February 2021 Roundup
Judas and the Black Messiah
Warner Bros. Pictures // Directed by Shaka King // Starring LaKeith Stanfield, Daniel Kaluuya, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders
In late-60’s Chicago, Fred Hampton (Kaluuya) is the young, charismatic voice of the Black Panther movement and the FBI don’t like it. To counter this, they coerce fellow Panther Bill O’Neal (Stanfield) into infiltrating his own community in order to help bring Hampton down. With a powerful real-life (and, sadly, still timely) story, a superb cast, and an up-and-coming director, JATBM had all the hallmarks of a great film and that’s precisely what it is. Biopics can tend to fall into a trap of being lifted by great lead performances and having a shallow story disguised, however, JATBM is sharply written and excellently presented in terms of production and costume design whilst handling differing tones as the perspective of the movie shifts between its characters - the pacing does go slightly awry at around the halfway point before picking up ahead of the finale but there is nothing that derails the momentum or engagement. As the movie went on, I found myself getting furious at the injustices that were committed during the time, and the attitudes of certain individuals were portrayed with devastating effect. Kaluuya is a monster talent who is at the top of his game here - he really brings a level of intensity that is spellbinding to watch and easily allows us to side with the character of Hampton. Stanfield is equally strong in a differing role that also cements his place as one of the finest working actors currently. On top of the two lead performances, Jesse Plemons is once again excellent in a supporting role that adds threat and also a level of empathy to a character who really shouldn’t be garnering that. JATBM also carries some well-constructed and edited action scenes and a superb soundtrack that lifts the movie up another notch. With electric performances and the perfect level of emotion across the board, JATBM is powerful, affecting, and one of the year’s best already.
The Little Things
Warner Bros. Pictures // Directed by John Lee Hancock // Starring Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto, Natalie Morales
Three Oscar-winning actors in a slowly-simmering crime thriller? That does sound good, doesn’t it? The Little Things follows a grizzled sheriff who teams up with a younger detective in order to track down a serial killer terrorizing the streets of LA. If that sounds a bit like the plot of Se7en then you would be right in thinking that, except for the issue that The Little Things plays out like a diet version of Fincher’s movie. The narrative here meanders along with a middling plot that never really threatens to get out of second gear - even as it sets up for an admittedly tense finale - and one that seems intent on overcomplicating things with additional subplots which don’t add an awful lot to proceedings. It’s all a bit stilted and the dark, grungy visuals don’t do much to alleviate the fact. As mentioned, three Oscar-winning actors are present - Denzel does what Denzel does, he gets the job done in a solid fashion. Malek feels a bit stilted and lacks in charisma whereas Leto seems to be in another movie, he isn’t bad here just seems to be dropped in, wide-eyed and confused as to why he’s there as points. The main issue with The Little Things is that there is great potential here for a gripping, memorable modern thriller but everything just feels a bit...average.
Hear more thoughts on the Bloody Awesome Movie Podcast
Searchlight Pictures // Directed by Chloé Zhao // Starring Frances McDormand, David Straitharn, Bob Wells, Linda May, Swankie
Nomadland is the third feature from Chloé Zhao and focuses on Frances McDormand’s Fern, a woman who decides to travel the American Midwest as a ‘houseless’ nomad following the passing of her husband and the closure of the local industry. It’s a movie that is purposefully low on dialogue and narrative but there’s a real earnestness to the story, it feels very much like 'slice of life' storytelling and it’s presented in a very elegiac way - Zhao focusing closely on the human element and the emotional layers Fern carries alongside the accompanying cast. McDormand is once again incredible in a low-key but intimate performance and Zhao continues her streak of hiring non-actors for her films, again opting here for performers who are ‘lived-in’ in terms of the portrayals that are required, the houseless people in the film really are just that and it’s this aspect that really adds to the documentary-style tone of the movie. Technically, also, Nomadland is superb. The barrenness of the American Midwest is captured sumptuously - the isolation marries so well with the sheer, natural beauty of the landscapes and the sweeping nature of the cinematography is simply stunning. The score is luscious in isolation, however, it felt like it was making up for the intentional lack of plot and dialogue, and, at times, it felt slightly manipulative. It’s not a slight to say that maybe there have been other films released recently that are more enjoyable but on a human level and a technical level, this is up there with one of the best of the past few years.
