Lion (Film Review) – Slow, Sad But Good

Lion is a drama directed by Garth Davis and stars Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman. The film is based on the true story of Saroo Brierley who was separated from his family in India at five-years-old and adopted by an Australian couple. In the first half of the film, Saroo is a young boy played by Sunny Pawar while Dev Patel plays Saroo in the second half as a young man who seeks to find his way back home to his family nearly half a decade after his disappearance.

My Knowledge and Expectation of Lion

This film got a limited release late last year and was widely praised. Indeed, the acclaim that Lion received has led to it recently gaining some Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor and Actress for Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman respectively. I had not heard much about this film prior to its Oscar nominations and the awards recognition it has received meant that my expectations going into Lion were high.

Sunny Pawar in Lion

My Thoughts on Lion

Similar to La La Land, while my expectations for Lion were not fully met, I found it to be a good film. At its core, Lion has a pretty incredible and emotional story, great cinematography and good performances from the cast. Certainly, Patel gave his best performance since Slumdog Millionaire but I thought that Sunny Pawar was absolutely brilliant in the film. He was so sweet and likeable and for a boy of his age to carry half of the film is a massive achievement.

Still, this brings me onto one of the problems I had with Lion in the fact that, for me, the first half of this film was much stronger than the second. It had more focus and was better paced. Indeed, the whole film is a bit of a slow burner which does limit its re-watchability along with the fact that this is not exactly a happy film. Indeed, even the end of the film where Saroo finally reunites with his family is bittersweet but it is nonetheless very emotional.

Nicole Kidman in Lion

Yet, for a directorial debut, Garth Davis did a good job with Lion, especially as the film is beautifully shot and we do connect to Saroo. But, I do feel that in terms of storytelling, he missed a trick by not focusing enough on the dynamic of Saroo’s adoptive family. It is touched upon at times but it is brushed over time and time again and I feel we would have gained a much deeper connection than we already had with the characters in Lion.

This is especially true with Nicole Kidman who I feel was underutilised which is a shame because she was really good, with one scene with Patel towards the end being a highlight of what, on the whole, is a good film despite the issues I had with some elements of it. There is enough emotional weight within the story, good performances and stunning cinematography to make Lion a film I would recommend you seeing even though you may not feel like you want to watch it again afterwards.

13th (Film Review) – Informative and Powerful

13th is a documentary directed by Ava DuVernay and the primary focus of this documentary is on race in the United States criminal justice system. The title of this documentary comes from the Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution which outlawed slavery unless as punishment for a crime. DuVernay puts across the argument that slavery still exists in the United States today through mass incarceration.

My Knowledge and Expectation of 13th

Documentaries are a genre of film which I don’t usually have the time to watch. However, when I do watch a documentary, I want it to be informative and I want to learn something that I didn’t know before. This was the minimum expectation I had going into 13th, a documentary which has been heavily praised by people I trust and admire both within the film industry and political punditry/commentary. Additionally, considering what has happened recently in the United States, I thought that it was a very timely piece of film-making to watch.

Prisoners in 13th Netflix Documentary

My Thoughts on 13th

I have to say, 13th had a very profound effect on me. While I have learnt about and have some good knowledge about the Civil Rights Movement, this documentary puts the spotlight on an area I knew nothing about in terms of how the political establishment treated African-Americans after the victories of securing equal rights and the right to vote in the 1960s. 13th was a real eye-opener. I gained so much more insight than I already had about the criminal justice system in the United States and DuVernay brilliantly and carefully handles very important and ongoing issues.

In fact, 13th is such a thought-provoking and timely documentary that I believe it is required viewing for everyone, particularly as it will inspire you to be more educated about social and political issues. A part of that is down to how fantastic the interviewees are in addition to how well presented the argument is in this documentary.

Van Jones in 13th Netflix Documentary

Still, the big reason why it is required viewing is that, at times, it is a very distressing and heart-breaking thing to watch, especially when we see footage of police brutality in the modern age. In this sense, 13th is not something that you will forget quickly. You will gain new perspectives about very important issues and it will provoke you and anger you to such an extent that you will be compelled to take a stand against injustice wherever you see it.

