Lara Croft is really about the action set pieces. It has about six that where clearly in-mind when they were developing it and they rest was focused on connecting them together. So this movie’s quality should be determined by how much you care about the characters in the scenarios, how well do the connections from one to the other work and how engaging are said action set-pieces.
From what has been established in the other games and how she has been represented through advertisement Lara Croft is a cunning woman that is pretty much the female Indiana Jones in terms of her being a action star archeologist that finds herself in constantly escalating situations of peril. Her personality though? Well she’s cool, that’s pretty much it to be honest. That’s how she has been able to be sold in so many ways and be put into so many different scenarios over the years , her character is simple and you don’t need a deep complex character when you are controlling them in a video game cause you can project what you want onto them. But now that there’s a movie we need to deal with it. Alicia Vikander is one of the great young stars we have right now so she would seem like the right choice. She went through months of training to get into shape for the role and it shows a few times when she gets to expose her abs, but she also runs and climbs and generally traverses like a natural. I feel she’s a little too skinny to convincingly beat up these muscle bound dudes she goes up against but meh. But for the point of her personality she is more smiley and peppy that other interpretations, she cracks a few jokes and is more down-to-earth. She is also clearly very intelligent and driven, along the way she must present herself as heartfelt, bad-ass and vulnerable which Vikander is able to clearly convey with a few delicate expressions of the eyes.
The movie is filled with action sequences which range from chases to puzzles with deadlines to gunfight’s to fisticuffs. The goal of the movie and the scenes are to deliver a visceral experience so the camera shakes and the sound of fists hitting heads and bodies slamming is clear and feels hard. There are many shots where Lara is on the move (something she often is in the movie) and the camera is either behind or in-front of her, like the camera operator is along for the run. It creates a sense of engagement by making us feel the momentum of the running and the turbulent nature of traversing the area.
For reasons Walton Goggins plays Mathias Mogel, the villain of the movie. He has been on the island for seven years, unable to go home until he gets the treasure he’s been sent to retrieve. He has gone quietly mad, nothing too over-the-top but his eyes never blink and are very open, his voice wavers and there’s never any hesitation when he kills. It isn’t a great villain or a reinvention of the role but it does come with a little more control that we don’t usually get.
At the ending of the movie they force in a twist which isn’t even that clever and which is also a clear ploy to turn this into a franchise. The days of having standalone movies are not done but the days of having a standalone blockbuster do seem to be dead and buried, at least for now. Is is so bad to go to the theater, buy your ticket, take your seat, be entertained for ninety minutes to two hours and leave satisfied, not knowing that you will have to be back over a year later to see the story continue? Sequels have gotten better over the years but just because they are not longer the stake in the heart for the movie doesn’t mean that they are now a necessity. Well, at least the movie still works well enough on it’s own.
We seem to be getting a few movies that attempt to or at least put on the facade that they are witty plot twisters when they simply aren’t. There’s nothing wrong with a simple, clear story telling that does it’s job well. That was one of the reason why Kong: Skull Island got so much praise from me. One a technical, performance and adaptation level this movie is quite capable, go knowing that this is based on a video game so it is about making you feel like you’ve gone on a ride and you’ll leave having felt it.
It seems that there are two types of spy movies. There’s the dark, gritty one where the duty takes it’s toll on the one that must be said spy. Then there is the romanticised world where everyone is attractive and things are sleek. Red Sparrow is the latter but with peppering of a dark gritty world.
We open on a raising red curtain. We are at a ballet and the dancers perform. Somewhere else a man deciphers a code and goes out into the cold of Russia. The dancers dance with Dominika (Jennifer Laurence) being the star. The man meets another man and they pass something between them, a close call causes him to fire his gun so the police will chase him. Near the end of the ballet Dominka’s leg is crushed by a mistake of her co-star leaving her dancing career broken.
A few months later Dominka is recovering though with a ill mother her options are limited. Luckily, or unluckily, her uncle Ivan Vladimirovich Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts) who has pull in the government offers her a position of training. The Sparrows are specially trained agents that are masters of getting under the skin of their targets. So begins the question of what are they willing to do for their country and where is the line if there even is one.
Jennifer Laurence is no stranger to an action leading role, with her career being built on Katniss from The Hunger Games. She speaks with a very thick Russian accent, how accurate it is I cannot say but there is not trace of her real American accent which is impressive. Though her focus is in her body movement and subtlety in her face. She starts as someone broken, then thrown into a world that asks her to do things she never thought of doing, and then finally becomes accustomed to her environment. This is reflected in her body-language, and shows the arc of her character.
