REVIEW: Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

Directed by: Rob Marshall
Starring: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Dick Van Dyke.

Written by Cameron Frew

Mary Poppins is a curious thing. Depending on how you explain her, one would be forgiven for being slightly disturbed – a nanny who arrives out of nowhere flying out of the clouds on an umbrella, with seemingly magical powers and the ability to transport whomever she pleases into weird and wacky animated worlds. Disney turned P.L. Travers’ creation into a cinematic legend, however, beaming with warmth, peppy energy and a rigid stance on manners that taught the virtues of decorum and imagination as a pair. It was the perfect treat for the children and adults of 1964 – now more than 50 years later, cinema has given way to a sequel. Will you require a spoonful of sugar to put it over? No, this medicine is an immensely pleasant time all on its own.

Michael and Jane Banks (Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer) are now fully-fledged grown-ups. The latter organises rallies for the working class, the former isn’t so content. After losing his wife, he’s saddled with the task of trying to earn a living at a bank under the scrupulous but seemingly generous eye of William “Weatherall” Wilkins (Colin Firth) and raising his three children (Pixie Davies, Nathanael Saleh and Joel Dawson). Life is getting particularly hard as untenable bills mount. Then, as luck would have it, from the breaking clouds flies down Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) to look after the Banks children – and their children.

From the murky, familiar opening shots of an industrial London, there’s a keen sense of welcome in the picture. Not just welcoming new and old audiences, but welcoming its roots, the look, the feel, the style, the mood. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Broadway superstar from In the Heights and Hamilton, plays a huge role in fuelling the charisma machine, leading us into “the days of the Great Slump” with a pep and a jive. He has a breathless allure, the sort of birth-given gift that can’t be truly explained; he’s simply a diamond of the industry.

Whishaw and Mortimer are uncannily believable siblings, both sharing similar ticks and resonant chemistry that’s neither overpowering nor weak. The Newsroom star brings a little of that anxious energy in a likeable turn, but Whishaw has far more to do. That soft-spoken voice which propelled Paddington into our hearts is still around, but the nuance in his performance is quite impressive; at times he’s overcome with giddy joy, at others he’s harrowed with anguish and rage as events out with control cause continuous hardship. There’s a constantly sad undercurrent, the writers (David Magee, Rob Marshall and John Deluca) reminding you of the children’s endless devotion to their mother’s ethos – “That’s what mother would do” you hear them say. But in respecting this grief, in a very accessible way, the filmmakers untangle that knot of emotion.

Of course, they’re gifted the most supreme of helping hands in the form of Blunt, who in one of the most supercalifragilisticexpialadocious efforts this year, totally embodies the spirit of Poppins, and then some. Julie Andrews won the Oscar for the role, and it won’t be a surprise if there’s a Best Actress nomination on the cards this time. Punctilious and genteel, kind and firm, a queen of decorum and advocate of the imagination, Blunt is a revelation.

Soon we’re into ebullient animated-land, a mixture of modernistic visual effects-driven sequences and old-time, classic hand-drawn works that blend live-action and art in the finest display since Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The way writer-and-director Marshall and cinematographer Dion Beebe (who worked on the very different but insanely brilliant Collateral) orchestrate such dazzling set-pieces, packed with stunning choreography and warmly impressive animation is nothing short of remarkable. There are visual gags aplenty that’ll only improve on repeat viewings too, any excuse to dive back into the bathtub.

The song list is only impaired by the odd slightly overlong show tune, but the wild enthusiasm of them all is infectious, anchored on Marc Shaiman’s extravagantly grand composition that never feels anything less than an occasion. ’Trip a Little Light Fantastic’ is the finest number, an ensemble-belter that transports you into the cinema of old.

That’s the thing, Mary Poppins Returns feels like an ode to a cherished time at the movies. It packs both the power to move the kids and the adults, tap everyone’s feet and widen all the grins. There are only a few little bits that nag; the more ornate animation exceeds far better than the CGI stuff, and there’s one joke that sticks around a long time not all that effectively until the admittedly funny pay off. But you can see why big names wanted to get involved; Firth is delicious as a pantomime villain, Meryl Streep makes an appearance, and watch out for Dick Van Dyke. Few sequels these days are quite as joyous.

