Category Archives: History

Small Axe: Red, White and Blue (2020) Review

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Red, White and Blue

Time: 80 Minutes
Cast:
John Boyega as Leroy Logan
Steve Toussaint as Ken Logan
Joy Richardson as Mrs. Logan
Corey Peterson as Philford
Neil Maskell as Inspector Willis
Stephen Boxer as Chief Inspector
Director: Steve McQueen

Spotlights the true story of Leroy Logan (John Boyega), who at a young age saw his father (Steve Toussaint) assaulted by two policemen, motivating him to join the Metropolitan Police and change their racist attitudes from within. Part of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series of films.

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I have been watching the Small Axe movies, all directed by Steve McQueen. I really liked Mangrove but was a little mixed on Lover’s Rock. I was interested to continue on with the third movie: Red, White and Blue. I knew that it was about John Boyega in a biopic in the role of a real life police officer and that’s it. It was really good and so far one of the stronger movies in the Small Axe anthology.

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Red, White and Blue is more straightforward and lowkey compared to the previous two Small Axe movies. It also takes a distinctly different approach compared to those other stories, this time following the perspective of a police officer. Red, White and Blue is not only an examination of police culture and institutional racism, it’s also an uncomfortably timely look at how trying to reform a broken system that’s uninterested in change is futile. When the lead character of Leroy chooses to be a police officer, the community turns against him, and even his fellow police officers don’t afford him the same respect and treatment because of his race. It is frustrating to watch at times, but in the way that it is meaning to. Of the first three movies it does have the best character work. It does very well at conveying this internal conflict following the lead character, while setting it against a larger systemic backdrop. In terms of issues, it does feel like it’s glossing over some important information. There’s a lot of potential in the story of a black man trying to change a racist police force from the inside, but the outcome is a little too straightforward. It has a short runtime at just 80 minutes long. It does end a little abruptly and I wanted it to be longer. I think it would’ve benefited from at least another 20-30 minutes to flesh out some relationships and arcs better. With all that being said, I feel like the moment where it ends the story was a deliberate choice, leaving it at a low point with the hopelessness of the situation, and I do appreciate that. A standard biopic would probably continue onwards to show how Leroy would go on and make a lot of change and now everything is alright (which it isn’t). We don’t get closure because there is no closure given, there is no reformation whatsoever.

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The acting is great all round. John Boyega is in the lead role as police officer Leroy Logan, and this is the best work I’ve seen him deliver. Compared to the previous two Small Axe movies where they are ensemble pieces, all the weight is put on the lead to carry this story and Boyega more than delivers. Another noteworthy performer is that of Steve Toussaint as Leroy’s father, a victim of police brutality who is opposed to his son’s decision to become a police officer. The strained relationship between the father and son is given a lot of layers and depth as the film progresses.

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Like with the other two Small Axe films, Red White and Blue is on a TV budget but is nonetheless elevated by the direction from Steve McQueen. There is less emphasis on style, it’s about on the script and as such the film definitely has the same tone and feel as the other Small Axe movies. With all that said, it does make itself somewhat different from the past two movies, straying from the striking colour pallets of Lovers Rock and instead having a more restrained atmosphere. It may not be one of McQueen’s best efforts on a technical level, but it still results on a greater focus on the character driven narrative.

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Red, White and Blue is a great movie that’s well worth checking out. It’s a well crafted and timely biopic with an incredibly meaningful story, led by a strong (and career best) lead performance from John Boyega.

