Film Reviews

A Year Of Film

Tom Sampson, Adam Goriparthi, Sharon Hsieh and Cora-Laine Moynihan 

As 2020 draws to a close, a selection of our writers have teamed up to review some of the biggest film releases of the year.

Birds of Prey (Tom Sampson):

Birds of Prey was always going to be an odd film, existing post-mortem of the DC film universe where they have now decided to opt for more individual film experiences. Shazam worked really well with this, but Birds of Prey was existing with a pre-established Harley Quinn from the (abysmal) Suicide Squad film.

The original title of the film was meant to be Birds of Prey and the fantabulous emancipation of one Harley Quinn which, while being a mouthful, is an incredible title which I definitely wish was used in the end. This original title explains the real premise of the film. The film is essentially a breakup film about Joker and Harley and how Harley begins to find her feet as an individual character instead of a sidekick in an abusive relationship. The overall tone occupies that of Deadpool; its tongue in cheek with a manic 4th wall breaking perspective that comes from Harley’s approach to the world of Gotham. However, I find it more enjoyable than Deadpool as the jokes feel more relevant than some of the tangential pop culture references linked loosely to sex and/or murder, which seems to be Deadpool’s trademark.

The aspects of Birds of Prey consists of a re-conceptualised Cassandra Cain, Black Canary, Huntress, and Renee Montoya. Each operate as a different way of Harley realising the abuse she has been experiencing, as well as how women throughout Gotham’s classes, and infrastructure’s women as a whole, were being used. Overall, it definitely is a Harley Quinn film and develops her style and personality as well as respecting some of the aspects of her character that got forgotten, such as her PhD in Psychology. Yet Harley gets most of the attention of development whilst the others just aren’t as interesting.

Emma (Sharon Hsieh):

Is it the Adaptation We Need Now?

This adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel retells the story of one of the world’s most misguided and self-entitled matchmakers, Emma Woodhouse, with disappointedly mediocre interpretations of the original text. The film welcomes us into a dreamlike land of Highbury with a delicate palette of colour toning as exquisite as a box of macaroons. To represent and ironize Emma’s self-confinement and illusions in this countryside town (See What Matters in Jane Austen by John Mullan), this arrangement seemed more than appropriate at the first glimpse, added with the accurate and faithful reconstruction of custom designs of 1810s England that satisfies your curiosity of life of 200 years ago. With the charm of the star of the popular Netflix show Queen’s Gambit (Anya Taylor-Joy), this movie looks like an adaptation of yet another period drama to be enjoyed light-heartedly.

The film welcomes us into a dreamlike land of Highbury with a delicate palette of colour toning as exquisite as a box of macaroons

Nevertheless, with the elimination of certain seemingly minor scenes from the original novel such as Harriet Smith’s encounter with ‘gypsies’ (now known as Romanian community), it begs the question whether the director is attempting to dodge sensitive issues. Compared to a much more hostile representation of the supposed ‘gypsy’ robbers in the 1995 film adaptation, this version opts for a low-risk alternative by shrinking the scene into an incident which only exists in a dialogue. Helena Kelly’s insightful criticism Jane Austen the Secret Radical points out that the highway robbery scene can very likely be Austen’s intention to embed the social injustice against the Romanian people as the consequence of enclosure movement into the narrative. Concealing the scene can be an a historical, fragmentary construction of the story. With its predecessors’ bold racially blind casting like a modern fake-vlog adaptation Emma Approved (2013) by Pemberley Digital and Armando Iannuci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019), the 2020 Emma seems to have no excuse for not be more daring in opening up diverse representation or at least respect for the historical context.

Even if we lower the expectation on the level of social criticism the film recreates for a modern audience and pass it off as a rom-com period drama, the film still fails to capture the shadow of Emma and Mr. Knightley’s relationship inserted by Austen. The great age difference between them and Knightley’s confession of having special attention to Emma since her puberty is very much downplayed, presumably for the peace of mind of the modern audience. With the blossoming trends of adapting literary texts for diverse representation in media that’s suitable for today, there seems to be no rightful justification for this version of Emma to avoid multiple issues that are relevant to the original text and to the present time.

Tenet (Adam Goriparthi):

Christopher Nolan has brought back his cinematic vision to save 2020 and it is vividly impressive, albeit a little confusing at times. Christopher Nolan’s films embrace the metaphysical and fluidity of time. For the director, time is not merely a plot device but an idea that mandates exploration and distortion; Nolan accomplishes this in Tenet through the concept of ‘time inversion’. 

Nolan’s palindromic motif requires a plot backbone and Tenet presents itself as an espionage/heist thriller, prefacing a threat of World War 3. After a test of loyalty, CIA agent ‘The Protagonist’ (John David Washington) is inducted into TENET, a secret organisation. Along with his handler (Robert Pattinson), The Protagonist finds himself on the hunt for businessman Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) with an unusual weapon: a trail of bullets that go ‘backwards’ in time. This is “inversion,” and can be done to anything… and anyone.  

For the director, time is not merely a plot device but an idea that mandates exploration and distortion; Nolan accomplishes this in Tenet through the concept of ‘time inversion’

It was interesting to see Warner Bros release Tenet amid this pandemic. A bid to save cinema? Or a mistake in timing? It arguably didn’t do as well as it wanted to.  Perhaps it’s the lack of concept explanation in the film. While there are some great action shots — a fight scene between an “inverted” character and a “normal” one was executed flawlessly — the plot is ‘clunky’ at times. Tenet can be confusing: it’s difficult to completely focus on the plot or connect with the characters, especially when you can’t hear key dialogue. Don’t get me wrong, it is enjoyable to watch (that plane crash wasn’t CGI, it was an actual plane, without engines, being crashed), but at times it’s hard to get emotionally involved. 