Blunt is sensational. On top of that, it’s pure Disney. Suppose when you consider the talent involved, there’s nowhere to go but up.

CAMERON’S VERDICT:

4

REVIEW: Under The Silver Lake (2019)

Directed by: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Topher Grace

Written by Sam Comrie

“Maybe there are people out there who are more important than us, more powerful, communicating things in the world that are meant for only them and not for us.”

Despite a troubling distribution schedule after hitting the festival circuit, David Robert Mitchell’s follow up to tantalizing It Follows has finally begun to see the light of day. Bringing back D.P Michael Gioulakis (Split) and composer Diasterpiece, Mitchell’s third feature-length endeavour is a left field swerve down a road that is as mysterious as the title itself. Stepping away from the anxious social horror of It Follows, Under The Silver Lake is a delirious suburban noir that brings us along on a spiralling web of underworlds, Illuminati style mysteries and a murder or two along the way.

Wearing its modern noir disguise in the open, Mitchell’s picks apart another agenda underneath the green grass and naive city smiles. It’s an agenda of hidden codes, intentions and goals that are only for those higher in the social hierarchy. Not for a greasy, problematic slacker that hasn’t paid his rent in god knows how long. Enter Andrew Garfield, giving a sleaze-filled performance that proves to be a career best, despite his troubling perspective on women that makes for an uneasy watch.

It’s uncomfortable and skin crawling but works to make Garfield’s “Sam” a vessel for all the cynicism and underworld brainwashing that he will ultimately endure to seemingly no real positive in his quest. And a quest it is indeed. When a woman from his flat complex disappears, with no explanation or trace to her existence, Sam takes it upon himself to uncover the real mystery behind her disappearance. His past and job history is never truly touched upon, only picked away at by other characters trying to uncover some human component inside Sam.

The clues begin to appear and bring an anxious sense of doubt with them. Are we actually finding a lead or we are actually going crazy the more we pull on the threads? Mitchell’s eerie and precise direction is on form once more in tandem with the dreamy wide lensed aesthetic that Gioulakis soaks the suburbia in. Palm trees and crosswalks are chosen favor of the glossy high rises that function continuously in the background.

Mitchell’s commitment to how truly unpredictable and oddball he takes the mystery is what really sold me on my experience with Silver Lake. It’s littered with brilliantly intriguing characters that add to contained lore that the film builds for itself almost unintentionally.

In the supporting cast, Patrick Fischler and Jeremy Bobb pop up along the way providing some of the best moments of strange character intricacies and sometimes reality shattering revelations. I particularly enjoyed spending time in the “lair” of Fischler’s simply titled “Comic Fan”, who has built his own web of messages. It adds to the continuous notion that Mitchell is painting a narrative that exists behind the scenes for anyone but Garfield.

Under The Silver Lake, in the end, proves itself to be another hazy passage through the unexpected, in the same vein of Mulholland Drive and Inherent Vice. I bet they’d make a unique triple bill.

SAM’S VERDICT:

5

REVIEW: The House That Jack Built (2018)

Directed by: Lars Von Trier
Starring: Matt Dillon, Bruno Ganz, Uma Thurman

Written by Lucy Buglass

Danish director Lars Von Trier is no stranger to controversy. He has certainly divided film fans with some praising his work and some condemning it.  The House That Jack Built is his most recent creation, causing audience members at Cannes to either walk out in disgust or stand up and applaud. This seriously mixed reception caught my interest and I wanted to find out what he’d done to generate such a response.

I’ve only seen two of his previous films; Antichrist and Melancholia, the former being a film that disturbed me so much I haven’t been able to watch it a second time. Its visceral, raw and harrowing portrayal of sex, violence, and self-mutilation is something that is a thoroughly uncomfortable and unpleasant watch.  Because of Antichrist, I felt nervous yet strangely excited to see what The House That Jack Built had in store for me. I was surprised, however, to discover that it is arguably his tamest film to date, with a lot of the more graphic content happening off-screen. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its disturbing moments, but it was a lot less visceral than I was expecting based on its recent backlash.

The film is split into five chapters labelled ‘The Incidents’ and an epilogue, detailing some of the murders that Jack carried out over a 12-year span. Two of these incidents include child abuse and female mutilation, but is presented in a much more psychologically disturbing way rather than uncomfortable close-ups and drawn out scenes that you watch from behind your hands. The House That Jack Built spends more time tapping into Jack’s own psyche than it does the atrocities he commits, with Matt Dillon really stealing the show as the titular character.

