Apollo 11 – Review

by Chris Rogers

It seems remarkable that only fifty years after the first moon landing do we finally have footage of the event that feels worthy of its tremendous legacy. Many feature adaptations (most recently Damien Chazelle’s sublime First Man, to which this will make a fine companion alongside Al Reinert’s melancholic For All Mankind) have tried their damndest to portray the awe and wonder of mankind’s greatest journey, but surely nothing has ever come close to this, Todd Douglas Miller’s exemplary documentary. 

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Utilising a veritable lunar goldmine of newly-discovered 70mm film from launch day – as well as restored on-board footage from the lunar lander – Miller chooses not to fill Apollo 11 with the usual talking heads, reconstructions or “Where are they now?”s. Only the voices of our historic trio – Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins – and their guardians at mission control remain. This narrow focus somehow adds to and enhances the inherent tension of a ludicrously dangerous mission, regardless of the fact we all know the outcome – the mark of any great true story retold.

Having seen so many (perfectly worthy) adaptations and watch the same old broadcast sizzles wheeled out for countless TV docs, experiencing that first ignition blast engulf the Saturn V rocket in crystal clarity and surround sound is – and I only use such an overworked phrase because all else fails me – a sight to behold. As Matt Morton’s exceptional score (conjuring musical magic using only instruments one could purchase in July 1969) swelled and every face on planet Earth looked to the skies as one, I could have wept. Oh, to be in that next generation of schoolchildren whose first sight of our giant leap will be something of such magical realism.

The quality of the film (format and feature both) is certainly astonishing, but more incredible still is the total discipline required to strip 65 reels (11,000 hours!) worth of history down to the pure essentials. Yet amongst the sweeping space vistas are delightfully small, human-sized highlights. See the Apollo crew mess around with a tape player in zero-g, or the hordes of onlookers getting a nice tan in the baking Orlando summer. 

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There’s also a timely glimpse of aerospace engineer JoAnn Morgan – the lone female voice in the NASA control room, centered in the frame and flanked by an endless sea of male peers (Miller spoke in a post-screening Q&A of a cut scene involving the 25 year-old taking to the official audio channel, correcting two colleagues bickering over each other’s calculations).

This spirit of giving everyone their moment in the moonlight, shining a light on these oft-forgotten faces is the heart of Apollo 11. More than its blockbuster-level exhibition and sheer space geek attention to detail, the true ‘experience’ lies in the chorus of commands, acknowledgements, “Good luck”s and “God speed”s, in seeing the faces of the crew – expectant, terrified, resolute – as mankind sits on the brink of a new age. We all know the eagle landed – seeing and knowing those who made it soar is something else altogether.

Apollo 11 is out in cinemas 28th June 

On The Basis of Sex – Review: Does it do Ruth Bader Ginsburg justice?

by Catherine Courtney

I’m Ruth Bader,
Yes I’m the Real Bader
All you other Ruth Baders are just imitating,
So won’t the Real Ruth Bader please…. rise, court is now in session…

2019 is off to a pretty rocky start so far. It’s not as bad as 2018 – yet – but this film and the simply named documentary RBG have made these first couple of months a little more bearable. Honestly, when I was watching these movies, I actually forgot about Brexit.

The benefit that On the Basis of Sex has, is the subject matter herself – Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It’s hard to imagine being a pioneer of something… anything… in a society where it feels like most things have already been discovered. But the Notorious RBG was a pioneer, a champion and quite simply an all-round total badass. Eager to become a lawyer, she was one of the very first women to be accepted into the Harvard program where still all content was driven towards men and men alone. She triumphed at school before becoming a professor herself, and has spent her entire career advocating gender equality and women’s rights, and has changed actual laws in the US which have revolutionised the treatment of men vs women. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Yep. Total badass.

