The Breadwinner (2018)

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From the studios that gifted us the stunning fantasy feature ‘Song of the Sea’, comes this equally stunning film. There’s a smart combination of visual wonder and coming of age material, but it’s also a story not scared to tackle the troubling setting of a Taliban controlled city.

On the streets of Kabul, a young girl called Parvana (Saara Chaudry) helps her father sell wares to passersby. A heated argument causes a furious Taliban member to arrest him and he’s taken to prison. Parvana has a mother, sister and little brother back at home, who are running out of food and because women aren’t allowed to roam free by themselves, she decides to change her identity in the hope of helping her family and finding her dad again.

This story based off a book by Deborah Ellis is such an honest, textured look on a world far away from the luxuries of Western living. Ellis and Anita Doron have mastered a screenplay that wonderfully juggles the main narrative with a magical story within a story. What works so flawlessly for this film, is the way they aren’t afraid to show how brutal the place can be and how chained women are; by the words of men and society in general. When the film illustrates these times of powerful masculinity beating down on innocents, it’s a significant weight that bears down on you watching and really makes you think.

The animation is gorgeous and there’s two styles on show. The prominent one is a standard but immersive, grounded and dusty drawing of Afghanistan’s capital, one that’s filled with squared off imagery, browns, whites and muted yellows with the odd pop of candy colour. Then there’s the tale narrated within the story, this like ‘Song of the Sea’, is mystical and bursting with a vivid fantasy set-up. The characters that walk this world look like paper puppetry and the flat visuals roll sideways like a bewitching sideshow act.

There might be some that think a character stepping stone reflects a Disney heroine, but Parvana cutting off her hair is where the ‘Mulan’ similarities start and end. Women are deemed fine to walk the city only if they’re covered up and led by a man, otherwise they best be inside. This stifling way of things leads the well-read and smart young girl to bravely make a change and step out into a place dominated by men. A developing friendship with a fellow child on the streets of Kabul is great to watch and important too, it’s her escape, they can share an innocence and much needed play-about antics, but what’s so well presented is their maturity. Where they’ve grown up has made them wise beyond their years, so they know how to try and avoid the dangerous environment that is presented throughout the film.

‘The Breadwinner’ is a film I won’t forget anytime soon, women live in a world of rules, no breathing room and incoming Western threats which aren’t shied away from. I am devastated to see that on a $10 million budget, the film hasn’t even broken $500’000, because this is a film that deserves to be seen and applauded for it’s beautiful story of culture, humour, war, loss, oppression and transformation.

9/10

 

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Tomb Raider (2018)

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Stepping into the shoes of Lara Croft, after Angelina Jolie’s early noughties outings, is Oscar winner Alicia Vikander, who I think is a great choice for this gritty, updated take on the archaeologist character from a 2013 video game of the same name.

Bicycle courier Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is told to take her father’s inheritance, as he’s been missing for 7 years, but as she’s about to, she discovers a clue from Richard Croft (Dominic West) which leads her to Hong Kong to trace what her father had been investigating. On a (nearly) impossible to reach island is Vogel (Walton Goggins) who is keen to uncover a secret tomb on Yamatai.

I’m not someone who played my console a lot growing up and I definitely wasn’t ever a ‘gamer’, and I still am not, but a Tomb Raider game I had was great fun and the adventurous puzzles were ones I enjoyed tackling, so to hear that, after the poor and definitely two silly movies starring Jolie, there would be a new spin on the action explorer was interesting news, to see if they could get Lara and a video game adaptation right for once.

On the whole I think that Vikander, director Roar Uthaug and the writers have managed to do a good job. It’s by no means a brilliant or consistently entertaining film but there’s great action sequences to be watched; which are shot and edited with a visceral and explosive speed which help throw you alongside the adventures of the courageous and capable raider of tombs.

As mentioned, I enjoyed puzzle solving in the game I owned and there is an aspect of that within this movie, which is a cool thing to involve but I just wish there was more of it and when the cryptic moment is achieved, it’s done so in a quick and vague manner to rush the film along to the next big action sequence. The film is also fairly predictable and a final moment is one I saw a mile off but unlike the deeply boring film, ‘The Mummy’, this is a film that feels darker, it has moments of trepidation and on the edge danger which kept me engaged.

It is damn cool to see another woman lead the screen with great confidence, smarts and kick-ass attitude, one that hopefully will get a sequel green-lit, because aside from the less than stellar story, this is a barnstorming action adventure that gives Lara an arc from down on her luck/money roots to finding herself and her place as a Croft. This fierce approach that she has is slightly let down I thought, by a battle scene that she deserved to have won in her own right, not because of some help from a character out of the duel.

