A Thought-Provoking Commentary On What It Means To Be Human
A marvellous feat of originality, imagination & first-rate animation, Ghost in the Shell introduces a world where humans & technology are weaved together into the fabric of existence and is a thought-provoking rumination on identity, consciousness & the consequences of technological advances, which it renders through the exploits of a cyborg cop investigating a mysterious hacker.
Directed by Mamoru Oshii, the film is difficult to follow at times but the dots do start to connect once it enters the second half. The futuristic setting, cyberpunk details & philosophical touches not only provide the imagery its mesmerisingly haunting vibe but also deepens its thematic layerings while regular dose of action keeps the story thrilling enough to sustain the viewers' interest & investment.
The animation definitely stands out and its unique look is achieved through a careful fusion of hand-drawn frames & computer graphics. And when merged with its terrific sound design & clever lighting, its visuals exhibit a depth & richness that aptly evoke the film's cybernetic landscape. Voice cast play their roles expertly. And its arresting score imbues enchanting flavours of its own into the final mix that heighten the film's mood & feel.
Overall, Ghost in the Shell is undeniably amongst the most fascinating entries in the world of science-fiction that dazzles & unsettles in equal measure, and is a gripping commentary on what it means to be a human. It may require a couple more revisits to fully unearth its sociological & philosophical themes but the design & architecture of it all remains captivating throughout, plus its influence is evident on several sci-fi films that followed in the later years.
Zack Snyder's first foray into the world of animation features all the stylistic choices & storytelling attributes one associates with his works but Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole never builds the right kind of intrigue to make us invest in its world or characters, and only manages to be a moderately entertaining fare.
The animation is sharp, slick & sophisticated and provides the imagery its crisp look & detailed texture. But the plot is so generic & predictable that there's no excitement derived from the adventure it embarks on. It is captivating in bits n pieces but for the most part, the journey remains uninteresting plus all its attempts at humour fall flat.
The slow-mo shots, high contrast, sharp camerawork, polished action & dark tone are welcome enrichments but there are times when it starts paving groundwork for future instalments when its own foundation isn't solid enough. Also, Snyder's desire to infuse epic vibe to scenes with obvious musical pieces is yet another aspect that doesn't work here.
Overall, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole is gorgeously animated & brilliantly voiced but still leaves a lot to be desired, for its story never harnesses the true potential of its premise. The film is bit longer than it needs to be, the treatment is by the numbers, and its characters are hardly appealing. In short, Zack Snyder's only animated film is a passable effort at best.
With a barely functioning plot filled with minimal to no dialogues and steered by only a handful of characters, The Triplets of Belleville (Les triplettes de Belleville) doesn't offer a lot in dramatic content if that's what you came looking for but its eccentric animation style, idiosyncratic details & satirical touches do just enough to sustain the interest.
Written & directed by Sylvain Chomet in his feature film debut, the story concerns a grandma who enlists the help of the eponymous troupe to rescue her kidnapped grandson. However, the treatment is so droll & dreary that the film feels stretched due to dull pacing & tedious execution. And what would've sufficed as a short film is drawn out to 78 long minutes.
Nevertheless, the quirky animation on display & the satirical quips in the imagery do keep things interesting and it manages to be amusing in the most unexpected times. But the slow patches are far too many, making the final print a chore to sit through. Although one can admire the visual artistry in the set pieces & character designs, it doesn't amount to a lot in the end.
Overall, The Triplets of Belleville is notable for its animation & details embedded in every frame but the lack of a gripping plot & compelling characters also make the journey rather ordinary & uneventful. That's not to say the film is without its merits but those elements aren't sufficient for it to be memorable in my book. It does get better as it enters the final lap yet left me indifferent for the most part.
Brimming with emotional honesty & character flaws which in turn only makes the ride all the more heartfelt & human, Lilo & Stitch presents Walt Disney Animation Studios stepping out of its comfort zone to deliver a rich, riotous & refreshing tale about family, belonging & power of nurturing which definitely ranks amongst the lesser appreciated gems in Disney canon.
Written & directed by Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois (best known for How To Train Your Dragon), the film marks their directorial debuts and is a wonderfully layered, beautifully animated & sincerely crafted effort that finds the directing duo taking actual risk instead of playing it safe by going for a storytelling treatment that lies a little outside of Disney's established formula.
There is greater emphasis on its characters & their relationships plus it embraces the broken fragments wholeheartedly, thus resulting in more dramatic depth & better resonance with the viewers. And it achieves all that without sacrificing its amusing wit or entertainment value. The final act does fall short on expectations but the human drama remains compelling from start to finish.
