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Invisible Hands

The overarching theme of ”Invisible Hands” is one in which nobody is immune from some blame

Drew Turney

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Director:

Shraysi Tandon

Cast:

Kailash Satyarthi, Ben Skinner

Run time:

80 mins

Rating:

You expect this documentary about child labour to be fairly dry and statistical, maybe delivered with shots of bemused kids staring out of grimy sweatshops or mines as white-skinned people point cameras at them.

But the opening scene seems to be a statement about the tone. An Indian man who runs an activist foundation to find and extract children from abusive labour swoops on a factory, rounding a clutch of children up who seem to be as young as six, the police helping him herd them outside and start to identify them.

A few scenes later, his camera crew are in a car waiting for him to return to them when a mob descends, running after him, tripping him and kicking the shit out of him before he can struggle to his feet and reach the car. There are a lot of vested interests who want child labour to continue and a dimension of violence inherent in the system that’s a lot dirtier and more tactile in the film than just kids denied a childhood.

But “Invisible Hands” is about more than countries with dodgy labour infrastructure far from the eyes of Western consumers (exemplified by the African farmer who employs virtual child slave labour and is so unaware of the reasons against it he barely bats an eyelid about doing it when interviewed). For one thing it makes you complicit, because you’ll look at every iPhone, piece of fruit or item of jewellery you buy from now on and wonder who suffered so you could get it so cheap.

Second, it’s separated roughly into chapters that investigate certain countries. After India you expect the film to move to China, Bangladesh or The Congo, but you certainly don’t expect the next title card to read ‘The United States’, where the filmmakers then talk to several teenagers (almost all of them minorities, tellingly) who talk about the depravation, abuse, abysmal conditions and overwork they face working on farms across America.

Subsequent sections do move onto other parts of the world like the coltan mines of the DRC, and it proves just how little you know about the topic when China – of all places – gets a much better report card than you imagine, the burgeoning economy and increased scrutiny by intergoverment organisations and NGOs making a real difference. Ironically the group the section about China focuses on are college-age students told they’ll get valuable work experience over their summer break before they’re press ganged into repetitive and soul-crushing manufacturing work they have to stay at to get passing scores.

But the overarching theme of ”Invisible Hands” is one in which nobody is immune from some blame. As long as we demand ultra-cheap consumer goods, the multinational conglomerates who provide them will cut any corners they can, and the structure of the big business world lets them effectively shield themselves from any involvement.

The layers of supply chain obfuscation between your box of chocolates and a five year old kid down in a hole full of filthy water somewhere in Africa let them (and us) turn a completely blind eye until someone throws an ugly scene on their doorstep – leaving some expensive PR to try to explain it away with boilerplate and bullshit about internal investigations, like some Nestlé flack does at one point.

If you have any kind of social conscience you’ll know the politics/finance behind the topic already, but like Wikileaks or Ed Snowden did, it puts concrete and vivid examples in front of you that you can’t ignore, and you’ll be surprised how affected and angry it makes you that this goes on.

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DVD Reviews

Ode to Joy VOD review : just another New York rom-com

Drew reviews the comedy from Jason Winer

Drew Turney

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Way back in 1994, Lieutenant Dan (Gary Sinise) was portrayed in some ways as a more complete person than intellectually disabled dolt Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) despite having no legs courtesy of his tour in Vietnam. More recently we had them romantic dramedy Me Before You, where a young woman falls for a quadriplegic man.

Neither were strictly comedies, but the dance of portraying someone with a real disability that can be quite tragic in the real world and poking fun at it in a genre like romantic comedy is a delicate one to manage.

“Ode to Joy” does so, and it might be because of the care it takes in being respectful that any real potential narrative heat is missing from the movie too. It feels like the kind of thing that had a much more interesting script by someone familiar with the condition suffered by the protagonist, but some producer threw a lot of the darkness out in order to stitch it all to a meet-cute big city love story.

Sad sack New Yorker Charlie (Martin Freeman) has cataplexy. Related to narcolepsy, he can faint dead away as a response to strong emotions. So as the movie asks, how can a man incapable of strong feelings possibly cope with falling in love?