There are moments in the movie, particularly within the opening sequence where it looks truly ravishing. The Ballet setting is reminiscent of Powell & Pressberger’s The Red Shoes and The Tales of Hoffman. For the opening chunk onward, it becomes less stimulating, still sharply shot but the colors are more muted and setting less memorable. I would guess this is to show the changing from one world into another though it more feels like an unfulfilled promise of a really good looking movie.
Being that this is an American movie and with all the tensions brewing between them and Russia recently it is surprising to have a spy movie that shows the experience from the other side. Ultimately you can guess who is painted as the villain and the noble country in the end but it was refreshing and important to see that there are noble and good people that come from other countries.
The big talking point for this movie will most likely be the violence. There are a few very overt moments of sexual content and savvier harm being inflicted upon the characters. One of the main recipients is Dominika herself, I’m usually quite sensitive about depiction of brutality towards women but here I feel it’s in the right place. Firstly, it’s a brutal spy movie, you should know what your getting within a few minutes, secondly, everyone gets brutality inflicted upon them, there is no beating discrimination going on. So ultimately I feel it’s fair.
Red Sparrow has talent behind and in-front of the camera and does some bolder things that will make it memorable. It is not as clever as it believes itself to be but it avoids being blatantly stupid or misogynistic with plenty of refreshing material to a genre we’ve already seen a lot of so it makes the ride.
Is it possible for the youth to really listen to their parents when they give them advice, or do they have to live long enough to appreciate what they’re telling them? At the same time do parents really know better than their kids, or are they just set by their own experiences?
There are many stories that put forward a similar dynamic about the tension that happens between a parent and child. What is the important element is how it paints it’s world and characters and the voice it gives them.
Our first image is a mother and daughter sleeping face-to-face in a bed, they straighten out the room and head home. While driving an argument arises about Christine now wanting to be called Lady Bird and go off to attend New York college while her mother doubts her abilities, her retort is to roll out of the moving car giving her a cast for most of the movie.
Lady Bird’s goal is simple yet so connectable. She wants to forge her own identity, she rejects the name her parents gave her in favor of one she gave herself, she doesn’t listen to her mother or others telling her that there are more reasonable paths for her to take her future because she is unlike anyone else ever (in her mind). It is that time of adolescence where you begin to learn that the rules that the adults force on you are not absolute but at the same time you are probably self-obsessed. It’s just something a lot of us go through.
Saoirse Ronan embodies the character perfectly. She is already a veteran actor and perfectly masks her thick Irish accent. Because of the situation dynamic it call on her to shift moods quickly, take one scene where she’s in the midst of arguing with her mother in a store and when her mother shows her a dress she becomes joyful, or another where it starts with her seeking sympathy from her friend but it turns into a heated argument. Good script-writing can only take it so far, it needs actors to bring it to life.
Laurie Metcalf is Lady Birds mother and she is the other great pillar of a character in the tale as well as the other great performance. There are moments where she has to internalise much but persevere. Two examples are when she is dealing with a patient and what they have to tell them is heartbreaking but she still needs to ask them essential questions. The other moment is when she’s chatting with Lady Bird’s boyfriend and he says something that hurts her, the expression of hurt flashes on her face very quickly but you can feel it in that half second she has to show it.
As an experienced actor herself Greta Gerwig fits into the directing chair with great ease. Her shots are simple but greatly effective and her definite great power is to get extremely well crafted performances out of her actors. They are all perfectly capable actors themselves but Gerwig adjusts them for the right level of funny, furious, vulnerable and sad.
Because Lady Bird’s self obsession lends itself to revelations about other characters. She becomes more sympathetic to others and picks up on details. It is an organic and refreshing way of having character revelations that is not contrived.
Lady Bird has the same subject matter as many other movies that I could name. But what matters is how such subject matter is framed and crafted. It is framed by a woman that is in her thirties so she has been the adolescent daughter but is also entering the age of the mother so she is at a point where she can gauge both perspectives. It is an experience which eloquently portrays the zany energy and sass of youth and the melancholy of looking back as an adult.
As the saying goes, there’s how you remember it, there’s how history will remember it and there’s what really happened. I, Tonya clearly has this in-mind from it’s inception, where it shows a story recounted by different characters that all see themselves as the others victim, disagree on the details and apologise for just about nothing.
The focal point is obvious the character that the movie is named after, Tonya Harding. We get footage that is set-up like a TV special on the people (again, focusing on Tonya). We see her, played by Margo Robbie, her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly played by Sebastian Stan and her mother LaVona played by Alison Janey. There are a few others but these are the pillars of the plot. Basically Tonya was an Olympic competitor and took home a few medals in her life but never got a any real recognition. She started skating at a really early age and kept it up.
