Mogul Mowgli: Film Review

I’m a huge fan of Riz Ahmed so I couldn’t resist checking out his latest movie Mogul Mowgli, and while his performance blew me away, I wasn’t particularly taken with the movie.

Ahmed plays British-Pakistani rapper Zed, who has been living in New York for some time and is on the brink of a major break in his career. He goes home to see his parents in London for the first time in two years ahead of an upcoming tour. Out of nowhere, he collapses and awakes in the hospital to discover he has an autoimmune disease.

Mogul Mowgli is a fantastic showcase for Ahmed’s talents. Not only does he give a deeply personal, emotionally raw performance, but he also throws himself into the part physically, with him convincingly looking like he’s wasting away and losing control over his body. If that wasn’t enough, the film also shines a spotlight on his incredible rapping skills and his ability to create well-observed, pointed, and politically-charged lyrics. I was aware of his rapping talent as I’d watched a few of his music videos as Riz MC but seeing them in the context of a film made such a difference. The film really excels with the rap scenes and I wish there had been more.

Unfortunately, the film as a whole didn’t quite come together for me. It was very watchable and I enjoyed the main narrative, but the dream-like, surreal, hallucinatory moments just didn’t work for me. I know that they had a purpose and were designed to show Zed exploring his identity and reconnecting with his roots, but there were too many and they distracted from the main event. I also felt like the story could have been fleshed out a little more and I wanted it to dig deeper into the characters.

The film, which Ahmed wrote with director Bassam Tariq, is ambitious and very personal and I could appreciate the themes it was trying to explore but it was a bit too indie and quirky for my liking.

Available to watch on BFI Player and Curzon Home Cinema on Friday 6th November

Rating: 3 out of 5.

His House: Netflix Film Review

His House

Prepare to be scared by Netflix’s His House, a haunted house story like you’ve never seen before.

The horror stars Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku as Bol and Rial, a young refugee couple who make a harrowing escape from war-torn South Sudan and seek asylum in England. After spending time in a detention centre, they are allocated a house in a non-descript town and given a demanding set of rules to live by. Bol and Rial are thrilled to be able to start a new life and have a new home – until they realise it’s not quite the idyllic dream they were hoping for as it is haunted by ghosts from their past.

I love that writer/director Remi Weekes has used a haunted house horror story as a way to tell a story about these young immigrants, how they are treated in their new town, and the super restrictive rules they must follow when given accommodation. I had no idea about these details or how the process worked so I found the film very enlightening for that reason.

It is also scary too. I’m pretty easily spooked when it comes to haunted house films – a door opening by itself will do it for me – so this was very effective. I basically grew tense every time night rolled around in the film because I knew the ghosts were going to come out again! Some of them are pretty terrifying visually.

The revelation towards the end was very powerful and changes the game regarding your understanding of the movie and the characters, so I was a big fan of that, but there were some scenes as it neared the finale that were a bit more surreal and I didn’t fully understand them so it lost me a bit.

The lead actors are terrific, particularly Dirisu, as he has the most emotionally and physically demanding role. He really gets put through the wringer! Mosaku, who I’ve recently been watching in Lovecraft Country, seems more calm and collected, but really comes into her own towards the end. Matt Smith also pops up and puts on his best common accent as their caseworker.

Despite the little niggle about the ending, His House is a chilling original haunted house horror that provides powerful insight into the world of asylum seekers.

Available on Netflix from Friday 30th October

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Burnt Orange Heresy: Film Review

The Burnt Orange Heresy

I was sad I missed seeing The Burnt Orange Heresy at the Venice Film Festival last year but now it’s finally coming to UK cinemas – and it was worth the wait. 

The crime thriller stars Claes Bang as James Figueras, a shady Milan-based art critic who takes his new American love interest Berenice (Elizabeth Debicki) to the estate of wealthy British art dealer Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger). Cassidy essentially blackmails Figueras into stealing a painting from the reclusive and enigmatic artist Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland), who is currently living in a cabin on his estate. 

