The Great Hack (2019) Review

Watch this as soon as you can…

Cambridge Analytica were recently caught out misusing data of 87 million US internet users to create targeted ads. It is perhaps the most serious data breach in modern history, and Netflix’s The Great Hack chronicles this terrifying story. Directors Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim have created a well-documented film that constantly holds the reader’s attention, and uses the testimony of experts, journalists, and whistleblowers to piece together the scandal from the wreckage.

Despite the thousands of articles, podcasts, and news programmes that have covered this developing story, and the fact I have been following attentively, I still came out of this film learning something new. Ultimately, teaching is what all documentaries should do. This film is enlightening, and widens the scope of vision so that the more of the bigger picture can be seen. There is a lot to this story, and the film brings them all together in an easily digestible manner. It is very good at making connections, linking the recent political events of Nigeria with the election of Donald Trump. It portrays the meddling in Nigeria’s politics as almost like a practice run for what happened in Britain and America in 2016, emphasising that the use of data in this way has been a long time coming.

The visual imagery used throughout the film develops this theme of inevitability further. It depicts the world as, rather than built up of atoms and molecules, built of pixels, bits and data. Everyone David Carroll, a professor who mounted a legal challenge against Cambridge Analytica in order to see the data they had on him, walks past is on their phone. Effectively, the digital imagery suggests that the pixels and data are leaking from their phones uncontrollably and constantly. Carroll also remarks that nobody ever reads the terms and conditions of their favourite sites, and how shocking it would be to read through them. We are letting this happen blindly.

I do not know whether this was a conscious decision, or an accidental irony, but the fact this is a Netflix film also draws attention to society’s inertia regarding this issue. Netflix knows an awful lot about our behaviour and interests too. If this irony was commented on during the film, it would have strengthened Amer and Noujaim’s argument further. Perhaps they did not know where their film would end up, though.

Of course, the film does not just blame our collective sleepwalking for this data disaster. Alexander Nix and Mark Zuckerberg do not give interviews, so their side of the story is told through what is available publicly. From what is available, they inevitably fill the role of villain in this story. You could argue Brittany Kaiser also fills that role, but her portrayal is quite complex. It is a testimony to the unbiased and impartial nature of this documentary that you never know what to think about Kaiser. Carroll has a very cynical of her decision to whistleblow, but she does appear remorseful in some places. Whether the audience believes the sincerity of this remorse is up to them.

Further, this film is impartial politically. It does not make any judgements on whether Brexit is the correct course for the UK or not, or whether Clinton should have become the first female US president or not. Its main concern is democracy, its integrity, and how data is being used in such a way that threatens democracy itself. The film uses a good five minutes of its 139 minute run time to highlight Kaiser’s point that Cambridge Analytica are effectively using weapons-grade technology. It is used to make the very compelling case for the danger world democracy is in right now.

Using many efficient techniques available due to the medium of film, this documentary fits a complex story, with much technical jargon, spanning over a decade, and encompassing the entire planet, into an engaging and easy-to-follow narrative. Making it so easy to understand allows the horrifying nature of the scandal, and its disturbing implications for the future, to really hit home. The film never tries to convince you to delete your Facebook account; it is so well-integrated into our society that avoiding it is impossible. It does try to make us more conscious of the rights we lack, and how we are being exploited for profit. We are in a new world, and understanding its dangers is probably the best chance we’ve got.

Retrospective Reviews: Inception (2010)

Watch this as soon as you can…

In Rick and Morty’s second episode, “Lawnmower Dog”, the eponymous drunk scientist describes Inception as “everybody’s favourite movie”. I felt personally attacked by this comment. Liking this movie is so common that it is almost cliché. My opinion became the same as everyone else’s. Earlier, Rick frames any fan of Inception as a pretentious, and someone using the film to feign intelligence- he describes it as “confusing” and jokes that Morty only fakes his understanding of it. and portraying themselves as superior for getting such a complex movie. Whilst I’m not the latter kind of fan (I hope), I will walk straight through the doors of cliché and say that I adore this movie. It is easily my favourite blockbuster. Who care if it is “everybody’s favourite movie”? There are many reasons why this is the case.