Overall, Lilo & Stitch is a smartly scripted & neatly directed delight that will strike a better chord with grown-ups than kids, and has aged real fine over the years. Its familial themes are sensibly explored and it goes more in-depth than most Disney presentations. Promising a fun, enjoyable, adventurous & rewarding fare for most if not all, this animated sci-fi dramedy is absolutely worth your time & money.
A very surreal, allegorical & experimental trip, Fantastic Planet (La planète sauvage) unravels with an originality in its vision, a uniqueness in its animation and a sense of eeriness in its strange, lurid imagery as it narrates the story of human slaves & alien masters on a faraway planet in the distant future, and isn't something that will satisfy all palates.
Co-written & directed by René Laloux, the film comes packed with disturbing visuals and offers welcome insight into the cruelty & violence perpetrated by those in power against those in subjugation. And by placing our species in the latter role, it's able to make the audience relate & resonate to the injustice with a certain clarity. The plot is straightforward yet a lot brews underneath.
What may turn some viewers away is the clinical approach & dryness in storytelling. The events just unfold like brief episodes but there is no natural flow to them, nor is there any proper build-up. The animation is wicked as the images look both dated & timeless for some reason. And the psychedelic score undoubtedly goes a long way in infusing a hypnotic quality to the whole proceedings.
Overall, Fantastic Planet makes for a fascinating commentary on animal or human rights and is amongst the trippiest entries in the world of animation. There is much more to unearth here than what's discernible on screen, for the plot is layered with evocative elements, but not everyone will be appeased by its detached vibe & dull pacing. Frustrating in parts yet thought-provoking in its entirety, Fantastic Planet is worth a shot.
A Journey Into The Mind Of A Man With Deteriorating Memory
Bolstered by an outstanding performance from Anthony Hopkins & narrated with a welcome sensibility, The Father paints a heartbreaking portrait of dementia and gives the audience an idea of the confusion & frustration that takes over one's life as this mental illness worsens and does so by putting us in the mind of our ageing protagonist who's struggling to deal with his progressing memory loss.
Co-written & directed by Florian Zeller in what's his directorial debut, the story is adapted from his 2012 play of the same name and is crafted with care & honesty. The way its plot is structured & narrated provides added clarity to what it's like to live with dementia as the mind deteriorates piece by piece and one loses grasp of their time, reality, thoughts & memories but still try to make a rational sense of it.
The homely setting, silent camerawork, undisturbed pace & fine editing do fit the premise but the real highlight are the performances. Anthony Hopkins delivers an absolute powerhouse of an act here, articulating his character's pride, fear, agony & perplexity with precision, and it's one of his career-best works. Olivia Colman is in as his daughter who painfully watches her father wither away and chips in with an emotionally hefty input.
Overall, The Father is nuanced in its storytelling, empathetic in its presentation, and features Hopkins & Colman in splendid form. The bewilderment it causes is deliberate to make the viewers scramble for answers & rational explanation just like our protagonist and the more they relate to him, the more devastating it all gets. A promising start to Florian Zeller's filmmaking career, The Father is tragic, harrowing & powerfully moving. Don't miss it.
One of the darkest, creepiest & genuinely unnerving films to grace the medium of animation, The Wolf House (La casa lobo) is a powerhouse of endless imagination, persevering vision & top-notch execution that employs its stop-motion animation technique in ways that's equally unique & nightmarish, and offers a cinematic ride that's as surreal as it is disquieting.
Directed by Christobal León & Joaquín Cocina, the story takes its inspiration from an infamous & disturbing slice of Chilean history and unfolds like a fairy tale. But if one isn't familiar with the historical context in play here, then events may seem confusing & frustrating. Still, the uneasy vibe & foreboding aura this chiller brims with ultimately makes sure that the viewers don't leave the scene.
The most impressive thing about this Chilean horror is the stop-motion animation itself. The set pieces & characters constantly deconstruct, reconstruct & transform while the camera remains in perpetual motion, thus giving the film an appearance of a single take perspective. The visuals are distinct & uncanny to look at and with further assistance from its haunting soundscapes, it amplifies the film's dreamlike, vivid quality.
Overall, The Wolf House is no doubt an impressive feat of animation filmmaking as it renders its scenes in ways that's simultaneously fresh & freakish and blends true life, propaganda & fairy tale into a wicked tool for indoctrination. But it can also be overwhelming for some as there's plenty to unpack & absorb here, given its multitudes of layers & ever changing visuals. In short, this Chilean horror will fare better with arthouse enthusiasts than mainstream filmgoers.