It’s also darkly funny in places, which I certainly wasn’t expecting. Dillon’s portrayal of a psychotic killer with OCD is both terrifying and amusing. He is simultaneously charming and unhinged, which is a difficult thing to pull off. He was by far my favourite thing about the film, reminiscent of so many iconic serial killers that have fascinated the general public. The film relied heavily on Jack’s character and inner thoughts so it was great to see Dillon pull it off so brilliantly.

Much like Von Trier’s previous work, The House That Jack Built features lots of symbolism throughout the narrative. In this case, it focuses heavily on religion, art and family, with Jack being challenged on all of these as he recounts the incidents. The voice challenging him is a mystery to us until the third act, where Bruno Ganz’s character is finally revealed to us. I found this reveal to be a little jarring and strange, but not unexpected from one of his films. For me, the third act is where it started to go downhill and I lost interest, which is a real shame after the strength of the first two. Despite seeing some really great analyses online, it wasn’t enough to change my own views on the way it ended. It just seemed a little too out of place for my liking.

The visual style is interesting and combines live action with animation and still images. This feels very random but in the context of this particular film, it actually works in its favour. Both Dillon and Ganz narrate over the animation and still images, giving us monologues that act as food for thought and raise questions about morality, life, death and so on. It’s an intense film in that regard and one that you have to really concentrate on in order to enjoy properly.

The House That Jack Built is a depressing, harrowing and strange film. Its blend of sadistic violence and humour makes it a truly unique horror film that seems to appeal to a very specific audience. It’s not for the faint of heart, and Jack’s misogynistic killing sprees teamed with his nihilistic outlook on life is bound to be uncomfortable for many to witness. As a case study on a serial killer it’s a fascinating watch, but out of the three films I’ve seen, this one is unfortunately the weakest in my eyes.

 

LUCY’S VERDICT:

3

REVIEW: Aquaman (2018)

Directed by: James Wan
Starring: Jason Mamoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Dolph Lundgren

Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

The DCEU badly needs a win. To say the DCEU has had peaks and troughs is something of an understatement. Despite, for my part, ‘Man of Steel’ being far stronger than the wider consensus says, and ‘Wonder Woman’ being as universally acclaimed as it is, the DCEU is badly trying to course correct after the mixed reception received on ‘Batman v Superman,’ and the genuinely shambolic efforts of ‘Justice League’ and ‘Suicide Squad.’ It needs a film to reunite DC fans everywhere that convinces them the DCEU could be a success. I think ‘Aquaman’ could well be that film.

Game of Thrones’ Jason Momoa stars as Arthur “Aquaman” Curry, a human-Atlantean hybrid with super strength and a swimming ability not too far behind that of Michael Phelps. Living his life as a metahuman living amongst us, Arthur forgoes the secret identity schtick, openly embraces being Aquaman, and spends his time saving people from various nautical disasters. When Orm (Patrick Wilson), Arthur’s half-brother, stakes claim to the throne and threatens an Atlantean takeover of the world, Arthur must return to his true home and claim the throne that is rightfully his.

I’m going to cut to the chase. ‘Aquaman’ is the most fun I’ve had at the cinema in months. I’ve seen some terrific films in the last year, even some genuinely all-time great superhero films like ‘Infinity War’ and ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,’ but nothing compared to ‘Aquaman.’ As the film escalates towards its inevitable, CGI-tastic battle scene, I found myself actively cheering the action on screen. It forced various exclamations that basically said, in umpteen different ways, “this is so cool.” Because that’s what James Wan, the stellar filmmaker behind films like ‘Saw’, ‘The Conjuring,’ and ‘Furious 7,’ managed to do. He made Aquaman cool. He made the guy who has been the joke of DC for years and known as “the one who can speak to fish” cool.

