Frozen II – Review

Rated: PG
Cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad and Jonathan Groff
Directed by: Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck
Written by: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck, Marc Smith, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
Length: 103mins

After six years, Disney’s highly anticipated sequel to the box office smash hit ‘Frozen’ has finally landed in cinemas. With such a successful first film there were always going to be challenges, the first was so magical and empowering which quickly built an enormous fan base.They developed brilliantly funny and charming characters, expressing the importance of friendship, courage and determination as well a songs that will stay in your head for days (whether you want them to or not…) and as a fan of the first film, I was very hesitant when I heard they were making a second. The trailers didn’t give a lot away, any interviews or reviews of the second film before it’s release branded it ‘better than the original’ and with ‘even catchier songs’. I allowed myself to believe that maybe Disney had pulled it off, this, most likely was my first stumbling block, in getting rid of any natural uncertainty I had very high hopes and they weren’t quite satisfied.

The story takes our heroes on an adventure to the enchanted forest to figure out why Elsa feels called there and to see if they could discover why she was born with her powers. As with the first film we see themes of family, loyalty, friendship and love alongside sacrifice. You can’t fault the values of a film that empowers a generation of children to love fiercely and cherish friendship. This sequel continues these themes clearly and in a way that children can understand. I’m a sucker for a love story, and one thing that the original film was praised so highly for was highlighting the love of a sister over the ‘love’ of a man Anna just met. By the end of the first film any romantics out there are fully rooting for the relationship that’s developing between Kristoff and Anna. Frozen 2 gives just enough to keep the romantics happy as we see their relationship growing while facing and overcoming challenges without it being the primary focus of the story. The writers deserve credit here, I imagine that it would have been easy for this to be a massive focus of the story but they managed to keep the tone and underlying messages of the first movie while still giving a nod their relationship.

As with many sequels Frozen 2 is somewhat darker than the original. It carries a slightly more mature storyline and I actually felt that some of the younger audiences might find parts of it quite difficult to follow as there are a lot of flashbacks and ‘imagination’ sequences. Having said that it’s not complex, it wont leave children asking a whole load of questions on the way home. The darker elements are, however, balanced out nicely with humour. Mostly down to the character of Olaf who, whether you loved or hated him in the first movie, completely steals the show with his hilarious one liners in the second.

You can’t discuss anything to do with Frozen without acknowledging the music. ‘Let it go’ was the breakout hit of the first film, and, in my opinion, the whole soundtrack of the first film was really strong. The music really played a part in the story be it comical and lighthearted or powerful like the aforementioned ballad. The first thing I noticed in the soundtrack of the second movie was how ballad heavy it was, there are a couple of lighthearted fun songs near the beginning but it gets pretty heavy quite quickly. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but for me the format felt like song-story-song-story rather than using the music to assist in the storytelling. There is a nice little nostalgic throwback in the bringing back of ‘reindeers are better than people’ and it was great to see the movie using the phenomenal vocal talents of broadway star Jonathan Groff, who voices Kristoff, in giving him his own song. There’s been a lot of speculation but all we can do wait and see which song pushes through as this movies ‘big hit’.

I have to be fair. I have seen the original more times than an adult without children probably should have. Because of this I learnt the songs very quickly, I discovered hilarious little quirks written in that I might have missed had I only seen it once as I have done the sequel. But this one didn’t hit the mark for me, but I am fully aware that this is probably down to my naive hope that it might actually surpass the original. I’m sure i’ll watch it again and, maybe, I’ll enjoy it more. On a whole it is a well presented animation carrying strong themes with good and important values, it empowers individuals and is entertaining enough. I have no doubts that it will be another box office smash hit and will have adults and children alike all singing along to the soundtrack within a matter of weeks.

