Arguably one of the greatest parts of Crazy Rich Asians (2018) is its rather tongue-in-cheek opening scene. The humorous prologue sees Eleanor Young, her sister-in-law Felicity and their two children Nick and Astrid, arrive sopping wet at a London hotel hoping to check into one of its more prestigious suites, only to be turned away. It’s a crucial moment that forms the foundation of the movie, establishing Michelle Yeoh’s character as a fierce woman not to be trifled with, after she winds up calling her husband and, much to the chagrin of the staff, ensuring he buys the hotel. It’s sharp, witty and cleverly-played, but is also somewhat of a social commentary by director Jon Chu, about the way Asian representation on the big screen has played out for years. Casual racism is a prevalent part of our society, so it’s pleasing when the situation is flipped on its head.
Based on the popular novel by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians (2018) follows Chinese-American economics professor Rachel Chu who’s been dating her boyfriend Nick Young for just over a year. Everything seems to be going well until she and her beau jet off to his home country of Singapore to attend the upcoming nuptials of his best friend. It’s then she learns Nick actually comes from an uber-wealthy ‘old-money’ sort of family, with a matriarch that’s hell bent on making sure Rachel doesn’t end up a part of it. It’s certainly not an original premise, the idea of a working-class woman from New York ending up with a proverbial prince from a far-away land. Neither is having his parents disapprove. In fact, almost every aspect of the storyline, from the wild bachelor party to the literal glow-up in her best friend’s bedroom, seems to have been recycled from rom-coms of the past. Including the overblown if not spectacularly-set ending. But where Crazy Rich Asians (2018) differs is in how it gets there. It’s about sacrifice, and as they say early in the film – playing to win instead of playing not to lose.
The cinematography is gorgeous and, in a way, serves as metaphor for the film itself. Flashy and fashionable, but at the same time underpinned by heart and soul. Take the exquisite and endearing set piece of the central wedding, where guests are seated between reeds, the bride enters through flowing water and fireflies, and the soft melodic sounds of ‘Can’t help falling in love’ envelop the whole room. There’s never been a more glorious wedding march moment in the history of cinema. And yet, it’s not the supposed $40 million price tag that makes it great. It’s the short-but-sweet ‘I love you’s’ that are passed between our protagonist’s lips while it’s happening. Gold and opulence continually come second to the smaller moments, whether that be a family making hundreds of dumplings together with a method passed down through the generations, or two women bonding as they bury a dead fish. Wealth doesn’t buy happiness here, and the camera consistently reminds us of it, even when the dialogue doesn’t.
As far as the acting goes, Constance Wu shines as the story’s leading lady Rachel Chu, playing her as both equal parts glamourous and down-to-earth. Not only is her performance refreshing for everyone that’s had enough of seeing blonde, breasty girl-next-door types plastered across theatre screens, but she brings an honesty and unpretentiousness to the tired rags-to-riches archetype. Main-man Henry Golding, meanwhile, provides a wonderful turn in what is hard to believe is his first feature film. The English-Malaysian model is dashing as the Bachelor-esque Nick Young, delivering just the right amount of charm and wit to make audiences swoon. Yeoh brings a brutality to the Tiger mom role of Eleanor, with her unpredictability one of the highlights of the piece. But the scene stealers among the cast are the comedic duo of Awkwafina and Nico Santos, with the former’s college friend Peik Lin Goh the main source of laughs, from her Ellen hair to ‘walk of shame’ car clothes. While the latter is the self-declared ‘rainbow sheep’ of the family, whose flounces and flourishes are a priceless addition to what could have been a run-of-the-mill movie.
At lot has been said about the film’s desire to showcase that minority-led films can be just as good as the mainstream blockbusters starring straight, white men and women. And quite frankly, it’s been a long time coming. I mean, statistics from just two years ago show that around only one per cent of lead roles went to Asian actors and actresses. And you’ll be hard pressed to find a review that doesn’t mention how the movie is the first Western-produced, Asian-led film since Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) and The Joy Luck Club (1993). It’s incomprehensible that films like these are still outliers. Especially when there are hundreds of thousands of people with the same background, ethnicity or skin-colour who should rightfully be able to see people like them on theatre screens. And it’s just not right to say it’s a money thing. Crazy Rich Asians (2018) has raked in more than $130 million at the box office and Black Panther (2018) ended up with a $1.3 billion run. Representation matters, plain and simple.