Devoid of all the simple aesthetics, elegant touch & magical qualities that fans have come to expect from a Studio Ghibli presentation, Earwig and the Witch marks their first foray into 3D computer-generated feature filmmaking but the story in itself is so dull, bland & uninspiring that the film as a whole turns out to be the studio's first real misfire and is a disappointment on all fronts.
Directed by Goro Miyazaki (Tales from Earthsea & From Up on Poppy Hill), the film simply fails to create any sort of intrigue or excitement from start to finish, and is so uneventful & unimaginative that despite it being about magic & witches, it never for once feels magical. The narrative has no sense of direction or purpose and there is barely any effort to make the characters compelling enough to garner our interest.
In addition to that, the studio's patented animation which over the years had played an essential role in infusing depth, richness & resonance to its hand-drawn imagery is unceremoniously replaced by computer-generated animation that not only seems rather ordinary & outdated but is also hollow, lifeless & soulless from within. There's a glossy, synthetic vibe to its images that just doesn't feel right plus the rendering is also lacking an organic flair.
Overall, Earwig and the Witch is absolutely unworthy of Studio Ghibli banner and is hands down the famed animation studio's worst entry to date. It is a departure from everything its production house stands for, and it doesn't even have the storytelling basics covered. One can't even argue that it aims for something ambitious but fails, for there is hardly any story at all. Putting a blemish on Studio Ghibli's unblemished legacy, Goro Miyazaki's latest is nothing less than an embarrassment.
There is no denying that MonsterVerse was getting dumber with each subsequent instalment but wow, this crossover entry is a massive leap in brainless storytelling. On one hand, it gives the fans exactly what they all came looking for, a real battle between the two most powerful forces of nature. But then all of it is ruined by the nonsensical plot & sci-fi claptrap which goes way past the threshold of suspension of disbelief for the viewers to just sit back & enjoy it for what it is.
Directed by Adam Wingard (You're Next & The Guest), Godzilla vs. Kong lives up to its name in the sense that it offers an actual mano-a-mano clash between the two legendary monsters with a clear winner emerging in the end. But just about everything else that unfolds around these two behemoths is chock-full of issues. The script is an absolute garbage, devising events & scenarios that are facepalm-inducing. As for the human drama, it isn't just uninteresting this time around but also downright insipid.
Compared to its predecessors, this latest chapter dives more into the sci-fi realm but it is never for once intriguing or engaging. The monster mayhem is when the film is at its most enjoyable, plus both the fearsome Godzilla & the mighty Kong get their moment to shine whenever they collide. It is a no-holds-barred slugfest between the two that gets ugly & intense, and is spectacularly shot & glorious to watch. But it also feels like the only thing in the film that has some stability to it, for everything else is an utter mess that's all over the place.
Overall, Godzilla vs. Kong is fun & entertaining whenever the titular monsters are battling it out against one another and the anticipation for that iconic clash alone is enough to keep the viewers around till the end. However, every time it shifts its focus on human characters, all the shortcomings plaguing this braindead popcorn entertainer are instantly thrown to the forefront, thus resulting in a cinematic ride that's occasionally thrilling but mostly forgettable. Definitely the weakest entry in the MonsterVerse, the only good thing I can say about this dull blockbuster is that the rightful monster reigns supreme.
A massive improvement over the heavily truncated, significantly altered & extremely repugnant version we got back in 2017, Zack Snyder's Justice League restores the original vision he had for DC Extended Universe crossover feature and also gives the viewers a glimpse of the grand, ambitious ideas he had in store for this cinematic universe. Crafted with sincerity & exuding passion in every frame, Snyder Cut is an epic extravaganza that aptly fulfils its genre's obligations but also dares to be more than that.
Directed by Zack Snyder (Man of Steel & Batman v Superman), the premise is more or less the same yet everything about it is vastly different & superior to Joss Whedon's cringeworthy take, so much that it completely erases the terrible aftertaste that 2017 eyesore left on everyone's palate. There is a richness to the imagery that was absent previously, a distinct focus & smoother flow in how the events unfold & add up, and the characters' arcs also exhibit welcome depth as Snyder attempts to expand & explore the rich mythos & backstories of these characters.