Le Mans ’66 – Review

Rated: 12A
Cast: Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe
Directed by: James Mangold
Written by: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller
Length: 152mins

Originally titled ‘Ford vs Ferrari,’ James Mangold’s 2019 release tells the true story of the 1966 Le Mans race, a 24-hour competition that featured the two car companies head-to-head in a battle for not only the race, but the brand of their companies. Focusing on Ford’s attempt to rebrand – from a conglomerate that works with quantity, to a conglomerate that works with quality – the story revolves around Caroll Shelby’s (Matt Damon) employment as their head of racing, as he struggles with the marketing-led mindset of Ford, and what he must do to get Ken Miles (Christian Bale) behind the wheel of their best car.

Going into the film, I expected a highly dramatic portrayal of the race and all the events preceding it, as well as thoughtful and touching cinematography, teased by the many artful posters for the film. However, though there was a lot of dramatic tension, many of the scenes were led in a more light-hearted direction, as the characters of Miles and Shelby delivered witty lines and playful teasing. This definitely allowed the story to be a great deal more entertaining than thrilling, but Mangold still knew when to hold back on the humour, as many of the races rightfully allowed the drama of the situation to take the front seat. The two and half hour run-time is no issue in this film, as it delivers scene after scene which all feel necessary to the overall progress of our protagonists.

So why haven’t I rated this film higher? It was entertaining and well-acted, with a balanced mix of drama throughout. However, one of the most jarring elements of the film was the editing. Many of the scenes, particularly in offices and basic conversations, featured continuity editing that was completely out of sync with the movement of the scene, and took away from the flow of the moment.

Linking to later in the film, during many of the high-tension race scenes, the cuts were consistently fast-paced. We understand that it’s necessary to convey the ludicrous speeds at which the competitors are travelling, but audiences are able to appreciate a higher level of editing than simply a scene being fast-paced, and therefore so is the editing. There were multiple occasions when the cinematography was well done, and the scene appeared to be heading in a satisfying direction, only for the moment to be quickly cut away from for the sake of compatibility with the pace of the car.

It can be difficult to portray a story to audiences who already understand many of the events of the film. I’m sure that many people already knew the outcome of the Le Mans in 1966, and most other viewers would be able to take a good guess at where the story is headed. Therefore, to create a film that keeps viewers engaged and highly entertained throughout is an impressive feat. I would mainly attribute this success to the performance of Bale and Damon. Their relationship on screen is one that audiences can’t look away from, as you never know whether the scene will be touching, humorous or despairing. Though Bale’s accent may be jarring at first to British viewers, it is quickly overcome and becomes a part of his charming character. The relationship between Ken and his son, Peter (Noah Jupe), is a delicately portrayed element of the story, with Jupe brilliantly embodying a child who clearly adores their dad and what he does with his life.

To conclude, I would definitely encourage you to watch Le Mans ’66, and when you find yourself wishing for the Ford car to win, ask yourself who it is you wish to see succeed; Ken Miles, the charismatic racer, or Ford, the company that simply wants to make a better profit.

Official Secrets – Review

Rated: 15
Cast: Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith
Directed by: Gavin Hood
Written by: Gregory Bernstein, Sara Bernstein and Gavin Hood
Length: 112mins

Official Secrets – the true story of Katharine Gun (played by Keira Knightley). For those unfamiliar with the story – Ms Gun was a translator working for the British security services who leaked a top secret memo to the press exposing an illegal US spy operation designed to push the UN Security council into sanctioning the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Whether you know the in’s and out’s of story not I urge you to take the time to watch this film. It’s important to state that this movie is looking at politicians from recent history and is based on a true story – whatever your political views I recommend that you make a deliberate choice to leave your politics at the door and try to focus on this particular story. Dragging current affairs into the telling of this truth could be distracting and, whilst important, you want to allow the issues presented in the telling of the story to resinate.

Though I felt that the earlier moments of this film were a little slow, the general atmosphere builds (not dramatically – others have commented on the fact that the most suspenseful scene is built around a printer…) and it does hold a fascinating tension. It doesn’t present with a dramatic evolution culminating with a highly emotional speech but rather a slow burn supported by a progressive intrigue and sense of morality. It allows the somber reality of the situation, it’s duration and the outcome to sink in to the audience as they watch. The more the story progresses, the more you feel connected to Ms Gun.

