drama

REVIEW: Rocky III (1982)

World champion Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is living a life of luxury and is at the top of his game until Clubber Lang (Mr T) arrives on the scene. After a bitter defeat Rocky gains guidance from the most unlikely of places, former rival Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).

After wondering when “Eye of the Tiger” was going to make an appearance, it’s finally arrived in Rocky III and it arrived in style. It’s present throughout the film but it’s the backing song for the opening montage which I loved. It was so clever to use that montage to not only see what Rocky’s life is like since we last saw him in Rocky II, but then compare his life to that of Clubber Lang’s. While Rocky is getting all the fame and fortune, big sponsorship deals and celebrity moments, his boxing appears to be falling by the wayside a bit even though he’s still winning. Meanwhile Lang is training on his own and winning fights in just a couple of rounds, instantly proving to be a dangerous adversary.

Adrian (Talia Shire) is brilliant in Rocky III. She’s always been quite quiet and mousy but as it’s been a few years since she’s had their son and been by Rocky’s side for everything, it’s great to see how she’s come out of her shell. Her and Rocky’s relationship is still pretty great and loving but now she really feels like his equal, not afraid to push him to get him to say what he truly feels and shows how she really knows him.

The fights in Rocky III are my favourite in this series so far. The way they’re shot puts you right in the action with more point-of-view shots of Rocky, Lang, Creed, and wrestler Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan). The fights are entertaining and gripping and they work so well – especially the ones featuring Lang. Mr T is a great addition to this series and unlike Creed who’s always had a little bit of likeability to him even when he was the “bad guy” in the previous films, Lang is portrayed as a straight up villain. Sure Mr T has the charisma but he channels it into a ferociousness that’s different to Creed’s and makes him a real, intimidating threat to Rocky even before they get into the ring – especially as well as verbally antagonising Rocky, he takes jabs at Adrian too which gets under Rocky’s skin.

I know there’s obviously a lot more Rocky films to watch but I do feel like Rocky III rounds out a pretty perfect trilogy of films. It covers the highs and lows of Rocky’s story so well without anything getting stale, and each film goes deeper into the different relationships Rocky has. Whether that’s his romance with Adrian, his working relationship with Mickey (Burgess Meredith), or even the start of a potentially great friendship with Apollo. Everything wraps up really nicely so it’ll be interesting to see if the next Rocky films have some of the same emotional weight to them as Rocky III and its predecessors do. 5/5.

REVIEW: Rocky II (1979)

After Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) goes the distance with champ Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), he retires from boxing and plans to get an everyday job and settle down with the love of his life Adrian (Talia Shire). But when Creed wants a rematch in order to restore his reputation, he begins to insistently goad Rocky to accept the challenge.

I don’t know how controversial this may be but I preferred Rocky II to the original. One of the fun things about watching these films for the first time is that while I’ve been aware of them though pop culture osmosis, I don’t know what happens in each film nor do I really know which films are considered to be the best/worst.

Everything in Rocky II just clicked better for me. Perhaps it helps that now I know these characters so I’m not starting from scratch and am more invested in their relationships. Rocky II follows a similar format to the first in the sense the first half is Rocky trying to live a life away from boxing before getting pulled back into it again and then the second half is the training montages with the boxing match at the end. There’s a surprisingly emotional hurdle for Rocky in that second half though and Stallone really brought a level of sincerity to this character/story that I wasn’t expecting.

Rightly or wrongly, I’ve often thought of Stallone as more of just an action star rather than a proper actor, at least when he was young (I have seen Creed and admit he deserved a load of awards for his performance there). Seeing how Stallone portrays the love he has for Adrian and the life he’s trying to build makes me think there was always a great actor in this action hero stereotype. Knowing also how this character/story was created by him, makes this franchise feel like a real labour of love and I’m already looking forward to revisiting Creed once I’ve seen Rocky’s story in full.