The Burnt Orange Heresy is quite the slow burner and only really becomes a thriller in the final 20-30 minutes when the film takes an interesting and unexpected turn and becomes super exciting. Up until then, it pods along nicely as an intriguing art world drama, with many well-written conversations, but rest assured, your patience will be rewarded by a heart-pounding and gripping finale. 

That’s not to say the majority of the film is boring at all. I was captivated right away by Bang’s charm and charisma and his speech about “the power of the critic” and I was intrigued to find out more about him and watch how his newfound relationship with Berenice would pan out. Somewhere in the middle, I wondered if it was going to go anywhere or get going anytime soon – but thankfully it does and I was left very satisfied by the thrilling showdown. 

I just wish I got to know the characters more though. Debney is supposed to be the only enigmatic one, yet all of them are basically a mystery and seem to have darkness that is simmering just under the surface and never explored. I wanted the film to delve more into Figueras’ pill-popping, his possible involvement in a forgery, and likely financial problems. Berenice keeps her cards quite close to her chest and I wanted to know more about her previous life in America too. 

Like I mentioned above, Bang’s charm drew me into this movie immediately and he was a captivating lead. I thought he was well matched with Debicki who plays a character you can’t quite work out. Sutherland was excellent in his brief appearance as Debney, and Jagger was just well, Mick Jagger. He had great swagger and energy but I can’t actually believe him as another character, it’s impossible! 

The Burnt Orange Heresy takes a while to get going but trust me, your patience will pay off in the end. Gripping stuff. 

In cinemas from Friday 30th October 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Relic: Film Review

Relic

My oh my, this year’s Halloween-timed horror offerings are just next level – first, we had Saint Maud, and now I can add Relic, another first feature by a female director, to the list.

The film follows Kay (Emily Mortimer) and her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) as they travel to their remote family home as Kay’s mother Edna (Robyn Nevin), who suffers from dementia, has gone missing. When Edna returns home like nothing has happened, the relief is short-lived as it soon appears something is wrong with her – she is convinced someone has been getting into the house and is trying to get her – while the house seems to be decaying, with noises coming from inside the walls and black mould spreading across their surfaces.

I’m not going to lie, I spent a good chunk of Relic watching it through my hands. I dread to think how I would have coped if LFF has been in the cinema! Natalie Erika James does a fantastic job of building the tension to the point where my heart was pounding in my chest and I was holding my breath.

It begins as a standard family drama – though it’s clear something isn’t right – as Kay and Sam believe Edna’s dementia is the explanation for these weird goings-on, and then James unsettles us with the creepiness, scares, and sense of foreboding before hitting us with the gruesome body horror and truly horrifying visuals and finishing off with an unexpected and weird twist. Certain images kept replaying in my mind as I tried to sleep last night.

I like how the story develops and how Kay and Sam (and us) find out new information as well as the fact that the two main ladies aren’t just scream queens – they are substantial characters who are also locked in a debate over whether Edna is fit to live at home by herself anymore. Mortimer, who adopts a convincing Australian accent for her role, and Heathcote give understated, natural performances at the start, as they don’t believe anything supernatural is happening, but they go into full panic mode when the s**t hits the fan.

Relic whips along and doesn’t outstay its welcome, being around 90 minutes long. It left me with so many questions and usually I find this frustrating but the mystery meant the film lingered with me long after the credits rolled. Genuinely terrifying stuff.

In cinemas from Friday 30th October

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Shirley: Film Review

Shirley

I had been looking forward to seeing Shirley for months, basically since its U.S. release back in June, because I was intrigued to see Elisabeth Moss play reclusive author Shirley Jackson, but I didn’t love the story this movie told.

This biographical drama, based on the novel of the same name by Susan Scarf Merrell, begins with the arrival of newly married couple Fred (Logan Lerman) and Rosie (Odessa Young). Fred is beginning a new job at Bennington College, where Shirley’s husband Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a professor, and they have been offered a place to stay at their home while they find their feet. It sounds like a nice gesture at first but it soon becomes a nightmare for the couple as Shirley and Stanley take great pleasure in bringing them down and causing tension within their marriage.