Knightley’s portrayal of Katharine Gun is stirring. My only slight criticism is that while her bosses were attempting to discover where the leak came from, Katharine, while riddled with guilt, stood out like a sore thumb. In reality she would have drawn a lot of attention very quickly with her ‘deer caught in headlights’ eyes, twitchy gestures and a suspiciously timed stomach bug… This is really my only issue with her performance. Generally she showed the passion and focus that the situation demanded while retaining a gentle, relatable humanity. The films cast is bulked out with an array of strong supporting actors. To name two, Matt Smith (playing reporter Martin Bright) who brings a brilliant energy to film and Ralph Fiennes who presents a noble, comforting strength in his role as Ben Emmerson, the human rights lawyer who defended Gun.

Gavin Hood’s telling of this story is a relatively simple one, a choice, I imagine, to allow the importance of the narrative to land with the audience. It’s not an action packed spy-thriller but a captivating moral tussle which has the audience questioning what they would do in that situation.

“I work for the British people. I do not gather intelligence so the government can lie to the British people.” Katharine Gun.

The Good Liar – Review

Rated: 15
Cast: Sir Ian McKellen, Helen Mirren, Russel Tovey, Jim Carter
Directed by Bill Condon
Written by Jeffrey Hatcher and Nicholas Searle (Novel)
Length: 109Mins

‘The Good Liar’ is at first presented as a con film, with the morally corrupt Roy Courtnay (Ian McKellen) weaving his way into the life of seemingly-innocent Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren), a lonely widow who wishes for love. I will say this now, the many turns and twists of the film are well interwoven into the character arcs of these two, and therefore to truly analyse ‘The Good Liar’ would require giving away some details. Of course, I won’t do this, but rather urge you to see the film for yourself, whilst I attempt to best articulate my thoughts without giving away any of the secrets that the film invites you to unfold.

Though at first a film that seems to explore the loneliness that can come from growing old, we are shown from the trailer that Roy has more villainous reasons to grow close to Betty – to get his hands on the small fortune that she has saved throughout her life. The inauspicious reasons for their meeting is quickly addressed in the opening scenes, and from here the film is able to go on to explore various other themes, such as how the actions of our past can sometimes be what narrates our future. Both children of a generation that grew up in the conflict of World War 2, the connotations of a post-war lifestyle weigh heavily on Betty and Roy’s story. Though this is a film that can entertain all ages, it is clear that the director, Bill Condon, wishes to create a sense of empathy between an elderly viewer and the characters seen on screen, as the fallout from a conflict as great as WWII is entirely personal, and often the greatest comfort for those affected is to be shown that you aren’t alone. This is brilliantly personified by Mirren and McKellen – performers that may at times be unfairly constricted by being seen as figureheads for a certain era of cinema, but show in ‘The Good Liar’ that they can still take on the challenges of modern life, just as the viewer can in their own personal life.

Many have compared ‘The Good Liar’ to a jigsaw puzzle, and I agree with their comparison. The key elements of the story are slowly and surely placed throughout the film, and it isn’t until you take a moment to look back on what is being created, that you begin to interpret the story’s message. That is, of course, until the creators wipe the puzzle off the table in the closing scenes. Though I was drawn in by the final unravelling of the story, I did find that the actual build-up to it was often times slow and lacked significant creative ambition from the director. The music, cinematography and editing were at times basic, with the occasional flair of inspiration drawing audiences back into the story. However, I do understand that this is a film which is largely dependent on the success of the overarching story, as well as the performances of our films leads. Both of these elements were well-delivered, and did justice to the clever articulation of the conclusion.