To describe the film in the simplest possible terms, it is a heist movie. Dom Cobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is an extractor. He is a thief but he does not burgle houses. He burgles minds, breaking in through your dreams, and stealing all the valuable information in there. This is an illegal practice, and he has also been wrongly accused for the murder of his wife. As a result, he has been exiled from the United States, meaning he can no longer see his two children. Mr Saito (Ken Watanabe) offers him a way out of this legal maze, in return for performing the act of inception. Inception is the opposite of extraction; instead of stealing ideas, you plant them. Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) immediately describes this as “impossible”, raising the stakes early on. Tom Hardy’s character, Eames, asserts that it is “possible, but just bloody difficult”. To pull off the nigh-impossible heist of the century, Cobb needs to build a team of the very best.

To play these characters, Nolan has rounded up a truly star-studded cast. The term “ensemble cast” was invented for this film. Ellen Page, Marion Cottilard, Michael Kane, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy…. These are just the side characters. They all deliver great performances, and the chemistry between them offers a rope for the audience to cling onto when the plot starts getting more layered and complex. The biggest draw, though, is Leonardo DiCaprio. In one of his more underrated roles, he brings a lot of the emotional weight to the movie through his performance (particularly in the scene when he describes his wife’s death). He is also perfect filling the role of calm, cool and driven leader that all heist movies need.

These stars bring a sense of familiarity for what is a highly original film with a lot going on. The second half of the film has three heist missions taking place simultaneously. For the audience, they all appear to be taking place in real time, but they are all taking place at different speeds, yet still taking place at the same time. Each heist mission serves as a shell for the next one, and so on. Whilst this many layered plot might be difficult to follow completely during the first viewing, it also for a lot of exciting editing. Each heist mission gets its moment in the spotlight as the stakes rise and events get more intense. The film will then cut to the next mission, and the momentum starts building again from that point. Like the Penrose Steps, a motif from the film, the momentum is this movie is moving continuously, never ending and never starting again, but constantly snowballing.

With such an impressive, original story by writer-director Christopher Nolan, the technical aspects of the film needed to hold up to tell this grand epic. They do. Hans Zimmer has created a score of the highest density which perfectly captures the stakes, the emotional and the physical. Death through limbo is a very real consequence, as is the possibility of Cobb losing his children, and the score never lets you forget that. The cinematography is extraordinary; Wally Pfister is working at his best here. Each location is given a discrete, but equally awe-inspiring look, that helps prevent the audience getting lost, for each narrative location is recognisable: the hotel hallways have a warm glow about them, whilst the scenes in the van are much more neutral in hue, for example. Despite the surreal nature of dreams, and the film’s action which is only constrained by the limits of the imagination, the film feels real. Very little CGI was used in favour of more practical effects. (The scene involving the rotating hotel corridors were filmed with a real, purpose-built set!) The film goes against the trend of the time and was not filmed in 3D. Using practical effects also gives this film’s power of spectacle a longevity that films with heavy CGI do not possess. These practical effects are less likely to become outdated than blockbusters involving . This also meant that when CGI was necessary, it was done right and with the full weight of the budget and the technical crew’s behind it. The iconic sequence involving Paris folding over on itself as if it were a sheet of paper is still mesmerising nearly ten years on.

There are many reasons to adore and to marvel at this movie. Everything from the script to the special effects are impressive and done to the highest possible standard. One may poke fun at the fact it seems to be the stereotypical answer to the question “what is your favourite movie?” I would still argue, ten years on, that it deserves to be so beloved. It is immersive, narratively and visually. It is complex, but the technical aspects of the film work overtime to guide us through the maze. The film is powerful on the emotional level, and performed using some of the finest actors around. What’s not to love?

Privilege in the Film Industry

A recent article in The Guardian, “Nepotism in the movies: it’s time to call out the acting school of mum and dad”, written by Caspar Salmon, rightly addresses a usually unnoticed issue in the acting industry: acting is becoming an increasingly upper-middle class profession. However, Salmon’s choice to describe this as “nepotism” does not go far enough critically, suggesting that this is just a simple issue of parents favouring their children. The word makes it less alarming, for most parents can probably relate. Who would not want to help their children if they can?  As the film and television industry has an important role in representing society at large, there are much more serious repercussions. It leads to an underrepresentation of what a majority of the population looks like, and it leads to unfairness for actors from less privileged backgrounds.

