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The Sparks Brothers | Sundance Film Festival London 2021 Review

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Whenever you watch a film directed by Edgar Wright you can always tell he’s the one that directed it even if you didn’t know it. You can watch a scene from Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World or The World’s End or Shaun of the Dead or any one of his films and immediately be able to tell that it’s an Edgar Wright film. Going into his latest film The Sparks Brothers I was a bit unsure of if this was still going to be the case. But even in a documentary, it still retains that strong Edgar Wright style, and The Sparks Brothers is an enjoyable watch. Even if, like me, going in you know very little about the band Sparks, there’s still plenty in The Sparks Brothers to keep you interested.

The Sparks Brothers carries the audience on a journey through the wonderful career of the group Sparks. Brothers Ron and Russell Mael take us through the 50 years, 25 albums and 345 songs from Sparks celebrating their career over the years.

The film features a plethora of different interviewees, all talking about their favourite Sparks songs, their favourite lyrics and stories about the beloved duo. The film includes interviews with so many different people from other musicians such as John Taylor and Nick Rhodes to actors including Patton Oswalt and Jason Schwartzman to countless others. And it’s an Edgar Wright film so if you’re listening carefully, you might just hear the voices of his frequent collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in there too.

Even though it’s a documentary it’s clear that Wright has treated it just like any one of his narrative films with it still coming across as very cinematic. From black and white interviews to multiple animated segments, the documentary finds a multitude of different and interesting way to keep you fully engaged in the content. Wright’s passion for not just music in general but for Ron and Russel Mael is so clear and his admiration for the duo is so clear in every single frame of the film.

With a runtime of two hours and fifteen minutes long, it definitely felt like the film could have shaved off at least an extra 20 or 30 minutes from the runtime in certain places. Despite being fast paced and following Sparks through the decades in chronological order, by the time you reach the end of the film, unfortunately it really feels like it’s time for it to end.

The Sparks Brothers is an exciting documentary whether you’re a lifelong Sparks fan or have only just heard of them. It’s a funny and quirky documentary that reflects the fun and quirky nature of Ron and Russel Mael and it leaves you with a smile on your face the whole way through.

★★★☆☆

The Sparks Brothers is released in UK cinemas on Thursday 29th July.

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Cha Cha Real Smooth | Sundance Film Festival 2022 Review

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After his first feature film Shithouse won the Grand Jury Prize for Best narrative Feature at SXSW in 2020, writer/director/actor Cooper Raiff is back with his second film, Cha Cha Real Smooth, and it’s sure to be the crowd-pleasing film of Sundance 2022.

After having recently graduated from college, 22-year-old Andrew (played by writer/director Cooper Raiff) is stuck back at home living with his family in New Jersey unsure of his career path going forward. After taking his younger brother David to a bar mitzvah, Andrew discovers one thing that he is very good at- partying. This makes him the perfect candidate for a job starting parties at all the local bar and bat mitzvahs.

It’s at one of these bar mitzvahs that Andrew meets single mother Domino (Dakota Johnson) and her autistic daughter Lola (played by Vanessa Burghardt, an autistic actor) and he finally discovers a future that he wants after striking up a strong bond with both Domino and Lola.

Much like with his first film Shithouse, Raiff fills Cha Cha Real Smooth completely full to the brim with emotion and with characters that feel so real and honest. Raiff proves himself as an absolute gem both behind the camera and in front of it as it’s a film that has so much heart to it. The cast are all fantastic which only fuels these characters and makes them stand out even more so that they really feel like real people.

Once again Raiff has created such complex characters with so much beneath the surface to the extent that if anyone of these characters were the protagonist it would still be an interesting film. If the film focused on Andrew’s brother, or his mum, or Domino or Lola instead of making Andrew the protagonist it would still be just as interesting a film. And so to have Andrew as well as all of these other characters makes for a really compelling film.

As the title of the film hints at, we do get to experience the Cha Cha Slide at one of the bar mitzvahs in the film and it’s a wild one. But as well as being very funny, Cha Cha Real Smooth is incredibly emotional. There’s a conversation around the midpoint of the film about depression and about what it feels like and the writing hits so hard, along with Raiff and Johnson’s fantastic delivery that you can’t help but start welling up.

Cha Cha Real Smooth is charming in every single aspect and it’s the best film of Sundance 2022 so far. Raiff is certainly one to watch going forward.

