Luca: Disney+ Film Review

Luca

Courtesy of Disney

I haven’t heard that much about Luca and I fear the marketing push hasn’t been as big as other Pixar releases, which is a shame because this movie is a total delight and is a perfect way to get you in the summer mood.

Luca, the shortest Pixar film since Toy Story, is set in 1950s/60s Italy. It follows a sea monster named Luca (voiced by Jacob Tremblay) who makes a friend named Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) and comes to discover that he can take human form on land, just like Alberto. After he learns more about the human way of life on their island, they put their knowledge to the test by going to the seaside fishing town of Portorosso. They both dream of buying a Vespa so they can go off on adventures, and they believe winning the Portorosso Cup – a triathlon involving cycling, swimming and eating pasta – is their way to raise the cash.

A lot of Pixar’s recent releases have been grand, ambitious films which take on big existential themes so in comparison Luca feels very slight and small in scale, but that’s not a negative – it is refreshing to have a more simplistic, grounded isolated story. I’ll always prefer a small story told very well than a big one that’s bitten off more than it can chew.

I wasn’t completely sold on the story at first; I didn’t think this sea monster tale would really hook me in, but I was soon won over by the characters and this lovely coming-of-age story. And somewhere along the line I became so invested in this story of young male friendship that I surprised myself by crying at the end! Who knew this film would be so moving?! And it was also so much funnier than I expected it to be and made me properly laugh out loud several times (most of them being because of the cat).

Tremblay was well cast as the young, naive and timid Luca, I liked Grazer as the confident and more experienced Alberto, who takes him under his wing, as well as Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan as Luca’s overprotective parents, but my favourites were Emma Berman as Giulia, she has so much personality and sass, and Saverio Raimondo as Ercole, the slimy antagonist, sea monster hunter and reigning Portorosso Cup champ.

I use the word “lovely” far too often in reviews but it really is the best word to sum up Luca. It tells a charming story about acceptance and how people are scared by what they don’t know/people who are different. The visuals are as gorgeous as you’d expect from a Pixar film and will make you want to go on holiday to Italy. It’s a shame that it’s going on Disney+ as I would have loved to see this on the big screen. I’m ready to see it again!

On Disney+ from Friday 18th June

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard: Film Review

The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard

Courtesy of Lionsgate

I didn’t have particularly high hopes for The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard because of A) the hideous title and B) the first one not being very good, so I wasn’t all that surprised when it turned out be pretty naff.

Following on from the events of the 2017 movie, this sequel begins with Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) coming to terms with losing his AAA security licence and taking a much-needed break, but his peace is interrupted by con woman Sonia Kincaid (Salma Hayek) who tracks him down and asks for his help rescuing her husband, hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), who has been taken by mobsters. However, they are all captured by Interpol agent Bobby O’Neill (Frank Grillo), who forces them to take down shipping tycoon Aristotle Papadopoulus (Antonio Banderas), a criminal mastermind planning to destroy the European power grid.

If you saw the first movie, which was loud, over-the-top and all over the place, then you have a good idea of what to expect from this instalment – it’s basically more of the same but with Hayek in a leading role instead of a minor one like before. It is brash, violent, messy and excessive, with director Patrick Hughes trying to cram in as many shootouts, explosions, and swearing as possible into this movie. It’s like he just decided to go for quantity over quality and threw in every idea.

You don’t really need to pay much attention to the plot because it’s incredibly silly, cliched and lazy and just a basic framework on which to hang all the yelling, insults, profanity and action sequences. It feels like the producers didn’t really have a story for the sequel so just cobbled together something so they could fulfil the requirements of “Guns! Action! Swearing! Explosions!” We’re somehow expected to believe that Aristotle wants to destroy the grid and data centre in retaliation for the European Union imposing sanctions on Greece. Errr, OK?! That seems a bit extreme. Plus, Banderas neither looks or sounds remotely Greek.

Not all the comedy works and that’s largely down to the weak script and the fact it relies too heavily on the belief that people yelling expletives at each other is funny. It can be on occasion and it made me laugh a few times (mostly in the beginning), but the novelty wears off quickly.

