Tick, Tick…BOOM!  – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesus, Vanessa Hudgens and Joshua Henry. Directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda Written by Steven Levenson (screenplay by) and Jonathan Larson (based on the musical by) Length: 115mins

Tick, Tick…BOOM is a heartfelt tribute to Broadway talent Jonathan Larson, played here by Andrew Garfield. A show written by Larson himself to tell his story and express his struggle, adapted by screenwriter Steven Levenson from Larson’s autobiographical piece that came just before Rent to tell the story of his first major musical project: a wildly ambitious futurist fantasy called Superbia that almost no one seemed to get. In short; it’s a musical about making a musical based on an autobiographical one man show…

This film is explicitly theatrical, going back and forth between Larson’s story and his one-man show of him telling that same story. This will undoubtedly not be to everyones taste, however I feel like this film was created for a certain audience; then if others enjoy it then its a bonus. It’s a true love letter to musicals and the artists that create them, with a wider scope of anyone who is grinding for a career in the arts. Tick, Tick…Boom throws its audience into the Larson’s ordeal of the quarter-life crisis, the first glimmers of approaching mortality and the realisation that options are closing down, something that particularly afflicts those approaching their 30s in the creative arts who don’t seem to be making it. 

Lin-Manuel Miranda saw Rent on his 17th birthday, he saw that musicals could be about every day people in places and situations that he understood..two years later he started writing his tony award winning show‘In The Heights’. It’s a really great to see a director take on a movie about someone who directly impacted his life – Larson was the composer who inspired his own creative awakening. Miranda, who also starred as Larson in a theatrical performance of this, directs the film with a deep understanding of the passion, struggle, and ebullience of an artist committed to an art form that requires a lot of money and a lot of other people to be brought to life.

Some people will be frustrated by Larson’s sense of his own importance and neglect of those around him. But theatre kids of all ages will appreciate that it’s not his own importance he’s excited by, so much as the importance of the stories he wants to tell, even if they are not yet awards worthy.

This film is really stylised which fits perfectly with the somewhat chaotic narrative and you can see how much heart has been put into it’s creation. As stated earlier I’m not sure it’s for everyone, but it’s an opportunity to get a glimpse of struggle demonstrated on this particular path of life. Had this film been based around another subject matter, I probably wouldn’t have connected to it to the same degree, but for what it is, I think it’s brilliant.

Jonathan Larson died at 35, just before the opening night of Rent, an almost unbearable metaphor for the backstage heartbreak of musical theatre. This film helps remember him and his creativity in a beautiful way. 

King Richard – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Jon Bernthal, Saniyaa Sidney and Demi Singleton. Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green Written by Zach Baylin Length: 144mins

King Richard follows Richard Williams, as he executes his long imagined planned for two of his daughters, Venus and Serena, to become tennis champions. The genre of this film isn’t explicitly clear – it’s sort of a sports flick, sort of a family drama, but I’m not sure it matters. The brilliance of this film is the fact that it’s based on reality, with both Venus and Serena Williams serving as executive producers on the movie which relieves concerns about the use of too much artistic licence. As well as this the flawless cast that bring the characters to life; Will Smith, a fan favourite, leads the charge and certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Smith, who is arguably the main draw of the movie, plays a man who refuses to acknowledge anything besides his own opinion, yet he is hauntingly effective when forced into silence.

The scenes where he shows Williams’ vulnerability have a damaged quality that lingers long after the moment has passed. The silence and the subtext are so powerful in this film and Smith lands them expertly, allowing the audience to capture a glimpse of the wounded man under all the bravado. While she doesn’t feature quite as predominantly as Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, matches Smith in screen presence in her portrayal as Brandi Williams. She brings a warmth and dignity as well as expressing a quiet power that she isn’t afraid to release when necessary. The scenes where she stands up to her husband, are some of the more powerful scenes in the movie and Ellis is flawless. It would be unfair to comment on the actors without a nod to Sidney and Singleton, who play Venus and Serena; they both shoulder the responsibility of mimicking two of the greatest athletes with absolute class. They do well to match the pressure on their characters against the warmth of their youth and lives within their family, it’s a pleasure to watch their work.

Reinaldo Marcus Green’s direction is wise, he clearly knew that the strength of the storytelling is in the acting, in trusting his cast to carry the story. He manages to hit the beats that you want without falling into melodrama, allowing the fact that it’s the telling of a true story to resonate with it’s audience. The most frustrating element of this movie for me, is the marketing, which is know is a bizarre aspect to comment on. I have spoken to so many regular cinema goers who haven’t even bothered to give it a look in due to the name – many people assuming that it’s Shakespeare or a period drama of some sort, while also commenting that the poster isn’t particularly eye catching. It just seems a shame to know that people are missing such a brilliant film due to relatively simple problems.

