Films

Ramblings about Films – whether it’s new, reviews or something else.

REVIEW: Troop Zero (2020)

In rural 1977 Georgia, misfit Christmas Flint (Mckenna Grace) dreams of life in outer space. When a competition offers her a chance to be recorded on NASA’s Golden Record, she recruits a makeshift troop of Birdie Scouts, forging friendships that last a lifetime.

Christmas isn’t exactly happy; her mother has recently died, and she doesn’t really have any friends besides her neighbour Joseph (Charlie Shotwell) and Miss Rayleen (Viola Davis) who works with her dad, but she is a remarkably positive child. She likes to stare at the stars and is obsessed with space, so when she hears that a troop of Birdie Scouts will be able to send their voices into space, she will do anything to get to the jamboree and win the competition. Anything turns out to be recruiting Miss Rayleen as her troop mama and finding the most unlikely kids to be in her troop.

The Birdie Scouts of Troop Zero are some of the oddest misfits you might ever meet, but they also feel so very real. They’re kids that continue to be who they are, even when other people may laugh at them and call them names. They are unlikely friends but seeing how they each slowly let their guard down and start to reach out to one another is the sweetest thing, even if there’s some bumps along the way.

Troop Zero follows almost every cliché in the book (bullies, the popular team brining up every rule in the book to get in the heroes way, the community coming together) but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an enjoyable film and just about the most wholesome thing I’ve seen in ages. It tackles themes of grief, friendship, family and finding you voice and standing up for yourself and those you care about. Plus, it does all this in a funny and charming way and has some great performances from the young cast.

Mckenna Grace really is one to watch and with the supporting cast of the likes of Allison Janney, who plays headteacher Miss Massey who is equal parts funny and mean, and Viola Davis who does what Viola Davis does best, the characters in Troop Zero truly come alive and you can’t help but root for these ragtag bunch of misfits who find somewhere they really do fit. 4/5.

REVIEW: Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020)

After splitting up from the Joker, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is pulled into the hunt for street thief Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) by crime boss Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor) where she crosses paths with club singer Dinah Lance (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), assassin Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez).

First of all, the rather long title of Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is misleading. This film really should be called Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey because it’s Harley’s movie first, and a Birds of Prey introduction second. So, adjust your expectations over who is more likely to get the most screen time here.

On to the film itself. Birds of Prey is a lot of fun. It does take a while to find its groove and that’s down to the multiple flashbacks that often grind the flow of the film to a halt, especially towards the beginning when you just want to follow these characters who all seem so interesting. Birds of Prey is a story told from Harley Quinn’s point of view, she narrates the story and interrupts herself now and then when she realises she’s skipped a bit. The narrative is often as chaotic and fractured as Harley’s mind which is equal parts interesting and jarring.

The start of Birds of Prey is more of a character study of Harley. She and the Joker have broken up and she’s struggling to get over him and find her who she is when she’s not tied to him. With all the gangsters, criminals and cops out to get her now she’s no longer under the Joker’s protection, Harley must think quick on her feet. It turns out that Harley isn’t as defenceless and as in need of protection as a lot of people think, of if she does need or want help, it’s not going to be from the men who seek to control her. Margot Robbie’s Harley has so many layers and insecurities and strengths and it’s refreshing to see a character like her work through the pain of a breakup and find an inner resolve.

The five main female characters cross each other’s paths in different combinations throughout the film which is great as you get to see different aspects of their personality depending on who they’re with. But it’s in the final act when they finally all come together to take down the bad guys that the film really clicks. It’s an absolute joy to watch them all fight side by side, have banter in between punches and generally compliment and encourage each other at any chance they get.

The fight choreography is brilliant as each character’s fighting style suits their character and no woman fights the same. Harley’s incorporates gymnastic elements, Huntress’s is clean and precise after so many years relentlessly training, while Renee’s is more like a bruiser, throwing punches and is far from elegant. The fight sequences are also fun and innovative with the soundtrack (which is full of absolute tunes) complimenting the action on screen.

While there’s a lot of bad guys for the leading ladies to overcome, the main threat to them all is Roma Sionis. He is volatile, menacing and dramatic. He’s the sort of character you never quite know what he’s going to do next and McGregor gives a great performance. Sionis’ right hand man is Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina) and their relationship comes across as queer coded and there’s often shifts in power dynamics between the two of them which is as fascinating as it is unnerving.

Birds of Prey is a bit shaky at times, but the characters and the action pull everything together. It’s a bright, psychedelic fairground of a film with paint bombs and glitter and it suits these characters perfectly. 4/5.

REVIEW: Miss Americana (2020)

Documentary about Taylor Swift as she begins work on her seventh studio album, taking a look at her life and career at a transformative time in her life.