Reynolds carries the movie and does exactly what you’d expect Reynolds to do in a Reynolds film considering his performances are the same in everything. He is the funniest member of the cast, possibly because his brand of humour is different to his co-stars – he doesn’t rely on profanity or yelling – and he has brilliant reaction faces.

Hayek made me laugh a fair bit too but her character is just so loud and brash and OTT. However, I will praise her for throwing her all into the part, which is more than can be said for Jackson, who phones it in. I found it bizarre that Banderas was cast as a Greek character but I loved his outfits and he was suitably camp. Morgan Freeman makes a small appearance for comedy purposes but otherwise doesn’t make much of an impact. I was excited to see how Richard E. Grant, who is in the first film, would appear in this follow-up and his cameo is ridiculously brief.

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is lazy, cliched and filled with stereotypical one-note characters and action sequences that are edited in a messy way. Admittedly, it doesn’t take itself seriously or pretend to be anything more than it is – a mindless popcorn flick – so remember to switch your brain off at the door.

In cinemas now

Rating: 2 out of 5.

In the Heights: Film Review

In the Heights

I love movie musicals and I loved the stage production of In the Heights very much so I went into this film adaptation with the highest of hopes and I’m sad to report that I wasn’t as dazzled by it as everybody else.

Based on the musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegria Hudes, In the Heights tells the story of a close-knit community of predominantly Latinx people in the Washington Heights district of New York City. The film is centred around Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), a bodega owner who dreams of returning home to the Dominican Republic and opening a bar on the beach, like his father, while we also follow his love interest Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), who dreams of being a fashion designer, Nina (Leslie Grace), who returns home after dropping out of Stanford University, and Benny (Corey Hawkins), who works at the dispatch office for a car service and hopes to get back together with Nina.

There are a lot of reasons to praise In the Heights. Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu has delivered an ambitious, vibrant and entertaining musical celebration of life, heritage and community, filmed within the hustle and bustle of the neighbourhood itself. It is extremely loyal to the stage production – which is to be expected given that Hudes adapted the screenplay and Miranda is a producer and actor (he’s the Piragua guy) – it is full of life, has some laugh out loud moments, is a huge step forward for Latinx representation on film, and focuses on the immigrant experience and the struggles Latinx people face in America trying to achieve their dreams.

I’m a sucker for a musical and normally seeing all-singing and all-dancing sequences make me want to burst with sheer joy. Admittedly, this is a high expectation to have but I didn’t experience that feeling watching them in this. This should be very much my s**t, so why wasn’t I as blown away as everybody else seems to be? I can think of a couple of reasons – the choreography didn’t pop or jump off the screen like it should, a lot of the songs aren’t catchy earworms and some just singing numbers felt a bit dull.

Getting more specific, my standout musical number was 96,000, which is set at a pool. The song is excellent, it looked amazing and there were some great pockets of choreography but they were too short, I wanted a longer focus on choreography here, especially synchronised swimming, but Chu kept cutting away from the group shots to individual ones. I also enjoyed a sequence at Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega)’s salon, it was a lot of fun and there were some genius creative flourishes. Every shot of everybody dancing in the street would have been more epic if the shots were held for longer. Everyone dancing in unison is the best!

Elsewhere on the criticism, some of the Spanish is subtitled and some isn’t, which I thought was strange, I wasn’t too keen on the surreal elements – the giant rolls of fabric falling from the sky seemed cool because it worked with Vanessa’s song but I didn’t enjoy the dancing on the walls sequence, perhaps because the execution was off. I also thought the film itself was too long, there was a section near the end where the momentum dipped, but Chu brought it back for an amazing heartwarming finale – and make sure you stay for the post-credits scene.