I don’t say this lightly, but I truly believe that King Richard is one of, if not, the best film released in 2021 (so far). Obviously everyone has different taste and that is to be celebrated but I really do feel that most people would enjoy; or at least take something from this film. It’s a shame that it seems to have flown somewhat under the radar but I really do encourage you to watch this film in a cinema if you can, but definitely at home once it’s been released for the ‘small screen’. 

The Harder They Fall – Review

Rating: 15 Cast: Jonathan Majors, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, LaKeith Stanfield and Idris Elba. Directed by Jeymes Samuel Written by Jeymes Samuel and Boaz Yakin. Length: 139mins  

When outlaw Nat Love discovers that the man who murdered his parents in front of him as a child is being released from prison, he reunites his gang to take revenge. What more could you ask for? A revenge Western packed with memorable characters played by brilliant actors, each scene and moment staged for power and authority. 

This movie caught my attention while scrolling through Netflix, mostly thanks to the big name cast. The trailer presents a very accurate snapshot of what it is, a contemporary Western, which is an interesting concept in itself. Now the plot is relatively basic, but the content is just so interesting to watch. You can see a lot of Jeymes Samuels influences within the film, it feels very Tarantino at times and is a really artistic film. The framing and the camerawork is beautiful, the colour palette is vibrant and the music is something else. While the general aesthetic is classic western,  there are quick-draws, large-scale gunfights, horse stunts, and chases, a train robbery, bank robberies, and a couple of hand-to-hand brawls with several cliches that we would expect in a Western; bottles smashed over heads, fights with pitch forks, men thrown out of windows etc…the soundtrack and fight sequences are the main elements that keep it feeling modern and fresh.

The Harder They Fall is Jeymes Samuel’s debut feature film but his CV boasts experience of working with some incredible talent. In this film he gifts his actors with precious moments where their characters are allowed to listen to each other and quietly glance at each other. It truly feels like a ‘filmmakers film’ and I can only imagine that the cast leapt at the opportunity to be a part of it. While the whole cast is strong, lead by the brilliant Jonathan Majors, there are a couple who stand out. Idris Elba, unsurprisingly, brings a cool, mysterious quiet to the high energy of the rest of the cast and Regina King who we all know delivers in every single role. King brought everything that her character required, moments of vulnerability countered with absolute brutal, no nonsense reactions.

Now the film does feel quite long, the plot isn’t particularly captivating and some of it is fairly predictable, but it’s very difficult to criticise a film that really does feel like art. Yes, it wont be to everyones taste, but it really is worth the watch for all of the heart that comes through in its presentation. While speaking to GQ, Samuel said  “I always loved Westerns, but they would always present a very narrow scope in those stories. They’d be very white male-centric. They wouldn’t even show women with any power in those stories.” and I think you can really feel his words in this movie, he explores human nature, gives voices to powerful women and explores a genre that he clearly cares so much about.

Last Letter From Your Lover – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Shailene Woodley, Joe Alwyn, Felicity Jones, Nabhaan Rizwan and Callum Turner. Directed by Augustine Frizzell Written by Nick Payne, Esta Spalding and Jojo Moyes (based on the book by) Length: 110mins

Last Letter From Your Lover, a 2021 release based on the book of the same name, promises a good old fashioned romance switching between two timelines which focusses on two different couples. Boasting an array of established young talent, it’s bound to attract the attention of any romance fans. 

The film begins in 1965 in London, as socialite Jennifer Stirling (Woodley) returns home from the hospital. It’s clear that there has been some sort of accident and that Jennifer has no memory from before. Her best friend informs her that she has ‘the perfect life’, but upon discovering a love letter from another man that she had hidden in a book, Jennifer sets about discovering the truth and searching for a love that she’s forgotten. Meanwhile, in the present time, Ellie (Jones) is introduced as a less than interested thirty-something, emerging from a one-night stand with a clear desire to avoid any sort of meaningful relationship. She’s a journalist working on a profile, who upon discovering a letter in the paper’s archive, begging “J” to run away with him, is absolutely determined to learn the romantic story of the mysterious ‘pen pals’ from the past. With the help of an eager archivist, Rory (Rizwan), Ellie begins to piece together the romance, presented to the audience through flashbacks, between Jennifer and Anthony O’Hare (Turner).

