Without Remorse (Review)

 

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Stefano Sollima
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Bell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Luke Mitchell, Jack Kesy, Brett Gelman, Lauren London, Colman Domingo, Guy Pearce 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 109 mins

Without Remorse is the long-awaited adaptation of the Tom Clancy novel and refreshingly follows the character of John Clark, a US Navy SEAL rather than Jack Ryan in previous films, but Clark is also very much a shadow recruit. This adaptation has been through a raft of various cast and crew throughout the years such as Keanu Reeves and Tom Hardy. Ultimately, what has arrived on screens settles on the ever-versatile Michael B. Jordan as John Clark. In the director’s chair is Stefano Sollima who created a near-masterpiece with Sicario 2: Soldado in its grim and unrelenting atmosphere. Sollima reunites with screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, who co-writes the film with Will Staples. Sheridan has gone from strength to strength, responsible for both Sicario films, the heavily Oscar-nominated Hell Or High Water and Wind River and is yet to stumble. Can this promising talent deliver?

Without Remorse excels in its action sequences and dour first half but it suffers with its obvious story and narrative choices in the second half. Sollima and Sheridan do a commendable job of establishing Clark and his blossoming relationship with his pregnant wife but circumstances unfortunately do not allow Clark to spend time with his family. The film does a really good job in getting into the psyche of Clark’s character and Jordan convinces with his dispassionate and vengeful attitude. By the mid-point of the film, there isn’t much hope to hold for the future of Clark. Sollima also succeeded with the tone of the narrative in Sicario 2: Soldado which felt like going into a dark abyss. The action sequences are intelligently crafted and are majestic in spectacle for the budget this film has.

Michael B. Jordan is excellent in the lead role, his character fuelled by rage and grief. There are strong performances across the board, Jamie Bell successful as a shady CIA operative and Jodie Turner-Smith has good chemistry with Jordan. Lauren London also makes a strong impression in her brief role. It’s always good to see Guy Pearce in a film and he chews the scenery here.

The film runs into problems in its second half where it takes some questionable yet obvious narrative choices, which are typical for the genre. The intelligent development of the first half isn’t sustained. What we get is still entertaining but one has to suspend disbelief in the events being portrayed on-screen. Sheridan and Staples’ script isn’t quite as fresh as previous work, as it lacks some of the nuanced character development, opting instead for a faster action pace.

Without Remorse is ultimately above average for this type of action thriller and Sollima succeeds in creating a dark atmosphere for the first half and achieves some assured performances from the cast. I’d be more than on board for any future instalments (the film hints at a Rainbow Six adaptation) as some good groundwork is built here. It doesn’t live up to the lofty standards both Sollima and Sheridan have established in their careers thus far but this is still a solid piece of work and certainly worth a watch.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, JWillem Dafoe, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J. K. Simmons, Ciarán Hinds, Ryan Zheng, Amber Heard, Joe Morton, Lisa Loven Kongsli, David Thewlis, Jared Leto, Kiersey Clemons, Ray Porter 

Certificate: 15
Run Time: 242 mins

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the director’s cut of the film Snyder tried to originally make before butting heads with Warner Brothers executives and then departing the project after a family tragedy. Joss Whedon of the first two Avengers films was drafted in to finish the project and effectively rewrote and reshot a significant portion of the film. The studio further mandated a two hour run time after the disappointing reception to Batman v Superman: Dawn of JusticeWhedon further didn’t want to use Junkie XL’s score that he had written for the film and drafted in Danny Elfman to write a new score.

The end result was a crushing disappointment that was a schizophrenic mess that represented a clash of two opposing styles of direction with a feeling that it felt unfinished. The film neglected to develop its new characters of Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash that it introduces and Steppenwolf was a very forgettable, one-dimensional CGI villain with typical end-of-the-world antics. It failed in establishing the stakes faced against these characters and the film has a poor sense of flow. The action sequences were cartoonish and for a $300 million dollar budget, the visual effects were laughable.

Fans have petitioned for Snyder’s original vision and the movement began on social media with the hashtag #RestoreTheSnyderCut. After many months of speculation, Snyder then revealed that he had most of a finished cut completed and it was up to Warner Bros to release it. Fans continued to push for its release in their numbers and the ‘Snyder Cut’ was announced in May 2020. Warner Bros granted Snyder an additional $70 million to finish the film and it now sees the light of day in its full 242 minute glory.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League is an astonishing achievement and represents a mature and risky effort in establishing the DC team. The four hours fly by and it is a visual treat throughout. This is a Zack Snyder film through and through but it interestingly represents a more mature effort in that the storytelling here is improved from some of his previous filmography, where some of his films have bordered on the incoherent. By the film having its length, the film can breathe and Snyder works wonders in establishing and developing each and every character of the team. There is no conceivable way this story can be told in a two hour run time.

