film review

REVIEW: Schumacher (2021)

Documentary about seven-time Formula 1 champion Michael Schumacher.

Formula 1 is not a sport I follow or know a lot about but it’s hard to not have at least heard of Michael Schumacher. It’s a name and person I was always aware of growing up as he first raced in the F1 a month before I was born and I remember seeing his ski accident featured in the news. Really that sums up my knowledge of Michael Schumacher before watching this documentary.

I found Schumacher to be really interesting and engaging. The balance between talking heads, voiceovers from various industry professionals and those who know Michael Schumacher, and archival footage was great. The filmmakers had a good understanding of when to let the footage speak for itself; whether that was a montage of photos and clips of Schumacher with his family, or letting key races play out.

The documentary seemed to balance the story of Schumacher the man outside of F1 and Schumacher the driver. It’s clear that they were very different people and while he was focused and put his all into both aspects of his life, his competitiveness when it came to racing was almost unparalleled. You get to see the highs and lows of his racing career and included are the times where he was probably in the wrong when it came to altercations with some of his opponents but it was clear that he’d never apologise for such things as in some ways it was almost like anything goes when on the track. Hearing David Coulthard talk about their relationship on and off the track especially highlighted Schumacher’s competitive-streak.

The documentary shows how Schumacher got into racing from humble beginnings of go-kart racing to almost pure chance that got him into his first F1 race. From there you see how talented he really was and how he loved a challenge. It was like as well as winning Championship titles, what he wanted to do was win them in ways other drivers hadn’t. Sometimes that meant going with teams and cars that were the underdogs – proving that while others may have a faster car, if Michael Schumacher was behind the wheel of a bad car it didn’t mean all was lost.

The skiing accident is mentioned briefly towards the end of the documentary and while you can make assumptions on Schumacher’s condition based on the thing’s family members say, it’s clear that the family is firm in keeping their private life private and the filmmakers respect that. At one point his wife Corrina says how before the accident and during the height of his fame Michael kept his private life private and now his family are committed to do the same.

I feel that Schumacher is one of those great documentaries that is enjoyable and interesting to both those who are fans of or are knowledgeable about the subject matter, and for complete novices (like me). It’s an engaging and thoughtful documentary about both Michael Schumacher the family man and Michael Schumacher the F1 driver and seems to cover both sides of his life with respect. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Sweetest Thing (2002)

Christina (Cameron Diaz) is more than happy to flirt, have one-night stands, and leave men in the dust. That is until she meets Peter (Thomas Jane) in a club and with the help of her best friends Courtney (Christina Applegate) and Jane (Selma Blair) she decides to follow her heart and to gatecrash his brother’s wedding.

While The Sweetest Thing is built on romance and the driving force behind Christina’s motivations is the fact she wants to see Peter again, it’s really about the friendship between these three women. Christina only meets Peter because she’s trying to help Jane get over her ex and it’s Courtney that drives them for hours in order to get to the wedding on time. All three of them are very funny people and they feel like they are great friends. They have in-jokes and do their best to cheer each other up while also being totally open with one another.

The Sweetest Thing has the crude humour also seen in Bridesmaids so if you like that, there’s a good chance you’ll like this too, and it should probably be talked about as much as Bridesmaids is to be honest. There’s a whole song and dance number about how to make a man feel good about his penis (sounds weird but it does work) and all three friends are very open about talking about their sex lives. There’s another musical moment featuring Aerosmith’s Don’t Want to Miss a Thing which I found hilarious and there’s a montage like any self-respecting romcom should have.

Cameron Diaz is just a delight in this film. She’s funny and sweet and while their first meeting is pretty short, she and Thomas Jane have enough chemistry to make you believe that she’d make the unexpected choice to travel for hundreds of miles just on the chance that there’s something between them. But really all her best moments are with Christina Applegate and Selma Blair, they all have great friendship-chemistry and each feel equal parts weird and real.