 The Last Letter from Your Lover is  definitely watchable. It’s an entertaining enough story which, while relatively predictable, holds the attention of it’s audience. The writing has moments that are beautifully poetic, particularly in the letters, which I assume are taken directly from the book. It helps the establish the differences between the two timelines and adds to the romance at the core of the story.  Having said this, it’s not quite the sweeping romance it feels like it should be. I can only attribute that to the lack of on screen passion, particularly in the flashback timeline. We aren’t given the opportunity to watch the relationship actually develop, we are presented with a hint of their true passion through the letters, but in the action we’re given limited dialogue, some nice montages and no real exploration of the story of their falling for each other.

The story gives us four characters who have had or are having unhappy experiences of relationships which creates drama. It immediately presents conflict which makes a romance more interesting, but the lack of exploration into three of the four backstories leaves its audience wanting. I quite enjoyed the modern day story; they didn’t push it too much or over romanticise a situation that was clearly just starting which makes it a little bit more authentic. The flashbacks are definitely romanticised but it fits the essence and world that is created in the flashbacks. You can see moments where the filmmakers clearly try to mirror the two stories. This works quite nicely as a link and to highlight the differences between the two times, but it feels like it could have been used to a greater level; to really show similarities in heart, frustration or hurt, particularly between the two female leads who had plenty of differences. 

While this review has been somewhat critical, I would still recommend watching it. It’s entertaining, has moments of romance and is led by a solid cast. My frustrations stem from a story that has so much potential. It just feels that the end result is lacking, and if we had been given more backstory and character development I think it could have been great. 

Soul – Review

Rating: PG
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Ahmir-Khalib Thompson, Phylicia Rashād, Daveed Diggs, Richard Ayoade and Graham Norton
Directed by Pete Docter
Written by Pete Docter, Kemp Powers and Mike Jones
Length: 101mins

The name ‘Pixar’ is enough to bring nostalgia to most people these days, and seems to remain one of the few studios who consistently deliver heart-warming, entertaining and unique stories to the big screen. Unfortunately, ‘Soul’ has been enjoyed by most on a smaller screen this past year, but it doesn’t fail to deliver exactly what you’d hope for, as well as a little more.

The story of Joe Gardner, a middle school Jazz teacher in New York who never feels that he fully accomplished his dreams of being a professional musician, ‘Soul’ draws on themes of loss, love and aspiration. Although the films which Pixar make are definitely not just for children, it’s undeniable that the younger demographic make up a large portion of the audience. As a result, when it comes to dealing with a subject as heavy as loss or death, a filmmaker must be especially creative – to not only bring a vision of life after death to the screen, but to also do it in a way which considers how a child may perceive it and be affected by it. Despite this, ‘Soul’ creates a beautiful and intriguing perception of what this change means to so many people, and uses it to tell their story in a fresh and exciting way.

It’s no secret that Pixar are one of the greatest animation studios working today, with perhaps only Studio Ghibli to rival them. There were multiple times throughout the film when I found myself struggling to believe that some of the visuals – in particular the backgrounds of some scenes – were animated, and not instead just using real footage. Pixar has consistently worked to improve the quality of their visuals since their creation, walking a fine line between remaining true to the wonder which animation can provide, and allowing a greater amount of realism to influence their films. However, ‘Soul’ also demonstrates some of the most abstract use of animation I’ve seen from the studio, and showing signs of inspiration from other brilliant animators such as Don Hertzfeldt, incorporates darker and less familiar visuals when depicting darker moments in the ‘You Seminar’ – a place somewhere after life, and a little before the “great beyond”.

Trent Reznor and Atticuss Ross have once again proved themselves to be competent and exciting composers who are able to adapt themselves not only to the themes which a film carries, but also to the audience who’ll be hearing their score. A far stretch from the lighter sounds of Michael Giacchino’s ‘Up’ soundtrack, or the work of Randy Newman for ‘Toy Story’, the darker and more electronic sounds which Reznor and Ross bring to ‘Soul’ feels like an exploration into new territory for Pixar, whilst also being a great soundtrack which works perfectly with the narrative and themes which the film explores.

Whilst I might not consider ‘Soul’ to be amongst Pixar’s best works, it definitely ranks highly in their filmography, and shows that they’re a studio who are still able to create interesting and exciting work. I’d highly recommend ‘Soul’ to anyone of any age, and if you get the chance to give it a watch, you definitely should.

