London Film Festival kicked off today for press and there’s a lot of good stuff coming your way over the next two weeks. The 64th BFI London Film Festival is all across the UK, inviting you to experience the world’s best new films wherever you are. Twelve days of UK premieres are available to enjoy online via BFI Player or in cinemas at BFI Southbank, around London, and throughout the UK.
Although his cutting lyrics speak provocatively about identity politics, it is not until Zed (Ahmed) returns home after two years on tour that he is called by his real name: Zaheer.
But it is the vulnerability of illness and his decreasing mobility that brings both focus and fragmentation – memories and hallucinations merge to the beat of Qawwali music and are haunted by fervent apparitions of a masked figure – conjuring the unspoken spectre of Partition, which looms large in his father’s unspoken words.
Further bruising Zed’s ego is his nemesis – RPG, a young rapper whose face tattoos and crass lyrics bewilder him. Both a paean to the importance of cultural heritage and a sharply observed reflection on muscle memory, the richness of Tariq’s achievement lies in the details of this heady mosaic.
“For someone who raps so much about where they’re from, when was the last time you went home?”
The first film I was lucky enough to see as part of the festival was Mogul Mowgli written by and starring Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler, Rogue One) which is a film about a British-Pakistani rapper about to start his first tour, when he is struck down by a crippling illness and is forced to move back in with his family. Ahmed’s Zed then struggles to choose between his music career and his Pakistani roots.
‘Mogul Mowgli’ manages to convey the struggle of finding yourself and distancing yourself from your heritage in order to do something different. The film does this so effectively through Ahmed’s incredible performance which will hopefully garner some awards traction. The film manages to mix a traditional Pakistani family and the world of rap so easily and Ahmed’s career as a rapper, really helps make this film that bit better. As the film goes on it becomes clearer and clearer how different these two worlds are and how difficult Zed’s struggle is.
“That’s not running off, that’s my job. Going out there is my job”
That being said, whilst Ahmed’s performance is the standout, sometimes the film can be weighed down by all the metaphors in it and all that’s going on and sometimes that can be a little too messy. There are probably a couple too many dream sequences that were frankly a bit unnecessary and the sub-plots created by the hallucinations never really ended up going anywhere. As a result of this, the film starts to lose some of its momentum in the final act and it does struggle a bit towards the end of the film but this shouldn’t take away from Ahmed’s performance here proving he is definitely an actor that needs to be getting more recognition.
Overall, Mogul Mowgli is anan intimate journey through the struggles of identity, with an excellent central performance from Riz Ahmed although some of does get a bit bogged down along the way. 3/5
Watch Mogul Mowgli on October 10th as part of the BFI London Film Festival here! The film hits UK cinemas on October 30th.
In the Heights | Review
In the Heights is directed by Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu and is an adaptation of the Broadway musical written by Quaira Alegria Hudes – with music, lyrics and concept created by Lin Manuel Miranda – you know, the guy behind that tiny Broadway show called Hamilton.
Our story takes places in the Manhattan borough of Washington Heights – a predominantly Latinx neighbourhood. Our protagonist is convenience store owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), who dreams of fulfilling his deceased father’s Suenito or “little dream” of opening his own beach side bar in his place of birth; The Dominican Republic. We watch as Usnavi wrestles with the choice of chasing his fathers dream or staying in the community which raised and embraced him with open arms.
I came out of In the Heights beaming with joy. It’s one of those perfect summery, all-singing, all-dancing, big screen movies that get your hips swaying, your toes tapping and your teeth grinning. Most importantly it’s a film, that justifies seeing it on the biggest screen possible – don’t deprive yourself of the treat of seeing it at a cinema. It’s a film that is so easy on the eyes – not just because of its ridiculously gorgeous cast, but thanks to the dazzlingly inventive set pieces, breathtaking choreography, vibrant art direction and Jon M. Chu’s dynamic camerawork. It’s alive with such kinetic energy and utterly infectious music.
