Category Archives: Drama

King Richard (2021) Review

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King Richard

Time: 145 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence & offensive language
Cast:
Will Smith as Richard Williams
Aunjanue Ellis as Oracene “Brandy” Price
Saniyya Sidney as Venus Williams
Demi Singleton as Serena Williams
Tony Goldwyn as Paul Cohen
Jon Bernthal as Rick Macci
Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green

Armed with a clear vision and a brazen, 78-page plan, Richard Williams is determined to write his two daughters, Venus and Serena, into history. Training on tennis courts in Compton, Calif., Richard shapes the girls’ unyielding commitment and keen intuition. Together, the Williams family defies seemingly insurmountable odds and the prevailing expectations laid before them.

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I’ve been hearing about King Richard for the past months, especially in the lead up to awards season. I knew that essentially it was about Venus and Serena Williams and their father, who would be played by Will Smith (who was particularly getting awards hype). It looked like a typical sports biopic and while that mostly turned out to be the case, I thought it was pretty good.

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It should be noted that this isn’t exactly a movie about Venus and Serena. King Richard is executively produced by both sisters and while the movie is about them to a degree, it is deliberately focused on their father Richard Williams, and how he helped their rise with his support and guidance. It does make it interesting to put it from the perspective of the father instead of the soon to be stars. As someone who knew about the two tennis players but didn’t know much about their stories, I found it interesting, and I was invested in what was happening. It is a sports biopic, but it is essentially a character study for the lead character, who is a complicated person. Despite it being a sports movie of sorts, it isn’t super focussed on the sports, and avoids most of the sports tropes. It is definitely firmly in the crowd pleaser category, and it’s a very effective feel-good movie. With that said its definitely not very special as far as biopics go. Its very by the numbers and cliché in many ways, there are conventional biopic tropes here and here, and there are big inspirational speeches and moments. There’s also dialogue that’s very unsubtle, especially about the sister being destined for greatness. Also it does seem very safe in parts, such as with the inner conflicts with Richard. With that said, it still has strong emotional beats and uplifting moments which really worked for me, so I was more than able to look past the sameness. King Richard is a very long movie at around 2 hours and 30 minutes, and after watching what I just saw, I thought that was a little excessive. With that runtime you would think that it would’ve focussed even more time on the sisters, but unfortunately that’s not the case. Even though I did like the movie and I wouldn’t say that I was that bored, the drawn out nature of the film turned out to be a determinant to it.

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For as solid as the story and writing is, it’s really the great performances which make the film work as well as it does. Will Smith plays Richard Williams, and this very well could be the best performance of his career. Its a flawed and nuanced character he’s playing and fully invests himself into, and gives a commanding performance. It definitely doesn’t stop with him though, Aunjanue Ellis is great as Richard’s wife and the mother of the Williams sisters, and Jon Bernthal is really good as a tennis coach. There’s also Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton who play Venus and Serena Williams respectively, and they do great jobs at playing them. The second half has more of a focus on Venus, and Sidney plays her part very well.

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The direction from Reinaldo Marcus Green wasn’t anything special, but competent enough by sports biopic standard. Its shot and edited quite well (length aside), and the scenes with tennis are well shot and given enough tension.

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King Richard is a very familiar and typical inspirational sports biopic but its nonetheless quite good. I was invested in the story, it’s well made, and the performances from everyone were great and carried the film. I think it is worth watching at the very least.

The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021) Review

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The Tragedy of Macbeth

Time: 105 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Denzel Washington as Lord Macbeth
Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth
Corey Hawkins as Macduff
Brendan Gleeson as King Duncan
Harry Melling as Malcolm
Director: Joel Coen

A Scottish lord becomes convinced by a trio of witches that he will become the next King of Scotland. His ambitious wife will do anything to support him in his plans of seizing power.

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There are already plenty of adaptations of Macbeth out there, and it’s a little hard for me to get into any movies based on Williams Shakespeare’s work (mainly because of the dialogue). However, Joel Coen taking on the material had me highly anticipating his Macbeth movie, along with adding actors like Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand. The Tragedy of Macbeth is an atmospheric, and moody Shakespeare adaptation, and with strong performances and direction.

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There’s not really much to say about Macbeth’s writing since its still very much Shakespeare’s classic play. With that comes with the same confusing Shakespeare language and unless you’re very familiar with that kind of speech, it would probably be a problem for you. So if you’re going to watch it, its either best to watch it with subtitles on, or read up about the play beforehand to know what was happening. It was great getting to watch the movie in cinemas, but I do admit that I wished I had subtitles on. Thankfully, I knew the general plot having watched the 2015 Macbeth movie so I had an idea of where everything was going. I didn’t understand what was being said most of the time, but I expected that when I willingly watched a Macbeth movie. There really wasn’t anything new brought to the story thematically, it’s just the distinct style, but I guess that’s all that was needed.

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There is a great cast involved. Denzel Washington is fantastic as Macbeth and delivers a powerhouse of a performance. Masterful, compelling, and a great on screen presence, its one of his best acting works I’ve seen from him. Frances McDormand is also really good as Lady Macbeth, she is in great command of every scene she’s in. Kathryn Hunter is also notable in her croaking, contortionist turn as the three witches, she is incredible in her scenes. Other actors like Corey Hawkins, Brendan Gleeson, and Harry Melling also play their parts very well, but its Washington, McDormand and Hunter that stand out the most.