What really works for ‘Aquaman’ is its cast. It boasts a terrific ensemble, and no matter how ridiculous it all is if you really look at it, everyone is all in on their characters, embracing the ridiculousness of it all, and just having a great time with it. There’s a chemistry amongst every major player, from Arthur and Orm, to Arthur and Mera (Amber Heard), to Arthur and Vulko (Willem Dafoe), to Mera and Vulko, and to Orm and Nereus (Dolph Lundgren), that makes the film work. All the different relationships between the characters are, admittedly pretty blatantly, clear and their motivations are presented well so that everyone knows where they stand as the tensions mount into the third act. The ‘will-they-won’t-they’ dynamics, the rivalries, the father-and-son relationships, it’s all well thought-out and executed extremely well, thanks largely to the great cast.

Where the film does have flaws – and believe me, it has its flaws – is largely down to its dialogue. Despite the well-fleshed out relationships I mentioned above, the conversations are about as on-the-nose as it comes. Characters explicitly describe their emotions and plans in every line of dialogue, shoving in corny, superhero focused one-liners to raise an obvious moral question for Arthur to ponder for 20 minutes. It’s blunt, but it’s serviceable; there’s no room for subtext. But then again, this is fucking Aquaman. At one point, sharks are used as surfboards. Subtext left the writer’s room 27-minutes into Day One. And that’s okay.

The average cinema-goer goes to a superhero film for the action. You can claim all you want that people live for the interpersonal drama you find in the MCU, but a superhero film lives and dies by its action sequences. ‘Aquaman’ raises the bar for what a superhero film’s action scenes should look like. They’re the cleanest, best choreographed, and best shot action scenes since probably ‘Mad Max: Fury Road.’ In the first 10 minutes, there’s a very cool fight scene involving Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) in a living room that’s a long-take, one smooth shot in which all 3 enemies are vanquished in expert fashion as the camera swirls around the room. At that moment I knew we were in good hands, but that was just a taster.

There are a lot of nice little action sequences throughout the film, all of which are well done, but there are two stand-outs: Sicily and The Battle of the Trench. Sicily, for starters, includes a glorious long-take following a Atlantean battering ram crashing through 15 apartment walls as it’s the fastest way to Mera who is running along the rooftops, while simultaneously Arthur is being chased by Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), the film’s sadly underused but encouraging secondary villain, with various moments for combat thrown in, an exploding church bell, and Arthur using a literal ball and chain as a weapon. At one point, the camera shows Arthur’s fight and zooms across the rooftops to catch up with Mera, mere minutes before she creatively uses red motherfucking wine as a weapon. Just thinking about this scene again brings a smile to my face. It’s chaos in its most glorious form.

The climactic Battle of the Trench is, thankfully, a worthy capper on a terrifically fun time. I can’t go into too much detail for fear of spoilers, but this scene is the main cause of my exclamations of disbelief I mentioned earlier. Some of the moments on screen are wildly creative, they’re moments that will stick with you for months, because it’s a battle on the same scale as that of Helm’s Deep in ‘Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’ only this time it involves sharks with freakin’ laser beams attached to their heads, giant crocodiles, giant crabs and lobsters, and there’s even the closest thing to an actual kaiju. It’s not a case of Wan throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks here; everything sticks. The final 30 minutes of ‘Aquaman’ is the best climax to a 2018 film this side of ‘Hereditary.’

Aquaman’ is fantastic. I can forgive the flaws of its screenplay when the action is this satisfying and this impressive. It has charismatic performances, a fantastic soundtrack (‘Aquaman’’s theme is the best superhero theme since ‘Wonder Woman’, for everything the DCEU is doing wrong, it’s nailing the music), and stellar direction and cinematography. It’s one of the most bombastic, energetic, insane films of the year, and it deserves your attention.

Give me more ‘Aquaman.’ I want so much more ‘Aquaman.’

 

RHYS’ VERDICT:

5

REVIEW: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Directed by: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Cast: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Nicolas Cage, John Mulaney

Written by Fernando Andrade

You know that feeling when you walk out of a movie knowing you have witnessed something special, something you have never seen before. That’s the feeling you get walking out of Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse. Even though it’s based off a comic book and this character has been done six times before and we know the basic story of Spider-Man, the people behind this movie found a way to make it fresh and have produced not only the best animated movie this year, but hands down one of the best movies of 2018.