For me, the best bit about Crazy Rich Asians (2018) is the decision by the film’s creators to pass on a lucrative deal with Netflix. Not only were they reportedly offered a trilogy of movies and artistic licence but were practically guaranteed seven-figure contracts. And still they chose to go with a studio willing to give the film widespread cinematic distribution. They chose the integrity of the audience over their own personal gains. They chose to sacrifice things for themselves so that people around the world would be able to see Asian characters in a place they have every right to be seen in. Like Rachel, throwing away the winning tile in the movies climactic third-act Mah-jong game, they proved that you don’t always have to win to prove you’re the best. Sometimes it’s better to rise above.
Rating: 4 Asian Ellens out of 5
Ant-Man And The Wasp Review - Marvel's tiniest heroes pack a punch in this struggling scientific sequel
There’s a line in Marvel’s latest superhero blockbuster where leading man Scott Lang states, ‘Do you just add the word quantum in front of everything?’ It’s a tongue-in-cheek moment, of course, because that’s basically what watching Ant-Man and The Wasp (2018) feels like to those among us who don’t possess fancy science degrees. Following up his quirky MCU debut – full of miniaturised men, giant ants and a physics-for-dummies approach – was always going to be tricky for director Peyton Reed. I mean, his sequel is the first one fans have been delivered following the apocalyptic events of Avengers: Infinity War (2018). But instead of delivering another character-driven heist film full of heart, this time around we are given two-hours of technical jargon about quantum tunnels, tardigrades and molecular displacement. And while it’s never quite enough to dissuade a viewer from watching, it’s hard to argue that it’s the sort of movie the MCU needs right now.
Set in a post Captain America: Civil War (2016) but pre-Avengers: Infinity War (2018) world, Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) follows our pint-sized hero and his former friends Hope van Dyne and Hank Pym, as the trio attempt to bring back a long-lost family member from the quantum realm. Scott is just days away from the end of a two-year house arrest, imposed for his violation of the Sokovia Accords, when he receives a strange message from Hope’s mother and Hank’s wife, Janet van Dyne. Reconnecting with his former associates he finds out that despite her disappearance into the quantum realm 30 years ago, there may be a way to bring Janet back – thanks to the invention of a quantum tunnel. After powering the device up, the team hope to use Scott’s connection to find Janet’s coordinates and mount a rescue mission. But with their revolutionary work highly sought-after, there are plenty of people ready to sabotage our protagonist’s efforts, including a phasing woman known only as ‘ghost’, and a black-market technology dealer. And with the FBI keeping tabs on him, Scott is forced to make the hard decision whether to help his friends or protect his new life.
Having stolen the show in his previous MCU outing, Paul Rudd seems to relish his return here, effortlessly stepping between the comedy, action and familial drama inherent to his character. Meanwhile, Evangeline Lily is finally given a meatier role, transforming into not just ‘the wasp’, but Marvel’s first co-billed leading lady. She is as tough and smart as the boys (sometimes more so) and it’s empowering to see that it is her emotional storyline that holds the picture together. The heroes are joined by veteran actor Michael Douglas, who provides a somewhat softer grumpy old man performance for the sequel, as well as a more grown-up Abby Ryder Fortson, melting hearts once again as the adorable and precocious Cassie Lang. But as with Ant-Man’s first outing it is Michael Pena’s Luis that steals the show with a hilarious expansion on his ‘storytelling scenes’ lending some much needed charm and charisma to the film. Similarly, Tip T.I. Harris and David Dastmalchian return as the fellow ‘Ex-Con’ workers Dave and Kurt, with the latter’s Baba Yaga moments a true masterpiece despite their fleeting nature.
The villains are far less impressive however, with Randall Park’s FBI Agent Jimmy Woo largely providing little more than a chuckle here and there, and Walter Goggins’ Sonny Burch unmemorable, annoying and unnecessary. The true depth comes in relative unknown Hannah John-Kamen’s Ava, a.k.a. Ghost. Desperate for a way to make her pain stop, she has real drive but remains human enough to know there are lines you cannot cross. She’s redeemable in her quest, if not a little misguided, but in a film chock-a-block full of characters, even she gets a little lost in the mix. One character that doesn’t though is the city of San Francisco, with its presence permeating throughout the movie. One chase sequence craftily utilises the city’s most famous street, while another shows the murderous nature of the seagulls from Fisherman’s Wharf. And who could forget how cool it is to see an 85-foot man swimming through the bay and emerging near a ferry in front of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Sadly, there’s a tonal shift of sorts from our last outing, with the movie leaning more towards the ‘lacklustre’ than the ‘inspiring’. You see, what made Ant-Man (2015) such a great Saturday night flick was that it built itself up as a comedy crime caper. The heist elements were fun, as were the brilliantly crafted action sequences, including the now iconic train scene, full of tiny crashes and a giant Thomas the Tank Engine. The joy was in the juxtaposition of the miniaturised world and the normal, not simply the dazzle of special effects. And perhaps that’s why Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) feels so flat. The action is great, with Hot Wheels cars zooming down streets and a giant Hello Kitty Pez being flung through the air. But there’s fewer cuts to remind us of the extraordinary difference in statures. And for all the fun it delivers, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the scale and scope is simply lacking.