I’m really glad Chu and Miranda defied studio pressure and opted against casting a big A-list star in this. It works so much better with a cast of relative unknowns. Ramos – who starred in Miranda’s Hamilton – is warm and charming as Usnavi and his rapping is excellent. Barrera and Grace have gorgeous singing voices, look stunning and bring such emotion to their characters and I hope this launches big acting careers for them. My other favourites were Gregory Diaz IV as Usnavi’s comical cousin Sonny; Rubin-Vega, Stephanie Beatriz and Dasha Polanco as the sassy larger-than-life hair stylists at the salon; and Olga Merediz as the caring Abuela Claudia (the role she originated in the Broadway show). On the flipside, Marc Anthony has essentially a cameo as Sonny’s dad and I didn’t buy him as this washed-up alcoholic at all.

This sounds as if I disliked In the Heights but I’m just being super critical as musicals are my thing. I am in the minority having negative thoughts about this movie – the vast majority love it and think it’s spectacular, and you may well too. That wasn’t my experience – it didn’t make me feel much at all. Regardless of that, I’m glad they delayed this musical because it very much deserves to be seen on the big screen.

In cinemas Friday 18th June

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Shiva Baby: Film Review

Shiva Baby

Courtesy of MUBI

I have been reading praise for Shiva Baby for months on Twitter so I couldn’t resist seeing what all the fuss was about and everyone is right – this film is awesome.

The film follows Danielle (Rachel Sennott), a bisexual Jewish college student who attends a Shiva (a service after a funeral) with her parents Debbie and Joel (Polly Draper and Fred Melamed) and runs into her sugar daddy Max (Danny Deferarri).

I don’t want to give away any more of the plot because I think it’s best enjoyed if you go into this cold and have no idea what’s going to come but suffice to say, poor Danielle is put through the ringer. There’s just one thing after another, it’s pretty relentless, and the tension builds and builds until it becomes almost too much to bear. She has to deal with an incredibly overbearing family and face a barrage of questions about her weight, her studies, her plans for the future and if she’s eating. It’s a stress and anxiety-inducing watch that’s claustrophobic as hell.

Writer/director Emma Seligman, making an impressive feature directorial debut, has written a fantastic screenplay – the dialogue is smart and witty and I love how she just piles the developments on and on and crafts such a suffocating environment that you can’t wait for Danielle to get out of there and find some space to breathe for a second. The film is only 77 minutes long and it whips by at a brisk pace so it never outstays its welcome.

She also employs a dominant string score that wouldn’t be out of place in a horror movie. It helps add tension and it builds and builds and becomes more in the foreground as Danielle gets increasingly more stressed out.

Sennott, who reprises her role from the 2018 short film this expands upon, is terrific. You can just feel the anxiety radiating off of her and there are so many super close-ups of her horrified, sweaty face. She has convincing chemistry with Molly Gordon as her ex Maya, who has a better idea of the direction her life is going in. Then there’s also Dianna Agron, who is perfectly cast as Max’s flawless and successful wife Kim, and my favourite – Draper as Danielle’s mum. She was hilarious and made me laugh out loud the most.

Everything you’ve heard about Shiva Baby is true – it is one of the most stress-inducing comedies I have ever seen. Bravo to Seligman!

Streaming on MUBI from Friday 11th June

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Father: Film Review

The Father

While most people were shocked by Anthony Hopkins’ Best Actor win back in April, I was thrilled because I had been campaigning for him to win for his heartbreaking performance in The Father since I saw it earlier this year.

The Father, co-written and directed by Florian Zeller from his 2012 play La Pere, tells the story of Anthony (Hopkins) and his battle with dementia and shows his daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) struggling to figure out what the best course of action is with his care.

I went in expecting The Father to be a fairly conventional two-hander where it’s just two people talking in a room and thought it would be a powerful but generic drama about ageing. How wrong I was! Zeller manages to place the audience in the shoes of Anthony and show us what it’s like to be losing your grip on your own mind. It’s incredibly clever but absolutely unnerving, particularly in the beginning when you don’t know what’s going on. Just like Anthony, I struggled to figure out what was real and what was not, what the facts of the story really were, and which actors were the true Anne and the true version of her partner Paul (Rufus Sewell). It was confusing and it was incredibly frustrating and exasperating – which is exactly how we are supposed to feel. The film forces us to see things from Anthony’s perspective, get into his mindset, and it makes it all the more heartwrenching. Normally my confusion would put me off a film but I could understand and appreciate the point Zeller was trying to make so it didn’t on this occasion.

