Jungle Cruise

By James Mahon

Action and adventure movies set in far-flung jungles and with Dwyane ‘The Rock’ Johnson as a cornerstone character seem to be increasingly popular with multi-generations of film audiences. Disney has certainly taken notice and is trying to replicate the success of Sony’s Jumanji franchise with Jungle Cruise (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2021), with all the same core material, even ‘The Rock’ himself. Derived from Disney’s own live action theme park attraction, the movie is largely inspired by story elements from the 1951 movie The African Queen (John Huston, 1951). However, in no way, shape or form is Jungle Cruise comparable to John Huston’s classic movie. Although it shows signs of escaping the lands of mediocrity, it never quite evades its clutches.

Emily Blunt is Dr. Lily Houghton, a modern empowered woman in early twentieth century England. Alongside her bumbling brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), they team up with the dubious skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) in the Amazon jungle. They are on the hunt for the legend ‘Tears of the Moon’, an ancient tree with incredible healing powers that could induce the next ‘scientific revolution’. Of course, this is not plain sailing, along the way the crew is assailed by a plethora of villains and exotic creatures, none more so than the Machiavellian German Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) who is their main fearsome rival. 

 Despite the unwieldy premise, there are some promising aspects to the Jaume Collet-Serra directed film. Amongst them is the agency and defined identity of Blunt’s female character as the driving protagonist of the film. This is nicely counterpoised with the hopelessness and befuddlement of Whitehall as her brother. Furthermore, there is a genuine chemistry between Blunt and Johnson, a crucial aspect which legitimises the central emotional narrative of the film. Added to this is a somewhat inventive plot twist– offering a degree of freshness to a somewhat generic genre.

Nonetheless, the film’s deficiencies soon materialise. Fundamental to this is the overabundance of action and conflict sequences. Within the first 15 minutes we see Houghton fall from a tall storey building in London, trapped in a bird cage in the Amazon and torpedoed by a German U-boat. This is not to mention the kaleidoscopic array of extra villains and helpers who show up haphazardly throughout the movie. Even for an adventure movie, Collet-Sera is trying to unify too many disparate pieces together, at such a frenetic pace, that there is no time for it to cohere and solidify into something substantive.

Similarly, besides those played by Blunt and Johnson, most characters are skin-deep in their depiction. Jack Whitehall’s primary purpose is to offer cliché phrases of a member of the British upper-class, such as ‘righto’ and ‘I say!’. The screenplay by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa is equally unforgiving in the creation of Prince Joachim. Plemons does his best but is essentially playing a character written unintentionally as a parody of a German prince with the appropriate ‘scheize’ exclaimed when necessary. All of this relates back to the overarching misconstruction of the film: too much action and not enough time spent with characters beyond that of the superficial level.Finally, and this may just be me, but the constant special-effects and CGI graphics gave the film an artificial and manufactured feel. Far from the wonderfully naturalistic evocation of the setting achieved by African Queen, which this film spends most of its time aspiring to be. Ultimately, taken for what it is, Jungle Cruise achieves its objectives, just not in any distinctive and memorable manner.

Space Jam 2: A New Legacy

Review by Cathal Eustace

Space Jam: A New Legacy (Malcom D. Lee, 2021) is astonishing. Going into the film it’s important for the audience to know how to temper their expectations: Will Space Jam 2 change the way you see cinema? No. Will it appeal to the cymbal crashing monkey we have between our ears? Yes. Space Jam 2 appeals to our lizard brains on the most primal level. Sit back with your eyes focused, mouth and ears open wide as you ingest 2 hours straight of intense CGI, dramatic scores, moments of mediocre poignancy and an oddly alluring Don Cheadle as the lead villain.

Space Jam: A New Legacy jumps between visual mediums, embracing newer styles of animation not found in its predecessor. Instead of Bugs Bunny (Jeff Bergman) being 2D and LeBron being in 3D, the pair are usually occupying the same form: two dimensional or three dimensional. This ultimately creates a far less jarring visual experience. It gives us time to enjoy the finer aspects of the classical cartoonish style of the Looney Tunes and primes us for being comfortable with their 3 dimensional forms (which surprisingly avoided the uncanny valley which many 3D animated animals fall into)

Space Jam 2 features guest appearances and easter eggs from most of ‘Warner Bros’ other franchises. This can be construed as corporate vanity and an attempt at promoting their vast collection of films and television shows, however my inner optimist wouldn’t bother with too much cynicism regarding the film’s ulterior motives. With a running length of 2 hours, you can choose to shut down your cranium and succumb to A New Legacy’s psychedelic, family friendly charm or you can criticise with contempt the film’s many shortcomings apparent in its plot and performances.