At its heart Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) is a solid sequel, providing plenty of laughs, action and gorgeous CGI effects. But having to follow on from the events of Marvel’s previous summer blockbuster outing, which broke new ground and plenty of hearts thanks to its cut-throat mentality, means it just does not rise to the MCU’s high standards. It’s a shame too, because it’s easy to see how well-received the film could have been prior to Avengers: Infinity War (2018). But in a post Thanos-snap world, it’s hard to care about anything that isn’t explosive, ground-breaking or 2019’s as-yet-untitled resolution. And while the mid-credits scene sets up the potential importance of the quantum realm for the upcoming instalment, the film itself is little more than a two-hour distraction while fans eagerly await new information.
Rating: 3.5 Drumming Ants out of 5
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Review - Extinction might have been better than this fun but formulaic sequel
Twenty-five years ago, everyone’s favourite chaotician Dr Ian Malcolm pointed out that the scientists who helped found Jurassic Park ‘were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should’. It’s an ironic sentiment really, because it seems like it’s the one thing everyone at Universal studios failed to consider themselves before greedily opting to issue four more sequels. You see, while Steven Spielberg’s 1993 original is largely considered a cinematic classic, almost all of the follow-up films have left somewhat of a sour taste in fans' mouths. Firstly, there was The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), which while engaging was little more than frivolous fun. Then came Jurassic Park III (2001), a critical and commercial flop that included second-rate CGI and one of the most annoying ringtones ever put to screen. And what about 2015’s Jurassic World? Which was hailed a reinvention of the genre 20 years later but delivered… well… an almost scene-for-scene retelling of the original. And so, we come to the latest offering, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018), a film that serves as an entertaining ride, but once again, does little more than rehash the tried and true methods of old. Honestly, why does no-one ever listen to Malcolm?
Picking up three years after the crew’s dismal second attempt at a theme park, this time around we are brought news that Isla Nublar and its dino-inhabitants are about to go boom, thanks to a giant volcano (which, let’s be honest, was never so much as alluded to in any of the previous films). With a potential second extinction looming, one of John Hammond’s old colleagues, Mr Lockwood (who again, we haven’t really heard of until this point,) puts his hand up to fund a daring rescue effort to save nearly a dozen species. Recruiting Claire and Owen, under the guise of saving their old friend Blue, the velociraptor, it’s not long before everyone is back on the island and double crosses are springing left, right and centre. Oh, but they said they were going to save the dinosaurs and move them to a new sanctuary? They couldn’t possibly be scheming to sell them to the highest bidder as weapons or game animals, right? Well, those naive thoughts are from the days when the Jurassic series was innocent and pure. So once again it is up to our protagonists to thwart the evil wrongdoers, as a fantastic volcanic explosion, a newly modified monster and a third act set in a creepy mansion in the woods, rounds out the movie and provides about every cliché the action genre affords.
Frankly, it’s frustrating to see the same formulaic dilemmas appear yet again, in a film that could arguably have been a break from tradition. We’ve got a new genetically-engineered dinosaur that – wait for it – causes huge problems for our main cast. Then there’s the ethics of whether man has the right to play God by saving or creating dinosaurs. We’ve got the geneticist who is willing to produce the monsters but needs some time to develop them. And let’s not forget the dangers of bringing the once extinct animals onto the mainland, let alone including a Tyrannosaurus Rex among them. Or what about having a child hide from the beasts in a small space that requires them to pull down a vertical hatch? Add in a dose of an underdog velociraptor saving the day from the bigger, badder foe, as well as characters such as the cute grandchild, hacker, and games keeper who takes trophies from his hunt, and I think we have pretty much covered every movie, right? Honestly, did the writers actually discuss the script? Because it's almost painful to see the studio repeat the mistakes of their past.
That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have its redeeming moments though, with the first half a relatively-convincing adventure flick, full of volcanoes and the same goofy and cute Claire and Owen dynamic we have come to know and love. Touching ‘documentary style’ footage of the former raptor keeper bonding with a young Blue will also warm even the coldest of reptilian hearts. And then there is the series most heart-breaking moment, as a lone brachiosaur tries valiantly to escape the oncoming explosion. Amidst the chaos and confusion of the scene there is a profound sense of sadness, as director J.A. Bayona pays homage to fans of the original, before finally letting the series break free of its island constraints. But for all the social commentary and moving moments (a particularly noteworthy ‘nasty women’ comment springs to mind), there is just as many aspects that drag us back. In particular, a sloppy scene that presents the idea of cloning something other than a dinosaur, before relegating it to little more than the next logical step in genetics. Since when were dinosaurs (real, live, freaking dinosaurs) not enough for these films?
