Tora!") feel like the typical over-the-top Hollywood sentiment one would expect from a war film like this. In addition, most of the characters were underdeveloped, being pushed aside to make way for an action scene. All of this is a shame because I believe all of these problems could have been avoided if only there were a better screenwriter at the helm.
Roland Emmerich, while I don't think he is a particularly good director, does actually handle this film surprisingly better than expected. According to some research, making a film about the Battle of Midway had been Emmerich's passion project for a considerable amount of time and it definitely shows at certain points. His choices in cinematography during the air battles are quite interesting, often featuring the pilots charging their way into enemy fire like the way an army of soldiers on the battlefield would advance into the crossfire on land. This style of creativity was previously shown in Emmerich's 2000 film "The Patriot", which was not a perfect film by any means, but came off as entertaining enough to prove that he could handle a film based on war with the right amount of precision and care to not be considered entirely terrible. In addition to this, I enjoyed the way he chose to show the differing viewpoints of the American and Japanese strategists as each side plans on how to deal with any potential attack. We see how the Americans tended to go for an all-out assault on their enemies while the Japanese were more about biding their time, patiently waiting out for the appropriate moment to strike.
As mentioned earlier, most of the film's characters felt underutilised and underdeveloped. If you're going to make a film about a real historical event that went the way it did due to the figures involved, you'd better make sure you do their characterisation justice. There were some characters that I completely forgot about as they were only in one scene and then we never see them again until the ending coda. If it weren't for the fact that some of them were played by well-known actors like Dennis Quaid and Aaron Eckhart, I would not have realised their importance in the story. With that said, Ed Skrein's depiction of Lieutenant Richard "Dick" Best was the only person I felt had some dimension to him. Even though the British born Skrein's attempts at an American accent came across as cartoonish at times, in particular his liberal use of "Goddamn it!", he at least had some likeability and admirable traits that kept me invested in what he may end up doing next. There were also some nice scenes with him and his wife, played by Mandy Moore, that did remind the audience of what he is fighting for, apart from his country.
In conclusion, while I do appreciate the effort Emmerich has gone to making something he has wanted for a long time, I believe he needs a better screenwriter to collaborate with. All of the potential is there in terms of his direction but the poor dialogue and character development is his biggest downfall. In spite of all this, I would much rather watch this film again than Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor.
I rate it 6/10
A fairly pedestrian biopic powered by the solid performance of its main star
Harriet is a biographical drama film based on the life of abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Starring Cynthia Erivo in the lead role, it is a fairly pedestrian biopic powered by the solid performance of its main star.
In 1849, Araminta "Minty" Ross (Cynthia Erivo) lives as a slave owned by the Brodess family who run a farm in Maryland. In spite of her slavery position, Minty is married to a freedman named John Tubman (Zackary Momoh) and plans on starting a family with him. One day, the head patriarch of the Brodess family dies suddenly, prompting his son Gideon (Joe Alwyn) to take over and sell Minty off due to her unruly behaviour. After successfully fleeing from the farm, Minty reaches Philadelphia, adopts the new name of "Harriet" after her mother, and decides to work hard to free as many of her fellow slaves as possible, earning the nickname "Moses" in the process.
Despite its uplifting story, "Harriet" plays it safe all too often with its unwillingness to break away from the typical biopic mould. There's very little this film has to say on the topic of slavery and the mistreatment of African-Americans that hasn't already been said in better movies. It merely points out that the slaves had it bad and that white slave owners were racist and abusive toward them. With that in mind, there is still that undeniable satisfaction in seeing Harriet gain the upper hand over her adversaries as she bests them nearly every step of the way.
Director Kasi Lemmons does a fine job keeping the film moving at a brisk pace, avoiding too many scenes of expositional dragging, but she does struggle to implement any noteworthy cinematography and production design to leave any impact on the viewer. I feel that this may be due to the fact that I believe the film "12 Years a Slave" showcased the plight of the slaves in 19th century America with such a beautiful, artistic melancholy that it felt as though we were watching a painting from that era come to life. This film, on the other hand, had basic and uninspired production values which caused it to come across as a made-for-TV movie instead. This is a huge shame as the story of Harriet Tubman certainly had the potential to have been given much better treatment if it were handled by a more experienced and influenced team of filmmakers.