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse centers around Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), aka Spider-Man. In Miles’ dimension Peter Parker (Chris Pine) is a hero to the people of New York, stopping crime at every corner and doing it with grace. That is until Parker has a run in with Wilson Fisk (Liev Schreiber) and his gang of other notable Spider-Man villains including Green Goblin and The Prowler. They have built a device which causes dimensions to collide in an attempt to bring back Fisk’s wife and son who where killed. In the exchange, Peter Parker is killed, yes killed in an animated PG movie, leaving Miles the one and only Spider-Man – so he thinks. Of course as the promotional material has shown us, several dimensions collide bringing with them other Spider-people with them. We have Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), Spider-Ham (John Mulaney), Peni Parker (Kimiko Gleen), and Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) – but from a different dimension. It is up to the 6 of them to come together and defeat Fisk in order to return to their respective worlds.

This movie probably could not have come out at a better time, due to the tragic death of Stan Lee, as it shows the true power of comic books and why people love this character. While yes, on the surface this movie is a standard comic book movie pitting good against evil, heroes against villains, it is so much more than that. This character of Miles Morales is so pure and so easy to connect with. A lot of it has to do with the fact that he loves his family, he wants to make them proud, and he is just kind at heart. Honestly it was a nice change of pace seeing this familial interaction and not one having to do with Aunt May and Uncle Ben. This interpretation of Spider-Man also comes with a bit of a different message, although the presence of “with great power comes great responsibility” is still felt, here we get to see someone figure out that they have the ability to become something great and that you are never alone.

This is beautifully done through the brilliant use of all the other characters. Yes, some are used for more comedic purposes and some of the villains just show up, but they are not the main focus. However, all the characters fit, they all have their moments, and it works seamlessly to help tell Miles’ story. Each of the different Spider-people/animal have their own problem, their own origin story, and so do we as individuals – we all have different paths, which is why it is so easy to relate to this story. Sometimes it can feel very lonely out there, as Miles feels as his relationship with his family begins to dwindle as the piling amount of pressure he has to be a worthy Spider-Man builds. But it is through those same worries in which he finds the power to become who he was meant to be. This story has attempted to be shown in other Spider-Man movies as well, some being more successful than others, but the way it was told in this movie has been the most effective. We get to see a young, half black half Latino kid, dropped to this position where he must learn to face this massive challenge, with some pretty great people to help him along the way.

Not only is Into the Spider-Verse a beautiful story, the technical aspects on display here are some of the greatest ever in animation. This is probably what people felt like watching Toy Story for the first time seeing all those 3D animations, but in animation today all we really see is polished, hyper realistic worlds. It is a wonderful change of pace to see such a unique approach to animation, and it works so well with this story. This could never be reproduced into life action ever, it could only have been done this way.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has come along and made itself known as one of the best movies of 2018, and should be leading the charge at the Oscars for best animated feature. Its a universal story that can be loved by everyone, filled with beautifully touching moments for both comic book and non-comic book fans alike, great laughs, and some pretty great music. This movie really showcases what minds like Steve Ditko and Stan Lee saw in these characters and what they wanted to express; a mask is a mask, but what really matters is who is underneath it – and that could be anyone.

 

Fernando’s Verdict:

4-5

REVIEW: November

Directed by: Rainer Sarnet
Cast: Rea Lest, Jörgen Liik, Arvo Kukumägi

Written by Bianca Garner

November is an odd film. It’s a very odd, and very strange film; almost completely impossible to describe in words. This isn’t to say that November is a bad film, in fact, it is quite the opposite. November is a stunningly beautiful film with achingly gorgeous cinematography and a haunting score. Directed by Rainer Sarnet, November was Estonia’s entry to the 90th Academy awards, adapted from Andrus Kivirähk’s novel Rehepapp ehk November (which has sold over 25,000 copies making him the most popular 21st century Estonian writer). November is a fairytale at its core. A very grim, strange and surreal fairytale with a moral message at its core, of how love is a fickle thing that can melt away as quickly as the snow. November feels like the film that Andrei Tarkovsky never made, crossed with a dash of Ingmar Bergman’s 1960s films (like Persona and The Hour of the Wolf), and a small splash of Lars Von Trier Antichrist. Beauty is in the surreal.