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As said before, Joel Coen directs this, and The Tragedy of Macbeth is very different from anything that the Coen brothers have done before. Its very bold and unconventional, it’s a technical marvel and one of the biggest strengths of the movie.  The presentation is haunting, and the world portrayed here is very off kilter. The cinematography from Bruno Delbonnel is easily one of the best from 2021. In a way it is very minimalist but incredibly effective. You get caught up in its gorgeous black and white photography, with the German expressionism inspired and brutalist look, along with the 4:3 framing making the film feel very contained. The lighting, dense shadows, and the use of fog and smoke go towards giving it a haunting atmosphere. The sets are classic and old school, it felt like stage play sets with grandiose buildings. The editing is simple yet effective, and the transitions are seamless. The sound design is striking, and the score works incredibly well for the tone of the movie. An impressive part of the movie is that it manages to be both theatrical and cinematic. On a cinematic level it goes into the surreal with the memorable imagery. Yet it also works on a theatrical level, aspects like the dialogue heavy interactions, the long monologues, characters entering and exiting scenes, they all work together.

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The Tragedy of Macbeth is very much an art film and a Shakespeare movie, so it definitely isn’t for everyone. But if you know what you’re getting into, I’d say that it is well worth a watch. It’s a superb technical achievement from the direction, cinematography and editing, and it has some excellent performances, especially from Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand and Kathryn Hunter. At the very least, it stands out as the Coens’ most distinct works.

Don’t Look Up (2021) Review

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Don't Look Up

Time: 138 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Sex scenes, offensive language, nudity & drug use
Cast:
Leonardo DiCaprio as Dr. Randall Mindy
Jennifer Lawrence as Kate Dibiasky
Rob Morgan as Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe
Cate Blanchett as Brie Evantee
Meryl Streep as Janie Orlean
Jonah Hill as Jason Orlean
Mark Rylance as Peter Isherwell
Tyler Perry as Jack Bremmer
Ron Perlman as Colonel Benedict Drask
Ariana Grande as Riley Bina
Scott Mescudi as DJ Chello
Himesh Patel as Phillip Kaj
Melanie Lynskey as June Mindy
Director: Adam McKay

Two low-level astronomers must go on a giant media tour to warn mankind of an approaching comet that will destroy planet Earth.

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I remember Don’t Look Up at one point being one of my most anticipated films of 2021. It has a massive cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Jonah Hill, Meryl Streep, Timothee Chalamet and more. I also liked Adam McKay’s more recent dramatic work with The Big Short and Vice, and I was interested in him doing a full on satire with his latest film. However as it approached its release date, I had my doubts. The trailers weren’t the best and the reactions coming out of it weren’t exactly confidence inspiring. Still I gave it a chance and overall I’m prepared to say that I like it, though I completely understand why some people dislike it.

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I do like the premise of the movie, with the lead characters trying to warn the world about a coming disaster while the world doesn’t listen, definitely works for a satire. It is a comedy, and while I wouldn’t say it failed, most of the humour didn’t work. There are funny jokes throughout but not as many as you’d hope for. I was generally entertained throughout, even if it was never that great in the first two acts, just a mildly funny comedy with very mixed satire (more on that later). The movie is around 2 hours and 20 minutes long, and it really didn’t need to be that long. I wouldn’t say that I was bored during the movie, but it all felt very drawn out and not a lot happens or is said to really justify that length, and the comedy and satire isn’t good enough to fully sustain things all the way through. I feel like on rewatch I’d find it harder to get through. Strangely enough, it gets into much more dramatic territory in the third act, and its surprisingly quite effective, and its far better than what came earlier. Looking back at the rest of the movie, it actually works much better as a terrifying and depressing end of the world downer (with darkly comedic elements) than a smart political and social satire. Another issue is that the tone is all over the place. McKay’s last two movies jumped between drama and comedy as well, but it feels messier in Don’t Look Up. Until the third act, it just can’t seem to decide whether it’s trying to be an apocalyptic drama and a mostly straight-faced satire, or a full on spoof. I think it needed to either be more straight faced about it or lean much further into absurdity.