My other criticism was one which was only partially satisfied within the final act, where was Helen Mirren? Such a prestigious actress as she is, I expected the tension between her and Ian McKellen to be electrifying, especially considering the treacherous surroundings of their relationship. However, throughout most of the film, the creators seemed have been inspired more by the presentation of the performers in ‘Chinatown,’ where the focus is very much on Jack Nicholson as the lead, and rarely strays from their own personal interaction with the events of the plot. Despite this, the scenes where both performers were together on screen felt fairly lacklustre. Save for the conclusion, many of the opportunities for tension within the script were rarely capitalised on, and ultimately left the film devoid of any great feeling of risk or thrill. This I would pinpoint on the actual lines themselves, rather than how they were delivered.

This brings me into my final point – the script. The concept of the film is brilliant, and the way that many of the more audacious events of the film are portrayed is exciting and intriguing, but the script itself really lacks anything unique. There were many opportunities for the relationship between our leads to be developed, but instead the film spends its time over-emphasising clues for later in the story, as well as spending excessive amounts of time ensuring that we understand the character traits of our two leads, when we are already invested because of the status that McKellen and Mirren have as performers within the industry.

To conclude, I do believe that ‘The Good Liar’ is still an important watch, as the elements of the story guide the viewer to an ending which is entirely unexpected. There are some great moments of excitement, but ultimately I don’t believe that Bill Condon contributes anything unique to the world of film in his most recent creation.

Judy – Review

Rated: 12A
Cast: Renée Zellweger, Jessie Buckley, Finn Wittrock, Michael Gambon, Rufus Sewell.
Directed by Rupert Goold.
Written by Tom Edge.
Length: 118Mins

Judy is a beautifully presented biopic giving us a glimpse into the life of Judy Garland, with the primary focus towards the end of her life during a series of sold-out concerts in London. We see her thrown back into a life that she doesn’t want, forced to tour to make money while faced with the threat of losing custody of her two youngest children. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this film. Captivating and entertaining while equally saddening and thought provoking.

Since it’s release the feature has received extremely high praise, specifically the phenomenal portrayal of Judy herself, played by the meticulous Renée Zellweger. Her performance is complex. To depict the lifetime of difficulties that Garland faced, while dealing with concern for her children, substance abuse and new relationships clearly requires immense skill. Not forgetting, of course, that Zellweger did not lip-sync in this movie, the vocals are all hers – a vast challenge in itself, never mind all of the character work. Honestly, if the rest of the movie fell short I would still recommend audiences to watch purely for Zellweger’s skill. As it happens, there’s so much more to take in and enjoy.

Most people know that Judy Garland had an extremely sad and difficult life. Even if you don’t know very much of Garland’s story you can still watch and enjoy this film, it reveals some of the challenges of being a child star in old Hollywood through flashbacks, whilst subtly implying some of the darker, even more devastating streams of abuse that she faced. There are lots of rumours surrounding Garlands experiences on set throughout her childhood that are truly heartbreaking and unfortunately, likely to be true. Goold did well to stick to the timeline of the story that he’s telling, while allowing Zellweger’s performance to show some scars of Judy’s past, as well as the great performance as ‘young Judy’ by Darci Shaw during the flashbacks.

Aside from Zellweger, the other stand out performance for me was Jessie Buckley. I was only introduced to Buckley when she starred in 2018’s ‘Wild Rose’ but she really is one to watch. There’s something about all of her performances – they are enchanting. You really get behind her storytelling and her portrayal of Rosalyn Wilder is no different. As an audience member you experience the journey of her characters almost starstruck naivety, through frustration and desperation which circles around to an empathetic but genuine friendship.

Due to the nature of this film, I believe that each audience member will find certain elements that resonate, which may be entirely different to the person watching next to them. The main thing that I took away from the film was a heavy heart. It made me consider how far Hollywood has come and how much further it has to go. This isn’t the sort of film to watch if you need a lift, obviously it deals with some serious topics, but Zellweger is sensational and if you’re emotionally prepared to for quite a heavy film (though dispersed with light moments) I would highly recommend this film.