In 19th century Estonia, a village is inhabited by Black Death (who takes on the form of a pig), spirits, witches, werewolves and the Devil himself. A peasant girl, Liina (Rea Lest), longs for a village boy Hans, while Hans longs for a daughter of an aristocrat (Jette Loona Hermanis),. Liina is to be betrothed to a much older farmer, who repulses her. Both try to use mythical powers to win the hearts and minds of their ‘true’ love. Liina asks the village witch to help her, a toothless hag who has her own sad story of love to tell. And, Hans makes a snowman which comes to life to disperse advice and wisdom, before melting away as the winter season slowly changes. However, things don’t go according to plan and devastating consequences occur as a result. Can their love survive even the toughest and most barren of places?

The film begins strangely; with shots a snowy landscape, a beautiful frozen river and a wolf roaming around being curious and its surroundings. At first, everything seems peaceful and quiet. Then a strange anthropomorphic creature made out of human hair, metal coils and scythes appears in a barn with a cow, proceeding the steal the cow and fly away before dropping the creature (which remains relatively unharmed). The residents come out (Liina and her father) and seem unfazed by the metal creature, in fact the viewer discovers that Liina’s father made the thing, using a soul he brought from the devil at the crossroads in the forest. If you are confused and frustrated by the film’s opening five minutes, then it is possible that this may not be the film for you. The film’s mystery and intrigue are what capture the viewer’s interest, sucking them into this bleak, and alluring world.

The world in which November is set in feels like it exists outside of reality and time. Indeed, it feels like this films could be set in any time throughout history, is it in the past or a warning of our future to come? The film’s narrative is steadily paced, with the camera taking moments to simply pause and reflect on the landscape. Often feeling like a living embodiment of a fever dream, November will leave many viewers feeling puzzled and perplexed as they try to make sense of what events have taken place on screen with surreal moments like when Liina walks out at night, stripping and performing a magical ritual. Is she a werewolf, or is she somehow controlling Han’s lover? It is worth watching November a few times to fully soak the film’s aesthetics and consume it’s plot, and there is a new experience and reading to be had upon every viewing. It is highly likely that November will become a cult film and one that will be studied and analyzed for years to come. This may be a hard film for some to watch, but it’s a rewarding watch and makes it one of this year’s most unique viewing experiences. 

The film’s lead, Rea Lest is memorizing to watch on screen and the camera seems drawn to her presence.  Her co-stars, Jorgen Liik and Jette Loona Hermanis also give a strong performance. And the film’s supporting cast made up of real oddballs helps to reinforce this strange world that November inhabits. The film’s crisp cinematography by director of photography Mart Taniel makes every shot worthy of being hung in an art gallery, and the film’s score by Polish musician Jacaszek adds to the film’s atmosphere and makes the very hairs on the back of your neck stand up. There really isn’t another film like November out there, and in a world of increasing sequels, and remakes, it is refreshing to watch a film that isn’t afraid to be different and daring.

Bianca’s Rating:

5

REVIEW: Ian (Short)

Directed by: Abel Goldfarb
Written by: Gaston Gorali

Written by Jessica Peña

Inspired by the real life story of Ian, a young boy who was born with cerebral palsy, Abel Goldfarb’s animated short film about the titular boy is a sweet and profound revelation, even for a child’s perspective, where its strength lies. It tells of a boy’s struggle to make friends at the playground, using unique stop-motion animation and CGI to bring Ian’s obstacles, the mobile and emotional, to life. It’s a push for awareness through universal imagery and only invites kindness into the world around it, as portrayed in Ian’s will to connect. Just shy of ten minutes, this endearing short film is of the firm belief that misconceptions and stigmas, especially at a young age, can be diminished in the face of benevolence.

Discrimination to Ian’s incapacitation and bullying keep him at bay when all he wants is to play with the kids in the gated off playground. He musters up the courage to integrate himself with the others, hanging by shyly, until he’s suddenly whisked away into the wind and back through the gates, shattering into little blocks and reforming back to his wheelchair. This happens a few times, Ian will peek the chances to feel normal, be perceived by the kids as such, and play with no limitations, but inclusion doesn’t need to come at a cost to Ian’s identity.

