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.”