This director’s cut is completely different in story and structure from the theatrical cut. There isn’t many of Snyder’s scenes in the theatrical cut and it’s interesting that Whedon cut many of his scenes to the point where they dramatically alter the meaning they are attempting to effect. This director’s cut has real stakes and sets up a greater arc for future films to explore, although it is improbable that will come to fruition. Snyder presents his superheroes as god-like figures that have made sacrifices and the narrative interweaves with various forms of ancient mythology.

Ray Fisher’s Cyborg makes the biggest impression in this cut, a character that barely registered in the theatrical rendition. We witness the origins of how Victor Stone becomes Cyborg and there are real emotional stakes in his character, particularly in his relationship with his father played by Joe Morton, again in an expanded capacity in this cut. Wonder Woman and The Flash also have expanded roles compared to the original cut that further develop both characters, Snyder portraying a darker and more gritty take on Wonder Woman. The focus Snyder takes with Ben Affleck’s Batman is more of a mentor role, which is also interesting and we see the more vulnerable aspect to the character in some of the action sequences where he clearly isn’t as physically strong as other members on the team. Aquaman features more in the film but isn’t as much the focus, but this is a nice introduction to the character in preparation for what was his solo film. It’s fascinating that Superman’s resurrection sequence occurs around two and a half hours into the film, which is quite a long way in and the first two and a half hours effectively portray the dour reality of a world without Superman.

The villains are much better in this film compared to the theatrical cut. Ciarán Hinds’ Steppenwolf was really poorly established and developed in the theatrical cut. Interestingly, Steppenwolf’s first scene in the Snyder Cut is when he acquires the first Mother Stone from Themiscyra. It is a much better scene compared to in the Whedon cut (which this scene was surprisingly one of the highlights) as his motivations are made much clearer. Steppenwolf is actually a pawn to a greater power, Darkseid, and the interplay between them is excellent and Steppenwolf’s servant role is greatly explored. Ray Porter’s Darkseid also makes a strong impression here in a limited role that introduces audiences to him, almost the equivalent in stature in DC than Thanos is to Marvel.

Jared Leto features in a scene towards the end of the film as the Joker that was shot towards Snyder’s completion of the film. Leto’s portrayal was derided in Suicide Squad (although I found enough to like in his portrayal) and in the scene he shares with Batman here, he is unhinged and unpredictable, diverting from other portrayals in that he focusses more on the ‘Wild Card’ aspect of the character.

This director’s cut also wildly succeeds on a visual level, playing to Snyder’s strengths. At no point in the 4 hour run time did I feel that the effects looked unfinished or rushed and the apocalyptic aesthetic of the film has far more weight than the brighter aesthetic of the theatrical cut. Fabian Wagner’s cinematography is outstanding – it didn’t make much of an impression in the theatrical cut but clearly, the majority of that cut consisted of reshoots. Wagner crafts some mesmerising images, complimenting Snyder-regular Larry Fong’s work on Batman v Superman.

Junkie XL’s metal-heavy and god-like score further elevates the film and is far more bombastic and ambitious than Danny Elfman’s stale score for the theatrical cut. That said, not all of Elfman’s score made it to the original cut and there is some material on the soundtrack that is excellent. Junkie XL successfully crafts new and memorable themes for the new superheroes introduced and it’s impressive that throughout the extended run time, it manages to sustain its quality.

Ultimately, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a frequently astonishing and bold take on this DC lineup and it earns its four hour run time. Snyder has matured as a director and he has markedly improved on some of his lesser qualities in previous films in regards to storytelling and representations. The wider context of this director’s cut is fascinating in how different it is from what Warner Bros chose to release. The stark differences between both cuts is something that can and likely will be studied for years to come and having watched this director’s cut, one has to question the psychology of the decision to approve the theatrical cut for cinema release. It would be really interesting to see where the narrative of this cuts leads with further installments but that is unlikely to happen. Still, it’s miraculous that this director’s cut has seen the light of day and if there is the audience demand for the continuation of Snyder’s storyline, it would be barmy for Warner Bros to ignore its market.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Capone (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Josh Trank
Starring: Tom Hardy, Linda Cardellini, Jack Lowden, Noel Fisher, Kyle MacLachlan, Matt Dillon 
Certificate: 18
Run Time: 104 mins