The plot is divided into six parts & an epilogue, all narrated at a relaxed yet consistent pace. Even the scenes that have a sense of déjà-vu about them appear more refreshing in this edition. However, the film also exemplifies the best & worst aspects of Snyder's direction, for his ability to design & deliver breathtaking visuals & spectacular action set pieces is here for all to witness & admire but then also evident is his tendency to get carried away & not knowing when to stop. Additional invigorating quality to the experience is offered by Tom Holkenborg's rousing score. And in this cut, Cyborg & Flash are the real MVPs.
Overall, Zack Snyder's Justice League is one of the best revamps one could ask for, for it turns an unbearable atrocity into one of the most audacious & visually arresting examples of its kind. The script still isn't without its shortcomings and the film is also self-indulgent at times but the end product is nonetheless a huge upgrade and is rewarding for the most part. A fitting farewell to Zack Snyder's stint with DCEU despite him teasing where the saga could've headed in the future instalments, Snyder Cut also serves as his thank-you note to all the fans whose unwavering support & relentless movement over the last few years is what willed it into existence.
A fun, amusing & lighthearted romp with an absurd yet fascinating premise, Jumanji still retains a charming quality about it after all these years despite its silly & childish treatment but time has not been kind to it. It may have been one of the popular films of the 1990s but it is also one that belongs to its era, for it looks terribly dated today.
Directed by Joe Johnston, the film just takes its wicked idea and decides to run with it. The setup is quick and the first act promises better times ahead but thanks to the poor CGI, much of the action set pieces that thrilled its viewers back in the 90s look laughable now. And Johnston's reliance on VFX over plot & characters hampers the ride some more.
The story is structured like any video game where the journey get tougher & more challenging as one progresses to higher levels and while it's playful & entertaining to some extent, there's hardly anything interesting about its characters to make us care. Robin Williams is annoying from the moment he appears on screen, and the rest aren't any better either.
Overall, Jumanji is crafted with heart & humour and will please those who can look past the cartoonish effects & juvenile quality of its narration but the film as a whole didn't do much for me and left me indifferent to everything that unfolded on screen. In fact, just sitting through it felt like a chore. While I do get the fandom & love for it, this fantasy adventure is too dated for me to enjoy.
The third instalment in the Mad Max saga and the final one to feature Mel Gibson in the iconic role, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is definitely inferior when compared to the first two entries in the series but it still packs an apt dose of action & vehicular carnage to offer the fans what they came looking for. However, the middle portion of the story is one hell of a slog.
Directed by George Miller & George Ogilvie, the first act creates just the right kind of intrigue & interest by introducing the key characters, acquainting us with the bustling environment Max finds himself in, and the stakes that are at play. The world building is impressive but once the plot moves past Thunderdome sequence, it just comes to a sudden halt with a side plot that it could've either done without or handled better.
The post-apocalyptic setting has a credible feel to it just like its predecessor, thanks to desolate locations & gritty set pieces. The action is thrilling once it gets underway but for some reason, it also holds back instead of going full throttle. The tone is also lighthearted, the balance is off, and it is missing the required seriousness. Gibson is fine as Max, Tina Turner also holds her own, and the final chase while captivating is short-lived & not violent enough.
Overall, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome has its merits and the opening & final acts are engaging to say the least but it is in the space between the two that the interest fizzles out and the story loses its momentum. Lacking the nihilistic vibe of Mad Max and genre-defining qualities of The Road Warrior, this sequel is all the more marred by its muddled script, bland editing, inconsistent pace, and family-friendly treatment. A PG-13 journey into a world that screams hard-R, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is mediocre at best.
Visually Spellbinding But Has No Original Voice Of Its Own
Taking the usual Disney story template, applying the same rinse n repeat formula to it, then slapping the added representation tag on the package just for the sake of it, and marketing it as something fresh when it's not, Raya and the Last Dragon marks the arrival of a new princess in the Disney kingdom, and is truly astounding to look at but the film as a whole has no original voice of its own.
Directed by Don Hall & Carlos López Estrada, the story hurries us through its own mythology and doesn't spend enough time to strengthen the foundations before the main plot surfaces. Add to that, it expects the viewers to be invested in Raya's journey without putting in the effort that would compel us to do the same. There are familiar beats & predictable subplots here, plus it plays safe instead of risking anything.
While some characters are interesting, others are annoying. Humour also falls flat, for the film tries too hard. The emotional moments pack a punch but isn't allowed to stay afloat for long enough to deliver the goods. The animation is breathtaking for sure. Its richness, colour depth, lighting & rendering is almost immaculate. The background score by James Newton Howard is also a plus. And the voice cast play their roles responsibly as well.