Eventually the kids, one by one, begin to notice him and lend a hand so he can stay without his wheelchair (before getting pulled toward the fences once more), but that’s far from the point of what the animated short is trying to communicate. It’s not exactly Ian’s determined bravery that finally wins the other kids over, but it’s the integration of putting yourself out there and freeing yourself of those doubts, not to be overshadowed. This closely works as a teaching moment for the younger audience as it smoothes out the social divide kids sometimes make around that age. This film means so much more when it comes to the mentality of young children. It’s easy for them to pick sides, brush others off, be occupied with their own matters and games, and so Ian’s ability to socialize and play with his able-bodied peers suffers…but it doesn’t have to. When kids interact and spend time with each other, the companionship is equivalent to acceptance with no barriers.

And speaking of barriers, Goldfarb’s short is without spoken dialogue, a creative decision that welcomes the interpretation of other backgrounds. Produced by Oscar winner and two-time Emmy winner Juan José Campanella, this small story for a better tomorrow brings you down to the bare pillars of humanity, lending a hand of its own to shatter petty judgement worldwide. Lack of knowledge and awareness about the condition even in the country of Argentina raises action for change, backed by an organization that’s willing to plant the effort in.

A 2019 Oscar-qualifier for Animated Short, Ian is doing well to win the hearts of Academy voters and audiences alike. Released from Argentina with the help and funding of companies and nonprofits like Mundoloco CGI and Fundación Ian, an organization that raises awareness and further enriches the lives of children with cerebral palsy, the short film is all-embracing to understanding. In part due to its absence of spoken words, the short emphasizes to the viewers just how far kindness, understanding, and patience can cross the fences of discrimination and bullying, especially in the lives of our children who are so perceptive to these behaviors. The film’s description says it best: Inclusion is vital for our society, it makes us richer, more diverse and more just.

Jessica’s Verdict

5

REVIEW: Mortal Engines (2018)

Directed by: Christian Rivers
Starring: Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Hugo Weaving, Jihae

Written by Elena Morgan

Based on the book by Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines is set in a post-apocalyptic future where in order to survive, whole towns and cities are on wheels, roaming the Earth looking for fuel. Smaller towns are on the constant lookout for predator cities, London being the biggest and deadliest of them all. If a town gets caught, the predator city ingests it and strips it for parts.

What you need from a whole new fantasy film, especially one where not everyone will have read the source material, is to be instantly immersed into this world – Mortal Engines succeeds in this. Opening with a thrilling chase as London pursues and eventually captures a small town, you’re seamlessly introduced to its world, how these towns work, and how its people live. Unbeknownst to London’s hero Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving), on their newly acquired fuel source is Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) a young woman who is hell-bent on revenge for her mother’s murder. After Hester’s attempt to kill Valentine fails, she, along with historian Tom (Robert Sheehan) who had naively tried to help Valentine, are flung from the city and are forced to fend for themselves.

While there are big fights, explosions, and aerial spectacles, it’s Hester and Tom slowly learning to trust and care for one another that’s at the heart of this film. Sheehan’s natural charisma shines through, and his chemistry with Hilmar makes Tom and Hester’s relationship surprisingly sweet. They’re like an odd couple, Tom is friendly and enthused about ancient technology, while Hester is wary and untrusting. Having there be no big-name actors as the heroes, means there is a real sense of peril for these characters as you soon realise anyone might not make it.

The set design and special effects are incredible, these towns and cities feel like living creatures and they each have their own unique style. The same thing can be said for the various flying aircraft as well. The costumes and props flesh out this futuristic world that’s simultaneously old-fashioned with their love of books and need for coal, but also modern with their guns and planes. It’s like steam-punk mixed with sci-fi, making Mortal Engines a world of its own.

Some subplots aren’t that great and never really reach their potential, one in particular concerns Valentine’s daughter (Leila George) and her unlikely ally. They are both interesting characters but once they’ve discovered enough so the audience is aware of what’s happening, they disappear and there’s no real conclusion to their arcs.

Mortal Engines is an action-packed, fun adventure about outlaws attempting to save the world from a greedy capitalist. What more could you want? 

 

ELENA’S VERDICT:

4

REVIEW: Disobedience (2018)

Directed by: Sebastián Lelio
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola

Written by Ryan Morris

There’s a coldness to the core of Disobedience, Sebastián Lelio’s new romantic drama film,  released months ago across the pond but has only just begun screening in a small number of UK cinemas this week. Its colour palette defined by greys and a general muteness, its characters bundled in coats and walking through clouded cities. Lelio seems to want us to fight to reach the heart of his film – a heart that is unquestionably there, just not always in reach. It makes for gripping, ultimately highly satisfying viewing, even if this battle to embrace the film’s emotional side threatens to hold you at a distance until you can break through the surface and revel in the surplus of complex feeling that awaits you underneath.