One thing I really enjoyed was Rocky’s relationship with his coach Mickey (Burgess Meredith). Their dynamic was excellent and while Mickey was no nonsense and gave Rocky tough love when training him, he also was ready and willing to be by his side when Rocky needed it the most. Mickey’s monologue to Rocky in the church was excellent and possible one of my favourite moments in the film – alongside the training montage where hundreds of schoolkids though the streets of Philadelphia with Rocky. Both scenes got me emotional for different reasons.

Rocky II provides a great rematch for these two larger than life characters and it was good to see more of Creed’s home life to as it made him more sympathetic and it was a good juxtaposition with Rocky’s situation. The final boxing match was really engaging and all the character elements came together really well. A very worthy sequel. 4/5.

REVIEW: Rocky (1976)

When world heavyweight boxing champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) needs a competitor for an exhibition match, he chooses to go for an underdog. Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is a small-time Philadelphia boxer making his living working for a loan shark, but when he gets the opportunity of a lifetime, he strives to go the distance.

On run up to Creed III I thought I’d re/watch the series. I’ve seen (and loved) the Creed films before and I had watched Rocky a good 6+ years ago but hadn’t seen the many sequels so thought it’d be fun to get all the backstory and references and see what all the fuss is about with this franchise. As I said, I had seen Rocky before, but as it’d been so long ago I remembered next to nothing about it so this was like a first time watch.

I kind of find Rocky fascinating. This little film started a whole franchise and while we all love an underdog story, it’s kind of unbelievable that it grew from this film which feels so incredibly small and indie. Also, where is “Eye of the Tiger”?! I’m guessing it’s in one of the many sequels but it’s kind of wild that the song that’s so synonymous with the Rocky franchise and character isn’t even in the first film. The actual Rocky theme is pretty great though and does suit the characters underdog origins.

I prefer the latter half of Rocky, after he’s invited to compete against Apollo Creed and then starts training and his relationship with Adrian (Talia Shire) develops, as the first half is a lot slower and is more of his everyday life which isn’t really that great. However, I don’t think the latter would be half as impactful if we didn’t see where Rocky came from. Honestly the ending and how Rocky slowly opens up to Adrian before the fight makes me appreciate the first half more with hindsight. You need to see how Rocky is kind of coasting through life and not really believing in himself, so when he does start to really work for his dream it’s all the more impactful.

The start of Rocky and Adrian’s romance does make me a bit uncomfortable as her shyness/hesitancy and Rocky’s persistence does feel a bit like he’s stomping all over her boundaries. I know this sort of thing was pretty normal in the 70s (and even today in rom-coms the (often male) love interests persistence tends to be rewarded) but the way it’s shot and Shire’s performance does make Adrian and Rocky’s first kiss feel a bit off to me. As their relationship evolves and the balance they find in each other, it does become a sweet romance – Rocky saying “she’s got gaps, I got gaps, together we fill gaps” is one of the most romantic things I’ve heard in a film in a while. Was such a unique way of saying the usual “she completes me” line.

Rocky is a pretty great underdog story and, for a sports movie, features very little boxing. It’s more about Rocky as a character and the connections he has with his friends, trainer, and girlfriend. The slow and meandering first half is worth it as the final act is pretty great. 4/5.

REVIEW: RRR (2022)

After a young girl is taken from her village by the British Governor (Ray Stevenson) at the whim of his wife, the village’s protector, Bheem (N.T. Rama Rao Jr.), sets out to find her and bring her home. As the Governor’s life is deemed to be threatened, loyal and almost unstoppable police officer Raju (Ram Charan Teja) is put on the case to find and stop this protector.

In some ways I don’t want to say much about RRR because it’s a feel that defies explanation and it’s all the better for it. Considering I’d heard nothing but good things about RRR on social media, I didn’t really know what it was about (besides being anti-British/colonial rule and having bonkers set pieces) so everything was a wonderful surprise and I want everyone to be able to experience this film like that.

RRR is a three-hour historical epic but it’s one of those rare long films where not a single minute is wasted and I never found myself bored or thinking that the story was dragging. RRR is also a musical, an action film, a drama, and a romance and all those elements come together so well and sometimes in unexpected ways. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a three-hour film that was so fun, engaging and thrilling.

