Summer of Soul – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Stevie Wonder, Jesse Jackson, Nina Simone, B.B. King, Mavis Staples and Moms Mabley
Directed by Ahmir-Khalid Thompson
Length: 117mins

The Summer of 1969 was infamous for its association with the ‘Free Love’ movement sweeping across America, and in particular its ties to the now-infamous Woodstock festival, a historic moment in modern American history. However, in the centre of Harlem that very same summer, it could be argued that a festival of even greater importance was taking place – the Harlem Cultural Festival. Some of the biggest artists in the black community took part in the festivities, which ran every weekend over the course of six weeks, showcasing the incredible talents of a range of artists from Nina Simone to Stevie Wonder, Sly & the Family Stone to B.B. King and many more.

Before even diving into the qualities which make ‘Summer of Soul’ a great documentary, the fact that it brings to life a key historic event which had been hidden away for over fifty years is something to be celebrated in itself. As the trailer says, if the festival hadn’t been recorded over the course of its runtime, it would be hard to believe any of this ever took place. The six free concerts culminated in a total attendance of around 600,000 people, solidifying the Summer of ‘69 in New York as one of great importance for the Black community.

Moving from act to act over the course of the films two hour runtime, each performer provides a new and unique perspective on not only their music, but the state of the modern world and how they hope to influence the future, which is greatly fleshed out through a variety of filmmaking techniques, from the colourful cinematography to the well-timed editing. It’s hard to pick out individual artists as really dominating the film, as everyone featured provides something important, but out of all the artists, Nina Simone stands out as an untouchable presence, delivering her songs with such great purpose and power that you can’t help but feel slightly amazed that such performances ever really took place.

Not only is the festival which unfolds throughout ‘Summer of Soul’ one of great cultural and social importance, it also just looks like a great amount of fun. Every artist who takes part in a retrospective ‘talking head’ interview speaks extremely highly of the festival, and often mentions the disbelief they felt when they first realised just how many people were in attendance. Knowing that the audience mainly comprised of fellow people of colour as they walked on stage, the entire show feels more like a communal celebration rather than a concert, creating an atmosphere of one giant party. Furthermore, the level of technical ability displayed by these artists is completely mesmerising, whether that be the forward-thinking funk movements of Sly & the Family Stone, the incredible blues capabilities of B.B. King or the deeply moving and powerful vocals of Nina Simone.

‘Summer of Soul’ truly feels like a summer film, and although it may be nearing the end of its runtime on the cinema circuit, I would highly recommend keeping an eye out for it wherever you can. An incredible insight into the music of America in 1969, there aren’t many other films out there like it.

The Suicide Squad – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, David Dastmalchian and Daniela Melchior
Written and Directed by James Gunn
Length: 132mins

After the fairly disastrously received first ‘Suicide Squad’ film, DC were well aware that they had to try something new. Now, five years on, they’ve brought in experienced superhero director James Gunn to take the reins for a reimagining of the team. One of the first major blockbusters to reach the big screen this Summer, ‘The Suicide Squad’ is an exciting and interesting new addition to the DC universe.

The thought on many people’s minds going into this film was likely not too different – can Gunn do it again? After taking control of the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ franchise for Marvel in the early 2010’s, the director contributed a fresh style which brought some great new ideas to the table, and which Marvel would continue to draw from to this day. Bright colours, an exciting soundtrack and characters who don’t take themselves too seriously all accumulated in a great superhero film, and displayed the sort of innovation DC desperately needed. Now, with the fate of a bunch of criminals and misfits in his hands once again, James Gunn has delivered a gripping and entertaining watch which brilliantly articulates the unlikely teaming-up of these bad guys.

One of the essential elements of the Suicide Squad’s creation is that it shouldn’t matter if any members of the team are lost, as they are all dispensable. A good contrast to the often predictably happy endings found within most modern Superhero stories, Gunn leans into this idea fairly heavily, and utilises such an ethos in a great way. From the get-go, he makes it very clear that no one is safe throughout the film, killing off characters very early on who you were sure would have a much greater presence in the story. Furthermore, the way these characters go out is often completely unexpected and shocking, perhaps giving reason for the 15 rating. This delightfully cruel take on extreme comic book violence allows the audience to see a new side of the DC world, balancing comedy and violence in an excellently dark way.

If there’s one thing that’s been learnt from the creation of dystopian or futuristic stories, it’s that everyone loves to see the strangest and most bizarre creatures imaginable brought to life onscreen. Whether that be the Wookies from Star Wars, or the overly-goofy superheroes created by Marvel in the 70’s, ‘The Suicide Squad’ delivers no shortage of wild and interesting creations who influence the story in their own unique way. Due to the fairly short life-span of many of the squad’s members, Gunn is able to bring in these surreal creatures for only a short space of time, and then quickly move on to the next exciting moment.

‘The Suicide Squad’ may not be top of the list for most moviegoers after the fairly underwhelming release of the original, but it would be a shame if that was the reason why anyone missed this release. Filled with life, colour and excitement, James Gunn’s first film for DC picks up on all the things that makes a superhero film great and delivers them in a consistently entertaining way throughout.

Jungle Cruise – Review

Rating: 12A
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Edgar Ramirez, Jack Whitehall and Jesse Plemons.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Written by Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, John Norville and Josh Goldstein.
Length: 127mins

Jungle Cruise, a film inspired by a ride at Disneyland, follows the story of Dr. Lily Houghton (Blunt) who enlists the help of Frank Wolff (Johnson) to take her and her brother down the Amazon river in the search for an ancient tree that holds the power to heal and break curses. With a whole lot of issues popping up along the way, Jungle Cruise throws it’s audiences into a full on, family adventure with plenty of wise cracks and a story full of twists and turns.

The character archetypes in Jungle Cruise definitely mirror those of 1999 movie ‘The Mummy’, with a brave strong hero and a fierce, intelligent, woman as well as an undead enemy and the comedic brother…while vaguely familiar, it works really nicely and adds to the overall feeling that this film is a wild mixture with inspiration taken from the likes of Journey to Atlantis, Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean and of course, The Mummy. It feels familiar because there are elements that may well have been inspired by other successful movies, yet it manages to maintain a fresh, exciting feel throughout.

Johnson and Blunt are a wonderful pairing, they bounce off each other really well and deliver equally solid performances. Both bring so much fun to this movie and their chemistry really helps move the story along. I’ve seen a lot of people commenting on the lack of chemistry between both Johnson and Blunt, however, I disagree. There might not be an overt sexual chemistry between the pair, but in every other aspect they work perfectly. Perhaps this is a reflection on an audiences need for romance to be the pillar of a relationship between two leading characters? Either way, I think this was a choice, the films primary story is not a romantic one and, in my opinion, it works. Jack Whitehall was the surprise of this film. He really shone and was the perfect casting to play Lily’s brother. A part that required strong comic timing and delivery, which we all know and expect from Whitehall, but also required a sadness and depth that explains his absolute loyalty to his sister.

Jungle Cruise isn’t a world changing film in many respects, but its the perfect opportunity for families to go to a cinema and experience the magic of this exciting story together. To escape from the worries of real life and take a couple of hours to go on an adventure with a strong cast who deliver a witty script perfectly.