Chernobyl (2019) TV Review

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Chernobyl

Cast:
Jared Harris as Valery Legasov
Stellan Skarsgård as Boris Shcherbina
Emily Watson as Ulana Khomyuk
Paul Ritter as Anatoly Dyatlov
Jessie Buckley as Lyudmilla Ignatenko
Adam Nagaitis as Vasily Ignatenko
Con O’Neill as Viktor Bryukhanov
Adrian Rawlins as Nikolai Fomin
Sam Troughton as Aleksandr Akimov
Robert Emms as Leonid Toptunov
David Dencik as Mikhail Gorbachev
Mark Lewis Jones as Vladimir Pikalov
Alan Williams as Charkov
Alex Ferns as Andrei Glukhov
Ralph Ineson as Nikolai Tarakanov
Barry Keoghan as Pavel Gremov
Fares Fares as Bacho
Michael McElhatton as Andrei Stepashin
Creator: Craig Mazin

In April 1986, the city of Chernobyl in the Soviet Union suffers one of the worst nuclear disasters in the history of mankind. Consequently, many heroes put their lives on the line to save Europe.

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I remember when I was first hearing a lot about an HBO show about the events of Chernobyl, it was one of the most highly reviewed and praised mini series’ that I had heard of. So I was going into it fairly optimistic and I really wasn’t expecting it to be as great as it turned out to be. Chernobyl was a truly excellent show, depicting the true life events with such realism and weight that made it hard to watch, but is nonetheless well made on all fronts and riveting from beginning to end.

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The writing for Chernobyl is all around fantastic, and I was completely engaged across its 5 episodes. Not one scene felt unimportant or out of place, it’s just so well put together. Each episode concentrates on its own phase of the disaster, and each phase is handled well. Episode 1 begins with the early moments of the disaster during the initial explosion. After that point, the show approaches the disaster on both a macro and micro scale, as we follow the undertaking that Jared Harris’s Valery Legasov and Stellan Skarsgard’s Boris Shcherbina face when trying to prevent a global catastrophe from occurring after the disaster has occurred. However it also focuses attention to the impact that the explosion had on the citizens of Pripyat such as Jessie Buckley’s pregnant Lyudmilla Ignatenko and Barry Keoghan’s young draftee turned animal exterminator. The story is told with such painstaking attention to detail. It does take liberties, but they seem warranted and it was in service of the overall series. It so perfectly crafts the fear and trauma of the events in such a haunting way. I actually don’t think I’ve watched any piece of live action media that conveys this much dread as HBO’s Chernobyl. It’s also very impressive that it manages to take a threat that feels invisible on screen, and make it feel tangible and dangerous. The miniseries does a great job at commemorating all the countless unknown and forgotten people who risked their lives to try to deal with this situation. The scariest part of the whole show is that these events happened, really adding such a weight to the series when you’re watching. Chernobyl at first beings as a graphic recreation of events, but is more than just a tv series about a tragedy. It’s an exploration about the terrible human and environmental consequences and by the end is a systemic breakdown of a government’s limitations, especially with what they choose to hide. It recounts the major events of the disaster but also gives insight as to why it transpired in the first place. The story feels very grounded in reality throughout, transitioning from being scary, to sad, to even hopeful within seconds. It might be a pretty obvious statement to say but Chernobyl is very bleak and not an easy watch for many reasons. It is very harrowing but it’s a deeply rewarding experience. The end result is a dramatization of events that’s both absorbing and deeply affecting.

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The acting from the cast is all around fantastic. Getting it out of the way, much of the accents from the actors are English, which can be a bit distracting given that they aren’t Russian. However the alternative would be all of these actors attempting Russian accents, so it’s probably for the best. First of all are the leads played by Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgard and Emily Watson, who are all great in their parts. The highlights for me were Harris and Skarsgard who are fantastic as these professionals in uncharted territory as they try their best to make sure the disaster doesn’t become worse than it already is. The chemistry between Harris and Skarsgard was so amazing and their dynamic changes from their first onscreen appearance to their last. The supporting cast are all outstanding too. The highlights among them being Jessie Buckley as the pregnant wife of a firefighter who was one of the first responders to the disaster, Barry Keoghan as a soldier whose job it is to kill infected animals, and Paul Ritter as a Soviet Engineer who was partly responsible for the disaster in the first place.