Coincidentally, I fear that with the current political leadership in the United States, injustice, hate and prejudice will be prevalent and we need to be ready to fight them. 13th can be a catalyst for that fight.

Star Wars Rebels: Season 3 Episode 15 (Television Review) – Sabine Shines In The Spotlight

One of the strongest aspects about Star Wars Rebels is its ability to develop its characters  and strengthen our connection to them in the process. Nearly every crew member of the Ghost has had episodes which mainly focus on them whether it is Zeb in an episode such as ‘The Honorable Ones’ or Hera in ‘Wings of the Master’. This latest episode, titled ‘Trials of the Darksaber‘, heavily focuses on Sabine, a character who I believe is one of the strongest that Rebels has and should be in the spotlight more.

Sabine and Ezra in Star Wars Rebels Season 3 Episode 15 Trials of the Darksaber

My Thoughts on ‘Trials of the Darksaber’

After this episode, my desire for Sabine to be utilised more than she has been is now even more enhanced. For me, this is one of the richest episodes of character development we have ever had in Star Wars Rebels. We gained so much insight on Sabine’s past and the conflict she has within herself and it really made her more of a character with depth and layers. Moreover, seeing Fenn Rau back after we last saw him in ‘Imperial Supercommandos‘ was great as he contributed a lot to Sabine’s arc in this episode.

In addition to Sabine’s development, Kanan was another character in this episode that got some attention and it was interesting to see his struggle to embrace the role of teaching Sabine as it was a very different situation to his teaching of Ezra. It was also really cool to learn more about the darksaber in terms of how it, and lightsabers in general, connects with its user. Additionally, we also found out about the darksaber’s legend within Mandalorian culture through a nice piece of animation which reminded me of the telling of the Deathly Hallows in Harry Potter.

Kanan and Sabine in Star Wars Rebels Season 3 Episode 15 Trials of the Darksaber

The calibre of voice acting in this episode was another strong aspect of this episode and it ranks among the best this show has offered so far. Credit goes to Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Tiya Sircar, who voice Kanan and Sabine respectively, in achieving this. The voice work they did for their characters was exceptional, particularly towards the end of the episode.

As you can see, I think that this episode was pretty great and it just furthered my belief that Rebels is going from strength to strength as a show and that this season is the best we have had so far. The next episode is set to continue where we left off with Sabine and I cannot wait for it.

La La Land (Film Review) – Bittersweet But Good

La La Land is a musical directed by Damien Chazelle and stars Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling and John Legend. The plot of the film centres on Mia, an inspiring actress played by Emma Stone, and Seb, a struggling jazz musician played by Ryan Gosling. They meet and fall in love in Los Angeles and try to find the balance of maintaining their relationship and achieving their dreams and ambitions.

My Knowledge and Expectation of La La Land

This has been one of the most critically acclaimed films to have come out in recent memory. Truly, the critics/film pundits who I trust have all praised La La Land with aspects of the film such as the cinematography and the performances of Stone and Gosling in particular being heavily lauded.

As a result, this is a film which has been championed as potential sweeping all the awards at the Oscars this year. Musicals are a genre of film I am not well versed in. So, the main reason why I was interested in seeing La La Land, apart from the great reviews, was because of Damien Chazelle.

Damien Chazelle is a relatively new director within the film industry. He made his breakthrough in 2014 with his second directorial effort in Whiplash, a film that I think is absolutely brilliant. Because of this, I was excited to see what he could accomplish with La La Land.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land

Additionally, the fact that Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling were the leads in this film is never a bad thing to have as they are both extremely talented and have proved that they have great chemistry as we witnessed in Crazy Stupid Love. Consequently, I went into La La Land with high expectations.