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While I enjoy the movie, the actual satire is one of the weaker elements unfortunately. One of the biggest criticisms I’ve seen of Don’t Look Up is that its very obvious and not subtle at all, much like McKay’s last two movies. And I’ll always stay true to my belief that its not inherently bad if a film is more obvious than subtle. Sometimes it is refreshing for a movie to be more direct about things. The problem is that a lot of the satire just feels a bit too obvious, in the sense that its too easy. For example, many of the characters are caricatures meant to represent types or groups of people, but they feel very overdone and a little lazy, the upbeat news anchors, the president and politicians who doesn’t know what they’re doing, dumb celebrities, etc., and McKay doesn’t do anything with them beyond the obvious. There’s nothing particularly daring or insightful said in this film, and the caricatures and not-subtle messaging makes the film hard to be engaging. I will say that some of the ways that people respond in the movie is like how people would respond in real life. However for every one of those moments, there’s moments where the satirising of aspects of today’s society isn’t quite right. An example is when Jennifer Lawrence’s character becomes a meme of sorts, but the memes that are very displayed are outdated top-text and bottom-text meme formats from the 2000s. It doesn’t break the movie or anything but moments like these go towards the film not fully succeeding at being a satire of today. While I wouldn’t say that the movie talks down to people and is condescending (although I can see why people would see it that way), there is a general sense of self-importance, and the feeling that they are more insightful and smarter than they really are. Part of that is the fact that the comet in the film is intended as a metaphor for climate change, and the movie is apparently meant to urge people to take it seriously. If we look at the movie from this perspective, Don’t Look Up really only spreads awareness that climate change exists and does and says nothing beyond that, at most its only preaching to the choir. Also when you really think about it, the comet doesn’t really make for a particularly good metaphor for climate change, especially in the context of the film (without spoiling anything). I wouldn’t normally look this deep into a movie like this, but McKay and his co-writer really seem to believe that they are saying something important about climate change, so I thought it was worth mentioning.

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One of Don’t Look Up’s biggest selling points is its absurdly large cast, which is no doubt why so many people wanted to check it out in the first place. While I wouldn’t say that any of these actors are even close to giving career best performances in this movie, most of them are pretty good in their parts. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence play astronomers who discover the comet heading for Earth and try to warn people about it. This is the third of DiCaprio’s more comedic performances after The Wolf of Wall Street and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, he has shown himself to be surprisingly great at comedy. He’s also really good here at portraying his stressed and panic stricken character, and he especially has a great and notable rage sequence in the second half of the movie. Lawrence is also great and entertaining, she’s especially good in the scenes of comedy. DiCaprio, Lawrence and Rob Morgan (who is also great) are the best performances in the movie because they were the only performances and characters that actually felt somewhat grounded and felt like actual characters, in contrast to every other actor. When Meryl Streep showed up as the president, at first I thought she was phoning her performance, but I actually think she’s pretty good. I soon came to realise that most major actors in the cast play an over the top and obvious caricature, and so they all feel underutilised to a degree. With that said I think most of them actually work in their parts. The highlights for me were Jonah Hill, Timothee Chalamet, and Cate Blanchett, Ron Perlman is also a scene stealer in his 5 minutes. So while it is disappointing that this stacked cast weren’t really utilised to their fullest potential, at least most of them gave decent performances. Notice that I said ‘most’ instead of ‘all’, the sole exception is Mark Rylance, I have no idea what he was doing in this movie. Rylance plays a tech billionaire, and I definitely get the point of his character. He’s a riff on Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and every other rich tech CEO right now, and it makes sense for that kind of character to be in this movie. However, his performance is so weird and strange from his line deliveries and the way he decides to play the role, and not in a good way. I think the best way I can describe it as he’s trying to play Joe Biden playing Elon Musk. I know that everyone is an over-the-top caricature in this movie, but Rylance is on a completely different wavelength from the others that he feels completely out of place.

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Adam McKay’s directing style in this movie won’t work for everyone. Most notable is the editing, which is very fast, messy, and often cuts to a lot of brief clips and images, similar to what McKay did with The Big Short and Vice. If you hated the editing in Vice, you’ll probably hate the editing in Don’t Look Up too. I will admit that I liked the editing in McKay’s unofficial political trilogy, but while I mostly liked the editing in Don’t Look Up, some of it got on my nerves a little bit at points. However, I will say that it actually does work very well in some moments in the third act and worked to give some parts some emotional punch to them. Editing aside, a lot of the other technical elements are strong. Linus Sandgren’s cinematography is great, for the most part its not really a movie that needs to be particularly well shot, but he does make the most of it when he can. Nicholas Britell is reliably great as the composer, and his score is one of the strongest parts of the film. Its definitely not on the level as his some of his other work like Succession or Vice, but its still great. The budget is absolutely insane at $75 million, and watching the movie, most of the film really didn’t need to have that large of a budget. With that said, the scenes involving large visual effects from comets to rockets were quite good.

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Don’t Look Up is already proving to be incredibly divisive amongst people. If you really aren’t a fan of McKay’s style from his past two movies, I think that you’ll find his latest film to be a struggle. I can completely understand why some people are really disliking the movie. I don’t think it really succeeds, particularly as a satire, and even from a comedy standpoint it could’ve been better. Still, it has its moments (both comedic and dramatic), some of the technical elements are strong, and most of the performances from the cast are decent. I recommend checking it out at the very least.

Bleeder (1999) Review

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Bleeder

Time: 97 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1]
Cast:
Kim Bodnia as Leo
Mads Mikkelsen as Lenny
Rikke Louise Andersson as Louise
Levino Jensen as Louis
Liv Corfixen as Lea
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Hard-drinking Leo (Kim Bodnia) likes to hit the bars and watch gory films with his introverted pal, Lenny (Mads Mikkelsen). His girlfriend, Louise (Rikke Louise Andersson), tends to stay in at the couple’s Copenhagen apartment. Despite their differences, Leo and Louise have maintained a relationship for a long time; however, when Louise tells Leo that she’s pregnant, he senses that his lifestyle will have to change, and his long-hidden hatred of his girlfriend violently erupts.