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It was all incredibly directed too, with all 5 episodes being handled by Johan Renck. On a technical level it is shot beautifully, with the unnerving yet incredible cinematography. The set designs are exceptional, meticulously recreating Soviet controlled Ukraine which is both impressive and hauntingly beautiful. The whole show has this overcast dystopian look to it which is quite appropriate for the story and tone. Although it’s not a show with many ‘action’ scenes, there are some incredibly breath-taking and tense sequences. An example is the depiction of a rooftop radiation-clearing excursion which was absolutely chill inducing, especially helped by the claustrophobic and truly immersive sound design. The makeup and practical effects is truly detailed and outstanding too, making the representation of what happened to people exposed to the radiation hard to look at. Finally, of course is the eerie and otherworldly score from Hildur Guonadottir, which provides the series with this constant unsettling aura. It perfectly fit the show throughout.

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In all honesty, Chernobyl is some of the best made pieces of television I’ve ever seen, and one of the best miniseries’ I’ve watched. It’s phenomenal on all fronts, with the writing, directing and acting, the story is tragic yet absorbing and compelling. It’s not one I really want to experience again, but I think it is worth watching at least one.

The Seventh Seal (1957) Review

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The Seventh Seal

Time: 96 Minutes
Cast:
Gunnar Björnstrand as Jöns
Bengt Ekerot as Death
Nils Poppe as Jof
Max von Sydow as Antonius Block
Bibi Andersson as Mia
Inga Landgré as Karin
Åke Fridell as Blacksmith Plog
Director: Ingmar Bergman

Max Von Sydow stars as a 14th century knight named Antonius Block, wearily heading home after ten years’ worth of combat. Disillusioned by unending war, plague, and misery Block has concluded that God does not exist. As he trudges across the wilderness, Block is visited by Death (Bengt Ekerot), garbed in the traditional black robe. Unwilling to give up the ghost, Block challenges Death to a game of chess. If he wins, he lives — if not, he’ll allow Death to claim him.

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The Seventh Seal was known one of those “greatest movies of all time” that I just hadn’t gotten around to watching just yet. I had seen some of the images from the film with the knight playing chess with Death, and that was literally it. I also hadn’t seen a movie from director Ingmar Bergman before, so really going into the movie, I really didn’t know what to expect. The Seventh Seal was actually an excellent film, and I was invested in it more than I thought I would be.

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The Seventh Seal is essentially about a knight who contemplates an endless number of questions about the existence of God, death and life in the midst of the black plague that hit his hometown. We follow him and other different characters that he comes across while continuously playing a literally game of life and death through chess with Death personified. The movie really delivers on being a fantastical philosophical drama that’s complex and intriguing. The film touches on a lot of topics including, faith, religion, death and existence of God. The movie is filled with intelligent, contemplative and memorable dialogue, raising questions in regard to what life means, the uncertainty of what happens after death, and approaches the concepts of mortality and death. The themes are certainly depressing yet riveting, and also puts life into perspective in a unique philosophical way. The movie surprisingly didn’t feel that depressing since it had a relatively light tone most of the time. The movie has some fun moments, and even silly moments that you wouldn’t initially expect in this movie. There’s quite a lot of humour (mostly dark humour) injected into what could’ve been a purely solemn film about death. I would not class this movie as a comedy by any means, but the humour brings a lightness to its subject manner and certainly makes it easier to watch. It is very satirical and entertaining all things considering. The Seventh Seal might be known an art house movie, but it’s more accessible than you would think. The dialogue, conversations and themes alone are intriguing enough, and is entertaining and filled with enough lightness that you can access it. The short runtime of 97 minutes also helps the movie along, while the plot isn’t particularly driven by anything for the most part and is plotless, it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

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The acting is also wonderful too. Max von Sydow’s performance as Antonius Block, the knight and main character in this movie, and he’s amazing in this role. Gunnar Bjornstrand plays Block’s squire, and stands out with his charisma and wittiness, definitely a large source of the comedy in the movie. Ingmar Bergman makes Death a walking, talking character in this movie, which provides for some very interesting conversations. Bengt Ekerot plays him, and he’s truly great and memorable, a real presence on and off screen.