For the most part the acting is also solid, with Chris Pratt delivering the same charismatic turn as most of his post Parks and Recreation (2009 - 2015) roles. Bryce Dallas Howard gets a good run too, sans the high heels this time, while Rafe Spall and Toby Jones join the show as the stereotypical villains (what is it with Brits being devious?). Sadly, both deliver very little substance for their efforts. Justice Smith is by far the best of the new crop though, pitched as the comic relief, and is backed up by the tough-but-somewhat-forgettable Daniella Pineda. As for the child role (C’mon, what is a Jurassic movie without a kid? Am I right?), stepping into those shoes is actress Isabella Sermon, as the granddaughter of James Cromwell’s mysterious Mr Lockwood. She’s got the cutes, the accent and the attitude to stand alone and has made a decent mark in her first on-screen appearance. But for a film heralding the return of Dr Malcolm himself, it is downright criminal the lack of screen time Jeff Goldblum is given. Surely there was more he could do than sit in a courtroom, right? That’s like, I don’t know, having Oscar-nominee and Golden Globe award winning actress Laura Dern phone-in her role… oh wait…
Perhaps the most frustrating part of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018), is that it’s legacy was one of enthralling, terrifying and awe-inspiring spectacle. Of moments of pure dread and once-extinct creatures that screamed to life. Elements that have slowly been sucked away by the franchise’s numerous chapters. Five instalments in and it’s hard to see how the series does little more than make us feel like we’ve been stomped all over. Going extinct might actually have been the answers to our problem. But, if there’s one shining light in the darkness it comes in the film’s closing moments, which while setting audiences up for yet another offering (a 2021 release has already been nailed down), finally suggests we could be given a fresh road to go down.
Rating: 2 Fed-Up Malcolms out of 5
13 Reasons Why: Season Two Review - The truth is neither happy nor hopeful, but a dose of much-needed reality
***This review contains spoilers***
In last year’s final episode of Netflix’s controversial hit show 13 Reasons Why (2017), protagonist Clay Jensen remarked to his guidance counsellor Mr Porter that; ‘It has to get better, the way we treat each other and look out for each other’. A powerful and moving line at the time, the words spoke volumes about our attitude as a society. About the changes we need to make and the people we needed to become. But the show ended and time passed, leaving people to forgot the message. So much so, that when the much-hyped second season was rolled out Friday by the streaming giant, it appears to have disappeared completely. Settling in to marathon the 13-episode arc, what became apparent almost straight away was that everyone connected to Hannah’s story, and the horrendous acts perpetrated by those at Liberty High, also seem to have forgotten these words. Instead, drinking, drugs, guns and court cases, are just he start of more horrendous things to come. So, what exactly happened to the getting better?
Well, that’s kind of the point when it comes to telling this story. Because delivering #JusticeforHannah and for the other girls who ‘begged to be raped’, or showing that when you do the right thing evil is defeated, isn’t that easy. Simple truths and effortless wins are, quite frankly, not the society we live in. In case you hadn’t noticed, ours is the one where women must fight to be heard and not victimised. Where students are taught to barricade themselves in classrooms and are unsafe in their own school. Where people die from drug overdoses and it’s no more than a regular, nightly headline. It’s an endless fight. And it’s incredibly refreshing to find a series like 13 Reasons Why (2017), which is unafraid to shy away from the truth, however unpleasant it may be. Frustrating, complex and upsetting, the show’s second season is more realistic than the last, and maybe that’s why it is so easy to hate it at first. I know I did. Because when does it change? When do things start getting better? When does the underdog finally get to win? Well, for me, I think it is when we realise, as Mrs Baker states in this season's finale, that: ‘There are always more reasons why we should fight, then why we shouldn’t.’
The story picks up months after Hannah’s death and the subsequent fall-out from her tapes, with the first half of the season focusing largely on the students testifying in court. Despite having their words twisted against them, plenty of the crew, including Courtney, Tyler and Ryan, reveal their side to the story and, at times, even boldly stick up for their former classmate. Others like Marcus and Bryce continue to lie to protect themselves and their shiny reputations and futures. Midway in the plot begins to shift though, as Zach takes the stand and reveals details about a tryst he had with Hannah the summer before her death. His truth paints her in a different light, and is the first big instance where Clay and we the audience understand that our ideals of people are not always who they are. It’s a confusing mess, not least because it messes with the timeline. But because the writers try so hard to remind us that Hannah’s tapes were not the full story, they end up changing what made the first season so impressive - unspooling our idea of Hannah in the same way the defendant’s lawyer twists the blame back on her in court. Hannah’s truth is as important as the others, but all we are left with is a tarnished reputation and a smothered voice. Even more, as Hannah’s story unwinds, so does Clay’s opinion of her. And when the boy who loved her can’t even believe her, how are we supposed too?