Alicia Vikander dives right in as the titular character and ensures that Lara is looked on as a brave and bold heroine. She certainly goes through the ringer, making each punch or fall feel totally real. She also brings a necessary charm alongside her muscled gusto, which helps the ridiculous sequences less so, as long as you also suspend your disbelief. She practically fills the big screen with believable strength and I’m sure she could give Bolt a literal run for his money! Walton Goggins is alright but he never soars as a villain that could have been more interesting or ferocious. Nick Frost and Jaime Winstone appear briefly as the clear comic relief and they are funny, but out of place.

This is a good, grounded take on the booted and braided video game character, with a turn from Vikander that is emotive and on point. The issue is that it’s a film without much fun and fully excitable drive.

6.5/10

Unbroken (2014)

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Grand and quite powerful in the scale and true to life story but it fails to bring about any overwhelming feel of emotion or connection as it ticks off cliched boxes in an obvious turn to try and suit the Academy Awards board.

This film, the second Angelina Jolie directed feature, sees the dramatic telling of New York born Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), his Italian family upbringing leading to problems but in the end, a big open door for sport and running which makes him become an Olympic distance runner. The film portrays this and his later assignment in World War 2, his trials lost at sea and his shocking trauma as a Japanese POW figure.

Angelina Jolie, undeniably has some behind the camera skill, evident in this movie through sweeping shots of grand war torn scenery, worrying plane-wrecked shots of them stuck in life rafts and it all hits the bio-pic and war trademark with ease but as if trying too hard to fill those quotas. It’s not overly fantastic when a film feels as though it’s really attempting to garner Oscar buzz and in fact it sort of fails because it doesn’t feel effortless, as say ‘Birdman’ does. Jolie captures heart and grit but it pales in the bigger picture feeling small of potential substance.

It is a good film for celebrating the unity of war and comradely passion comes across well, the impact of conflict and spirit marry nicely with human faith and strength, all massive traits of Louis’ character in being unbroken through whatever trial is thrown his way. This feeling hits its biggest whack in the sweet pre-credits with the typical biographical facts and footage of Louis at the age of 80 before a photo of the amazing man rests on the screen. That’s actually one of, if not the best part of the film, the touching real life Louis blazing on the big screen.

Alexandre Desplat utilises on suitable music that feels very stirring and in place for this war time film. It also bubbles away at points and none more so than the trickling of tension in the score as Louis is subjected to holding a beam over his head. The shots are rather great too, skylines and rain drenched jungles provided conflicted images of pre and during war. The coal camp is a bleak and murky affair and serves as a cold and well shot segment of the movie.

Unbroken’s downsides lay in a rather annoying and poor decision to have mainstream music over the credits. Coldplay whine through the speakers as this years U2/Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom film/artist mash up. The CGI of the shark attack is so silly. That’s all, you’ll know if you see it. It also feels odd to have the non linear structure for a while and then drop it for the last hour and forty minutes or so. I liked the back and forth timeline, it shook it up but once it plays out in normal chronological order, it becomes slightly stale and slow. That’s the biggest flaw to be honest, the film feels very long. It’s never great when a film drags and this one does on more than one occasion.

Jack O’Connell is assured and a good leading man, tackling the endeavour of Louis’ life, though I’m not sure he’ll be up for an Oscar nod, possibly a Bafta. He’s charming, gritty, loyal and brave and though the film feels like you’re going through forty seven days and some with him, you do root for his cause all the time. Domhnall Gleeson and Finn Wittrock are amazing co-stars and as the three cope or don’t in their ocean stranded predicament you kind of forget the almost ‘Life of Pi’ feeling it has. The best talent in my eyes comes from a professional acting debut and that’s Miyavi who plays the big bad Japanese sergeant Mutsuhiro aka ‘The Bird’. Every look in his eye or underplayed flicker of sadism brings chilling realism to this power hungry man.

You need as much enduring power as Louis Zamperini to sit through this straight forward Oscar try hard film. Inspiring and beautiful at times, yes but it doesn’t get that stirring flavour it so desperately should.

5/10

Maleficent (2014)

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A shining world is surely created within this film and with the clearly set apart kingdoms of castle and moors there’s a divide that makes for easy storytelling between who is really good and evil but aside from Angelina Jolie’s interesting performance, the look of the movie and one great dark idea it boils down to a Disney feature that I can’t help feeling needn’t have been made. There lacks a motivation or justification for taking such a classic tale and reinventing it so much that it stomps badly all over the original.