Cha Cha Real Smooth premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

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Living | Sundance Film Festival 2022 Review

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Remakes seem like such a frequent occurrence these days that there’s often very little reason to make them beyond people liking the original so the filmmakers hope the remake will be just as successful. And with Living being a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 classic Ikiru it was always going to have big shoes to fill. Whilst Living never fully justifies its own existence, nor does it get anywhere close to the heights of Kurosawa’s classic, it’s still a powerful watch nonetheless.

Living switches up the setting and takes place in 1950s post-World War II Britain where we meet Mr. Williams (Bill Nighy) a veteran civil servant and bureaucrat working in a government office. Much like in the original film, upon discovering he has a terminal illness his outlook on life completely changes and he looks for the meaning of life. He realizes that he’s spent his whole life passively going about his day and he hasn’t truly lived. And it’s only now that his days are numbered that he wants to experience life to the fullest.

He keeps the news of his condition from his son and daughter in law and uncharacteristically starts avoiding the office in search of meaning in his remaining days. He’s determined to get a children’s playground built that the local mothers have been campaigning for despite the fact that him and his colleagues have failed to do so yet.

Oliver Hermanus directs this reimagining with poignancy and to some level he captures the essence of Kurosawa’s film. The film’s London setting works well for the story and 1950s London is lovingly recreated with such great detail and the film displays an incredible look to it that right from the opening really makes you feel like you’re there in post-war Britain. Nighy excels as Mr. Williams with a graceful performance that in tandem with the film’s charming score and elegant writing makes for a stunning film about what it means to live.

However Living never fully hits anywhere nearly as hard as Ikiru does. After finishing Ikiru the film leaves you completely floored and contemplating your entire existence as a human being on planet Earth. After watching Living you don’t come out with that same feeling. Granted, it is a very difficult feeling to capture and to reproduce and Living does get some part of the way there, it’s representation of life’s purpose never quite feels as strong as it does in Kurosawa’s film. And as a result, Living’s own purpose as a film is never fully expressed. It’s an excellent film that does really touch you at times, it’s just a very pale shadow of Ikiru.

Living is one of those films that on its own merits is a very good film, anchored by a remarkably moving performance from Nighy, it’s just that Ikiru in all its glory looms over the film and it just can’t escape that and it never reaches anywhere close to the greatness of Kurosawa. It was always going to be a difficult task and Living does take a pretty good stab at it, but it still didn’t really need to be made.

Living premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

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892 | Sundance Film Festival 2022 Review

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Despite having to go entirely virtual for a second year running, the annual Sundance Film Festival is back and it’s back with a bang. If 892 is anything to go by, it promises to be an excellent festival yet again with plenty of great films to get stuck into.

892 tells the true story of former US Marine veteran Brian Easley (played remarkably by John Boyega) who in his hour of desperation is led to walk into a Wells Fargo bank with a bomb. After not receiving his disability check for $892 he’s now living in a cheap motel in Atlanta on the brink of homelessness and separated from his wife and daughter, meaning that the soft-spoken and kind Brian is driven to desperation and decides to rob a bank and hold hostages with a bomb. After the police and the media descend on the bank it becomes clear that Brian isn’t doing this for the money, he just wants to tell his story and to get what’s rightfully his, whatever it costs him.

Part of the reason why Abi Damaris Corbin’s debut feature is so impactful is because of Boyega’s pitch-perfect performance and the way in which he just completely sinks into the role. He plays the role with such sensitivity and sincerity, drawing us into Easley’s character so well. He doesn’t want to rob the bank, nor does he want to hurt anyone, but this is the only way he can get what’s his and to tell the whole world how he’s been denied the disability check that he needs to survive. As well as Boyega, the late Michael K. Williams shines in his last screen role playing the negotiator talking to Easley on the phone. The conversations between the two hit hard as they’re supposed to and only engross us in the film even further.

892 is incredibly tense right from the get-go and it manages to hold this tension all the way through until the very end. And the tension is the driving force behind it all, but it’s remarkably balanced with the intimate emotions coming from Boyega’s Easley. We really get a true feel for why he has to do this and what it means for him. To have been let down by his country, the country he served, and it only gets more shocking as the film draws towards its conclusion. 892 is an edge of your seat thriller that will have your heart racing the entire time and is continuously heightened by the truth behind it all. This being a true story makes it all the more staggering.

The film takes place almost entirely in the bank, but it never lets up and it never drags. Boyega carries the entire film along with it hooking you right away and never letting go. It’s nail-biting stuff that claws right at your heart. 892 is a film that reminds us of the responsibilities that we have to the people in the world, whether they’re soldiers or someone we’ve only just met before, we’re all people.

892 premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

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