What this season does deliver though is monsters and they are lurking in every corner. Wisely, it is left up to us to decide who they are. Because for all the obvious rapists and thugs, there’s plenty more people who let the situation get to the extremes it did. From the mother who knew her son did horrible things to the father who just doesn’t care. Or the coach who turns a blind eye and is more concerned with wins than the safety of students at the school. Every character has their flaws. And so too does the story, with an in-cohesive plot creating little flow, unlike the constant terror of season one. Additionally it is frustrating to watch characters make the same mistakes over and over again with little moral gain. What’s clear is that with no novel to work off, the writers seem lost in a cacophony of themes rather than actions. And like Skye making pasta with Clay’s dad - sometimes the pieces just fail to stick. Season two just isn’t as good as the original, in almost every way possible. Mostly, because it’s hard to justify its existence. And a bit because Hannah is still in every breath of the series. But that’s the point – we don’t want to look deeper, as hard as it is to do.
And what of the fears from professionals and critics who claimed the show was ‘dangerous’ because of its on-screen depiction of violent and traumatic events, including sexual assault and suicide? Well, those people will likely be just as angry this time around, with issues from drug addiction to gun violence integral parts to the narrative. If anything this season, where no glorification of suicide takes place, could be considered more dangerous than the last. Because for every rape victim trying not to be silences, there is a voice telling them no matter what ‘proper’ or ‘legal’ recourse they seek, ultimately society will fail them. I mean, one teen who raped at least three women is given little more than a slap on the wrist and a probationary stint from the courts. While the school, which overlooked the needs of its students and failed to provide sufficient protocols, fired the one person who was ready to generate meaningful change. And what’s so scary is that this actually happens in society. And if the kids watching this think that is the future waiting for them, they may there's no hope left.
But if this season has proven anything to me, it is that despite its flaws, it is important to put what’s uncomfortable on screen. And if people want to call me irresponsible for thinking Hannah’s suicide scene in season one is not only important, but crucial to effecting change, then so be it. Because our society has become afraid of our flaws and imperfections and it is literally killing people. We put others down to prop ourselves up. We pretend we don’t see problems so we don’t have to deal with them. We think making mistakes makes us weak. No other show has been criticised as heavily for simply telling the truth. And that’s because the truth hurts. People do commit suicide. Others take guns and walk into schools. And some die alone, needles in their arms and choking on their own vomit. And if we don’t talk about it, how the hell are we supposed to change it? It is brave and bold to do the right thing, and sadly, most of the time no-one has your back. But this show tells us that there is always someone that does. And we will keep fighting until everyone will. We won’t be passive. We won’t accept that this is just the way it is. As one 14-year-old Australian girl, who was bullied and harassed at school and tragically took her own life this year once wrote: ‘Speak, even if your voice shakes’.
If this story has raised issues for you, or you feel like you require crisis information and resources, please visit 13reasonswhy.info for help.
Rating: 4 Polaroids out of 5
Avengers: Infinity War Review - It's all about the end in Marvel's most ambitious and affecting film yet
Ten years. Eighteen films. Billions of dollars at the box office. And it’s all been leading to this – the megalithic Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – a.k.a. rumble in the jungle (universe style). My god were we unprepared. What started as an idea – a bid for global domination of superhero films – has finally come full circle, with Marvel Studios bringing together their best and brightest for one cataclysmic showdown. And whether you call it a gamble, an obsession, or just downright crazy, at the end of the day it’s a damn masterpiece. Something well, well worth the wait. Back for their third outing, the dynamic directing duo of Joe and Anthony Russo have, in the simplest terms, become the heroes they’ve put on screen – people pushed to their limits, heartbroken and ready to lose everything. And boy, in hindsight, how we wish we could go back to simpler times, when the problems were little more than a Chitauri invasion and homicidal robots.