I cannot recommend you spend money to see Space Jam: A New Legacy. However if you feel bold or brave or curious enough to walk through those cinema doors, strap in and prepare yourself, adapt and overcome,if you’re lucky, maybe you will walk out with a feeling of… astonishment.

Summer of Soul

Review by James Mahon

The footage of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival has been locked up for fifty years in a basement. An event which epitomised the ‘wholesale revaluation’ of black culture and history has remained unseen and unknown. That is until the release of Questlove’s (Ahmir Khalib Thompson) Summer Of Soul (… Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised, 2021) which puts the archival footage of the Festival centre stage, in what is an unrestrainedly powerful and impassioned documentary.

This is in large part down to the richness and wealth of the festival footage. As a primary source, it functions as a direct channel into the cultural vibrancy and energy of the events held in New York over a two-month period. Questlove shows deft self-control in his directorial debut, allowing the significance of the 50-year-old film to speak for itself as a precious historical artefact. Consequently, most of what we witness is forty to fifty thousand black men, women, and children dancing, clapping, and crying to the music of gospel, soul, blues, jazz performed by Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, David Ruffin and many more. Hearing and seeing the effect of Simone’s ‘Young, Gifted and Black’, the dual performance of Mahalia Jackson and Mavis Staples of Martin Luther King Jr’s favourite song ‘Precious Lord, Take My Hand’ or Ruffin’s ‘My Girl’, was electrifying in its visceral sorrow, joy, and pride. The footage is a spontaneous evocation of the pain suffered by black people in 1960’s America and their defiant optimism.

Although Questlove does direct much of the focus of the film towards the live musical acts of the festival, all of it is contextualised and intricately interspersed with a vast array of in-depth background footage. Figures such as the liberal republican mayor John Lindsay who supported the festival’s creation or Tony Lawrence its founder, become intimately known by the audience with a delicately crafted and quick-paced selection of their speeches, photos, and recorded conversations. Although perhaps initially superficial, this is furthered by interviews not just with conventional talking-head experts, but with numerous actual festival attendees and performing musicians/activists such as Gladys Knight and Reverend Jesse Jackson. All of which emphasises the transformative social and cultural dynamics experienced by those present at the time, from the emerging afro hairstyle to the popularity of the traditionally African Dashiki garment, it underscores the repossession of black culture from the influence and distortion of others. Most importantly the film underlines the inherently political motivation of the music heard beyond that of aesthetic purposes, rather as an authentic medium for black empowerment and liberation.

Whilst the documentary takes on national and international subjects, it is always tonally connected to Harlem and its people. The cohesive effect of the cultural festival and its significance to the community is consistently evident during the film. Through this the fundamental flaw of 1960’s American society is overtly seen, the sharp dichotomy between the poverty of Harlem and the endless resources poured into Vietnam and scientific explorations to the moon. Nonetheless the film endeavours not to forget the exultant interconnectedness of Harlem’s diverse residents, the interactions between African Americans, Cubans and Puerto Ricans mediated through a mixture of their cultures and music.

Ultimately it is a disgrace that the wider world had to wait fifty years to experience the Harlem Cultural Festival. Nevertheless, from this material, Questlove has produced a documentary filled with strength, emotion and beauty.

‘In The Heights’

Review by Katie McKenna

Lin Manuel Miranda’s fall from grace was sudden and public. Legitimate  criticisms about his hit musical ‘Hamilton’ glorifying slave owners soon  descended to lip biting memes on TikTok. However, a common theme  throughout Miranda’s career seems to be a lack of self-awareness, an  aggressively earnest belief in himself and an adamant certainty that he can do no wrong. This fatal flaw has followed him throughout his career and helped  him become the symbol of ‘fake-wokeness’ and ‘millennial cringe’, and it has  most definitely followed him to the adaptation of his 2008 musical In the Heights. Whether it be the ignoring of the Afro-Latino community or  Miranda’s butt-clenching awkward cameo, In the Heights (Jon M. Chu, 2021) despite not being  directed or adapted for the screen by Miranda, it still has all his failings.  However, its problems run deeper than that.  