In terms of the cast, this was clearly a one person show, with Cynthia Erivo carrying the film the entire time. Her approach to playing such an important role is what kept me invested in the story and it was truly heartbreaking to see what Harriet and her fellow slaves endured during such a bleak chapter of American history. Unfortunately, the rest of the supporting cast serve no other noteworthy purpose than to advance the plot along and provide expositional interactions with its leading actress. Again, this feels like a missed opportunity, as there could have been more scenes involving Harriet and her family to provide further insight into her motivations to keep going in her pursuit to rescue as many slaves as possible. Sure, there were moments where she has emotional reunions with her family but they all felt glossed over in favour of something else.
Overall, even though it could have much better than what we got, it is still nice to see that Harriet Tubman's legacy is now preserved in the form of a motion picture. The acting from its lead actress alone makes it worth at least one viewing but it is unlikely the film will be remembered in a matter of years due to the uninspired approach to telling such a story.
I rate it 6.5/10
Frozen II (2019)
Considerably better than several other Disney cash grab sequels thanks to some well thought out ideas and elements
Frozen II is the sequel to Disney's 2013 animated hit film "Frozen", which was based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale "The Snow Queen". Featuring the voices of Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, and Josh Gad, it is considerably better than several other Disney cash grab sequels thanks to some well thought out ideas and elements.
Three years after the events of the first film, the kingdom of Arendelle is celebrating the beginning of Autumn and Queen Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) joins her sister Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell), snowman Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad), ice cutter Kristoff (voiced by Jonathan Groff) and his reindeer Sven in some of the festivities. Over the course of the following nights, Elsa can't help but ignore the cry of a mysterious voice calling out to her from an unknown location and she deduces that it may have something to do with the future of her kingdom. Determined to figure out the true meaning behind this, Elsa decides to leave Arendelle with Anna, Olaf, Cristoff, and Sven to find the source of the cry and hopefully set things right.
Even though most Disney sequels to films based on fairy tales are of mediocre quality at best, often ending up as direct-to-video fodder, Frozen II is actually a surprisingly effective follow-up in more ways than not. This is likely due to the fact that it feels as though proper effort has gone into expanding the world-building elements, with that sense of mystery surrounding the creation of the kingdom of Arendelle becoming a solid driving force to move the plot forward. It is indeed somewhat interesting to learn more about the history of such a beautiful looking Nordic place and how not everything about its origins was as Utopian as it seems on the surface. Of course, the only reason this film even exists in the first place is because of the overwhelming success of its predecessor and there are a handful of moments that serve as a reminder to that. Some of these were meta jokes that may elicit a chuckle from fans of the previous film while others just felt like lazy attempts at a recap for anyone unfamiliar with the original's story.
In terms of animation, there has obviously been an increase in quality in the past six years as the film looks even better than the first. The attention to detail placed on elements such as the water effects and the ice all look strikingly real at times and certainly add that sense of wonderment to the overall adventure. This is easily the best looking non-Pixar Disney film to date and it is exciting to anticipate the future of 3D animated films as a result. Like the original, this film is a musical, filled with several different songs that are used to advance the story and give insight into the inner thoughts of the characters, with varying degrees of memorability and catchiness. The only song I felt stood out the most is "Into The Unknown", where Queen Elsa responds to the mysterious voice she hears calling out to her from the night. The song has a nice rhythm to it but it is nowhere near as attention-grabbing as "Let It Go". However, this is actually a good thing because the latter song became one of the most annoyingly overplayed songs of the 2010s, to the point where even its writer apologised for the inconvenience it had caused people. Thankfully, "Into The Unknown" remains just a simple song to associate this film with and will likely be forgotten about within the next ten years.
