Hi! After a bit of a lean spell in late Summer, the cinemas are getting busier again as they prepare to cash in on Halloween movie season. So, we’re starting to see horror releases such as Smile, but there’s also plenty coming out for fans of other genres!
In this round-up of my reviews for some of the most recent releases, we’ll also cover the Viola Davis-starring epic The Woman King, and the new rom-com Ticket to Paradise. I’ve compiled reviews for these three films below for your reading perusal and pleasure!
The Woman King is a powerful, brilliantly-performed epic based on the Dahomey Kingdom of Africa in the 1800s, and the Agojie female warriors which protected it. There’s a lot of discourse about the way this film portrays the Dahomey, as it places them firmly in the protagonist position, fighting against the rising slave trade from the West. In reality, the Dahomey had a significant role themselves in the slave trade, but this is largely not touched upon.
I understand the reason for this criticism, but I think the crucial thing with The Woman King is that it never presents itself as a true story or even based on the real-life Dahomey; if you stay until the end of the credits, you’ll get the standard these-characters-are-fictional disclaimer. Instead, it takes the Dahomey as a jumping-off point for the story it tells around the original character of Nanisca, played by the exceptional Viola Davis. This is such a smart approach to take.
I’d struggle to overstate how phenomenal Viola Davis is in The Woman King. Nanisca is a veteran of the Agojie, hardened in battle but with plenty of her own past trauma, which we slowly discover through the film. She has the trust and confidence of King Ghezo (John Boyega), who was actually a real-life historical King, and it’s cool to see his costume design is inspired by real illustrations. John Boyega doesn’t get much to do, but he completely sells the confident charisma. Seriously, make him James Bond (Bondyega?).
Right, back to Nanisca: the way her story is peeled back layer-by-layer in relation to other characters is masterful, and Viola Davis completely sells both the physicality of the hard-hitting action beats, and also the vulnerability of the quieter character moments. You firmly believe her as a powerful warrior that can go toe-to-toe with any of her opponents.
Davis may steal the show, but that’s not to say The Woman King isn’t packed full of other star turns by the cast. In a way, it’s an ensemble epic; Lashana Lynch plays the fiery and skilled Izogie, who becomes an older-sister figure to Nawi (Thuso Mbedu), who herself is a point-of-view character for the audience. Early in the film, her family gives her to King Ghezo, and she begins her training to become part of the Agojie. We see the different stages of the Agojie training through her eyes, and it’s an extremely clever way to slowly acclimatise the audience.
I’ve barely talked about the action scenes themselves, which are viscerally real in their choreography, and regularly remind you of the strength the Agojie wield. A couple moments are a little too over-choregraphed in a fight scene in the middle act, but it’s just a couple moments. Something I really enjoyed is the variety of fight types; we get a large battle in the open, we get a stealth attack, an initiation assault course, and also some 1-on-1 fights that I particularly liked (and I haven’t even mentioned everything)!
Furthermore, clearly a huge amount of effort went into matching the cinematography to the epic scale of the narrative. Filming was done in Africa, and the sets, costumes, and sound design all create a cohesive, authentic look with plenty of impactful set pieces.
The more I write about The Woman King, the more I think of to talk about, and the more I like it as a whole. Not depicting this as a true story was a good call, instead letting the Dahomey be a spark of inspiration from which to depict striking characters like Nanisca. I’m now hoping it does well enough to get a sequel! Give me more of Viola Davis as Nanisca, and give it to me now… !
Is the 00s-style rom-com back? Just maybe, as Julia Roberts and George Clooney shine in this delightful – if predictable – ride.
The pitch is this: Georgia (Roberts) and David (Clooney) are acrimonious divorced parents that are forced into a brief reunion when their daughter Lily (Kaitlyn Dever) graduates. Lily has landed a job at a big law firm, but first she is going on a break to Bali, where she unexpectedly falls for local seaweed farmer Gede (Maxime Bouttier).
Quickly the couple plan to get married and live a life in Bali, so Lily invites her parents. They’re not best pleased with the speed at which Lily is uprooting her life plan, so they decide to work together to stop it despite their mutual animosity. This conflict played between Roberts and Clooney is the highlight of the film, with plenty of laughs and emotional moments as you see their perspectives shift over time.
As aforementioned, some of the plot points are easy to predict, but like a lot of good rom-coms, it doesn’t really matter, because the journey to get there is so charged with humour and heart. Roberts and Clooney steal the show so much that it does make the scenes without them noticeably weaker, but the film does well to recognise that and make them the focus. All of this leaves the moments with Lily and especially Gede few and far between, and their relationship is subsequently difficult to care much about.
The Bali setting was actually shot in Australia, but even so, Ticket to Paradise is stunning to look at. The film indulges in plenty of beautiful sights that really sell Bali as a wondrous world that you can believe Lily might want to escape to. I could be wrong, but it feels like this would have been a really enjoyable film to work on; Roberts and Clooney seem to particularly be enjoying themselves (oh yeah, stick around for the credits!).
All in all, Ticket to Paradise might not be a redefinition of the rom-com genre, but along with the likes of The Lost City, may play a significant part in their cinematic resurgence. Which I am in full support of, if they’re this fun to watch!
I do appreciate the constant inventiveness of horror movie concepts; in Smile, there’s an evil entity going around that infiltrates your mind in traumatic fashion, before presenting you with terrifying visages of smiling people which no one else can see. Well, mostly terrifying. We’ll get onto that.
The first two thirds of this movie are superb. The intro stinger that establishes the threat is efficient and horrifying, and the way we’re slowly familiarised with main character Rose (Sosie Bacon) helps us to care about her as we simultaneously see this entity methodically poison every aspect of her life. Sosie Bacon is fantastic at selling the stress the entity is putting Rose through; it’s a performance that makes the film work.
Smile slowly but surely ratchets up the themes of trauma, the isolation it can bring, and the damage a malfunctioning support network can do, as we see Rose become more and more detached from her previous sense of normalcy. The use of setting, lighting, and sound design is genuinely creepy in building up suspense, and some of the set-piece scares are effectively stomach-turning.
Sadly, the final act is a mixed bag. The entity becomes steadily less scary the more we see it in the open, not to mention that some of the actors are definitely better at doing a scary smile than others… ! Indeed, the supporting cast is much more two-dimensional than Rose. For example, a distressed Rose has a late-film conversation with her sister Holly (Gillian Zinsor), and it’s filled with generic dismissive dialogue that really took me out of the moment.
The ending actually threatens to become a bit of a disaster from there, but instead just about lands a big swing of a finish that left me with a positive impression. However, the final portion definitely strayed into disappointing show-don’t-tell territory, where it went for spectacle over a satisfying resolution.
After Smile spent so long doing the opposite and being all the better because of it, perhaps there was missed potential here. Despite that, there’s still a lot to like for horror fans. With the imaginative concept, edge-of-your-seat frights, and standout lead performance from Sosie Bacon, you might say that I left with a, ahem, smile on my face…
Thanks so much for reading! The film releases come thick and fast over the next few weeks, and I’ll hopefully get my thoughts about most of them up on this site. It’s spooky season, y’all!
Have an amazing day!