It’s hard to provide an overview of Avengers: Infinity War (2018) that would do it justice, especially when so much of what makes it great is being able to go in it with as little information (and spoilers) as possible. But I’ll give it a shot. Picking up in the aftermath of Thanos vs. The Asgardians, just moments into the blockbuster we are finally given our first proper glimpse into the power and brutality of the MCU’s biggest baddie. The stakes have never been higher, the dread in full force. And once the ball starts rolling there’s barely a chance to breathe, as the Russo brothers toss us back and forth between multiple storylines and planets (Earth, Knowhere, Titan, to name just a few). On home turf, The Black Order (i.e. Thanos’ supervillain entourage, including Ebony Maw, Cull Obsidian, Corvus Glaive and Midnight Proxima) are on a mission to secure the time and mind stones, leading to the slow - but sure - reunion of our favourite outcast Avengers. Meanwhile, out in space the Guardians and their new-found refugee Thor, are tasked with tracking down the purple antagonist and forging a weapon to destroy him. When everything fails to go to plan though (as these things often do), we’re left with not just an all-out confrontation, but a biblical and unforgiving final act.
With approximately (I say that because it’s difficult to keep track) 38 characters to fit into one film, it’s tough to imagine a picture where no-one is overlooked. But despite the cramped roll-call, Avengers: Infinity War (2018) succeeds where few films have before – carefully crafting a chance for everyone to shine. And the actors jump at the chance, bringing A-game performances full of energy, charisma and laugh-out-loud one-liners. The key, perhaps, is splitting the group into smaller factions, with their stories maintaining the picture’s frenetic pace and drive. It’s such a steady crew though that stand-outs are few and far between. Some would point to Thor, who follows on from a rollicking third outing by stepping up to the plate with both muscle and might. While others may favour Iron Man, who has upgraded to some of the coolest tech since the Hulkbuster suit and shared it with his Spidey-protégé. Eager to match wits with Downey Junior, Doctor Strange is as sarcastic as ever too, while in a pleasant change of pace Bruce Banner finally gets a foot over his green alter ego, who hilariously spends most of the film refusing to come out and play.
But for all their efforts, this isn’t really our heroes’ film, instead playing like an origin tale to Thanos’ crusade. Part logically-driven dictator and part towering destructive force, the purple monster is driven by the desire to rid the universe of half its inhabitants. To him, it’s a simple equation of resources, like a parent choosing between having one child whose belly was always full, and two who were always half-hungry. Mad, undoubtedly, but a plan entrenched in warped humanitarian ideals and his own twisted sense of a saviour-complex. Big and brash, Thanos is the adversary we’ve been waiting for, providing the first real challenge the universe has come up against. It’s hard not to feel every swipe, blast and pummel from his gargantuan form, and behind the mask, Josh Brolin appears to relish the motion-capture role, bringing swagger and relentless authority every time a stone is acquired, or a hero ousted.
While the characters are fully fleshed out, answers seem to be something less nuanced in the MCU. And for those of you wondering about the film’s two biggest mysteries you may be left feeling a little deflated. See, it’s hard not to class them among the worst parts of the film. Number one is the absence of our favourite, quippy bird-man, Hawkeye, (as well as the lovable Ant-Man) whose MIA statuses are answered with little more than a throwaway line. It’s frustrating to say the least, especially given Clint’s loyalty, and even more so when you remember we will have to wait months for any true hints. Meanwhile, although the secret of the missing soul stone’s location is finally disclosed in the film’s bold two-and-a-half-hour run-time, it will likely leave few fans appeased. The big reveal feels lacklustre and rushed, relying heavily on emotion that hasn’t had the time to build.
But the greatest dilemma is in splitting such a movie in two, with the overhanging arc here feeling a lot like a guillotine over our heads. You’ve never seen a cliff-hanger like this, and probably never left a theatre in quite so dismal a mood. But while it’s a staggering blow to the gut (especially with a full year to wait until the next instalment), there’s an incredible power in how Marvel can take an unfinished story and still make it poignant and profound. In how they have crafted a cherished and adored universe over the course of more than a decade, to simply blow the hell out of it. The tag-line that no-one is safe is painfully accurate, and the studio has gone to great lengths to make sure we know it. So, what does this mean for the future of our intrepid caped crusaders? Well, maybe if you’ve been looking for hints like I have, it may lie in Doctor Strange’s words and the notion that time will tell.
Rating: 5 Infinity Stones out of 6
A Quiet Place Review - Silence is survival in this emotional film about human fragility and the power of sound
It is crazy to think just how many times a day we make sound. When we do the dishes or make our beds. As we walk across hard-wood floors or turn a key in a car. Slurping and crunching as we eat. Even tossing and turning in our sleep. Every time we move. Every breathe we take. Every word spoken. Now imagine those actions, from the tiniest cough to the loudest clang, meant that you could be torn to shreds in a matter of moments. It’s enough to make you catch your breath, right? Sit up a little straighter, eyes wider, more alert? Well, that is the beautifully simplistic premise behind John Krasinski’s new horror/thriller A Quiet Place (2018). The tagline little more than ‘If they hear you, they can hunt you’. And it’s about as disturbing as you might think, with The Office (2005 – 2013) alum masterfully directing, starring-in and even co-writing the script to this unsettling and menacing take on a creature feature.
