The Greatest Showman

The Greatest Showman (Michael Gracey, 2017) 4/5

Contemporary musicals are essentially the rarest of filmic breeds. They are either reboots of older classics or adaptations of great stage productions from around the world. What is more common is when these are fused with popular historic figures and this fusion works well when that person was linked with show business. Michael Gracey’s directorial debut is a show stopping adventure through tposter-largehe weird and wonderful eyes of P.T Barnum and his eclectic mix of performers.

Scepticism did almost overtake me prior to watching this Hugh Jackman star vehicle, but I persisted, and I’m very glad that I did. From the cinematography, acting, editing, and performances everything here works so well that it is seamless in the action. Jackman is no stranger to the spotlight of the stage and thrives her as the protagonist as through dance numbers, all of his skills as a performer are brought out in full force. He carries this movie with aplomb (I love that word!) and bringing Zac Efron onboard to entice a younger crowd (clever marketing), plus throwing the added class of Michelle Williams adds another dimension to this already celebrated canon.

In essence, this film is about inclusivity and diversity, which is a little more than topical at the moment in time. I won’t go into that too much (*ahem* Trump, *ahem* Harvey Weinstein) and the songs show a very strong reflection of this zeitgeist. Fox made a very clever hire of Pasek and Paul, who are fresh off their win for the – dare I say it, slightly dull – La La Land at last years Oscars. Their songs are simply infectious and you will be singing all of the way home. Of course, it does help that the screenplay is also written by Jenny Bicks (Sex and the City vet) and Bill Condon (Dreamgirls and Chicago).

Of course, it can be very difficult to balance the gritty reality of the actual figure and the glitz of movie musical. Sure, some bits are glossed over with glitter, but this movie is all about escapism. If you’d like a more pronounced musical biopic, I’d direct you to ‘Walk the Line’ for example.

There are shades of Baz Luhrmann here too and Moulin Rouge is clearly something they wanted to emulate, not just with the rooftop dancing, but also with it’s feverish pace and fast editing.

In sum, whilst The Greatest Showman might lean a little too much on the ‘show’ aspects and not on the murkier sides of Barnum. This movie is an escapists dream with a very powerful message of inclusion in a time where not everybody is getting the representation or safety they deserve.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star wars: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson, 2017) 4/5

The middle film in a trilogy can always seen like a place card holder from the first and the last adventure. Star wars has traditionally been able to avoid this with each film in it’s canon exhibiting it’s own individual story, whilst successfully adding a new narrative to the overall structure. The Last Jedi continues in this vein, as Rian Johnson’s follow-up to the fantastic The Force Awakens allows both new and old fans of the franchise to experience the spectacle of this space opera.Star_Wars_The_Last_Jedi

In a sense, narrative wise, this film is a lot paired back than the previous film and gives the audience a lot more interaction with older characters. Most notably Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, whose individual story arcs are really what holds everything together here. It’s just so rewarding to see Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher (May she Rest in Peace) interact and further instil their acting chops!

Following directly where the last film left off, The First Order are continuing their attack on the resistance, causing mighty havoc in the process. As you can imagine, there are some mighty good fight sequences here and the special effects are amazing. However, it is Johnson’s screenplay that really enables the adventure to keep at fast enough pace to forgive the rather long 150 minute screen time.

I guess what is so fascinating about this new trilogy of films is how Disney has approached them. Everything seems to be meticulous so as to welcome a younger fan base, whilst at the same time, not ostracising the audience of the previous films. The Last Jedi walks this tightrope successfully and there are enough references to the past narratives, as well as, new character additions to enthral the younger – Disney-fied – crowd.

In sum, Rian Johnsons middle film in this trilogy is successful in terms of storytelling, action, acting and special effects. It never feels lumbered and is fast paced for it’s running time. Overall, it doesn’t quite live up to the magic of The Force Awakens, however it is a very good addition to the cannon and sets up for the action packed finale.

Mudbound

Mudbound (Dee Rees, 2017) 4/5

Based on the celebrated novel of the same name by Hilary Jordan, this film chronicles Mudbound_(film)the experience of two soldiers returning home from World War Two, Jamie McAllan (Garett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell). The only difference between them is, one is white and the other black. From this relationship, we are introduced to their respective families. Jamie’s brother Henry (Jason Clarke) moves his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan) and their children to the south to start a farm. Whilst Ronsel’s family live on the land and are held together by his mother Florence (Mary J. Blige).

At first glance, the narrative is not something we haven’t seen before and there are allusions to ‘Mississippi Burning’ and ’12 Years a Slave’ with the civil rights movement and race relations continually bubbling under the surface. However, what is unique here is that this plays much more like a classical 1950’s melodrama than an ultra-gritty post-modern critique. This is mostly seen through the relationship dynamics of both families, whereby they struggle to provide a living, under the weight of an expectant harvest.

Dee Rees follow-up to the independent darling ‘Pariah’ strips everything down to a simple story of friendship between two soldiers and how they are looked upon by their society at home. Unsurprisingly, Ronsel is looked down upon and Jamie is welcomed back a hero. This creates the tension that makes the film so worthwhile, as nothing is made explicit, and most of the racism is represented through Jamie’s grandfather Pappy McAllan (Jonathan Banks). Laura and Henry are at best ambivalent and at worst ignorant to these troubles.

The real winner here is actually Mary J. Blige who produces a stellar performance as the strong matriarch, who, much like her music, powers into the narrative. It will be somewhat surprising if she doesn’t get some awards attention for this role (Hollywood does love a crossover Star does it not?!).

In sum, Dee Rees film, produced entirely through Streaming giant Netflix is tragic, thought-provoking and a powerful piece of cinema that highlights just how important – and detrimental – familial ties can be.