I wasn’t a huge fan of Josephine Decker‘s previous movie Madeline’s Madeline because it was so experimental and weird but I had high hopes for Shirley as I assumed it would be more grounded in realism, given that it’s a biographical drama. And it is, to a degree, but it’s still a bit odd in places, especially in scenes of Shirley writing or thinking about a missing college girl named Paula, the subject of her latest novel.

I would have preferred a straight-up biopic about the famed author of The Haunting of Hill House. The novel and this film adaptation are a work of fiction but use many actual details from Shirley’s life, such as her heavy smoking, bouts of depression and agoraphobia, and acceptance of Stanley’s infidelity, so I found those aspects enlightening and interesting, but I thought too much attention was placed on Rosie and at one point, she felt like the centrepiece of the movie.

Moss always gives her performances 100% and I cannot fault her commitment to this mean-spirited part, while Stuhlbarg is perfectly cast as the self-important literary academic who loves the sound of his own voice. They both elevate the material and make it far more compelling than it should have been. Young was excellent as Rosie, who becomes increasingly unhappy in her marriage, and Lerman has the smallest role but doesn’t let the team down. I enjoyed watching their conversations around the dinner table – the dialogue in those scenes was very well written – but the film loses its way when it focuses too much on Shirley and Rosie’s burgeoning friendship/romance.

I don’t really know what I was expecting from Shirley but this wasn’t it. I still liked many aspects of it, like the performances and the dialogue, but the story didn’t satisfy me at all.

Seen as part of the London Film Festival. In cinemas from Friday 30th October

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Wolfwalkers: Film Review

Wolfwalkers

Given the current climate, there haven’t been many animations released this year so far, or any particularly good ones (I was fond of Onward, just FYI), so Wolfwalkers couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Not only does it give us a much-needed animation fix, it also tells a terrific story.

Wolfwalkers follows Robyn Goodfellowe (Honor Kneafsey), a young English girl who relocates to Ireland with her father Bill (Sean Bean) as he’s been hired to be the Lord Protector’s hunter and to trap all the wolves in the nearby forest. Robyn, who fancies herself as a hunter too, does her own exploring in the woods and befriends Mebh (Eva Whittaker), who is part of a mysterious and feared tribe called Wolfwalkers, who can transform into wolves when they sleep.

It’s rare to see a classic 2D hand-drawn animation in today’s CGI-reliant world, so I was a big fan of the film’s look. It is refreshing, beautiful to look at, and the team at Cartoon Saloon must have an amazing imagination to conjure up certain imagery. I was so impressed by how they brought particular moments to life.

I liked the story enough at first, it seemed like a cool enough idea, but there is a moment in this when things level up and get really interesting and then I was gripped, wondering how it was all going to pan out. It goes from being very good to excellent. There’s drama, there’s laughs, and there’s plenty of action.

The two newcomers are perfectly cast as the lead characters, while I couldn’t imagine anyone else voicing Bean’s role, it was like it was made for him. I also thought Simon McBurney had the most spot-on voice for the Lord Protector.

If you feel comfortable going to a cinema, I can promise that you and your children (if you have them) will both get a lot of pleasure out of Wolfwalkers. It is very entertaining and has a strong story and visuals to boot.

In selected cinemas now and on Apple TV+ from 11th December

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Witches: Film Review

The Witches

Nicolas Roeg terrified a generation of children with his 1990 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic The Witches, starring Anjelica Huston as the Grand High Witch, and now Robert Zemeckis has attempted to put a fresh spin on it with this new remake.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, it goes a little something like this – a young orphaned boy (Jahzir Bruno) and his grandma (Octavia Spencer) check into a hotel in Alabama in the 1960s for a little break. Around the same time, witches arrive at the hotel for a convention during which the Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway) announces her plans to rid the world of children – she has developed a formula which can turn them into mice.