With the looming threat of gentrification, simply getting by is becoming more  and more of a challenge for the residents of Washington Heights. In The  Heights follows the dynamic citizens of this neighbourhood as they struggle to  find a better life. 

In the Heights is the kind of film that reminds you of the importance of  cinemas. Director John M. Chu creates a vibrant and bombastic world. Every  closed door or dropped box or even step taken is intentional, creating a  rhythm to the world, an immersive experience worth the €15 ticket and  criminally overpriced popcorn. It also feels like a return to movie musicals’ roots. With the exception of The Greatest Showman (Michael Gracey, 2017), recent musicals seem to  think the only way to be taken seriously is to be as gritty as possible, like if they  were fun, they wouldn’t stand a chance at winning an Oscar. In the Heights doesn’t fall into this trap; while it doesn’t stick to serious subject matter all the time, it isn’t afraid to be camp either. Every song feels like an event, whether it be the grandiose ‘96,000’ or the intimately romantic ‘When the Sun Goes Down’. It’s hard not to watch the musical numbers with a smile on your face.  It’s when the music stops that the problems begin. 

Chu, Miranda and screenwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes seem to be tackling a  smorgasbord of issues. From gentrification to immigration to racial  discrimination, In the Heights tries to be a film that talks about every issue  facing Latin Americans, but instead essentially covers none. By biting off more  than it can chew, In the Heights strips all the nuance from every issue and instead gives us a surface level exploration of overly-simplified issues affecting  characters that aren’t developed enough for us to truly understand. Except for the protagonist Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), characters seem to let go of strongly held beliefs at the drop of a hat, giving audiences whiplash. It’s a shame that with In the Heights Chu fell into the same trap as Miranda.  Skimming over important issues to seem woke without going into the depth they deserve. If the film had picked just one character to focus on and gave their story the nuance it deserved, then In the Heights could have been a modern classic, telling a story absent from mainstream cinema. But instead, In the  Heights is a film best enjoyed by turning off your brain and enjoying the fun songs.

Dream Horse

Review by Mia Sherry

Truth be told, how award winning and Oscar-nominated queen of the screen Toni Collette even entertained the notion of starring in Dream Horse is an oral history that will no doubt be passed down through generations along with other profound mysteries like “why is the sky blue?”, “how come Amy Adams is so overlooked and underappreciated?” and “why did Cats (2019) get made?”. 

Let me be absolutely clear right away: my main motivation for seeing such a film was largely because I wanted to experience a train wreck in real time. What Dream House ended up being was more akin to a car crash in slow motion. It was the most bizarre mix of Seabiscuit (Gary Ross, 2003)and Mamma Mia! (Phyllida Lloyd, 2008) I’ve ever seen, intercut with moments of sheer absurdity. But I’ll be damned if I don’t tell you right now: I loved every goddamn second of it. 

Is it my former horse girl coming to life? Perchance. Is it just my profound admiration for anything Toni Collette does? More than likely. Was it the abject horror with which I watched Damien Lewis looking perhaps the worst he has in his entire career? Very possibly! Regardless, Dream Horse was one of the best feel-good films I’ve seen this past academic year. 

For any readers lucky enough to not know what a ‘horse girl’ is, allow me to quickly explain: The horse girl is a phenomenon that stems from a childhood interest and love of horses. Think deeply– you know you know one. That girl who always wore her hair plaited and tied with a scrunchie. Had an imaginary pony called ‘Peony’ or ‘Snowbell’. Horse pencil cases, pens and notebooks. We all know a horse girl. Hell, maybe you were one. In recent times the ‘horse girl’ has come to be a somewhat derogatory term for someone nerdy with a penchant for ‘odd’ hobbies or the like. 

In the year of our lord 2020, it’s fair to say the horse girl has gotten some fair online flack. Heck, I myself am never one to miss a jab at the innocent horse girl. But really, at one point, weren’t we all horse girls? Maybe not horses, maybe you were the dinosaur kid, the animal kid, the ancient mythology kid or the like. The ‘horse girl’ is not so much a label, but rather, a collective of passionate people that enjoy their interests with reckless abandon. Dream Horse personifies this approach to life, and it’s hard not to fall in love with it, even just for an hour. 

