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The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

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It’s got to be said, the new Marvel TV shows are an impressive lot so far. Beginning with the surprisingly emotionally resonant mystery box of Wandavision, next cab off the rank is The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. And while this new one resembles a more traditional televisual experience, it’s nonetheless pretty bloody enjoyable.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier features, naturally enough, The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) in the post Thanos snap confusion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (but on the telly!). The Falcon aka Sam Wilson is having a decent enough time of it. He’s working various government contracts and kicking arse for Uncle Sam. The Winter Soldier aka Bucky Barnes, however, is having a darker time. Still suffering from the memories of the terrible deeds he did while brainwashed by Hydra, Captain America’s bestie is trying to right his various wrongs. But, crikey it’s a long list…

So, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s rather clunky title isn’t an accident. It’s a deliberate tip of the hat to The Falcon and the Snowman (1985), a political thriller about agents beginning to have doubt in their government. Doubt is a key term for this show, because in the first episode we see Sam beginning to doubt America’s commitment to him and the other heroes, and Bucky is beginning to doubt he can ever make amends.

If this seems like pretty heavy gear for a show ostensibly about a bloke who has robot wings and another chap with a super strong metal arm, you’re not wrong. However, the whole caper is executed with a light touch, deftly shifting from spectacular action to social commentary and back again.

It’s a little early at this stage to say if The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will maintain a cracking yarn over its six episodes, but the opening hour is promising, and looks like it will dig into concepts that are a little more nuanced and abstract than its big screen stablemates.

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Raya and the Last Dragon

animation, family film, Review, Streaming, Theatrical, This Week 1 Comment

After Disney-owned Pixar charged into the 2020s with the one-two punch of Onward and Soul, the mainline Walt Disney Animation has entered the fray with their latest jab at multicultural representation. Much as Moana focused on Polynesian culture, Raya And The Last Dragon seeks to be a platform for Southeast Asia, bolstered by a wealth of Asian-American voice talent ranging from Fandom Menace survivor Kelly Marie Tran as the warrior princess Raya to rising star Awkwafina as the water dragon Sisu, right down to Thalia Tran as Noi the littlest con artist and a brief appearance from Dumbfoundead as Chai the flower guy. Even the main writing credits follow suit, with Vietnamese-American playwright Qui Nguyen and Crazy Rich Asians co-writer Adele Lim.

Following Raya and Sisu on an adventure across the vibrant and splintered land of Kumandra as they track down the pieces of a mystical orb, the universe here feels like its own little world. The individual lands of Heart, Fang, Spine, Talon and Tail show great variety, and the graphic fidelity in all the little elements that comprise them, from light to rainfall to the textures on the characters themselves, is masterfully presented. Ditto for James Newton Howard’s soundtrack, which hasn’t sounded this splendorous in quite some time.

The story at large deals heavily in the concept of trust between people, with the fractured landscape serving as geographic representation of what happened to the nations within. While it adds certain facets to the characterisation of Raya, easily one of the most morally conflicted of the Disney Princesses, along with her connection to rival Namaari (Gemma Chan), the way this theme manifests in the narrative feels far too simplistic.

It gets to the point where adults with adventurous livers could make a drinking game out of how many times “trust” is brought up in dialogue, and the way that it’s treated as a part of human behaviour is equally as leaden. Trust here is presented as something that is vital for existence, but its exploration never goes further than ‘we must do this thing, just trust us’. With Disney’s last effort Frozen II, easily one of the most challenging animated features of the entire 2010s, Raya being so perfunctory feels beneath their abilities. And not just the studio’s either; co-director Carlos López Estrada going from the likes of Blindspotting to this is quite disheartening.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with Raya And The Last Dragon, it’s merely serviceable.

In cinemas March 4 and on Disney+ with Premier Access from March 5.

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Soul

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Among the ranks of Disney/Pixar, whose animated works have garnered a healthy reputation for unbridled heart-crushing moments, writer/director and current CCO Pete Docter is a stand out: that silent montage of life and death in Up, the brutal depiction of depression in Inside Out, even the more touching moments from Monsters, Inc.; he has a knack for twisting the rules of computer animation to speak truth to emotional power. And his latest is no exception, with a film as much about jazz and body-swap shenanigans as it is about the meaning of life itself.

Par for the course when it comes to Pixar, the animation is terrific, with the human characters just stylised enough to stand out without sticking out from the photorealistic New York landscape, and the round-and-bouncy abstractions in the realms of the Great Beyond and Great Before giving form to the traditionally formless.

The musical accompaniment is equally stellar, from Jon Batiste’s life-restoring jazz arrangements, to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ reliably atmospheric backing for the worlds beyond our own, right down to the smaller pieces like a scene-stealing Cody Chesnutt performance, as well as a deliciously retro cut from Daveed Diggs and his clipping. cohorts.

All in service to the story of Joe (Jamie Foxx in a career-highlight turn), a music teacher and pianist who’s looking for his big break… before taking a tumble into the outer realms, where he gets saddled with lost soul ‘22’ (Tina Fey finding new heights).

The voice acting is pitch-perfect across the board, with everyone from the leads to the bit parts pulling their weight, and their dialogue carries that characteristic neurotic humour of Docter’s previous work, Inside Out in particular. They’re the kind of jokes that help reinforce the idea that just because something is made for kids, it doesn’t mean that it has to play to the lowest common denominator, riffing on just about everything from New York subways, to personality traits, to what it feels like to lose yourself to your passions.

In-between the slapstick and brainy quips, the film’s approach to purpose and meaning in life are rather profound. It highlights the sheer rapture and affirmation that can come from realising your purpose in this world, be it creative or otherwise… but that on its own isn’t what makes life worth living. Life is what makes life worth living, every little moment within it, and it’s all too easy to lose sight of that when you’re hunting after that singular thing you feel destined to do in this world. Life is like jazz: It’s all about the space between the notes.

It’s a remarkably mature take (arguably more than most ‘adult’ films), and it shows Pete Docter (along with co-director/writer Kemp Powers) furthering the studio’s recent love affair with the abstract to craft a deeply resonant film that draws attention to the pleasures of minor notes. Even if it’s just watching a movie.

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