Director: John Krasinski Cast : Emily Blunt, Cillian Murphy, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Djimon Hounsou, John Krasinski Genre: Horror/Thriller/Sci-fi Run Time : 97 min Opens : 17 June 2021 (Sneaks from 5 June) Rating : PG13
In 2018, A Quiet Place became a sleeper hit with audiences and critics alike. While John Krasinski had directed two feature films before, it was A Quiet Place that made everyone sit up and take notice of his skill behind the camera. The film’s box office success all but guaranteed that a sequel would be made, but especially after the pandemic has forced this sequel to be delayed for an additional year, can it live up to the brilliance of the first film?
After discovering that a high-frequency noise can drive away the monsters that have killed most of the earth’s population, the Abbott family must venture into the outside world. Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and her children Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe), and a newborn baby leave the farm where they have been hiding for years. They come across fellow survivor Emmett (Cillian Murphy), whom they knew from before the monsters took over the earth. While the Abbotts are armed with a way of repelling the monsters, that doesn’t mean they’re safe, as they discover that the monsters are far from the only threats that lie in wait for them.
Krasinski continues to display strong directorial skill, staging several tense, thrilling set-pieces. The film’s opening sequence, which is a flashback that takes place on the very first day of the attack, is a killer way to start the film, allowing the audience to witness the initial moments of chaos that will change the Abbotts’ lives, and the lives of everyone else on earth, forever. This movie is not quite as scary as the first film, but there are a healthy amount of edge-of-your-seat moments.
The performances are as solid as they were in the first film, with Millicent Simmonds’ Regan getting more to do in this one. Cillian Murphy has a haunted quality to him that works well for the role of a ragged survivor. This film switches the character dynamics up by having Emmet try to protect Regan when she strikes out on her own, determined to find other survivors. This makes A Quiet Place Part II seem even more like the video game The Last of Us than the first movie did, with Emmet analogous to Joel and Regan analogous to Ellie.
Unfortunately, in trying to open the world and do something different, A Quiet Place Part II is not as good as the first movie. The sense of intimacy and the feeling of it being a very personal project for Krasinski and Blunt are somewhat diminished here, even though Krasinski arguably had more say over this one since he’s the sole credited writer. Krasinski was initially reluctant to return for the sequel, planning to pitch story ideas but hand the film off to another director, before he was convinced to return.
While Murphy puts in a good performance, Emmet can’t help but feel like a replacement for Krasinski’s Lee. The movie introduces some interesting ideas about the world beyond and certain groups of survivors, then quickly abandons them. Blunt has less to do here than one might expect. Also, since we already know what the monsters look like, they’re much more clearly visible in this film and sometimes feel a bit less scary because of it.
Just as in the first film, the sound design is an integral component in A Quiet Place Part II. The film very smartly uses the subjectivity of sound, with the sound dropping out entirely when we’re seeing – or rather, hearing – things from Regan’s point of view since the character is hearing-impaired. Sound designers Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl and sound mixer Brandon Proctor do a marvellous job creating a soundscape for a world where making too much noise can be deadly. It’s especially interesting to start the film out with a flashback, seeing and hearing the world as normal, before jumping forward to show the contrast.
Summary:A Quiet Place Part II feels less personal than the first film, but considering the high bar that’s been set, it’s still a thoroughly thrilling, immersive experience and a remarkably well-made monster movie that is a further evolution of John Krasinski as a director. The film also serves as a showcase for Millicent Simmonds, arguably the breakout star of the first film. It’s well worth the additional year’s wait necessitated by the pandemic.
There are nine main Star Wars theatrical films and three more theatrically released spinoff films, including 2008’s animated Clone Wars movie. However, fans know this barely scratches the surface. There is a galaxy of ancillary material that greatly enhances and enriches the Star Wars story, and sometimes, is essential to getting the bigger picture.
One of the key components of Star Wars has been the Clone Wars CGI animated series, which the afore-mentioned animated movie led into, ran from 2008 to 2014, and had an additional final season that aired in 2020. The series is set between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, and expounds on the titular conflict, fleshing out familiar characters like Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi, while also introducing key players like Ahsoka Tano, Duchess Satine and of course the various Clones.
Streaming on Disney+, Star Wars: The Bad Batch picks up where The Clone Wars left off, focusing on a peculiar group of Clones who were introduced in the seventh and final season of that show. The leader Hunter, gadget whiz Tech, cyborg tactician Echo (once presumed dead and later rescued from his captors), demolitions specialist Wrecker and sniper Crosshair comprise Clone Force 99, nicknamed “the Bad Batch”. While there are small differences in the personalities and temperaments of the regular Clone Troopers, the Batchers (apart from Echo) have genetic defects that enhance certain traits desirable in a soldier, but also make them more individualistic and unpredictable. They are also more physically distinctive than the regular Clones.
At a virtual press conference moderated by Entertainment Tonight’s Ash Crossan, star Dee Bradley Baker, executive producer/head writer Jennifer Corbett and executive producer/supervising director Brad Rau spoke about the new series. Corbett and Rau both worked on the Star Wars animated series Rebels and Resistance. The series is created and executive produced by Dave Filoni, a stalwart of Star Wars animation who is now heavily involved with live-action series on Disney+ including The Mandalorian.
One of the draws for Star Wars fans is this series’ setting: the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Galactic Republic and the execution of Order 66, in which the Clone Troopers turned on and massacred the Jedi. “The question became: what happens after the war’s over? What happens to all these clones [when] all they know is being soldiers?” Corbett asked. She said the show examines “how [the Bad Batch] react to this new environment and the new way of doing things and the new way of following rules, which…isn’t their favourite thing to do.” The nascent Empire is seen through the eyes of the Bad Batch, but also civilians across the galaxy. “I found it kind of interesting to show planets and places that were happy that the war is over, and they don’t really understand the implications of what an Empire actually means,” Corbett continued.