Skating is clearly what Tonya lives for and all other aspects have no class or stability what-so-ever. Robbie has always been cast with attractive characters in mind, to be sure they were defined and she was very good at playing all the other roles but here she plays a character that requires her to be very rough around the edges. She cusses, is put into goody outfits that she has to make herself and smears the make-up on too heavy. And is very much realised in her performance, a smart choice and a wise move on Robbie’s part.
Jeff describes his time with Tonya and her mother like he found himself between two of the craziest human beings ever, one would attack psychologically while the other would fire a shotgun at him, also he denies hitting Tonya. Alison Janney as Tonya’s mother is one of the great beasts in movies. She operates on tough love and that greatness is forged in fire, so she makes Tonya’s life hell. It takes something for an actor to play this kind of character There are people that deal with challenges differently, some thrive with a challenge, others do better in calmer environments and others channel stress or nay-sayers into their best work. It seems that Tonya is the latter of these examples, when she has both verbal and physical abuse in her life right up to the point she skates she does what almost no other woman did in ice skating. When it’s the closest to stable/healthy she misses the landing.
An element that the movie puts forward is that Tonya brought home the gold or even the silver or the bronze because her great skating didn’t come in a pretty package. They want to present their winners and the besets prettiest girls from classic, wholesome American families. She was not this and therefore got a few points deducted.
I don’t know about any training Robbie went through for the skating scenes, in-fact it’s not even necessary these days, through digital manipulation you can put an actors face over the actual sportsman and you’d never know, there were also a few times when I could tell that her whole body was C.G.I. However none of this is really a detriment, I don’t need to know how much the actor put themselves through for a role or what parts aren’t authentic, what matters is what is on-screen before us. They are the highlights of the movie. The camera comes alive most in moments when the facts are ambiguous and it follows a character running and such, but there is the truest example of adding camera motion to give life to a scene in the sequences where she skates.
How accurate the movie itself is may vary on of few of the moments, that is however to be expected, we still a movie to flow narratively and adjust itself accordingly so to work as a movie. But how could it ever be properly chronicled with events this crazy and people in it this warped? It couldn’t really, what really happened happened and some things are indisputable while others we’ll have to just choose to believe. however one thing is for certain, at the end they show footage of some of the real people an how accurately they captured them, some of the footage is of Tonya skating, she sure was a great skater.
In 1964, There was a little girl sitting on her mother’s floor in Milwaukee watching the 36th Academy Awards. She watched as Anne Bancroft opened the envelope for Best Actor and said five historic words: ‘The winner is Sidney Poitier.’
This little girl had never seen a black man being celebrated for his talent and to quote her “I tried many, many times to explain what a moment like that means to a little girl, a kid watching from the cheap seats as my mom came through the door bone-tired from cleaning other people’s houses”
That little girl grew up to become one of the most influential people on the planet – Oprah Winfrey.
And at that moment of celebration at the 36th Academy Awards she was truly inspired by what she saw. She watched history unfold from her cheap seat, took inspiration and the rest as they say is history.
Fast forward over 50 years and Oprah has joined Sidney Poitier in becoming a recipient of the Cecil B DeMille award and when accepting the award she recounted that memory of the cheap seats and went on to add “there are some little girls watching as I become the first black woman to be given this same award”
At that moment and later on in her speech all over the world girls and boys and men and women were inspired and in awe. With that inspiration and determination those little girls and boys will become the next Oprah Winfrey or the next Viola Davis or indeed the next Denzel Washington.
After the #OscarsSoWhite movement two years ago The Academy has implemented drastic diverse change and many others have followed suit because after years of feeling unappreciated and uninspired and pretty much fed up, many people thought enough is enough.
If we don’t show diversity in our nominations and winners then how are the next generation meant to be inspired like Oprah was all those years ago.
By having more diverse nominations and shortlists you are giving the opportunity for the next generation to be inspired. And the key word here is opportunity.
Now more than ever we need the next generation of BAME talent to be inspired and its so great that the #OscarsSoWhite movement has taken effect and we are now finally seeing a hugely diverse and more equal nomination and shortlist spectrum. Closer to home in Wales its not the case. The Wales Theatre Awards for one have not embraced the diverse change needed to inspire the next generation of BAME talent.
Now Wales is quite small in comparison to the rest of the world but we’ve still managed to nurture brilliant talent in all fields and all I ask is that diversity is implemented like with the Oscars and many other global awards. That way the next generation of actors of colour can have a platform to look to and aspire to be on. That way we can inspire and empower the next generation of BAME talent. That way young actors like myself can look to the awards and be inspired to work harder and be in a position to celebrate their talent like Sidney Poitier was all those years ago.