One of the biggest reasons for Frozen's success back in 2013, aside from its music, was the tight-knit sisterly relationship between Elsa and Anna. Many young sisters around the world clearly found the two characters' familial bond relatable and the sequel runs with that every step of the way. The great voice acting between Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell help anchor the film during the most dramatic of scenes. Once again, this should remind audiences about the importance of family and that our siblings should always have our backs, even in the face of danger.
In conclusion, even though Frozen II's very existence is nothing more than the result of the unimaginable success of the original, it has proven itself capable of providing enough entertainment to justify being made in the first place. I don't believe there is much potential for a third entry in the series as practically every option has been explored at this stage but I thought the same about this film originally so I could end up being proven wrong. Personally, I think things should end here but due to there being more success at the box office, who knows what the future will bring. Either way, Disney is set to make a lot more money regardless.
I rate it 7/10
Richard Jewell (2019)
A simple, relatively straightforward story of one man's struggle to restore his reputation
Richard Jewell is a biographical drama film produced and directed by Clint Eastwood, based on the article "American Nightmare: The Ballad of Richard Jewell" by Marie Brenner. Starring Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, and Kathy Bates, it is a simple, relatively straightforward story of one man's struggle to restore his reputation.
In 1996, the city of Atlanta is hosting the Olympic Games and security guard Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) keeps watch over a concert at the nearby Centennial Park. After dealing with some rowdy youths, Richard discovers a suspicious backpack placed underneath a bench which he later finds out contains a large pipe bomb and so orders the rest of his security team to move the concert goers as far away as possible. When the bomb eventually detonates, there are considerably less victims and damage due to Richard's quick thinking and he is hailed as a hero by the local press. A short time later, Richard is accused by the FBI of plotting the very attack he helped to stop as he apparently fits their description of a typical perpetrator, and this leads to him fighting a lengthy series of battles to clear his name.
Both well-told and well-acted, Richard Jewell sheds light on America's flawed justice system and the media's obsession with sensationalistic journalism. Right from the beginning, Richard is depicted as a down-to-earth, relatable everyman who believes he is only doing his job in protecting people from danger, constantly rejecting the notion of being regarded as a public figure. To see how he goes from being viewed as a hero to a villain in the blink of an eye is a frightening thought, especially when there is no hard evidence against him. The way in which the media often refuses to distinguish between an allegation and a confirmation is still a prevalent problem today and this film showcases such an issue to the audience in an easily understood manner, in that something like this could happen to anyone at any time.
Director Clint Eastwood clearly has a penchant for everyday American men being hailed as heroes, as he covered similar ground in his films "Sully" and "The 15:17 to Paris". In addition to this, he also seems to enjoy showing how the media doesn't always have all of the facts when running a story on said heroes and that some of it could very well end up being "fake news". I'm not sure if this is meant to reflect Eastwood's political leanings or if he genuinely hates media manipulation as a whole but it seems to be an ongoing theme in some of his recent films. With that said, there also appears to be jabs taken at the FBI itself, in that they are moments which show Richard's house being bugged and wires being planted on any acquaintances he interacts with. This did lead to certain scenes dragging on longer than they should have as I felt that the privacy concerns regarding the FBI had been established several times throughout the film and some parts seemed as though they were there simply to pad out the run time.
Relative newcomer Paul Walter Hauser, who rose to prominence thanks to some memorable supporting roles in "I, Tonya" and "BlacKkKlansman", does a superb job in the title role, bringing a stern yet likeable vibe to his performance that makes his plight all the more interesting to watch. For his first leading role, Hauser has definitely proven he can hold his own alongside the rest of a cast of more well-known actors. Sam Rockwell also shines as lawyer Watson Bryant, who fights for Richard's exoneration in the face of public scrutiny. However, Kathy Bates is certainly worth mentioning as well, playing Richard's loving mother Bobi. Seeing her stressful breakdowns as she watches her son's reputation dragged through the mud is quite heart-wrenching.
Overall, even though this subject basis has already been covered, Eastwood still manages to provide an entertaining film thanks mainly due to the excellent performances of its actors. As previously stated, the idea of someone just doing their job being inadvertently thrusted into the spotlight could happen to anyone and we are often unprepared to face the consequences by ourselves. It certainly doesn't hurt to have films like this to remind us of how we need to be alert of everything happening around us.
