Baby Done: Film Review

Baby Done

If you’re in the mood for a good hearty laugh then look no further than New Zealand’s latest comedy Baby Done.

The movie stars comedian Rose Matafeo as Zoe, who completely freaks out when she discovers she’s pregnant and goes into major denial mode. She sees herself as a fun, carefree, wild person and is scared of becoming a “boring” mum, even though she wants a baby. She feels like she hasn’t ticked all her planned adventures off her bucket list and attempts to rush through her dreams before the baby arrives, while her boyfriend Tim (Matthew Lewis) embraces fatherhood and goes into nesting mode.

Baby Done is written by Sophie Henderson and directed by her husband Curtis Vowell and is a semi-autobiographical story inspired by their own reaction to starting a family, and you can tell because it feels so personal and well-observed. I think a lot of people will be able to relate to Zoe’s panicked reaction of feeling like they haven’t achieved anything with their life before becoming a parent, but here, it’s heightened for the sake of comedy.

It takes a turn in the third act that I didn’t care for so much. Zoe went from being relatable and believable to being unreasonable, annoying, and quite immature and silly. It wasn’t enough to turn me off the film completely though as her ridiculous antics were still entertaining and thankfully, it circled back to a satisfying conclusion.

Matafeo is hilarious and charming and she was well-matched with Lewis, who I have never seen act outside of a Harry Potter film! He was absolutely lovely and the mature and solid centre of the film, while Matafeo does her freaking out. I also really enjoyed Emily Barclay (who I recognised from Babyteeth) as Zoe’s wild best friend Molly; she made me laugh the most as her line delivery is just incredible.

Baby Done is a sweet, charming, and enjoyable film that I would highly recommend if you fancy a fun uplifting watch.

Baby Done is available on digital platforms like iTunes, Amazon, Sky, Virgin, Google / YouTube, Rakuten, BT, Playstation, Microsoft, Curzon Home Cinema, and BFI Player from Friday 22nd January

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The White Tiger: Netflix Film Review

The White Tiger

The White Tiger might not be as star-studded as some of Netflix’s 2021 original film slate – a new film every week this year, guys! – but I urge you to check it out as you will not be disappointed.

The Indian drama tells the story of Balram (Adarsh Gourav) and charts his rise from poor villager to successful entrepreneur. He begins his working life as a driver and servant for businessman Ashok (Rajkummar Rao) and his wife Pinky (Priyanka Chopra) and comes to think of them as family, but after one night of betrayal reveals they don’t reciprocate that feeling, Balram comes up with a plan to break free from his low caste and become his own master.

I knew I was going to like The White Tiger immediately when it opened with Panjabi MC’s classic ’90s track Mundian To Bach Ke (a real shot of nostalgia) playing in the background of the pivotal moment. We don’t see it fully play out though, as Balram’s narration comes in and he gives us a look at his new businessman life before flashing back to his childhood – thankfully, it moves almost chronologically from there. The narration is fun and endearing in the beginning and becomes gradually more dark and less comic as it goes on. It can be quite meta at times; Balram knows he’s telling his life story for a film and even breaks the fourth wall to almost give a knowing wink to the camera.

Like Parasite and Ready or Not (those are the first ones that spring to mind), The White Tiger falls neatly into the “eat the rich” subgenre of movies, in which poor people take on the rich. This film depicts Balram’s struggle to rise above his servant station, break free from his class/caste and escape “the coop”. When he first lands his job, he is thrilled to work for such a wealthy and well-respected family but the shine soon wears off when he is treated like a piece of dirt by the family, and the love he feels for them becomes mixed with hate, jealousy, and resentment, particularly after the pivotal betrayal shows how little they think of him. Although you shouldn’t really condone his actions (no spoilers here), you can understand why he did it and can’t help but feel like saying “good for you”.

Gourav does a fantastic job in his first lead role; playing Balram in two very different periods of his life. In the flashbacks, we see him go from being a naive upbeat and grateful young man to one simmering with internal rage, while in the businessman scenes, he is more mature, quiet, and contemplative. There is one scene in which his performance floored me – his acting is super subtle but you can tell how much he is emotionally hurt by looking at his eyes and unconvincing smile.

Chopra plays the only decent human being within the rich family. An Indian woman raised in America, she challenges how things are done, defends Balram, and offers him guidance. Chopra gave Pinky a warm air, a big heart, and a no-nonsense attitude.

