The One and Only Ivan

The One and Only Ivan (2020) ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Thea Sharrock. Cast: Sam RockwellBryan CranstonPhillipa Soo , Chaka Khan, Mike White, Angelina Jolie, Helen Mirren, Danny DeVito, Ramon Rodriguez.

A harmless and charming little film with some truly astonishing visual effects, which are so good that in fact you might not even notice they are actually effects: believe it or not, no animals were used in this film at all! “The One and Only Ivan” has quite rightly been nominated for its CGI work at the Oscars. It is so well done that somehow it makes even the animals talking to one another believable.

Taken from a children’s book with the same name, which was itself inspired by a real story (plenty of that in the credits), this is as gentle as any Disney-produced films I’ve seen in a long time. Hardly a baddie or a scene of peril throughout and even if it features some animals in cages to start with, there’s a happy ending around the corner and there’s no suffering in sight. Even its “captor” (Brian Cranston) is a good man at heart. A good solid cast rounds it all up: Sam Rockwell, Danny DeVito, Angelina Jolie (also producer of the film) and the slightly wasted Phillipa Soo, Chaka Khan and Helen Mirren.

It’s the perfect film for kids and families, full of life lessons, about both animals and humans, but if you are a bit of a cynic, you may find its slow pace, predictable storyline and lack of thrills a bit of a turn off.

On DisneyPlus

Also it’s probably a little bit too “by-the-number” to make any serious impact on its audience. No big laughs and big tears, at least not here, but we were all left with a smile on our faces.

Rūrangi

Rūrangi (2020) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Max Currie. Cast: Elz CarradArlo GreenAwhina-Rose Ashby 

The story of a transgender man returning to his hometown in New Zealand after a decade was originally conceived as a 5 part mini-series on the web. It’s is now been put together in this surprisingly touching little film.

Rūrangi draw its power from a strong and yet understated performance by Elz Carrad who’s clearly must be digging into his own experiences as he’s not just very believable and real, but capable of emoting while at the same time doing very little. His presence in the film is magnetic, his pain and his fears are palpable.

It is a story about acceptance, about forgiveness, guilt, shame and about finding oneself. When you write it like this is sounds very pretentious, but Rūrangi is anything but pretentious. Is it a gentle and beautiful film, which unfortunately, because its subject matter,  will most likely end up being seen by a very niche audience: a real shame because the themes in it are actually very universal.

It is a quiet film in tone but its messages are loud and clear.

It also takes place among Maori communities, which adds an extra layer and dimension to the film, though that’s probably the part which I though worked the least. It may still about acceptance but I I felt I got in the way of the may story which was actually a lot more powerful and somehow relatable

Having said all that, by the time I got to the end I found myself wanting to see a lot more, something which rarely happens these days. 

If ever there was a sequel or a second mini web series, I’d be totally up for it.

Cured

“Cured” ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Directors: Patrick SammonBennett Singer.

This very competently made documentary talks the fight to remove “homosexuality” as a mental disorder from the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual (it stood right next to “Pedophilia”)

It starts off with a very grabby pre-title, which is probably slightly in-your-face but very still very effective and which sets the tone for some of shocking things one is reminded off in the rest of the film. In a not too distant past, only a few decades ago, gay and lesbian people were sent to be “cure” with shock treatments, lobotomies and even castration. In some instances their memories were erased “It was like removing a chink of their”, “Like a horror movie” somebody says at some point. Needless to say, some of the archive mages from the film are hard to watch, but the stories are told with great warmth by some incredibly likeable people, most of whom lived through those times and are now the kind of grandpa or grandma one would like to have. It’s a fairly straight forward documentary, with beautiful evocative archive, talking heads and lots of graphics in the form of old photos and newspaper articles. It won’t set the world on fire, it probably runs out of steam in a few places feeling slightly repetitive but it’s still a real eye opener: an important documentary, especially when one thinks conversion centres still exists in America and in many places homosexuality is still outlawed.