I rate it 7.5/10
Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)
A fast-moving adventure (obviously) that should entertain newcomers and keep fans of the original series satisfied
Sonic The Hedgehog is an action comedy movie based on the SEGA video game series of the same name. Starring James Marsden and Jim Carrey, it is a fast-moving adventure (obviously) that should entertain newcomers and keep fans of the original series satisfied.
In the small town of Green Hills, Montana, a blue anthropomorphic hedgehog named Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) lives in hiding after being forced out of his original dimension due to his powers of super speed. After accidentally causing a blackout throughout the whole area, Sonic attracts the attention of Dr. Ivo Robotnik (Jim Carrey), an eccentric evil genius whom the government has hired to track Sonic down for experimental purposes. Now on the run once again, Sonic enlists the help of local police officer Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) to aid him in avoiding capture and hopefully make a new friend in the process.
Even if you aren't a hardcore fan of the series, Sonic The Hedgehog provides a nice amount of fun action and quirky humour to draw in even the most casual of moviegoer. I myself was a Nintendo kid growing up, preferring to play as the Italian plumber instead of the blue hedgehog, but SEGA and their mascot character always had my respect for being worthy rivals during the video game wars of the 90s, and the same can be said for this. In fact, this film seems to strongly acknowledge Sonic's 1990s roots, from his love of chili dogs to listening to music on a boombox. Of course, there are some references to modern trends but they are kept to a minimum likely so that the film will age better.
Jeff Fowler, who makes his directorial debut for a feature film, does a fine job juggling his storytelling duties with showing off some solid special effects along the way, especially on Sonic himself. It is well known by now that Sonic's original design for this film was poorly received by the public so it was decided that his overall look would be changed. This worked well in the film's favour as not only does he better resemble his video game self, but he even feels more naturally integrated into the real world. We watch as Sonic dashes around causing mischief and escaping danger through different environments like the big city or the quiet countryside, deriving enjoyment along the way. This led to some amusing Quicksilver/Deadpool-esque moments which provided great comic relief during several action scenes.
Comedian Ben Schwartz was a great pick to provide the voice and motion-capture of Sonic himself, both emanating the character's trademark cocky attitude while also showcasing his loneliness and longing for true friendship. This, in turn, makes him more relatable to the audience and causes him to have more human traits than some of the actual people in the film. James Marsden also gave a likeable performance as Tom Wachowski, not merely being relegated to the straight man role but also having his fair share of funny moments as well. However, it is Jim Carrey who steals the show as Dr. Robotnik. I'm not sure whether it was seeing how perfectly tailored the character was to his comedic talents or if it was just how nostalgic it felt to see him acting like his over-the-top 90s self again, but virtually everything he said and did had me laughing out loud. I hope we will see more of Carrey's portrayal of the character in the near future, which reportedly he has expressed interest in doing.
In the end, even though the film isn't groundbreaking by any means, it still provides much needed entertainment thanks to its respectful take on the source material that, like POKÉMON Detective Pikachu before it, definitely feels more like how video games should be handled for the big screen treatment. There is certainly potential for other game franchises to be adapted into movies with a similar style and it is starting to feel as though the "video game curse" may be fading away altogether. There are two bonus mid-credit scenes worth staying back for, and while they aren't of Masahiro Sakurai approaching Sonic about the Smash initiative, they should excite fans of the series just as much.
I rate it 7/10
A fast-paced, violent, and sometimes disjointed follow-up with varying degrees of entertainment value
Birds Of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is a superhero film based on the DC Comics team of the same name and a sequel/spin-off to 2016's Suicide Squad. Starring Margot Robbie in the lead role as Harley Quinn, it is a fast-paced, violent, and sometimes disjointed follow-up with varying degrees of entertainment value.