My Thoughts on La La Land

While I would say that these expectations were not fully met, I will say that La La Land is a good film and there were things I liked. For one, Stone and Gosling give good performances and they had really good chemistry in the film. I also thought that this film was beautifully shot and paints a lovely if not idealistic portrait of Los Angeles.

I also appreciated the ending of La La Land which, while bittersweet, was a fitting way to end the film but I understand if people didn’t like the ending as it is not the traditional happy ending. For me, it worked well but, that being said, I do not think the film is the masterpiece that a lot of people think it is because it has some flaws.

Another Day of Sun in La La Land

The Flaws of La La Land

For instance, I thought that the film could have been trimmed by 5-10 minutes to improve the pacing and I would have liked the musical numbers to have been spread out a bit more. For me, it felt like the musical numbers, while good, were mostly in the first act of the film. La La Land would have been better if we had a few more musical numbers in the second and third act.

Overall, La La Land is a good film with catchy musical numbers, beautiful cinematography and good chemistry between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. However, it does have flaws in regards to its pacing and placement of the musical numbers which prevents it from, in my eyes, being the masterpiece that a lot of people consider it to be.

Manchester by the Sea (Film Review) – A Brilliant Film About Depression

Manchester by the Sea is a drama written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan and stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler and Lucas Hedges. The plot of the film focuses on Lee Chandler, played by Casey Affleck, who has to look after his sixteen-year-old nephew after the death of his brother while, at the same time, dealing with his tortured past.

My Knowledge and Expectation of Manchester by the Sea

This is a film which has been on my radar for nearly a year. Indeed, it received a lot of praise at last year’s Sundance Film Festival and has been touted as being an Oscar contender for a long time, with Casey Affleck in particular gaining a lot of admiration from critics for his performance. As such, I have been eager to see Manchester by the Sea for quite a while and was certainly expecting that this was going to be a great, powerful film.

Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea

My Thoughts on Manchester by the Sea

I was right to think this way. Manchester by the Sea is a brilliant film and this is all down to its emotional story and the fantastic performances the cast gives. Undoubtedly, Casey Affleck gives the best performance of his career. He loses himself in the role and successfully plays a man who seems calm but has a great deal of inner rage and turmoil which, when you find out what he has been through, is understandable. The strength of his performance makes me think that he is a lock for Best Actor at the Oscars.

The supporting cast were also great. Michelle Williams is fantastic in the small role she has with one scene between her and Affleck, in my opinion, assuring her a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars. Lucas Hedges was one of my favourite things about this film and I hope he gets a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. His contribution was vital in proving moments of relief through dark humour in this hard-hitting film.

Lucas Hedges and Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea

Certainly, Manchester by the Sea showcases a story which successfully portrays emotional withdrawal, depression and the fact that, while you can continue to live after horrific events, some things are too horrible to completely move on from. The film is very affecting in this regard. Yet, as I said, there are moments of relief, especially when Lucas Hedges character was involved.

Overall, the emotional story along with the fantastic performances make Manchester by the Sea a brilliant film which I am sure will get a lot of award nominations at the Oscars. Indeed, it already has quite a few BAFTA nominations and I am pleased it is being recognised for its exceptional quality, especially in acting which does make the film stand out.

Star Wars Rebels: Season 3 Episode 14 (Television Review) – A Funny Yet Important Episode

Last week’s double-feature of Star Wars Rebels was a great way to start this next run of episodes in Season 3 and this latest episode, titled ‘Warhead’, was very enjoyable but the tone was very different. Certainly, the fact that there was a lot more humour in this episode is evidence of this shift in tone but it made for a really fun episode which I enjoyed from the opening which itself echoed the beginning of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

What I Liked

Still, the consistent highlights throughout this episode were the interactions between Zeb and AP-5. This whole episode was focused on Zeb and I like it when we get episodes which focus on one or two characters as it gives us a chance to form a deeper connection to them. Additionally, I feel that we have not had a Zeb-centric episode for a while so it was good to see him get some more screen time.