I’d be lying if I told you there was anything particularly of worth in this film: to its bones it is mediocre at best. The cinematography is middling, the soundtrack is nothing you wouldn’t expect from your typical ‘country-bumpkins-take-on-the-world’ genre, even the acting at times is hammy and not particularly well-executed (it goes without saying that this excludes Toni Collette, who has an innate ability to make every role, regardless of how badly written, turn to gold). But there is something within Dream Horse that, nevertheless, creates a joyful watching experience. I gasped at every jump, I laughed with the wins, I cried with the losses. No thanks to brilliant editing, but rather a genuine earnestness and passion from both the true story that inspired it and the creators who adapted it. It’s hard to put it down to much more than distinct alchemy– despite not being technically very good, it is without a doubt lovingly made. 

Why Did You Kill Me?

Review by Lila Funge

What begins as a grieving mother’s search for justice in her daughter’s murder case turns into a story that weaves together gang violence, cyclical poverty, and guilt in the fallout of trauma.

In 2006, Crystal Theobold was murdered – shot dead in her family’s car by the 5150 gang of Riverside, Southern California. Frederick Munk’s new documentary Why Did You Kill Me? explores the aftermath of Crystal’s murder, focusing predominantly on her grieving mother, Belinda. Sadly, gang-related violence is all too common in the area. However, what’s not so common was Belinda’s unique methods in seeking out revenge. She enables the help of her niece, Jaimie, to set up a fake MySpace page to gain information on the gang members she believes were involved. This was not just any MySpace page; they used images of Crystal for the profile and made some of the same gang members who killed her fall in love with her along the way. 

Belinda and Jaimie wanted to show these men that Crystal was a beautiful person with goals and aspirations, and they had taken that away forever. Belinda doesn’t share her darker reasons for wanting to find these men; which she later has to come to terms with. Munk brings viewers into the world of the Theobold family with screen-recorded reenactments of MySpace messages Jaimie shared with these men. While this style feels cheesy at first, it soon becomes necessary to show the conversations between Jaimie and the gang members. She aims at building a relationship with them to show them that they had senselessly murdered an innocent woman. However, the plot to catfish these men into confession doesn’t go to plan. This documentary is unlike any other murder docs I have seen– where typically the family sits back to grieve while the detectives do the work. What makes this so much more gripping is that you get to tag along for the investigation, even if the investigation is a little unorthodox. Munk is able to spin the story just right – with each twist and turn you inch a little more towards the edge of your seat. Although this is definitely not a documentary for the faint of heart, it is worth the watch solely for how out of the box it is. With plenty of introspection and collateral damage along the way, Why Did You Kill Me? sums up the pain and madness that follows in the murders’ wake.

Thunder Force

Review by John Dugan

The novelty of the superhero genre has already lost its attraction to many viewers, as the formulaic films completely dominated the entirety of the last decade. Nevertheless, it appears studios will attempt any amount of alterations to achieve a new result, without really changing anything of substance. The most recent attempt of this by Netflix is Thunder Force (2021, Ben Falcone), which, even from the title, gives the impression of being quite generic and vague. The action-adventure comedy follows two childhood friends, Lydia (Melissa McCarthy) and Emily (Octavia Spencer) as they reunite through an accident which infuses Lydia with super strength. Lydia has dedicated her life to giving ordinary people super powers to fight against “Miscreants,” a brand of supervillains “genetically predisposed to being sociopaths”. The premise of the film is not incredibly original, but it works because the film does not take itself too seriously or attempt to explain the science behind these powers in detail. However, while the film is fun to watch, it is not especially revolutionary. 

The aspect of this film that Netflix clearly hoped would draw in an audience was the new twist on the genre. Rather than another team of adolescents or twenty-somethings gaining and learning to use a set of powers, Thunder Force focuses on two middle aged, plus sized women in the same situation. While this is a refreshing rewrite of the now overplayed superhero film, it’s not quite enough to compensate for the average plot. The comedy in the film was enjoyable, and despite some slapstick moments feeling slightly out of place I did occasionally find myself chuckling out loud.

