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Film Review: If Beale Street Could Talk

“Love Brought You Here. If You Trusted Love This Far, Trust It All The Way…”

With Moonlight undoubtedly one of the most impressive standalone movies, let alone directorial debuts, in recent memory, the Academy Award winning, Barry Jenkins, returns for his second outing in the form of If Beale Street Could Talk, a cinematic adaptation of the novel of the same name by American writer, James Baldwin, which sees the American fuse his stylish directorial and film-making style amidst a screenplay which follows the loving, complicated and wildly rocky relationship between KiKi Layne’s Tish and Stephan James’ (Selma) Fonny. With Moonlight understandably, and somewhat infamously, taking home the biggest award at its’ respective Oscar’s ceremony back in 2017, even when “first-time” winner La La Land was my own personal choice for the nod, the success of one of the most independant and little seen Best Picture winners rightly placed Jenkins at the forefront of critics’ minds who were dying to see whether his ability in the world of cinema just happened to be a one-time fluke. Therefore, whilst there is no denying that at the heart of Beale Street is a clear directorial focus and cinematic design, with it seeming comfortable and relatively safe to say that Jenkins has already managed to place himself into the mind of an auteur, the American’s difficult second album not only fails to live up to the high expectations, but somehow also manages to be a film which shockingly forgets the fundamental rule of cinema 101; telling a good story.

With a central narrative which twists and turns its way throughout a strange decision which sees Jenkins attempt to tell the story in a non-linear fashion, the crux of the drama focuses on Tish and Fonny’s attempts at not only dealing with the unexpected arrival of a child, but the latter’s sudden and wrongful arrest after he is remanded in prison for the supposed rape of a downtown female. Whilst I can admit to not exactly immediately sympathising with character’s from a completely background to my own, the hard truth is that Moonlight also featured characters who shared very little life experiences with myself, yet due to the superb acting and script, I was still able to feel every emotion and ride along with the drama until the very end. In the case of Beale Street, the fact that I had absolutely zero investment in the central relationship is undeniably a key factor in the cold, almost empty emotional resonance the film evokes, with neither Tish nor Fonny managing to be as memorable as either Juan or Chiron from Moonlight, and therefore resulting in a dramatic experience which just feels rather underwhelming and stale. Whilst comparisons to Moonlight should only be made in passing, Beale Street does benefit from Jenkins’ now trademark style, with floating, wide-angle camera shots and hazy, jazz infused cinematography really quite superb, but with too many pointless uses of the format, including a quite baffling one minute plus shot of a clay pot in which nothing happens, Beale Street ultimately fails to build on the excellence of Moonlight and come the end of it, actually became quite irritating to watch as it failed to justify a staggeringly ill-judged two hour runtime. Just for the record, at least Regina King was good.

Overall Score: 6/10

Film Review: Alita: Battle Angel

“I’d Do Whatever I Had To For You. I’d Give You Whatever I Have. I’d Give You My Heart…”

Reportedly placed on the indefinite James Cameron waiting list after his determination to focus on the long awaited Avatar sequels instead, Alita: Battle Angel sees the American pass the bulk of the buck down to Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Spy Kids) who directs and brings to life the world of Yukito Kishiro’s famous manga series of the same name first published in the early 1990’s. Utilising a screenplay formed by both Cameron and Avatar colleague. Jon Landau, Rodriguez’s blockbuster combines a familiar steampunk, action-based sensibility with adventurous and top notch special effects for a movie which sees Rose Salazar (Maze Runner: The Death Cure) as the titular cyborg who is located by Christoph Waltz’s (Django Unchained) Dr. Dyson Ido within a junkyard pile dumped in the heart of the aptly named Iron City. After repairing both her body and mind, Alita seeks to understand her ambiguous past and purpose amidst the threat of warring hierarchies, murderous contract killers and the sudden discovery of both love and friendship, all under the watchful eye of Ido who seems to be hiding a much greater understanding of Alita’s secretive origins than one might expect. By seemingly gluing together an array of familiar famous movies which occupy the same genre space, Alita is a functional if wildly underwhelming cinematic experience which not only seems rather inconsistent and messy from a narrative point of view, but ultimately makes you wonder what could have been if Cameron was able to direct in the first place.

Between the combination of Rodriguez and Cameron, whose reluctance to direct allows him the freedom of a highly influential production credit, it is clear to see that the main goal of Alita is to create a living, breathing and spectacularly cinematic fictional world, one filled with clear nods to Blade Runner and every single neo-noir futureworld since Ridley Scott changed the face of science fiction forever, and with the aid of simply brilliant digital effects and production design, they do manage to effectively pull it off, particularly in the case of the central character of Alita who although heavily falls under the bracket of the uncanny valley, is simply incredible to behold, with Salazar’s performance effectively managing to come across a really interesting and engaging leading heroine. With wasted performances from many of the film’s pedigree cast however, with the likes of Mahershala Ali (Green Book) and Jennifer Connelly (Only the Brave) struggling to give depth to their equally one-dimensional and overly forgettable characters, and a scattershot array of endless plot threads which not only become overly confusing but seem to live up to Rodriguez’s claims that the film would push an extensive catalogue of the original manga all into one, such decisions ultimately weaken the final product as a whole, resulting in Alita becoming yet another frustrating example of wasted potential, and for a movie which is clearly seen as the start point of a whole new science fiction franchise, seems to be going absolutely nowhere, continuing a common trend of movies in the ilk of The Mummy and Mortal Engines by being films which dream big, but are ultimately let down by failing to address successfully the first hurdle which comes their way.