The action and set pieces really are astounding. Every big moment would be a standout in any film but this one has like seven of them – it truly is impressive. What makes the set pieces so good is that they’re all grounded in the characters. It makes the drama and stakes more tangible as well as just being highly entertaining.

Really though, the thing I loved most about RRR is the two main characters and their friendship. RRR is truly one of those power-of-friendship kind of movies and the tension of knowing that Bheem and Raju are on opposite sides but have so much in common is so good. The actors are fantastic and their chemistry is excellent and their friendship, and everything it goes through over the course of them film is just the best.

RRR really is something special and is unlike anything I’ve seen before. It’s fun and bombastic and at the same time has a really important story about Britain and India’s past and the harm that the British did and the strength it took to fight back against it. 5/5.

REVIEW: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)

In the wake of King T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) death, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) must lead the people of Wakanda as they fight to protect their home from outside forces – whether that’s member states of the UN, or the nation of Talokan in the deep depths of the ocean led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta).

It’s pretty much impossible to talk about Wakanda Forever without talking about the passing of Chadwick Boseman and the affect this had on the film. Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler incorporated Boseman’s passing into the film and needless to say in the first five minutes I was already getting emotional. This makes Wakanda Forever an almost unique grieving experience. All the characters who knew T’Challa are mourning his passing, and so are the actors playing them, and so are you as you watch this film. It’s easy to imagine that in some of the big emotional scenes, the actors used their grief for their friend and co-worker to fuel their characters grief.

There’s a lot going on in Wakanda Forever with new characters and a new civilisation with a lot of backstory introduced and some aspects were more interesting than others. Martin Freeman’s CIA agent Everett Ross is back and while his character is somewhat integral to moving the plot forward to begin with, it does kind of feel like the film grinds to a halt every time it leaves Wakanda to see what he’s up to in America. Wakanda Forever is close to three hours long and it’s moments like this that makes you feel the runtime.

The whole cast is incredible but Bassett, Huerta and Letitia Wright are truly standouts. Angela Bassett gives a couple of powerful and emotional monologues and the fact that one is almost soft with her contained rage while the other has her pain over flowing just shows how talented she always has been. Plus, the first happens in the UN in front of a majority white audience while the latter happens in the throne room in Wakanda, infront of the other tribal leaders and her people – once again showing how these characters have to be uniquely aware of their race and power even when they’re from one of the most technologically advanced countries in thise universe.

Namor is such an interesting villain – though really he is more of an antihero – and Huerta is just so compelling that your eyes never leave him whenever he’s on screen. His Namor is principled and loyal but on the flipside, he can be very intimidating and, like the first sequence where the people of Talokan attack, almost frightening. Letitia Wright’s Shuri goes through a lot in this film but she’s truly the emotional centre of Wakanda Forever. She’s trying to combine her love and knowledge of science with the realisation that it wasn’t enough to save her brother and if that’s the case how can she protect her people? Her inner turmoil is fascinating and Wright is phenomenal – pretty much every time I felt myself get teary eyed, it was due to her performance.

One of the many things I really appreciated in Wakanda Forever was that it let emotion and drama sit with you. There are jokes or humorous moments in the film – mostly from Winston Duke’s M’Baku who is still an excellent scene-stealer – but they’re used in a way to ease some tension rather than becoming an almost parody of the MCU joke machine as seen in some other MCU movies recently aka Thor: Love and Thunder.

Black Panther won Oscars for Music, Costume, and Production Design and those same Oscar winners are back for Wakanda Forever and I wouldn’t be surprised if they got awards consideration again. Ludwig Göransson’s score has echoes of familiar themes but also plays on the unknown with Talokan, and both Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler make both Wakanda and Talokan feel so alive with their costumes and set design and when it comes to Wakanda, adds to the history and culture we already know. Both Wakanda and Talokan feel so vast and real because of the costumes, sets and props especially as they’ve incorporated African and Indigenous cultures into it all.