Currently showing at the BFI Flare Festival

TRAILER: https://youtu.be/9YDXNHYCd9g

The Traitor

The Traitor (il traditore) 2019 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Director: Marco Bellocchio. Cast: Pierfrancesco FavinoMaria Fernanda CândidoFabrizio Ferracane, Fausto Russo Alesi, Luigi Lo Cascio,Nicola Calì

It took me a while to actually settle down and appreciate this film and eventually like it. The first act are probably the most conventional, squeezing in “the greatest hits” from any other Mafia related movies we’ve already seen hundreds of times. It seems to add nothing to the genre (though arguably very little has been added since the 70s with the godfather)An unlikeable main character, going through the motions, with cliche dialogue, over-the-top direction, ultra-violence and cheesy Italian mandolino playing in the background. I was ready to dismiss it. And then, at the 40 minutes mark, the story actually find its groove and the real film begins: a deep multi-layered character study of the “rat” Tommaso Buscetta, a high ranking man within the Cosa Nostra ladder, whose key testimonies between 1986 and 1992 would lead to a total of 366 convictions in one of the largest Mafia trial in history. It is an uneven film which works best when it plays it simple and tries to be as real as possible. Most of the scenes during the chaotic trials are gripping, absurdly hilarious and equally spooky, but also the quietest scenes are mostly beautifully handled too (thanks to a towering performance by veteran Favino, who here speaks Italian, Sicilian, English and Brazilian and it brings gravitas to the role like few people can and he alone manages to lift the film from the average a 3 stars film to the edge of a four stars one!). Unfortunately at times director Bellocchio let himself carried away a bit too much by the excitement about making his film look needlessly stylish and “modern” and when he tries to be too flashy, that’s when he falls: the counter on the screen, the intercutting between the big mafia boss being cornered by the police and a trapped animal (was it a lynx? Anyway talking about subtlety.) are some of the most over-the-top examples (though I have to say the POV inside the car exploding was quite something… even if a bit tasteless).

Not all performances are quite as believable to Favino’s, but that may have something to do with the fact that Sicilians seem like bad actors in their day-to-day lives anyway. Eventually the film ends up doing pretty much what Scorsese’s The Irishman did (though with a couple of hours to spare) and somehow it managed too grip me.

Raya and the Last Dragon

Raya and the Last Dragon ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Directors: Don HallCarlos López EstradaPaul Briggs. Cast: Kelly Marie TranAwkwafinaIzaac Wang Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh

I must confess I wasn’t quite read for the beautiful visual spectacle that this latest Disney Feature had to offer.The lavish backdrops inspired by by Southeast Asian landscape of Thailand, Vietnam Malaysia, Indonesia and so on (as well as some of the more spiritual themes from those countries) were so evocative and rich in colours and details that at times were just breath-taking. But what was also very impressive was the expressiveness of some of the faces (particularly Raya) and the cinematography (if there is such a thing in animation).But it wasn’t just beautiful animation, the story too was deep and interesting and the action was gripping and exciting. All in all, this was a very very solid entry in the Disney canon. The only thing that bothered me a little bit was how some of the more traditional cute-Disney elements in the film didn’t quite seem to gel with the more ambitious, mystical themes (which was actually the most successful part in my view), the dystopian look of the world, and the Indiana-Jonesy-type of adventures.The cute rolling armadillo (is that what it was?), the con-baby with those weird animals (whatever they were) and in fact pretty much most of the comedic elements seemed to belong to a different film. Even the dragon herself, both visually and in the way spoke jumped out at me as Disney forcing his trademark classic formula into something which was a lot deeper and grownup.Awkwafina (who voices the dragon Sisu) is clearly trying to evoke Eddie Murphy in Mulan (or even Robin Williams in Aladdin, thought she’s got a long way to go to match that) and while most her jokes are probably cute, they are rarely funny or inspired.Now, it seems I’m trashing this film and that’s really not what I want to do. In fact I think it’s one of the best animated feature coming out of Walt Disney Animation Studios in the last decade and I’m only criticising it because I really wanted it to be perfect (and for the most part, it really was).

Disney is getting increasingly better at representing and pushing other cultures other than the more traditional western one and they should be commended for that, but I think they still need to refine the balance with their classic and the more child-friendly elements, because on this one it seemed to me they were holding them back from making a real masterpiece.

The film is out in the cinema right now (if you’re lucky enough to have cinemas open), and also available on Premium Disney+

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