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This is the first movie I’ve seen from Ingmar Bergman, and from this movie alone I can tell he’s an excellent filmmaker. This movie contains some beautiful cinematography with its spectacular lighting (the use of natural light is particularly fantastic) and monochrome look, as well as stunning and instantly iconic imagery. The locations and set designs are utilised exceptionally well too. The score was memorable and appropriately used throughout. Something that Bergman does well is make Death as a concept feel present throughout, even when Bengt Ekerot isn’t on screen.

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I liked The Seventh Seal much more than I expected to. It covers darker topics and themes like life and death, while also being quite intriguing and even entertaining to watch. It’s helped even further with the strong performances and the excellent direction from Ingmar Bergman. Even if you think that you might not get into it, I do recommend at the very least giving it a look.

Being the Ricardos (2021) Review

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Being the Ricardos

Time: 131 minutes
Cast:
Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball
Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz
J.K. Simmons as William Frawley
Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance
Tony Hale as Jess Oppenheimer
Alia Shawkat as Madelyn Pugh
Jake Lacy as Bob Carroll Jr.
Clark Gregg as Howard Wenke
Director: Aaron Sorkin

In 1952, Hollywood power couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz face personal and professional obstacles that threaten their careers, their relationship, and their hit television show.

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Being the Ricardos was a upcoming major awards contender that I had been hearing about for a while. I will admit though that despite not knowing much about it outside of some of the people involved, I was a little sceptical going in. First of all, it was a biopic movie focussing on notable film/tv people, and the movie looked like prime Oscar bait. Also the movie is written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, whose work could be a mixed bag at times, especially when it comes to whatever he directs. Still, it received Oscar nominations for the performances from Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem and J.K. Simmons, so I thought I should check it out, and went into it open minded. Unfortunately, I just don’t think that the movie was particularly good.

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I should state first of all that I am not familiar with Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz or the show I Love Lucy, and went into this movie quite blind. However, even as someone who didn’t know of the subjects beforehand, I just didn’t find the film all that interesting, and I found it fairly dull. If the story of Lucille and Desi in real life was interesting, it certainly didn’t survive being compressed and repackaged into the biopic formula. The story of the movie follows Lucille and Desi over one stressful week, it seems simple enough but somehow the storytelling is very flawed here. The story as it was told just felt so disjointed, while the series of events play out over this particular week, it jumps across multiple points in time with an overreliance on flashbacks and flashforwards which muddles everything. To give context to all these events messily crammed into this movie, characters spent a lot of time stating facts about each other or clunkily discussing historical and cultural elements. For whatever reason, there is this present-day faux documentary framing device running throughout the movie where older versions of the three lead show writers for I Love Lucy are being interviewed. Every so often, the movie would just cut to these talking head mouthpieces, and every time this happened, it would be so disruptive and annoying. The dialogue was already on the nose and obvious, but the fact that they practically spoonfeed us the story by flat out telling us what is happening, it almost feels patronising. Count the number of times you hear “what you’ve got to understand is…” from one character alone.

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Even as someone who aren’t familiar with the true life events, there’s some handling of the history that felt very off. The prime example is this inconsequential aspect where Lucille Ball is rumoured to be a communist. Even within the plot of the movie, it plays a very small part, but from the very beginning of the film it is fixated and focused on so much, to a quite frankly weird degree. You really get the feeling that this is getting into the writer’s own politics over the actual true events. The way that subplot is resolved towards the end in a scene with Javier Bardem on a phone call in front of an audience is hilariously absurd and ludicrous. I didn’t really learn anything from this storyline, the only thing that I can say coming out of it is that I’m confident that Aaron Sorkin would’ve been a supporter of the Hollywood Blacklist. Speaking of Sorkin, you can definitely feel that it’s a movie from him, and I mean that in a bad way. You really do feel like he’s really going for an Oscar here, and it somehow makes the movie even worse. His scripts always seem to have this self-perception of cleverness but it is especially grating here, the faux documentary framing device being an example of one of his decisions that make it harder to watch. Even when you put all of that aside, I just found myself so unengaged by the film as it progresses through the events. I couldn’t be emotionally engaged with the characters, and there was nothing keeping me invested in the story. There was just something dispassionate and underwhelming about the whole experience.

