January 2021 Roundup

Shadow in the Cloud

Vertical Entertainment // Directed by Roseanne Liang // Starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Taylor John Smith, Beulah Koale, Nick Robinson, Callan Mulvey

Here’s that World War II-based, gremlin-laced, feminist action-horror flick you asked for! Though the idea may sound strange, Shadow in the Cloud is exactly that with some added B-movie cheesiness thrown in just for good measure. Roseanne Liang has crafted a movie that is tonally off-kilter, a real tale of two halves and if you approach it looking for realism and accuracy, you’ll be sorely disappointed - this is an eighty-minute rollercoaster that begins with a female tasked with transporting a top-secret package aboard an Allied warplane (crewed with filthy, misogynistic dogs of men), finding herself below decks in the gun turret before it descends into a movie that involves fighting literal gremlins intent on destroying the plane as well as the threat of Japanese fighters (along with the attitudes of the filthy, misogynistic dogs of men). It starts small and intriguing before going bigger but it does lose its way by the time the highly-entertaining finale comes around. Chloë Grace Moretz dives into her role with gusto and dedication and provides an action hero that’s fun to root for - she literally beats the shit out of a gremlin at one point which is already a high point of 2021 - and it’s her that keeps the entire bizarre movie from collapsing early on. There are some iffy FX throughout - mainly during the movie's major sequence involving Moretz...well, scaling the exterior on a moving plane to keep things vague - however, Shadow in the Cloud isn’t aiming for anything close to authenticity or legitimacy. It wants to have fun and send an anti-sexual harassment message to all who watch (reworked from a script written by Max Landis who could learn a thing or two). It won't be for everyone and it certainly isn’t subtle but you’ll find worse ways to spend eighty-minutes in these strange times. Shadow in the Cloud isn’t great but it IS great fun.

 
 

One Night in Miami

Amazon Studio // Directed by Regina King // Starring Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr.

Based on the screenplay of the same name from Kemp Powers, One Night in Miami tells the (fictionalized) story of one night in February 1964 when Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown spent an evening holed up in a Miami motel room discussing the Civil Rights Movement and their places within it. Now, the four did meet in a motel room that night but reliable accounts of what was said are few and far between so One Night in Miami could easily have fallen into sensationalist territory, however, alongside Power’s electric screenplay, Regina King’s magnificent direction keeps everything in check - King knows when to pull back, when to deliver a stinging sequence and how to make what is essentially a one-room stage play engaging and visually appealing. There’s a real flair to the overall execution of One Night in Miami and it’s cemented by four scintillating lead performances. Ben-Adir stands out as Malcolm X, imbuing the character with steel, paranoia, vulnerability and a barely-restrained rage whilst Goree captures Clay’s youthful exuberance, cockiness, and presence excellently. Odom Jr. and Hodge are just as strong in what proves to be a quadruplet of pure talent. They allow Powers' screenplay to come to life where, in lesser hands, One Night in Miami could have been a dialogue-heavy snoozefest regardless of the topic at hand whilst, importantly, ensuring the dialogue itself felt real. The entirety of the movie felt like a real event unfolding on screen and that’s testament to the wonderful job by Regina King and her leading men. One Night in Miami is electric, vital, and, at times, intense whilst also simply being extremely good.

Sound of Metal

Amazon Studios// Directed by Darius Marder // Starring Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff, Mathieu Amalric

The hills are alive with the sound of...metal? Yes, they are. Riz Ahmed stars as metal drummer Ruben whose life and livelihood are thrown into chaos after he loses his hearing during another high-octane, high-volume gig with his bandmate and girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke who is important but underutilized here). Life wasn’t exactly swimming before Ruben’s hearing went and Sound of Metal becomes a deep look into the mental state of someone spiraling as the reality of the situation begins to hit home. Riz Ahmed is magnificent in the lead role, imbuing the character with anger, guilt, vulnerability, determination, and, well, every emotion you can think of - he’s really very good. His equal in the picture is Paul Raci who is fantastic as the lead counselor of the deaf community Ruben is integrating with - he provides the emotional heartbeat of the movie with a performance that becomes the audience’s ‘jumping in’ point as we watch Ruben struggling to adapt. Debutant director Darius Marder shows a real talent throughout, utilizing the camerawork to further define the emotion and the incredible sound design gives a devastating glimpse into Ruben’s new life. Marder really knows how to eke every piece of emotion and drama from every facet of his movie. That said, there are moments that meandered slightly, and the finale, for me, veered into melodramatic territory that wasn’t as effective as what had come previously - a few negatives can’t take away from the overwhelming positives, however. Riz Ahmed is fantastic in this sometimes devastating drama that provides an insight into the struggles faced by the deaf community.