However there were moments it seemed that the film was attempting to make “fat jokes” without explicitly stating so, by putting the two main actresses- who would both be considered plus size- in situations that used more physical and ‘gross out’ comedy than might have otherwise been used. This is not inherently detrimental to the film, but coupled with a few moments where the possibility of having queer characters was either hinted at or acknowledged but never confirmed or centered, makes me wonder if they only included these lines and jokes for the sake of being seen as progressive without actually being inclusive.

The film managed to balance its comedic and emotional appeal, but somewhat lacked action. When there was action though, it was dynamic and the stunts were well executed, and the score allowed for a distinctively nostalgic experience of the 80’s. Had Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer not been the leads, some of the comedic scenes definitely would have fallen flat, but overall, Thunder Force was a positive viewing experience.

Promising Young Woman

Review by Mia Sherry

Bubblegum pop and neon colours are how Emerald Fennell’s debut, Promising Young Woman begins but not even the glitzy glamour of Fennell’s vision can make up for a tragically poorly-executed storyline. 

A parable of the MeToo era, we’re introduced to Cassie (Carey Mulligan), alone and drunk in a lowbrow bar. Jerry (Adam Brody) sees her from across the room; so intoxicated she can barely stand. His friends make crude comments about “asking for it”, but Jerry’s a good guy, a nice guy, so he takes her home. Except, of course, he doesn’t, and instead brings her back to his place. Before things get any worse, Cassie reveals that she was sober all along. 

This, we find out, is Cassie’s shtick. She goes to bars, pretends to be drunk, and then when men try to take advantage of her, like an angel of revenge, she frightens the bejesus out of them so they’ll never do it again. Or, at least, not in this parallel world, where one bad interaction would be enough to seriously stop a predator. 

This is the first glaring issue with Fennell’s script: it’s not entirely based on realistic experiences of 21st century women. And though film is perhaps the best method of communicating out-of-this-world experiences, when dealing with something like rape culture and the toxicity of the patriarchy, sometimes a reality check is the best thing that’s needed. However, Fennell’s story isn’t entirely out of touch: near perfect casting of Bo Burnham as Ryan, Cassie’s love interest, sheds light on how hollow the ‘nice guy’ persona can be when the going gets tough. Further cameos from the likes of Max Greenfield, Alison Brie, and Alfred Molina make for a strong ensemble, but none of them are ever really given time to shine.

Here’s the issue: Promising Young Woman sells itself as a revenge film. Revenge films only work when the audience genuinely likes the protagonist, and is willing to overlook any moral lines or boundaries they cross or break in order to pursue justice. Except, it’s hard to have a revenge film when your main character is utterly unlikable which, unfortunately for Cassie, she is. I didn’t care enough about Cassie, or her friend Nina whom she was supposedly trying to avenge (whom we never see, bar one photo at the very beginning of the film, and hardly hear about). The lengths that Cassie goes to, then, didn’t feel inspired or fueled by a love of justice. They felt mean-spirited and deeply misogynistic, especially considering that two-thirds of the revenge is targeted at other women; both of whom had no actual hand in the act that (we’re led to believe) caused Nina’s untimely death. 

This is the central issue with Promising Young Woman: it weaponizes rape culture as a fun “gotcha!” moment rather than a systemic societal ill that will take much more than one single woman to dismantle. Furthermore, in a film that is supposedly about retribution against the men who perpetrate and thrive off rape culture, it’s a surprising (if not incredibly insensitive) choice to have the only scene of gratuitous violence be against a woman, at the hands of a man.

Where the ending is framed by Fennell as being heroic, and has been praised by some as “gleeful” or “triumphant”, to my eyes it was anything but. Capitalizing on the MeToo movement and the hunger for reparations to finally be made to so many victims of systemic rape culture and sexual assault, Promising Young Woman essentially betrays that movement by its sickening ending. Sure, there are hints that the men might finally get their serving of justice but, in Fennell’s film, women have to die and become manic-pixie-dream girls from beyond the grave for this morsel of basic ethics to come to pass. Promising Young Woman is full of promise, sure, but not quite full of bite and the result is a tepid examination of the male gaze that ultimately is only able to leave a bad taste in the viewer’s mouth. 