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I would love to say that the acting elevates the movie. While it’s the best part of the movie, its not enough to save the movie. The acting is mostly decent, but much of the cast feel like they are playing caricatures rather than real people. Nicole Kidman is pretty good as Lucille Ball, even if it definitely doesn’t rank amongst her best performances. I will say that annoyingly with the writing she’s given, Lucille does feel like another ‘Sorkin protagonist’, much like how Sorkin wrote Steve Jobs and Abbie Hoffman. To Kidman’s credit though, she comes across as being a fully formed human, especially in contrast to the other actors. It’s just that there weren’t any times throughout the film where I felt that it was anything beyond a decent performance. Javier Bardem is the co-lead in this as Desi Arnaz. He’s fine enough, but like Kidman, its definitely not one of his best performances. Questionable casting choice aside, he is a bit of a caricature and is very hammy. Definitely not bland or boring, but nothing great. The chemistry between Kidman and Bardem just wasn’t there, which is a big mark against it considering that the relationship between the two people was a key part of the movie. J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda are serviceable in their supporting roles, but don’t get much to do with the writing that they are given.

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Being the Ricardos is directed by Aaron Sorkin, and this film is further proof that Sorkin is at his best when his scripts are directed by anyone else. While the direction is competent, its done so blandly and lacks any kind of personality, especially on a visual level. Even his last two movies had more to them. The costumes, hair, makeup, presentation is nothing special, everything feels like they’re on autopilot.

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I’m sure that the actual story of these people is quite interesting. However, what is presented here is a functional but uninteresting, bland and occasionally grating to watch biopic that fails to engage, from the writing through to the direction. Even the performances aren’t good enough to elevate the movie beyond an average biopic. I’d only recommend this movie to people who want to catch up on the Oscar nominations from this most recent awards season. For what it’s worth, Being the Ricardos was by far the worst movie of this year’s Oscar season that I’ve seen.

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.

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 Last Duel (2021) Review

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The Last Duel

Time:  153 minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Graphic violence, sex scenes, offensive language, rape & cruelty
Cast:
Matt Damon as Sir Jean de Carrouges
Adam Driver as Jacques Le Gris
Jodie Comer as Marguerite de Carrouges
Ben Affleck as Count Pierre d’Alençon
Director: Ridley Scott

Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) is a respected knight known for his bravery and skill on the battlefield. Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) is a squire whose intelligence and eloquence makes him one of the most admired nobles in court. When Le Gris viciously assaults Carrouges’ wife (Jodie Comer), she steps forward to accuse her attacker, an act of bravery and defiance that puts her life in jeopardy. The ensuing trial by combat, a gruelling duel to the death, places the fate of all three in God’s hands.

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The Last Duel was a movie I was looking forward to. It’s a medieval drama directed by Ridley Scott, and Ben Affleck and Matt Damon would be involved with writing the script (their first writing collaboration since Good Will Hunting) along with being some of the main actors alongside Adam Driver and Jodie Comer. The only issue going in was the premise of the movie, and it seemed like it could be completely mishandled, especially with the topic of rape being front and centre. It was a lot better than I was expecting, and I’d even consider The Last Duel to be one of my favourite movies of the year.