The members of the Bad Batch may be different from the regular Clones, but until now, they have always operated as part of the Grand Army of the Republic. With the fall of the Republic and the rise of the Empire, they find themselves adrift. “None of them are really equipped to go out into the world,” Rau observed. “How do they eat? They don’t have a mess hall to go to. How do they get their gear fixed? How do they get fuel for their ship? These are all things we get into. It’s really interesting.”
Since 2008, Baker has voiced practically every Clone heard in Star Wars animated series and video games. If you watched even one cartoon series on Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel or Cartoon Network over the last 20-odd years, chances are you’ll have heard Baker’s work. Regarded as a living voice acting legend, his credits include Avatar: The Last Airbender, Spongebob Squarepants, Ben 10, Phineas and Ferb, Young Justice, Adventure Time, Steven Universe and Gravity Falls, among many others.
“Clone Force 99 is kind of another step beyond what I’ve been asked to do in the Clone Wars series,” Baker explained. “The tricky part for them is the differentiation between characters – although it has to be decisive and has to be clear, the Bad Batch are actually much further apart from each other which oddly makes it a little bit easier to jump from character to character to character,” Baker said, comparing the experience to “jumping from rock to rock on a stream.” “It’s…a really fascinating process as a voice actor to have these scenes where I’m just talking to myself, just switching from character to character to character as we go through the script, which is typically how we do it. We just go straight through it.”
“It’s impressive to watch him do it in the room because when we first started, I thought he was going to do a character at a time [but] just watching him act out a scene with himself with all of these Clones, there’s no pause, he just goes right into it,” Corbett said, likely echoing the assumption of most viewers. “I was blown away, each time we do one of these recording sessions, I’m just amazed at Dee’s talent.”
The Bad Batch also introduces a new character, a young girl named Omega whom the Batchers somewhat reluctantly take under their wing. “It’s interesting in terms of the story and the writing to have this personal relationship with a younger character and to see how that changes and how they accommodate that,” Baker said. He compared it to an uncle-niece or father-child dynamic but added this is “not entirely” the case, “because Omega has her own interesting potential of power, maybe.”
The way the Batchers interact as members of a military unit is something that Corbett is familiar with, having served in the United States Navy. She applied this experience as a writer and producer on the long-running series NCIS. Corbett said she responded to the Bad Batch’s arc in the final season of The Clone Wars because she “Got the dynamic between this squad,” adding that she understood how servicepeople “Become like brothers and sisters very when you’re sent on missions together when you’re in close quarters, and the camaraderie and also the banter that comes with living with people so closely in high-stress situations.” A key element of the characters in the show is that they each bring different perspectives to the table. “I think that speaks to the military, no one comes from the same background; everybody has their different reasons for doing what they’re doing, and it is a family dynamic in real life,” Corbett elaborated.
Star Wars fans can look forward to appearances from characters from other shows, including Rebel leader Saw Gerrera, who appeared in Rebels, Rogue One and Jedi: Fallen Order, and Fennec Shand, who appeared in The Mandalorian, with Ming-Na Wen returning to voice the latter. This is in line with how each new Star Wars series, animated and live action alike, further connects the dots between characters and time frames.
Featuring characters who quickly became fan favourites and taking place in an intriguing and tumultuous period in the Star Wars timeline, The Bad Batch promises to make for riveting and rewarding viewing, perhaps setting the stage for much more Star Wars content to come.
The Bad Batch begins streaming on Disney+ on May 4 2021, with new episodes premiering each week.
Director: Guy Ritchie Cast : Jason Statham, Holt McCallany, Jeffrey Donovan, Josh Hartnett, Laz Alonso, Raúl Castillo, Scott Eastwood, Niamh Algar, Rob Delaney, Eddie Marsan, Andy Garcia Genre: Action/Thriller Run Time : 119 min Opens : 29 April 2021 Rating : M18
There’s something exciting about an armoured truck full of cash that filmmakers can’t resist. 2009’s Armoured was a caper centred around an armoured truck crew, and an unrelated film of the same name is set to be produced by Michael Bay. Films like The Heat and The Town have memorable armoured truck-centric set-pieces. Now, Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham take the wheel.
Patrick “H” Hill (Jason Statham) is a mysterious new employee at Fortico Security, an armoured truck company operating in Los Angeles. Every week, Fortico transports millions of dollars around the city. Bullet (Holt McCallany) teaches H the ropes. During an attempted robbery, H showcases formidable skills, indicating he is overqualified for the job. He crosses paths with a gang of ex-military personnel-turned-robbers. H is on a path of vengeance, and soon, the reason for this becomes clear.
Based on the French Film Le convoyeur (Cash Truck), Wrath of Man is a solid, muscular action thriller that makes good use of both director Ritchie and star Statham’s strengths. There are some brutal action sequences, and the production design of the armoured car depot is quite striking. Wrath of Man often feels beefy and substantial, when many mid-budget action movies can feel somewhat lacklustre and pack too little of a punch. The movie manages to build intrigue in its first half; it’s too bad that the trailers give away the reveal of why exactly H is working for Fortico. The ever-dependable Holt McCallany is especially charismatic, threatening to steal the show from Statham at times. Wrath of Man escapes the feeling of being confined to direct-to-streaming and fits well on the big screen.
The movie is oozing with a bit too much machismo for its own good. The screenplay by Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies is crammed with dialogue that strains too hard to sound tough and badass, sometimes bordering on self-parody. There doesn’t seem to be much to any of the characters except H. A cameo by Post Malone threatens to pull one out of the movie. Scott Eastwood’s villainous character is also a non-entity, with Eastwood having little screen presence compared to Statham and McCallany. The film is also ultimately generic and attempts to conceal this with some fairly clever structural shuffling. The movie is also divided into chapters, which, together with the title, can’t help but come off as a bit pretentious for what is mostly a meat-and-potatoes action thriller.
Wrath of Man reunites star Statham and director Ritchie, who burst onto the scene in the 90s with Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch but haven’t collaborated since 2005’s widely-panned Revolver. This is not one of Ritchie’s more self-indulgent films; his signature combination of “toff guy” (the name of his production company) schtick and self-aware humour is toned down a little here. It seems like Ritchie is channelling Michael Mann, sometimes successfully. Statham isn’t an actor with a lot of range, but he is watchable doing what he does best. The pair will next collaborate on the spy thriller Five Eyes, currently in production.