We need to ask ourselves how do we encourage the next generation of artists and creatives to strive and aim for the stars? A big factor in encouragement is inspiration. If they never see role models they can relate to win awards how are they ever encouraged to become the next Octavia Spencer or the next Steve McQueen.
But let me take you back to that word I mentioned a few lines ago.
Because when it comes to Diversity and Inclusion, opportunity is a massive factor.
If opportunity is not given to people then how are we ever going to be in a position where we can showcase our talents?, be nominated for awards? and inspire our peers and the next generation?
Diversity has become this big hot topic over the last couple of years and its just about equality. Being treated the same regardless of your skin colour, disability, religion, gender, sexual orientation and many other labels that are handed out in our day and age. We are all equal. We are all human.
Finally in our society we have seen a positive shift in diverse action and we cant afford to get left behind whilst others continue to implement that change. We have to embrace it.
Without embracing it we risk loosing much talent to other locations. A prime example of this is the current crop of actors going overseas in search of better opportunities. Idris Elba highlighted it during his recent speech to Parliament.
John Boyega, Daniel Kaluuya, David Oyelowo, Naomie Harris and Lenora Crichlow are just a few other names who have also ventured along with Mr Elba over to the States in search of better opportunities.
A statistic recently showed that according to government data from 2013, there was a 500% increase in one year in approved visa petitions for UK actors and directors seeking to work in the US.
That number is staggering but only goes to show that this issue surrounding opportunity and representation is real.
We live in a multi-cultural world and this isn’t being represented on stage or screen. If we don’t see ourselves or our culture on stage (and screen for that matter) how are we meant to be engaged? If young people don’t see themselves represented on stage they won’t go to the theatre, if they don’t see themselves represented on TV they’ll turn the TV off. We have to show all walks of life to engage all people. Period.
That same situation is at risk of running its course here in Wales. If we don’t champion opportunity and give representation the platform others have then we run the same risk of loosing home grown talent to the likes of other more diverse locations like London, Bristol or Manchester for example. For many new and upcoming actors/performers America simply isn’t attainable yet but the likes of closer inclusive locations are very much a reality. For minority actors to be considered for awards they have to be cast in productions. To be cast in productions they have to have the opportunity to be seen for the roles.
Once again I echo the key word in all of this … Opportunity.
Seeing that I’ve mentioned him already I will bring up the case for Daniel Kaluuya. Daniel Kaluuya has got huge attention lately as he earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his role in the film Get Out. With this nomination, Daniel becomes the first black actor under 30 to garner a nomination. Only one word can be used to describe that achievement and that is phenomenal.
But many people think that this success just happened off the back of one movie. They don’t realise that Daniel put in years of hard work from his time at the Royal Court in Sucker Punch.
to Blue Orange at The Young Vic
to his time on Black Mirror to name just a few. But without opportunity would he have got to this stage in his career where he is now the first black under 30’s actor to be nominated for an academy award? Who knows?
And then we have the global box office hit that is Black Panther and the success that has followed this movie.
As I write this article the global box office of the movie stands at $704 million and its broken into the top 20 for highest grossing movies of all time. There are even rumours of it becoming the highest grossing Marvel movie so far. Not bad for a movie with a predominantly black cast featuring a black superhero in the title role.
But why is this movie such a milestone many people will ask. Well simply put 1) Its massive progress in a positive direction and 2) Its shown that you CAN invest in diverse talent and it CAN be successful.
All they needed was the opportunity.
I guess what I am trying to say and I will echo Viola Davis here when I say that “All that separates actors of colour from anyone else is opportunity”
Talent is everywhere in all shapes and sizes. So we have to make an effort to go and seek this talent out. Look for it. Everywhere.
So with all this being said I’m going to challenge every person who holds a degree of power to embrace the positive shift that has begun and implement change so that we don’t get left behind. Don’t hide away because if you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem.
This goes for everyone in all industries, not just people in the creative arts. Embrace and Implement. Those two factors will allow diversity and talent to flourish magnificently. The world is now beginning to show us that our possibilities are boundless. And we have to keep on striving to achieve every possibility. Striving to achieve every dream.
Black Panther is here to make up for lost time. It is not the first Superhero movie to have a black lead, that goes to Steel, but we are now ten years into these MARVEL cinematic movies and now they have enough capital and are allowed to explore other characters that are nonwhite people. It is here with a mission. It is here to give the spotlight to characters and actors that aren’t Caucasian, to represent black culture in both Africa and America and deliver a message of legacy while proceeding forward.
