Quick Reviews: 'Martin Eden', 'Songbird' | Luca Marinelli's Ideological Struggle, KJ Apa's Dystopia
Say, have you booked your tickets to Italy? Because that is where we are heading now, virtually of course all things considered but for a pretty good reason. Director Pietro Marcello's new take on Jack London's classic novel Martin Eden, one which Marcello also co-wrote with Maurizio Braucci, transforms the titular character from an American writer to an Italian writer who is to be played by Luca Marinelli. Martin begins as a sailor of the working class who ends up falling for educated and intellectual Elena (Jessica Cressy) with an upper class background and in order to impress her, sets out to become an influential writer. This leads Martin to a journey through social class, love as well as philosophical battle between socialism and individualism. The film is an elegant odyssey of one man's story, one which seems to be nearly fully realised too.
You know, it's just tremendous when you watch something that you don't really have qualms about and that is exactly what is going on with Martin Eden. Technically and storytelling-wise everything moves very smoothly from the beginning which is somewhat down to the original text which is thought-provoking and then some comes from the filmmaking choices such as the setting of Italy in the unspecified era of 1900s. Marcello and Braucci's adaptation has a rich look of its characters, mostly of Martin, therefore every step is satisfying since the picture gets drawn bigger and bigger. The cast also works well and Marinelli is undoubtedly showing off his leading man charisma that he showed promise of in 'The Old Guard' earlier, this film particularly comes alive in his eyes rather than in any over-performed period eccentricities.
Production design by Roberto De Angelis and Luca Servino also sets up the director and actors for victory as the frame is always an interesting playground to revel in, no matter if it's the fashionable decor of houses owned by upper class or the modest rooms in which Martin writes in. That work is always telling you more about the class struggle in the story, it also works in tandem with time warping musical beats during the transitions.
The few minor flaws about the film might be more caused by the knowledge of the source material (very much regarding Martin) and how Marcello's director vision ends up overpowering the writing. Specifically the ending where the choices about the shots and Martin's actions seem overly stylised considering how his journey plays out, the overall story is much more real and tragic than the filmmaking which takes a romantic, slightly passive approach.
Smileys: Production design, screenplay, Luca Marinelli
Frowneys: Minor issues with ending
Martin, please, shaken not sure at the end.
Oh boy, oh boy, where do we even start? At this point in 2021 you might've already seen movies produced during the COVID-19 pandemic and maybe even a couple referencing it but Songbird claims to have been the first proper one written, shot and released. In fact, it goes one step further and builds its plot around a mutated virus called COVID-23 in the year 2024.
Nico (KJ Apa) is a bike courier in Los Angeles who has an immunity towards the virus so he's one of the ''lucky'' ones that are allowed out to be outside—majority of people are confined to their homes— as they get their essentials delivered and immune people are recognised by their yellow wristbands. Nico has a relationship with Sara (Sofia Carson) who is confined to her home with her grandmother (Elpidia Carrillo) and whom Nico has never met face-to-face. The grandma gets the virus, which is a more lethal mutation so the sick are taken into Q-Zones that are quarantine camps, therefore Nico devises a plan to get them two counterfeit wristbands so they can escape together.
Now reading that, many alarm bells might be going off in your mind and for a good reason. Perhaps the movie is ill-timed? Somewhat. Sounds like a lot to handle? Yes. That plot requires good characterisation to be compelling at all? Absolutely, but that definitely isn't what you get. This is one of those movies where you might know things about your main characters but you don't know them, with Nico and Sara that's exactly the case so it's hard to care about their stupid plan.
The fake wristbands are manufactured by another couple, William (Bradley Whitford) and Piper (Demi Moore), but you don't care about their journey since you don't know them either. William is cheating on her with a streamer and musician May (Alexandra Daddario) who is at least a little more interesting and who has a growing virtual friendship with drone operator Dozer (Paul Walter Hauser) that is kind of sweet, it would've made a better movie too. There's also Dozer and Nico's boss Lester (Craig Robinson) and the ''bad guy'' Harland (Peter Stormare) who leads the department that collects the infected.
That cast is terribly over-qualified for Songbird (which by the way is an awful name for this) because the movie has no idea what it wants to be. It plays with genres such as thriller, sci-fi, neo-noir, crime action and even romance but overall never feels cohesive which gets jarring. The script by director Adam Mason and Simon Boyes feels like an unfinished first draft (it was both conceived and pitched in March 2020) as the characters are weak, dialogue is boring and the story is merely a sketch.
Some of that you might want to excuse since you want to applaud the filmmakers for making the film considering the circumstances but only if the movie even looked good. Unfortunately it doesn't because the camera work might even be the worst part of the film and there is certainly competition for that title. So many things are wrong here as the shaky cam becomes unbearable, 2.39:1 aspect ratio is unnecessary, visually it looks just gross with stained orange/yellow shades and you can barely follow the action. You just end up asking yourself why you would care about any of it when even the filmmakers don't.
Smileys: The crew shot a film during a pandemic
Frowneys: Cinematography, characterisation, story, screenplay, tone
The whole year of 1985 probably went faster than these 85 minutes.