Summary: Wrath of Man sees Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham doing what they do best. It’s not quite as cool as it thinks it is and sometimes has a whiff of self-importance about it. Overall though, this is a solid, intense action thriller that doesn’t quite feel as disposable as the typical action movies of the week we’ve been getting on streaming.
Director: Ilya Naishuller Cast : Bob Odenkirk, Connie Nielsen, RZA, Christopher Lloyd, Aleksei Serebryakov, Gage Munroe, Paisley Cadorath Genre: Action/Thriller Run Time : 92 min Opens : 22 April 2021 Rating : NC16
What if Bob Odenkirk of Mr Show and Better Call Saul fame were the world’s greatest badass? That’s the premise of this action thriller, and it’s easier to buy than one might think.
Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk) is a mild-mannered family man who works at a construction company owned by his father-in-law – a “nobody”. Hutch lives an ordinary existence with his wife Becca (Connie Nielsen) and their two children, Blake (Gage Munroe) and Sammy (Paisley Cadorath). A home invasion incident in which Hutch appears to fail to protect his family seems to cement his milquetoast status. However, when drunk gangsters threaten a woman on a bus, something within Hutch is unleashed and he takes them on. One of the gangsters is the younger brother of Russian crime lord Yulian (Aleksei Serebryakov), who oversees the Russian mafia’s investments. Hutch suddenly becomes a target of Yulian. Hutch’s half-brother Harry (RZA) and their elderly father David (Christopher Lloyd) also get drawn into the fray. Yulian and his men get more than they bargained for as they tangle with whom they assumed was just a nobody.
Nobody is an excellent action movie. It’s visceral, the action is brutal and well-staged without being overly stylised, there’s an energy and wit to the direction, and it has a leading man with surprise on his side. Director Ilya Naishuller helmed Hardcore Henry; the first feature-length action movie shot entirely from a first-person point of view. Nobody is much more conventional and polished but has just enough of that guerrilla vibe when it counts.
The John Wick connection is heavily played up in the movie’s promotional material, with the first movie’s co-director David Leitch on board as a producer, and all three films’ screenwriter Derek Kolstad on scripting duty. There is enough of a John Wick vibe here, while letting the movie be enough of its own thing. The supporting cast is great, especially when RZA and Christopher Lloyd show up. The movie has a sense of humour without that getting in the way of the action’s impact. “A better version of a direct-to-DVD movie” might seem like a back-handed compliment, but that’s a good description of Nobody. There’s a version of this that could have been completely workmanlike and dull, so it’s a treat that it did not end up that way.
Nobody is mostly riding on the novelty of Odenkirk in the lead. Take that away, and many of its constituent parts are generic. Major components of the movie seem copy/pasted from the first John Wick, especially the villain Yulian. In John Wick, the hero is attacked by a Russian mob boss’ son, while in Nobody, it’s a Russian mob boss’ younger brother. Connie Nielsen gets very little to do, the Becca character relegated to the role of “the wife” as so many similar characters in similar movies have been before. There are perhaps a few too many ironic needle drops, with songs like “What a Wonderful World,” “The Impossible Dream” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” underscoring violent sequences. It’s during these moments that the movie gets a bit too smart alecky.
Nobody is wish fulfilment in the way many action movies of the 80s and 90s were. What if everyone thought you were lame, but you were secretly an awesome tough guy? The movie leans just enough into the initial absurdity of its premise, without winking too hard at the audience. The thing about the action stars of yore were Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme or Dolph Lundgren couldn’t blend into a crowd. Bob Odenkirk could. His performance in this film is a glimpse at what things could’ve been like if Bruce Willis, who also came from a comedy background, still made an effort. The closest analogue to this is the string of late-career Liam Neeson action movies, but even then, he was already known for serious roles. It might seem like a big ask for audiences to accept Saul Goodman as John Wick, but Odenkirk puts in the work. He trained for two years to perform his own stunts, and it pays off.
Summary: Casting an actor who’s not known as an action star as the lead in an action movie is a gamble. In Nobody, it not only pays off, but it makes the action-thriller one of the most entertaining genre entries in recent memory. Genre aficionados will get a good action movie, and on top of that, you get Bob Odenkirk as you’ve never seen him before.
Director: Simon McQuoid Cast : Lewis Tan, Jessica McNamee, Josh Lawson, Tadanobu Asano, Mehcad Brooks, Ludi Lin, Max Huang, Chin Han, Joe Taslim, Hiroyuki Sanada, Sisi Stringer Genre: Action/Adventure/Fantasy Run Time : 110 min Opens : 8 April 2021 Rating : M18
In 1992, the arcade game Mortal Kombat, created by Ed Boon and John Tobias, became a defining entry in the fighting game genre. The franchise has courted controversy and had a presence in every conceivable form of media, including two theatrically released movies in the 90s. Mortal Kombat returns to the big screen in this reboot.
MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) bears a mysterious dragon-shaped birthmark, indicating that he is descended from a line of legendary fighters. Cole is targeted by Shang Tsung (Chin Han), the demon sorcerer of Outworld, who has sent Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) in pursuit of Cole. Bi-Han/Sub-Zero, who can control ice, has a long-running rivalry with Hanzo Hasashi/Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada), whom he apparently killed centuries earlier. After he is discovered by Special Forces operatives Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) and Jax (Mehcad Brooks), Cole is transported to Lord Raiden’s (Tadanobu Asano) temple. Training alongside Shaolin warriors Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Kung Lao (Max Huang) and the loose cannon mercenary Kano (Josh Lawson), Cole prepares to represent Earthrealm against combatants from Outworld in a mythical tournament – a tournament called Mortal Kombat.