Thrawn and Kallus in Star Wars Rebels Season 3 Episode 14 Warhead

I also believe that AP-5 is an underused gem in Star Wars Rebels. I have liked this character since he was introduced at the end of Season 2 and have been wishing that he was used more in Rebels for a while as he provides some brilliant comedic lines thanks to his dry, monotone delivery. In fact, he is like the Alan Rickman of the Star Wars universe and the back-and-forth between him and Zeb was really entertaining. I hope they use more of AP-5 going forward.

The Importance of ‘Warhead’

It was also good to see Agent Kallus continuing to embrace and enjoy the role of being one of the many “Fulcrum’s” working for the Rebel Alliance. Indeed, he warned Chopper Base about the droids sent to Outer Rim worlds to scout for Rebel activity. This was the primary story of this episode which could have been considered filler if we didn’t have Kallus’ involvement or the end of this episode.

Indeed, the end, which involved Kallus and Thrawn, makes this a very relevant episode going forward as the events of this episode plays into Thrawn’s plans to completely destroy the Rebel Alliance. All of this makes this an episode which, while different in tone to the previous double-feature, gives us a pleasant and refreshing focus on Zeb and AP-5, good humour and important developments in the story going forward in Rebels.

Silence (Film Review) – A Boring Slog

Silence is a historical drama directed by Martin Scorsese and stars Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Tadanobu Asano, Issey Ogata and Yōsuke Kubozuka. The story follows two 17th-century Jesuit priests, played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver. They travel from Portugal to Japan to find their missing mentor, played by Liam Neeson, while trying to spread Catholocism at a time where Christians are being persecuted, tortured and killed in Japan.

My Knowledge and Expectation of Silence

This is a film which has been in development for a long, long time. Indeed, this has been a passion project for Scorsese for decades which has been through a troubled production process with Scorsese focusing on other films such as Hugo, Shutter Island and The Wolf of Wall Street before finally pushing ahead with making Silence. My anticipation for Silence was largely influenced by Scorsese directing the film.

Certainly, Scorsese is a brilliant director who has made some absolute classic films such as Goodfellas, Casino, Hugo and The Wolf of Wall Street and when you consider the talent of the cast in this film, it all looked like Silence was shaping up to be a great film. Nevertheless, I still had doubts about how much I would enjoy this film. Indeed, as much as I admire Scorsese, I have not liked some of his films.

Martin Scorsese and Andrew Garfield on the set of Silence

For instance, I could not get through Mean Streets, The Aviator was very dull and slow and, in my opinion, I think Raging Bull is overrated (It’s good, just not the masterpiece everyone thinks it is). Still, I hoped that Silence would fall into the category of what I consider to be the best films of Scorsese.

My Thoughts on Silence

Sadly, this was not to be the case at all. I did not like Silence. True, the film has some good qualities but the overall package left me very disappointed. Before I talk about why Silence was such a disappointment, let’s talk about the few things I appreciated about the film. For one, Silence is a visually stunning film. The cinematography is absolutely fantastic and you can tell that every shot was intimately crafted.

There were also some good performances in this film, with the standout performance coming from Andrew Garfield and Liam Neeson was also good in the small role he had. I also thought that the film tried to deal with some interesting themes such as idealism, devotion to religions and pragmatism. However, all of these aspects of Silence which I liked were not enough to make me overcome my disdain for how ridiculously boring and slow this film is.

Andrew Garfield in Silence

Poor Pacing

Truly, I was begging for this film to end probably half-way through the running time. It was so tough for me to get through and the length of the film is not the main problem. Indeed, films like Braveheart, The Wolf of Wall Street and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy are long but have good pacing and great pay-off.

Silence had none of these things. It trudges along at a snail’s pace and it really bothered me. Moreover, when I hoped that the final act would make these issues I had with the pacing go away, I was again disappointed by how the ending played out. It just made me think ‘What a waste of time!’.

All of this makes me disappointed rather than angry because there are things to admire about this film. However, despite the visuals, themes and performances, the pacing and the poor third act left me feeling extremely disappointed and unwilling to recommend Silence as a film you have to see.