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The writing from Nicole Holofcener, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck is great. First of all, the plot structure of the script is worth mentioning. This movie has been compared to Rashomon for good reason, we see much of the events of the plot from three different perspectives. The first segment follows Jean (Matt Damon), and for me this was the weakest segment. In all fairness it did have a lot working against it. It felt awkward as it’s the first perspective we see, it is setting up and establishing a lot of characters and the setting, it’s a bit slow, and it’s not as interesting as the other sections. I do feel that it would probably improve on rewatches, but then again, most people who watch this movie won’t be particularly inclined to watch it again. It’s when you get onto the second segment following Jacques (Adam Driver) where it really picks up, as it adds more layers to the events and overall story. It’s at that point that you realise that some of the events in that segment differ from Jean’s perspective, some subtle, some major, whether it be the performances or the dialogue, and it’s cleverly done. The second and third segments also sometimes repeat scenes but its usually to show the differences, and as a result they are much better paced and more interesting. However what makes the movie work is the third segment, following the perspective of Marguerite (Jodie Comer). That’s the section where everything comes together. First of all, I like how they establish that Comer’s perspective isn’t just her perspective, but also the absolute truth of what happened. It’s by far the most emotional and impactful segment of the film. Everything becomes clear, it displays the pride and the ego of the two duellists, and shows everything that Marguerite had to go through., The Last Duel is about rape, sexual assault and misogyny, and that by itself makes it a hard movie to watch (and you do see a rape scene in the second and third perspectives), but for what it’s worth, I thought that these tough subject matters was handled carefully. Despite building towards it the whole film, the titular duel is not portrayed as a glorious battle, in the context it is shown as two men really battling over their pride and egos. This movie is long at 2 hours and 30 minutes, and I thought that it earns its long runtime and uses it very well.

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The acting is great, and everyone does well at playing their parts. First and foremost, this is Jodie Comer’s movie. It might not feel that way at first in the first two segments. However when it gets to her segment, she is incredible and delivers a really powerful performance. Matt Damon and Adam Driver play the two duellists. Out of the main 4 actors, Damon is probably the weakest and most out of place in the film, but I still think he was good (questionable accent aside). Adam Driver is great as always and was very convincing in his part. A scene stealer is surprisingly a blonde Ben Affleck in a supporting role as a count. He’s really funny and memorable and injects a lot of humour into this movie in his screentime.

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Ridley Scott directs this film really well but that’s to be expected, it’s certainly strong on a technical level. The cinematography is beautiful and fitting for the tone of the movie. I was particularly impressed with the editing, mainly with how they portrayed the repeated events from different perspectives. The production design and costumes are effective and authentic, placing you right in the time period. There are battle scenes outside of the whole final duel which they are excellently brutal and grimy, probably the most graphic battle scenes that Scott has ever done. However its clear that most of these are only there long enough to establish that the battles happen, with most of them lasting 1-2 minutes. When it does come to the final battle, it is truly tense, brutal and fantastically done. From the choreography to the camerawork, it ends the film on a really high note. The music from Harry Gregson-Williams is also solid, really fitting the movie.

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An amazing, dark, brutal and uncomfortable medieval drama, The Last Duel was way better than I thought it would be. The script is great with an effective narrative structure, it is directed incredibly well, and features some outstanding performances, especially from Jodie Comer. It is definitely not an easy movie to watch by any means, and isn’t one of Scott’s most rewatchable movies. However, it is great and along with it being one of 2021’s best, I think I consider it to be one of Ridley Scott’s all-time best films. It’s unfortunate that it seems to be bombing at the box office, I do really think it is worth checking out if you haven’t already.

The Courier (2021) Review

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The Courier

Time: 112 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence & offensive language
Cast:
Benedict Cumberbatch as Greville Wynne
Merab Ninidze as Colonel Oleg Penkovsky
Rachel Brosnahan as Emily Donovan
Jessie Buckley as Sheila Wynne
Angus Wright as Dickie Franks
Director: Dominic Cooke

The true story of a British businessman (Benedict Cumberbatch) unwittingly recruited into one of the greatest international conflicts in history. Forming an unlikely partnership with a Soviet officer (Merab Ninidze) hoping to prevent a nuclear confrontation, the two men work together to provide the crucial intelligence used to defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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I heard some good things about The Courier. It was a cold war spy thriller that had a good cast, with Benedict Cumberbatch leading the movie, and it looked goo from the trailer, so I was interested in checking it out. The Courier was a conventional but solid true story spy thriller that is well worth a watch.