Overall, Raya and the Last Dragon is enjoyable & entertaining, and will manage to satisfy most but there isn't anything new or different about it. Visually it may look richer & resonant but the underlying flavours are all the same. From a storytelling perspective, it is formulaic. From a creative standpoint, only its animation is worth noting. Nonetheless, despite the conventional treatment, there is a sense of fun & lighthearted quality to it that makes the ride pleasant enough.
Conjuring endless joy & heartwarming feels by bringing together an array of flawed characters, piling them all up in a Volkswagen van and sending them on a road trip, Little Miss Sunshine is the story of a dysfunctional family rediscovering themselves & each other over the course of their journey as they learn the importance of being together through the thick n thin and reforge their relationships.
Directed by Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris in what's their directorial debut, this is a sensibly written tragicomedy that right away acknowledges the flaws of the family members yet provides ample room for all of them to help each other grow & evolve. Each one is intriguing in their own ways, and their interactions have an organic feel to it as well, which only makes the drama all the more effective & entertaining.
The tone & treatment may be lighthearted but the story & characters packs enough dramatic weight & depth respectively and the filmmakers make sure both individual & collective on-screen efforts move things in the same direction, and the balance is sustained from start to finish. Performances are top-notch from everyone, including the young Abigail Breslin. And the climax brings the ride full circle with an amusing, uplifting & cathartic sequence.
Overall, Little Miss Sunshine is a wonderful amalgamation of skilful direction, smart writing & heartfelt performances that promises a pleasant time to all its viewers and delivers it in spades. An impressive & promising debut for its directing duo, it is one hell of a roller-coaster ride that treats its characters' imperfections with compassion & understanding, and is effortlessly elevated by honest inputs from its committed & talented cast. Absolutely worth your time & money.
Steered by a fiendishly fascinating performance from Rosamund Pike, I Care a Lot delivers exactly what its premise promised. Amusing & thrilling in equal measure, it is a finely crafted & consistently entertaining delight that offers an unnerving look at the pursuit of American dream in late-capitalism economy, and works mostly due to Pike's arresting showcase.
Written & directed by J Blakeson, the film doesn't take long to establish the stakes and wastes no time in running with the main plot. All characters are cold, distant & despicable in this story of fraud & deception so there is no real investment in them. But even from a distance, Blakeson does a good enough job to keep us interested in how the entire set of events play out.
The production is neat & sophisticated, the tone varies a bit every now n then, and the seriousness of the drama is at times compromised but fab inputs from the cast compensates for few of those issues and in turn help keep this dark comedy afloat. Rosamund Pike is an easy standout, and her sly, wicked & ruthless performance is so fun to watch that it single-handedly elevates the ride.
Overall, I Care a Lot is a competently crafted effort and does make for an enjoyable sit if not a memorable one but the only reason it has landed on most people's radar is Pike's return to playing a role that's slightly reminiscent of her indelible showcase in Gone Girl. That's not to say that this feature doesn't have some merits of its own. J Blakeson's latest will manage to appease most but it doesn't bring anything fresh to the table.
Worth Viewing For Daniel Kaluuya & Lakeith Stanfield's Electrifying Acts Alone
Bolstered by two powerhouse performances from two of the brightest acting talents working in Hollywood today, Judas and the Black Messiah is a potent & provocative slice of American history that renders the life & legacy of Fred Hampton on film with endless zeal, charged intensity & bracing authenticity, and definitely ranks amongst the first cinematic gems of 2021.
Co-written & directed by Shaka King, this biopic is crafted with as much restraint as it seethes with rage and King does a brilliant job at placing & highlighting the issues of the present in this dramatisation of the past. The plot stays compelling, the script retains its sharp edge & King's direction exhibits deft composure from start to finish, plus neat work in other aspects help uplift the narrative even more.
The finest aspect however are the performances. Daniel Kaluuya has an undeniable aura about him and his screen presence here makes his commanding performance as Black Panther Party's deputy chairman all the more convincing. Lakeith Stanfield plays the informant whose betrayal leads to Hampston's assassination at the hands of the FBI and his input is just as impressive as Kaluuya. Jesse Plemons is always reliable and he's no different here.
Overall, Judas and the Black Messiah packs a raw power & vicious energy which it channels through its sophisticated imagery & skilful storytelling to offer a biopic that not only honours the life of Fred Hampston but also emboldens everything he stood for. An incisive indictment of the oppression & injustice of minorities in America and its corrupt system's incessant need to silence any voice of reason & revolution that rises from the subjugation, Judas and the Black Messiah comes recommended.