Replacing Nolan’s usual composer Hans Zimmer on the soundtrack is Ludwig Göransson (The Mandalorian). This change is hardly noticeable and still is, by definition, a Nolan score: powerful, compelling and irresistible. Nonetheless, sound-mixing becomes Tenet’s main let-down; the audience shouldn’t be blamed for not connecting with characters when conversational dialogue is frequently inaudible. 

Supported by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Debicki, the acting in this film is nothing less than first class. As a cryptic scientist tells The Protagonist at the beginning of the film, “Don’t try to understand it, feel it,”. Tenet is not inherently difficult to understand: I certainly enjoyed watching it in the brief period out of lockdown. It is a heist film inspired by a word: TENET

Enola Holmes (Tom Sampson):

Do you like feminism? Yes? Well, how about Feminist Ninja Terrorists? That’s Enola Holmes alright, a free spirited and light-hearted film with a serious message about the privilege of ignoring politics.

The premise is that Enola Holmes, Sherlock’s younger sister, has run away from home after her mother has gone missing, vowing to find her and to understand why she didn’t say goodbye. On her journey, she runs into another runaway called Tewkesbury who is the heir to a position in parliament after his father had recently died. As Enola tries to find her mother, she becomes more and more wrapped up with Tewkesbury when a plot to kill him becomes evident. Enola also learns that her mother was part of a secret group of Martial Artist Ninja Domestic terrorist feminists.

Through Enola’s journey and her political intrigue, characters force Sherlock to evolve beyond such apolitical notions

The core of the film really seems to be Enola’s relationship with Sherlock and how he is insistent on not being wrapped up in politics. But through Enola’s journey and her political intrigue, characters force Sherlock to evolve beyond such apolitical notions, realising that the only reason he can remove himself from politics is because the current system benefits him in the first place.

Apolitical notions were quite a core aspect of Sherlock and I think the film tackling this aspect is really interesting, and also quite pertinent considering the context in which the film has been made. It relates to the source text and also engages with current shifts in political consideration of individual/social values of identity, with groups such as LGBTQ+ having a louder voice in the political arena, comparable to the rise in first wave feminism that the film depicts.

The viewing experience was quite strange though, I wasn’t enjoying it until the third act when everything started being tied together. The plot threads are quite disparate for a while and the 4th wall breaking aspects felt…off-putting, but in the end, I enjoyed it. 

The Princess Switch: Switched Again (Cora-Laine Moynihan)

‘Tis the season for all the cheesy Christmas movies to be watched, and Netflix has kindly gifted a sequel to their 2018 rom-com The Princess Switch. There are now three…Vanessa Hudgens’.

Before I move on to talking about The Princess Switch: Switched Again (2020), I will give you a quick recap of its predecessor (spoilers ahead for those that have not seen it):

The Princess Switch is adapted from a novel called The Prince and The Pauper (1881) by Mark Twain, and explores the interesting concept of having two identical, but not related, people existing at the same time and what happens when they meet. The film’s director Mike Rohl explores this idea further with two women from completely different lives, one of wealth and one of labour, coincidentally meeting and deciding to switch lives for a couple days. A bunch of hijinks occur and, since it is a rom-com, the two ends up with the other’s initial love interests.

The film has a simple premise, an entertaining flurry of characters, and a somewhat realistic take on relationships

Vanessa Hudgens returns to Netflix to portray not two but three characters, I kid you not, in The Princess Switch: Switched Again, wonderfully portraying each of their individual personalities. Regardless of their identical appearances, Stacy, Margaret, and the new addition of Lady Fiona, Margaret’s throne-stealing cousin, are all clearly defined by their personal quirks and accents.

In comparison to other festive rom-coms, The Princess Switch: Switched Again makes for light-hearted watching. The film has a simple premise, an entertaining flurry of characters, and a somewhat realistic take on relationships. Neither of the heroines appear to lose or change themselves for their love interests, and the film continuously stresses the importance of communicating and having quality time with loved ones.

I mentioned before about the lovely new addition to Hudgens’ roster, Lady Fiona. At this point, I truly believe that Hudgens could turn this series into a one-woman show. Even though she was already playing the two heroines of the original tale, in this one Hudgens also takes on the role of the comical villainess, a penniless party girl that decides that the one way to regain her wealth is to take it from others. Obviously, a smart move in her mind. Shockingly enough, I liked her. Yep, I liked the villain. She was like the cream on top of a hot chocolate. The Princess Switch was an enjoyable Christmas adventure, and Lady Fiona helped the sequel reach the same level. Who doesn’t love to see a crafty, stylish fraudster take advantage of a situation laid out on a silver platter for her? I mean, she is identical to not one, but two royal princesses. It would have been silly of her not to snatch the opportunity!

Anyways, Hudgens does a splendid job bringing this fresh face to the screen, and evidently had a lot of fun doing so.

Even though this film is cheesy at times, especially with Fiona’s comical minions, there are many heart-warming moments throughout that really embody the festive spirit that, let’s be honest, we all needed this year. The presence of Christmas decorations in nearly every scene, the playful romantic moments between Margaret and Nick Sagar’s Kevin, and the snow, I cannot forget to mention the snow, all recreate the wondrous White Christmas and touching romance everyone at some point desires to experience.

To top the joy of this film being released, Netflix also confirmed a third film is in production, hopefully to be ready by next Christmas. Could this mean a fourth Vanessa Hudgens?

Tom Sampson, Adam Goriparthi, Sharon Hsieh and Cora-Laine Moynihan 

Featured image courtesy of Do u remember via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

In-article images courtesy of @birdsofprey, @emmafilm, @tenetfilm, @enolaholmesnetflixfilm and @netflix via No changes made to these images.

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