Working-class underrepresentation has two primary causes. Firstly, actors, directors and big names are using their influence to get people close to them into top jobs in the industry. As Salmon notes, the Barrymores were essentially an “acting ‘dynasty'”. Jaden Smith, despite not being particularly good at either acting or creating music, has been given the chance to work at a high-profile level. Why is that? The answer is Will Smith. Of course, not everyone accused of being privileged by nepotism is a bad actor. Maya Hawke, the daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, did a great job in Stranger Things 3, and she has a role in the new Tarantino movie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The only bad actor Tarantino gives a role to in his movies is himself. The underlying issue is that there may have been other actresses who are just as good as Maya Hawke that may have not got the chance simply because they did not have the right connections, or they started on a lower step on the ladder.

Secondly, drama schools are getting more expensive, and the biggest names in Hollywood are coming from the most upper-class universities. Christopher Eccleston, in a 2017 interview with Sky News, addressed this issue. He notes that “my parents could not have afforded to pay for me to go to drama school now”. It is just too expensive. Only the very richest can afford to drama school, making the net used to find great talents much smaller in diameter. He also pointed out that most actors are pulled from higher-class universities and some of the top schools in the UK. This is certainly the case: Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne, and Tom Hiddleston all went to Eton. Natalie Portman went to Harvard. Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Rowan Atkinson all went to Oxbridge. Earlier, in 2014, Julie Walters was concerned that “the only actors are going to be privileged kids whose parents can afford to send them to drama school. That’s not right. It feels like we are going backwards”. It is a problem that people within the industry are beginning to address, but, given the prominence of such movements as #MeToo and the #OscarsSoWhite, it is a problem that has been overshadowed.

Gender, race, sexuality and class are all marked by lines of oppression, where some social groups are privileged at the expense of others. Intersectional thinkers such as Audre Lorde have argued that all of these identity-based forms of oppression can exacerbate and enhance the others. A lesbian black woman is oppressed on more grounds than a straight white woman, for example. Equally, if you are straight, white, male and middle class, you have very little identity-based oppression to worry about. You have a lot of privilege. To address the issue of the underrepresentation of working-classes intersectional issue. If the film industry is predominantly white, as the #OscarsSoWhite movement sought to point out, and if the children of the current stars of the industry are the stars of the future, then the movie industry will remain predominantly white.

Privilege takes many different forms. These different forms work independently, but they also work together to exacerbate the oppression caused by each. To effectively deal with all forms of identity-based oppression, you have to deal with all of them and address their intersections. It is fantastic, and long overdue, that sexism, heteronormativity and racism in the film industry are being addressed. However, these issues will never be dealt with adequately if we only tip toe around the issue of class-based underrepresentation and privilege. We need a film industry that draws on talent from everywhere in our diverse world, not just small sections of it.

Tarantino and His Tropes

Quentin Tarantino’s 9th film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, is sadly not out in the UK yet. I’ve still got a little while to wait before I can see what is shaping up to be one of the strongest films of the year. The reviews are looking good, and the hype is growing. Whilst I wait for the release of his latest movie, I look back on the previous eight movies (I also count Kill Bill as one movie) and note key patterns and trends. There are many tell tale signs that you are watching a Tarantino movie. Knowing these key tropes, motifs and recurring stylistic choices, which can be found everywhere in his filmography, from Reservoir Dogs (1992) to The Hateful Eight (2015) can allow one to speculate over what to expect in his latest film.

Before cinematic universes became the rabbit hole Hollywood have been continuously digging into since the release of Marvel’s The Avengers in 2012, Tarantino was setting all of his films in one crazy, violent and chaotic universe. Linking his characters through invented brands, such as Red Apple cigarettes or the Big Kahuna burger, and even family names, Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction and Mr Blonde from Reservoir Dogs are related. We have not had the big crossover event yet, though. Perhaps Tarantino is leaving that for his final film. Given the very low success rate of such crossover films (Marvel being the only studio to do it well), it is probably a good thing that Tarantino has not depicted The Bride taking down Marsellus Wallace (I bet greedy producers have suggested the idea, though). Nevertheless, these visual Easter eggs linking all the films together are always a nice bit of fun for the avid Tarantino fan.