The Sweetest Thing is funny and at times outlandish and ridiculous but it never stops being fun. 4/5.

REVIEW: Copshop (2021)

To escape the assassin on his tail, con artist Teddy (Frank Grillo) gets himself arrested by rookie cop Valerie Young (Alexis Louder) so he can hide out in a small-town police station but when the hitman (Gerard Butler) turns up at the precinct things don’t go according to plan and Valerie finds herself caught in the crossfire.

Directed by Joe Carnahan, Copshop is full of larger-than-life characters, gunfights, swearing and chaos. Set primarily in the police station, this film makes great use of the space as the action unfolds. It’s the scenes in the holding cells between Valerie, Teddy and the assassin (kept in separate cells) that standout – especially when things go wrong and Valerie is trapped in the holding cells with the two of them. The verbal sparring between the three is great and while Gerard Butler is good as hired killer Bob, his performance is of the more quiet and menacing kind, and he seems more than happy to give his co-stars the floor.

Teddy is the kind of wily conman character who you want to trust even though you really shouldn’t. It probably helps that Frank Grillo is a charismatic guy who, when not playing out and out villains, often plays characters that verge into more of an antihero. So, it’s easy to see why Valerie might be more willing to trust Teddy (a conman) than Bob (an assassin). With Teddy there’s more of a grey area but to her as a cop Bob is the opposite of the law.

Alexis Louder as Valerie is the true standout. She holds her own against her growly counterparts and knows exactly what film she’s in. She makes Valerie a fully realised character through her playfulness with a friend to her intelligence baiting a colleague who she’s not sure can be trusted. Plus, she’s got the physicality to handle the action sequences too.

Copshop does lose momentum at times but it’s the off-the-wall characters keep you interested and it’s hard not to have a smile on your face when the guns start firing. Got to give a shoutout to Toby Huss’s hitman Anthony Lamb too, he’s delightfully unhinged and is a great contrast to Butler and Grillo. 3/5.

REVIEW: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) has been living a normal life in San Francisco with his friends including his best friend and co-worker Katy (Awkwafina) but that changes when his father Wenwu (Tony Leung) sends his men after him and pulls Shang-Chi back into the world of the Ten Rings.

I have seen Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings twice now (and there’s a good chance I’ll see it a third time in the cinema) and I really truly love it. While almost naturally there’s a big CGI-heavy showdown at the end, that doesn’t lessen the impact of this film, and as it’s a very CGI-heavy showdown that still puts the focus on the characters and their relationships, it works and is still very enjoyable. Plus, it pulls in elements from Asian culture that we just haven’t seen before in the MCU so it doesn’t feel like the typical end of the world scenario.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a story of a family, and perhaps more than that it’s a love story. But not the kind of love story you’d expect with the superhero lead having a big romance. Here the love story is between Shang-Chi’s parents, Wenwu and Li (Fala Chen), and how their love shaped each other and their children. Throughout the film there’s flashbacks to Shang-Chi’s childhood (played by Jayden Zhang as a child and Arnold Sun as a teenager) to see the events that shaped him into the adult he is now. The way these scenes are interspersed throughout the film always feel natural and are complimenting what’s happening in the present. These scenes, while often more family and relationship focused, are just as compelling as the action sequences that are happening in the present. Ever single flashback feels important and adds something to the characters involved; whether that’s Shang-Chi, Wenwu, Li, or Shang-Chi’s sister, Xialing (played by Meng’er Zhang as an adult, Elodie Fong as a child and Harmonie He as a teenager).

Having these flashbacks scattered through the film means that the main action and story of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings kicks in very quickly. After a prologue narrated by Li (and all in Mandarin) telling the backstory of Wenwu, the ten rings he possesses, and how the two of them met and fell in love, it’s straight into the everyday life of Shang-Chi and Katy and how they both quickly get caught up in Wenwu’s schemes. The first action sequence is set on a moving bus and straightaway you can tell that this is a film made by people who know how to shoot fight and stunt sequences – and it’s clear that Simu Liu (like other cast members) put in many hours of stunt and fight training because it’s easy to believe that he knows martial arts.