With the narrative being so tricky to make sense of, the film really needed to be anchored by solid performances and it certainly is. Hopkins runs the gamut of emotions as Anthony – he is angry, cruel, confused, frustrated, vulnerable, giddy with joy, and switched on – and he threw himself into the part and sold all those personality switches completely. I don’t want to ruin anything but his final scene is one of the most heartbreaking and devastating pieces of acting I’ve seen in ages and it brought me to tears. What a terrific performance. He truly deserved his win.

Colman was nominated for her supporting performance here and you can see why – Anne is really struggling to know what to do with her dad. She doesn’t want to put him in a home but he cannot look after himself and he’s been driving his carers away by being so nasty. Looking after someone with dementia is a tough, tiring task and yet she shoulders the responsibility, even when he is mean to her. You can see she has the weight of the world on her shoulders and your heart breaks for her too. She is the emotional heart of the piece. They have great support from Sewell as Anne’s partner, who is desperate to put her dad in a home, Imogen Poots as his sweet but often accidentally condescending carer, and Mark Gatiss and Olivia Williams as the random confusing characters (which make sense at the end).

Most of the time you can really tell when a film is based on a play but The Father was less obvious because it is so dynamic. The flat – the film’s primary location – changes a lot to reflect Anthony’s mindset, time doesn’t feel linear, and scenes are replayed with some differences, from what’s said, who is talking, what they’re wearing etc.

There was so much more to this than I was expecting – it blew me away! It is the most empathetic portrayal of dementia I’ve ever seen, without a doubt. Wow.

In U.K. cinemas from Friday 11th June

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Nobody: Film Review

Nobody

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

I didn’t have the greatest of expectations for Nobody, I thought it was going to be some cheap John Wick knock-off with an odd choice of action star but I take it all back because in reality it was great fun.

Bob Odenkirk leads the movie as Hutch Mansell, a seemingly ordinary man with a wife, Rebecca (Connie Nielsen), two kids and an unremarkable 9-5 job and seems to be going through the motions of his monotonous life on autopilot. One day, he intervenes when a young woman gets harassed by a group of men on a bus – but these weren’t random drunken louts, they’re connected to Russian Mob boss Yulian (Aleksei Serebryakov), who now wants revenge and has Hutch in his sights.

Nobody is basically a lighter and more fun version of John Wick – it’s even written by John Wick creator Derek Kolstad. It doesn’t take itself seriously and there are plenty of absurd, tongue-in-cheek moments that made me laugh out loud to go along with the brutal, visceral action sequences. There are plenty of these – the standouts being the aforementioned bus sequence and the finale – so fans of John Wick will get their action fix as well as a big dollop of comedy.

The reason for Hutch coming into Yulian’s crosshairs was quite tenuous and the storyline itself is rather far-fetched and ridiculous but you’ve just got to embrace it and roll with it to maximise your enjoyment. There some great pieces of dialogue in the script, some excellent use of music and the editing towards the beginning was top tier.

Odenkirk, best known as lawyer Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, is not who you would expect to be the star of an action movie but that’s the whole point. Hutch is supposed to be this physically unassuming, nice and ordinary guy who blends in with everybody else and Hutch has played this part for years until he is pushed into taking action and utilising his special skills. He may be an unlikely action hero, but Odenkirk looked very capable and convincing in the fight sequences so hats off to him for going for such an unexpected and physically demanding role.

As good as Odenkirk is, he is often outshone by Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown!) who is the star of the show as Hutch’s dad, a former FBI agent. At 82, he has an unexpectedly kickass role that is just a joy to watch. It seems like there are going to be more of these films so he best be back, same for RZA as Hutch’s half-brother Harry. Nielsen had very little to do so I hope she gets an upgrade next time.

Nobody was a pleasant surprise – adjust your expectations accordingly.

In cinemas from Wednesday 9th June

Rating: 4 out of 5.

