Come Away – Review

Rating: PG Cast: Keira Chansa, Jordan A. Nash, David Oyelowo, Angelina Jolie, Reece Yates and Gugu Mbatha-Raw Directed by Brenda Chapman Written by Marissa Kate Goodhill Length: 94mins

Another 2020 release that went largely unnoticed was Brenda Chapman’s ‘Come Away’. A tale that imagines Peter Pan and Alice (of Wonderland) as siblings which mixes the excitement of childhood imagination with the darker issues of loss, family feud and addiction. An unusual combination for a storyline primarily aimed at children. 

It was the trailer that initially grabbed my attention. On the surface it looked like a lovely escapism piece, allowing the familiar fictional characters to be placed in a new situation and using the medium of film to open up the imaginative worlds of these characters. Unfortunately the heavy counter balance of the children’s reality made it feel a bit clunky. While aesthetically it felt like a family film, the deep sadness when a character dies followed by the, relatively realistic, reactions of the others just didn’t fit the ‘magic’ that was set up in the earlier scenes.

The cast were solid, Oyelowo and Jolie played their parental roles well; creating an authentic feel of family and the children were seemingly uninhibited by the A-list actors that surrounded them. 

While in general the plot didn’t work for me; I commend the intentions of the filmmakers. They didn’t fall into the trap of remaking old stories and you can see the heart behind a film that is clearly commenting on childhood imagination and it’s importance no matter what is going on in the real world – the trouble seems to be that other themes and issues were thrown into the mix and it got messy.

I find this film in particular really frustrating to consider, perhaps I had specific expectations when I went to watch it and they weren’t reached but I just hoped for so much more from this film. Instead of escaping from the pandemic during which it was released, I came away feeling a bit deflated. While unusual for me, I wouldn’t actually recommend this film to many people. It’s probably fine to have on in the background but the more serious topics aren’t really dealt with and the prequel elements of Peter Pan and Alice aren’t fleshed out, leaving the film as a whole feeling like it missed the mark. 

Pieces of a Woman – Review

Rating: 15
Cast: Vanessa Kirby, Shia Labeouf, Ellen Burstyn, Iliza Shlesinger and Benny Safdie
Directed by Kornél Mundruczó
Written by Kata Wéber
Length: 127mins

Now that Netflix is most likely a lot of people’s first call when it comes to watching new releases, ‘Pieces of a Woman,’ seems to have been released at the perfect time. A film filled with incredible performances and an emotionally-charged story like this may before have been seen by some people as simply another Oscar-bait release, but now that there is a lot fewer choices when it comes to new releases, ‘Pieces of a Woman’ will hopefully get the wider reception it deserves.

After a traumatic home birth, Vanessa Kirby’s character Martha Weiss is left to deal with the emotional and physical fallout of what she has experienced as a mother. Friends and mainly family come and go throughout the film, but for a large part it’s the experiences of Martha and her partner Sean (Shia Labeouf) that the film focuses on. For anyone who feels hesitant about the drama of the film, and worries that it might be too slow for them, I would simply encourage you to just watch the first five minutes. The story grabs you immediately and I would struggle to picture anyone turning the film off during its opening scenes. The main title card doesn’t appear until nearly half an hour into the film, and I’m pretty sure I was holding my breath the entire time. What director Kornél Mundruczó manages to achieve in almost one continuous take during this time is not only gripping, but also establishes key character traits that will develop and unravel throughout the rest of the film. 

‘Pieces of a Woman’ has been widely praised for the performances that litter the film, and for good reason. Vanessa Kirby’s expressions of guilt, fear and anxiety remain consistently believable and impressive throughout. Shia Labeouf plays the broken father figure brilliantly too, but in a way that feels fresh compared to previously similar roles that he is taken up before, such as his performance in 2018’s ‘Honey Boy.’ Ellen Burstyn remains one of Hollywood’s greatest treasures, playing a role that I imagine will earn her a lot of attention throughout awards season, even with her character having fairly limited screen time. More than anything ‘Pieces of a Woman,’ feels like a showcase for great acting, and everything else in the film seems as if it’s focussing on allowing these performances to shine through. 

