Review: Justice League

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Not only has establishing the DC Extended Universe proved to be an arduous task with the numerous flops threatening to be a deadly counterweight to the one big hit the current film franchise managed to land with Wonder Woman this summer, the production of Justice League itself has also been tumultuous, to say the least. When Zack Snyder decided to step down from Justice League due to the tragic loss of his daughter, Joss Whedon stepped in to cover for Snyder, helming a substantial amount of re-shoots. Among DC fans, concerns understandably grew that Warner Bros. were simply trying to imitate the Marvel formula by bringing in the director of The Avengers, but while it is for better and most definitely also worse easy to see which elements Whedon has been in charge of, Justice League overwhelmingly comes across as the vision of a Snyder who has reined in his preference for angsty bleakness and muted colors and instead attempted to create a more vibrant film with more of a comic book feel than his previous DCEU offerings.

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Review: Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

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In 2017, Wonder Woman proved to be a smash hit, raising the question why it had taken nearly eight decades to bring her to the big screen in a titular feature. Another aspect of Wonder Woman that has raised some eyebrows – if only in the marketing department at Warner Bros. – is the biographical feature about her creator and his unconventional life. Much like Wonder Woman presented us with a contemporary take on the origin story of the most famous female superhero of all time, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women concerns itself with her origin story in terms of how she came to be at the hand of William Moulton Marston and the women who inspired him.

The reality of Marston’s life has been a source of controversy over the years, as he lived in a polyamorous relationship with his wife Elizabeth and live-in mistress Olive Byrne, fathering children with both women. While the sexual nature of the relationship between Elizabeth and Olive has been contested by granddaughter Christie Marston, the filmmakers’ decision to supposedly take certain liberties with the Marstons’ and Byrne’s relationship may not ring true in terms of how they actually lived their lives, however, the way the subject matter is handled is almost unprecedented in terms of representation of bisexuality, polyamory and, to some extent, BDSM as a big screen feature aimed at mainstream audiences.

Throughout the film, a mutually consensual, polyamorous relationship is portrayed without the usual lewdness that such unconventional subjects usually fall victim to in mainstream media. There is no lurid mastermind sleazily grooming additional parties to make them part of a situation they later come to regret. Instead, the progression of the relationship between the three protagonists feels natural, earnest and genuinely loving. However, the relationship is not without conflict, but each party ultimately has the best interest of the others at heart, even if that is at times what causes the conflict in the first place.

In terms of the acting, the performances of Evans, Hall and Heathcote are all strong and convincing, not least in terms of the chemistry between all three parties. The foreshadowing of the BDSM element in terms of bondage in particular is clever and subtle, as the confines of the lie detector, the Lasso of Truth and the bondage rope all tie in with one another. As a result, the trio’s discovery of bondage does not feel sensational or lewd, but rather impactful and empowering, as it is played similar to when a superhero steps up to finally accept their mantle.

In addition to inventing the lie detector and creating Wonder Woman with his wife, Marston also played an integral part in the creation of DISC theory, which many a workplace assessment is still based on to this day. As the narrative progresses, each section thereof is divided into the four behavior types associated with DISC – dominance, inducement, submission and compliance. Not only does this introduce Marston’s other work into the film, it also serves as the narrative framework, as the trio must at one point or another conform to one of the four behavior types if they want their love to persevere.

Ultimately, not only is Professor Marston and the Wonder Women a refreshingly heartfelt and open-minded portrayal of an unconventional family unit, it is also a compelling drama in terms of storytelling in more general terms, not to mention that serves as a superb companion piece to Wonder Woman for the adult comic book fan, making Professor Marston and the Wonder Women a delectable ménage à trois of romance, desire and popular culture.

Verdict: 9 out of 10.

Review: Paddington 2

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In 2014, the first film about Michael Bond’s lovable, jam-obsessed bear managed to impress both audiences and critics alike with its sincere charm and heartwarming themes. As everyone knows, a sequel rarely lives up to the original, and it was therefore understandable that many would have low expectations when settling into their seats for the bear’s second set of adventures in London. However, for those who have already had the opportunity to see Paddington 2, the general consensus is thankfully that the sequel not only lives up to its predecessor, it does, in fact, also surpass it.

From the beginning of the film, director Paul King continues in the same playful, slapstick vein of the first film. Ben Whishaw also continues to prove that he is the perfect choice to voice the eponymous bear, and all the recurring characters are as welcome a sight as they should be. However, once we have been reminded of the things that made the first film so enjoyable, the main storyline comes into full effect, and it is at this point that Paddington 2 truly reveals itself as something very special.

Much like the first film succeeded due to the sincerity of its charming narrative – which  prevented it from falling victim to relying on the kind of schmaltz so often overused in family films to provoke a response – the greatest strength of Paddington 2 is that very same sincerity of the original. Without relying on emotional manipulation, the sequel is brimming with warmth thanks to the combined efforts of the talent both behind and in front of the camera being committed to competently bringing the essence of the endearing source material to life.