All the hand-to-hand fights are just thrilling to watch and the way they’re choreographed often shows little character moments in them. Character’s fighting styles aren’t all the same and Shang-Chi incorporating a headbutt (something far more American than anything his father would’ve taught him) into a fight is a fun little moment.

The MCU often has a problem with its villains; namely that they’re pretty generic and forgettable. The two main exceptions to this rule are Thanos and Loki and now there’s a third with Wenwu. He is a villain, he is a murderer and a conqueror, but he can love though over time it becomes twisted into something else. He is an understandable and complex villain and his connections to Shang-Chi and Xialing makes him compelling and the conflict between the hero and villain that more impactful.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is one of my new favourite MCU movies and is definitely one of the great origin stories of the MCU. It’s fun and vibrant with great characters, fights and visuals and overall, it feels like a breath of fresh air in the MCU. Also, I appreciated how the comedic moments were handled throughout the film. Katy is the main comedic character but her jokes and comments are never to the detriment to a dramatic or sombre moment. Plus, she feels like a real character by actually having her own family connections and skills that can aid the hero. I honestly did not expect to love this film as much as I did and I can’t wait for Shang-Chi and to meet other characters in this universe because i feel his dynamic with them would be so interesting. 5/5.

Also got to give a shout out to whoever put together the trailer for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. There is really very little of the movie in the trailer, and of the third act especially. In some ways it’s good as there were so many surprises to be had when watching the film but in others it’s not as I thought the trailer was fine but it didn’t make me desperate to see the film. But maybe that was for the best as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has far surpassed any expectations I may have had.

REVIEW: Black and Blue (2019)

After capturing footage of corrupt cops killing unarmed young black men on her bodycam, rookie cop Alicia West (Naomi Harris) is on the run from the police as she fights to get the truth out there.

Black and Blue is the kind of film you’ve probably seen before. It’s a corrupt cop film that follows some very similar beats to films that have come before it and in fact the final showdown definitely had some echoes of Training Day. That’s not to say Black and Blue is a bad film, it’s just one that has very few surprises.

Naomi Harris is very good in the lead role, capturing the resolve to do what’s right while being unsure of who she can trust because just about every other cop she encounters as she tries to get back to the police station to upload the bodycam footage seems to have an ulterior motive. The one person she does learn to trust is Tyrese Gibson’s Mouse, a guy who works at a shop and doesn’t want any trouble but ends up helping her anyway. Having mostly seen Gibson in the Transformers and Fast and Furious franchises where he’s often cracking a joke every five minutes, it was nice to see him tackle a more serious role where his character was more stoic and thoughtful.

Almost unsurprisingly Frank Grillo plays the lead corrupt cop. He always does a good job of playing a bad guy though his character seems to have a slight manic edge to it that doesn’t quite seem to fit in with the tone that Harris and Gibson seem to be going for. Still, he’s always fun to watch and the scenes where he’s stalking Harris’ West are quite tense.

Themes of racial tension and whether or not a Black person can still be Black while being a police officer are sprinkled throughout the film. Black and Blue never really commits to these themes though; it’s like it’s trying to combine more recent Black Live Matter messages with a corrupt cop film of the late 90s/early 2000s and it doesn’t really hit the mark. West is someone who sees people as people and while she knows some people who ended up affiliated with gangs, she sees them as more than what her colleagues tend to do. Many of the cops and the Black people she meets seem to have an us vs them mentality which she does not share, meaning she struggles to fit in with her co-workers and the community she used to be a part of. Harris does a good job of showing West’s inner turmoil about this but neither her nor the script are really strong enough for this complex topic.

Black and Blue is a decent corrupt cop action movie. There are some lulls in the action but when Alicia West is on the run it’s often tense and entertaining. 3/5.