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Bleeder was the last film by Nicolas Winding Refn I had left to catch up on, it was particularly hard to find but I got access to a copy eventually. I didn’t know anything about the movie except its one of the directors earliest films and had the main trio of actors from his first film Pusher. While I wouldn’t call it one of Refn’s best by any means, I thought it was a solid early film from him.

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Bleeder is a dark and raw drama, that really focuses more on the drama than crime compared to Refn’s last film Pusher. The plot consist of two storylines, each of them following two people who are friends. One of them is of Leo, a soon to be father. The other is Lenny, an awkward film nerd who works at a video store and struggles with women. Leo’s story is the dramatic aspect of the film. It’s dark, filled with tension, and uncomfortable to watch. Essentially this storyline is a domestic drama between Leo, his wife Louise, and her brother Louis. It’s basically a character study of a man afraid of his impending fatherhood. Strangely I wanted to see more of Lenny’s story. Even though it didn’t seem to be moving towards anything, it is fun to watch his story play out, and at the very least it’s a nice break from the intensity of the Leo story. The stories are connected by the two lead characters being friends but tonally they’re very different. It’s a weird mix that I still enjoyed. The are some great comedic moments (mainly with Lenny), and the atmosphere is still bleak, ugly and there’s a feeling of hopelessness which only increases as the film progresses. The last 30 minutes are particularly sad, violent and intense. The movie is definitely slowly paced and doesn’t seem to have a drive to it, but it didn’t bother me too much.

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The acting is one of the best parts of the movies, it’s great. As I said it has the main cast of the Pusher trilogy (and the main actors of each of the Pusher movies) with Kim Bodnia, Mads Mikkelsen and Zlatko Buric, all of them are really good in their parts. The best performance in the movie is probably from Kim Bodnia. He was great in Pusher, but he is even stronger here. His character starts off relatively calm but goes down a dark path over the course of the film as we see and learn more about him. The other main character is Lenny played by Mads Mikkelsen, a relatively quiet man who talks about movies and directors a lot, who’s clearly a representation of Nicolas Winding Refn himself. There’s even a joke in his first scene where he lists of a long list of directors which establishes his character very well. Mikkelsen is effortlessly watchable and likable in his part.

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Nicolas Winding Refn directs Bleeder very well, and it is stylistically comparable to the Pusher trilogy. The use of handheld camerawork is effective, the visuals are dark and gritty but more polished than the first Pusher. The sound design was great too, when gunshots happen you really hear it, and the ambient soundtrack is hypnotic.

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Bleeder is a bit of an odd movie with some of the writing decisions made, especially with how it mixes the two storylines together. However it is good on the whole, I was invested in the stories, the performances were good, and I liked Nicolas Winding Refn’s work as a director here. I’m very much aware that it’s very difficult to access the movie, but if you like Refn’s other movies, I do think it is worth checking out at the very least.

Pusher III: I’m the Angel of Death (2005) Review

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Pusher 3

Time: 108 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1]
Cast:
Zlatko Burić as Milo
Marinela Dekić as Milena
Ilyas Agac as Muhammed
Slavko Labović as Radovan
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Milo (Zlatko Buric) is a drug dealer and recovering addict who’s slowly coming unraveled. While trying to prepare for his daughter Milena’s (Marinela Dekic) birthday party, he discovers the shipment of heroin he was expecting is actually Ecstasy. Milo gives the pills to small-fry dealer Mohammed (Ilyas Agac) and, as the party begins, starts using narcotics again. Things go from bad to worse when Mohammad doesn’t return, and Milo’s Albanian connection demands payment for the Ecstasy.

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I have been gradually getting through Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher trilogy. The first movie was a solid standalone crime thriller, with the other two films being unintended sequels which only came as a result of Refn’s Fear X flopping. It’s strange then that both sequels manage to be overall stronger films than the first movie. Pusher III is another distinct entry for the trilogy, dark, compelling and visually stunning, it’s truly great.

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Pusher III acts as a finale to the trilogy with the protagonist role this time being filled by Milo, who was in a major supporting role as a known drug lord, appearing in Pusher I in a major supporting role, and appearing in Pusher II in a cameo part. The film is set over one day and focuses on Milo as he tries to juggle his business with his daughter’s birthday party. He is constantly busy trying to keep his business alive while also having to be there for his family. First of all, I really like how the film explores this character and made him compelling. At the start we see him trying to better himself considering his circumstances and work, but over time we see his surroundings pull himself back to his old self again. Also we see how tough the criminal underworld really is, in the previous two movies we see Milo the drug lord being so calm and in control, but in the third movie it really shows that he’s constantly struggling to stay alive. The film does retain the style of the previous two Pusher movies but also moves at a slower pace, with more of a focus on the lead character over the general sleaze. The youthful angst and energy of the first two movies are gone, and its just about one night of chaos, stress, anxiety, and an undercurrent of sadness. Despite how the movie is for the first half, Pusher III overall is the most depressing and bleakest movie in the trilogy. It gets to some particularly grim parts, mostly towards the end.