I really was not expecting Miss Americana to make me feel so many emotions. I like Taylor Swift’s music but in the sense that I rarely buy albums of any artist I like but I enjoy their music when I hear it on the radio or whatever. In fact, the Taylor Swift albums I had on my iTunes before watching Miss Americana were Fearless, Speak Now and 1989. I had listened to some of her more recent stuff and mostly liked it but wouldn’t have said I was a Taylor Swift fan. Miss Americana may have changed that.

With Miss Americana you still see just as much as what Taylor Swift allows you to see. Some of that is deeply personal stuff like seeing her unfiltered reaction for the album Reputation not being nominated for the main categories at the Grammy’s, but while she mentions finding love and stability, it’s clear after her past experiences of her love life being dissected by the media, she is deeply protective of that part of her life and wants to keeps her relationship private. The whole documentary is definitely a more unfiltered look into Taylor Swift and she’s brutally honest about how she felt (and continues to feel) about both the highs and the lows of her career and fame.

The thing that is so great about Miss Americana is that while obviously the focus is on Taylor Swift, her life, loves and career, but through her experiences you get to see all the misogyny and double standards that all women are put through. It’s just what happened to Taylor Swift is just more well documented and potentially on a larger scale due to her fame.

There’s when she was sued by the radio DJ who groped her, who she countersued, and what the experience in court was like. There are all the criticisms she faced from the press and everyday people on social media, the comments on her relationships, her appearance, her perceived personality, and how they affected her.

It’s all so infuriating and saddening because she may be famous (so many people would see her as fair game) but she is still a person, and a lot of the stuff that happened to her was when she was still pretty young. She was seventeen when the whole Kanye West at the VMAs thing happened. Would he have done that if she was older? Or a man?

While obviously Taylor Swift is super famous, rich and talented, there was something about Miss Americana that made some of her experiences so relatable. The documentary takes place when she’s approaching thirty. The way she talks about that age, how old she feels (sometimes far older than her years and sometimes far younger), how she isn’t ready to have kids or all the adult stuff that is related to that age – now that’s relatable. I’m a similar age to Taylor Swift and I often feel like I have the mentality of a teenager at university rather than an adult that someone in their late twenties is supposed to be and it can be terrifying. It’s almost reassuring that that is a universal feeling, no matter how much money you have or how successful your career is, it can feel like you’re not ticking all the life achievement boxes by the time you reach a certain number.

A key part of Miss Americana is showing how Taylor Swift found her political voice. It’s easy to criticise her for not saying something sooner, but she does a good job of explaining why she didn’t and a main part of it was her inherent need to be a “good girl”. She came from a background in country music where she was always told never to say her political views and the Dixie Chicks (a group who were slated and their career nosedived for one comment against President George Bush) were used as an example of what would happen to her if she ever said anything. Seeing her stand up for what she believed in and be then constantly striving to learn more so she could help people and to shut out all the misogynistic things you pick up from society without realising was wonderful to see.

While naturally fans of Taylor Swift will get a lot from Miss Americana, I feel that anyone can appreciate this documentary. It shows how the media can affect a young woman as she tries to figure out who she is, and it highlights how talented and resilient she is. Miss Americana made me a Taylor Swift fan and I wrote this listening to the album Lover. 5/5.

TRAILER REACTION: F9: The Fast Saga

If you’ve been around my blog for a while, or if you even follow me on Twitter, you’ll probably know that I bloomin’ love the Fast & Furious franchise. They are a series of films that have gotten bigger, bolder, and more gravity and physics-defying with each instalment. They have evolved from petty criminals and street races to unlikely international crime fighters and the odd street race. And in this unlikeliest of film franchises, the core theme of them is family and it has my favourite trope – the family of choice.

Last night the first trailer for Fast & Furious 9 (which has continued the franchises trend of having odd and inconsistent names and is actually supposed to be called F9: The Fast Saga) dropped and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for the rest of the night. So, here are my probably out of order and very excited thoughts and predictions about what is definitely my most anticipated film of 2020.

First of all, this trailer is very rude for starting off with the piano bit from “See You Again”. Does it want to make me cry in less than 30 seconds?! But it is really cute seeing Dom, Letty and kid Brian being a happy family. Side note: #JusticeForElena

There’s so much I love about this trailer. I love how the song choices are edited to the action and there’s so many great sound beats. Those big dramatic pauses like when Letty reveals that John Cena is Dom’s (and also presumably Mia’s) brother! And I really love the shots of Mia and Letty taking down bad guys together and then Letty going out of a window.