REVIEW: Snake Eyes (2021)

Snake Eyes (Henry Golding) has been living a nomadic life, trying to learn the secrets of his past when he saves the life of Tommy Arashikage (Andrew Koji), heir of Arashikage clan. Tommy takes him to his home and gives him the chance to have a new life as a ninja.

Snake Eyes is a sort of reboot/origin story of the character that’s appeared in previous G.I. Joe films but you don’t need to know anything of those films or the characters in order to follow this one.

Snake Eyes is one of those films I’ve seen recently where I’ve liked the characters more than the plot they’re in. That does give the film some leeway with me as if I like the characters, I’ll pretty much just enjoy spending time with them no matter what they’re doing. I don’t know if Snake Eyes will make enough money etc for a sequel to happen, but I’d be more than happy to see Golding’s Snake Eyes and Koji’s Tommy again. Their dynamic was compelling and the actors had decent chemistry and what more can you want from a pair of leads where they each straddle the line between good and bad.

The action sequences in Snake Eyes are a bit of a mixed bag. Some are edited so much that everything feels frantic and it’s hard to see what’s exactly happening. This is a shame when you’ve got actors who know how to fight like Andrew Koji and Iko Uwais in your film as it’d be more impressive to see them fight in one shot. Other sequences are better, one with motorcycles and a moving lorry is pretty good, and some of the general espionage like sequences are often tense and interesting too.

Overall Snake Eyes is a pretty enjoyable film to get lost into this world of ninjas, spies and secret terrorist organisations. It perhaps does try and cram in a bit too much of the G.I. Joes lore to make it connected to the previous films/franchise but it’s still a fun film with interesting characters. 3/5.

REVIEW: Boss Level (2021)

Retired Special Forces officer, Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo), is seemingly trapped in a never-ending time loop that restarts as soon as he dies.

I shall start off this review by saying perhaps you shouldn’t read this review. Because Boss Level is one of those films that is truly a delight and perhaps works even better when you know nothing about it. All I knew was that it starred Frank Grillo (an actor I always like) and I’d seen some positive buzz about it on my Twitter feed. But I enjoyed this film enough to want to write about it so do read on if you fancy learning about why Boss Level worked for me.

Boss Level begins by throwing you right into the time loop with Roy. By this point he’s died over 100 times and can predict and counter the moves of his attackers. His dry narration sets the tone of the film and shows just how bored he is of going through the motions. People are trying to kill him and he doesn’t know why and sometimes he doesn’t even care. By starting the story after Roy is used to his predicament, you’re learning about any new occurrences as he does and it adds to the mystery of it all.

Boss Level is also really fun and often funny. The fights, car chases and shootouts are great, and as there’s so much trial and error for Roy as he goes through certain scenarios (the error leading to his death again) you get to see how his skills grow as he learns what works and what doesn’t in a fight. The editing between the different loops as Roy gets further and further before dying is great too. How the film never over explains things and manages to briefly show you the steps Roy has taken since waking up without it ever getting boring is impressive. It trusts the audience to understand the time loop scenario (as there’s been many a time loop film) so if we join Roy in a loop further along, we have a good idea of what he’s already had to do since it’s pretty much the same every time.

The humour comes from Roy’s attitude to this situation he’s in, and from a lot of his deaths. Some are so sudden and unexpected while others he just sighs and waits for it to happen. Frank Grillo’s voice suits the almost wry narration style perfectly and he looks good doing a lot of the fight sequences himself. There are times where the tone gets more sombre, almost naturally there’s a lost love, but Grillo handles those moments well too.

Boss Level is action packed and innovative. The reasoning why Roy is stuck in a time loop is slowly revealed and the action and fights are always entertaining. Boss Level is just a real good time and it’s one of the first new-to-me films I’ve watched in a while that I’ve fully enjoyed and not just thought was simply fine. Honestly, I was starting to think I didn’t know how to like films anymore! 4/5.