This film reimagines the Sleeping Beauty story with a perspective on the villain (Angelina Jolie) and how her story plays out. We open with the contrast of the stony ruled castle against a bright magical land in the moors where a young Maleficent spends her days growing up until one day she rules over to protect the land. A case of lost and tragic love plagues the winged character and upon a truly harsh and heartbreaking act done to her she becomes the villain we expect where upon she sets a curse on the newborn baby, sleep, eternal, prick, spindle, true love, so on and so on but there is clearly more to this side as we discover just what Maleficent did in those years and who she really is.

To begin with the good points I must say that on the whole the film did look pretty stunning with it’s clever CGI designs of odd folk in the moors and the typically Disney set cottage that helped a twee and homely atmosphere balance the darker elements previously. This credit goes to Dean Semler for the cinematography aspect and for great dazzling design Dylan Cole & Gary Freeman need to be praised for their production design. The crew in general who helped lead the charge for set and costuming should be pleased with their work as it looks the part and specifically Maleficent’s appearance is on the money and lets Jolie completely inhabit the role.

One key moment that will probably stand out as a talking point for quite some time to come is a devastating event that sets the titular character on her villainous path. It is dark and it is unexpected for a Disney film of PG rating though for a character with true iconic baddy quality I was hoping for a mega dose of darkness in this film and luckily I got some though it perhaps is just a mild drop. The act involves the falsity of true love and the very core of what made Maleficent Maleficent. I’ve been reading that the moment itself is being described as a metaphor for rape and it’s doing well to comment on how prone we are to rape culture that seeing this in a kids movie will shock us. I kind of see it but maybe they’re pushing for an adult theme of rape recovery, though that doesn’t take away from it being the stand out scene from this film. It’s shocking, very sad and brilliantly shot and acted.

Possibly the main credit should really go to Angelina Jolie as the best positive for this film as she does get right under the skin of the good/bad fairy and acts with such villainy at times that you see glimmers of the dark character she is meant to be in ‘Sleeping Beauty’. She looks the part and her attractive nature helps this weak script get on side with her but thanks to Jolie we do see traces of Maleficent’s twisted evil and it’s in those moments that you cry out for more as if you’re at a pantomime which is honestly how this film sometimes comes across with such broad painted characters that it feels stagey. It truly is a one woman show with Jolie dominating and having fun as the horned and scorned character.

Now for the less than good points which are more frequent unfortunately. The script is flimsy and pulls apart the strong dynamic tale from the 1959 original so much that anything you think you know from that story is tossed out and remoulded into something worse in idea. The key problem is in making a retelling, it doesn’t need, I doubt anyone ever properly called out for a Sleeping Beauty reimagining and the sad thing is that Maleficent is one of the best villains of all time, not just in animation but film full stop so the course of character progression they set her upon in this film is just awful. They take all the giddy evil out of her and turn her into a soft and sad pale shadow of her former self, worse than that they twist the story so much to make her become some heroine, the true love thread throughout leads to one of the most predictable and frankly terrible decisions to befall a Disney story.

Then there’s the three fairies who annoy beyond belief and even ridding them of their short flighty image for a while as they’re turned into human sized aunties can’t make up for the fact at how dumb and boring they become. It’s a shame as the two of them that I recognised as Juno Temple and Imelda Staunton, are better than that and could have been more interesting. Also Aurora played by a graceful and beautiful Elle Fanning smiles and charms as the character to unify but she doesn’t do much else and wilts in the presence of Jolie. There could have been more of her story to be honest if they had to remake this and if the film had been lifted to at least a 12 or 12A then the focus could have been shifted to Aurora’s view, because Fanning would have been capable to lead a film and then Jolie could have revelled more in her villainous glory as the baddie she’s meant to be.

Overall this film is gorgeous in it’s vision but lost in it’s motive. It’s an unnecessary take on a story that only has it’s look and leading lady to keep it from failing fully, that and the fact it is better and more enjoyable than Disney’s last retelling story of ‘Oz: The Great and Powerful’. The sad thing is that this makes me wary and unbothered about future Disney stories that seem to be abundant in doing origins or reimaginings, such as Cinderella next year and that talked of Little Mermaid live action film.

A sometimes fun tale of Sleeping Beauty’s world led by Maleficent who blazes throughout thanks to Angelina Jolie. It has flashes of style and grace but aside from that there is no real magic thanks to a weak and needless story.

5.5./10