The film’s premise is easy to follow, throwing us into a world where blind, armoured creatures with super-hearing skills have taken over, leaving humans to survive only by their silence. We follow the Abbott family, including Lee (John Krasinski) and his wife Evelyn (the actor/director’s real-life partner Emily Blunt), as well as their three children, who communicate using sign language and are ultra-vigilant of ever making a noise lest they be killed. If it were an easy feat though the film wouldn’t amount to much of a horror piece, so mere minutes in we are left with the tragic consequences of an all-too-easy sound slip-up. But the real-kicker comes as we jump forward in time and find Evelyn not only pregnant, but due in a matter of days. It’s a confronting premise, bringing a baby into such a constrained and unforgiving world, not only because of their innate noisiness and unpredictability, but for the ethics of the bleak future that awaits it. And there-in lies the heart of the film - a family uncompromising in their desire to survive no matter the losses that may await them.
In a film with less than 50 lines of dialogue (give or take), sound obviously plays a key role, drawing us into the Abbott’s world and putting us on edge with every click, chirp or buzz. It’s a colossal undertaking and the editing team use every trick in their book to make the lack of noise and dialogue an intense and involving show. There’s not a moment to be bored or a yawn to be stifled during the slick 90-minute run-time. Never have I heard an audience so silent and still, as if their own sounds or breaths could cause harm. Beyond that, A Quiet Place (2018) is imbued with layer upon layer of depth, the audience at times also granted the chance to experience the desolate world through the ears of child Regan (played with complexity and maturity by deaf actress Millicent Simmonds), whose hearing impairment opens up a whole new terror to think about. Every detail has been carefully crafted to create suspense and foreshadow events to come, from a stationary blue truck to rockets, and even light globes strung across the cornfield. And while it’s fair to say that not everything about this new world is easily explained away (imagine trying to remain quiet with an oncoming sneeze or grumbling stomach), those behind the camera have done their best within the film’s limited scope.
Visually the film also excels, with Krasinski turning to close-ups to deliver the emotional impact of the situation where words can’t. We see the Abbott’s fear as we hear it, and long, long before the pointy teeth of the monsters ever arrive. The actors respond phenomenally too, as they cycle through their various emotions. Blunt provides a powerhouse performance and is in perfect form as the unit’s grieving-but-determined mother, while Krasinski imbues great sadness as the devoted patriarch. But equally important are the performances of the children, including a terrified Noah Jupe as son Marcus and brilliant turn from Simmonds as the young daughter longing for independence. Each shot has a soft glow hanging over it, as if imitating dusk, which strips the scenes back as our characters are. But in this dying world there is also profound elegance to be found - you just need listen to the wind whispering through the golden cornfields or the water whipping over the rocks at a waterfall to see there is beauty, even amongst the bad.
The true hero here though is Krasinski, who shines with just his third stab at directing a feature film. Keen not to play by the rules of classic horror, instead he uses what made his second picture – the dramatic comedy piece The Hollars (2016) - so successful, by making us care innately about the characters and the gravity of the situation befalling them. If your heart doesn’t hurt from the sacrifices made here, then maybe you aren’t watching properly. Too often horror is associated with little more than masks, sharks, slashing and screams. But its fundamentally more frightening to have to contemplate death before experiencing it. And to face an enemy you can’t comprehend and whose weakness is just as mysterious. Krasinski taps into that fear with ease, giving hints to the monsters’ appearance before the big reveal, and leaving no more than a few meagre newspaper clippings as clues to where the beasts came from or why they are there. If he has learnt anything from horror films of the past, it is that the denial of information can sometimes be much more powerful than anything we ever see on screen.
What sets A Quiet Place apart from those genre pieces that have come before, is the shear humanity of our survivors. A girl who believes she neither has nor deserves her father’s love. The heartbreak of a mother who wishes she could take one moment back. The fear of a boy who is forced to contemplate the macabre realities of death daily. And a father, who would do anything to protect those he loves. There is more heart here than most dramas. And more stress than any action piece could provide. You’ll feel like you’ve run a marathon by the time the closing credits start to roll. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll feel like there’s still a lot to be said in the silence.