These visual Easter eggs also draw attention to the fact the audience is watching a movie- Tarantino’s movies never allow the audience to get fully immersed. Mia Wallace, when calling Vincent Vega a “square”, draws one and this square actually appears on screen, as if chalked on. His use of chapter titles and on-screen text throughout his filmography also take the audience out of the narrative. Further, the repeated use of trunk shots and longer than average tracking, bird’s eye view shots reminds the audience that the narrative is being created the same auteur that created the other films. These are all uses of non-diegetic film techniques. Within the diegetic world of his films, too, the audience is constantly made aware of a wider filmic context. Most of his films include a Mexican Standoff, a trope paying homage to his favourite genre, the Western. Tarantino always has a cameo in his films, much like Alfred Hitchcock, using himself as a watermark for his work, reminding the audience the same auteur has crafted all these movies. Furthermore, his films are littered with pop culture references, particularly to other movies, deliberately situating his own movies within a larger cinematic context. For Tarantino, his movies are not portals into an immersive world. They are films, crafted by an auteur, and he wants you to know it.

The most significant link between all of Tarantino’s movies is his treatment of time as malleable. It can be bent into any shape. History is often revised. Hitler does not die by his own hand in Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, for example. His soundtracks are often anachronistic, as songs from the last few decades are used in his films set in the past, or as older songs are used in his present day films. The most famous example being the use of “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Stealer’s Wheel in Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino is not concerned with picking authentic songs from the period in which his films are set. Would any song from 1992 have suggested the nonchalance and laidback nature of Mr Blonde as he tortures the police officer as well? Tarantino is more interested in mood and character; to develop both of these, songs from other periods of history are often required. What is the best way to tell this particular story? This is clearly the driving question behind the construction of his movies. This explains the eclectic range of shapes his plots come in, too. Pulp Fiction is the quintessential non-chronological film. Kill Bill tracks Beatrix Kiddo as she seeks to execute Bill and the Deadly Vipers, as an act of revenge for their atrocious actions on her wedding day. It opens with Beatrix killing the second member of the Deadly Vipers, with the rest of the film depicting her struggle against the first member. Further, we do not see key events, such as the wedding and Beatrix’s training, until the second half of this story of ten chapters. If the film you are watching is historically accurate, uses references and music from the period, and is told chronologically, then Tarantino definitely did not direct it.

I have only touched the surface. There are many more tropes, motifs and stylistic choices linking these films together. Whilst the plot of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has been kept under wraps, there is still a lot we can speculate accurately and predict with confidence. It will certainly reference more movies than you can count. Leonardo DiCaprio will probably end up in a trunk at some point. The film will probably open at the end, and end in the middle. Expect a song from the seventies. I cannot wait to look out for these tropes all over again when Tarantino’s 9th film is finally released in the UK.

Mythology and Superheroes

Many comparisons have been made between superheroes and figures from ancient mythology. Superman can be compared to Hercules, The Flash to Hermes. Batman could be a modern Hades, or a modern Odysseus, depending on who you ask. Within superhero films and comics themselves, these comparisons become more obvious when mythological figures are actually introduced into the superhero universe themselves. Looking at movie adaptations of comic book storylines, this article argues that seeing Thor, the Norse God of Thunder, join the Avengers, or Zeus fight alongside Green Lanterns, has a great impact on the status and stature of the mythological figures, as well as the superheroes themselves.