I think it’s great that Mia’s back. I just hope that Mia and Brian are still together with their kids. I’m sure they will be as I can’t imagine them killing Brian off screen but it’s still a small worry. I want Brian to be looking after Jack and their other child and kid Brian while Mia goes to help Dom. I can imagine kid Brian being sent to adult Brian’s because I doubt there’s anyone else Dom would trust to look out for his son while the gang save the day.

I also love that Helen Mirren is back as Magdalene Shaw. I just love that she’s in these films in general, never mind that she’s the matriarch of this crime family – although only one of them really is into crime, one was an MI6 agent and the other was in the army before they were framed and then turned to the life of crime. Who knew I could end up having almost as many emotions about the Shaw family as I do about the Toretto family?

And Charlize Theron is back as Cipher too! I love a female villain (even though she has a terrible haircut) and I’m interested in seeing her join forces with Jacob, and how their plan will come down in flames.

This trailer has everything I could want from a Fast and Furious trailer. The stunts defy physics, it looks so much fun, and it’s got so many of the old favourites back again to fight for their family. Vin Diesel is brooding, Tyresse Gibson is screaming, and Letty and Dom are being #couplegoals. It’s Fast and Furious and I love it.

Just when it looks like this trailer can’t get any better and I can’t get any more hyped – the ending happens. Han’s back from the dead! I legit flailed and had the biggest grin on my face, I couldn’t believe they’d kept it a secret and it was such a great surprise. And I love how the tag line is “Justice is Coming” when there was a whole #JusticeForHan twitter campaign after Deckard Shaw kinda joined the Toretto family by the end of Fast and Furious 8.

Yes, then there’s the whole thing of “How’s Han not dead when Jason Statham killed him?” Side note: I’m forever impressed at how they edited Jason Statham so seamlessly into Tokyo Drift so it could be revealed that Han’s car accident wasn’t an accident and Deckard Shaw was the one that caused it. But this franchise has brought characters back from the dead before! Letty was killed in Fast & Furious (number 4) only to have it revealed at the end of Fast Five that she was apparently back from the dead, and then in Fast & Furious 6 it was really her and she’d survived her car exploding but she had amnesia. I’m sure they can just as seamlessly do another edit of Tokyo Drift showing that Han had managed to get out of the car before it caught fire. Plus, Owen Shaw didn’t even die after he got thrown from a moving plane and Dom didn’t die after a whole multi-storey carpark fell on him, so the laws of nature don’t apply to these films as well.

Sure, all of that kind of means the stakes are lessened as we know our heroes are going to make it out alive (maybe not in this film, but in another one surely) but I don’t really care, because the characters don’t know that and for all the action and spectacle, what makes me come back to these films again and again is the characters and their relationships.

An argument that could be made is that the marketing team shouldn’t have put the Han reveal in the trailer, that seeing Han return when watching the film for the first time without out any prior knowledge would’ve had more of an impact. I can agree with that, but how many people would be tweeting “OMG Han’s back!” as soon as they get out of the cinema on opening day, spoiling it for everyone else? I think from a marketing point of view, having Han in the trailer gives another aspect to the publicity surrounding the film, and the filmmakers can somewhat control spoilers from the outset. I’m pretty sure Sung Kang hasn’t gone to any of the premiers for Fast and Furious films he wasn’t in, so seeing him there might’ve tipped some people off as well, so maybe it’s better to get the reveal out there and go from there.

Apparently the tenth Fast and Furious film is going to be the last one, and to continue the theme of people not staying dead, it’d be great if at the end of F9 it was revealed that Gisele was still alive and then she can join the family for one last ride. That would also mean that Han and Gisele could drive off into the sunset together which would be amazing.

I just love these films so much and will never get tired of their ridiculousness. I think the reasons these films work so well, even with all the retcons they’ve had over the past nine films (ten if you include Hobbs & Shaw), is that they just go for it wholeheartedly and embrace the ridiculousness. The rules do not apply to the world of the Fast and Furious and that is OK.

Have you watched the F9: The Fast Saga trailer as many times as I have? What do you make of it? I will be there opening day and it will be glorious.

REVIEW: The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)

Set in the 1840s, David Copperfield (Dev Patel) attempts to navigate a chaotic world to find his place in it. From his unhappy childhood to his discovery of his gift for storytelling, he meets many eccentric people on his travels, and through them finds somewhere to belong.

Personally I’ve neither read the novel by Charles Dickens that The Personal History of David Copperfield is based on nor seen any of adaptations that have come before this one, so watching this film meant I was experiencing this classic story for the first time.

The Personal History of David Copperfield is directed and co-written by Armando Iannucci, a man best known for political satire and comedy like The Thick of It and The Death of Stalin. Having him then go make an adaptation of a classic story that’s over 150 years old was a bit of a surprise but it worked! The Personal History of David Copperfield is still very funny and it’s witty and clever like Iannucci’s previous endeavours but it’s also full of so much charm and heart that it’s just lovely.