Roeg’s 1990 version of The Witches was grotesque, horrifying, and super scary for children who watched it back in the day. However, I was not one of those children. I watched for the first time last week in preparation for this release and I’m confident it would have given me nightmares as a child, as the Grand High Witch’s prosthetic-heavy transformation was still pretty gross, even to me, as an adult watching today. But anyway, my point is that I can be more unbiased as I have no emotional connection or feelings of nostalgia towards it and believe it’s quite a flawed film.

Zemeckis has clearly tried to make his remake less horrifyingly scary, which means that it loses the edginess which made the original so popular. And that would have been fine if it was able to conjure up the magic elsewhere but it just falls quite flat and it feels like something is missing. Although some scary moments have been dropped and the prosthetics have replaced by CGI, The Witches will still terrify children, particularly with Hathaway’s wide-grinned, sharp-toothed transformation and steely, creepy glare. Be warned parents: the Grand High Witch may still give your kids nightmares, but it’s not scary enough to affect adults.

Hathaway deserves a lot of praise for her performance. It’s a tough job following in Huston’s footsteps but she steps up to the challenge. She really throws her all into the role and is incredibly creepy, although it’s a shame the scariest parts of her transformation are realised through CGI. It just meant her big moment – the convention’s opening speech – is nowhere near as disturbing or affecting as Huston’s. Spencer also does well as the lovable grandma befriending CGI mice, while Stanley Tucci is wasted as the hotel manager. Chris Rock‘s narration didn’t completely work for me, but he brought great enthusiasm to the voice role and I liked how it made sense at the end.

The Witches remake may not capture the magic of the original, but it is sure to scare kids regardless. It’s rated PG but consider yourselves warned!

The Witches is available to rent from Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, Microsoft Store, Sky Store, and Google Play from Monday 26th October.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Summer of 85: Film Review

Summer of 85

Francois Ozon‘s latest feature, Summer of 85, tells the story of a short-lived gay romance and is a sun-soaked hit of nostalgia.

The film begins with Alex (Felix Lefebvre) in police custody for reasons which are unclear. The story then jumps back to the beginning of that summer, with him narrating the tale for the audience. His story begins in earnest when the dinghy he is sailing almost capsizes. Thankfully, he is rescued by fellow sailor David (Benjamin Voisin) and they subsequently embark on a whirlwind romance, which is complicated by the arrival of British au pair Kate (Philippine Velge).

At first, I expected Summer of 85 to be your run-of-the-mill gay romance story – and I enjoyed watching Alex and David’s blossoming relationship – but there is an unexpected twist which makes the film take on a much darker, serious tone. I enjoyed it less from that point on because it felt melodramatic, over-the-top, and quite soapy, which is a real shame because I had been really into it up until that moment.

Lefebvre is gorgeous and captivates as the naive Alex, high on his first love, while Voisin brings the charm as the more fun, carefree and dominant half of the pair. Velge did well sounding like a British person trying to speak French, and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi was the star of the show as David’s mother Mme Gorman.

I loved many things about Summer of 85, such as the casting, the music, and the ’80s period outfits, but I felt let down by the latter half of the story.

In selected cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday 23rd October

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Film Review

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Sacha Baron Cohen claimed years ago that he had retired his Kazakh reporter character Borat, but if there was ever a good time to bring him back, it’s in this crazy 2020 we’re having.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, or to go by its full title: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan – is set 14 years after the events of the 2006 original comedy mockumentary. Borat’s first film has brought shame on Kazakhstan and to make amends, he is tasked with going back to America and delivering Johnny the Monkey, a local superstar, to political leaders to help rebuild their diplomatic relationship. However, Borat’s daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova) takes the monkey’s place without Borat’s knowledge so he decides to gift her to the leaders instead. But because Borat has become so well-known in America, he must wear a variety of disguises to achieve his goal.