An Amusing, Affecting & Arresting Slice Of Immigrant Experience
An arresting, intimate & bittersweet portrait of an immigrant South Korean family striving for their version of American dream in 1980s Arkansas, Minari is a story of family & assimilation that's as powerful as it is personal and as heartwarming as it is heartrending. Crafted with affection, steered with gentleness, and strengthened by wholesome performances from its cast, it is one of the better films of 2020.
Written & directed by Lee Isaac Chung, the inspiration behind the story is derived from his own childhood & upbringing but it will resonate with most viewers, for a lot many people will find it exquisitely capturing the snippets of their own lives in this tragic & heartfelt drama. Lee keeps the plot simple, doesn't try to overdo any aspect, and wonderfully balances the ebb & flow of character drama & emotional beats.
The tender cinematography & evocative score bring in more warmth & resonance, the relationships are curated with such care & compassion that each interaction is engrossing, and additional richness is provided by its outstanding cast who render their characters with fine delicacy, with Youn Yuh-jung & Alan Kim impressing the most in their respective roles of the family's oldest & youngest. Youn is a riot, and steals her scenes with ease.
Overall, Minari makes for an amusing, affecting & awe-inspiring slice of immigrant experience, and benefits immensely from Lee's deft writing, composed direction & nuanced storytelling. Shot in sun-kissed location, unfolding at a relaxed pace, and expertly transposed from script to screen by its talented cast, the film is honest in its emotions, elegant in its execution, and is worthy of all the praise & accolades it has garnered so far. Highly recommended.
A Massive Forward Leap For Chloé Zhao's Filmmaking Career
A quiet, contemplative & engrossing portrait of the human condition, Nomadland brings the vandwelling nomadic community's way of life to the film canvas with a level of intimacy & understanding that's seldom seen in such stories. With a touch of serenity in every frame and compassion in every interaction, the story offers an emotionally enriching experience that seamlessly humbles the heart, mind & soul.
Written, produced, directed & edited by Chloé Zhao (The Rider), the story follows a woman who journeys through the American West after losing everything in the Great Recession. There's a tender beauty & ethereal quality to Zhao's storytelling & characterisation. Her writing exhibits careful consideration, her direction brims with unfailing gentleness, and the addition of real-life nomads in scripted spaces helps bring an authenticity of its own.
Further uplifting the experience is the sumptuous cinematography that captures those breathtaking landscapes with finesse while the unhurried approach allows the viewers to bask in the gorgeous sceneries with our protagonist. Camerawork remains composed throughout, lighting is perfect, and Ludovico Einaudi's music strikes an evocative chord with the heart. And then there is Frances McDormand who elevates it some more with her silent & stimulating showcase.
Overall, Nomadland is an exquisitely crafted, elegantly narrated & expertly acted neo-western that approaches its genre from a wholly refreshing perspective, and makes for a spiritual ride that's not only riveting & illuminating but also ethereal. Establishing Chloé Zhao as a filmmaker of enormous talent & distinctive eye, her latest film marks a massive forward step for her career, ranks amongst the finest entries in Frances McDormand's body of work, and is a very strong contender for Best Picture Oscar.
A Tragic & Poignant Story Of What It Means To Lose One's Dream
A silent, serene & subdued portrait of small-town life in the American heartland, The Rider is a gently crafted, elegantly narrated & sincerely acted contemporary western drama that's heartfelt in its storytelling, authentic in its execution, and makes for one fascinating character study of a rodeo who grapples with his identity after suffering a near-fatal injury.
Written & directed by Chloé Zhao, the story is more or less a dramatisation of a real-life incident and even employs the same people in lead roles whose lives it attempts to render on screen. Enriching the imagery some more is the exquisite photography & unhurried approach, not to mention the care & understanding Zhao exhibits while sketching these characters on paper & film.
Zhao shows ample empathy for her characters, depicts the tender moments with a deft touch, and creates a comfortable enough environment for the untrained actors to give their best shot. The actors here are merely playing a fictionalised version of themselves, and they all end up doing a pretty neat job at it, for their performances are honest, arresting & emotionally resonant from start to finish.
Overall, The Rider is a tragic, soulful & poignant story of what it means to lose one's lifelong dream, the inadequacy that fills the life in its absence, and the unfathomable hardship of making peace with oneself by letting it go. There isn't really much wrong with anything Zhao does here yet for some reason, the film never immersed me into its world or made me care as deeply about the characters as Zhao does. I just like it fine.