The whole cast is brilliant, and what an ensemble it is. From Tilda Swinton as Aunt Betsey chasing donkeys, to Hugh Laurie as the good-natured but slightly odd Mr Dick, everyone is wonderful in their roles and there’s great chemistry between the all. They also wholeheartedly commit to the comedy, whether it’s a witty one-liner or clownish physical comedy, and while naturally it is a period piece their performances give this classic story a modern flair.

Dev Patel is the one who truly shines in the titular role. He has the perfect mixture of charm, bewilderment and earnestness for a lead character who is trying his best to fit in with whatever crowd he ends up in. The story of David Copperfield and the people he meets who have an impact on his life, shows the good in people; some may not be decent, but the majority will help those who need it. Having David start with nothing and strive for a better life, means he experiences all sorts of trials and tribulations, but he retains his kind heart.

The Personal History of David Copperfield flies by, so much so that some events and resolutions feel a bit glossed over, but it is still funny, wholesome and whimsical. It is truly a wonderful film and one that in the end feels like a warm hug due to the larger than life, but on the whole sincere, characters you meet along David Copperfield’s journey. 4/5.

Films of 2020

Here are all the films I’ve watched this year. My film-related goals of the year include watching 52 Films by Women (both films directed by and by women) which would be my fifth year of completing this challenge, and once again trying to watch some of the DVDs and Blu-rays that have been sat on my shelves for ages. You can find out more about what I’m watching on my Twitter or Letterboxd – I sometimes write a couple of lines of my thoughts of a film on Twitter/Letterboxd rather than writing a full review here.

Without further ado, here’s what I’ve watched in 2020! Film titles in bold are films I saw at the cinema and films with an asterisk are rewatches. Any title with a hyperlink goes to its review – whether that’s here on my blog or on JumpCut Online which I contribute to.

January:
– Puss in Boots (2011)*
– The Sound of Music (1965)*
– Logan (2017)*
– Predator 2 (1990)
– Southpaw (2015)
– Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)*
– Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)*
– Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)*
1917 (2019)
Little Women (2019)
– Safe House (2012)*
– Lockout (2012)*
Spies in Disguise (2019)
Just Mercy (2019)
The Great Debaters (2007)
– Remember the Titans (2000)*
Like a Boss (2020)
The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)
The Gentlemen (2019)
– The Quake (2018)

February:
Miss Americana (2020)
– Outlander (2008)
Parasite (2019)
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)
– Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)
– The Falling (2014)

Number of different films watched: 26
Number of films seen in the cinema: 9

REVIEW: The Great Debaters (2007)

At the Wiley College Texas in 1935 Professor Melvin Tolson (Denzel Washington) who inspired his students and with the school’s debate team, went on to challenge Harvard in the national championship.

The Great Debaters is one of those inspiring films that though the characters go through their trials ultimately there’s hope for a better tomorrow. It’s the brilliant yet politically radical Tolson that helps his students finds their voices and put together their arguments. He’s the leading force for this team but, through his guidance, each member of the debate team finds their own way.

Set against the backdrop of racial segregation, Jim Crow laws and prejudice, The Great Debaters show how a small group of young people were given confidence in their abilities and fight to make themselves heard. The fact this debate team not only beat every team from African American colleges, but also went on to go toe to toe with white-only colleges is commendable and how the characters grapple with that pressure is clear to see.

The debate team consists of Hamilton Burgess (Jermaine Williams) Samantha Booke (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Henry Lowe (Nate Parker) and James Farmer Jr. (Denzel Whitaker). All the young actors give great performances, but a special mention goes to Denzel Whitaker who plays a young man who at fourteen is at least five years younger than his fellow debaters and it’s through his eyes we see a lot of the film.

Forest Whitaker plays James’ father, a minister and teacher, and their relationship is sometimes fraught but it’s also one of respect. Farmer Sr. and Tolson have conflicting ideas about things like unionising and what they should teach their students, and it’s interesting to see how two educated and progressive men can have conflicting ideologies but still be open to a healthy debate on them.

The Great Debaters is the second film Denzel Washington directed and it proves him to be talented behind the camera as he allows emotional moments to linger and trusts his actor’s performances in the close ups of their faces. The scenes of the different debates leave you enthralled as you watch these young people argue their side with passion. There are a lot of great lines that come from the debates but one that sticks on is: “No, the time for justice, the time for freedom, and the time for equality is always, is always right now!”

The Great Debaters is based on a true story and it does follow a lot of the typical story beats one might have, but that makes it no less enjoyable or uplifting. It is full of great, rousing speeches from Denzel Washington and it never shies away from the harsh realities so many people faced in the 1930s. 4/5.