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The acting is good from everyone, but the main player here is Zlatko Buric as lead character Milo. Much is riding on Buric, as his character is key to the whole movie working and he more than delivers. His performance is complex, and he adds more depth to the character, who was already the most intriguing character from the first film. Refn and Buric do well to make Milo a somewhat likable character all things considering. In contrast to the previous two Pusher protagonists, he’s older, wiser, more rational, and has a more stable life. Zlatko was very compelling to watch as he was portraying everything that Milo goes through over the course of this one night. It is mostly the Zlakto Buric show in terms of acting, but if there was a supporting actor that is a highlight, it is Slavko Labovic, who appears in the last act and is great in his screentime.

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Nicolas Winding Refn’s direction was as fantastic as I expected it to be. It might not reach the stylistic heights of Pusher II, but the more realistic and subdued look works better for the character of Milo. There’s some great cinematography with some fantastic use of colour, and the sound design and score really fitted the film. Despite it being less of an overt thriller compared to the first two Pusher movies, Refn still does a good job at building up tension in an effective way. For the most part Pusher III isn’t as violent as Refn’s other movies including the previous two movies… until it gets to the climax, which has by far the most gruesome and graphic scenes that he’s directed. There is a lot of blood and gore at the end, however it works for the tone of the movie.

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It is interesting to see the second and third Pusher movies end up being better than the first one, despite it being an unintended trilogy. While I still think that Pusher II is the best of the trilogy, I think Pusher III is still truly great. A dark and bleak character focused crime drama, that’s fantastically directed and led by an excellent performance from Zlatko Buric. If you watched the previous Pusher movies or even just other Refn movies, I highly recommend checking it out.

House of Gucci (2021) Review

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House of Gucci

Time: 129 Minutes
Age Rating: 2773-o[1] Violence, offensive language & sex scenes
Cast:
Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani
Adam Driver as Maurizio Gucci
Jared Leto as Paolo Gucci
Jeremy Irons as Rodolfo Gucci
Salma Hayek as Giuseppina “Pina” Auriemma
Al Pacino as Aldo Gucci
Jack Huston as Domenico De Sole
Director: Ridley Scott

When Patrizia Reggiani, an outsider from humble beginnings, marries into the Gucci family, her unbridled ambition begins to unravel the family legacy and triggers a reckless spiral of betrayal, decadence, revenge — and ultimately murder.

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House of Gucci was one of my most anticipated films of 2021. It would be one of two Ridley Scott films coming that year (this and The Last Duel), it would have a large and talented cast with the likes of Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, and Al Pacino, and it would be about the Gucci family, which was something I didn’t know much about. It certainly had the potential to be one of Scott’s best, and while I wouldn’t go so far to call it that, I do think it’s quite good.

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The story was intriguing, I didn’t know where it would go outside of some key moments. Essentially its about a rich family at war with itself, and it was interesting seeing the scale and progression of everything. Something you will have to know early on is that the movie is definitely campy and silly, its over the top and occasionally leans into soap opera and melodrama. This joyful campiness might not work for everyone, but I thought that it made the movie more fun to watch. I do feel like it couldn’t seem to fully decide whether it was going to be a serious drama or a campy comedy, and it mostly jumps between the two throughout. I think that the movie would’ve been better served by leaning more into the camp elements (like many of the performances do, mainly Gaga’s and Leto’s). It is a very long movie at 2 hours and 40 minutes and honestly I think it would’ve been better if it was longer, I am hoping for an extended/director’s cut from Ridley Scott in the future (since he’s known for them). The pacing is definitely steady and slow, there is a lot to cover (literal decades) and it builds up gradually over time. Sometimes the focus on particular elements was a little messy. It feels like it skips over some very important moments that would’ve helped to make the story make more sense. I did need to look up online about the real story so that I could get some context and understand some things. It also felt surprisingly very abrupt at the end, especially with how slow the film takes its time. It definitely would’ve benefitted by the third act being at least 20 minutes longer.

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One of the things most known about House of Gucci are the big names involved, and they are all good in their parts. Lady Gaga is great in the lead part of Patrizia Reggiani, she really gets into her role and shows a wide range of emotions throughout the whole film. She gets plenty of opportunities to chew the scenery and shines in all her scenes. Adam Driver is reliably good and relatively restrained, Al Pacino is great, Jeremy Irons is in less scenes than many of the other actors, but he’s really good in his scenes. The most divisive performance is probably going to be that of Jared Leto. He is sporting a lot of prosthetics to make himself unrecognisable, and has a very over the top Italian accent. He is very much the comic relief of the film, and in a way his ridiculous performance really works for the campy nature of film. The scenes between him and Pacino were particularly great. Other actors like Jack Huston and Salma Hayek also bring it to their respective parts.

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The direction by Ridley Scott is reliably great, and he provides the style that this film needs. It’s fantastically shot, and the production design and costumes are incredible as to be expected. The score from Harry Gregson-Williams and the soundtrack choices were great.