Sometime after the events of Suicide Squad, the Joker and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) have since ended their relationship, resulting in the latter being forced to fend for herself out on the streets of Gotham City. After spending a night at a fancy club, Harley attracts the attention of its owner Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), a sadistic crime lord who holds a high position of power over the entire city. In exchange for her life, Roman tasks Harley with tracking down a young girl named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), who has pickpocketed an important diamond containing crucial information that will further his influence. Upon finding Cassandra, Harley decides that the two of them should team up with fellow heroes Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), and Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) to defeat Roman and finally bring an end to his reign of terror.
With a noticeably more grounded approach to its source material, Birds of Prey is an exhausting but fun improvement over its predecessor in more ways than less, despite displaying some of the same issues. Unlike the preceding film, this one feels free from the confines of a PG-13 rating and ups the ante with its frequent use of strong violence and swearing. I can't help but feel that Suicide Squad would have been a better film had it taken this approach instead of playing it safe. By making Harley Quinn the sole main character, the film at least has one person to guide the audience through the story as opposed to multiple people each dealing with their own individual problems. With that said, the film attempts to implement Harley's anarchic mindset into its storytelling throughout the first and second acts, which proves problematic when trying to establish what her motivations are and why we should care at all. I do understand that Harley is supposed to be a mentally broken person with an unpredictable streak, but I felt that this did not gel well in the film's favour, as it only ends up making it seem more unsure of itself, overwhelming the viewer in the process. In spite of this, it is still nonetheless interesting to see inside the head of such an iconic character and watching how she deals with a breakup in her own unique ways.
Director Cathy Yan continues Suicide Squad's style of brightly-coloured set pieces and a matching frenetic soundtrack to show off a more wild side to Gotham City we don't often get to see. This approach gives the film an almost music-video type feeling, especially with its song choices. For example, one scene features "Black Betty" as covered by the Australian hard rock band Spiderbait as Harley fights her way through multiple hired goons in a police station. It is highly likely that Margot Robbie, being an Aussie herself, chose this rendition of the song as it suits the scene better than the original. Moments like this show how Yan and Robbie must have gotten on so well during filming, especially since the latter is also credited as an executive producer.
Even though Suicide Squad was poorly received by many, myself included, most will agree that Margot Robbie's performance as Harley Quinn was a major highlight (even earning praise from the character's co-creator Paul Dini) and the same can be said about this outing. There is plenty to enjoy in seeing Harley wreak havoc upon members of Gotham's crime syndicate with little care for the enemies she is making in the process. Robbie brings that much needed spark of madness to her character, constantly reminding the audience that she is still technically a villain in spite of her attempts at a good deed. In addition to this, Ewan McGregor is quite jarring to watch as the film's main antagonist, considering this is one of the rare times he has played a bad guy. Unfortunately, I feel that the remaining members of the titular Birds of Prey were somewhat underused, not leaving much of an impression until the final act. If a sequel is ever greenlit, hopefully they will be given more screen-time.
In conclusion, while the film doesn't break too much new ground for the DC Extended Universe, fans of Harley Quinn and Robbie's performance should be greatly entertained. However, anyone who hated Suicide Squad will likely feel the same way about this film, as apart from the addition of graphic violence and profanity, there is not much else new worth recommending that would change their minds. While not quite a post-credits scene, there is a small amusing Easter egg that those who chose to stay back may smile at.
I rate it 6.5/10
Ford v Ferrari (2019)
A well-told story that balances high octane car races with genuine drama
Ford v Ferrari is a biographical drama film directed by James Mangold (Logan, Walk The Line, Girl, Interrupted). Starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale, it is a well-told story that balances high octane car races with genuine drama.
In 1963, the Ford Motor Company recruits famous racecar driver Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) to assist them with designing a car that will help them beat their arch rivals Ferrari at the Le Mons race in France. To aid him with such a task, Carroll decides to enlist the help of British mechanic and fellow racer Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to test for any flaws and eventually race in the finished product itself. At first, the two of them make great progress, however Ken's brash personality and blunt honesty puts him at odds with the higher ups at Ford, causing the company to believe he may not be the right person to be racing their car and representing them abroad.