The White Tiger walks the fine line between dark humour and serious drama and succeeds in being a compelling character study, with top performances and an awesome soundtrack to boot.

Streaming on Netflix from Friday 22nd January

Rating: 4 out of 5.

76 Days: Film Review

76 Days

I appreciate that some people may not be ready to watch a documentary about the coronavirus pandemic while we’re currently still in it, but if you feel up to it, I can assure you 76 Days is a remarkable feature and a well-made document of the unprecedented times we’re living in right now.

76 Days takes its name from the duration of the lockdown in Wuhan, China, where the virus originated in late 2019. The documentary features footage from four Wuhan hospitals shot between 23 January and 8 April 2020 – the duration of the lockdown. It primarily focuses on how the staff cope with the stressful medical situation as well as some patients, such as a grandpa with dementia who keeps leaving his bed and a couple waiting to take their newborn baby home.

There are moments in 76 Days, such as the ending and the first 10-15 minutes, that truly capture how devastating, upsetting, and stressful it must be to work in a hospital right now. In fact, it may actually be worse now, given that rates in the U.K. are higher than they were in the original lockdown. Some chaotic scenes are overwhelming and stress-inducing to watch so I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be in the thick of it – not having enough beds for the demand, never having a break to eat, catching sleep whenever possible in a chair in the corridor, wearing PPE that covers your entire body and face, and having to call the next of kin of the dead.

I had been bracing myself for lots of footage of dead/dying people but thankfully it doesn’t do that too much. It sounds like it will be all doom and gloom and while it is mostly a raw, powerful and bleak watch, there were also moments of lightness and hope to be found too, and I’m glad the documentary didn’t completely focus on the heavy, dark material. The staff – some of which have come from across China to help Wuhan – need to have outlets to cope with their day and I liked little details such as them creating drawings on their PPE and writing get well soon messages on blown-up medical gloves for their patients.

Although I have read many stories about what it’s like to work in a hospital during this time, 76 Days is the closest I’ve got to witnessing it properly and realising how bad it is. I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for frontline healthcare workers already, but if you don’t, you will after this.

Released on digital platforms on Friday 22nd January

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Archive: Film Review

Archive

2021 is starting off strong in the sci-fi genre thanks to Archive, starring Theo James and Stacy Martin.

Gavin Rothery‘s directorial debut is set in 2038 and follows scientist George Almore (James), who is working on his latest prototype of true human-equivalent artificial intelligence in a remote facility in a forest. It’s a tricky process because he has to hide his ultimate goal – being reunited with his dead wife Jules (Martin) – from the company he works for and his boss Simone (Rhona Mitra).

What I loved most about Archive is how we are drip-fed information slowly, so at the beginning, you have very little idea what is going on (I hadn’t watched the trailer or read the synopsis, so I was truly in the dark) and you can slowly fit the puzzle pieces together as the layers are peeled back gradually, mostly through flashbacks. The mystery gripped me from the start as I couldn’t wait to know what was going on and was really paying attention for clues and hints.

I also loved the world Rothery created. The setting reminded me of Ex Machina as the facility is set in a beautiful landscape in the middle of nowhere. For a long time, we have no idea where George is, why he is alone except for his robot prototypes, and what the mysterious black Archive box is all about. It was a fascinating setup.

I was impressed by how much empathy I had for J2 (voiced by Martin) – George’s second prototype – even though she is a bulky robot without a proper face. I really felt for her struggle with jealousy and building resentment as George casts her aside for J3 and she’s no longer useful or his favourite. I felt like that character (I know she’s just a robot) deserved a better ending.

This story had the potential to go in so many different directions and I couldn’t wait to see how it all came together. I had super high expectations for it and was ultimately let down by the ending. It was a shocker and I certainly didn’t see it coming – it confused me and I’m not entirely sure it made sense. I rewatched it (the luxury of a screening link) to make sure that I caught all the details. It’s mind-blowing but not the direction I would have gone for.

I don’t really go much on James as an actor but I thought he was well cast here, although the star of the show is Martin as she has a few different roles to play and she easily rises to the challenge. Although I wasn’t completely sold on the ending, I still think Archive is worth a watch for its ideas, imagination, and the world Rothery created.