 
 

Pieces of a Woman

Netflix // Directed by Kornél Mundruczó // Starring Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Molly Parker, Sarah Snook, Iliza Shlesinger, Benny Safdie, Jimmie Fails, Ellen Burstyn

Kornél Mundruczó’s Pieces of a Woman - adapted from a play of the same name co-written with his partner Kata Wéber - deals with the horrific grief and aftermath of a couple losing their baby and, for the most part, isn’t an easy watch. Given the subject matter, it shouldn't be an easy watch. A twenty-minute-plus ‘one take’ opens the movie as we’re introduced to parents-to-be Martha (Kirby) and Sean (LaBeouf) and we are then witnesses to the labour - and the tension in these opening sequences is unreal. Mundruczó really elicits a sense of foreboding and dread in these moments which make the tragedy even harder to stomach when it arrives. After this, the movie begins to stumble somewhat. It begins to feel a bit uneven and borders melodrama at times - the overt symbolism is heavy-handed and the final scenes felt somewhat empty given what had preceded them. There are courtroom scenes that don't deliver the weight that they really should and the reason a character is in court is...unclear. However, there are still moments peppered throughout that are also uncomfortable to view (a near-rape scene being one…) Thankfully, the performances save the movie. Vanessa Kirby is astonishingly good - she delivers a powerful performance that elevates the movie especially when it begins to sag around her (Ellen Burstyn, too, is extremely good as Martha’s overbearing mother) though Shia LaBeouf isn’t entirely great in this role. Pieces of a Woman is powerful at times and meandering at others, a blistering and devastating opening quarter made way for something ultimately less impactful but saved by Kirby’s outstanding performance.

 

Outside the Wire

Netflix // Directed by Mikael Håfström // Starring Anthony Mackie, Damson Idris, Emily Beecham, Michael Kelly, Pilou Asbæk

For every decent Netflix release, there always seems to be a handful of tepid to awful efforts that manage to take the shine away from the positives. 1408 and The Rite director Mikael Håfström’s sci-fi action plodder Outside the Wire sits comfortably in the latter category. It’s just pure generic Netflix fodder - like similar efforts, it has a decent premise (the idea of human and AI co-existing, humans toying with technology that may still be too advanced to fully comprehend) but it’s just wasted and lost amongst the vanilla action sequences and bland dialogue. Anthony Mackie seems to be going through the motions along with Damson Idris which derails the entire narrative as these two are the “odd couple” thrown together in a futuristic time unsettled by the threats of war (Mackie is an android soldier and Idris a drone pilot). The lack of passion is further replicated in the murky, grey visuals and uninspiring score leaving a rather unremarkable and boring impression once the near-two-hour runtime finally expires. Continuing the Netflix trend of quantity over quality, Outside the Wire is forgettable, by-numbers, and just not very good.

 

Locked Down

HBO Max // Directed by Doug Liman // Starring Anne Hathaway, Chiwetel Ejiofor

ACTUAL lockdown is bad enough without having to watch movies about being in lockdown, however, here we are in the presence of Locked Down. Doug Liman has assembled the talents of Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor to tell a tale of how lockdown has pushed a recently-split couple into attempting a multi-million-pound diamond heist from Harrods. Obviously, that isn’t how I’ve spent my lockdown but this is after all the movies. Where Locked Down struggles is trying to blend drama surrounding a failed relationship and actual laughs and, unfortunately, neither are pulled off particularly well. It’s just not really very funny. There are a few gags that are worth a giggle but the success rate is low and in a movie that’s far too long at nearly two hours, tedium begins to set in fairly early on and by the time the bizarre heist rolls along, you wouldn’t be blamed for having checked out long before. The central relationship never threatens to sparkle which is a shame given the qualities that Hathaway and Ejiofor can bring and a slew of cameos also failed to spice up the proceedings - it just took me out of the movie somewhat. Locked Down had the chance to capture the strange times we live in and provide something warm, fun, optimistic, and, yes, crazy but instead, it all feels a bit hollow and rushed.

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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