Blithe Spirit – Review

Rating: 12A Cast: Dan Stevens, Isla Fisher, Leslie Mann, Emilia Fox, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Judi Dench Directed by Edward Hall. Written by Piers Ashworth, Meg Leonard and Nick Moorcroft. Based on the play by Noel Coward. Length: 95mins

In the latest film adaption of Noel Cowards play Edward Hall brings the famous comedy to life in an explosion of colour and famous faces. The story follows Charles Condomine, a writer struggling with writers block who hires a spiritualist medium to hold a seance in the hope to inspire his writing. When Madame Arcati accidentally summons the spirit of Charles’ deceased first wife, we are presented with an increasingly complex love triangle between himself, his first love and his current wife of 5 years.

As a play, Blithe Spirit (which was first seen in 1941 in the West End) proved to be a phenomenon. It drew massive audiences and created a long-run record for a non-musical stage play in the West End at the time and was soon presented all across America. In 1945 the story found it’s way to the big screen with Rex Harrison starring as Charles Condomine. In theory, this fresh take should have been able to use the pull of a genius original text with a decent budget, big names and advanced technology to reignite laughter across the masses in one of the more difficult years in recent times. In reality, the film missed it’s cinema release and headed straight to streaming services which, in hindsight, I think was probably best for this film as it totally missed the mark. 

It’s an aesthetically pleasing production. The location, sets, costume and colour palette all bring a real vibrancy and help lift the elements that some might struggle to get behind, creating it’s vintage feel while keeping the energy high, though you could argue that these aspects were in place as more of a distraction from the underwhelming story. With a cast of such big names you would only expect the highest quality performances. Unfortunately the approach to the film feels very much like a basic attempt at ‘bringing the play to life’ which just didn’t work for me. While the actors all give solid performances it is very dramatised and a bit silly.

I would give this adaption a miss, the play however, I would go to see. It takes truly brilliant writers to adapt such classic writing that is, arguably, timeless and rejuvenate it for a modern audience. In this situation they should have just left it alone. While it’s short run time feels perfect for an easy afternoon watch, the jarring nature of the script means that at times it feels stretched. The plot is altered slightly but offers no new perspective, focus or meaning. It’s just a film for the sake of it that included most of the comedy in it’s trailer.

Sabrina (1954) – Review

Rating: U Cast: Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden and John Williams Directed by Billy Wilder Written by Billy Wilder, Ernest Lehman and Samuel Taylor Length: 113mins

Sabrina is a somewhat archetypal romantic comedy. It tells the story of a young girl, the daughter of a chauffeur who has eyes for the youngest son of her fathers employer. While growing up on the extravagant grounds of the Larrabee family home, Sabrina (Hepburn) longs to gain the attention of  David Larrabee (Holden); the resident wild child and polar opposite of his older brother, Linus (Bogart), who’s focus is purely on maintaining and expanding the family business empire. Sabrina is sent to cookery school in Paris in the hopes that she’ll forget David, but returns an elegant young woman with the ability to turn heads and capture the attention she’s so longed for.

It is impossible to comment on this film without discussing the cast. Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart  are nothing short of phenomenal. Their characters are so wonderfully authentic, drifting through their story and switching between the more serious moments to the more comical  so smoothly. Holden’s portrayal of David matches up to his co-stars just as well, with the only slight blip being the staff at the Larrabee house were slightly heightened which distracts from the more naturalistic telling of the story.

One of the more understated wonders of this film is the script; based upon the play ‘Sabrina Fair’ written by Samuel Taylor in 1953 and adapted for screen by Billy Wilder, Samuel Taylor and Ernest Lehman. While eloquently telling the story there is a brilliant amount of dry humour – one liners woven into the script that I hadn’t noticed when watching the film a few years ago, it’s brilliantly funny without the actors making the humour loud or extravagant. A feat that, to me, shows how deeply Wilder trusted both his material and his actors to tell the story and allow the dialogue to land with its audiences. 

On the surface, I’m not sure it’s even possible to mix the likes of Billy Wilder, it’s cast and this script without creating a timeless classic. Everything about it is so watchable. I highly recommend ‘Sabrina’, especially if you would usually write off black and white films; this was the first film I ever saw that wasn’t in colour and it really changed my mind. I had a completely unfounded hesitancy to watch B+W films because I thought I would get bored – if anything, they have to do more to keep a modern audiences attention and in my experience, they do just that!

I would also just add that although this is certified ‘U’ – one of the early scenes is an attempted suicide and, although nothing shocking or graphic it’s worth bearing in mind if you are watching with younger children. 

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.”