The opportunity presents itself when the gorgeous Francesca (Morena Baccarin) comes into the library arguing loudly with her current boyfriend. Francesca and her life is everything Charlie isn’t – loud, colourful, emotional and chaotic. She’s so beautiful he can’t help but be drawn to her, but he knows there’s no chance of it working when something as simple as a kiss might see him fall and knock himself out.

That’s the hook, and director Jason Winer only has to point the camera at the script by Max Werner (based on a real life story) to see how Charlie, Francesca and their families and friends figure it all out.

Charlie does his best to set Francesca up with his brother Cooper (Jake Lacy), Charlie himself accompanying them both and a socially awkward customer at the library he thinks will suit him perfectly (Melissa Rauch) on a trip away for a few days.

It provides the requisite romantic tension Charlie (and the audience) both feel – his pain at the woman he really wants being with another man but knowing it can never work with her.

Aside from that extended set piece there’s enough going on around the periphery like Francesca’s firebrand Aunt who’s battling cancer (Jane Curtin) to prop up the main premise.

It’s just that what could have been a much more incisive tale is instead another modern New York set rom com, and you’ve seen enough of those to know where it’s all going from a few minutes in.

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DVD Reviews

Shazam! Blu-Ray review : DC’s guiding light

DC’s latest packs a punch!

K.T Simpson

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In the uncertain world of DC, it’s “Shazam!” that is the light that guides our path, as we are introduced to a superhero who is a man of the people – and one we wish to share our “finest beers” with. The long-gestating flick got David F. Sandberg on board to direct in 2017, and the former Black Adam Dwayne Johnson to produce. Star Zachary Levi has previously said “the idea is that it’s gonna feel like the movie “Big”, but with super powers” – and to be honest I couldn’t think of a better way to describe the film.

Billy Batson (Asher Angel) is a troubled 14-year old, who after losing his mum at a fair as a young boy has bounced from foster home to foster home ever since. Throughout the years he has never given up the quest to find his mother, and his latest attempt to find her lands him in hot water with the Police- and into a new foster home. The new family seem promising, and though stand-offish, Billy finds himself in a group of other kids who need some extra love – including Freddy (Jack Dylan Grazer), who quickly becomes his best friend at school and home.

Meanwhile the ancient wizard Shazam is on the quest to find “the one”, a new champion to take over his job of protecting the world against the Seven Deadly Sins. The new champion must be pure of heart, and many people have been rejected from the job. One such reject is Thaddeus Sivana (Mark Strong), who came face-to-face with Shazam as a young boy, and has spent his life searching for a way to get back in front of the Wizard for another shot at becoming the one.

It is then that Billy gets a shot at the throne, and after meeting with Shazam, putting a hand on his staff (absolutely nothing suss), and yelling “Shazam!”, Batson takes on the job as the superhero, in the form of the much more built Zachary Levi. Billy and Freddy discover that yelling “Shazam!” can take him back and forth between boy and superhero, and they also work together to work out the subtleties of his new super-powers.

Between learning to fly, taking full advantage of the lightning coming out of his hands and the super strength he’s acquired, the new Champion of Eternity finds himself embroiled in a battle with Thaddeus, who still seeks the powers of Shazam, while unleashing his own new powers – which involve releasing the Seven Deadly Sins into the world again.

“Shazam!” is a fun and hilarious journey from beginning to end, and is truly unique in its tone – which it sets, and sticks to, for the entirety of the film. Levi is a true stand out as Shazam, playing a 14-year old in the body of a 30-something-year-old man. That’s not to take away from the other half of this hero, with Angel portraying a young boy who is trying to find his feet in the world while lacking the support of an immediate family.

The film is a rarity in that it never tries to achieve too much, and while the runtime pushes 2 hours, you’d be hard-pressed to find any unnecessary footage. There are scenes that have you gripping your seat, but others that will see you laughing out loud at some genuinely clever dialogue. The subplot surrounding the concept of family is heartwarming and a true testament that family doesn’t always have to be blood – you can find them in a foster home and a group of unlikely characters that find something to bond over.

