Catching Up On 2020...

Gretel and Hansel

United Artists Releasing // Directed by Oz Perkins // Starring Sophia Lillis, Sam Leakey, Charles Babalola, Jessica De Gouw, Alice Krige

Oz Perkins’ take on the classic Brothers Grimm fairytale, albeit with a switcheroo in the title, delivers a darker take on a familiar story. What Perkins brings to this table are beautiful visuals - at times, haunting in their execution - a gloomy atmosphere and a story told through Gretel which ends up being an interesting (and mostly successful) choice. It’s A24-lite. However, Gretel and Hansel plods along without any real moments of tension, horror, or fear to accompany the locations that almost demand them. Everything is set up for this to be a real chiller but it’s sadly lacking in chills and thrills. Lillis is more than able in the lead role and Alice Krige is deliciously macabre as Holda (aka The Witch), the cuisine-obsessed woodland-dwelling oddball with sinister intentions for our protagonists. However, Sam Leakey as Hansel fails to reach the standards of his co-stars and ends up coming across as rather flat. The same can be said of Gretel and Hansel as a whole, it’s all a bit flat. Beautiful to look at but lacking in many other aspects required to elevate it to above-average levels.

 

Antebellum

Lionsgate Films // Directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz // Starring Janelle Monáe, Eric Lange, Jena Malone, Jack Huston, Kiersey Clemons, Gabourey Sidibe

The ambiguous trailer for Antebellum was great (to me, at least) and it did what any trailer should do - it raised my interest in the movie and I became quite excited to see just what the movie was actually about. Then I watched Antebellum. Oh boy. The marketing screams “From the producers of Get Out”, Jordan Peele’s movie that delivers a stark, timely and effective message on racism and attitudes alongside being a damn good horror flick which is everything Antebellum is attempting yet manages to fail to be on pretty much all counts. Of course, the idea of slavery is abhorrent and the on-screen treatment is unpleasant to watch but Antebellum feels like a shallow attempt at shouting for people’s attention and then not really having what it takes to back up the cries. It seems opportunistic, playing on shock and exploitation tactics in place of gravitas and drama when the latter really would have made for a better story (given the horrific subject matter), allowing for the grislier aspects to carry greater emotional heft. When the movie’s big twist comes, I wanted to gouge my eyeballs out at the sheer absurdity of it - there’s suspension of disbelief and then there’s being treated like an idiot. Antebellum succeeds mainly at looking pretty good, wasting its uber-talented cast (Monáe is solid as she firefights through), and, well, that’s about it really.

 

The New Mutants

20th Century Studios// Directed by Josh Boone // Starring Maisie Williams, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Alice Braga, Blu Hunt, Henry Zaga

It finally happened! The New Mutants received a theatrical release! Of course, having suffered years of production issues and delays, scrutiny and interest were always going to be high in this movie which almost handicapped it before the projector ran on the first showing. The New Mutants, for all of its troubles, isn’t a bad movie, in fact, it’s quite good (quite being the operative word here). If you’re expecting a car crash mess of a flick, you’ll likely be disappointed but it really isn’t excellent either - it’s simply adequate. Pinned as a ‘superhero-horror’ movie, it certainly felt a bit different from the norm but Boone holds back on the horror overall (whether by his judgement or by the studios) which is a shame as The New Mutants had a chance to provide something substantially distinct but merely ends up as being slightly quirkier than its peers. Maybe this is simply down to Anya Taylor-Joy’s odd Russian accent? It’s a strange one for sure but the cast as a whole is fine - no-one really stands out in a movie that has plenty of forced moments designed to give the audience exactly that, the big moments, however, these don’t really pop in the way they were intended. At times it's cliche and at other times fun, The New Mutants serves as a peculiar superhero offering compared to its bigger-budget contemporaries.

 

Mulan

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures // Directed by Niki Caro // Starring Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen, Tzi Ma, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Ron Yuan, Gong Li, Jet Li

One of the original cinematic casualties caused by COVID-19, Mulan found its home on Disney+ amidst a storm of production controversy and the pressure of living up to the much-loved 1998 animated offering. Yifei Liu took the sword in this version and, as Mulan, is very good in the lead alongside a terrific supporting cast including the likes of Donnie Yen, Tzi Ma, Gong Li, and Jet Li. Liu imbues the character with steel and affability that makes her easy to root for. Visually, the movie is also very strong - it’s colourful, grand, and a joy for the eyes. That's just it though, Mulan has strong performances and visuals but not a lot else. Gone are the songs and verve of the 1998 version, instead replaced by drama, adventure, and (well-choreographed and more-violent-than-expected) action. The lack of songs isn’t an issue, it’s the nagging feeling that Mulan is too by-numbers and, at times, surface-level - the inescapable feeling that this is very much style over substance. The additions to this iteration provide different dimensions than before but it feels too polished to really accentuate the statement that Mulan and Disney were desperately trying to hit home. Beautiful visuals, great performances, and some solid action can’t fully mask the rather empty centre that Mulan carries.