The Oscars

Article by Mia Sherry

In a year where the disparity between the Hollywood elite and regular Joes became increasingly visible, the appetite for a nail-biting Awards race was notably lacking this year. And for good reason; cinema closures affected releases, which means that oftentimes only the luckiest of critics may have gotten a chance to see all the contenders. The nominees– while all worthy– don’t stray too far from “Oscar-bait” material and in a year where so many of the key workers who hold up the systems that make the Oscars happen, from the cinema host to the key grip, were forgotten about, a night of celebrating the cinema only of those “public” enough to matter seemed in poor taste. 

But nevertheless, the Academy persisted. With rapid COVID-testing and a no-mask policy that would raise even the most skeptical of eyes, it became increasingly clear that the night of Hollywood pageantry was exactly that– Hollywood pageantry, where the films they claim to be celebrating will always, always play second fiddle to self-congratulation and a million-dollar shoes. 

In terms of the awards themselves, there’s not much to report on. Part of the reason for this year’s lackluster build up is due in part to the fact that the nominated films are almost skull-numbingly boring. There were no surprise last-minute nominees, no dark horses or underdogs. The winners, for the most part, were even more predictable– though thankfully, well deserved. Emerald Fennell took home Best Original Screenplay for her divisive script Promising Young Woman (2019), Thomas Vinterburg’s Another Round (2019) unsurprisingly won Best International Feature, and sadly for us, Soul (Pete Docter, Kemp Powers, 2020) beat out Wolfwalkers (2020, Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart) for Best Animated Picture in a win that though expected, still stings. 

Daniel Kaluuya becomes the first Black Briton to win Best Supporting Actor for his phenomenal turn as Fred Hampton in Judas and The Black Messiah (Shaka King, 2020). Mank (David Fincher, 2020), the forgotten middle child of this years season, takes home Best Cinematography (in a slight upset for Nomadland (Chloé Zhao, 2020) who was a front runner) and Best Production Design. The Sound of Metal (Darius Marder, 2019) wins Best Editing and Sound, which are both thoroughly deserved. Though Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari (2019), a brilliant meditation on what it means to be American, doesn’t win any of the heavy hitters, they don’t go home empty handed and Youn Yuh-Jung wins Best Supporting Actress. Best Documentary is a slight surprise, with My Octopus Teacher (Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed, 2020) taking home that little golden god instead of more popular bets like the Romanian Collective (Alexander Nanau, 2019) or the searingly intimate Time (Garrett Bradley, 2020)

This is where things start to get messy (in the typical Oscar fashion). I really can’t stress how surprisingly refreshing it was to have a somewhat normal Oscars. There were no real technical difficulties, the host-less approach worked fantastically, and QuestLove provided some absolute bops to get us through the night. Following up from the historic wins of last year’s ceremony, and the increasing call for genuine diversity in American Awards shows, it seemed that this year’s Steven Soderberg-helmed Oscars would be continuing in a new legacy of celebration without borders. Would that we were so lucky. 

Firstly, they change the schedule of awards, which at first didn’t seem like such a bad thing. Best Director was thrown into the middle of the ceremony, a category which is usually reserved for later on in the night, considering how hotly contested it is. But nonetheless, it goes to Chloé Zhao, who is the first ever Asian woman to win the prestigious award and only the second woman in the Academy’s history. Skip forward to the last segment of the night. First we have the astoundingly insensitive In Memoriam section; which, among other things like excluding Jessica Walters and Naya Rivera, goes at such a fast pace you would need to read at the speed of light to catch every name on screen. Then, we have Best Picture. 

As long as the Oscar statue has been gold, Best Picture has been last. That is the way of the Academy’s world– and it makes sense! It’s the crowning glory, the victor of the season, the high note of the night. So putting Best Picture before Best Actor and Actress in a Lead Role was surprising at least and shocking at best. But, it made sense– the Academy had made much of Chadwick Boseman’s untimely passing, even including an NFT of him in their “goodie bags”. So, reason would have it that they rearranged the schedule to commemorate Boseman in the best way possible, right?

Wrong. Oh, dear reader, so, so wrong. After Nomadland’s win, followed by Frances MacDormand’s win for Best Actress in that same film, we come to Best Actor. Jaoquin Phoenix, looking like he’d rather be literally anywhere else, is presenting the award. He reads out the list of nominees– and Anthony Hopkins wins for The Father. The night ends. Literally. In the space of five seconds, three hours worth of pomp and circumstance came to an astoundingly anti-climactic close, with Hopkins not attending the event and so not able to accept his award. The credits rolled, and the night was over. 