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The reaction to House of Gucci has certainly shown the movie as being divisive amongst a lot of people. It does have its issues, it could’ve been longer to flesh out some elements, and the movie would’ve benefitted from leaning further into the campier elements. On the whole though, I was engaged with the story, Ridley’s direction was solid, and the performances were great. So I think it is at least worth checking out.

Pig (2021) Review

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Pig

Time: 92 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence & offensive language
Cast:
Nicolas Cage as Robin “Rob” Feld
Alex Wolff as Amir
Adam Arkin as Darius
Director: Michael Sarnoski

Living alone in the Oregon wilderness, a truffle hunter (Nicolas Cage) returns to Portland to find the person who stole his beloved pig.

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I heard some very positive things about Pig before going into it, at first it looked like a revenge movie about Nicolas Cage trying to get back his, pig but apparently it was a genuinely great film given the responses. I went in fairly blind outside of knowing the premise, and I was surprised by how amazing this film turned out to be.

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The plot is about Nicolas Cage as a truffle hunter living on his own except for his pig, his pig is then kidnapped, and this leads him on a journey into the city as he tries to find her. At first the plot doesn’t sound anything special. Despite that John Wick esque premise (with a pig instead of a dog), it is not really a revenge thriller. It basically subverts any expectations you might have from setups like this, and is an anti revenge movie. It’s an intriguing character study, and as the movie progresses it slowly reveals aspects about Cage’s character, and the history that is uncovered really is compelling. The choices made and the places the story and characters go to are interesting. Pig’s setup is certainly reminiscent of a revenge movie but evolves into an melancholic, existential reflection and meditation on emptiness and loss. Its about moving on and dealing with your past. There’s a lot to connect with here, and the take on grief is very human and handled with a lot of empathy. The dialogue is fantastic, with very riveting conversations. The moment I realised that this was a special movie was a conversation between Cage and a chief inside a restaurant, definitely one of the most memorable scenes in the whole film. At the same time, Pig can still say a lot without using a whole lot of dialogue. The movie is short at 90 minutes but it is also very slowly paced, and you’ll be sorely disappointed if you were expecting a revenge thriller. I do appreciate the steady progression of the storytelling however.

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The acting is also amazing. First of all is Nicolas Cage who delivers one of his all-time best performances and that’s saying a lot. Despite his reputation for being eccentric and over the top, Cage is comparatively restrained as he embodies the stoic and quiet character of Robin Feld. His acting is subdued and subtle, yet very powerful, and feels incredibly natural and believable here. Alex Wolff is also great here in possibly his best performance yet. His character is a business partner of Robin who decides to help him find his pig. Both Cage and Wolff share great chemistry, and the movie allows plenty of time for these two characters to open up to each other. The rest of the acting from the likes of Adam Arkin and more are also strong and memorable despite appearing in no more than 2 scenes.

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Michael Sarnoski directs Pig in his debut film, and his work here is great. The directing is definitely on the more subtle side, but nonetheless incredibly effective on a technical level. The cinematography is gorgeous from beginning to end, particularly with the scenes filmed in the forest earlier on. The music and sound are also strong, with a haunting and tonally rich score from Alexis Grapsas and Philip Klein adding a lot to the film.

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Pig was one of the biggest surprises of the year. Its beautifully and carefully crafted, the story and journey are compelling and unexpected, and it has some excellent performances from Nicolas Cage and Alex Wolff. It is one of the best films of 2021, and one well worth seeking out.

Titane (2021) Review

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Titane

Time: 117 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] Violence, sex scenes, nudity & content that may disturb
Cast:
Agathe Rousselle as Alexia
Vincent Lindon as Vincent
Garance Marillier as Justine
Laïs Salameh as Rayane
Director: Julia Ducournau

Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) suffers a terrible skull injury and has a titanium plate fitted into her head. When she gets out of the hospital, she rejects her parents and embraces passionately the car that almost killed her. She meets Vincent (Vincent Lindon). Vincent is a tortured man who tries to preserve his strength by injecting steroids into his aging body. Will they find a way to deal with their emotional problems?

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I heard that Titane was the Palme d’Or winner, which definitely got my attention. I soon learnt that the director was Julia Ducournau, who previously made Raw, a movie that I’ve been meaning to check out for a while. I watched it and found it to be an incredible film, and it only increased my anticipation for her next movie. Having seen Titane, I can confirm that it is amazing, even if it’s not for everyone.