Capone (initially titled as Fonzo) is an unconventional biopic that centers on the infamous mobster’s last year of his life where he is suffering with the effects of syphilis and dementia. This is the first film by director Josh Trank after his time in director’s jail after seemingly being wiped off the face of Hollywood with Fantastic Four. I defended the film as I found that problems aside, there was still a good film in there which unfortunately had been tangled with by Fox’s executives. Sadly, most people didn’t see it this way and after Trank publicly disowned the film on the day of its release, it isn’t hard to imagine that most production companies wouldn’t want to take a chance with him. I would love to see what Trank had planned for that film one day in a director’s cut but there’s next to no chance of that ever happening.

Trank has written, directed and edited this biopic that was shot in early 2018 and was released in most territories last year but has only now found its way to a UK release, quietly and unceremeniously dumped on Netflix. Tom Hardy plays the ageing gangster under a lot of prosthetics having spent a long stint in prison. He now lives under the care of his family on house arrest and is still being closely monitored by the FBI, who are unsure if his illness is as authentic as it seems. We witness his decline in his last year, bookended by two Thanksgiving family dinners, where he loses awareness of reality, suffers hallucinations and battles incontinence. He is regularly seen to by a Doctor (Kyle MacLachlan) who faces a moral dilemma of assisting him with his health but is also under the pressure by the FBI to ‘coax’ him out of his illness and reveal where a vast amount of money that he had hidden before he was convicted is lurking.

Capone is a mixed bag. Thankfully, there is more good than bad though and it is always refreshing to see a filmmaker craft something original and defy convention rather than just churn out a generic biopic. The film hinges on the electric performance from Tom Hardy, who is terrific as the unhinged mobster and portrays his descent into insanity very convincingly. Hardy’s vocal mannerisms of Capone are brilliant, as is his feral, wide-eyed demeanour. There are some fine performances from the rest of the cast, such as Linda Cardellini as his wife and Kyle MacLachlan as Capone’s Doctor but this is very much Tom Hardy’s vehicle.

Trank intersperses the film with flashbacks to Capone’s prime and hallucinations, particularly one extended sequence where Capone regrets his past actions as he relives a torturing and murder of a character and then sings along at a dinner to Cowardly Lion’s If I Were King Of The Forest from The Wizard of Oz. This extended sequence is the first major hallucination we experience of Capone’s but it is overlong and doesn’t really have much of a point, other than to witness that despite Capone’s mental state, he still expresses regret. There are some outlandish scenes in the film but this first extended sequence undoes the desired effect as we wait to discover if what we have just witnessed is in Capone’s head or reality. There is also a character that features in the film, seemingly in reality, where it transpires that he has been dead for many years and it’s rather frustrating that Trank doesn’t make more of a statement with the character in some of the earlier scenes he features – it ends up being rather anti-climatic.

That said, there is a terrific sequence where Capone wields a gold Tommy gun and wreaks havoc on his estate before an encounter with a crocodile. It’s clearly obvious from the onset of this scene with the absurdity of the situation that this isn’t real and it is easier to relax into the film.

The film is scored by El-P and is atmospheric in places but surprisingly lacks substance. Capone would have been better served by a more pulsating score that was in keeping with the madness portrayed on-screen. Peter Deming’s cinematography is suitably arresting, the moments of strong bloody violence that earn Capone its 18-rating are well realised, as is the sequence with a crocodile, a rare moment of vivid, kaleidoscopic colour that juxtaposes from the rest of the film’s suitably murky colour palette.

Capone ultimately represents an interesting follow-up for director Josh Trank that is neither as great as it could have been to redeem his image nor the terrible and repugnant disaster that some reviews have made it out to be. Trank has crafted this film on his own terms and it’s not a film for everyone. This is a film that warrants rewatching to further unpack its meaning. I’m grateful that this film exists and that Trank has stuck to his vision without compromise, even if the end result is flawed.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

I Care A Lot (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: J. Blakeson
Starring: Rosmaund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza González, Dianne Wiest 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 118 mins

I Care A Lot is a gripping and wild black comedy-thriller that keeps its audience on its toes throughout. Rosamund Pike plays Marla Grayson, a morally bankrupt but cool-as-a-cucumber con artist who preys and scams on the older generation by becoming their ‘legal guardian’ and sending them to a care home, whilst she profits from selling their property and assets. Marla is assisted by her lover and business partner, Fran (Eiza Gonzalez) who has an equal disregard for the ethics of her actions. After targeting what is defined early on in the film as a ‘cherry’ – a single lady called Jennifer Paterson (Dianne Wiest) who has no family but vast amounts of wealth, on paper this should be the perfect opportunity for them to profit. Jennifer is quickly whisked away into a care home, which is not too dissimilar to a prison in its construction. Marla faces a visit from a stash-carrying lawyer who warns her that Jennifer is ‘the worst mistake you will ever make’, a gripping game of cat-and-mouse ensues with elements of revenge, a no-nonsense, smoothie-drinking villain who is very much Marla’s match and ties to the Russian mafia.