With its fast pacing and heartfelt drama to match, Ford v Ferrari rises above the typical car racing film to become one of the most interesting portraits of an intense rivalry in recent memory. The film isn't so much about the cars themselves as as it is about staying relevant in the public eye and maintaining a respectable image. From the very beginning, we are given the idea of how desperate Ford are to shake off their reputation of being perceived as making outdated cars that only one's grandparents would drive. This is juxtaposed with the cool and hip-looking Ferrari being presented as more appealing to younger potential motorists. The resulting races are used to further the film's plot and aren't merely there for mindless entertainment. While it may be obvious to some viewers what the eventual outcome truly is, it is certainly a lot of fun anticipating what happens along the way.
Director James Mangold successfully strikes the correct balance between car racing action and realistic human drama, so much so that virtually all audiences should be able to find something to be entertained by. His choices in editing and cinematography help move the film along at a breathless speed as we watch cars zoom past at high acceleration, sometimes resulting in some intense crash scenes. There are times though, where some of the mechanical jargon may prove confusing to non-racing enthusiasts such as myself as I did end up scratching my head at a few scenes where certain important car parts were being discussed by the characters. In addition to this, I wasn't quite sure about how some of the rules of the race track were showcased in the film, as it felt somewhat glanced over. Fortunately, these moments are infrequent and are often counteracted by the great acting of the film's leads.
Christian Bale is such a joy to watch as Ken Miles, the unapologetic perfectionist racer who wants to push the limits of what a car can do. It caught me off-guard at first hearing him use his native British accent while surrounded by other Americans as I am so used to seeing him play only American characters. Matt Damon gave a nice performance as well, but I feel that he was overshadowed by Bale in most scenes. This is due to Damon essentially being the straight man to Bale's outspoken antics which did cause me to focus more on Bale instead.
Overall, even if you aren't a huge fan of car racing films like me, this one contains more than enough entertainment to satisfy even the most car illiterate of audiences. The historic value of the depicted event makes for a solid drama and could possibly bring a newfound amount of respect to this genre in the near future.
I rate it 8.5/10
Just Mercy (2019)
A sincere, determined look into the American justice system told with a gripping sense of drama
Just Mercy is a legal drama film co-written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, The Glass Castle) based on the 2014 memoir "Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption" by Bryan Stevenson. Starring Jamie Foxx, Michael B Jordan, and Brie Larson, it is a sincere, determined look into the American justice system told with a gripping sense of drama.
In 1989, young Harvard graduate lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) sets up a firm in Alabama with the intention of bringing justice to those who are unable to afford proper legal representation. Aiding Bryan in this pursuit is Eva Ansley (Brie Larson), a young woman who shares his sense of moral responsibility. While talking with a number of prisoners on death row, Bryan's attention is attracted to that of Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), an African-American man convicted of murdering a white teenage girl three years earlier. After some in-depth research, Bryan is convinced that the evidence against Walter is not strong enough, and decides to fight for Walter's freedom.
With a strong sense of justice emanating throughout the story, Just Mercy succeeds both as an entertaining legal drama and as a sad commentary on the poor state of America's penal system. The film brings to light how so many people, primarily African-Americans, have been wrongfully placed on death row for either menial crimes or even something that cannot be helped like their physical appearance. It is mentioned that one in nine people in America placed on death row have been proven innocent either before or after they have been executed, which is quite a horrifying statistic to think about.
Director/co-writer Destin Daniel Cretton shows the familial bond within the African-American population of Alabama, proving how they will all stick together in the face of injustice. As we hear in Walter's statement "...you're guilty from the moment you're born", we certainly get the sense that they are constantly living in fear that their every action could be called into question and may even land them on death row. However, while it is true that racism is still considered a prevalent issue in the southern US states, I feel that the film does exaggerate some of the white people's characteristics. It just seems that over 95% of the white characters depicted in the film are racist against black people for no other reason other than their skin colour, which comes across as a highly broad generalisation and feels as though they are trying to guilt trip all white people who may be watching. At the same time though, there is something to be admired in Cretton's ability to adopt the mindset of an innocent death row inmate with the ever-looming sense of dread that their date of execution is coming soon.