The comparisons to West Side Story seemed inevitable – which incidentally is getting a Steven Spielberg reimagining later this year. But that comparison is a very generalised one, In the Heights feels refreshingly different to all other movie-musicals. There’s an intoxicating mix of old and new. Every number is laced with a deliciously Latin flavour. There are classic emotionally charged ballads that will make your heart swoon but there’s also elements of salsa, hip-hop, merengue and Lin Manuel Miranda’s now-recognisable, spoken-word, recitative rap sensibilities. Side note for all Hamilton fans keep your ears open for a familiar musical easter egg. There’s a real emphasis on “the little details” on display in this film which makes it feel like an authentic celebration of all things Latinx. One can’t help but smile at the thought of all the positive ramifications a film like this will have on the underrepresented Hispanic communities around the world.
The cast are all superb. Anthony Ramos lights up the screen with his boyish good looks and cheeky smile as Usnavi. He’s backed up by the fiery Mellissa Barrera who plays aspiring fashion designer and love interest Vanessa. Corey Hawkins plays Usnavi’s pal Benny who yearns for old flame Nina (Leslie Grace), who is going through her own identity crisis. She’s back from Stamford College but has felt ostracised and isolated as a minority among her predominantly White classmates. Benny and Nina share one of the standout set pieces a they perform a duet of the When the Sun Goes Down whilst dancing along the side of a Manhattan building.
But the MVP is without-a-doubt Olga Merediz who reprises the same role she played on Broadway as the Washington Heights matriarch Abuela Claudia. She is the heart of the community and of the film itself. Merediz delivers a dignified performance that’s sure to have Oscar-pundits on their radar for a best supporting actress nomination. She reduced me to tears during her rendition of Paciencia y Fe – it’s soul-touchingly obvious why they brought her back for the movie.
When looking for criticisms there is so much love radiating from this film that it’s easy to let the knit-picky stuff slide. Such as there is a lot of very noticeable product placement – In the Heights is brought to you by Coca Cola, Beats and Moët Champagne.
There’s also some clunky shots during one of the standout songs 96,000. The sequence involves a stunning on-location swimming pool set piece, however there was clearly some green screen footage of Anthony Ramos inserted after shooting. It’s a rather sore-thumb addition in otherwise flawless number.
But where In the Heights truly struggles is with character conflict and resolution – or the lack thereof. Most of the conflict is internal, many of the characters are wrestling with the decision of staying or leaving. Asking themselves where do I belong? But the rest of the time it’s all sunshine, love and joy. Even the blackout is a cause for celebration instead of panic. There isn’t much more than surface-level struggles. Without conflict there’s no real drama. There are brief moments where the story hints are some bigger issues like the gentrification of the neighbourhood but never actualy dives in the deep end. And the only mention of racial tension comes from Nina’s experiences at university – but that’s all it is; mentioned. We never actually witness it happen to her.
And while the film ends on an uplifting note I couldn’t help but feel too many of the characters arcs were left unresolved. Upon leaving the theatre I found myself asking a lot of questions; What did Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits) do after selling the business? Did Vanessa’s fashion dreams take off? How does Nina cope back at Stamford? And what’s Benny doing with himself now? The answers all remain ambiguous so there is a lack closure.
In the Heights is a sun-drenched and charming tale of dreams, community and home. Despite a slightly long runtime and a lack of character conflict/resolution, it more than makes up for those issues with its phenomenal cast, luscious musical set pieces and fabulous choreography. After a year deprived of social dancing, this is the perfect pick-me-up summery film that’ll make you thirsty to get back on a dance floor.
In the Heights is released in U.K. cinemas June 18th and is available in other regions on HBO Max.
Infinite | A Michael Bay Imitation Film
Infinite Desperately Wants to Impress With its Style, But Has No Substance.
Paramount wanted to get ahead in the streaming game with Paramount+ but made the novice mistake of selling most of their titles, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to other streaming services such as Amazon Prime Video and Netflix instead of…I don’t know…growing their own. With barely any content left and keeping their big tentpole releases such as A Quiet Place: Part II and Top Gun: Maverick in cinemas, Paramount is finally saying “Ahhhhhh! I get it!” after every other major streaming service, especially Disney+ and HBO Max, used the pandemic as a pretext to grow their subscriber base. However, having sold most of its upcoming films to other streaming services, the studio only seems to have duds in the hopes of growing its subscriber base. Enter Antoine Fuqua’s latest film, Infinite, which strangely never feels like something the director of such visceral action pictures like Training Day, Bait, Tears of the Sun, Shooter, Brooklyn’s Finest, and The Equalizer, but Fuqua desperately wanting to emulate Michael Bay’s signature style.