Star Wars Rebels: Season 3 Episode 12-13 (Television Review)– A Great Character Study of Saw Gerrera

It has been just about a month since the mid-season finale of Season 3 of Star Wars Rebels but it feels so much longer considering how strong that episode was and how it ended. It really set up some exciting things ahead for the show. Moreover, the trailer that was released this week for the remaining episodes made me even more excited to get back into this season of Rebels with this double-header return, titled ‘Ghosts of Geonosis’.

Saw Gerrera

One of the strongest elements of Star Wars Rebels, and the new canon in general, is its ability to tie-in to wider events and enhance your experience with Star Wars and this is what made this double-feature, on the whole, such a pleasure to watch. For instance, a heavy presence in this two-parter was Saw Gerrera, a character who was first introduced in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and, more recently, played by Forest Whitaker in Rogue One.

Ezra, Kanan, Rex and Chopper in Star Wars Rebels Season 3 Episode 12 and 13 Ghosts of Geonosis

Whitaker actually came back to voice Gerrera in these episode of Rebels and it was great to delve deeper into Gerrera’s methods and his mentality in fighting the Empire. He was really fleshed out in these episodes and we now have more understanding about why he is so unhinged and extreme in his approach. I also appreciated how the Ghost crew reacted to Saw Gerrera as it highlighted the stark differences in principles between them and gave the Rebel Alliance more depth.

More Connections

Other links to The Clone Wars and Rogue One which were cool to see included a Geonosian trying to draw the Death Star to warn the crew about what the Empire were doing on Geonosis. Obviously, no one could understand it. Indeed, Rex called it “the circle in a circle”. Seeing Rex and Gerrera back together was great too as it linked back to the Onderon Arc in The Clone Wars, an arc which I recently watched and very much enjoyed. As such, those immersed in the Star Wars universe will appreciate this episode to a much greater degree than casual fans which may be a negative for some.

Drawing of Death Star in Star Wars Rebels Season 3 Episode 12 and 13 Ghosts of Geonosis

Still, the only criticism I would levy at this double-header was that there was a particular line about “sand” which I could have done without. I know that the line was a little dig at the Prequels but all it did was bring back some repressed memories about those films. Still, this is my only little nitpick about what was otherwise a very strong start to the next batch of episodes we’ll get in Season 3 of Rebels.

A Monster Calls (Film Review) – Decent Yet Disappointing

A Monster Calls is a fantasy drama directed by J. A. Bayona and stars Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Lewis MacDougall and Liam Neeson. The story is centred on a young boy called Conor O’Malley, played by Lewis MacDougall, who has to deal with the fact that his mother, played by Felicity Jones, is dying from cancer. Additionally, Conor is struggling with being bullied at school. Conor comes across a monster, voiced by Liam Neeson, who tells him stories and aids Conor in fixing his unhappy life.

My Knowledge and Expectation of A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls has been receiving a lot of buzz since some critics were able to see it as early as the summer. As such, this was a film which had pushed itself to being one of my most anticipated, especially when you consider how talented the cast involved in this film is. Certainly, Felicity Jones is getting stronger and stronger as an actress and when you have Sigourney Weaver and Liam Neeson involved in any film, it will only increase your expectations.

Sigourney Weaver and Lewis MacDougall in A Monster Calls

My Thoughts on A Monster Calls

Sadly, the high hopes I had for this film were not met. While I believe that it is a decent film, it failed to emotionally captivate me as it has with other people. Still, there were some things I liked. What I really appreciated about A Monster Calls were the impressive visuals. The monster looks stunning in this film and the animation they use to tell the monsters’ stories are also very impressive.

The performances in A Monster Calls were also good. MacDougall is impressive for a boy of his age, Neeson’s voice work is solid while Felicity Jones plays the supporting role she has to the best of her ability. Nevertheless, I would have liked to have seen more of Sigourney Weaver and Toby Kebbell as I was intrigued by their characters the most and I felt they were underused in the film which is a negative aspect of the film.