Michael B. Jordan gives his most mature, heartfelt performance to date as real-life lawyer Bryan Stevenson. From the very beginning, the audience understands this man's moral duty to do what is right and stand up for those who struggle to do so on their own. He and Brie Larson have solid on-screen chemistry and it makes me hope to see the two of them acting off one another again in a future project. But the true standout is Jamie Foxx, who once again proves his versatility as a actor, bringing a heartfelt backbone to several of the film's most dramatic scenes. You can really feel the sense of trauma and fear in his character just by observing his face during his moments of desperation.
In conclusion, films like this are meant to serve as a reminder that in the face of injustice, there are still genuinely good people out there willing to do the right thing and stand up for those who may not be able to. Even though it may be an uphill battle for some, it is nice to know that the sense of morality remains in people like Bryan Stevenson.
I rate it 8/10
Little Women (2019)
A good natured adaptation of a classic piece of American literature successfully brought to life for today's audiences
Little Women is a coming-of-age drama film written and directed by Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) based on the novel of the same name by Louisa May Alcott. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlen, it is a good natured adaptation of a classic piece of American literature successfully brought to life for today's audiences.
In 1861 in Concord, Massachusetts, the four young March sisters Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh), and Beth (Eliza Scanlen) all live in the care of their mother Marmee (Laura Dern) while their father is off working during the American Civil War. As the sisters are in their late adolescence, the four of them are each contemplating their future prospects, whether it be to follow up on their creative talents for a long-term career or to simply find a wealthy man to marry. The second youngest, Jo, is an aspiring writer and ultimately decides to write a novel documenting the life experiences she and her sisters involve themselves with during this important part of their lives.
With a warm sincerity to its characters and source material, Little Women hits all the correct notes for a modern day adaptation that manages to transcend its subject matter to provide enjoyment for just about everyone. Even though someone like me is not the target audience, such things should not matter so long as the story is worth investing in and the characters are likeable enough, which this film has in spades. I was surprised at how much I ended up genuinely caring for each of the four sisters as they all came of age in their own different ways. I assume this is one of the many reasons why the original novel is held in such high regard, as there is certainly a timeless feel to the way it has been written, despite its 19th century setting.
Writer/director Greta Gerwig, who rose to prominence with her 2017 film "Lady Bird", follows it up with yet another charming coming-of-age story, one that would be more familiar to the general public. This is definitely a film that needed a female director as it requires the viewer to adopt a woman's point-of-view, something a male filmmaker would struggle with. With that said, Gerwig does her best to make this as entertaining as possible to either gender by showcasing each of the characters with relatable problems and realistic aspirations that anyone can invest themselves in. Unfortunately, she does occasionally struggle with the pacing and editing of the film. With a runtime of 135 minutes, there are moments where you can truly feel the film's length and this does cause it to drag at times. In addition to this, the film flashes back and forth between two different years and because each of the characters don't look that much different in either year, it can cause confusion figuring out which year we are supposed to be watching. Considering the original novel was long enough to be released in two parts, it was no easy task to adapt it perfectly, so Gerwig earns credit for the personal effort she has gone to for this film.
Each of the four sisters were played wonderfully by their respective actors, with Saoirse Ronan clearly being the standout amongst them. It amazes me how such a young actress can carry a film with this amount of poise so intricately without becoming overbearing to the audience. This is easily her best performance to date, which is saying a lot considering how many fantastic roles she has played previously. Worth mentioning as well is Timothée Chalamet, whose memorable supporting role as the sisters' rich neighbour contributed to many of the film's best moments and had me looking forward to each time he would interact with the rest of the cast.
In conclusion, whether you care for the source material or not, this adaptation is certainly worth checking out. Personally, I have never read the original novel nor have I seen any prior film version, but this one has made me curious about doing just that. This goes to show how timeless such a story is and by the looks of things, it can only keep getting better with age.
I rate it 8.5/10