In Captain America: Civil War one of the standout characters was Black Panther himself. Chadwick Bowesman embodies this character with his physicality and majesty with how he walks into a room or a fight and owns everything. This is a time where monarchy is a tricky subject, I wont throw my opinions in here but I do believe he is an engaging likable character so if people are able to pin down their beliefs for the sake of the movie I believe they’ll be very appropriately entertained.
The country in Africa in which T’Challa reins is Wakanda. It is a city that has reached the pinnacles of modern technology. The buildings stand and pieces of modern art, shining bright underneath the sun and with high-speed trains that go from the skyline to the deep caves of the land itself.
The movie also comes with a generous colour pallet. Many different, vivid colours are onscreen making it visually stimulating. In Wakanda the sets have colder colours or blues and whites and a characters costume has yellows, reds or green to make them pop, it is an effective way to make the people and surroundings instantly identifiable.
Director Ryan Coogler has already built an impressive resume for himself. His directorial debut was the poignant Fruitvale Station, then followed by the sublime Creed. So he is able to handle delicate moments of emotion and fight scenes. Something that I believe helps to sell the fight scenes is the sound, they have convincing punching sounds so when a punch or a kick lands you believe it. Coogler has made two very strong movies on a low scale and now he’s proven he can handle a blockbuster, this is a man with a promising career.
The cast is ninety percent black, being that most of it takes place in Africa this just seems like a logical move but we’ve seen studios whitewash stories that should include non-white people but they’ve found a way. I foresee people complaining about the filmmakers having an agenda and pushing it onto the audience, there have already been other examples of this. For that I say of course, yet if the cast was comprised of white men nobody would cry fowl, it is a case of people needing to rethink about representation.
Adding again the immersion of black culture in the movie is the soundtrack by Ludwig Goransson and Kendrick Lamar. Its fast paced and even spiritual at times, using Hip-Hop and African instrumentals which distinguishes itself from the other MARVEL movies as-well as most other blockbusters that come out.
This movie, like all the other ones, comes with a serving of jokes. Visual ones, one liners etc. I am fine with this because I believe that superheroes should be fun, they can be other things but if they’re not fun something has gone terribly wrong. But I do take issue with that T’Challa seems to have changed to someone that is much more chatty. When we saw him before he was the dry, stoic one, are these movies incapable of having longer sequences of silence?
Michael B. Jordan plays Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (yeah that’s a pretty on-the-nose name). He clearly has an agenda that will link him with T’Challa, the writing clearly tells us that he’s quite intelligent and Jordan brings his great physicality to the role where he is able to sleekly handle guns and perform hand-to-hand combat effortlessly making him a physical threat and the cherry on-top is his tooth-filled grin that he has when walking into a fight, saying that he will take some malicious enjoyment out of this.
The plot holds a few surprises but none that will really shake you up during the experience. They do many clever things with the the technology and visuals and there are moments of laughter and the action is high concept but you also feel the impact. The movies true strength is in immersing itself in black culture and representing it before the mass audience.
The fourth ‘Breaking out of the Box’ symposium- a series of events to discuss the issue of diversity in Welsh Arts, took place at Theatre Clwyd on 16th February. Subtitled ‘Wales: a Diverse Nation?’ An access symposium’ the focus of the event centered on the question of how diverse are we, and what can we do to change things?
Opening the event was Nick Capaldi, Chief Executive, Arts Council Wales. He spoke about the history of the Arts Council and Diversity- citing reports from as far back as the 90s into the issue. He acknowledged the responsibility as a publicly funded organisation towards diversity:
"As publicly funded organisations we must be places of empathy, inclusion, community engagement, discussion as well as being sources of imaginative delight." Nick Capaldi @Arts_Wales_#DiverseWales
Capaldi also noted the need to do more to reach communities and the idea of ‘changing hearts and minds’. While this contribution from Arts Council Wales was welcome, and well intended it was let down by a lack of representation from the organisation throughout the day. The focus of the day around galvanising towards action, having an engaged representatives from the Development teams at ACW could really have helped the organisations present to make practical steps in their next projects towards diversity. We all know ACW funding is at the heart of the work made in Wales, and a level of practical support and real engagement on the day from the organisation would have made a huge difference to what could have been achieved. While Capaldi’s support was welcome, and his words supportive, it felt like a missed opportunity from ACW.
Following Capaldi, my own talk. Which focused on turning questions back on the audience to reflect on for the day.
"Our lack of diversity not being helped by a narrow focus. We can learn by examples, we can only do that by discussing it." @EmiGarside#DiverseWales
Jamie’s experiences, and the video clips he showed of projects in England he’s been a part of showed that the sky literally is the limit for what can be achieved.
Jamie was part of a couple of amazing circus projects where disabled performers worked alongside able bodied performers with no barriers or prejudice around what they were or weren’t expected to do. That this kind of work is possible can be an example for companies in Wales to aspire to.