REVIEW: The Suicide Squad (2021)

Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) sends the latest criminal recruits to Task Force X including Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Bloodsport (Idris Elba), and Peacemaker (John Cena) to the enemy-infused island of Corto Maltese to complete a mission that no one must know about.

The Suicide Squad is the sort of sequel/reboot of 2016’s Suicide Squad. There are a few characters from the last film in this one, namely Harley Quinn, Amanda Waller, Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) and Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), but you really don’t need to have seen the previous film in order to watch this one, as while they both have the general premise of a bunch of deadly convicts/supervillains getting sent on a secret mission that’s likely to get a lot of them killed it’s a whole new story.

From the outset it’s clear that the violence in The Suicide Squad is going to be very bloody and gratuitous. The violence is often used to humorous effect but depending on your sense of humour it’ll either get old very quickly or will work for you. The Suicide Squad is a very sweary comedy however personally the jokes didn’t often land, and those that did might’ve elicited a smile rather than a full on laugh out loud moment. The humour is vulgar and weird and sometimes juvenile. It’s also often full of in-jokes and references so if the likes of Deadpool don’t work for you, The Suicide Squad might not either.

The action sequences are often entertaining, especially the one-on-one fights. Harley Quinn rescuing herself is a real highlight and Bloodsport and Peacemaker one-upping each other with kills and quips shows off both Elba’s and Cena’s comedic timing.

What The Suicide Squad does better than its predecessor is making you care about a good proportion of these characters, especially the ones we’ve never seen before, and make you believe that these antisocial characters can actually care about one another in their own ways. A big element of Suicide Squad was when a character suddenly said this “team” was his family – something there had never been any sign of before he actually said it. In The Suicide Squad while it’s hard to say these characters are a family, there are the beginnings of bonds of friendship between certain characters thanks to the dialogue and chemistry between certain actors.

Daniela Melchoir as Ratcatcher 2 is brilliant and she and her pet rat Sebastian almost stole the whole film. They are the softer core of this film and her dynamics with both Bloodsport and Rick Flag are great to watch. Naturally with such a sprawling cast some characters don’t stay around for very long and through them you see just how deadly their mission is. On the flipside of that though, with so many characters with no real introduction as to who they are or even what their skills are, when they do die it’s sometimes hard to care.

The Suicide Squad certainly starts with a bang but that intensity and surprises doesn’t quite last the full runtime. The comedic bits can become grating and while most of the action sequences are entertaining, there’s not enough narrative focus to The Suicide Squad to make it truly memorable and the final showdown just feels rather absurd. Director and writer James Gunn’s signature style of needle drops, witty one-liners and some interesting visuals are all over this film but that does make The Suicide Squad feel like it’s more style over substance. 3/5.

REVIEW: Black Widow (2021)

After the events of Captain America: Civil War Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is on the run but soon her past catches up with her as she’s reunited with her sister Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) and learns that the Red Room she thought she’d long destroyed is still active.

After all this time Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow finally gets her own movie. While I’m certainly pleased that the character, and Scarlett Johansson who has more than a decade with this character, has finally gotten their time to shine, as a film it also feels a bit redundant. Having it set between the events of Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War means that there’s no real stakes for Natasha as we know we see her again. However, while her physical safety may be assured, Black Widow does allow more time to examine her psyche and she a few other characters certainly go through the emotional ringer – whether all those emotional beats land is another matter.

The fight sequences are great and having so many aerial shots make the movements seem fluid and helps these scenes standout more compared to other fight sequences in the MCU. The initial confrontation between Natasha and Yelena who haven’t seen each other for decades is a highlight. There’s the usual big explosions and car chases but it’s the one-on-one fight sequences which are the best and highlight how Natasha differs to her fellow superheroes.