The arrogance of the Academy to rearrange the Awards to congratulate themselves on progress they hadn’t made didn’t just fail Boseman– it failed everyone. Hopkins’ performance in The Father (Florian Zeller, 2020) was a tour de force, and now will be remembered only for the wrong reasons. Zhao’s historic win, and Nomadland’s impressive feat as a quietly humanistic love letter in the face of so many louder, brasher films were completely obscured and undercut by the change in programming, unable to be properly celebrated like Bong Joon Ho’s wins for Parasite last year. But above all, Chadwick Boseman’s tragic passing was capitalized upon by the Academy, and instead of being celebrated for who he was and all he did, he’s now become emblematic of the deep-rooted systemic issues engrained in the Academy’s structures. There are a lot of words that have been used to describe the Oscars– gaudy, celebratory, flashy, progressive. The only word that seems to be on everyone’s tongue this year, though, is ‘distasteful’. 

VMDIFF 2021 4/4

The fourth in TFR’s coverage of VMDIFF, with reviews by Cathal Eustace and Katie McKenna.

Cowboys

Review by Katie McKenna

Cowboys | VM DIFF

Art is full of “bad Dads”, and as someone who actually likes their Dad it’s becoming more and more difficult to find a song to listen to or a film to watch. So, when I heard about Anna Kerrigan’s Cowboys, a film that explores a father-child relationship with a Dad who is neither “bad” nor “good”, I was excited. I’m sad to say that the excitement was short lived once I began to watch the film.

Cowboys is a modern Western about a father and son on the run from the police trying to make it to Canada. The story is told through two timelines, the present day in which Troy (Steve Zahn) and Joe (Sasha Knight) evade the law and the past in which we see the events that caused them to run away. 

The film feels like it’s trying to say something but isn’t exactly sure how to say it. Trying to give a simple story undeserved nuance; the story feels padded with inauthenticity. Often characters make sudden decisions to move the story forward that come out of nowhere. Characters seem like two completely different people in the past and present. Throughout the film I found my attention drifting, it’s hard to care about a film where you never know what sudden change of heart someone will have.

Through all the film’s flaws, Steve Zahn’s performance stands out, he gives an almost comically dramatic character, a down to earth realness. Even with a cast of established actors such as Ann Dowd and John Reynolds, Zahn shines. At times however, his phenomenal performance only exemplifies the holes in Sasha Knight’s. While it’s hard to get a good performance from a child actor, it still detracts from the film. In the midst of an emotional scene, you don’t use critical analysis to acknowledge that this child is inexperienced and it’s too much to expect them to be as good an actor as a trained adult, you just look for something that feels real, and in Cowboys that was lacking.

I remember watching a couple Westerns with my Dad and what always stood out to me was their simplicity, they told an uncomplicated story well. And I think that big problem with Cowboys, it tries to tell us too much and ends up telling us nothing.

Jumbo

Review by Cathal Eustace

Jumbo // VMDIFF 2021 | TN2 Magazine

The two factors that drew me to Jumbo were its offbeat plot and it’s casting of Noémie Merlant, best known for Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma, 2019). Unfortunately the film failed to deliver in most regards save for a few visually impressive scenes, powerful color coding, and Merlant’s performance as Jeanne; a young woman living in rural France who falls in love with a fun fair ride which she affectionately names Jumbo.

The visuals in question are often of the Jumbo machine which is beautifully lit in an assortment of neon bulbs. Director Zoé Wittock searched far and wide for the perfect machine to play Jumbo. It was quite a lengthy casting process resulting in Wittock almost ordering a machine from the United States before the crew discovered the perfect claw shaped funfair ride.

Maybe this film’s shortcomings were accentuated by my high hopes crumbling as the narrative slowly unfurled itself before me: slow, incomplete characterisation with regards to all characters due to the poor dialogue (or maybe the poor translation) lacking performances from all cast members excluding Merlant and a plot where not much happens (but not in a calming, introspective fashion). All I have to offer you is a warning: Don’t anticipate a delicate story about psychosis or the strength of love and quirks of individuality, instead think ‘Transformers fanfiction.’