A Much Welcome Re-Examination Of Britney Spears' Life & Career
A long-overdue reassessment of the career of the pop culture icon whose meteoric rise to fame & success was overshadowed by a brutal character assassination that was perpetrated by the media & paparazzi scums, Framing Britney Spears sheds a much needed light on her past & present personal struggles, and also serves as an indictment of America's media culture.
Directed by Samantha Stark, the documentary mainly concerns the conservatorship that's been imposed on Spears since 2008 but also takes us through her early days, her swift ascent in the show business, paparazzi's obsession with every facet of her life, and the field day media had in obliterating her image which led to her meltdown and in turn allowed the conservatorship issue to surface in her life.
The film features interviews from people close to Britney Spears from friends & past colleagues to people from her fervent fan base. Though interviewing a paparazzo at first seemed like a bad idea, it ultimately offered an insight into their absolute lack of humanity & compassion. And then of course, there is the sexist & misogynist culture that lies at the very heart of this media industry and is still perpetuated in one way or another.
Overall, Framing Britney Spears makes for a provocative, enlightening & arresting documentary that's as incisive as it is heartbreaking. A welcome re-examination of the influential artist whose rise was a global phenomenon, fall was a national sport, and who is still fighting to regain control of her life, the only drawback is its 74 mins runtime as the brief duration doesn't allow it to venture as deep as it possibly could have. Definitely worth a shot.
Undermined By Its Unnecessary & Terribly Scripted Dramatisation
Shedding light on the inner workings of social media sites as well as the algorithms they implement to make their users dependent on their respective platforms and, in some cases, even influence & manipulate their thoughts, The Social Dilemma is an enlightening docudrama featuring interviews with former employees of social media companies but it really could've done without those awfully scripted dramatisations.
Directed by Jeff Orlowski, the documentary provides a brief overview of the positive role social media has played over the years before delving into the dark, dangerous & devastating side of these companies that have now become so powerful that they can destroy the social, political & cultural fabric of any n every country by spreading lies & misinformation and still manage to get away without any major repercussions.
Despite the content being of immediate urgency, the narration is somewhat bland & uninteresting. The dramatisations were unnecessary plus it would've been far more effective had this film focused on just interviews & basic explanations. The dramatic bits does make it more accessible through relatability but also undermines its intent to an extent. Add to that, many of the issues it covers are the ones that most social media users already know about.
Overall, The Social Dilemma starts with the right intention of informing people about how social media use has evolved since the early days, their ever increasing impact on everyday life, trading users' life & privacy for ad revenue, discarding all ethics for profits, and the massive threat these platforms pose if allowed to function on current business model anymore but it is presented with such lifelessness that it feels more like a tedious lecture than an essential call to action.
A Final Plea From The Godfather Of Natural History
A final plea from the godfather of natural history and the greatest broadcaster of our time, David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet chronicles the life & career of the extraordinary figure who's best known for presenting & narrating some of the greatest nature documentaries ever made, and is unparalleled for his contribution to educating the masses about Earth's natural & wildlife wonders, and the need to preserve it in the wake of mankind's utter disregard & reckless destruction of each n every habitat.
Directed by the crew that's been instrumental in echoing Attenborough's soothing & eloquent voice all over the world, this is a documentary of immediate relevance & urgency that serves as his personal witness statement for the natural world and future generation. Through his own first-hand account, he acquaints the audience with the overall decline of our planet's wildlife reserves and what the future holds if human exploits are allowed to continue at the alarming rate they already are at, and it sure doesn't look good.
Still, Attenborough is hopeful that we can turn things around if we act swiftly and even offers solutions to restore & stabilise our planet's biodiversity. It's gonna take a collective effort from people all over the world to reverse the damage and avoid the grim & devastating fate that awaits ahead. It will take an unprecedented level of international cooperation & collaboration to address the unprecedented global crisis that we face today yet what makes it depressing is the brutal realisation that it's probably too late and we are already past the point of no return.
As often is the case with the documentaries Attenborough has presented over the years, this film itself is gorgeously photographed and is interspersed with footage of his own time in the wild in order to draw comparison to the decline ecosystems have undergone over the years. And the difference is not only obvious but it's also extremely unsettling. Attenborough himself is just as graceful as he's always been in his presentation, with a genuine concern for the increasing rate at which we are depleting the natural resources and signing our own death certificate.