Rating: 4.5 Quiet Krasinski's out of 5
It is a rare thing for a Marvel origin movie to be a resounding success. I mean, out of our introductions to current titular superheroes Iron Man (2008), Thor (2011), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), Ant-Man (2015), Doctor Strange (2016) and even the recent Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) very few have left audiences both impassioned and awe-inspired. You see, it’s a hard combination to create, at least the first time around, with the studio usually more interested in carefully crafting the characters for their star-studded team-up flicks. Perhaps this is why Black Panther (2018) works so well, with director Ryan Coogler spending less time introducing us to his restrained and dignified main man following his launch in Captain America: Civil War (2016) and instead focusing his energy and expertise into bringing one of Marvel’s most beautiful realms to life. Here, he breathes life into a myth, building a groovy world worthy of the big screen and the landmark acclaim it is gaining.
We start in the aftermath of King T’Chaka’s death, as royal heir T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to his technologically advanced homeland to take up the mantle of its monarch. Following a primordial challenge from the land’s four other tribes, the Prince emerges as Wakanda’s rightful leader and warrior. But just days into his reign he is forced to bring the nation’s greatest villain Ulysses Klaue to justice – a feat his father was unable to achieve for more than 30 years. It’s no wonder then that blood and betrayal run deep in the movie as it shifts to South Korea for its stylish and slick second half. Here our protagonist, his protector Okoye (Danai Gurira) and his feisty ex-girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) take on their foes in a polished casino-heist style scene. No Marvel movie would be complete though without an all-out car race, this time sweeping through neon-streaked streets and providing the perfect opportunity for the Prince’s tech-savvy sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) to shine. But it’s mercenary Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) who takes centre stage come part three, putting a dampener on the ruler’s plans by challenging his right to sit upon the throne and causing the series second civil war to break out.
Visually the film is stunning. Gorgeous cosmic colours swirl through ancestral worlds and bleed into the gorgeous country of Wakanda. There’s a similar vibe in the music too, with an original soundtrack from Kendrick Lamar combining wild drumbeats with flourishes of frenetic hip-hop. It makes you want to get up and move, pulling viewers into the film and transforming them into more than just oblivious observers. Part of what makes the film great though is how seamlessly it blends the traditions of old with the technology of new. This is a country that exists with the greatest advancements in life - from hover trains to metal-balls that can save people’s spines - yet continues to conduct ritual bloodfights for its governance. Culture is important and no matter how far its people may progress, the sanctity of their customs and their desire to prove you can have it all sets them apart.
The star-studded cast are a step-above, but one wouldn’t expect any less from those who have mastered funk legends, slayed zombies and won Oscars. Boseman brings a serene presence to his King, funnier than we have seen him before, but still duty and honour bound. He is the wise leader, forced to understand how failure is crucial to making a great leader. In opposition, Jordan brings a reckless, snarky-ness to his scarred villain Killmonger. Yet despite his flaws, he is one of the most well-rounded and empathetic antagonists the Marvel universe has produced - his unwillingness to give-up on his beliefs demanding credit. Daniel Kaluuya, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Forest Whitaker and Winston Duke all provide solid support in roles that could easily have been extended, but it is hard not to see how it is their actress counterparts that really make a mark in the film’s two-hour run.
Women are incredibly powerful in Coogler’s world, with their representation here among the best in Marvel’s history. While T’Challa may serve as King and hero, females form the brunt of those closest to him. His mother Queen Ramonda is a guiding force in who he becomes. His sister Princess Shuri provides the smarts behind his advantage over foes. And former flame and spirited badass Nakia is not afraid to challenge and push to be a better person. Then there is the King’s guard – the Dora Milaje - an all-female group of shaven-haired warrior women led by General Okoye. Little girls have long waited for Marvel to get their act together and give them someone more than just Black Widow and Scarlet Witch to aspire to, and here Coogler cocks his head and says screw waiting until Captain Marvel (2019). You want to be a cool scientist? Then study hard and do it. You want to be an activist and stand up for what you believe in? Make people hear your voice. You want to be someone other than the damsel-in-distress? No-one is stopping you. Not anymore.
Above all, race is the most crucial element here, there’s no denying it. Never before has there been a superhero movie with such a triumphant African-American cast, directed by an African-American visionary and with a budget this big to throw around. And Coogler makes it clear from the get-go that identity is at the heart of his blockbuster, whether that be a hesitant son trying to live up to his father’s name or a beefed-up outcast hitting back at the home he was never invited into. Our movie-maestro has been commenting on these themes for a while now, from his incredible introduction Fruitvale Station (2013) to his powerful follow-up Creed (2015). But everything about Black Panther (2018) makes it feel like he has simply been gearing up for an ultimate chance to comment on the politics that so deeply divide us. So, it’s no surprise he is keen to finish on a note of unity rather than division. It’s a representation that will make generations sit up and pay attention. And maybe one day, we’ll realise that difference isn’t something to be afraid of, but something to embrace.
Rating: 4 Wakandan Warriors out of 5
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