Keen for the day to have some practical take-aways there were two workshops on accessibility led by Elise and Beth from Taking Flight Theatre Company. Elise took people through some simple steps to make a rehearsal room more inclusive, while Beth talked through making accessible marketing materials.
These practical elements were a really useful element of the day for the group-providing some tangible next steps that are relatively easy to incorporate and help slowly change the nature of diversity and accessibility.
Finally, the last two provocations of the day. Michele Taylor, Director for Change for Ramps on the Moon and critic Jafar Iqbal. Both proved to be a rousing call to action. Michele punctuated their talk with the repeated phrase ‘Seriously are we still talking about this?’ Sharing her frustration but also experience in creating active solutions through ‘Ramps on the Moon’ this was a non-nonsense call to get things done. And one which also called out well meaning sentiment with again, a call to concrete action.
Don’t describe something as “accessible” give people the specifics so they feel comfortable in your venue. #DiverseWales
Challenging all of us on everything from our choice of language to what we believe to be exclusivity Michele provoked passionate discussion about how we really enact change. There was also a clear desire from the room to mimic the ‘Ramps on the Moon’ initiative in Wales.
Finally Jafar Iqbal talked about the lack of change we’re experiencing in Wales. Criticizing those at the top for a lack of action while others repeatedly shout for change.
Drawing on his own experience as a British Asian, Iqbal has often wondered if he’s in a room to ‘tick a box’ but is also conscious that he’s benefited from that in his career. And despite personally benefiting, being conscious that this approach isn’t good enough any more.
"I had a dilemma. I was going to start saying "I'm honoured and privileged" when actually I'm not. It's 2018. In Wales. We've not done enough to sort it out." @writeofcentre#DiverseWales
Acknowledging the recent controversies in Wales, Iqbal talked about the need to change being felt across the sector, but a lack of action being taken. And actually giving us a fairly simple way to start solving these issues:
Further discussion in the room, following this final clear provocation was to that end- the time for talking (and social media debate) has passed and it’s time for action. The very clear notion however, was that this needs leadership. And that is something the movement for diversity in Wales is lacking. Not from those engaged in the arts, but from those organisations with the power and scope to be really influential in making change. And this remains a frustration.
Despite continued frustrations, it was a galvanizing and productive event. Connections between organisations developed during discussion and networking time and there seemed a real commitment to move forward from the event with a new sense of purpose.
Let’s hope that soon an event won’t be asking the question of Diversity in Wales but simply celebrating it instead.
The Shape of Water’s greatest accomplishment, beyond getting made, surpassing looking as great as it does on a mere nineteen and a half million dollar budget, exceeding it’s relevant themes of acceptance in this troubled time is it’s effectiveness in executing it’s truly bizarre premise that could so easily be ridiculous or plain weird. It most certainly succeeds in the other categories but the fact that it made a concept that if it was written down or told to you, you’d probably have to hold back a smile or may think about hitting the panic button.
Guillermo Del Toro has proven himself to be one of the great living filmmakers. His works are unique in concept, meticulously thought out and lovingly brought to life which makes all have elements of, if not entirely, masterpieces. What he does here is craft an adult fairy-tale by staying true to who he is and at the same time bravely treading unfamiliar ground.
The tale begins long ago in a place far far away (at least to some), the 1960’s in Baltimore. We see a room submerged in water and a voice tells us that they’re not even quite sure how to go about telling this story, seems appropriate. In the room floats a sleeping woman that wakes from her dream, she is Eliza Esponito, she is a cleaning woman in a government facility and is mute. She enjoys movies, music and lives her hum-drum life opposite her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) one day after another, until…
A water filled tank is wheeled into the facility, the water shifts and a noise can be heard from it, Eliza taps the glass and a webbed, clawed hand reaches out. What they have in there is a creature from the Amazon that is a hybrid of man and aqua creature. It was a struggle for Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon) to get it there and he takes a noticeable bit of joy in taking a cattle prod to it. Eliza’s curiosity gets the better of her and she sees the specimen in it’s room. Where some would stay away or cower she offers it a boiled egg and when it roars she stays and looks at it directly.
Sally Hawkins has to be mute for the entirety of the movie, she does sign language which is accompanied with subtitles and sometimes has someone next to her to speak out what she’s signing. But the truest communication comes from her. Words couldnt due justice to the emotion she is able to convey through her eyes, a twitch/raising of the eyebrows and the un-comfort in the way she hides away. It is the truest mastery of the art of acting to convey all of the emotions her character goes through from fear, to humorous, to her heart breaking in-front of us.
