Those Who Wish Me Dead – Review

Rating: 15 Cast: Angelina Jolie, Finn Little, Jon Bernthal, Nicholas Hoult, Aidan Gillen and Medina Senghore. Directed by Taylor Sheridan Written by Michael Koryta, Charles Leavitt and Taylor Sheridan. Length: 100mins

Those who wish me dead is a whirlwind action thriller that boasts big stars and a big storyline that starts fairly widespread and gets significantly more narrow as the film unfolds. Angelina Jolie plays Hannah Faber, a wild and determined smoke jumper battling PTSD after she was unable to save the lives of some teenagers. The story teases Hannah’s interesting but dramatic job,  the unusual relationship she has with her ex and forces her to face her recent trauma as she finds herself responsible for a frightened teenager who is being hunted by two no nonsense hitmen. 

The storyline was really interesting to me, it feels both familiar yet original. In the first twenty minutes we’re introduced to all elements of the film in their separate locations. Hannah, her team mates, her job and recent trauma. Ethan, local law enforcement and Hannah’s ex boyfriend who clearly likes to play by the rules and his pregnant wife Allison. Connor and his dad hanging out eating breakfast until they realise that Connors dads work has placed them in danger, and Patrick and Jack, hitmen who disguise themselves and blow up the house of a local politician…it seems like a lot and spreads the audiences attention. But it doesn’t take long for the pieces to come together and I actually think it’s really interesting. One thing that I found particularly refreshing with this movie, is that they didn’t feel the need to inform its audience of all of the characters backstories. They’re happy to pick the story up where it is and just roll with it without using detailed history to inform the current situation, with the exception of Hannah’s recent trauma.

This film boasts solid performances all around, giving the audience a great mix of ‘character type’. We have the rebel, the hero, the bad guys, the vulnerable kid…all there on a base level but built upon with very human emotion and reaction to the stories events. The unexpected but much appreciated surprise came at the point you might expect to find your typical ‘damsel in distress’ character taking control of her situation and defying expectation. Though all performances were strong, the stand out was with the young Finn Little, a teenager from Australia who summons brilliantly raw, authentic emotion. Without him, the film wouldn’t resonate in quite the same way.

In my opinion, Those Who Wish Me Dead is a decent watch. It’s entertaining and exciting but without the need to get deeply invested. It’s a shame that it moved quietly through it’s cinematic release, just as the country was released from lockdown but it’s definitely one to look out for when it releases to the smaller screen. It’s quite a random standalone film, it has set up loosely for the opportunity to make another but I have no real idea where that would go. Unfortunately feels like generally it will be forgotten or missed but I would watch it again given the opportunity. 

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.

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. 

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.”

The Legend Of Tarzan – Review

Rating: 12
Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz.
Directed by David Yates
Written by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer
Length: 110mins

In 2016 David Yates brought the story of Tarzan back to the big screen. Originally books, written by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1912, the story of the boy raised by apes certainly captured the attentions of a wide range of audiences; assisted, of course, by Disney’s animated musical adaptation. There have been several film versions since so why make another? This film succeeds in taking a well known story and finding a totally fresh angle. While including the charm of a childhood classic it’s full of action, romance and friendship – a true family film and perhaps a modern classic.

Part of the intrigue of this film is that it’s main story is somewhat separate from ‘the boy raised by apes’. The movie starts with the setting of the scene – the African Congo divided and King Leopold of Belgium running up enormous debts in his attempts to discover his new colonies’ riches; in desperation he sends Leon Rom (Waltz) to source the legendary diamonds of Opar who is met by a mighty tribe determined to defend their land and its heritage…or so it seems. Our first introduction to Tarzan (Skarsgard) is as John Clayton, Lord of Greystoke, a gentleman thriving in his adult life with his wife, Jane (Robbie). A whirlwind of events follow in a plot filled with a wonderful originality for a legendary story remade many times.

For those hoping for a nostalgic experience, you will not be disappointed. Though this film does lack amusing little musical numbers and talking animals, we are presented with familiarities of the legend through flashbacks and reminiscent dialogue. This movie doesn’t strike me as one that aimed for particular accolades within the film industry and though armed with a hugely talented award winning cast, it really feels like the storytelling is at it’s heart. The editing and the score fit perfectly with the essence of the overall production. This seemingly ‘simple’ approach, by simple I mean a key focus being plainly on the telling of the story, is what makes it so watchable. Through my watching and re-watching of this movie it has highlighted and elicited a desire to pull out the truth from amongst the story. Though this particular storyline was created and developed, King Leopold of Belgium and the horrors that he imposed onto the Congo were very real; slavery, exploitation, kidnap, ransom and genocide. It is my view that if a fictional story can highlight an issue enough to encourage it’s audience to research how much, if any, of it’s story is true, then it’s a vitally important tool.

Alexander Skarsgard manages to portray a truly believable character, one difficult for many in western civilisations to comprehend. Though many will understand ‘Tarzan’ to be a fictional character there are some who believe that Lord William Charles Midlan, an earl who lived in the wilds of Africa between 1868 and 1883, was the inspiration for the original story. There are many true stories of children taken in my primates and though they most likely didn’t ‘speak’ to the animals, a level of communication and learning must have developed. Fascinating scenarios that really do add to the enjoyment whilst watching a film like ‘The Legend of Tarzan’.