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In eOne’s new release, Felicity Jones steps up to the plate to take on this formidable role – who is surprisingly manifested in a simply small, quiet body. While she gets much closer to the character than Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon does, there’s something so unique and special about the Original Ruth that isn’t quite tapped into in this role. She’s tough and determined, and Jones seems to walk with the air of owning a room – it’s the underestimation of Ginsburg’s peers that causes such a powerful impact.

There are some marvellously artsy shots such as the moment she’s the blue-blazered salmon swimming against the tide of black and grey male suits, but the magic of this woman’s story is in her words, and fortunately for this film her nephew wrote them all. This has given the story an insider feel, with sweet family dynamics and a mother-daughter relationship development that made me want to see more. Whether it was too close to home brings hesitation to the glossiness of the story, but it’s a story you want to believe in nevertheless.

One of the main beauties of Justice Ginsburg’s life is her incredible relationship with her husband, who genuinely glows in a limelight both separate and connected to hers. A man as sound as any young girl with a fluffy diary and a killer attitude could dream of – Handsome! Charming! Willing to do the dishes! Martin Ginsburg was a lawyer in his own right (and a very good one at that), climbing to the top of a tax career in New York and yet always looking next to him to make sure Ruth was achieving the things that she was capable of. It’s either luck or destiny that Armie Hammer was found for the role – a gentle giant, with eyes to melt any tough New Yorker judge, stories taller than petite Felicity and yet embodying a character that would happily put her on his shoulders so she could see and do more (suggestion for Hollywood’s obsession with sequels – On the Basis of Sex 2: Marty, Dreamboat Feminist…)

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The film itself is a fairly rose-tinted version of Ruth’s story, with incredibly powerful moments zipped past like the difficulties that have washed off Ginsburg’s back throughout her life. A truly defining moment comes at the dinner table of the Dean of Harvard, who gets each woman enrolled that year to stand in front of her peers and justify why she felt she had the right to take a place in school that could have been given to a man. No, really.

Look out for enjoyable performances from Justin Theroux and Sam Waterston, while Cailee Spaeny ignites sparks in a very early stage of her career – possibly a name to keep an eye on in future roles. But my concern for the film is in the viewer’s previous knowledge of Queen Notorious, as this film centres around one legal suit and the ebb and flow of the story may come across as slow and dragging at points for those who don’t know where it’s heading. I hope the tiny moments of defiance that built this woman are noticeable enough to those who aren’t looking for them. Does she simply come across as a stubborn woman with an obsessive tendency or can the UK audience see her true majesty and fire? Here’s hoping that the film will inspire people to find out more about the woman that’s helped to change the world.

A woman like this make us look at the world today. Gender equality has made leaps and bounds, but is nowhere near the end of its battle. Do feminists and champions for human rights have to be loud and brash? Can you still be classed as a feminist if you don’t attend every march with a witty homemade placard? And does it have to be that only the voice of many can make a difference while the voice of the few will struggle to make a sound? I think Ginsburg would say no – anyone can be a champion, and anyone can do it whichever way feels right to them. And every voice, no matter how loud or soft, has a right to be heard. So, Ruth – I think I’ll spend my life trying to make mine worth listening to.

On the Basis of Sex is out now in cinemas nationwide.

Toy Story 4 – Review

When Toy Story 4 was announced, there were a fair few grumbles from folk who had grown up with the series (myself included.) Toy Story 3 was the perfect finale – saying goodbye to our old friends with all the tears in the whole wide world fall down our cheeks. With a nod of his hat and a big ole; “So long partner,” we’d put our toys to bed so to speak. Chapter closed, franchised finished, and toys treasured.

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The resurrection of the franchise a seven or so years later seemed unnecessary. In spite of this, Toy Story 4 came out of the holster packing a huge, big question that has loomed over the franchise: What makes a toy – a toy?