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The Courier is the true story of a salesman turned spy during the Cold War in the early 1960s, and while I know that some people might not be interested in the movie by that description alone, I think the movie is quite accessible on the whole. It keeps things simple, by not getting bogged down by all the details and spy jargon, it makes the movie more streamlined and enjoyable to watch. Along with that, the pacing works quite well. It’s not fast paced by any means; it is on the slower side but done in a thoughtful way that slowly builds up the tension. However, it is also faster than expected considering movies of this specific genre, and doesn’t outstay its welcome, at a runtime of an hour and 50 minutes long. I found the story to be quite interesting, and the script itself was well written. It was clever, witty, it has the right amount of humour and seriousness throughout to make it entertaining to watch, and the dramatic beats worked for me. It does seem to repeating itself to a degree for most of the movie, until it changes into being something different in the third act, which I thought was strong. The friendship between the lead character (played by Cumberbatch) and the Russian spy, two people on the opposite side of the political divide, was particularly compelling to watch. Definitely one of the strongest aspects of the movie. The Courier is a cold war thriller, and as that doesn’t really do anything special to break the mould. It is conventional and similar to other movies about wartime unsung heroes that are intended snag Oscar nominations. However, I was still invested the entire time, so that wasn’t a problem for me.

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The acting is a shining point in the movie. First of all, there’s Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role as the salesman who becomes a spy. This is his best performance since the Imitation Game, and for the most part, he is quite understated. His performance doesn’t just fall back into his bag of snarky tricks as in Sherlock Holmes or many of his other roles. His performance is nuanced and believable, and he particularly shines in the final act. Another great and heartfelt performance is from Merab Ninidze as the Russian spy, working at the same level as Cumberbatch. Some of the acting elevated a lot of their material, both Jessie Buckley and Rachel Brosnahan are in rather thankless roles but do a lot to make up for it. Buckley particularly plays the stock role of “wife who worries about husband” in this sort of movie, however gives a lot in her scenes.

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Dominic Cooke’s direction is pretty solid. It is very well shot and has a nice sharp look to it, with some excellent lighting. The costumes and production designs work for the time period as expected, and there’s a great and suspenseful score from Abel Korzeniowski. If there are any flaws in terms of the technical level, it’s the editing, especially in the first half. Occasionally it feels like its cutting short some of the scenes.

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As far as “based on a real story” Oscar Bait movies set in the Cold War era goes, The Courier is on the more exciting end. Clearly a lot of the movie was handled with care, the story is familiar and conventional but compelling and interesting nonetheless, it’s well shot, and the performances are great, particularly from Cumberbatch, Ninidze and Buckley. I think it’s worth checking out.

The Dig (2021) Review

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The Dig

Time: 112 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Sex scenes & nudity
Cast:
Carey Mulligan as Edith Pretty
Ralph Fiennes as Basil Brown
Lily James as Peggy Piggott
Johnny Flynn as Rory Lomax
Ben Chaplin as Stuart Piggott
Ken Stott as Charles Phillips
Archie Barnes as Robert Pretty
Monica Dolan as May Brown
Director: Simon Stone

In the late 1930s, wealthy landowner Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) hires amateur archaeologist Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to investigate the mounds on her property in England. He and his team discover a ship from the Dark Ages while digging up a burial ground.

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I first heard about The Dig on Netflix as it was one of their movies, it was a movie about digging up something important around World War II, but I wanted to watch because of the cast which includes Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes. Having finally seen it, I can say that it’s nothing that memorable and it’s mostly just okay, but for what it is, a British period drama based on a true story, it’s made fairly well.