While the country is in lockdown this is a perfect film to sit down and watch with the entire family, with little flashes of humour, action and a whole load of originality it should capture the attention of all ages. As previously stated this film encourages research, be it into the original inspiration for Tarzan (Lord Midlan), into cases of humans taken in by animals or into the historical injustices that cover the worlds history. If one of those areas interests you I urge you to look into it and see what you can learn.

Charlie’s Angels – Review

Rated: 12A
Cast: Naomi Scott, Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska, Sam Claflin, Elizabeth Banks
Directed by Elizabeth Banks
Written by Elizabeth Banks, David Auburn and Evan Spiliotopoulos
Length: 118mins

As soon as I heard about a third Charlie’s Angels movie I knew that people would love it or hate it. The first two films (2000, 2003), starring Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz, are not typically considered ‘great films’ and I would absolutely agree with the general consensus. The 2019 movie had a make over – new cast, writers and director, as well as a more contemporary approach to the whole thing. If, like me, you loved the idea of the first two films but cringed at the cheesy moments and physically impossible ‘stunts’ then I urge to you give this new film a go. If you hated everything about the originals then perhaps, I would suggest, this one isn’t for you.

This revamped story of female spies working for the Townsend Agency isn’t a retelling. It’s not replacing the characters of old and just jazzing up their story. It widens the world of the original, including a few nice subtle ‘nods’ to the past films without forcing it’s audience into confusion if this is the first Charlie’s Angels film they’ve watched. I think the one of the main reasons why I enjoyed this so much is because they made it that little bit more believable – in a world where so many films are about superheroes, I quite like that the film makers created a world with heroes that could, in theory, exist. Although it compliments the older films with little throwbacks, you don’t need to have seen them to watch and enjoy this film.

While not particularly complex, the story does have a couple of twists and turns which keep you gripped. The film is kept light by the comical moments, brilliantly executed (usually) by Kristen Stewart. My least favourite element was the somewhat comical villain, played by Sam Claflin. Don’t get me wrong, I really like him as an actor, but there are a few scenes where his squeals and slightly panto-esque facial expressions changed the tone of certain moments. I imagine they were choices made for comical effect, but for me, they weren’t really funny and cheapened it slightly.

One theme, explored in both the older movies and the new, is considering women and how they were/have been/can be perceived. I actually found the attempts from Banks to try to modernise the gender politics appropriately pitched – there were powerful messages of intelligence and strength alongside a sharper awareness of how men might underestimate the skills and physical competency of women which is nicely heightened. The leading trio are made to be sexy without being turned into sex objects. Equally, the film isn’t perfect, and it’s important to remember that one film will never cover all areas and, alone, wont impact the masses into social change.

If you pull this movie apart and analyse every frame, you’ll struggle to find cinematic genius or deeply powerful undertones. But I do believe that if you enjoy a bit of fast paced fun then you could thoroughly enjoy the watch and might find one or two moments that speak to you outside of the story.

Jumanji: The Next Level – Review

Rated: 12A
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, Awkwafina, Nick Jonas
Directed by Jake Kasdan
Written by Jake Kasdan, Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg
Length: 123mins

2017 introduced a new generation to the thrilling and captivating world of Jumanji with a whole new take on the 1995 movie starring Robin Williams. With a fresh approach which saw our heroes pulled in to the game, rather than characters from the game entering our world, some were nervous that the new movie wouldn’t even come close to iconic original. The masses flocked to see the brilliant Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Jack Black play video game avatars, taking on the personalities of teenagers and audiences were taken aback by the hilarious performances, brilliant writing and completely fresh idea to compliment the original movie. Is making another film pushing it that bit too far? Or has Jake Kasdan managed to pull off another hit sensation?

Jumanji: The Next Level see’s our heroes returning into the world of Jumanji expecting to find the same ‘game’ as last time but are surprised to find a whole new quest. Not only are there new levels to face, but different bodies, skills and weaknesses. Part of the charm of the Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle (2017) was it’s originality, it had never been done before and was funny to all ages. While still funny, this presents the issue that the audiences know roughly what to expect, it takes some of the ‘wow-factor’ out of it and requires more thought to captivate and hold it’s audience.

Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle (2017) explored themes of friendship in high school and looking beyond individuals differences. Jumanji: The Next Level carries on with similar themes, but considers taking friendships further as you enter a more grown up world and, through the brilliant Danny DeVito and Danny Glover, the importance of forgiveness and the value of long lasting friendships. I love how there are two storylines intertwined throughout – as you would expect, the bulk of the story, humour and attention is on the world of Jumanji and it’s avatars, but the action that takes place at the beginning and end with the ‘real’ characters is just as interesting and entertaining. Separate stories, connected perfectly. The writers have managed to create characters that we as an audience are so drawn to in their ‘real’ forms, that it affects how we view their avatars and to me that is just incredible. Yes, of course this is hugely assisted by the wonderful cast and their detailed, intricate performances, but I found myself caring for the personality of the avatars, not just their amusing characteristics within the game.

There’s not too much more I can comment on without introducing spoilers and this is a film that will be best enjoyed if you go in with no expectations. But I would highly recommend this movie as a bit of exciting, family fun over this festive period. It has laughs for all the ages, with sufficient action, good pace and important underlying themes. A brilliant piece of lighthearted film making that you can share with everyone.