The people who made this movie seem to have a handle on what the fans want. They might not exactly get there, but there is an eagerness to please that is evident in the film. The iconography associated with the games and the characters is treated with a degree of reverence, even as the movie never takes itself too seriously, despite initial concerns to the contrary. Even the most devoted Mortal Kombat fans are hard-pressed to deny that there is a lot of campiness and silliness in the source material, and the movie is often entertainingly silly. The Benjamin Wallfisch score includes variations of the iconic original “Techno Syndrome” theme by Oliver Adams; Wallfisch’s reworking of the theme was reportedly used by director Simon McQuoid to recruit his cast.
The stunt team, led by supervising stunt coordinator Kyle Gardiner, stunt coordinator Jade Amantea and fight coordinator Chan Griffin, assemble action sequences that are plentiful and generally well executed. Many of the actors involved have a martial arts background, which helps. Unlike the two 90s films, this Mortal Kombat movie has an R (M18 in Singapore) rating, meaning it can revel in the grisly violence that is the games’ trademark. The fatalities are graphic, but probably what long-time fans of the game would consider tame. Still, we go to a Mortal Kombat movie for the fighting scenes, and there are lots of those.
Making a coherent narrative feature film that makes good use of the expected Mortal Kombat roster was always going to be a challenge. Unfortunately, this movie is sometimes stuck in a no man’s land – neophytes might feel kept at arm’s length by the unwieldy exposition and certain preposterous elements that fans will accept, while hardcore fans might feel that something’s missing. This is tricky to calibrate for any movie based on an existing property. McQuoid tosses in Easter Eggs, and the movie seems to fall back on “look, there’s that thing you like!” a little too often.
Mortal Kombat wants to be epic, and it often falls short. While the fights do look good, the movie overall lacks the visual grandeur and spectacle associated with the settings of the games. We never really get a good sense of the stakes, and for a story in which the fate of the world hangs in the balance, things often feel too casual. There are times when the movie feels like a weird underdog sports story, with the team of screw-ups trying to take down the reigning champs. The B-movie feel of Mortal Kombat works against it almost as often as it works for it.
Most of the casting works well, with Joe Taslim and Hiroyuki Sanada being the highlights. Taslim, best known for The Raid and who crossed over into Hollywood with Fast and Furious 6 and Star Trek Beyond, lends Sub-Zero an icy resolve. Sanada always has gravitas to spare and imbues Scorpion with power and grief.
The Cole character is the source of many Mortal Kombat fans’ reservations going into this. Cole is clearly meant to be an entry point for those unfamiliar with the franchise and very much is a bland, standard issue ‘chosen one’ protagonist who can feel like a fan fiction self-insert character. While Lewis Tan is an adept martial artist and is very handsome, he doesn’t have a lot of screen presence.
Jessica McNamee makes for a good Sonya Blade, essaying the right amount of toughness without it crossing over into parody. Josh Lawson’s Kano is the designated comic relief, and Lawson seems to be having a lot of fun in the role, making multiple pop culture references (but only to Warner Bros-owned properties). The character does border on grating, though.
Ludi Lin’s turn as Liu Kang is almost too earnest at first, but he ably captures the archetypical martial arts movie hero nature of the character. Max Huang’s Kung Lao is a lot of fun, and there are some fun gags involving his metal hat. Tadanobu Asano’s Raiden is disappointing, as he lacks both the sense of authority and dash of mischief that is crucial to the character.
Aside from Sub-Zero, the Outworld characters are a bit underwhelming. Chin Han’s Shang Tsung skulks around and glowers a lot and gives supervillain speeches but is rarely ever genuinely menacing.
Summary: Video game movies have had a spotty track record, and while Mortal Kombat is far from the worst of the bunch, it’s also not the saviour of the genre some might have hoped it to be. There’s a lot to like, some of the casting is amazing and it’s filled with watchable fights, but the movie feels fragmented and struggles to build its sprawling world. Imagine Scorpion’s kunai, stopping a good distance short of its target.
When one thinks of Westerns, open, dusty plains and the late 19th Century American frontier usually come to mind. Concrete Cowboy is a Western of a different stripe: as its title suggests, its setting is a contemporary urban environment.
Idris Elba stars as Harp, a cowboy who is part of the Fletcher Street Riding Club in a Northern Philadelphia town. Caleb McLaughlin, best known as Lucas on Stranger Things, plays Harp’s estranged son Cole. After he gets kicked out of school for fighting, Cole is sent to live with Harp, and the troubled young man is gradually inducted into the unique urban cowboy way of life.
Concrete Cowboy is based on the novel Ghetto Cowboy by Greg Neri and is directed by Philadelphia-based filmmaker Ricky Staub. Staub was inspired to research the Fletcher Street Riding Club, a nonprofit city horsemanship organisation, when he looked out his office window and saw a horse and buggy rolling down the street. The movie shines a light on the little-known subculture of modern-day Black cowboys scattered across America, and real-life members of the Fletcher Street Riding Club appear in the movie. The film also stars Jharrel Jerome, Lorraine Toussaint and Clifford “Method Man” Smith.
Elba is also a co-producer on the film, alongside Lee Daniels, creator of the TV series Empire and director of films including Precious, The Butler, and The United States vs Billie Holliday.
The film’s soundtrack, which The Hollywood Reporter calls “a soulful score with subtle Western accents,” is composed by Kevin Matley, whose credits include the documentaries Kifaru and Mudbloods and the short films Still Here and The Cage. Matley’s work can be heard in commercials for brands including Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Coca Cola, Ferrari and Adidas.
Speaking exclusively to F***, Matley shared about capturing the sound of the Fletcher Street Riding Club, creating a Western score while avoiding the cliches associated with the genre, his childhood interest in film music, what it was like collaborating with director Staub, and what he’s working on next.
F*** MAGAZINE: Hi, Kevin, thank you so much for speaking to us, please tell us about how you came to be involved in this film.
KEVIN MATLEY: I came to work on the film because the director and I go way back, we’ve worked on a handful of projects together, [including] a short film that did fairly decent in the festival circuit. And he sent me the script and I loved the concept; I fell in love with the story. Ricky Staub is the director and he co-wrote it with Dan Walser, one of the producers of the film. How would you describe your working relationship with Ricky Staub and how different was it going from a short to a feature; as I understand, this is his first feature?