Tom & Jerry
Warner Bros. Pictures // Directed by Tim Story // Starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Michael Peña, Colin Jost, Rob Delaney, Ken Jeong
It has taken a while but here we are, Tom & Jerry are back on the big screen in a big-budget adventure that sees the titular duo wreaking havoc in a New York hotel ahead of a glitzy celeb wedding. Crashing in with a one-hundred-minute runtime, I was immediately on edge as to how the narrative would fit that duration and keep my attention, let alone the kids. Anything relating to Tom & Jerry is eminently watchable and their scenes deliver the nostalgic, fun humour that has seen them endure for decades but as soon as we switch attention to the humans and the utterly terrible wedding subplot, the movie falls apart very quickly. Chloë Grace Moretz, Michael Peña, and the cast are all game and fully aware of the movie they are starring in and their performances utterly reflect that fact but that doesn’t excuse the fact that, at times, they’re all painful to watch. Alongside all that, there are rapping pigeons that appear on screen to describe the sequences you’ve just watched and poop jokes aplenty to hammer home the fact that the real stars here are Tom & Jerry - would young kids be bothered or interested when T&J weren’t on screen? Probably not. There’s also an odd message about stealing CVs and identities to get ahead in life which is nothing but bizarre. It’s not a complete washout, there are a few decent gags and set-pieces but not nearly enough to fill such a stretched running time. This film is clearly awful but I did enjoy parts of it. Was it good? No. Did I HATE watching it? No.
Hear more thoughts on B.O.B. the Podcast
Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar
Lionsgate // Directed by Josh Greenbaum // Starring Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo, Jamie Dornan, Damon Wayans Jr.
A mini-Bridesmaids reunion sees Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo reteaming for Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, an oddbod comedy that sees two middle-aged best friends heading to a luxury Florida resort to make new memories but find themselves entangled in a dangerous romance and the crosshairs of a nefarious villain. Wigg and Mumolo are as good as you would expect them to be whilst love-interest Jamie Dornan seems to be having fun as the hunk without the Red Room but whilst there are some great laughs throughout, this is a sadly inconsistent comedy. Not just in its gags, Barb & Star is muddled and tonally imbalanced - despite this being the intention from the get-go, it never really finds or settles on its rhythm. It aims to be feel-good and it definitely achieves that by its conclusion and it certainly helps that the titular characters are affable otherwise Barb & Star could have been a bust, instead it’s simply just fine.
STXfilms // Directed by Kevin Macdonald // Starring Tahar Rahim, Jodie Foster, Shailene Woodley, Benedict Cumberbatch
In the aftermath of 9/11, Mohamedou Ould Slahi was held in Guantanamo Bay for fourteen years, no charges were levied against him during his time there but he did suffer intense physical and mental torture and abuse at the hands of the US military and government on the lookout for fall guys to save face. The Mauritanian tells this story based on Slahi’s own memoir, Guantánamo Diary. Featuring powerful performances from Tahar Rahim as Slahi and Jodie Foster as his defense lawyer Nancy Hollander (alongside Benedict Cumberbatch and Shailene Woodley in fine supporting roles), The Mauritanian is an extremely solid legal drama highlighting the injustices faced at the camp, the US attitude towards detainees and the danger that heightened passion and emotion can bring - the Americans do not come away from this in a good light. Director Kevin Macdonald is less interested in delivering interesting visuals, instead opting for a more muted approach, allowing the performances and characters to rise which was probably for the better. Sequences of brutal torture and family flashbacks are interspersed with the main legal storyline well even if the movie does begin to meander slightly before reaching its emotive conclusion. Strong rather than spectacular, The Mauritanian is a stark reminder of times not yet over.
A24 // Directed by Lee Isaac Chung // Starring Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Youn Yuh-jung, Will Patton
Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari comes at a time when the world needs it most. In a time where isolation is becoming normal and we all just want to see our loved ones, Minari tells the story of an immigrant Korean family who move their lives to Arkansas for want of a better life, and, through personal and professional struggles, must learn to cope with adversity and come together stronger. The American dream belongs more so to Jacob (played superbly by Yeun) rather than his wife Monica (Ye-ri) - he wants a successful, lucrative crop harvesting life whereas she worries for their son David’s (the wonderful Alan Kim) health and daughter Anne’s (Cho) social integration, and, eventually, they enlist the aid of Monica’s mother Soon-ja (Yuh-jung with a marvellous performance). The divisions faced by the life change provides the backdrop for the movie and the genuinely great performances really sell the emotion and the pain the characters must absorb - especially later in the movie with tensions between Jacob and Monica. Through it all, though, is the idea that whatever life may throw at you, family can overcome just about any adversity. When the chips are down, familial strength shines through regardless of what destiny decides after the fact and life will continue and continue to grow. Minari is a beautiful movie in its message and performances but also in its visuals, Lachlan Milne brings his stylings to Minari to create a soft palette to compliment the story - there’s a comforting feeling despite the challenges faced by the family. Everything in Minari combines to create a compelling family drama that is powerful, emotional, and intensely authentic.