The problem with opening a film in such a strong way like ‘Pieces of a Woman’ does, is that you have to keep the momentum going for the rest of the runtime. The fallout of the film’s opening event is essentially what carries the story for the next hour and a half, and whilst this is a necessary element of the story to tell, there are definitely some parts which feel slightly unnecessary. It’s difficult to walk the line between realism and a narrative that will provide a satisfying or poignant end to the story, and whilst one character in particular does receive a satisfying conclusion, there are definitely some ]who seem to have a large influence on the film in the first and middle act, but simply fade out by the end. 

One of the key reasons why ‘Pieces of a Woman’ is an important story in some regards, is because it allows for discussion around the topics that play out on screen. Whilst intense and gut-wrenching at times, everything that occurs is human, and has a chance of affecting any of us in our lifetime. By creating films that cover these topics, a greater understanding and willingness to talk about these things will develop, and may provide some small relief to anyone who has experienced anything similar to what happens in the film.

It might not be the most light-hearted film in the world, but I would highly recommend giving ‘Pieces of a Woman,’ a watch. There are some great things to take away if you have a keen interest in performance, and it definitely has one of the most gripping opening acts I’ve seen in a long time.

Mulan – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Yifei Liu, Li Gong, Jet Li, Jason Scott Lee, Chen Tang, Doua Moua and Jimmy Wong. Directed by Niki Caro Written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin Length: 115mins

Mulan is one of the cinematic victims of Covid:19, with it’s initial release set for March 2020 the film was postponed until the summer and then, much to the dismay of many cinema goers, released on Disney plus for a premium price. It follows the story of a young maiden who disguises herself as a male warrior to fight for the Imperial army in place of her ageing father.

When Disney announces a live action remake you can almost palpably hear the cries of half the audiences dismay at yet another remake, the fear of ‘ruining’ a classic whilst the rest of the audience celebrates at another reimagining of something magical that helped shape their childhood. When Mulan was announced it was very much the same. While it is perhaps a less popular animation, the original is filled with catchy songs, loveable sidekicks and a strong moral focus. With a live action remake that was poised to eliminate both the songs and the sidekicks, many were concerned that the remake would just be a waste of time. 

Niki Caro entrusted Yifei Liu with the titular role that comes with a quite a hefty responsibility. The character requires an authentic portrayal of strength, passion and heart without getting too headstrong or becoming a heroine of mythology that breaks the connection intended to inspire it’s focal audiences. Liu brilliantly takes Mulan through the process of rebellious and inexperienced through to a mature, commanding leader. I have heard some comment on the lack of heightened emotion but I think that this was a solid choice that lends itself to the action. 

Caro interweaves the story’s ancient poetic roots with nostalgic moments from the 1998 animation, but it’s very much its own artistic endeavour. You can tell Caro’s intention for this film through her choices, the focus being very much on female empowerment. The director highlights women standing up for themselves and each other and demanding that men hear and believe them. As family-friendly as it is,  the film also carries the unmistakable spirit of the #MeToo movement. This is so brilliantly done with lessons and reminders for every age group.

I’ve been really impressed with the Disney remakes so far and I surprised myself by finding Mulan topping the list as my favourite. It feels so important whilst being thoroughly entertaining, there’s a clear line between that which was included for the sake of the story and that which was included for the sake of humanity. Mulan couldn’t be more relevant, vital, and alive today. Mulan’s feminine strength was what made her an outcast in this male-dominated world, but one of the key lessons lies within the fact that Mulan can’t achieve her own full potential until she’s fully honest about her identity. It’s truly a shame that this film wasn’t able to release in cinemas, what a joy it would have been for a generation of young girls to watch and learn together. Covid:19 took away the chance for youngsters to look around a filled theatre, to see potential in the others around them as well as themselves. But hopefully the film will be seen, the lessons will be learnt and a spark of passion will be ignited with the help of this brilliant film.

“Loyal. Brave. True.”