This all rested on the pipe-cleaner shoulders of an animated spork named Forky. Set not long after the events of 3, this latest entry sees Woody newly abandoned in the wardrobe, no longer picked by Bonnie to play.  Determined to show that he is still a toy that matters, Woody sneaks into a Kindergarten Orientation day where Bonnie builds a new friend – the aforementioned Forky. However, Forky is meant to be trash so he is constantly trying to run away from the girl. Woody tries to save the day but an old familiar face could change his perspective on his purpose as a toy…

With Toy Story 4, Pixar have yet again shown how exquisite their animation is. Progressing over these past few decades, the studio have perfected every single detail. From the rendering on the hair to the glassy-eyed reflections in dolls, the scenes and the toys are impeccable drawn. It’s a wonder of colour and adventure.

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However, this latest instalment is a disappointment. The whole story and script feels borrowed from the other entries. Since Toy Story 2, the plot has gone like so: Woody finds himself in a place he’s never been before, a friendly/familiar face convinces him that this life is better than being with his child, and a character who starts of pretty amicable turns into a villain. Woody has a revelation and the fate of the toys are at his whim. There’s new hilarious characters voiced by actors who were huge in the eighties and nineties, there is a threat of death (or whatever death toys can have in a movie such as this,) and, badabing badaboom, you have  Toy Story film. The entire fourth movie feels so exhausting and there isn’t the same connection as the previous entries.

The introduction of Forky is exciting. Voiced by Arrested Development’s Tony Hale, Forky is definitely a personification of a whole world of adults who believe themselves as “trash.”  Not only that, but his existential crisis was a big draw and offered so many questions: Why are the toys sentient and what does it mean to be alive? These questions are brushed over in the first third, creating a muddled second and third one where the different points of views are confused together. It’s frustrating because there are strong ones too; Woody’s own conflict verses Forky’s huge debate added with an old friend in new circumstances. On their own, they make for riveting stuff but they never quite gel with one another.

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Sure, Toy Story 4 tugged at the heart strings and you’ll be hard pushed to find folk with a dry eye at the finale. There’s also new voice-work from Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Keanu Reeves, and Christine Hendricks (whose quasi-villain is creepy enough to be threatening, especially with her helper ventriloquist dolls.) The film has some great comedy in it too such and it’s worth sticking around to the end of the credits for the best payoff in the whole series.

But Toy Story 4 isn’t as impressive as the other outings. It’s like going on an incredible holiday with your best friends. It is such a good time that you want to replicate that magic the next year, and the next, and the next. At some point, it is going to get weary and you are going to become a little bit more jaded about your favourite holiday.

There is great, crowd-pleasing stuff here. Unfortunately, the rest is just fluff.

Toy Story 4 is out in cinemas now. 

Child’s Play – Review

Just over twenty years ago, the horror scene as plagued by an orange haired plastic doll possessed with the murderous spirit of a convicted killer. The series as progressed getting campier and more ridiculous with each film. And they are brilliant, perverse, and entertaining schlock.

It’s surprising/not surprising that in spite of the original series still technically going, the Child’s Play franchise would reboot itself. But does the 2019 movie do justice to the film?

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Child’s Play revolves around the Buddi doll. An updated must have toy, the film acts as a smartphone home device that can move, sing, dance, and also tap into your home system and all that modern jazz. Naturally, this all goes pair-shaped when young Andy finds out his doll (who affectionately names himself Chucky) is defective. And not you’re usually gift fuck-up, this doll wants to kill anyone who tries to stop him and Andy becomes the best friends ever.

Starring Brian Tyree Henry, Aubrey Plaza, and the voice of Mark Hamill, the film is a garish and gory movie that slices into red stuff.  It’s funny and entertaining, good for a few laughs and a few jumpy moments that make you squirm in your seat. Hamill and the animation of Chucky are certainly pleasing, digging into that natural creepiness of life-like, maniacal dolls.