Overall Wakanda Forever is a story about grief. How grief is hard and messy and people deal with it in different ways and some ignore grief until it almost consumes them. It still has its action and the Dora Milaje led by Okoye (Danai Gurira) is still awesome and it’s a thrill seeing so many complex and powerful women on screen, working together. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is definitely my favourite MCU film released this year. 4/5.

REVIEW: Inventory (2021)

After someone tries to shoot at Boris (Radoš Bolčina), a middle aged and very normal man, he tries to figure out who could’ve done it as he takes note of all his friends and acquaintances that may have felt wronged by him.

I’m pretty sure this is the first Slovenian film I’ve seen and it was an interesting, tense and sometimes darkly funny introduction to that part of the filmmaking world. Inventory is a slow-burn drama and it’s the central performance from Bolčina that keeps things compelling.

From the start you’re introduced to Boris and his perfectly normal life. He has a wife, an adult son, a job in a university, and isn’t particularly interesting nor does he do anything to make him stand out from a crowd and everyone says he’s perfectly pleasant. Him being shot at in his own home is the most unexpected thing to happen to him and when the police start questioning whether he has any enemies, he can’t remember the last time he had a disagreement with anyone.

The shooting shatters the banality of Boris’ world and while over time his family and friends move on from the incident and can forget about it, he can’t. As the police investigation comes to a standstill, Boris’ paranoia grows – especially after the lead detective (Dejan Spasič) helpfully states that it’s the victim’s loved ones are most often the perpetrators of such a crime. The small gestures Bolčina makes as he studies his wife, friends, or son, trying to figure out what (if anything) they had to gain from his death are brilliant and show his inner turmoil. While the police also say it could’ve been a totally random accident and anyone could’ve been shot at and Boris wasn’t necessarily a target, Boris can’t seem to deal with having no definitive answer and calls into question his relationships and his own personality.

Inventory is a sometimes tense, sometimes funny, sometimes awkward kind of film as Boris goes through all the emotions as his life has been turned up on its head. The score from Matija Krecic adds to the uneasiness, especially when Boris starts conducting his own investigations as you wonder how far he’d go to get to the truth. 3/5.

REVIEW: Cherry (2022)

After discovering she’s almost 11 weeks pregnant, Cherry (Alexandria Threwhitt) has a big decision to make in just 24 hours, whether or not to keep this unplanned pregnancy.

Films about women’s access (or lack thereof) to essential healthcare like abortions and the morning after pill are becoming more common nowadays as women’s right to choose is still being debated – and in some places being outright denied. Personally, I’m a fan of this timely sub-genre, whether it’s a dramatic period piece or a teen road trip comedy as no matter what the central characters decide it’s a huge decision and the circumstances of their pregnancy can be so different.

Cherry is in her early twenties and has had a load of dead-end jobs, is still mostly living with her mother and has no real direction in her life. Her life is a bit of a mess and while some of this is down to her, it’s also obvious that everyone has their own things they’re going through and when people are absent it’s sometimes not because of maliciousness. Alexandria Threwhitt gives a great and compelling performance as Cherry. She bounces between her family, her friends who she sort of ditched and her not so serious boyfriend/the would-be baby’s father a she tries to figure out if motherhood right now is for her while finding it increasingly difficult to talk to the people in her life about what’s going on with her.

As Cherry tries to decide what to do, she talks to her parents about parenthood in a roundabout way, trying to get their advice and guidance without telling them why she’s suddenly so interested in about the circumstances of her own conception and birth. The scenes with her dad (Charlie S. Jensen) are especially good as it’s clear they both have different ideas of what it is to be a parent and support their family. Her father said he was a good father because he worked all the time so they could be secure but to Cherry that meant he was never around and their awkward relationship is testament to that.

I want to mention the doctor Cherry sees, played by Sandy Duarte, quickly. Perhaps it’s because some of the films I’ve watched recently that deal with this topic have had doctors that have been judgmental or unhelpful, but it was so refreshing to see this doctor – who herself was clearly very pregnant, be kind and non-judgemental towards Cherry. She gave her all the information she needed, talked her through all her options and refused to judge her no matter what decision she made but was still firm that Cherry needed to decide one way or another as there was no ignoring what was happening to her body.