Overall Score: 5/10

Duo Review: Deadpool

Dan’s Review

I love comic book movies. I admit it wholeheartedly. The Dark Knight is the undisputed king whilst the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a fun and wholly impressive canon of success, with the much anticipated Captain America: Civil War embracing our screens in the near future. One thing that I am not a fan of however is the comic books themselves with none having the pulling power of gaining my attention away from the live-action adaptations that are constantly engrained on us from the small screen to the big and onto the page of their most original and truest form. Strange I know, but keeping up with Arrow, The Flash, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and many, many more is exhausting enough. With that in mind, the arrival of Deadpool is somewhat something of a enigma. Sure, I know that this particular superhero is not exactly adhering to the notion of being very super, more anti-hero, more foe than friend with a knack of swearing at you and laughing rather then actually lending a hand, but in all honesty. sounds a bit Kick-Ass meets The Punisher with a hint of V For Vendetta doesn’t it? Without the political intrigue of course. In that regard, not being part of the hardcore comic book fan-club left me in a state of open-mindedness heading into Deadpool, with the film in the end being another case of superhero origin with added violence, swearing and fourth-wall breaking in an attempt to distinguish itself from other and ultimately, better examples of the genre. Please don’t hate me, I’m vulnerable.

Deciding to flesh out the story of Wade Wilson in a non-linear fashion in which we essentially witness the beginnings of the final showdown within the first few minutes, Deadpool can be seen as adhering more towards the B-Movie end of the cinematic spectrum, with ramped up violence taking precedent over true substance whilst adolescent jokes and endless resorts to swearing paint over the rather shallow origin story, something of which has become ever-increasingly tiresome in an age where comic book movies are indeed the top of Hollywood’s wish list. A guy meets a girl. A guy gets screwed over. A guy loses girl. Guy takes revenge. With violence, lot’s of violence. Not exactly the hallmark of a masterpiece but indeed something of a 90 minute Roger Corman-esque, culty B-Movie, except with a 58 million dollar budget at its disposal, all of which will no doubt please the comic-book loving masses, but for the lay viewer, leaves nothing but a gaping whole of mediocrity. Ryan Reynolds is good as the titular anti-hero whilst Morena Baccarin tries her best to break type of the two-dimensional superhero girlfriend, but the real winner here once again is Marvel, with them giving exactly what the fans wanted in creating a movie that specifically will be meant for them. As for me, it’s just not that special but I can see why many will love it and see it as the best thing since sliced bread. Not amazing, but enjoyable nonetheless, Deadpool goes in one ear and carves its’ way out the other in the most violent and adolescent way possible, laughing all the way.

Dan’s Score: 6/10

Pete’s Review

Unlike Dan, I love my comic books. My only issue is the moths fluttering out of my wallet when ever I open it up. As far as Marvel goes, I’m very much into The Amazing Spider-Man but Deadpool has been a character that I’ve known and loved for years, whose comics have been out of my reach for quite sometime. Excerpts and clippings surface everywhere and I enjoy every one of them. This passion only increased when the test footage leaked. It depicted the character I had envisioned and Ryan Reynolds sold it. To be brief, for me, the movie is a resounding success. An action “hero” movie with a lot of flair. On the other hand, I vehemently dislike the TV shows. If you’re looking for corny action scenes, sup-par acting, low-budget visual and god awful cinematography, comic book TV shows really are right up your street. I cannot watch these without cringing. Arrow’s voice changer is enough to make me spit out my drink in laughter.

But I digress. That isn’t why we’re here. Sure, its an origin movie, but its an origin movie with a difference. It appealed to the comic book lovers. It depicts the world correctly and is incredibly meta. The story and process of what made him into Deadpool is a very dark tale and sure, some of the usual action movie tropes are thrown in but throwing such a diverse character into a lead role and not giving this vital information would mean that the movie wouldn’t have traction with the audience and would be a confusing mess. Throwing him into some world ending, overly convoluted story would guarantee its’ death, but also shit over the character. As for its opening scene, I felt it was necessary to use this footage sooner rather than later. Being that it was in the test footage that millions viewed, its only reasonable to show that footage first so you aren’t left waiting for it throughout.

As for the violence, I cannot see an issue with it. It was creative, exciting, vivid and extremely funny. Giggling like a schoolgirl throughout, I couldn’t recommend it more to fans of action flicks and even more so to comic book fans. I have to disagree with Dan. (If you’d like to know more, jump over to our Youtube channel where we shall be talking about this soon!). The only real glaring issues I had with the film was the CGI backgrounds. They lacked the fidelity and sharpness I would have liked and the soundtrack is a little lacking. Apart from that, its everything I could have hoped for and more.

Pete’s Score: 9/10

Overall Score: 7.5/10