Rachel Weisz is Ronit Krushka, a New York City photographer called back to London when her father, a Jewish teacher, dies suddenly. Her return to her roots isn’t quite a happy reunion though, as we slowly come to learn than Ronit was shunned from the community for reasons not yet clear. As she reunites with former friend Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) and his wife Esti (Rachel McAdams), we begin to piece together the full story – Ronit and Esti once shared an attraction, a spark the community long thought in the past but very much one that threatens to reignite with their re-immersion into each other’s lives.

Lelio’s script, co-written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz and adapted from Naomi Alderman’s source novel, walks the fine line between preachy and powerful. Disobedience is tackling some weighty subject matter here, concerning itself with themes of religion, sexuality and identity, but the film never makes the mistake of landing as judgemental. It would be easy for Lelio to point the finger at the Jewish community at the core of the film, but he wisely sidesteps the wide-reaching blame in favour of his own characters, resulting in a piece more impassioned than it is accusatory. Ronit and Esti are instantly compelling people, and watching their connection grow from former flames catching eyes in a crowded room to a night of uninterrupted, unmistakeable passion as if the world is theirs and no-one else’s, is both engaging and moving. By avoiding an overwhelming sense of anger or judgment, Lelio finds something notably more personal and microscopic. It’s a relationship that feels lived in, one we desperately want to succeed, even if we know it probably isn’t possible.

This very much comes down to two main factors: the way the film shifts its thematic core as it progresses, and the lead performances from Weisz and McAdams. We’ll start with the former. Disobedience begins on reliable footing, as it pokes into the kind of themes already mentioned here. It quietly establishes the differences in sexuality between Ronit and Esti, exploring them as people within their attraction to each other. It spends time looking at Ronit’s rebuttal of religion, her adamant refusal to conform to what the Jewish community expects of her. It uses these two elements to mark her character, but allows her to be defined by more than that – her determination and her respect for those she cares for are the aspects to her character remember more clearly.

As the film pushes forward, though, Lelio starts to dive deeper into Esti’s marriage with Dovid, finding there a powerful, surprising contemplation on free will and the battle between the lives we ought to lead and the ones we want to. The film tackles such topics in thoughtful ways, dedicating ample time to Esti’s uncertainty rather than posing a simple question and having her confidently resolve it. Sometimes our choices are difficult and sometimes we don’t have all the answers, Disobedience understands this and embraces it. Watching Esti’s struggle here isn’t always easy viewing, especially coupled with a reveal that drops at the end of the second act and threatens to derail both relationships in her life, but it’s persistently riveting in how it portrays her journey. What begins on solid, if familiar, ground has unfolded into something more thematically complex and daring than we perhaps anticipated, and the film is all the richer for it.

Carrying the weight of such dense material are Rachels Weisz and McAdams, both of whom give stunning, deeply felt performances. McAdams is given the quieter role of the two, but she twists this calmness into something bigger than her own character. There’s a history to Esti that McAdams makes us feel, transforming her from victim to empowerment. Weisz has the showier material of the two, mostly due to Ronit’s fiery personality and the circumstances she finds herself in here, but she nonetheless demonstrates control and command. By turns dormant and explosive, Weisz leads from the front and finds a compelling protagonist in Ronit. Both women very clearly feel the burdens of their characters, and both use this to give performances that rank with the best of the year.

That Disobedience succeeds in finding an ending that both refuses to take the easy options and feels entirely satisfying is merely a bonus on top of what is an already rich, complex study of character. It’s perhaps easy to argue that the film lacks the confidence early on that it wears on its sleeve by the end, but this growth can be seen as fundamental to the narrative pathway Disobedience has chosen to charter – it binds itself to its characters and allows itself to reflect what they exude. This is an intelligent romantic drama, with more on its mind than simple “will they / won’t they” dynamics. It’s a story worth telling, told well. You can’t really ask for much more than that.

 

RYAN’S VERDICT:

4