There’s only one problem, however: even if you want to do Bayhem, and you intend to replicate it as accurately as you can, there’s a sole filmmaker that can do it right—and that’s Bay himself. But it doesn’t matter for Fuqua; he starts his overtly aestheticized action amazingly quickly, with an upbeat car chase staged to the rhythms of Campfire’s Legends Never Die, with Heinrich Treadway (Dylan O’Brien) being pursued by Bathurst (Rupert Friend), who looks for a thingamajig aptly named “The Egg” (because it’s shaped like an egg, of course!), which has the power of destroying…the entire world (how original!). Treadway dies without giving away The Egg’s location. Suddenly, a man named Evan McCauley (Mark Wahlberg) wakes up from his Treadway nightmare. We progressively learn that McCauley has schizophrenia who constantly remembers things from past lives he seemed to have never experienced before. He is what the “Believers” call “Infinites,” whose souls constantly get reincarnated inside a different body. He is quickly apprehended by Bathurst (now played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) after using a hand-crafted sword in a drug deal gone bad. His “life” changes drastically once Evan learns that he possesses Treadway’s soul and must reawaken his memory to quickly find The Egg before Bathurst does and destroys the entire world.
Let’s be honest: movies that center on thingamajigs (or MacGuffins as academics would call them) are amazingly tiresome and can only go so far before it veers off in predictable territory. Thankfully, Fuqua’s emulation of Bayhem makes many of its central action setpieces move at a somewhat entertaining pace. The car chase at the beginning involving Dylan O’Brien’s Treadway is filled with Bay’s rapid editing and an over-reliance on a moving camera that always, and I mean, always acts like a paintbrush to produce a copious, almost gratuitous amount of flashy style. And by flashy style, I mean excessive use of slow-motion, flares, and explosions or low-angles during 1-on-1 fight sequences. The explosions in this film are particularly reminiscent of Bay’s pictures, though not as big in scale, but produce the same cathartic effect. One scene in which Evan and Nora (Sophie Cookson) try to run away from Bathurst’s robotic henchmen inside a buggy has a precise explosion that, in its staging of using slow-motion at a pinpoint moment, feels as if it’s been directed by Bay. I mean, heck, if the end credits said “Directed by Michael Bay” instead of Antoine Fuqua, I’d believe it.
By doing this, Fuqua prevents the film from being a total dud than it is, since the script is filled with so many ineptitudes on:
- The world of the Infinites. The difference between the “believers” and “nihilists” is barely explained in two throwaway lines that almost feel unimportant. I can only explain the nihilists, who want all life to cease existing so they can stop reincarnating themselves, which adds a weird ineptitude on:
- Bathurst’s motivations. He wants to stop reincarnating himself and has developed a bullet that prevents believers from doing so. Ok, so if you’ve developed a bullet that grants your sole motivation…why not shoot yourself with it instead of bringing the entire world down with you? I’m sorry, but we never know the why behind Bathurst’s plan to destroy the world, aside from the overly used “humans are stupid, so I guess I need to bring them down with me” line, after torturing Toby Jones’ character by shoving…*checks notes*…honey down his mouth…interesting.
These two main problems falter its extremely stylized action for a sci-fi picture that’s as smart as Mark Wahlberg’s previous tenure in that genre…with Michael Bay in Transformers: Age of Extinction and The Last Knight. Hell, here’s another thing: if you would’ve told me that this is set in the world of Transformers that Wahlberg reprised his role as Cade Yeager through a new alter-ego, who now has the memories of somebody else (through unbeknownst reasons), then guess what? I would’ve believed it too. Wahlberg’s performance is no different than his exploration of the Transformers universe: half-charm, half-cluelessness, which equates to accepting every preposterous explanation on “Infinites” as “fact” and tagging along with people he’s never seen before and pretend everything’ll be fine, even if he is now tasked to save the entire world, in the same sense he had to do it (twice!) with the Autobots.