Available for digital download from Monday 18th January

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Blithe Spirit: Film Review

Blithe Spirit

Considering Blithe Spirit has been remade for the stage and screen many times, it’s quite incredible that I had never seen an adaptation or had the faintest idea about the plot going into this latest version.

In this period comedy, set in 1937, Dan Stevens plays Charles Condomine, a writer who is struggling to turn his book into a screenplay. Hoping to gather material for the project, Charles hires eccentric medium and clairvoyant Madame Arcati (Judi Dench) – who has recently been accused of being a hoax – to conduct a seance at his house. Madame Arcati somehow summons his deceased first wife Elvira (Leslie Mann), who haunts him and plans to get him all to herself by picking off those around him, like his new wife Ruth (Isla Fisher), who is unable to see her.

Blithe Spirit began as a stage play by Noel Coward in the 1940s and has been revived on Broadway and the West End many times, most recently with Angela Lansbury as Madame Arcati. Many will argue that there doesn’t need to be a remake of the 1945 David Lean film but I personally don’t see a problem with it being brought to life again, particularly now when we need some light escapist comedy.

And I really do mean light. This version is extremely lightweight, flimsy and unsubstantial so you don’t really care for the characters or the outcome of the story, but it is still an entertaining movie regardless. It made me laugh out loud often and I felt constantly amused by Stevens, in particular. The acting is heightened and deliberately hammed up, like you would expect from a 1930s-set farce, and it is a lot of fun to watch.

I particularly enjoyed watching Stevens venture into physical comedy as Charles, who is believed to be descending into madness by those around him as nobody else can see Elvira. This situation is ripe for many funny moments of him speaking to himself or fighting alone and Stevens seemed to be relishing the role. Mann was well cast as Elvira, who has a captivating presence and a threatening air and also the best hair, make-up and wardrobe of the cast. She looked gorgeous! Fisher is generally stuck in the straight man role between Charles and Elvira, but she has one memorable scene that was great fun. Dench rounds out the cast in a delightfully dotty turn as the medium.

Blithe Spirit may be light as a feather, absolutely silly, thinly written, and rather forgettable but I can’t deny that I found it entertaining!

Available on Sky Cinema from Friday 15th January

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Stardust: Film Review

Stardust

To celebrate the recent fifth anniversary of David Bowie’s death as well as what would have been his 74th birthday, director Gabriel Range has brought out Stardust, a biopic about the late great music icon.

Stardust stars Johnny Flynn as Bowie and focuses on his tour of America in 1971. He hopes this tour will help him crack the country and make him a big star stateside, but due to a visa issue, he’s banned from playing concerts, so he has to tour the country in his publicist Ron Oberman (Marc Maron)’s car, hitting up radio stations to promote his new album, The Man Who Sold the World, and performing low-key gigs at trade conferences. The film also delves into his relationship with his schizophrenic half-brother Terry (Derek Moran), his marriage to first wife Angie (Jena Malone), and the origins of his Ziggy Stardust persona.

The major problem with Stardust is that Bowie’s estate didn’t approve of the film or grant rights to the use of Bowie’s music, meaning this biopic doesn’t contain any of his actual music!! There’s no ignoring it; the absence of his music is glaringly obvious and the film falls flat without it. Range got around this issue by having Flynn as Bowie sing covers that the man himself performed back in the ’70s, but this obviously doesn’t have the same effect. Watching vacuum cleaner salespeople ignore Bowie’s performance doesn’t have the same impact when it’s a cover rather than a classic hit, and for the same reason, the big finale number doesn’t have the crowd-pleasing, joyous feel it should have done.

He might not look exactly like the man himself, but I thought Flynn sounded very close to the real deal, and I enjoyed his look. It’s easy to give a caricature-style performance when you’re portraying somebody so flamboyant and kooky, but thankfully, Flynn reins it in and doesn’t go over the top. He kept it reasonably grounded and gave Bowie a real sense of humanity, particularly regarding his brother’s illness. I really liked Maron as the exasperated publicist who is fed up of driving wannabes around the country, while Malone didn’t have much to do as the wife.

As I don’t know much about Bowie’s life, I found Stardust rather enlightening but I don’t think it completely worked as a biopic as it was too flimsy, thin, and jumped around a bit too much, not to mention the obvious music issue. I didn’t dislike watching it but it didn’t engage me either and I couldn’t shake the feeling something was missing. It wasn’t the celebration of Bowie’s legacy that I hoped it would be.