Yeah, it’s funny, it was actually just kind of like an extended version. I mean we really connected right off the bat, when we started working together. He has a very keen sense of what he likes and doesn’t like, and I have gotten to know over the years of working with him pretty quickly what he doesn’t like, which is really, really helpful. And so, my process is I would write these little vignettes and pieces and send it to him, and then we slowly kind of work back and forth until it was something that we both really liked. That was pretty much the whole trajectory of the score, [it] was just a lot of back and forth, a lot of conversation.
You’ve worked on several documentaries. What are the differences in composing for narrative features versus a documentary?
I’m not sure if I have too much of a difference in my approach. Obviously, each film has a different musical genre, a different sort of world or creating different tones and temperatures, but I think that my goal is always to enhance and express the sort of unspoken emotion of the characters and let their dialogue tell the viewer what they’re thinking, and I tell them what they’re feeling. And so, real or fake, fiction, nonfiction, comedy, action, drama I think my approach is always the same: how do I tell the story of the film through music?
Growing up, what made you interested in becoming a film composer?
It’s funny, I got into it really before you could just Google and find out names of composers. I was pretty young, so I started arranging some music with my brother’s guitars when I was pretty young, and sort of fell in love with the idea of creating music that way. And then, I started to notice music in film around the same age. I would actually pay less attention to the narrative, and more attention to how the music was affecting the characters and how it was affecting me. And I just really love the idea of how music and narrative together could create something so powerful.
So you were already interacting with movies as a composer might.
Yeah, long before I knew how to write music [laughs].
One of the things that Concrete Cowboy is about is how it’s important as a young person to have a community around you; oftentimes a community made up of people who have similar hobbies and interests to you. Was that something that you had with other composers or musicians growing up?
That’s a really good question. Really nothing, I mean, composers are kind of a mixed bag of people. I have my little hobbies and interests and composers that I know are interested in many different things. I think for me personally, as a music writer and just kind of an obsessive personality, I have to have things that sort of distract me from that so I can step away. I really love playing golf, I love photography, I love American football. And so, I think all of us composers are kind of similar in that, where we have to have things that can take our mind off of making music, so I think that’s probably a good similarity between all of us.
Concrete Cowboy is set in a very interesting subculture that not a lot of people know about. How did you sonically capture the world of the Fletcher Street Riding Club?
Great question. I really wanted to have a score that not only spoke to the emotion of the characters and what they were feeling, but also one that created the same world that Ricky was creating aesthetically. Ricky’s style is very visceral and very surreal and also very gritty, and so I wanted music that matched that. I wanted kind of a lush ambient sound with organic human[ity], just raw emotion on top of it. And to me, I think that that is that world, there’s so much passion with those people and what they’re doing with helping kids to get off the streets. And it’s just an amazing, amazing culture.
When we think of a Western a particular sound and style of music comes to mind and Concrete Cowboy is not a conventional Western. How did you play with that expectation in the music that you composed for this film?
Yeah, also a great question. We kind of went through a few different styles before we landed on what was actually working. What we didn’t want to have was a traditional Spaghetti Western sound – I kind of toyed with that a little bit and it ‘cheesifies’ things.
You didn’t want it to get too pastiche.
Yeah, we didn’t want it to be cliche or kind of kitschy so we ended up trying to focus more on these people as human beings, and just aesthetic and visuals, and create that world and not think about “What are we trying to force here with this being a cowboy world?”
I listened to the score and I love the melancholic dignity in the horns.
Oh, thank you!
You’re welcome. I feel like that reflects how the Fletcher Street Riders are like the last of their kind, there’s kind of a twilight, because their way of life is being threatened by gentrification. Could you tell us about how you arrived at that?
I love that you said that; that’s really, really cool.
It’s funny, a lot of the [score is] kind of focused on solo instruments. I feel like there’s a vulnerability to that that I was really after. There’s just something about trumpet in particular that to me is just so soulful, it’s almost like a voice, and I really wanted something like that, that I could use throughout the film.
Concrete Cowboy is a film about a father-son relationship, and it’s also about the bonds that humans form with animals. How did you express these themes in the music?
I think I was focused mostly on the father-son relationship. I really wanted the melodies to have, like what you said, sort of a melancholy feel to them. Cole comes from essentially a broken family and I think that there’s a lot of vulnerability to him, he’s sort of drawn into these two worlds: a life of crime, and then this other life that is giving him hope. To me, I just wanted melodies and instrumentation that reflected that.
The movie had its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2020. Was the music recorded under lockdown conditions and if so how did you navigate that logistically?
It was actually all recorded before lockdown. It’s funny, we, we recorded the score in January of 2020, in Seattle, Washington, and I did a handful of more sessions and at that point, we had been hearing what was going on in China, then when we went down to Burbank to finish the post, the news was starting to break out and I think a handful of cases broke out in Washington around that time. When I flew home, the film was completely wrapped and that’s when everything sort of broke out.
Have you been working on other film projects during lockdown?
I haven’t been working on film projects, but I’ve just been focusing on a lot of family time, and then writing some personal records.
What kinds of films do you hope to work on in the future, are there any specific genres or styles that you’d like to work in?
Well I will tell you one that I am going to work on it’s, it’s a documentary [called Between the Rains] about these two Kenyan tribes that have been at war for the last couple of decades, and it follows a young boy from one of the tribes, basically being raised as a warrior, and he’s just not a warrior, and it deals with global warming and the water runs out and they’re fighting over that. And it’s just a really powerful documentary and it’s with a buddy of mine, [producer] Andrew [Harrison Brown] who’s just shot it, and he and I worked together on a previous documentary called Kifaru. And so I love telling these stories. I love Kenyans; I got to meet some of the guys from the last film and I got to work with some Kenyan singers on the score and it’s a blast. I love documentaries, it’s a wonderful genre.