Directed by J. Blakeson, I Care A Lot is directed with an improved and impressive assurance for only the directors third feature. Blakeson crafts some intense sequences which are really well developed in their Hitchockian construction. The performances are fantastic across the board. This is familiar territory for Rosamund Pike, Marla a character cut from the same cloth as her Oscar-nominated performance in Gone Girl. Eiza González is just as strong as her partner in crime. Peter Dinklage is clearly having fun as the villain and Dianne Wiest deftly manages to balance the hopelessness but hidden intelligence of Jennifer. Isaiah Whitlock Jr. has a small but humorous role as a Judge who is very much under the spell of Marla.

The film from start to finish is really excellent. Perhaps some of the twists the film takes in its third act aren’t quite as fresh as the beginning and it begins to move away from its smart commentary in the first two acts on the elderly generation. The notion that this could happen to you when you are older is genuinely frightening and really doesn’t feel that far removed from reality. I’m also not sure on the film’s ending and I felt that there was a clear end point which would have been more enigmatic for the audience, rather than there being an actual conclusion. The film features an interesting synth score which contrasts with the events unfolding on-screen but sometimes aggressively doesn’t fit.

Ultimately, I Care A Lot is a wild ride throughout and is thoroughly entertaining. This is not only J. Blakeson’s best work in his career, this is also one of the best films of the year so far.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

News Of The World (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Paul Greengrass
Starring: Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 118 mins

News of the World represents a different filmic venture for director Paul Greengrass, most notable for the Jason Bourne series and his dramatisations of original events with films such as United 93 and Captain Phillips. This is a quiet, contemplative Western that save for one stake-out on a hill mid-way through, is bereft of action. It couldn’t be more far removed from the rest of his filmography, also foregoing his signature twitchy handheld camera and docu-drama aesthetic. 

Tom Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a Confederate veteran who makes a living travelling from town to town in 1870’s America, reading the news to local populations for ten pence per person. Captain Kidd’s relatively simple life is overturned when he encounters an overturned cart where twice orphaned Johanna (Helena Zengel) is discovered after she runs past him terrified. Johanna has quite a back story – she came from a German farming community who were attacked by a Kiowa tribe, where they then made her part of her community and now the Kiowa’s have been cleared out by the American army. After trying to deliver her to the relevant authorities who can take her to safety, Kidd decides to take the task up himself to reunite her with her closest family, an aunt and uncle who live on a farm on the far side of the state. Along the way, he stops to read the news to various communities to finance the journey, one community in particular drawing parallels with modern day politics in how its dictator gives Kidd his approved news to read and he has an army to ‘cleanse’ the county of any outsiders.

Both performances by Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel are exemplary. Despite Hanks’ vast variety of roles, this his first official Western (although arguably, Woody in Toy Story is close!). The young Helena Zengel impresses and the two establish a convincing rapport. When the film reaches its action setpiece mid-way through, Greengrass has already more than allowed audiences to have an emotional investment in the duo Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography is terrific, with sweeping panoramic vistas with a gallery quality that draws parallels with The Searchers, one shot in particular harkens back to its ending.

However, News of the World is only good. The Western has had a resurgence in recent years with some outstanding additions to the genre such as The Hateful Eight, Bone Tomahawk and Hell Or High Water. As there have been so many examples of strong work that perhaps have established an unreasonably high bar, it’s disappointing that News of the World doesn’t come close. It’s perfectly acceptable that Greengrass’ film sticks to convention but there isn’t a great deal of substance here both in its narrative or tonal quality. Even James Newton Howard’s try-hard score doesn’t really stick.

Ultimately, News of the World is a modest and well-intentioned Western with strong performances but it doesn’t try to reinvent or progress the genre, is narratively thin and fails to leave a lasting impression.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Ranking The Comic-Book Films Of 2020

The comic-book genre continues to maintain its audience popularity and 2020 brought some new additions to the table. Unfortunately, not every film that was in the calendar has been released due to the coronavirus pandemic, so this is a much smaller year in terms of volume. Three films made it to release. Here, I rank these films in order of my personal preference.