The amphibian creature is one of the great monster creations that has ever been in a movie. It’s design is familiar if you’ve seen Creature From The Black Lagoon, or even Abe Sapien from Del Toro’s Hellboy, a humanoid with webbed joints and fins, but the detail that has gone into the painting and sculpture of it distinguishes it and elevates it to a masterpiece of a character. These days it would probably be an entirely C.G.I. but this is a practical creation of makeup and prosthetic’s (with a little C.G.I. to help). However, design and makeup can only take you so far, what truly brings it to life is the man underneath it all. Doug Jones has built his career on being under makeup and embodying all kinds of creatures. With this creature he has to be a curious child, a sad victim and a macho leading man. This marks the sixth time he has collaborate with Del Toro on a project and they are clearly one of the great actor director pairings.
Shannon is here as the tall, white, chiseled American man. If he was playing this role during the time it is based he would undoubtedly be the lead. Saving the poor helpless woman from the terrifying foreign creature and serving as the ideal American specimen. However that idol was built on a lot a racism and narrow-minded Christian ideals of the time. So he is an exaggeration, though probably pretty accurate representation of what such a man would be like, racist, misogynistic and a narcissist to boot. He is the most absolutely detestable and frightening villain since Del Toro’s Captain Vidal in Pans Labyrinth.
Now for the part where it certainly becomes unconventional, the two begin to fall in love. Yes, most certainly a case of Beauty & The Beast. Unless every facet of the movie was on board and sincere to the premise then this would topple quickly and might just be regarded as one of the best shot absurd comedies. But through interactions and gestures we see two beings that are hated or unwanted from the world they find themselves in and by being together find they’re complete. The other characters certainly make a few moments about how this isn’t exactly normal, but when they see genuine love, who are they to deny it.
Alexandre Desplat composes a sweet, gracefully score that is infused in classic love songs of the time period. It is a warm score that played for that special someone that when you dance together, only the two of you work in that way. Also throughout are a few older gems that perfectly contextualize the theme and relationship.
Dividing the two perspectives are the two main colors of the movie, teal and red. Teal is coated throughout the facility and the cars and other pieces that are meant to represent the modern world, it is a new age and everyone is going crazy about the future. Red is used for romanticism and of course love. Like the clothes Eliza wears when she is so happy to be with the one that makes her feel complete, or the seats of the movie theater, a place she loves to go. Along with the rest are a plenty of other rich colors like amber, deep browns, cream and a few true blacks for contrast to make the image pop.
This, like La La Land and Baby Driver before it has love at it’s center. They area all movies that are about and were created through love. Movies that tell their tales about the pursuit and power of the greatest emotion we have and the three creators behind it that are so in love with movies themselves that pay homage to others that have inspired them but also make something entirely their own.
In the nineteen sixties in America they were all ready to head to that bright future, now we are living in it and an artist creates a work that shows the flaws in the past that at the same time highlight struggles we are dealing with now and has made something for all time. At it’s center is a tale about looking on something that others might cower at or hate but seeing the beauty and together love can overcome anything.
The Greatest Showman comes in loud and proud to be a movie musical. I relishes in it’s ability to sing and dance and show colour before you. I wonder how it will fair with the not clear advertising that seemingly wants to hide the fact that it’s musical.
It’s opening song says that you yourself want to be entertained with a musical and showmanship and it will provide. If you are not in for the ride now you should leave the theater because then it’s not for you. We are then taken back in time to a young boy named P.T. Barnum, he is the son of a poor tailor, they serve some sort of rich man who has a daughter (guess what happens). Time passes and as they grow up and marry two children join them. While working as a clerk at a shipping company everyone looses their job because all the ships were sank. So he is out of a job but also reflects that this is not the life he promises his wife and seeks out wonder. He opens a museum of oddities, but mannequins and stuffed animals don’t do good business. So he seeks out real life oddities, little people, giants, women with beards etc.
Hugh Jackman is by no means a closeted musical lover. He has spoken about it in interviews, hosted the Oscars with opening musical numbers and stared in other musicals and worn it on his sleeve very proudly. You can tell that he is so happy to be here as a character that gets to sing and dance to entertain you, he is of course no slouch in the singing and dancing department (he greatly excels at it in-fact).
To gain respect Barnum recruits Philip Carlyle (Zac Efron) a highbrow theater producer. He is talked into by being reminded that this career he is on gives him no joy and is sold on the promise of excitement in what he does (also a few shots). While working there a spark develops between him and the trapeze artist Anne Wheeler (Zendaya). They are an attractive movie couple and have both acting and dancing chemistry together. I want to highlight Zendaya’s performance because she very strongly conveys the characters repressed mentality to the public with very little screen-time she’s given, possibly due to limited run-time and a lot of focus given to Barnum. But knowing that she is completely different from how she was in Spider-Man: Homecoming truly highlights her as a talent to watch-out for.