How you get on with this film will really depend on your knowledge of American politics and pop culture, but more importantly, your sense of humour. I really don’t get on well with cringe-inducing, awkward humour, and that is basically what Borat is all about, hence why I wasn’t a huge fan of the first film. The comedy is so offensive and politically incorrect at times that I found it deeply uncomfortable to watch.

The film is only an hour and 35 minutes but it felt so much longer. I wouldn’t say it outstayed its welcome though because it actually gets more interesting as it goes along, as Borat gets closer and closer to important political figures and gets involved in riskier stunts. The last half is where the headline-grabbing stuff really comes in, so if you get through the trying first half (which I really struggled with), you will be rewarded with some jaw-dropping scenes and pointed political commentary.

Borat 2 was deliberately designed to be released ahead of the US election on 3 November and it’s clear to see why. Some of the thoughts Republicans or far-right activists have is simply shocking and the film doesn’t make Mike Pence or Rudy Giuliani look good. The film also addresses topics such as women’s rights, anti-Semitism, and the coronavirus.

As ever, Baron Cohen should be applauded for his dedication to the role and improvising with subjects that appear without their knowledge. It would be interesting to know who was in on it and who wasn’t. He plays Borat in many different disguises and gets himself into really uncomfortable, risky situations. Bakalova as his daughter deserves praise too for throwing herself into this style of filmmaking as she leads some of the more awkward moments. Not breaking character in these situations must be tough.

Borat doesn’t have a particularly strong plot but I don’t think anybody expected it to – that’s not really the point. It basically just finds a way to cobble particular scenes together. I didn’t find it particularly funny, but I did laugh sometimes in an “oh, this is so uncomfortable” or “I can’t believe he just said that” kind of way.

Borat 2 was not an enjoyable viewing experience for me. Some scenes were so cringeworthy and awkward that I couldn’t cope with them and they felt quite painful to watch. However, I can appreciate what Baron Cohen has done to effectively lift the lid on American culture and politics.

Available on Amazon Prime Video from Friday 23rd October

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Possessor: LFF Film Review

Possessor

I had heard so much about Brandon Cronenberg‘s second feature Possessor that I figured it was worthwhile paying for a public LFF ticket to see it – and while I can appreciate many things about it, it wasn’t my cup of tea.

The film stars Andrea Riseborough as Tasya Vos, who is a possessor, a contract killer whose consciousness is implanted into another person’s body in order to carry out the assassination. Her boss Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) gives her her next job – she is to inhabit the body of Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), who is dating Ava Parse (Tuppence Middleton), the daughter of John (Sean Bean), the head of a huge corporation, for which Colin works. However, Colin cannot be as easily controlled as some of her previous subjects.

Possessor is an incredibly unique film that will stick with you for hours afterwards. Cronenberg has come up with an effing cool idea and it was exciting watching it play out in all its intense, gruesome glory. This film is not for the faint-hearted – it is extremely graphic and violent, there’s plenty of nudity, and some body horror that truly grossed me out. There are also some weird and experimental visual flourishes to help illustrate some of the innner control struggles.

I also loved the initial set-up of the story and the introduction to Tasya and her dual lives – in the real world with her estranged husband Michael (Rossif Sutherland) and their son and this possessor world; the final scene of the movie; and the superb performances from Riseborough and Abbott, with Abbott particularly excelling in the latter half of his story.

However, there is a portion of the film that totally lost me. I didn’t truly understand what was going on and it felt quite chaotic and muddled as it made its approach to the climax. While I loved the closing scene and thought it was a great way to bookmark the story, I was left wanting more answers and some explanation of what the heck just happened. I would have also loved some more backstory about Tasya and the organisation she works for.

I liked Possessor and I certainly appreciate the imagination, the performances, and the cool concept, but I’m just not a big fan of body horror and the ambiguity of not knowing what’s real and what’s not. The story stopped being clear to me as it neared the end and that negated its impact somewhat.

Seen at part of the London Film Festival. In cinemas 27th November

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.