On digital platforms from Friday 15th January

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

One Night in Miami: Film Review

One Night in Miami

Regina King‘s directorial debut One Night in Miami received a lot of hype following its debut at the Venice Film Festival and it has been one of the main draws at film festivals ever since, so naturally, my expectations for it were pretty high.

The film, based on Kemp Powers‘ play of the same name, is a fictional account of a real night – 25 February 1964. It imagines what happened between four real-life celebrity friends – civil rights activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), American football player Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and boxer Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) – as they celebrate Clay’s surprise title win over Sonny Liston in a Miami hotel room.

You can certainly tell this is based on a play, as it is primarily set in one location and it is very dialogue-heavy – it’s mostly just four guys talking in one room – but the writing is so, so good. I was gripped listening to their heated discussions about race, such as trying to appeal to white people as well as Black (in Cooke’s case). Even though the imagined conversations are set in 1964, they are as poignant and relevant as ever today. It also deals with Clay’s impending decision to announce his conversion to Islam and become Muhammad Ali and X’s intention to leave the Nation of Islam.

The quality of the writing is equally matched by the stellar performances. I’m sure a couple of these actors will get awards recognition for their work here. My favourite was Odom Jr. as Cooke. He nailed his singing voice, sang absolutely beautifully (which shouldn’t have been a surprise given his Hamilton background, but still), and he had the most obviously passionate part, with his intense debate with Malcolm X about his music career being one of the most gripping moments. Ben-Adir was also excellent in his serious, considered performance as the religious leader. Goree looked the part and brought great swagger and charm as Clay, high on his win. I’m less informed about Brown as a public figure but Hodge still brought his A-game.

One Night in Miami deserves a lot of praise because it is a strong debut for King, who has summoned top-tier performances out of her cast, but I do think it’s been a bit overhyped. It is very good and I didn’t come away disappointed, don’t get me wrong, but it feels like one of those classic awards contender films that get great buzz now and then are soon forgotten about.

On Amazon Prime Video from Friday 15th January

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Robin’s Wish: Film Review

Robin Williams

There have been a few celebrity deaths that have upset me more than they reasonably should, considering I don’t know the person in real life, and a prime example is Robin Williams. The shock news of his death in August 2014 made me so sad that I had tears in my eyes writing about it at work.

For weeks after he died, the media widely reported (or should I say misreported) his death via suicide stemmed from his history of depression and addiction issues, when he was, in fact, sober at the time and unaware he was battling a degenerative disease – Lewy body dementia (LBD) – a diagnosis only discovered in the coroner’s report.

His widow Susan Schneider Williams has been raising awareness about LBD ever since her husband died and has teamed up with director Tylor Norwood to address the misunderstandings around Williams’ death, his experience with LBD from 2013 until he died, and him being misdiagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. The documentary features scientists explaining the disease, friends recalling fun moments with him as well as memories of his deteriorating health, and co-workers on his last projects.

The result is a profoundly moving and poignant documentary about one of Hollywood’s great comedians and actors, with my personal childhood favourites being Jumanji, Aladdin, Flubber, and Hook. It’ll be more affecting if you’re a fan of his work (I obviously shed some tears!) but even if you’re not, I’ll be impressed if you don’t feel something hearing his close friends and co-workers talking about how this quick-witted, loud and confident man became paranoid, anxious, filled with self-doubt, suffered from delusions, hallucinations, and insomnia, and kept trying to get to the bottom of what was wrong with his mind as he wasn’t satisfied with the Parkinson’s diagnosis.

The most affecting testimony for me came from Shawn Levy, who directed Williams in the Night at the Museum franchise, with the third being filmed in early 2014 and released later that year, months after he passed. Speaking publicly about this for the first time, Levy recalled how different Williams was on the last film; how he had lost his confidence and morale, struggled with lines, and told him “I’m not myself anymore”. David E. Kelley, the creator of TV sitcom The Crazy Ones, echoed this and also spoke about Williams having to hide a tremoring hand in his pocket. Schneider Williams anchors the whole piece together and provides poignant personal insight into his condition, as do close friends and his neighbours in Marin County.