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I won’t spoil the movie, much of it is worth going into yourself. It is hard to describe without saying too much, but I’ll do my best. However, I’d say that part of the premise is that a serial killer with a titanium plate in her head has sex with a car and finds herself pregnant. Of course the movie is more than just that but if your interest switched off after learning that, then chances are this movie might not be for you. The direction the story goes in is genuinely interesting though, and one worth experiencing for yourself. The first 30-40 minutes are very brutal and gruesome, and body horror is a present part throughout. However I expected that, pregnancy by car aside. It’s the second two thirds that caught me off guard, the second half is comparatively less grotesque and that’s where you find out what the movie is about. The script is original and ambitious, and I was invested in the story. The movie is certainly insane, unsettling and unnerving, and it takes influence from the likes of David Cronenberg (especially his 1996 film Crash). Despite many of the scenes in the movie, Julia Ducournau isn’t interested in ramping up the gore and being outwardly disturbing (outside of maybe the first act). The writing is very sincere, disarmingly sweet, and bizarrely beautiful. It was more profound and emotionally resonant than I was expecting. There’s a lot to take away from the movie and analyse. However I can tell from this one viewing that Titane was about family, abandonment and acceptance in its strangest form. Identity is also a big part, especially gender identity and gender fluidity. The movie does a great job at juggling multiple different tones and themes. As for issues, the first act and the rest of the movie does feel quite disjointed, mainly with how different they feel in tone. It doesn’t have a focused central idea like Raw did, and so its initially quite hard to figure out where the story is going. I do get the feeling it would improve on repeat viewing (but only if you really wanted to watch it again).

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The performances are great, and it mostly comes down to the main two lead characters who are very fleshed out. Agathe Rousselle plays the main character of Alexia. At first she’s really not a character you start to like, especially given that she’s a serial killer who at first seems to stab anyone she meets. However you sympathise with her by the end, mainly in the second half. Helping this is a memorable, transformative, and committed performance from Rousselle, particularly impressive given that this is her first performance. Vincent Lindon is equally great as the captain of a firehouse who is also a father who’s lost his son. His performance is effectively restrained and sensitive, and his scenes with Rousselle are fantastic.

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Julia Ducournau has once again shown herself to be an outstanding director. On a technical level, Titane is a massive step up from Raw, and that movie was already greatly directed. The cinematography and camerawork are amazing, visually striking with some very memorable imagery throughout. The sound design is rich and the score from Jim Williams (Possessor and Raw) is eerie and effective. The film is unflinching when it comes to the scenes of gore and violence, and the effects were impressive.

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Titane will certainly be one of the most memorable and talked about films of the year. It will definitely alienate many people because of the graphic content and bizarreness. However I found it to be an intriguing mix of body horror and heartfelt drama, with excellent writing and direction, and great performances from the leads. Amongst my favourite films from 2021.

The Lost Daughter (2021) Review

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The Lost Daughter

Time: 121 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Sex scenes, offensive language & content that may disturb
Cast:
Olivia Colman as Leda Caruso
Jessie Buckley as Young Leda Caruso
Dakota Johnson as Nina
Peter Sarsgaard as Professor Hardy
Ed Harris as Lyle
Director: Maggie Gyllenhaal

A college professor (Olivia Colman) confronts her unsettling past after meeting a woman (Dakota Johnson) and her young daughter while on vacation in Italy. Her obsession with the woman and her daughter prompts memories of her early motherhood.

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The Lost Daughter is the third of the three movie tickets I secured as part of the NZIFF, and it’s one of my most anticipated movies of 2021. This would be Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut and would consist of a great cast including Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson, Jessie Buckley, and Ed Harris. I went in only really knowing the main premise, seeing a trailer, and hearing that some people had split reactions to it. I’m glad to say that I’m one of the people who really liked The Lost Daughter.

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The Lost Daughter is a bit of an unconventional movie, at least with its narrative. Essentially it follows Olivia Colman on a holiday in Greece, she meets a woman with a difficult child (played by Dakota Johnson) and that brings up her own motherhood with her two young girls portrayed in flashbacks (with the younger Colman played by Jessie Buckley). The film then jumps between past and present, revealing the regrets and reflections that Colman has. The plot definitely unravels in an unusual way but very much moves to its own rhythm and pace. It could’ve been a mess of a structure, but Maggie Gyllenhaal pulls it off, I was invested enough in the story and character to want to see and learn more. The Lost Daughter is essentially an unflinching character study following a woman thinking back on her life, and it’s also a look at motherhood which touches on the struggles of parenthood and the toll it takes on the parent. Additionally, it delves into themes like femininity and motherhood, and the feelings and regrets that come from being a mother. It’s not an easy movie to watch, I know that many viewers will struggle to stay following this protagonist with some of the things she does, and it’s a hard topic to cover (and one that a lot of people don’t like to think about). However Gyllenhaal pulls it off by remaining empathetic, not judging its characters, and handles its challenging views on motherhood with a lot of nuance. Its very honest, meditative and human as certain truths are revealed about different characters. In terms of issues with the film, the constant flashbacks can take away from the depth of character work in the present sections, and they are jarring in the first act. Also at the end, some things weren’t as tied up as greatly as I would’ve like, there was particularly one conclusion towards the end which felt a little bit of a let down.

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The acting is phenomenal and one of the best parts of the film. First of all is the lead character Leda, who is a complex character that is full of contradictions. She is selfish and unlikable at times, a very difficult character to play. However both actresses do a superb job at portraying her. The present day Leda is played by Olivia Colman, she is a quiet presence. D plays her with a lot of nuance and in a way that makes you understand her. One of her best performances, and that’s saying a lot considering a lot of her recent work. Jessie Buckley plays the younger Leda, and she was a perfect casting choice as a younger Colman. She’s more showy than Colman’s comparatively subtle performance, but she effectively portrayed her desire for an escape out of her motherly life and really plays up her humanity. Another fantastic performance from Buckley. Both Colman and Buckley are believable as the same person, while avoiding feeling like they’re trying to imitate each other. The two performances are full of empathy and fleshed out versions of the same character. Dakota Johnson is used sparingly in this film but this is very likely one of the best performances I’ve seen from her. She’s able to tell a lot without saying much, even just with her facial expressions, body language and subtle glances. Ed Harris, Peter Sarsgaard, Paul Mescal and Oliver Jackson-Cohen are comparatively short on screentime but all do well to make their presences felt and are good in their parts.