Cherry is one of those wonderfully short (its runtime is less than 75 minutes) but poignant and funny indie dramas. It has a great soundtrack and the sunny streets of LA and Cherry’s shiny red roller-skates help give this film almost a sense of whimsy even though Cherry has big choices ahead of her. 4/5.

REVIEW: Call Jane (2022)

Chicago, 1968. Joy (Elizabeth Banks), a housewife, is expecting her second child but when she learns that continuing her pregnancy could kill her in a time when abortions are illegal in America, she finds help in an unlikely place and goes on to work with the group of suburban women who helped her.

Call Jane does a great job at tackling a tough topic with both sensitivity and humour though never makes light of the dangers these women are in. Both the group known as Jane themselves as they organise illegal abortions, and the women who are having the abortions could face jail, and then potentially lose their jobs or families because of their actions.

The humour and candour in Call Jane works because the situation of women having to illegally procure abortions aka basic healthcare, is the kind of situation where if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. Listening to male doctors talk about Joy as if she’s not in the room and not of value because the unborn child is seen as more important is laughable and frustrating.

Personally, I tend to think of Elizabeth Banks as a comedic actor so to see her as a lead in a more dramatic role was really different and she did a great job and is the heart of this story. Joy is an interesting character as she has her own biases that she’s never really considered before as she does have a more privileged background compared to some of the other women who come looking for abortions. It’s great to see how her attitude changes over time and how she almost gets a new lease of life as she does something meaningful and becomes more than a housewife and a mother – not that there’s anything wrong with either of those things.

Sigourney Weaver and Wunmi Mosaku play two of the prominent women in this underground abortion group that Joy meets. Weaver is especially brilliant and has pretty much all of the best lines and while the socio-economic factors of who has to get illegal abortions is mostly glossed over, Mosaku’s Gwen is an important Black voice in a group of well-meaning but white women.

The ending of Call Jane is quite abrupt and almost rushed which is a shame as the rest of the film was pretty well-paced and has an engaging script that does well to avoid some fo the clichés. It’s as if they didn’t quite know how to wrap things up or end this story without having a time jump. That being said, overall Call Jane is an enjoyable and unfortunately a timely film. If women could do this in the 1960s, what can they do today in order to have the freedom to chose what should happen to their bodies? 4/5.

As a sidenote, I highly recommend the documentary The Janes which goes more into depth about this group of women and the near misses they had with both the cops and the mob.

REVIEW: Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Vampire Louis (Brad Pitt) tells his life story to reporter Malloy (Christian Slater). A story of love, betrayal, loneliness, and hunger.

Interview with the Vampire is one of those “classic “films of the genre that I’ve naturally been aware of for years but have never watched it. With a new TV show adaptation being released and it being spooky season I thought it was about time to see what all the fuss is about.

Overall, I did like Interview with the Vampire quite a bit, especially the whole gothic vibes it has going on. Plot-wise it felt kind of lacking at times and that tended to be when Tom Cruise’s Lestat was off screen for extended periods of time.

Lestat is a great character and Cruise looks like he’s having a great time being an almost campy vampire who loves killing and who is often exasperated with Louis, the guy he turned. There’s a scene where Lestat dances with a corpse and it’s just great. Feels kind of weird and out of place but also then again it doesn’t as Lestat is such a larger-than-life character you just kind of roll with it.

Louis is kind of a woe is me, kind of character so it’s a bit of a shame that he is the lead character and focal point for Interview with the Vampire. His sulkiness does make sense as part of him hates what he has become and how he has to kill in order to survive but it’s also made clear that vampires can be killed so if he was really craving death and freedom from this life, he was now stuck in then he could’ve done something about it ages ago.

Kirsten Dunst plays Claudia, a young child who is turned into an immortal vampire, and she gives a really impressive performance. How she appears to be an adult at such a young age is amazing and she outshines Pitt in nearly every scene they’re in together.