His character progression starts by being the only character that asks questions to the Infinites, who will then explain the film’s facile and underdeveloped plot in hackneyed detail, until he becomes the hero we deserve, but didn’t know we needed, as he uses a sword à la Morpheus from The Matrix Reloaded to bring down an entire plane and fight with Bathurst in the air, without any parachute, in the craziest, most bewildering action scene I’ve seen that defies all sense of logic and paints their characters as God-like mythic figures since The Fast and the Furious franchise said “no more logic” when Dom Toretto destroyed a parking lot with his feet.
Speaking of Bathurst, Chiwetel Ejiofor, a usual powerhouse, is completely miscast here and delivers his worst performance to date with an indescribable accent that makes everything about his antagonistic presence feel terribly cartoonish and over-the-top. He’ll refine his antagonist chops, most likely in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. I truly hope he’ll return to a more natural state of acting as he did as Mordo in Scott Derrickson’s 2016 film (or even when he compellingly portrayed Scar in the 2019 remake of The Lion King), instead of doing whatever the hell he’s doing here. I can barely explain, or comprehend, if you will, what Ejiofor even attempted to do in Infinite to render his antagonist menacing…but it clearly didn’t work and made every scene he’s in feel unintentionally hilarious. Look at the scene in which he tortures Toby Jones with honey and how he tries to make his awfully written lines serious and menacing and yet does the exact opposite. It’s quite a feat to see, but it needs to be forgotten sooner rather than later.
This is probably why Paramount dropped Infinite on a streaming service no one is subscribed to, so it can be easily forgotten and buried inside an ever-growing algorithm that “curates” films on content rather than quality. While Infinite contains a hefty number of fun action sequences that imitate Michael Bay’s unmatched style, it, unfortunately, does not overshadow its terribly facile and underdeveloped plot and caricatural lead performances from Mark Wahlberg and Chiwetel Ejiofor. If you’re a fan of Antoine Fuqua, you won’t watch this and go through his previous films instead, which would be for the better. Let’s hope his remake of The Guilty, set to release later this year on Netflix, will be better than Infinite (spoiler: it likely will).
Infinite is now available to stream on Paramount+.
Tribeca Film Festival | See for Me Review
There’s something about home invasion films that usually makes them so thrilling and so engaging. They normally create such an immense level of tension and suspense and then they usually maintain that tension pretty much throughout the entire runtime. Usually. Unfortunately See for Me is an exception to that and despite a really promising premise with a lot of potential, it somehow falls flat and is devoid of any tension or suspense whatsoever.
Sophie is a blind former-skier that’s cat sitting for someone in a huge, secluded mansion. However, three thieves break in thinking no one’s home to empty a safe hidden in the house. Sophie must defend herself using a new app called ‘See for Me’ that connects her to a sighted person who can provide help in order to increase her chances of survival. She connects to an army veteran names Kelly who helps Sophie defend herself against the home invaders.
Based on the premise alone there’s a lot of potential in this idea and its sounds really strong. Whilst it’s not exactly new ground with other films like Don’t Breathe (2016) and Hush (2016) treading similar territory, it’s still a compelling idea. However, See for Me doesn’t really do anything new or exciting. In fact, what it does try to do differently ends up falling flat and failing.
The main character Sophie is not particularly likeable. She holds a bitterness towards everyone and as a result we never quite know where her allegiances lie. At first she’s going to steal an expensive bottle of wine from the house she’s cat-sitting in, then she decides to team-up with the robbers and she’s constantly making decisions and changing her mind and it just doesn’t seem very convincing why she’s doing these things. She’s changing her story, switching sides and she’s never particularly interesting to watch.
That’s at no fault of the actors as the performances here are all actually pretty solid and it’s very refreshing that Skyler Davenport, who plays Sophie, is visually impaired. Not only does she give a very good performance, but in terms of diversity and representation, this is definitely a win.
Unfortunately See for Me is lacking in any tension whatsoever despite a promising set up and the final film is fairly bland and dull which is very disappointing and makes for an uninspiring watch.
See for Me premiered at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.
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