It strikes me as something where there is perhaps more of an emphasis on authenticity or audiences might be more aware if something rings false to them, and then there’s extra work to do in research, in trying to make sure that you are being authentic in the sound you’re creating.
Mm hmm, yeah, absolutely.
Finally, what do you hope audiences take away after watching Concrete Cowboy?
If anything, people can see that these people are real people. It’s not just in Philadelphia, it’s around the country, and they’re doing good, and because of gentrification and a lot of different reasons, some of these tables are getting shut down, and it’s really sad. So if anybody is moved to take action and support or raise awareness, then I think that would be awesome.
Concrete Cowboy begins streaming on Netflix April 2.
Director: Adam Wingard Cast : Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza González, Kyle Chandler, Julian Dennison, Demián Bichir, Kaylee Hottle Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-fi Run Time : 113 min Opens : 24 March 2021 Rating : PG13
In 1962, two of cinema’s defining monsters faced off in King Kong vs Godzilla. 59 years later, it’s time for a rematch, in the form of the fourth film in the Monsterverse.
Kong is living on Skull Island, where he has formed a bond with young orphan Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who communicates with Kong via sign language. Jia’s adoptive mother is researcher Dr Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), who has been monitoring Kong for years. Geologist Dr Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) discovers a way to access the hollow earth, the speculated origin of Kong, Godzilla and the other Titans. As part of an expedition funded by Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir), the CEO of tech company Apex Cybernetics, Ilene, Nathan, Jia and Walter’s daughter Maia (Eiza González) accompany Kong to the access point of the hollow earth. Kong’s presence attracts Godzilla, who has suddenly turned aggressive towards humans despite having been thought of as a defender. In the meantime, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), daughter of Monarch director Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), alongside her friend Josh (Julian Dennison) and Apex technician Bernie (Bryan Tyree Henry), embarks on a mission to unearth a conspiracy at the corporation.
Godzilla vs Kong is delightfully bonkers, leaning fully into the ridiculousness of its premise, and dropping all pretence of being grounded or realistic. It’s an entertaining ride made by people who clearly love the Kaiju genre, and want to deliver an exciting, spectacle-heavy, example of that genre. Director Adam Wingard and cinematographer Ben Seresin make this a colourful, visually exciting movie, especially after the immediate predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, was criticised for looking visually muddy. In some ways, this movie harks back to the Heisei Era of Godzilla movies, nicknamed the “Vs series”. It also harks back to goofy 50s-60s Hollywood sci-fi adventure movies, like Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1959). Characters fly around in nifty little crafts called Hollow Earth Aerial Vehicles, and one can imagine a great motion simulator theme park ride centred on those. There’s more than a little Pacific Rim influence here too, especially in the Hong Kong battle.
Leaning more heavily into sci-fi than the previous films in this continuity, Godzilla vs Kong contains a literal journey to the centre of the earth and is an ode to absurdly impractical infrastructure projects. It’s only fitting given the sheer size of its two stars. The character animation on both Kong and Godzilla is excellent; the physicality and expressiveness of both monsters conveyed well. Kong, having become more grizzled in the 50 years since the events of Kong: Skull Island, has plenty of personality, and is easy to relate to when he just stands around and sighs, or gets tired after a fight and must lie down. The fight scenes between them are grand and well-choreographed, and if it’s big-budget monster fights you’re after, this movie has you covered.
If Godzilla (2014) was too self-serious, then Godzilla vs Kong is sometimes too silly for its own good. Many moments strain credulity, and there is a level of “just go with it”-ness that Wingard sometimes struggles to sustain. There are several huge leaps of faith that are demanded of the audience, and one’s willingness to take those leaps will vary. While there are some surprises, the plot is predictable, and many fans have already called the outcome of the battle between Godzilla and Kong, which some might feel is at least a bit of a cop out. As satisfying as the spectacle is, the story can’t quite support it – and this is going by monster movie standards.
Every Kaiju movie fan’s favourite pastime is complaining about the human characters, who are meant to be our way into the story, but more often than not get in the way of the monsters punching each other. There are two main human plots here: all the stuff with Skarsgård’s geologist, Hall’s Kong behaviourist and Hottle’s endearing magical girl who can talk to Kong generally works. Jia is a deaf character portrayed by a deaf actress, which is something that needs to happen more often.
The other human plot, with Brown’s Emma returning from the previous movie and joined by Dennison as Emma’s friend and Henry as a hyperactive conspiracy theorist podcast host, generally doesn’t. The normally excellent Henry is grating here, directed to play an over-the-top comic relief character and given a succession of unfunny lines. Most of the film’s least convincing moments involve these characters, and each time the movie cut back to them, groans from the audience were audible.
Caught in between are Demián Bichir and Eiza González as a father-daughter team who possibly have ulterior motives. They put in unsubtle but enjoyable turns.
The Monsterverse has given us interpretations of major Kaiju from the Godzilla mythos, and by now, audiences expect that at least one other monster will show up in a Godzilla movie. Kong does that here, but does anyone else make an appearance? Some of the marketing has spoiled a surprise or two, and while this movie doesn’t lack for spectacle, this reviewer found himself missing the well-defined, iconic creatures whom Kong fought or teamed up with in King of the Monsters.
Summary: Godzilla vs Kong delivers wham-bam monster fights on a grand scale, and is often silly in an earnest, charming way. It is occasionally too silly and, as expected, several human characters are nigh-unbearable, but it’s an all-around good time. See it on the biggest screen possible.
Director: Doug Liman Cast : Daisy Ridley, Tom Holland, Mads Mikkelsen, Demián Bichir, Cynthia Erivo, Nick Jonas, David Oyelowo, Kurt Sutter Genre: Action/Adventure/Sci-fi Run Time : 109 min Opens : 11 March 2021 Rating : PG13
In this Young Adult (YA) sci-fi adventure, the men are thinking out loud, and not in an Ed Sheeran way.
Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland) is a boy living in Prentisstown, a settlement on the planet New World. The planet creates a phenomenon whereby every thought a man has is rendered audible and visible as “Noise” – this does not affect women. There are no women left in Prentisstown, so when Todd meets Viola (Daisy Ridley), she is the first woman he’s ever seen. Viola has crash-landed on New World, having lived her whole life on a colony ship. Todd and Viola go on the run and are pursued by Prentisstown mayor David Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen) and the mad preacher Aaron (David Oyelowo).
Chaos Walking is based on Patrick Ness’ novel The Knife of Never Letting Go. There are plenty of interesting ideas at play here, and there is the potential for an exploration into the societal roles of gender, and the organisation of societies, that is touched upon if not fully explored. The premise of one’s thoughts being aired out for all to hear is an inherently compelling one, and there is some tension to be mined from that, with characters struggling to mask their thoughts, to suppress their Noise.
The film is solidly cast. Both Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley are likeable here, with Holland playing a believably earnest young man, and Ridley as a frightened but resourceful survivor. Their respective characters in this film are not a million miles away from the big franchise characters they’re both best known for portraying.
The supporting cast is strong too, with Mads Mikkelsen cutting an imposing figure, even if his humongous fur coat makes him look like he’s cosplaying as the bear from The Revenant. Demián Bichir is affecting with very little screen time as one of Todd’s two dads, while Cynthia Erivo is a commanding presence as the mayor of a distant settlement. Nick Jonas is suitably petulant as Prentiss’ son, who is jealous of Todd, whom Prentiss seems to favour over him.
While the Noise might work conceptually on the page, the way it’s rendered in the movie is very awkward. Chaos Walking is at once dull and a sensory overload, as if by design. Most of the movie consists of reverb-heavy ADR lines, and it gets annoying after a while. This is the hook of the story, so there’s no getting away from it.
Ironically for a movie about characters’ inner lives, the characters in Chaos Walking all feel kind of flat and standard issue. The most interesting element to Todd is that he struggles with expectations of how masculinity must be performed, and of putting on a tough exterior. Meanwhile, Viola is little more than “the girl”. Both actors do what they can, it isn’t quite enough.
Most of the dialogue is exposition, and there’s a lot of table-setting. Even though this is a movie in which the protagonists are relentlessly pursued, it rarely feels dangerous enough. The stakes are ostensibly high, but the movie doesn’t seem terribly interested in them. While there is some humour to be derived from Todd’s awkwardness around the first woman he’s ever met, the movie is largely self-serious which means several moments – including a scene in which a naked Todd wrestles a snakelike beast in a lake – are unintentionally funny.
Visually, Chaos Walking is patently uninteresting. Mostly filmed in forests in Québec, the movie is going for a frontier-style aesthetic with the horses, log cabins and fur coats. It’s not that this idiom can’t work in a sci-fi setting, but the movie just doesn’t feel sufficiently dynamic or engaging, and it’s easy to forget that New World isn’t just earth.
Anyone who’s followed the news of the movie’s development knows that it’s been a tumultuous process. The movie was announced in 2011, just before the height of the dystopian YA adaptation craze (the first Hunger Games movie opened in 2012), and after multiple writers took a crack at the script, director Doug Liman began principal photography on the movie in 2017. By this time, audiences have largely lost interest in Hunger Games-adjacent properties: the final film in the Divergent series didn’t even get made.
An early cut of Chaos Walking was deemed “unreleasable” by Lionsgate executives, an adjective that is and will continue to be an albatross around this movie’s neck. Ness was brought on board to write the reshoots, but scheduling proved difficult because both Holland and Ridley were busy with other films.
Summary: Chaos Walking benefits from a good cast and is playing with some thought-provoking ideas, but its execution is altogether too dull. It’s far from the outright disaster that the troubled production might indicate but is too generic to revive the flagging dystopian YA adaptation genre.
Director: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada Cast : Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh, Benedict Wong, Izaac Wang, Alan Tudyk Genre: Animation/Adventure/Comedy Run Time : 114 min Opens : 5 March 2021 Rating : PG
Disney Animation has drawn on stories from various regions as the basis for their films. With Raya and the Last Dragon, the House of Mouse goes a little mousedeer, telling a story inspired by the mythology of Southeast Asia.
Dragons were the protectors of the mythical land of Kumandra, sacrificing themselves to save humanity when monsters called the Druun attacked, petrifying all in their path. Kumandra is divided into Heart, Talon, Fang, Spine and Tail, each land named for a different part of the dragon.
Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) is a warrior princess from the Heart kingdom, whose father Chief Benja (Daniel Dae Kim) is training her to become the guardian of the Dragon Gem. Chief Benja attempts to broker peace between the disparate lands, but the Druun return and the conflict continues. As an adult, Raya finds and revives Sisu (Awkwafina), the last dragon. Raya and Sisu must unite the fractured pieces of the Dragon Gem to bring back all who were lost to the Druun. Along the way, Raya must face off with a figure from her past: the equally formidable Namaari (Gemma Chan), princess of the Fang Kingdom.
Raya and the Last Dragon is gorgeously animated and the world of Kumandra is a visually captivating one. The details in the costumes and architecture are plentiful, and the effects animation, especially on the angry black mist that is the Druun, is exceptional. The hand-to-hand fight sequences are well choreographed and there is a genuine sense of thrilling adventure to the story.
The voice cast is also excellent, with Kelly Marie Tran bringing both steeliness and warmth to the part of Raya. Awkwafina’s rasp works well as the voice of an animated character and she plays the fish-out-of-water aspect of Sisu entertainingly. Daniel Dae Kim effortlessly essays calm authority, while Benedict Wong seems to be having the best time as Tong, a boisterous gentle (?) giant type. Boun (Izaac Wang), a kid entrepreneur who runs a shrimp congee restaurant out of a boat, is also a fun, likeable road movie side character.
The most interesting part of the film is the rivalry between Raya and Namaari, and the possibility that they might still find common ground with each other. Namaari is sufficiently different from your standard snarling Disney villain, and this reviewer feels not enough of the movie is about this relationship.