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However, there is a sloppy assembly here. Right from the beginning, the plot seems nonsensical. The child’s possessed toy is no longer that – it’s a defunct one that becomes sentient following the removal of safety protocols from a disgruntled employee (who promptly kills himself.) Chucky then starts to learn the behaviours from television or the kids but it doesn’t really make a lick of sense. Whilst the filmmakers are clearly trying to make allusions to artificial inteliigence, smart-phones, on-screen violence are children watch, and possibly how robots could take over the world – having the doll possessed by a serial killer makes alarmingly more sense than one malfunctioning AI system. Why? Because why would anyone program that capability in the first place? Why not just make the toy with inherent safety measures that don’t have to be removed because you haven’t programmed in the ability to murder?

Like a clock – I don’t have to remove the safety measures because there aren’t any because it hasn’t been programmed in to straight up kill me in my sleep.

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Child’s Play feels like a lazy adaptation that you can still have a lot of fun with. There are creative deaths and a kid that you can have. Just sadly, it’s more of a cold and shiny reboot that you struggle to warm too. The characters are loose, the acting is average, and the action is somewhat sloppy. If you’re going to attempt a bloodbath, then go for hell. Instead, apart from a few creative moments, it feels like they are holding back somewhat. The score is great though. But then again, when has a score by Bear McCreary ever been bad?

For a movie, Child’s Play works best with mates and beers and not that many brain cells…

Child’s Play is out 21st June 

Ready Or Not – Trailer!

In-laws, aye? If you’re lucky, you’ll surely get on with your future family members. However, sometimes, you’re in a fight to the death with them.

Directed by Matt Bettineli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, the film revolves around a young bride who joins her husband’s wealthy but eccentric family. However, a traditional game turns deadly and the bride is soon hunted throughout the night.

Starring Samara Weaving (of The Babysitter fame), this film looks like a steampunk version of You’re Next. What do you think?

Ready Or Not is out in August!

Sometimes Always Never – Review

Bill Nighy is such a brilliant actor, isn’t he? He has blessed our screens with some really good onscreen performances that are wild and varied. Towering as villains in fantasy romps such as Underworld to heart-wrenching in movies such as Pride, Bill Nighy is, and will continue to be, one of our most treasured actors.

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Directed by Carl Hunter, Sometimes Always Never is a wonderful off-beat black comedy that revolves around Alan – a word and Scrabble obsessed father whose eldest son went missing 19 years ago. When a body is found, his youngest son Peter, who feels constantly in the shadow of his older brother, is whisked away by his father to help identify the body. The series of events cause the two men to confront each other and a history of repressed emotions.

Sometimes Always Never takes a little while to get into its oddball cinematography and aesthetic. Framing this tale of heartache with the quirks of Scrabble and Alan’s red labelling machine, enhancing this movie in a Wes Anderson type fashion. Imbued with colours such as orange and greens, giving it a vintage sheen. The off-kilter look really hones in a special type of tone for the film – adding a rambunctious flare to the proceedings.

Wrapping his tongue around a Merseyside accent, Bill Nighy is phenomenal in this role. The actor is adept at subtly weaving an emotional arc into the embellishments of his character. Peter is a wistful character,who is stuck in his own ways and at ease in the games he plays, swindling folk out of their cash and airing his Scrabble standards. All this is a front as he tackles with almighty guilt that he may not have been the perfect Dad but he tries hard to understand his family to the best of his ability. It’s a delicate and utterly engaging performance by Nighy.

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Opposite him is the criminally underrated Sam Riley who depicts his second eldest son Peter with all the irritation of someone putting up with ghost of someone deemed better than he. Riley is perfect, reconciling his own emotions of loss with that of jealousy and envy – his prickliness affecting his wife and son also. Yet the final scenes between the pair are affectionate and soft, bringing closure to the two men who both richly deserve it in one sense or another.

Sometimes Always Never deals with second best characters earnestly trying to live full lives in the shadows of others. With Tim McInnery and Jenny Agutter as great supporting roles, the film is a small project with a lot of heart. An witty and emotive piece about fathers, sons, and Scrabble, Sometimes Always Never is a fantastic indie film to watch this weekend

Sometimes Always Never is out 14th June!