 

The Gentlemen

STXFilms // Directed by Guy Ritchie // Starring Matthew McConaghuey, Charlie Hunnam, Henry Golding, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong, Eddie Marsan, Colin Farrell, Hugh Grant

Having delivered the surprisingly good Aladdin in 2019, Guy Ritchie has gone back to his wheelhouse with The Gentlemen - a British gangster flick full of wit, punch, humour, and great performances (nearly all-round). It’s a movie very much playing to the Ritchie ‘in-crowd’, if you aren’t a fan of his previous efforts, this probably won’t make you change your mind, however, fans of his will likely lap this up. There’s less action here than one might expect, instead replaced by more of the trademark-Ritchie back-and-forths between characters (mainly the wonderful Hugh Grant and Charlie Hunnam), but this trade allows The Gentlemen to feel less frenetic than, say, Lock Stock or Snatch - and, in this case, that’s a positive. What it also ensures is a slightly messy narrative that, whilst not derailing, can at times be a challenge to keep up with. Thankfully, strong performances from McConaughey, Farrell, Grant, Hunnam, and Dockery help soothe this burn though Henry Golding feels underutilized in the cookie-cutter role of Dry Eyes. It’s cool, it’s snappy, it’s fun and stupidly entertaining, The Gentlemen is evidence of a director flexing his established genre muscles and allowing himself to have a bit of fun once more.

 
 

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Amazon Studios // Directed by Jason Woliner // Starring Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria Bakalova

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm arrives fourteen years after the first Borat affair lit up cinemas worldwide and created a wonderfully bizarre Kazakh comic icon. Stuffed full of shocking comedy moments and sharp social commentary, it felt like it dropped at the perfect time. Its sequel sadly doesn’t possess that same timing luck or either of the aforementioned qualities. Instead, it feels like a misguided attempt to recreate what came before in an already-greatly changed landscape. Nothing within Borat 2 feels as ‘shocking’ as Cohen intends, it just feels forced - in particular, a dance between Borat and his on-screen daughter Tutar (the impressive Bakalova) stood out as cringeworthy. The satire isn’t anywhere near as cutting as before - possibly due to real-world politicians and political events feeling more satirical than anything else - and during my viewing, I couldn’t help but wonder what the point of this really was. That’s not to say there aren’t good qualities - the opening act is strong, there are a few great gags (as there usually is with Cohen) and many of the original ‘Borat-isms’ retain their humour - but, sadly, Borat 2 doesn’t hit with the same fire the original did all those years ago.

 

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Netflix // Directed by George C. Wolfe // Starring Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, Michael Potts

From the stage to the big screen, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom tells the story of art, racial attitudes, and exploitation in 1920s Chicago focusing on Ma Rainey (Davis) and her working band in the recording studio fighting against white managers and businessmen for control of her sound. A lot of focus has been on Chadwick Boseman and here he gives possibly his best performance - he really is wonderful. Though it will probably be best remembered as Boseman’s final movie, Ma Rainey is stuffed-full of excellent performances - Viola Davis is imposing and excellent in the titular role with Turman, Domingo, and Potts all providing great supporting performances. There’s a very stagey feel to the movie that the actors all buy into, the dialogue seems lifted directly from the stage show and the cast does a fine job with the long passages of dialogue and back-and-forths. At times, however, it can feel too stagey but that’s not an issue when everyone is on form like they are here. The period feel has been recreated nicely with the sets and costume design and, at a cool ninety-minutes, it’s snappier than one of Ma Rainey’s hits. Ma Rainey provides a marvellous swansong for Chadwick Boseman, another vehicle for Viola Davis’ talent, and a biting look at the ugly machinations of the music industry of old (...hopefully of old) and the awful racial attitudes within.

The Midnight Sky

Netflix // Directed by George Clooney // Starring George Clooney, Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone, Demián Bichir, Kyle Chandler, Caoilinn Springall

From the stage to the big screen, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom tells the story of art, racial attitudes, and exploitation in 1920s Chicago focusing on Ma Rainey (Davis) and her working band in the recording studio fighting against white managers and businessmen for control of her sound. A lot of focus has been on Chadwick Boseman and here he gives possibly his best performance - he really is wonderful. Though it will probably be best remembered as Boseman’s final movie, Ma Rainey is stuffed-full of excellent performances - Viola Davis is imposing and excellent in the titular role with Turman, Domingo, and Potts all providing great supporting performances. There’s a very stagey feel to the movie that the actors all buy into, the dialogue seems lifted directly from the stage show and the cast does a fine job with the long passages of dialogue and back-and-forths. At times, however, it can feel too stagey but that’s not an issue when everyone is on form like they are here. The period feel has been recreated nicely with the sets and costume design and, at a cool ninety-minutes, it’s snappier than one of Ma Rainey’s hits. Ma Rainey provides a marvellous swansong for Chadwick Boseman, another vehicle for Viola Davis’ talent, and a biting look at the ugly machinations of the music industry of old (...hopefully of old) and the awful racial attitudes within.

 

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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