Monday, August 10, 2020

Review Alpha (2018)

#Alpha (2018): 6/10

Alpha follows a tribe as they approach hunting season, their one big opportunity for the hunting party to gather as much meat as possible for their people before the harsh winter weather sets in. Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is presumed dead after the hunt doesn’t quite go as intended, and is left to fend for himself by his father, the leader of the pack, far from home with the cold winds slowly approaching.

The casual cinema-goer seems to be a lot more accepting of foreign language films these days since the rise of shows like ‘Game Of Thrones’; a series that showcases many foreign tongues by way of subtitles. Director Albert Hughes decides to go down this route for Alpha, with the entirety of the film spoken in a prehistoric dialect. The film is similar to ‘The Revenant’ in terms of story, but is much tamer in tone. The plot itself is very linear, sticks to the point, and doesn’t really offer much beyond that. Some of the dialogue hints towards a mutiny, which may have provided extra dramatics, but this potential story arc is never explored.

Smit-McPhee does a good job of conveying a vulnerable young man who finds the courage to carry on, not give up, and get back to his family and tribe, using skills taught to him by his father earlier in the piece, all whilst reluctantly managing to tame a wolf that is injured and left behind by its pack in much the same way that he has been. What’s more, the film is visually stunning with its beautiful landscapes and sweeping shots.

Although not particularly original in nature, Alpha delivers a survival adventure story with a lot of heart and charm, some fantastic cinematography, and a touching finale.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Review Blinded by the Light (2019)

#BlindedByTheLight (2019): 5/10

Inspired by the life of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, and based on Manzoor’s memoir “Greetings From Bury Park: Race, Religion and Rock N’ Roll”, Blinded By The Light is the latest film from Gurinder Chadha (‘Bend It Like Beckham’), the story of a young British-Pakistani Muslim boy growing up in the English town of Luton in the 1980’s, struggling to find a balance between his strict Muslim background and the liberal western world around him, Javed’s life changing forever after he discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen.

The film is top-heavy in Springsteen’s music, which will no doubt please his fans; his lyrics painted on-screen during many-a-montage. Unfortunately this doesn’t do enough to distract us away from the fact that the film regularly lacks in the acting department with some undeniably cringeworthy scenes and cheesy dialogue, often far too on the nose, and not really helped with some hot and cold performances from the film’s main protagonists. Regrettably Viveik Kalra, who plays Javed, just doesn’t possess the fire in his performance to carry the film.

The film does take a while to get going also, but once it does, the film improves. There are touching moments between Javed and sister Shazia, and as the plot unfolds, so does the tense relationship with father Malik, which comes to an explosive head. We also bear witness to the darker side of cultural division, with ugly clashes between Muslims and far-right protestors. All in all, a mixed bag.

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Sunday, August 2, 2020

Review Blackfish (2013)

#Blackfish (2013): 7/10

Blackfish documents the shocking true story surrounding the untimely death of orca trainer Dawn Brancheau and details the key events that lead up to her killing by male orca Tilikum at Orlando Florida’s aquatic park SeaWorld in 2010.

For a documentary, Blackfish doesn’t half unsettle with some unnerving video footage and explanations from ex-employees describing the behaviour of the orcas on-screen. It even has a psychological thriller feel to it at points. Blackfish is clearly one-sided, but it’s hard to argue against its compelling argument from the actual footage and character recollections being offered up to the viewer throughout the documentary.

Whatever your views of the documentary and its opinions from those featured in the film though, it certainly does raise the same moral questions that need answering; should these animals be in captivity? Are big corporations taking animals from the wild for the animal’s benefit? On this evidence, the short answer would appear to be a resounding no.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Review Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

#CanYouEverForgiveMe (2018): 6/10

Can You Ever Forgive Me is based on Lee Israel’s 2008 memoir of the same name and stars Melissa McCarthy (‘Bridesmaids’, ‘Ghostbusters’) as Lee, a writer out of favour with her publishers and critics, and struggling to make ends meet, who begins to forge rare personalised letters supposedly written by deceased authors and playwrights.

We’ll be the first to admit that we have really not been fans of many of McCarthy’s comedy films, but she offers something different here. Lee’s booming exterior is just a mask for her vulnerabilities, as she struggles to afford to pay the rent and her cat’s medical bills. The standout though is Richard E. Grant (‘Gosford Park’) as Israel’s loyal friend Jack, who is wonderfully eccentric; his performance is effortless. McCarthy and Grant gel so well together that many of the most enjoyable scenes in the film are them simply sat somewhere, deep in conversation.

The story is no doubt an intriguing one. Slowly but surely, Lee gains confidence in her skilful deception that quickly turns into greed. It may not be the most exhilarating watch but there are some moments of real tension as Israel takes bigger risks in an attempt to swindle more and more cash from unsuspecting dealers. McCarthy’s prominent portrayal helps us to really sympathise with the character, a feeling amplified further during Israel’s closing monologue in court. One worth checking out.