After Love: Film Review

After Love

Courtesy of BFI

Perhaps I had been living under a rock but I hadn’t heard much about After Love – despite it showing at last year’s London Film Festival – but I decided to give it a go and I’m glad I did.

The film tells the story of Mary Hussain (Joanna Scanlan), who converted to Islam when she married her teenage sweetheart Ahmed (Nasser Memarzia), who works on the Dover to Calais ferry. When Ahmed suddenly dies, Mary’s grief is compounded by the discovery that he had another woman in Calais. With curiosity getting the better of her, Mary goes to France to confront this other woman, Genevieve (Nathalie Richard), but their meeting doesn’t go quite how she planned.

Aleem Khan, who also directs, has written a powerful story about two women who have loved the same man for years finally meeting each other. You think you know how it’s going to go but it throws a curveball and goes down an unexpected avenue, making it all the more interesting. The two women are very well written, their journey together is compelling and I really appreciated how the narrative played out.

Although the screenplay is already good, the performances make it even better. Scanlan’s Mary is quite a quiet person but all the grief, anger and betrayal she is feeling is just bubbling below the surface. She says so much with her face and you can’t help but feel sorry for her. And you can’t simply write Genevieve off as the other woman either – it’s more complicated than that and she has more substance. She’s a fully realised woman too and Richard is also brilliant, particularly towards the end. The main cast is rounded out by Genevieve’s teenage son Solomon, played very well by Talid Ariss

After Love really delivers an impactful emotional story and I highly recommend.

In cinemas from Friday 4th June

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dream Horse: Film Review

Dream Horse

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

I love Toni Collette and will watch her in anything so even though I wasn’t super keen on Dream Horse, I gave it a whirl and had a great time.

Dream Horse, based on a true story, follows Jan Vokes (Collette), a Welsh supermarket assistant and barmaid who is pretty fed up with her small town life now her kids have flown the nest and she has to work two jobs while her husband Brian (Owen Teale) sits in front of the TV all day. After doing her research, she decides to buy a mare and breed a racehorse, despite having no experience. It’s a prohibitively expensive venture so they set up a syndicate with the help of Howard (Damian Lewis) so they can raise the funds to get Dream Alliance proper training to help him compete in the big leagues.

Dream Horse is a lovely, uplifting watch that your mum would probably love. I can imagine this doing very well on a Sunday afternoon on the TV. That’s not to say the quality isn’t good, but it’s a conventional horseracing drama that feels perfectly suited to that time slot.

You know the ending of a film like this before you even begun, they’re always so predictable, but it’s still comforting to watch it happen, even if you called it a mile off. This film hits all the beats you would expect and doesn’t do anything particularly new or original with the horseracing/general sports competition genre but the journey is still very watchable and heartwarming.

The film isn’t just about the horse and its racing talents – it also shows what a positive impact Dream Alliance has on the community and members of the syndicate, particularly Jan, Brian and Howard. The horse brings hope and excitement into their lives, makes them re-evaluate what they want out of life and helps Brian and Jan feel like a team again.

Collette does a good job playing the likeable, strong-willed and determined Jan, who becomes very emotionally attached to Dream and tries to do what she thinks is best for him, no matter what the rest of the syndicate think. Her Welsh accent was pretty convincing, as was Lewis’, who provides solid support. I cannot believe how much Teale looks like the real Brian! Incredible piece of casting.

Dream Horse is a predictable yet winning film that is sure to lift your spirits and put a smile on your face.

In cinemas Friday 4th June

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Land: Film Review

Land

Daniel Power / Focus Features

I’ve always rated Robin Wright as an actress so I was keen to see how she fared behind the camera and I thought her feature directorial debut Land told a beautiful and moving story.

Following a horrific tragedy, a bereaved woman named Edee (Wright) buys a remote mountainside cabin in the middle of the Wyoming wilderness and gets rid of her phone and car so she is completely off the grid and isolated from the world. She has no experience of that life – she can’t chop wood, catch a fish or hunt – so she struggles to survive out there, until local hunter Miguel (Demian Bichir) comes to her rescue, offers her friendship and helps her cope with her grief.