Overall, David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet is another masterfully crafted documentary of bracing impact & immediacy that finds its 93-year old naturalist taking the centerstage to remind us of our role & responsibility to mother nature and how our actions can ensure the survival of not only our species but all life on Earth. Compared to the extensively detailed nature documentaries he has been a part of, this one does seem brief at mere 83 mins but it captures a more personal side of the man who has seen more of the natural world than any other, and is by all means an essential viewing.
The fourth & final instalment of the Shrek saga, Shrek Forever After (also known as Shrek: The Final Chapter) does present slight improvements over the disappointing & forgettable dud that was the previous entry but it is only marginally better than its immediate predecessor, and remains a vastly inferior sequel when compared to the brilliance of the first two chapters.
Directed by Mike Mitchell, the story explores themes of family, friendship, nostalgia, selfishness & redemption through Shrek as our jolly green ogre undergoes a midlife crisis. The plot is barely serviceable and is clearly missing the original's magic but it still offers an adventurous ride that's mildly amusing & adequately entertaining, thus making for a satisfactory finale if not a memorable one.
The road it treads is a familiar one, plus the gags n puns it has in store are neither clever nor creative. While the film manages to find little moments of warmth, those segments are rather short-lived. The animation is neat & expertly rendered. There are numerous references to the first film, and the briskly paced 93 mins runtime is definitely appreciated. Yet one can't help but feel this series to be on its last legs.
Overall, Shrek Forever After concludes DreamWorks Animation's famous franchise on a fine note and offers an experience that's intermittently fun & enjoyable. It's got heart & an emotional core yet what it is lacking is the excitement & energy that was once prevalent in this fairy tale extravaganza. Far from the studio's best efforts, this final chapter still does a sufficient job in rounding up the saga that put DreamWorks Animation on the map.
A Standard Western Fare Driven By Assured Performances
From the director of United 93, The Bourne Ultimatum & Captain Phillips comes a western drama that marks a departure from his tense, chaotic & energetic style of filmmaking, for News of the World is crafted with restraint & told with composure and is furthermore elevated by assured performances from its leading duo & their sincere chemistry.
Co-written & directed by Paul Greengrass, the story is small-scale with less risks & stakes, and hinges entirely on the central relationship to steer itself past the finish line. Greengrass dials back on his impulses and provides enough room for the plot to simmer & characters to evolve at their own pace, and keeps a firm check on the unfolding events so as to keep things balanced.
Adding more enrichment to the narrative is the smooth camerawork, steady pace & splendid score yet the biggest contribution comes from its cast. The film marks Tom Hanks' first time in a western and the ever-reliable actor delivers a fab input and renders his role with flair. Helena Zengel is another standout who stands toe to toe with the veteran actor, and her bonding with Hanks is genuine & heartfelt.
Overall, News of the World is a skilfully directed, technically polished & brilliantly acted example of its genre that exhibits efficiency in all aspects yet the story as a whole doesn't bring anything new to the table and treads a predictably safe road. A lesser entry when compared to the director's finest efforts, the story brims with heart and retains its poignant qualities until the end, but there is nothing about it that's different from the norm.
An interesting, insightful & informative documentary about the African-American experience & representation in American horror films, in addition to the evolution of the genre itself over the years, Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror presents an extensively researched, expertly dissected & effortlessly entertaining account of the contribution that black artists have made to the world of horror & Hollywood cinema as a whole.
Directed by Xavier Burgin, the documentary includes interviews from several black artists & scholars and begins by first acknowledging the watershed event that Jordan Peele's Get Out was only a few years back, for it broke down all barriers & smashed doors wide open for new n fresh voices to enter the industry, before harkening back to the early days when Hollywood often painted a disturbing picture of the whole race to advance the nation's propaganda.
The film chronicles their awful depiction in The Birth of a Nation, their relegation to background roles in the decades ahead, the implied racism in films they were not even a part of, a revival of sorts through the blaxploitation genre, caricature roles in subsequent years, increased acceptance in the 21st century, and the influential roles that horror films such as Night of the Living Dead, Blacula, Candyman, Tales from the Hood & more played in righting the wrongs one step at a time.
Overall, Horror Noire is captivating & illuminating in equal measure and offers an essential overview of the demographic whose contribution to mainstream horror remains vastly unacknowledged. While there is an air of change in the Hollywood industry of lately, it is only made possible by the countless black voices that kept going despite endless setbacks over the years until the breakthrough at last happened. And with new talents & fresh voices entering the American horror scene, the future at least for now sure looks promising. A must for horror aficionados.