With Natasha unable to turn to her Avenger family, she is forced to reconnect with a family from her past. Her dynamic with Yelena is interesting as while Yelena is clearly a more than capable spy and combatant, Natasha quickly falls back into the older sister role. Alexei (David Harbour) is the only Russian super soldier and Melina (Rachel Weisz) round out this family unit as the slippery scientist who you’re never quite sure where her allegiance lies. There’s an easy chemistry between the four actors but Florence Pugh steals just about every scene she’s in. Her Yelena is sarcastic and funny but she’s also hurting from her own experience in the Red Room. She’s also struggling to compartmentalise what this family unit means as she was so young when they were last together and to her, while it was a family of spies and double agents, it felt real.

Black Widow is a simpler MCU film. It’s Natasha facing her past and while the hundreds of Black Widows out there can certainly cause a lot of damage, it’s not framed as the end of the world type scenario. Instead, it’s about saving these young women from a life of trauma and control. However, the idea of the Red Room and these young girls being trained, and even brainwashed, to become master spies and assassins is a dark one and Black Widow never really goes into it more than at the surface level. Natasha’s past is dark and while Johansson does a good job at slowly revealing the layers of Natasha’s guilt and pain and love that’s all mixed together with her feelings for the Red Room and this unconventional family of hers, it often feels like something is missing.

Black Widow is an enjoyable action/spy thriller and there’s some good character work for Natasha and Yelena. While characters like Alexei are fun when they’re on screen (he’s much of the films comedic relief) they’re not particularly memorable afterwards. 3/5.

REVIEW: G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)

When the Joe’s are betrayed by their President (Jonathan Pryce), the survivors must hide and pool all their resources in order to stop whatever deadly plan he and Cobra Commander (Luke Bracey) have put together.

Much like the first film, I’ve seen G.I. Joe: Retaliation once before but it was so long ago, I remembered next to nothing about it. What G.I. Joe: Retaliation has going for it is that it’s a lot better than its predecessor, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. As a film G.I. Joe: Retaliation isn’t exactly great but when you compare it to what came before it’s hard not to think it’s half decent.

While there’s still some advance, sci-fi-esque tech in G.I. Joe: Retaliation, mostly courtesy of Firefly (Ray Stevenson) and his electronic insects, it’s generally a lot more grounded in reality. There are no super suits for the Joes, they are purely military characters, and they’re all American this time.

The surviving Joe’s are led by Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson) proving once again that the Rock can help reenergise any franchise. There’s also Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki) and Flint (D.J. Cotrona), and Snake Eyes (Ray Park). Snake Eyes and his feud with Storm Shadow (Lee Byung-Hun) is still a highlight of this franchise, it’s always nice to see a female badass in these testosterone-heavy films, but Flint is such a generic action man character that anyone could’ve been in that role – I mean, the man isn’t even on the poster. Channing Tatum briefly reprises his role as Duke and has much more charisma this time round and he could’ve easily fitted into the Flint character’s role. Plus, his chemistry with Johnson was really good too.

The action sequence that stands out in G.I. Joe: Retaliation of course features Snake Eyes. The first part is him fighting Storm Shadow in a hallway and how the music drops out so there’s just the echoes of gunfire or swords clashing is really effective. Then there’s the daring escape where he and Jinx (Elodie Yung) are against dozens of ninjas and end up fighting while abseiling down a snowy cliff face. It’s a thrilling sequence and while the film kind of slows down to allow for the Snake Eyes plot which is almost like a side quest to the main plot with the Rock and co. when it looks that good and is that entertaining it’s hard to be mad about it.

The rest of the action sequences are more on the small-scale (compared to the globe-trotting first film). There’s still a lot of gunfire and explosions but there’s also so hand to hand combat scenes and more of an espionage vibe as the Joe’s try to figure out what’s going on with the President. Gotta say Jonathan Pryce is delightfully hammy as the evil President and makes the silliness of the situation almost work.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a half-decent, popcorn, action flick. It doesn’t require too much brain power, there are some cool action sequences and mostly thanks to the Rock, a lot more of the characters are entertaining this time round. 3/5.