Meewella | Critic

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Tag: Mahershala Ali

QuickView: Leave The World Behind (2023)

Leave The World Behind posters

“As awful as people might be, nothing is going to change the fact that we are all we’ve got.”

Ruth Scott

Unfolding during an impromptu vacation to a remote hamlet outside New York, this apocalyptic tale bears thematic similarities to White Noise in its examination of the affluent middle class response to events outside of their control, displaying complacency, mistrust, and terror. Sam Esmail rose to prominence after creating the superb Mr Robot (he directed 38 of its 45 episodes), a meticulous audiovisual experience of paranoia and isolation. In Leave the World Behind, adapted from a novel by Rumaan Alam, Esmail reunites with Mr Robot cinematographer Tom Campbell, who deploys unnatural framing like overhead shots and frame-filling geometry, or gravity-defying camera angles, drawing out the ominous from the mundane. This is coupled with stunningly captured modern apocalyptic imagery — an oil tanker run aground, fleeing autonomous vehicles, and migrating animals invading human spaces. Although the score’s vibrating strings can become unnecessarily overbearing at times, Esmail delivers a masterclass in ratcheting tension through slow release of information and calmer sequences that foster a growing sense of fatalism. A recurring suggestion is that our perception of society as functional and logical is simply a communally accepted delusion. Leave The World Behind has already proved divisive and there is plenty to critique — the character interaction often feels hollow despite the acting calibre of the leads, and the film is undoubtedly overlong; ultimately, however, viewers’ enjoyment is likely to depend on whether they appreciate Esmail’s pervasive cynicism about the modern world.


QuickView: Alita – Battle Angel (2019)

Alita - Battle Angel (2019)

“This is just a body. It’s not bad or good. That part’s up to you.”

Dr Dyson Ido

Alita is two thirds of a good origin story, spoiled by an unexpectedly truncated ending that provides no resolution. Despite the heavy CGI at play, Rodriguez’s direction keeps the majority of the film impressively grounded, and the action sequences in particular benefit greatly from characters that feel like they occupy physical space (e.g. a cyborg roller derby shot using the camera techniques used for NASCAR). Ending aside, the biggest flaw is an artistic choice that fails to pay off. Whilst virtually all of the cyborgs have human faces — even where attached to monstrous mechanical bodies — Alita’s is motion-captured CGI to mirror her manga origins and provide a slightly otherworldly appearance. The cartoonishly large eyes are expressive, but the overly smoothed skin and features fall heavily into the uncanny valley, undermining many of the films slower paced, emotional story beats. The fact that the effects work so well on the human-faced cyborgs only reinforces that this was a deliberation decision, if an unfortunate one.


QuickView: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse (2018)

“So no matter how many hits I take, I always find a way to come back. Because the only thing standing between this city and oblivion is me. There’s only one Spider-Man. And you’re looking at him.”

Peter Parker

Taking Deadpool’s self-awareness and applying it to a family-friendly Spider-Man movie has produced not just the best animated film of 2018, but the most joyous Spider-man film to date (some have suggested it is the best, but I think Spider-man 2 retains its crown). This is beautiful big-budget animation, more minimalist than the meticulous detail of a Pixar movie but with a more stylised artistic vision too. The only slight distraction is the blurred edging used to create depth of field, which can feel distractingly like a misplaced stereoscopic image from film’s 3D release. The Lego Movie‘s Phil Lord and Chris Miller have their fingerprints all over, though they did not direct. The inspired dimensional merging draws in alternate Spider-man variants from other universes, including divergent art styles that couldn’t work in any other medium. That the resulting story structure, which features half a dozen origin stories in broad strokes, is not only coherent but deftly interwoven with wit and a strong through line is an impressive achievement. The plot is light, but even Kingpin as the antagonist has a clearly established reason behind his single-minded, destructive dimensional manipulation. Above all, Spider-man adaptations work best when earnest and emotional, both of which Into the Spider-verse delivers in spades and neither of which loses any potency in the transition to animation.


"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

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