The Monster and Lewis MacDougall in A Monster Calls

However, my biggest gripe with A Monster Calls was that it tries to tug at your heartstrings to an extent where it feels really forced. It was like the film was screaming “CRY NOW!!” and it felt very unnatural for my liking. This will not be an issue for a lot of people but I have to give my honest opinion about how I felt about this film. At what was supposed to be the film’s most emotional moments, the majority of them fell flat due to how it tries too hard to manipulate the audience which really disappointed me, especially as I had such high hopes for this film.

Consequently, I have no intention of re-watching A Monster Calls. While I would encourage you to see this film to form your own opinions, I myself only consider this film to be decent. While it is visually impressive and the performances in this are good, certain characters were under-utilised and the film tries too hard to showcase its emotional core and force it onto the audience. This left me very disappointed but, like I said, I think you should go and see it for yourself as I also believe the problems I have with A Monster Calls will not be issues for a lot of people.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (Video Game Campaign Review) – A Story Lacking Soul

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is a first-person shooter developed by Infinity Ward and released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. It is the thirteenth primary instalment in the Call of Duty franchise with the campaign centred on a battle for the Solar System which the Settlement Defense Front (SDF), the main antagonists, are attempting to take over. The primary villain of the video game is Admiral Salen Kotch who is played by Kit Harington (Jon Snow from Game of Thrones). But, we, the gamer, play as Captain Nick Reyes of the Special Combat Air Recon (SCAR), part of the United Nations Space Alliance, who attempts to stop the SDF in its attempts to rule the Solar System.

My Knowledge and Expectation of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

Call of Duty is a franchise which has had its ups and downs. For me personally, the last Call of Duty game which I really liked was Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Since then, I have been hugely disappointed with recent offerings from the series. I did not like Call of Duty: Black Ops II and I thought it was a huge step down from Call of Duty: Black Ops which is my favourite game in the Call of Duty franchise. I also detested Call of Duty: Ghosts, so much so that I could not muster myself to play Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare or Call of Duty: Black Ops III.

Space Battle in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

Understandably, you may be confused as to why I chose to play the campaign in Infinite Warfare. The main reason why I was eager to play this campaign is the fact that people within the video game industry, whose opinions I respect, really liked it. Truly, the only way I would ever play another Call of Duty campaign after Ghosts was if it got really great reviews. For the most part, it did and I was also curious to see Kit Harington as the lead villain. Going into this game, I was quite excited.

My Thoughts on Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

However, on the whole, I was disappointed by the campaign. Don’t get me wrong, it is an improvement over Black Ops II and Ghosts but it doesn’t reach the quality of Call of Duty: World at War, Black Ops or the Modern Warfare Trilogy. One of the aspects of the campaign that I liked was the gameplay which was very fluid. Still, that has been the case in every Call of Duty game I’ve played so it wasn’t groundbreaking. I also enjoyed the variety of weapons in the game and I liked the character of Ethan, the robot. He provided some dry humour in the game which was needed in such a serious campaign.

Ground Assault in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

Nevertheless, while I liked Ethan, he was the only character I liked. I really struggled to connect with any of the other characters which meant that when the majority of the ‘emotional’ parts of the campaign happened, they fell flat for me. Indeed, the whole story was a bit soulless. I didn’t care about the plot or the stakes although I did the like the touch of voice recordings/death letters in the end credits. It humanised the characters but it was too late by that time. They could have done a much better job within the campaign to achieve this.

Moreover, the addition of side missions didn’t work for me. I would have preferred if the campaign was linear rather than being one where you can pick and choose what missions to do. Kit Harington was a waste in this game too. You could put anyone in the role of Salen Kotch and it would not have made a difference. All of this combined meant that Infinite Warfare fell flat for me. While I preferred it to previous entries such as Black Ops II and Ghosts, the problems I have with it leave me in a state of mind where I am not excited for future entries in the Call of Duty franchise.