So really, the cast and vibes are what made Interview with the Vampire for me. When Lestat is off screen for a while it does start to feel like a bit of a slog as Louis just isn’t as charming or as interesting as the other two vampires that make up their odd little family. Because while Louis is lamenting about being a vampire, Interview with the Vampire is pretty gay and features Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise adopting a little vampire girl. It’s a strange family but it works for the most part – until Lestat and Louis start yelling at each other again.

Interview with the Vampire is kind of a strange film as it mostly tries to be super sombre but then you have Cruise’s Lestat camping up the place. It’s a drama, it’s a romance, it’s horror but it’s also comedy. Amazingly all those things work together for the most part and give you a film that somehow has stood the test of time. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Narrated by Santino Fontana.

It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capital, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, outwit, and outmanoeuvre his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute. The odds are against him when he’s given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, Lucy Gray Baird. Their fates are now completely intertwined – every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favour or failure, triumph or ruin.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who was apprehensive about a prequel to The Hunger Games trilogy that was centred on a young President Snow. To be honest, that’s one of the reasons it’s taken me so long to read it but after rereading the trilogy and revisiting the films I thought now was the time.

I found Coriolanus Snow to be equal parts fascinating and infuriating. He is not a nice young man. He is obsessed with his standing and appearance in the Capitol and the power his family name no longer has, he is constantly hiding his true self from pretty much everyone and he’s always second-guessing other people’s motivations as he believes that everyone is out to get him. It’s almost funny at times as he’s so self-centred that he thinks every comment or action someone might make is supposed to be an affront to him but in reality, they probably don’t even think about him like that at all. He’s always thinking about what other people can do for him, and how his actions at any moment can either further his aspirations or tear them down. He’s arrogant and even when he’s been knocked down a peg or two and is in a similar situation to people of the Districts, he still sees himself as better than them. He continues to blame them for their own circumstances when if he took his rose-tinted-Capitol-loving glasses off, he’d see that the people of the Districts and his own really have the same cause.

As The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is told solely from Snow’s point of view it makes his relationship with Lucy Gray super interesting. As he’s possibly falling in love with her, and starts to believe she cares for him, you have to wonder if that’s really the case. Lucy Gray is in the Hunger Games against 23 other tributes, many of whom are stronger than her, surely she’d use anything at her disposal, including a boy from the Capitol who is supposed to be her mentor, in order to survive? As the book progresses, I’m not sure what Lucy Gray’s feelings are towards Snow but how he often refers to her in ways that makes her his possession or gets jealous of any mention of her having loved someone before him just made my skin crawl. I think how Snow sees Lucy Gray is a fine line between love and obsession and even at the beginning he mainly thinks of her as what she can do for him and any sign of kindness like getting her food, is so that she’ll survive to get to the Hunger Games for him, not for herself.

Though you don’t live the terror and fear of the Hunger Games in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes as you’re a spectator just like Snow is, it’s still a brutal book at times. It’s brutal in the cruelty the tributes face as the life of a tribute is vastly different to what we’ve seen before, and there’s moments that made my jaw drop because Suzanne Collins can do those sudden moments of violence like no one else.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is quite slow-paced but as I listened to the audiobook that didn’t really bother me. That being said, I feel like the ending took a sudden turn and was a lot more abrupt than anything previous so it was a bit jarring. Also, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was kind of an uncomfortable read. It’s not necessarily a book I enjoyed reading because you’re in Snow’s head and that’s not a fun place to be, never mind what’s going on around him, but it’s a book I found really interesting in the context of it being a prequel. It explored things I didn’t expect, how it tackled Snow as a protagonist especially, and had seemingly minor things that would go on to feature in the original trilogy.

Having been a couple of years late to The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes I’ve been looking at reviews and reactions and can see why it might’ve got a mixed response. Having the book being from the point of view of (for all intents and purposes) the oppressor was certainly a choice and while there may have been moments at the beginning that made you almost sympathise with Snow because of the trauma he had of living through a war as a child, it doesn’t dwell on it and you soon see the beginnings of the tyrant he’s destined to become.

What can I say except that The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes surprised me and I found it engaging even when Snow was wallowing in self-pity, being incredibly narrowminded and just generally an unlikeable character. 4/5.