In 2017’s Justice League, Zeus is represented as part of a larger army made up of Amazons and Green Lanterns. During a flashback sequence in Snyder’s film depicting these forces working together to defeat the alien Steppenwolf, Zeus only gets a short scene. It is more of a cameo; he does not get a significant role. The Zeus you imagine from Greek Mythology should be able to defeat any threat by himself, for he is the supreme being. Yet, he is represented as merely a foot soldier in a larger role. 2017’s Wonder Woman depicts the death and defeat of Ares, the Greek God of War. Whilst this could be considered a weakening of his status, he is at least defeated by another powerful figure from Greek Mythology. DC’s Justice League represents Steppenwolf as such a threat that Zeus needs the help of lesser beings to defeat and trap him during the flashback sequence. Steppenwolf is not  a top tier DC villain, forcing us to ask the question what would happen if he were to meet Darkseid. Later in the film, Superman, an alien, defeats Steppenwolf more or less by himself, and does so without struggling. This elevates the power of Superman, arguably the most famous figure of this American superhero mythology. At the same time, it diminishes Zeus’ stature. Much like the God of War video game series for the Playstation consoles, where you can actually beat Zeus to death with your bare hands, Zeus is not represented as an untouchable God sitting on Mount Olympus. Rather, he is a much more tangible being, and far less powerful. Thousands of years ago, he would have been worshipped as the most powerful being in the known world. Today, Zeus barely appears to be a match for a supervillain’s henchman.

More famously (as more people went to see these movies), Thor is a member of The Avengers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He stands alongside heroes such as Captain America, Iron Man, and Black Widow. Immediately, this diminishes his status from the Norse Mythology. In Norse Mythology, he is a God, worshipped in Nordic countries. Further, he is the strongest God. The strongest being in the mythology. He is only killed, during Ragnarok, by the poison of the Midgard Serpent. He rarely interacts with mortal humans because they are beneath him; when he does meet mortals, it is made clear that there is a profound difference in power and status. The MCU frequently represents him as having a much more diminished status. Yes, he is frequently referred to as a “God”, but he is not portrayed as one. Hulk is strong enough to knock him to the ground in one punch in a humorous and humiliating scene from 2012’s The Avengers. Moreover, the very presence of The Avengers alongside Thor suggests that there are some threats he cannot deal with alone. Whilst he is the “strongest” there is in Norse mythology, Thor needs the help of other human beings in order to defeat such threats as Ultron and Thanos. The only God who can lift Mjolnir in the original mythology, but he is one of many who are capable of doing it in The Avengers films, for Captain America and Vision both do it, elevating their stature. Interestingly, in Avengers: Age of Ultron, there is even a scene where Ultron is holding Thor by the throat. The Norse God of Thunder is completely at the mercy of a piece of human technology, and a superior piece of human technology (Vision) is needed to save his life in that situation. This raises interesting questions about human weapons. Are nuclear bombs capable of hurting the Gods we used to worship and revere? Artificial robots are capable of threatening the life of a Norse God in Avengers: Age of Ultron. It is interesting to speculate whether it is more or less difficult to believe in a hierarchy between deity and human, when human beings are capable of creating such powerful weapons. The Marvel films frequently diminish Thor’s status as the most powerful God, for it suggests that there are some threats he cannot defeat, and that the help of human beings is often needed.

Loki gets more embarrassing treatment in his first encounter with the Hulk. In a very funny scene, Loki is slammed around Avengers’ tower by Hulk as if he were a mere toy, immediately after declaring himself as a superior “God you vile creature”. Hulk is at the centre of the frame, and Loki ends the scene silent, flabbergasted and lying on the floor, suggesting his dominance even further. Loki is known as the God of Mischief, and is known for using him mind, rather than brute strength, so it is easier to conceive the Hulk dominating him physically than it is Thor. Nevertheless, Loki is represented as an accomplished fighter who takes part in the battle of Ragnarok, and he often defeats other creatures using his powers of transformation when his strength is not enough. The Avengers’ depiction of the encounter of Hulk and Loki is too one sided. The scene is used for humour, at the humiliating expense of Loki- a God!

The introduction of mythological figures into the superhero canon equates the Gods of the past with the superheroes of the present. It raises the stature, power and status of characters like Superman and Iron Man, whilst diminishing the heroes and Gods of the ancient world. Doing this also serves the purpose of raising the intensity of the villian’s threat levels. If Zeus himself cannot defeat Steppenwolf alone, and if Thor is crushed under the might of Thanos, what hope do the (super)human characters have against these villains? This appears to reflect the growing confidence of us in ourselves and in our society. Before, people depended on pleasing the Gods for a good harvest, for luck travelling across the seas, and to prevent thunderstorms. Now, we are much more confident in our own capabilities. For better or worse, Mount Olympus is no longer considered an unreachable pedestal. The power of the Gods appear much closer to home now.