In a surprise move, DC had the biggest year releasing two of its films. Birds of Prey was lucky to release in February just before the pandemic hit and was interesting in that it represents a more adult take on the genre with an all female cast. Wonder Woman 1984 was scheduled for early June but found itself getting delayed and ultimately recieved a hybrid release in select open cinemas and video-on-demand in December.

Marvel were meant to release two films this year – Black Widow and The Eternals but neither were released and have moved to the 2021 slate. Black Widow was meant to release in May but Disney have been reluctant to move it to their Disney+ channel and are trying to hold out for a theatrical release.

In their Sony slate, Marvel were also meant to release Morbius and Venom 2 this year that continue the universe set up by Venom but both have also been moved to 2021.

In what is perhaps a surprise move, the final X-Men film (well more of a spin-off that was meant to release back in 2018!), The New Mutants, had a quiet release in Summer once cinemas reopened but had next to no marketing. It has been clear since its strained release that Disney-Fox lacked confidence in the product and in the vein of Fantastic Four, tried to dump it on screens so that it had a theatrical release and be rid of it. 

Overall, I would argue that the three films in this small list here are all good and there isn’t a great deal between them, especially the top two films in this list. Let’s get started!

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3) Birds of Prey 

Birds of Prey is an interesting addition to the DCEU in that it functions as a distanced sequel to Suicide Squad in that it follows Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn and some of the ramifications following the events in that film but functions as a standalone piece otherwise. Directed by Cathy Yan, this is an interesting and original entry into the comic-book genre that hits more than it misses. Yan implores the use of unreliable narration and dials up the violence to earn the film a 15 rating, following the success of more adult entries such as Deadpool and Logan. It’s also an all female team directed with a feminist agenda which is also refreshing. The film is very ramshackle in its construction for its first two acts and there are some sequences that diverge from the main plot which just don’t work, alongside some poor musical choices. However, the film finds its footing in the final act once the team are assembled and there is a carnival-esque quality to their camrarderie. Birds of Prey is an interesting film that I’m glad exists and I would be happy to watch future installments but this film does run into its fair share of issues.

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2) Wonder Woman 1984 

Overall, Wonder Woman 1984 is a risky sequel that retains the first film’s quality in developing its characters and uses action sparingly in its long run time. I can understand the mixed reception to some of the film’s themes but I got on board with the narrative and was thoroughly entertained from when the film finds its footing about 20 minutes in right through to the end. Yes, it has its problems with some of the narrative choices and the depiction of Cheetah but director Patty Jenkins poses enough thought-provoking questions and develops her characters very well to make the film worthwhile. It is always better for a sequel to take risks in order to develop a film series rather than just rehash the same beats and for that, you have to appreciate the ambition of Wonder Woman 1984, even if said risks don’t always pay off. It will be very interesting to see where Wonder Woman and the supporting characters are taken next in future DCEU films. (My full review here)

And the best comic-book film of 2020 is…

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1) The New Mutants 

A choice that I’m sure will spark controversy! Although Wonder Woman 1984 is perhaps a slightly more consistent film, The New Mutants surprised me in that it is a far better film than it has any right to be or as the delays would suggest. The notion of director Josh Boone melding a comic-book film with the horror genre is an interesting decision and whilst the film isn’t particularly scary, there are some unsettling images of some of the team’s greatest fears. The smaller scale works wonders for the film, with Boone successfully establishing and developing its close-knit characters. By the time the film reaches the third act, all of the characters make compelling cases to really care for them. Unfortunately, The New Mutants commits the classic comic-film sin with its last 15 mins as it descends into a bit of a CGI-fest but it’s relatively short-lived. It does undo the sense of intrigue somewhat but it needs to integrate into the genre somehow, I suppose. Despite the ambitions for The New Mutants to start a new series, this standalone film is a valiant effort in its final form and is worth watching for viewers of the series. (My full review here)



What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments or tweet @TheFilmMeister


 

Soul (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Pete Docter 
Starring: (voices of) Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, Angela Bassett, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Richard Ayoade, Alice Braga, Wes Studi 
Certificate: PG
Run Time: 100 mins

Soul is the second of two Pixar offerings this year, having meant to have originally release back in June but Disney witheld the film and have now chose to debut it on their Disney+ platform. Onward was their first and unfortunately set a new low for the studio. Pixar mastermind Pete Docter is in the director’s chair here, who has previously directed Monsters Inc and Up, two of Pixar’s top tier offerings, Up being my personal favourite out of all their films. He most recently was behind Inside Out which was also a very good effort and attracted unanimous critical acclaim, even if it’s not quite up there with his first two features.