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Monday, July 27, 2020

Review Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

#CrazyRichAsians (2018): 7/10

Crazy Rich Asians is based on the novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan, and stars Constance Wu (‘Fresh Off The Boat’, ‘Sound Of My Voice’) as Rachel Chu, an Asian American who is invited to attend a family wedding with her boyfriend back in his native homeland of Singapore. Little does she know just how well off the family are and what it will take to be accepted by them, in particular her boyfriend’s strictly traditional mother, played by Michelle Yeoh (‘Tomorrow Never Dies’, ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’).

The film is awash with picturesque locations, lavish parties, and worldie possessions; they’re a far cry from the average everyday life and standard of living, but whisk us away to a faraway paradise, a paradise and way of life we would all happily take tomorrow. The filming locations really are quite breathtakingly awesome.

The valuable lesson here though is that for all its feel-good factors, even this paradise is not without its problems. Chu, being an outsider, is accused of being a “gold digger” by some that could be considered rivals, whilst men not born into money are emasculated by the whole affair; Astrid, played by Gemma Chan (‘Humans’, ‘The Double’) feeling the effects of such a situation, and struggling to make things work with her disengaging husband.

The film does well to showcase both sides of the coin in equal measure. It is dramatic as it is funny, Peik Lin, played by Awkwafina (‘Ocean’s Eight’, ‘Bad Neighbours 2’) providing much of the comic relief, along with her reserved but peculiar brother. Each of the ensemble cast give a good account of themselves, which makes for a riveting two hours, a story that really draws you in and will resonate with viewers from a similar background, with an emotional payoff at the film’s conclusion.

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Saturday, July 25, 2020

Review Captain Marvel (2019)

#CaptainMarvel (2019): 7/10

Brie Larson (‘Room’, ‘The Glass Castle’) stars as Carol Denvers alongside a younger Nick Fury, once again played by Samuel L Jackson, with the film delving into Captain Marvel’s origins, her intergalactic rise among powerful alien race the Kree, and the war between the Kree and shapeshifting enemy the Skrulls.

There is a lot to like about Captain Marvel. Larson and Jackson’s “buddy cop” relationship blossoms from the get-go and only becomes more enjoyable when complimented by the introduction of Goose the cat, who proves to be a real scene-stealer. Fury looks splendidly young thanks to some neat CGI tweaks, with both eyes intact. There are even attempts to rekindle fond memories of the 90’s with some playful nods to Blockbuster Video and CD-ROM’s, although efforts to go some way to replicating the success of the ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’ soundtrack don’t quite have the desired impact.

The film does take some time to really get going, with the main focus in the early stages on the backgrounds of the warring Kree and Skrulls, the Skrulls in particular showing glimpses of what they could potentially offer the MCU going forward (for further reading, see Marvel’s “Secret Invasion” Comic), Ben Mendelsohn proving an excellent foil in the leading Skrull role. The real meat of the action comes on and around Earth, although some of the scenes are difficult to follow at times.

Captain Marvel is an enjoyable watch, of that there is no doubt, but almost feels like a backwards step when compared with other recent MCU entries, and more on the level of an earlier Phase. An origin story this late in the day between two of the biggest films in the MCU so far also makes it feel like a setup for ‘Endgame’. Still, it’ll be interesting to see what Brie Larson brings to the table and how she interacts with the rest of the team as the concluding part of Phase Three plays out.

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Thursday, July 23, 2020

Review Diego Maradona (2019)

#DiegoMaradona (2019): 7/10

Diego Maradona is the latest insightful documentary from Asif Kapadia (‘Senna’, ‘Amy’). Constructed from over 500 hours of never-before-seen archive footage, the documentary mainly focuses on Maradona’s time at Napoli, his meteoric rise from outstanding player to demigod, and presents a series of events that ultimately lead to his calamitous fall from grace with the Italian people.

For those unfamiliar with the Italian social ladder, the documentary showcases just how low Naples and its people were regarded when Maradona arrived, with many opposing fan displaying grotesque messages during Serie A matches, which only spurred Maradona on, almost single-handedly taking Napoli to the top of the Serie A tree, delivering their first ever league title, whilst also winning the FIFA World Cup with Argentina, the Quarter Final against England proving a pivotal moment with the now infamous “Hand Of God” goal; the archived footage proving exhilarating.

It’s quite evident from the documentary though that Maradona’s resulting popularity with the people of Naples left him feeling trapped, leading to friction with the press, and his relationship with the Camorra coming under increasing scrutiny, which all came to a head during Italia ‘90 with Maradona having a hand in defeating the home nation in the World Cup Semi Final, souring his relationship with the Italian people beyond repair.

Whilst the documentary is just as insightful and intriguing, it’s perhaps not quite on par with previous efforts ‘Senna’ and ‘Amy’, although with the added emotional weight of human tragedy in those, Maradona always faced an uphill battle to compete. Still, another fascinating piece of work that will satisfy both fans of Maradona and viewers exploring his story for the first time.

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