Toy Story 4 (2019) Review

Watch this as soon as you can…

“Fourth” films in a franchise rarely impress. Many franchises crash and burn in the second and third instalments, and could only dream of maintaining the original’s high standard of quality across one, two, never mind three, movies. Yet, Pixar has achieved the rare feat of creating a fourth film in a franchise that holds up to the original three. (Controversial opinion: I would rank Toy Story 4 over the original.) Whilst maintaining the heart warming humour of the original trilogy, this film explores dark themes and asks big questions, just like its predecessors. It also provides a satisfying ending to the tetralogy that I did not even know I needed.

Toy Story 3 was the perfect ending to the franchise, right? Upon the announcement of a fourth movie, I was very sceptical. It felt like a cash grab. It felt like Pixar were pushing their luck. No franchise could have a golden run of four absolutely brilliant movies; it is impressive enough that they made it to three. It felt like they were playing with fire by even thinking of making a fourth movie. Yet, Cooley’s sequel extends the franchise beyond this “perfect” ending, and offers an equally satisfying one in its place. Whilst the third film brought an end to the Andy and Woody story, the fourth one brings an end to Woody’s story. With the help of Bo Peep (Annie Potts), Woody (Tom Hanks, duh) learns the lesson that one cannot rely upon others for a purpose in life. In the first three films, he was utterly devoted to Andy. Life without him was inconceivable. Without him, he seeks a new purpose in Bonnie, which does not go to plan as he soon discovers he is her least favourite toy. He then looks for a purpose in helping Forky, but the film wraps up Forky’s similar crisis of purpose (he is the embodiment of self-destruction) in a satisfying way. Forky finds a purpose no longer needs Woody, so what now? Bo teaches Woody to stop looking to others for fulfilment in life. For anyone who has been in an unhealthy, one-sided relationship or friendship, or one who depends on social media approval, Woody’s growth is inspiring.

The only major flaw I find in this instalment is the resolution to Gabby Gabby’s arc. The twist that she is a misunderstood, good person rather than a sinister organ harvester is a wholesome and refreshing one. Yet, she does not get the resolution she deserves. Like Woody, she also rests her entire sense of worth and purpose on “having” and being able to please a kid. Unfortunately, unlike Woody, she does not grow out of this mindset. She ends the film hoping another child will embrace her. Perhaps the film was trying to suggest both routes to happiness- one self-centred, one altruistic- are equal and both worthwhile. It feels wrong that Woody is the one to encourage Gabby Gabby to do this, though. It feels a bit contradictory.

However, this is a minor complaint. Whilst exploring bleak, existential questions about where to find purpose, or whether life is even worth living, this film maintains the high quality of comedy and stunning animation Pixar are famous for. Like previous instalments, this film ends by putting its audience through the emotional wringer. The ending of Toy Story 4 was marketed as being able to make Tom Hanks cry during recording. You will need tissues too. There is so much to love about this film!

Fourth films are not allowed to be so thought-provoking and moving. It just does not happen in the world of Hollywood. Yet again, Pixar have re-written the rules.

Zombieland: Double Tap Trailer- Thoughts

Ten years. A lot has changed over the last decade. Britain has had three prime ministers, the US two presidents. Kendrick Lamar’s entire discography of studio albums was released during the last ten years, as was a majority of the MCU (save for Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk). An entire generation of gaming consoles started, and will soon be coming to a close with the release of Xbox’s new console next year. Finally, after all these changes, we are getting a Zombieland sequel! After such a large gap in time, the trailer, which came out yesterday, had to successfully remind audiences why the first one is so great, justify the existence of a second one, and excite audiences enough to forgive the studios for such an excruciating wait.