Soul treads similar ground to Inside Out in that both explore cerebral concepts – this feature focusses on Joe Gardner (a passionate Jazz pianist voiced by Jamie Foxx) who needs to reunite his soul with his body after they are separated in a seemingly fatal incident. Joe cannot quite find his place in society and is always trying to get his big break, to fulfil his lifelong ambition of being a successful musician. Joe finds himself on an ominous escalator on the way to ‘The Great Beyond’ but deciding that he isn’t ready to accept his fate, manages to escape to ‘The Great Before’, a realm where souls create their personality before they are dispatched to Earth to live life. There, he meets an uproarious soul called 22 (Tina Fey) who has no desire to go to Earth (in many hilarious cutaways, we see her brush off famous historical figures who act as her mentor such as Mother Theresa and Albert Einstein) and Joe befriends her, seeing an opportunity to use her to return to Earth.

Soul is another winning original creation from Pixar and after a slightly shaky opening act on first viewing, finds its footing and often soars. Docter skilfully interrogates existential themes of what it means to be alive and all the emotions associated with it including anxiety and depression. This is a far more adult film than some of Pixar’s other offerings but the characters and gags here should still enthrall younger viewings, even if the loftier themes go over their heads.

Technically, as with most Pixar films, Soul continues to further the art of animation with some breathtaking sequences. Joe’s home city of New York appears startlingly life-like, particularly an establishing shot of the city towards the end of the film that is just mesmerising. The minute attention to detail in Joe’s numerous piano renditions is also awe-inspiring. Docter juxtaposes the beautiful real world animation with the ethereal ‘Great Before’ and ‘Great Beyond’ landscapes, which are more abstract and unsettling. Soul is beautifully complimented by an excellent score, Jon Batiste behind the original jazz arrangements and score of the real world and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross behind the more atmostpheric and celestial themes of ‘The Great Before’ and ‘The Great Beyond’.

Ultimately, Soul is another very strong addition to the Pixar canon. It’s a shame this film couldn’t make it to the big screen and whilst its release on Disney+ seems rather unceremonious, it’s just what audiences need this Christmas in the time of the coronavirus pandemic. This is another heady film by Pete Docter and whilst its somewhat scattershot structuring doesn’t quite reach Pixar’s very best work, this is still one of the best films of the year.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Wonder Woman 1984 (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Patty Jenkins
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 151 mins

Wonder Woman 1984 is the hotly anticipated sequel to the original 2017 film which proved a U-turn for the DCEU in that it was universally acclaimed after the divisive Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad. Patty Jenkins is back in the director’s chair for this sequel and she proved an excellent choice the first time around, really taking her time to develop the characters and using action sequences sparingly and as a means to develop the story. Unfortunately, Jenkins couldn’t quite get past the third act curse that plauges many superhero films where they descend into a big overlong action sequence with lots of CGI where it’s difficult to care. It has since transpired that Jenkins’ third act was tampered with by Warner Bros and she had originally planned something different.

This sequel moves the story from the First World War to the height of the 1980s where Diana Prince / Wonder Woman attempts to remain incognito in society by curating ancient artefacts but she does get sidetracked into performing the odd heroic act. When a Dreamstone is uncovered during a robbery in a mall that Wonder Woman thwarts that grants its user one wish, this unleashes chaos when it gets into the wrong hands of Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), a struggling yet charismatic oil businessman and Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), one of Diana’s work colleagues who is timid and insecure and envies Diana’s qualities.

The reception to Wonder Woman 1984 has proven very interesting. Whilst first receiving unanimous praise amongst critics, the second wave of reviews and the audience reception have proven a divisive response with some viewers passionately disliking this sequel in the choices Jenkins makes.

I found Wonder Woman 1984 to be a very solid sequel that, save for a shaky beginning, tackles some thoughtful concepts and takes some brave risks. In many ways, this is a 180 on the first film in terms of Wonder Woman’s characterisation and the type of storyline that it follows. Wonder Woman was very much a fish-out-of-water in the first film and the interplay between her and Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor was authentic. In this sequel, she is a more confident individual that has world experience, less a warrior than the first film or BvS and more a superhero that only steps in if she really needs to.