While watching Raya and the Last Dragon, it’s evident that there is a tension between making this something fresh and innovative, while also honouring the storied legacy of Disney animation, and fulfilling expectations associated with its most successful films. As such, Raya and the Last Dragon can sometimes feel tied down to Disney animated movie formula. There’s a plucky princess raised by a single father, and she goes on a quest accompanied by a comic relief sidekick (or two or three). Sticking to a formula isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and Raya breaks from formula in certain significant ways, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that the movie is still constrained by certain expectations associated with Disney animated movies.
Tonally, there are moments that don’t quite work. This is a movie about a world and its inhabitants dealing with trauma and loss. However, it also wants to be light-hearted and appealing to children – hence characters like an adorable half-armadillo-half-pillbug named Tuk-Tuk (Alan Tudyk) who clearly exists to sell toys – not that we don’t want a Tuk-Tuk plushie.
Like the Dragon Gem, the story sometimes seems fragmented, and feels episodic the way many movies with a road trip structure do. Some of the dialogue is clunky, and several of the anachronistic jokes don’t work, including a moment when Raya proclaims, “bling’s my thing”. Several of Sisu’s jokes sound like improvisational riffs that Awkwafina came up with in the booth, and can be a little grating, but Sisu is generally likeable. Unfortunately, Sisu’s character design sticks out – typically, East Asian and Southeast Asian dragons are depicted with a maned head and a scaly body, but Sisu is entirely furry and doesn’t seem like she belongs stylistically.
Kumandra incorporates facets of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Laos. For Raya and the Last Dragon, Disney assembled the Southeast Asia Story Trust comprised of experts in various fields, including an Indonesian linguist, a textile expert from the USC Pacific Asia Museum and a visual anthropologist. Head of Story Fawn Veerasunthorn is an artist of Thai descent, while co-writers Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim are of Vietnamese and Malaysian Chinese descent, respectively.
There is a desire here to tell a story that has a degree of authenticity, but “authenticity” is something that’s hard to measure empirically. As Moana did with Polynesian countries, Raya and the Last Dragon amalgamates and mashes up Southeast Asian countries to create the fictional Kumandra. While there is an overlap in the cultural traditions and mythologies of many Southeast Asian countries, residents of said countries would also generally prefer for others not to get one country confused with the other, and that creates a kind of paradox in telling a story that is inspired by a blend of cultures.
Watching Raya, it’s also hard not to think of the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender and the follow-up The Legend of Korra, which have thus far been western animation’s most successful attempts at creating fantasy worlds inspired by disparate Asian cultures. The world-building of Avatar seems more thought out than it is in Raya, but then of course the animated series had a lot more time to spend on that.
Summary: Raya and the Last Dragon sometimes struggles with telling a story that is authentic to the region from which it draws inspiration while also delivering what audiences expect from a Disney animated adventure, but it mostly succeeds in pulling off this balance. It may not be as revolutionary as Disney had hoped, but it is still a largely entertaining adventure that draws on rich storytelling traditions. Hopefully, filmmakers from varied backgrounds will continue getting the support they need in Hollywood to tell more stories from more places.
Director: Robert Lorenz Cast : Liam Neeson, Joe Perez, Katheryn Winnick, Juan Pablo Raba, Teresa Ruiz, Dylan Kenin, Luce Rains Genre: Action/Thriller/Drama Run Time : 108 min Opens : 25 February 2021 Rating : PG13
Some might say comic book movies are the most prevalent genre now, but perhaps “Liam Neeson with a gun” is a close second. Here’s another one to add to the pile, and in case you weren’t sure if Neeson’s character wields a gun, it’s right there in the title.
Jim Hanson (Liam Neeson), not to be confused with the creator of the Muppets whose name is one letter away, is a rancher and retired U.S. Marine. His wife has died of cancer and his farm is about to be foreclosed upon. His property is along the Mexico/US border in Arizona, and he happens upon a woman named Rosa (Teresa Ruiz) and her son Miguel (Joe Perez) trying to cross the border, pursued by cartel members. Joe reluctantly embarks on a mission to get Miguel to family members in Chicago, all the while pursued by the cartel members, who are led by the deadly lieutenant Maurico (Juan Pablo Raba).
This movie makes very good use of Liam Neeson’s talents. He’s outwardly gruff but innately decent, a badass with a heart of gold. Neeson is a perfect fit for the neo-Western genre, and Jim is very easy to root for. The movie is sturdy and straightforward, and young actor Perez is not bad opposite Neeson. The Marksman is predictable but is solidly made and handsomely shot by Director of Photography Mark Patten, who has mostly worked in British TV.
For a movie in which the protagonist is relentlessly pursued, there is a crucial lack of urgency to the proceedings. The Marksman feels considerably longer than its 108 minutes. Director Robert Lorenz seems to be aiming for the stillness of a classic western, but instead it feels like the characters are just waiting around. When the action does happen, it is largely unremarkable.
The Marksman also strains to be apolitical to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, but the issue of people crossing the US/Mexico border illegally is an inherently political one. It wants to be grounded, but also doesn’t want to engage with reality too directly, which is sometimes to the movie’s detriment.
There are moments when Jim and Miguel display glimmers of personality, but the movie is mostly taciturn and doesn’t really let us get to know either character. It also trades in cliches, with Jim having a bog-standard backstory (retired military man whose wife has died). Katheryn Winnick plays Jim’s stepdaughter Sarah, who is ostensibly the female lead but is almost completely a non-entity.
Lorenz, the movie’s director, producer and co-writer, is a long-time producing partner of Clint Eastwood. This feels like something that Eastwood would star in, and perhaps Neeson works better because he is a warmer presence than Eastwood is, especially now. There’s a scene in this movie in which Jim and Miguel watch the Eastwood starrer Hang ‘Em High in a motel room, which Lorenz included as a nod to his mentor.
If you love Liam Neeson’s late-career action work, this is more of the same. It’s not the most exciting or the most compelling, but it does play to all his strengths, and does have an old-fashioned reliability to it.
Summary: A competent if only sporadically engaging neo-western, The Marksman sees Liam Neeson on fine late-career form.