What is most noticeable is the lack of actual zombies. Given its title, and even its subtitle, there is an irony hanging over the whole trailer, for most of the trailer presents us with shots and scenes featuring the original cast, and very human new additions. Ultimately, this is probably a smart route for the second film to follow. If the emphasis laid on the zombies, it would risk prioritising action and spectacle over character and comedy, which are the main strengths of the original movie. Plus, The Walking Dead buzz is certainly much quieter now than it was ten years ago. Giving the zombies the primary focus would not have sparked much hype, for it is the characters we want to see return.

Character appears to be the focus of this second instalment, which I’m very happy to see. The scenes in the Oval Office feel very real and genuine- if I were one of the few to have survived the apocalypse, the first thing I’d do is go visit all the places I was not allowed to go before. The Oval Office would probably be one of them (maybe Area 51 as well, if it is not already “stormed” by that point). It also fits the characters, who, in the first film, break into Bill Murray’s house. I’m glad to see their sense of curiosity, and their desire to explore remnants of the old world, have survived the ten year jump. Further, there is a strong emphasis on the family dynamic. “I’d really like for you to stop calling me little girl”, says Little Rock to Tallahassee out of frustration for being seen as the baby of the group, hinting that the film may focus on how the family dynamic, set up in the first Zombieland, has changed, grown, or struggled over the last decade. Perhaps this sense of inequality is why she ends up running away, as the trailer implies. More tension appears to come from the introduction of new characters into the group. The film appears to be centred on the family and how it works, which is a lot more interesting than seeing the same group fight some zombies again.

Of course, the original film was a comedy, so it is great to see that the franchise’s sense of humour is still as golden as ever. All of the jokes work and made me laugh- particularly the joke about Tallahassee not “giv[ing] a shit” about Columbus, and the weed gag. Hopefully, these are not the only good jokes, nor simply the best gags. I do have hope the film has a whole has more to offer. The scenes in the Oval Office certainly allow for some biting satirical commentary, which will always be a pleasure to watch.

This new trailer is very successful. It reminds me of why I enjoyed the first film so much- the characters and the humour- and reassures me that they will be the focus of the second one. There is also a lot of potential in the “ten years” later set up, as well as a lot of potential for humour in the film’s choice of setting. I’m very excited to see this movie. It is such a shame I had to go through the whole of secondary school,  sixth form, and university to get to a point in my life when I can finally see the Zombieland sequel. It has been a long wait, but I’m sure it will be a worthwhile one.  

Retrospective Reviews: Blade Runner (1982/1992)

Watch this as soon as you can…

Watching this film today, it is hard to believe it is merely set in 2019. It was made this year. The original version was released in 1982, with a director’s cut coming out ten years later. Yet, the stunning representation of a dystopian, decaying, much more mechanic version of Los Angeles are as  impressive today as they were thirty-seven years ago. The attention to detail that went into the street settings, the costumes, and the breath-taking skylines all work towards creating one of the most immersive science-fiction experiences you’ll ever see. It is no wonder that it has inspired so many films in the genre since its initial release.

This film is famous for creating an forgettable mood and atmosphere. It is hard to describe what mood it creates, but it is even harder to shake that feeling off once the movie is over. Vangelis’ score is somehow other-worldly, passionate and ambient all at the same time. The chiaroscuro lighting helps to make this film feel incredibly dramatic, and adds to the power of the visuals.

Of course, the film is more than just a fabulous feast for the senses. Harrison Ford plays Deckard, an ex-“blade runner”, which is essentially a cop whose job is hunt and execute replicants (human-looking android servants who no longer obey their masters’ commands). Four such replicants, led by Roy, played by Rutger Hauer in his breakout role, are rebelling against their human masters. It is Deckard’s job to stop them. On a philosophical level, this premise allows the film to ask complex and thought-provoking questions. The morality of Deckard’s job is constantly under scrutiny as Deckard is moved by the very human memories implanted in Rachael’s brain, and certainly overwhelmed by the replicants’ lust for life, and their dread of knowing that they are pre-programmed to die very soon. Throughout, the replicants seem to value their humanity and their time on Earth more than the humans do, drawing attention to the cruel and arbitrary nature of Deckard’s role as executioner. Some have described this film as slow paced, but I prefer to use the words thoughtful and considered. The film asks important questions, and does not seek quick, nor easy, answers.