Gal Gadot is very much the heart and soul of Wonder Woman 1984 again and turns in a terrific performance. Chris Pine also returns as Steve Trevor in a slightly baffling method considering that he gave up his life at the end of the first film and without heading into spoiler territory, is actually a plot hole. If you look past the slightly hokey set-up, both Gadot and Pine share an excellent chemistry again.

Pedro Pascal and Kristen Wiig are the villains of the film. Pedro Pascal fares very well and is a very multi-layered character. He has a lot at stake and although the film is set in 1984, it very much channels 2020 in how the character channels Donald Trump. Pascal is probably the second biggest character of the film in terms of screentime and Jenkins’ development of him is superb, a very different villain to David Thewlis’ Ares in the first film but very much the other side of the coin compared to Diana and Jenkins draws interesting parallels between them.

Kristen Wiig’s Barbara Minerva fares well initially in how her character is established as undeveloped and jealous but it’s a shame that she has to become the embodiment of Cheetah at the end of the film, one of Wonder Woman’s most notable villains in the comics. It’s not really clear how or why this happens and it would have been best if her character had been introduced in this film for her to then become Cheetah in a future film. Wonder Woman and Cheetah share an action sequence in the final act which isn’t great, especially the visual effects and it’s telling that it’s shot in a night setting to try and mask some of the poor CGI. It will still be interesting to see where DC take the character though.

The film doesn’t start particularly well. The film opens on Themiscyra (the fictional Amazonian island hidden from mankind) where we see a young Diana participating in an Amazonian Olympics event where it introduces a theme that one would think prove important for the rest of the film. There are ways one can argue Jenkins does pay this off later in the film but it’s not obvious and I can only think the Themyscira sequence is in the film so that it is in there to provide a connection to the first film. There is then an action sequence in a shopping mall which is directed with a Richard Donner-esque lightness that doesn’t really work. Luckily, once the film heads into the main narrative, the film is on better footing but I don’t think these two sequences are the best way to start the film. It’s interesting to read in an interview with Patty Jenkins that Warner Bros wanted her to only use one of these sequences rather than both – this is perhaps the rare piece of studio interference that would have helped the film.

The film also doesn’t really make the most of its 1980s setting. Other than the mall sequence at the beginning and a sequence where Steve Trevor wonders at the development of mankind, this film could have been set at any time. Matthew Jensen’s cinematography really helps in establishing the 1980s setting with his visual aesthetic and his work on the film again is assured. Hans Zimmer replaces Rupert Gregson-Williams on score duties but save for a handful of interesting musical moments, Zimmer’s score isn’t particularly memorable.

I can understand why the film has received the divisive reception it has. The story the film tells and where the narrative goes in the third act forms an opinion on human nature and the themes of greed and lust and the subsequent chaos that can ensue. Some viewers have found this to be offensive – I didn’t find this to be the case and I think this is mainly down to Jenkins’ assured direction – but I can understand how it can be interpreted as such. The film is also a lengthy two and a half hours but unlike others, I didn’t find the film to be overlong and felt the narrative that was being told earned the extended run time to truly develop.

It’s interesting the parallels that Wonder Woman 1984 shares with Kingsman: The Golden Circle, another divisive sequel to a well-received first film that also happens to feature Pedro Pascal in its cast. Both films are a sprawling exploration on similar themes and feature Trumpian-like villains and it is interesting how they both have received a divisive reaction.

Overall, Wonder Woman 1984 is a risky sequel that retains the first film’s quality in developing its characters and uses action sparingly in its long run time. I can understand the mixed reception to some of the film’s themes but I got on board with the narrative and was thoroughly entertained from when the film finds its footing about 20 minutes in right through to the end. Yes, it has its problems with some of the narrative choices and the depiction of Cheetah but Jenkins poses enough thought-provoking questions and develops her characters very well to make the film worthwhile. It is always better for a sequel to take risks in order to develop a film series rather than just rehash the same beats and for that, you have to appreciate the ambition of Wonder Woman 1984, even if said risks don’t always pay off. It will be very interesting to see where Wonder Woman and the supporting characters are taken next in future DCEU films.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Fatman (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Eshom Nelms & Ian Nelms
Starring: Mel Gibson, Walton Goggins, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Chance Hurstfield
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 100 mins

Fatman is an adult dark comedy infused with some violent action sequences starring Mel Gibson as an unorthodox Santa Claus. Whilst this sounds like an outlandish concept, the trailer really pulled off the concept of this perverted and hyperviolent Christmas film with glee. Fatman is directed by brothers Eshom and Ian Nelms, both of whom have made very low profile films to date. On Christmas Eve, a mature yet spoiled 12-year-old called Billy receives a lump of coal from Santa and in retalliation, Billy hires a hitman, Jonathan Miller (Walton Goggins) to take out the festive icon. But does Fatman’s high concept translate as well as it does in theory to a feature length film?