I loved the narrative and the journey Edee goes on over the course of the movie. She starts off not seeing the point of living following her profound loss and initially refuses to let herself become friends with Miguel, insisting she doesn’t want to be around people, but she grows to enjoy his company, connect with others, address her grief and feel like life is worth living again.

Despite the film only being 89 minutes, it still feels quite slow, but that’s because we spend a large portion of the movie just watching Edee on her own trying to survive out in the woods and there’s no dialogue to latch onto. It’s never boring though and I was still captivated. I had no concept of time with this film so I couldn’t figure out how long she was supposed to be on her own for, but it was a welcome change of pace when Miguel arrived and offered up some much-needed conversation, companionship, wilderness survival tutorials and ’80s singalongs.

The location of Edee’s cabin – which was actually shot in Alberta, Canada – is absolutely stunning. The landscapes are gorgeous and the cinematography is breath-taking. It actually made me want to go there (but only in the summertime).

I’m usually a person who dislikes having very little information about a character. I like to know as many details as possible. We have a couple of flashbacks with Edee and her sister Emma (Kim Dickens) and we have enough nuggets to guess what happened, but that’s about it. However, on this occasion, I liked that Edee’s backstory was withheld until the end of the film – holding it back delivered more of an emotional gut-punch and it made the ending much more poignant.

Wright delivers an emotionally raw performance and was a compelling presence onscreen throughout. Edee is cold and unfriendly and Bichir’s Miguel offers a good contrast – he is kind, warm and lovely – and I liked watching their friendship develop and him tearing down the walls she’d built around herself.

If you can’t tell from all that praise, I was a big fan of Land and I recommend checking it out.

In cinemas from Friday 4th June

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

June in film: My recommendations

In the Heights

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

The cinemas are back open and there’s lots of exciting releases coming up this month!

So without further ado, here are my top recommendations for June (released in cinemas unless stated otherwise):

A Quiet Place Part II

Emily Blunt, Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds are back for more in this sequel to the amazing 2018 horror. This one continues right where that first film finishes off and follows the Abbott family as they try to find a new home. Expect more jumps and plenty of unsettling tension as they encounter the monsters, which hunt by sound. My review is already live, check it out here. Released: 3rd June.

The Father

This release is supremely delayed but you’ll finally be able to find out why Anthony Hopkins well and truly deserved his Best Actor Oscar win! His performance as a man suffering from dementia is absolutely devastating and if the final 10 minutes don’t reduce you to tears then you have a heart of stone! This film is clever and deliberately disorientating to put us in the shoes of somebody with dementia. Can’t recommend enough. Here’s my review. Released: 11th June.

In the Heights

I loved Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s stage musical so I’m very excited about the movie adaptation, directed by Crazy Rich Asians’ Jon M. Chu! This film tells the story of different characters living in the Washington Heights neighbourhood of New York City, and judging by the trailer, I’m going to love every second of it. Cannot wait to see all the singing and dancing on the big screen! Released: 18th June.

Luca

I always expect a very high standard from Pixar’s films and so I have high hopes for Luca, an animation based in 1950s Italy. It tells the story of best friends Luca and Alberto who are both hiding a secret – they’re sea monsters! It looks so good! Released on Disney+ (with no premium fee): 18th June.

F9

The ninth instalment in the Fast and Furious franchise looks set to be the most ridiculous one yet! But wouldn’t you be disappointed if they went for realism instead of defying the laws of physics?! Blockbusters are certainly back in business. Newcomer John Cena joins the franchise as Vin Diesel‘s onscreen brother and nemesis. Released: 24th June.

Supernova

Now for something a little different. This lovely drama stars Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci as Sam and Tusker, a couple who go on a trip in an RV to visit their favourite spots and people before Tusker deteriorates further in his battle with dementia. Two dementia films in one month! I saw this at the London Film Festival and cried so I’d definitely recommend tissues for this one. Here’s my LFF review. Released: 25th June.

There are other honourable mentions coming up, including Dream Horse, In the Earth, Land, Shiva Baby, Nobody, and The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.