The performances of the film’s two main characters further blurs the lines between human and android. Subverting all expectations after playing heroic and charming roles like Indiana Jones and Han Solo, Ford’s performance is startlingly robotic. Very effectively, Ford plays a character who is often cold and laconic, which juxtaposes with Rutger Hauer’s performance, which expresses Roy’s aching desire for equality, and for life, magnificently. His famous “tears in rain” monologue cannot help but move. Despite its memorable technological achievements, it is Rutger Hauer’s performance as the emotional core of the film that I think of first when I look back on Blade Runner

It is easy to see why Blade Runner is considered a classic. Everything from the visuals and the score work together smoothly to create an overwhelming and unforgettable experience, and the film tackles complex philosophical questions that audiences, thirty-seven years later, are still trying to answer.

The Lion King (2019) Review

Wait until you can stream it…

Despite being longer, this film feels like a shot-for-shot remake of the original film, with most of the dialogue being copy and pasted. Same film, new coating. Whilst this does bring some successes, this new look for The Lion King is ultimately a detriment.

The only major change that springs to mind is that this film is much more muted. Gone are the dazzling, crazy colours. The grand musical set pieces are much more grounded in reality, as tracking shots simply track the singing animals as the sing and walk to their destination. The film is also hyper-realistic. Everything looks as real as a David Attenborough documentary. It is impressive, truly. Technology has clearly come a long way. This brings the major drawback, and ultimately the film’s greatest limitation, and perhaps its downfall: the ability for the film to express emotion is greatly restricted. Lions cannot express emotion like humans, and where the original film would use colour and grand musical set pieces to express how a character is feeling, this film is held back by a much more grounded reality.

With regards to the representation of Scar, this does actually works. Jeremy Irons’ Scar was much more eccentric and over the top. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Scar is a much more shadowy presence. He is cold, calculating and cunning, always working at the corner of your eye. I really like both versions. Ejiofor does a fantastic job, and the muted nature of the film compliments his performance well. Scar’s emotionless face, the quieter, eerie score when he is on screen, and the darker lighting all complement each other to create a truly sinister and threatening presence on screen.

However, the grounded approach to filmmaking is a disservice to nearly every other character. Timon’s and Zazu’s jokes often fall flat because, whilst the vocal delivery is funny, the blank facial expressions of the characters stop the jokes feeling real. Comedy is all about the visual and the aural. This film snatches away the visual side of the comedy. Arguably one of the saddest moments in the original film- Mufasa’s death- does not move me in this version. Simba’s face, in the original, is free to express as a child would, and it makes Mufasa’s death heart-breaking. This new version cannot express Simba’s sadness and terror over losing his father simply because lions cannot express emotion like we do. We just get a blank, emotionless face that jars with a vocal delivery filled with grief. It just does not work, making the efforts of the excellent voice cast, consisting of such talents as Donald Glover as Simba, ultimately pointless. The hyper-realism of this movie allows for technically marvellous shots, but it takes away much of the original film’s heart and emotion.

This film is the Avatar of the Disney remakes. A technical achievement, yes, but one lacking in emotion. To extend the Avatar analogy further, this new version also lacks originality. The plot’s structure is not changed. The variance in dialogue between both movies is barely noticeable. The director, Jon Favreau, does not even make the effort to represent the familiar plot using new shots, from new angles and positions. As mentioned before, this film feels like a mostly shot-for-shot remake. Why remake the original if your intention is to take away from the original, without adding anything new?

The Lion King remake embraces the imagery of the “circle” of life- it is utterly pointless. Remake proves to be the wrong word to describe this movie, for that implies something new has been made. This is more of a digital remaster, to borrow a term from the gaming industry. Games from the PS2 era are often imported onto a PS4 disc with improved graphics. When done with games, there is at least some point for the consumer, for you may not have your old console anymore, and you are now being given an opportunity to play some of your old favourites all over again. I fail to see why this movie exists other than as a way of milking cash from a beloved property, or as a showcase of ground-breaking technology. Artistically, it only takes away from the original, and gives nothing back.  Whilst the original was a roar capable of bringing in a stampede of devoted fans hailing it as a classic, the remaster is much quieter roar from the same lion, but much less powerful.

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