“Shazam!” is out now on Blu-Ray, DVD and digital from Roadshow

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DVD Reviews

Avengers : Endgame Blu-ray review : an epic end

An epic battle to end all battles

K.T Simpson

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One year after “Avengers: Infinity War” and it’s all culminating into one big epic end – aptly named “Avengers: Endgame”. Of course being a film set firmly within a superhero narrative, nothing is really “the end” so I wouldn’t shed too many tears, Marvel fans – there is plenty more Avengers to come, with “Spider-man: Far From Home” coming in July and the standalone “Black Widow” film upcoming with Scarlett Johansson as the protagonist. Producer Kevin Feige has noted that he considers “Far From Home” the ‘end’ of the third phase of the MCU, rather than “Endgame”, but regardless – one thing we can expect from “Endgame” is one giant battle to end all battles.

It’s nearly impossible to describe the plot of “Endgame” without giving away all the surprises, so I won’t. We all know what happened at the end of “Infinity War”, and in “Endgame” the leftover Avengers seek to right the wrongs and the chaos that Thanos (Josh Brolin) creates after collecting all 6 Infinity Stones. With 50% of the world’s population wiped out, which includes a large chunk of the Avengers and their families, the team embrace time travel to essentially turn back the clock and return the world to its original state and its inhabitants back where they belong.

The big focus for “Endgame” is the survivors, working together to save their crew and the rest of humanity – Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Nebula (Karen Gillan). The all-star group is only scraping the surface of what’s to come, with each team member bringing something to the table to help locate the infinity stones and fix what Thanos broke.

What follows is an entertaining thrill ride of surprises, “Back to the Future” jokes a-plenty and a killer soundtrack that is reminiscent of said film: and when you see the credits roll and Alan Silvesrti’s name come up, it all comes together nicely. If you think it’ll be all doom and gloom, given the subtext of the entire narrative, you’d be wrong – with the script full of humorous quips that are perfectly timed and the best way to crack a smile after half your favourite superheroes were reduced to dust in “Infinity War”.

Dead or alive, you’ll see all characters in this time-heist flick, which is really a film purely for the fans. It’s the superhero of all superhero films, and a terrific nod to the 21 Marvel movies that preceded it. It promises goosebumps, fistbumps and all other kinds of bumps that you’ll expect from an epic like “The Avengers”.

If you want a “Braveheart” style battle, you got it. If you’re after some clever pop culture references, take a big serving of that too. Furthermore, if you’re a big comic book nerd and just want a decent fix of superhero delight, “Avengers: Endgame” will deliver that as well. Oh, and if you want an appearance from the late and great Stan Lee – you will not be disappointed. But are you ever?!

Is it the best film ever made? No. But it does deliver in the hype we were all promised and is a spectacle more than anything else. The standalone Marvel films have more depth and substance to them, particularly on a character level. But “Endgame” promised the ending of all endings and that’s what you’ll get. Essentially it’s a fan service film, so Marvel fans – sit back and enjoy. “Endgame” delivers strongly on the nostalgia of the Marvel films that were delivered before it, and in a very clever manner. It is here that the film is most impressive, with the throwbacks to what has led them all up to this one final battle against Thanos. It’s a great way to see how it’s all tied together, and each film within the MCU has its part to play.

Though a long movie (3 hours and not a second under), it can be summed up very succinctly : “Endgame” is nothing short of a masterpiece. It’s directors Anthony and Joe Russo at their absolute best, and something that will be proudly displayed on their trophy shelf.

Blu-ray : While very impressive, and those colours pop and the speakers shake considerably via the effective video-audio transfer, this isn’t the reference point transfer many expect from Disney. Sure, it still looks and sounds great – but considering the work put into the movie, many expect ‘excellent over ‘great here.  Extras-wise, you’ll be much happier – there’s commentary, numerous featurettes (one on the late Stan the Man that will bring a tear to the eye), some deleted scenes, an amusing gag reel and some other bits and bobs.

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