I found this documentary to be really eye-opening – I had no idea what was going on in Williams’ life in the months leading up to his death – and incredibly sad. If you are fan, this is a must-watch.

Out now on Digital and On Demand on all major platforms. For more information please go to https://www.robinswishfilm.com/

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Pieces of a Woman: Netflix Film Review

Pieces of a Woman

I’ve always thought Vanessa Kirby is a terrific actress and it looks like she may get the awards to prove it this season thanks to her devastating performance in Pieces of a Woman.

The film follows Martha (Kirby) as she navigates the months following a home birth that goes drastically and tragically wrong, culminating in her facing off against her midwife Eva (Molly Parker) in court, with her being accused of criminal negligence. The fallout of the tragedy affects her marriage to husband Sean (Shia LaBeouf) and her relationship with her family, led by matriarch Elizabeth Weiss (Ellen Burstyn).

Kirby won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year for her performance and it’s easy to see why. This is a career-defining performance and she has never been better. I’ll be amazed if she doesn’t receive nominations for this during awards season. In the much talked about birth scene, which was shot in one 22-minute take, I was floored by her. It’s such a raw, gut-wrenching watch, and I (someone who hasn’t given birth FYI) was convinced by it; it felt so real and authentic and like I was there besides her, but that’s down to the camera work too. Kirby spends the rest of the movie as this hollowed-out shell of a person who is a shadow of her former self, which she does very well, and then she delivers an emotional punch right at the end.

LaBeouf – who is currently in the headlines for a very different reason and has been subsequently removed from marketing materials and FYC campaigns – provides strong support as the fed-up husband who doesn’t know what to do to help their marriage return to what it was. His character makes some questionable choices so you have little sympathy for him though. Burstyn was the other standout performer as the caring mother who constantly rubs her daughter up the wrong way, despite her good intentions. I also cared a lot for Parker as the midwife; her performance in the birth scene tied it all together and my heart was with her more than Martha.

The birth scene takes place near the start of the movie and it grips you and doesn’t let you go for 22 minutes, but because that’s so well done, what comes after feels rather anti-climactic. It’s very grey, slow, and sombre, which obviously reflects the dark time in Martha’s life, but I just expected more from it. It ramps up once the trial begins and comes to a strong conclusion but it loses its momentum in the middle.

This isn’t an easy feel-good watch, as you might have guessed, but it tells a very poignant story and features terrific performances across the board so it’s still worth checking out.

In selected cinemas from Wednesday 30th December and on Netflix from 7th January

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Sylvie’s Love: Film Review

Sylvie's Love

I am a huge fan of Tessa Thompson and after watching her in supporting roles in big-budget projects like Westworld, Creed, and Thor: Ragnarok, it was a joy to see her as a leading lady in a romance drama.

The movie begins in the late ’50s in New York City, when Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha), a talented saxophonist in an up-and-coming jazz band, applies for a job at a record store in Harlem run by Sylvie’s father. Despite being engaged to Lacy Parker (Alano Miller), Sylvie cannot resist Robert, but their summer romance is forced to come to an end after he gets offered a job in Paris. Five years later, the duo reconnects over a chance encounter and realise their feelings haven’t gone away.

Sylvie’s Love feels classic and old-fashioned, like romance movies back in the day, and films like that hardly ever get made anymore, let alone with Black leads. It sounds like a simple thing to say but it was so lovely to watch. This film takes us on the journey of Sylvie and Robert’s relationship over several years and you get invested in them as a couple as well as individuals with their own professional problems. I particularly cared about Sylvie’s struggle to become a TV producer although she has no experience and her determination to live her own dreams rather than give up her job to take care of her responsibilities as a wife.

Thompson is charming and captivating and looked stunning in Sylvie’s expensive clothes. She had believable chemistry with Asomugha, who impressed me (I have never seen act before). I also enjoyed Aja Naomi King as Sylvie’s fun cousin Mona, Ryan Michelle Bathe as her fearless and kind boss Kate, Jemima Kirke as The Countess, the manager of Robert’s band, Eva Longoria as Carmen, who does a fabulous song and dance number, and Wendi McLendon-Covey as TV chef Lucy.

The film is a touch too long, completely predictable and perhaps too simplistic for some but I was invested in Sylvie and Robert’s journey and loved watching how their lives panned out over the years.

Available on Amazon Prime Video now

Rating: 4 out of 5.