This is Michael Gracey’s directorial debut however he has been in the business since 1997. He has been a visual effects artist, which he probably channeled into his vision of this bouncing, high speed world. I believe this man has a strong future in this business.
It wouldn’t be much of a musical if the songs weren’t up to scratch. Most of them are big, upbeat showy numbers designed to impress. There are variations, with ones of different genres and slower and/or more intimate ones. They are catchy and have visuals that compliment them nicely, but they don’t really push the characters and story forward very much, they are just minor moves in the plot or a character saying what we already know about them.
This movie is so happy to be doing what it does. The director absolutely got high on their own supply and got actors that are just as happy to be dancing and singing for us. There are shortcomings, in the passing and compared other top movie musicals, like La La Land, it falls short of perfection. But the movie’s smiles and enthusiasm melts away all those criticisms and made me and will probably leave you smiling.
Some say there’s nothing better than football on a Saturday. And when you’re able to watch it from the warmth and comfort of your local cinema, I’m inclined to agree. It certainly beats a wet and windy afternoon sat shivering in the stands of The Racecourse in Wrexham. As a supporter of the current National League table-toppers (up the Reds!), I’m used to cheering on the underdog. So the situation in the film Early Man is one I’m very familiar with. In the latest offering from director Nick Park and his Aardmann crew, we find the plucky cavemen of the Stone Age taking on the might of the Bronze Age. It is Manchester City versus Ashton Town – the magic of the FA Cup on the big screen. Here, the non-league minnows are represented by the lovable Doug (Eddie Redmayne) and his motley crew of rabbit hunters. Having lived peacefully in their idyllic forest, they are suddenly forced to flee to the barren edges of the Badlands thanks to the heavyweight machinery of Lord Nooth (voiced by an unrecognisable Tom Hiddleston). He has come to mine their land for precious metal, and nothing is going to stand in his way. In the face of such a threat, Doug has no choice but to challenge the rich governor to a winner-takes-all encounter. And in typical Aardmann style, the battle in question is unashamedly British. No blood-and-gore violence here. This fight will be settled through ‘The Beautiful Game’.
As I’ve come to expect from the films of Nick Park, I had a smile across my face from beginning to end. The opening scene was typical of the nuanced British humour that is laced throughout the film. Understated, quirky, clever – I have no other descriptions, other than a comparison with the genius of Monty Python. Once or twice, there were elements that completely matched the best of their absurdity, and had me close to tears (of laughter, I hasten to add) as a result. Children will love the slapstick nature and musical sequences. Adults will titter at the more mature references that pepper the script. But no matter what the age bracket, one cannot fail to appreciate the beautiful craftsmanship that has gone into the set. The establishing shot of the forest is one such moment. The colours are bold and bright; the shrubbery is expertly detailed. It completely overwhelms you. Welcome to the magic and realism of Aardmann’s work. The witty and observant characterisations only add to this production’s quality. The voiceovers were all well-chosen and seemed a natural fit for the characters onscreen. I didn’t find myself playing ‘Guess the Celebrity’ as I do with some animations. Instead, I was immersed in the story enough so as not to get too distracted by the recognisable dialects (though who can fail to invest a bit too much attention in the nasally tones of Richard Ayoade).
If I had to describe this film, it would be as ‘an ode to English football’. On one level, it could rightly be seen as a commentary on the state of the modern game. There are the overpaid professional stars, the extortionate entrance fees, and the huge stadium. There is even a very comical take on VAR, which I thought was a stroke of genius (whether intended or not). On the other hand, it is a tribute to that most working-class of sports. The have-a-go attitude of Doug and his Stone Age companions, along with their lack of resources and makeshift training facilities, is a representation of those in the lower reaches of the English football pyramid. Here is where the raw love, passion and commitment for the game are truly seen, far from the bright lights and big money of the Premier League. No wonder we cheer them on here.
For the football fan, Early Man is a reminder of football’s soul. I can’t help but feel that Park and his team have a real, rose-tinted affection for the game. As a fan myself, I found the two commentators in particular to be really good value, Rob Brydon channelling his inner John Motson and Jock Brown to great effect. I can see how these little touches might get lost on those who have no interest in football though. As a result, it might be fair to say that Early Man is a little more niche than previous productions. Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run had much more universally recognisable British humour in their content. Nevertheless, for me, Early Man continues a tradition of great Aardmann films. They might not have the big bucks of Disney and Pixar but, like their Stone Age counterparts, Aardmann are still able to give their big-spending rivals a well-fought match.
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