Fatman is generally a success and the film has a lot more heart than its trailer suggests. It is always entertaining and for its budget, has surprisingly high quality production values. That said, the tone of the film doesn’t quite gel and the film isn’t quite as deviant as it should be. Although the film carries a 15 rating, its violence is also surprisingly toothless. The film also has some valuable commentary on Christmas which is surprising and there is emotional heft in the interplay between its characters.

Gibson is very well cast and carries the baggage of his world-weariness extremely convincingly. He is well supported by Marianne Jean-Baptiste as his wife and Walton Goggins as the hitman tasked to assassinate Santa, who both put in solid performances. Chance Hurstfield as the twisted pre-teen Billy is excellent – an early scene where he takes revenge on one of his peers for beating him in a competition is carried out with twisted, sadistic glee.

Overall, Fatman is successful for what it is even if it doesn’t quite have the guts to turn the tone up to eleven like it seemed to promise. This is a sound and original Christmas film and is far better than it has any right to be and is only further elevated by the strong performances. It will be interesting to see where the directorial duo go next but Fatman proves they have talent and can conjure wholly original concepts.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Mank (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: David Fincher 
Starring: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Arliss Howard, Tom Pelphrey, Sam Troughton, Ferdinand Kingsley, Tuppence Middleton, Tom Burke, Charles Dance 
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 131 mins

It has been an uncomfortably long wait for another David Fincher feature film, six years since his gripping and refreshingly unconventional adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel, Gone Girl. Since Gone Girl, Fincher has dabbled in television with the Netflix series Manhunter and was attached for a while to direct the now on hold sequel to World War Z.

Mank represents a passion project for the esteemed director and his father penned the screenplay before Fincher’s under-appreciated and infamous directorial debut Alien 3, a film that he has since famously disowned. Mank chronicles Fincher’s interpretation of Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, an alcoholic and unstable literary genius and his process of writing the screenplay. This would then go on to cause controversy over authorship of the script between Mankiewicz and director Orson Welles.

Mank is certainly not for everyone but given my fascination of the subject matter, I found a lot to admire here. Gary Oldman is superb as the titular character and this is a much more fitting and natural performance for him to win any Awards compared to his Oscar-winning turn in Darkest Hour a couple of years ago. Mankiewicz is a fascinating character and Fincher manages to perfectly encapsulate his genius, juxtaposed with his messy, incoherent descents into alcoholism.

Critics have also raved about Amanda Seyfried’s performance but both Lily Collins and Tuppence Middleton give far more nuanced performances as Mank’s secretary who he dictates the script to and his wife. Fincher’s depiction of women is particularly interesting, portraying them as motherly and sympathetic to Mank here, very much his voice of conscience. Charles Dance also features briefly as William Randolph Hearst, the tycoon that Citizen Kane’s Robert Foster Kane is based on and Tom Burke is mesmerising as Orson Welles, perfectly embodying the director’s towering and temperamental aura.

David Fincher’s films typically involve murder and grisly violence as a narrative and this represents a radical departure from his usual subject matter. The script has an Aaron Sorkin-like talky nature and the dialogue is razor-sharp and rich. Like Citizen Kane, Mank is also non-linear in its storytelling and on a first viewing, its structure rather messy and clouded.

Technically, this film feels like it’s straight out of the Hollywood Golden Age from the black-and-white photography to the carefully crafted cigarette burns of the film at certain moments. This is complimented by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ sympathetic, swooning score and there are multiple shots here by Erik Messerschmidt that are beautiful to behold. Citizen Kane is famous for its shot early on with the young Robert Foster Kane playing outside in the snow, unaware of his impending fate as the camera tracks to inside the house where his parents are sealing his fate, the window behind acting as the young Kane’s prison.  Mank also does this to a degree and it will be interesting to rewatch this film to see what else can be discovered visually.

Ultimately, Mank is a different type of film for Fincher but one that retains a lot of his artistic qualities. It will be divisive amongst audiences but if the subject matter appeals and you appreciate Citizen Kane, this is a very fine companion piece to what is considered one of the most iconic and memorable films ever made. I’m not sure at this point how well Mank will do in the upcoming Awards season but despite its messy structure, this is a film that often soars more than it misses.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)