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As I said earlier, this is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s first film as a director and she’s done a great job here. It does feel like a debut movie with some aspects with the camerawork and editing, but it’s a strong debut nonetheless. The eerie atmosphere helped the movie to dive deeper into Leda’s headspace throughout. The cinematography is also great, with making use of the locations in Greece in the present day, but are particularly effective with the close ups of the characters.

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The Lost Daughter is not an easy movie to watch and isn’t for everyone. However I thought it was great. A slowly paced yet engaging and compelling character drama, we’ll directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal, and with phenomenal performances, especially from Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley and Dakota Johnson. The movie will be on Netflix in December, and I think it’s worth checking out at the very least.

The Green Knight (2021) Review

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The Green Knight

Time: 130 Minutes
Cast:
Dev Patel as Sir Gawain
Alicia Vikander as Essel and the Lady
Joel Edgerton as the Lord
Sarita Choudhury as Morgan le Fay
Sean Harris as King Arthur
Ralph Ineson as the Green Knight
Barry Keoghan as the Scavenger
Erin Kellyman as Winifred
Kate Dickie as Queen Guinevere
Director: David Lowery

King Arthur’s headstrong nephew (Dev Patel) embarks on a daring quest to confront the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson), a mysterious giant who appears at Camelot. Risking his head, he sets off on an epic adventure to prove himself before his family and court.

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I was greatly anticipating The Green Knight. I was a fan of David Lowery, director of A Ghost Story, Pete’s Dragon, and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, and it had a good cast that included Dev Patel and Alicia Vikander. From the descriptions it was a medieval fantasy based off an Arthurian legend and I was interested to see how Lowery would do with that. The Green Knight isn’t for everyone by any means, but I found watching it to be a phenomenal experience.

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Try to go into the movie blind, the less you know about the movie, the better. The Green Knight is based on a 14th Century poem (called Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) which I’m unfamiliar with. Essentially (and without spoiling anything) the movie is about the protagonist Sir Gawain going on an epic journey to seek honour and fulfil his destiny. It sounds simple and familiar, but its not a conventional (or easily accessible) movie by any means. It certainly wasn’t the type of movie I was expecting. This is definitely not like most fantasy films or tv like Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. The story has such a grand scope, but its also blended with this deeply intimate emotional journey, a journey which I found thoroughly compelling. Much of the movie is Gawain wandering different lands and encountering other individuals on his spiritual journey. This movie very much subverts the familiar ‘hero’s journey’ trope, and deconstructs it, and thematically there is so much here to unpack. It is a very contemplative and meditative film, and as such is very much a slow burn. It takes its time to establish its themes, tone, and the development of the main character. However I was personally never bored, I was drawn into this dreamlike world especially with its surrealistic atmosphere. I was surprised at how effectively unsettling it was considering what the movie is based on, there is this constant sense of impending doom which kept me riveted all the way to the end. The last 20 minutes was truly spectacular, with the movie ending with one of the most visually stunning sequences I’ve seen.

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There are a lot of great actors in this movie, and they are all really good in their parts. First of all, you have Dev Patel as the lead character of Gawain and this has to be the best performance I’ve seen from him. He’s perfectly cast in this role, the whole film follows him, and he does well carrying it. It’s a very subtle performance, you feel the weight and gravity of what’s happening and you see his state of mind just from his expressions alone. The supporting cast were all fantastic too. Alicia Vikander is really good and memorable in dual roles, definitely a standout in the cast. Sean Harris and Joel Edgerton are great. Barry Keoghan is only in one scene but makes a strong impression, and Ralph Ineson is great as the Green Knight in his few appearances.

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David Lowery has directed some great movies, but The Green Knight is on a whole other level compared to what he’s done before, his work here is practically flawless. It is lower budget at around $15 million, but everything on a technical level from the sound design, camera work, visuals and set designs are stellar. I imagine that it would’ve been amazing to watch this on the big screen. The cinematography is truly phenomenal and dreamlike, it just felt so epic and magical. It really is one of the most visually mesmerising films I’ve seen in recent years. The film does use CGI, but it is minimal and subtle, and the fact that they shot on location goes a long way. The sets and costumes are very well detailed too. The score from Daniel Hart is great, a mix of epic and folk music, really helping to set the tone of the film.

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The Green Knight lingers in the mind long after I watched it, and it is a movie I want to revisit in the future. It definitely isn’t for everyone, but I loved it. The performances are outstanding led by a career best Dev Patel, the story is compelling with a unique take on the hero’s journey, and the visuals and David Lowery’s direction was amazing to watch. One of my favourite movies of 2021 thus far.