As previously mentioned, one is once again thankful that Colin Firth volunteered to step down to allow Ben Whishaw portray the Peruvian furball, however, another standout is Hugh Grant in the role of a self-obsessed, has-been actor. Stating that Grant is superb at portraying a failed actor may sound like a snarky dig, but the enthusiasm with which he portrays this character only attests to his talent and wit. Brendan Gleeson also has great fun portraying the initially intimidating Knuckles McGinty, however, the entire ensemble of prisoners during the films lengthy time spent in jail make this portion of the film so engaging that it is rather unsurprising that it has earned Paddington 2 the nickname The Pawshank Redemption.

Aside from its unadultered Paddington-esque qualities causing equally amusing and charming set pieces and character arcs, the moment our furry protagonist lands himself in jail is also where the technical aspects of the film truly shine. While the film as a whole is brightly colored comfort food for the eyes, the prison sequences are on another level; with visuals reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, the craftsmanship applied showcases the kind of stunningly beautiful work that elevates a film when set decoration, cinematography and color grading all come together perfectly.

The family film has always been an incredibly tricky genre to master, as achieving a balance that ensures a film can engage and entertain across all ages for the duration of its runtime is an ungrateful task. With more misses than hits in this genre not only in general but also in recent memory, Paddington 2 is therefore a remarkable feat as it manages to tick all the boxes, both in terms of technical aspects and narrative strength. And I am not ashamed to admit that the film is so utterly charming and compelling that I would frankly feel inclined to take Paddington’s example and give anyone who disagrees a very hard stare indeed.

Verdict: 10 out of 10.

Review: The Florida Project

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So-called slice-of-life cinema may not be everyone’s idea of a fun time at the movies, but for those who enjoy films that seek to engage its audience by making them reflect on human themes they may or may not already be familiar with, such films have time and time again proven to be incredibly rewarding cinematic experiences. Much like Moonlight won the hearts of critics and moviegoers alike thanks to its impressive performances, excellent cinematography and heartbreakingly relevant story, The Florida Project finds itself in a similar vein. While Moonlight is arguably the stronger film of the two, it is perfectly understandable why Sean Baker’s latest effort has been compared to the most recent Best Picture winner, just as The Florida Project has also created a substantial amount of awards buzz already.

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Review: The Death of Stalin

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From subversive World World II comics to Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump parody on Saturday Night Live, political satire has long been an integral part of the pop-cultural landscape, serving as a cathartic breath of fresh air during trying times. As Armando Iannucci has proved with previous directorial and writing efforts such as The Thick of ItIn The Loop and Veep, he is no stranger to this type of satire, but while his previous offerings have focused on contemporary scenarios, The Death of Stalin concerns a gruesome time period that is thankfully a thing of the past. Satirizing such a serious subject may seem like a problematic or insensitive choice to some, but as any good satirist will tell you, it is often within the most volatile political situations the most impactful satire lies, as true satire highlights the absurdity without neglecting the severity.

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Review: Thor: Ragnarok

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Considering the amount of superhero movies we have been bombarded with in recent years, the time where such films were a rarity seems like a distant memory. Looking back at those films, some of them have become classics that remain enjoyable, but some of them have also rightfully placed themselves on many lists of the worst movies of all time. It is therefore impressive that contemporary superhero films have maintained as high a standard as they have, which is largely due to a formula that was perfected with Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man a decade and a half ago. However, as good as that standard is, it does get rather repetitive with time. Even the mighty Marvel – which has continuously received praise for the offerings of their MCU – has to some extent become predictable, and while this summer’s Spider-Man: Homecoming was one of their better films, the final fight in particular felt painfully formulaic. Instead, what made the newest version of the web-slinger worthwhile was the relatability of the characters and the refreshing meta approach the film took. Another Marvel property that benefited greatly from the meta approach was the non-MCU adaptation of Deadpool, and while Thor: Ragnarok may not be led by an R-rated motormouth like Ryan Reynolds, the latest film about the mighty Thor is an incredibly enjoyable meta adventure, not least thanks to eclectic Kiwi director Taika Waititi being at the helm.

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Review: The Snowman

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So-called Nordic Noir has been all the rage in recent years, with crime drama shows such as The Killing and The Bridge thrilling and chilling audiences across the globe with that specifically Scandinavian brand of incredibly dark, but highly realistic mystery. Aside from the popular TV shows, books by authors such as Jo Nesbø have been equally successful, and it was therefore only a question of time before one of Nesbø’s stories about detective Harry Hole would be adapted for either the small or the big screen. In the cinematic adaptation of The Snowman, Michael Fassbender portrays Harry Hole, the protagonist of several of Nesbø’s books, and Rebecca Ferguson plays his crime-solving counterpart as Katrine Bratt in a production lead by director Tomas Alfredson, effectively marrying talent of both Hollywood and Scandinavia alike.

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