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The script for The Dig is rather simple and it was a typical historical film based on a true story. There’s very little surprising or astonishing, and the character beats are predictable. It’s not that nothing of significance happens in this film considering the prospect of finding something important, as well as everything that the characters go through in their own lives. However the stakes feel pretty mild, The Dig is more of an easy, contemplative and laid back experience. It doesn’t try to be anything more than a simple story from the past, and to a degree I respect that. It does cover a real-life story that is interesting mainly for history and archelogy buffs. Even though I’m not an archelogy buff and it didn’t feel like much happened in the story, I thought it was compelling enough, and it had its emotional moments. During the whole first half, I was interested with the characters, and their storylines and how they developed. Where some problems start appearing is in the second half where it loses its focus once it expands beyond the main cast of Mulligan and Fiennes, Fiennes particularly becomes a secondary character. The second half overstays its welcome and introduces some unwelcome subplots, more on that later. Something that most viewers will feel is that the movie moves a little bit slower than it needed to. It certainly felt a little too slow for me to be completely gripped with the story. Some scenes feel unnecessarily long and drag on for quite some time, and despite an hour and 52 minutes not being an extremely long runtime, it does feel a little tedious at times. It certainly isn’t helped by the occasionally dragging pacing. The subplots introduced in the second half were a bit too much, one that comes to mind instantly was a love triangle subplot involving Lily James and Johnny Flynn. It didn’t really add anything to the story, just forced melodrama. After watching the movie I looked up what happened in real life and it turns out the film does take some creative liberties and particularly changes up some key details about the characters. Without getting too into it here, these decisions actually made the movie worse despite the intentions to make things more dramatic and interesting. Unsurprisingly, that aforementioned love triangle was one of the creative liberties taken, in fact much of what happened with Lily James’s character’s story in the movie didn’t happen in real life.

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The cast will be the main draw for most people who watch The Dig, and in fairness there are some really talented actors involved. The main cast are great with Ralph Fiennes as the weathered and capable excavator, and Carey Mulligan as the main landowner whose land is being dug up. Supporting cast was good including Lily James and Johnny Flynn, even the young actor who plays Carey Mulligan’s son.

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The direction from Simon Stone is also pretty good. First of all, it has some fantastic cinematography, really capturing the English countryside’s sights with its glorious wide shots and sweeping camera movements. It even felt like a Terrence Malick movie at times. The production values are strong with the set design and costume design capturing the time period well. Finally the piano score is great, dreamy and relaxing, it really matches the tone of the movie well.

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It does feel like some potential of the Dig was wasted considering the premise and story, and it’s a pretty forgettable movie unfortunately. However for what it’s worth, I think it’s a decent movie. The cast and the directing certainly elevate it quite a lot, and I’m glad I watched it. It is a movie that I would have playing in the background more than actively watching, but it’s an okay movie, and one worth checking out if you like the cast involved or if you’re interested in historical movies.

All the President’s Men (1976) Review

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All the President's Men

Time:  119 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Offensive language
Cast:
Robert Redford as Bob Woodward
Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein
Jack Warden as Harry M. Rosenfeld
Martin Balsam as Howard Simons
Hal Holbrook as “Deep Throat”
Jason Robards as Ben Bradlee
Director: Alan J. Pakula

During the 1972 elections, two reporters’ investigation sheds light on the controversial Watergate scandal that compels President Richard Nixon to resign from his post..

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I’ve always known All the President’s Men as being “the one movie about Watergate”, and I remembered holding off on watching it because it was long, it was from the 70s and I didn’t know if I would be as into it despite the acclaim. However I did watch it, and was surprised at how good it was on pretty much every front.

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All the President’s Men is about the journalistic approach to the story, with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in pursuit of the news story. The layers of the story are peeled back as the film goes on, revealing the truths about the Watergate Scandal. The writing is great and it really was key to the movie working. It is definitely a slow burn, so you do need to know that going in, but thankfully I found the story very compelling to follow. The scope of this story is large, and the script deserves a lot of credit for making this complex and dry tale accessible and easy to follow for audiences. At the same time, it approaches the subject matter without needlessly adding subplots or other aspects to spice up the movie. It almost plays like a detective story at times more so than a journalism story, and manages to mix dry fact with intrigue perfectly, making sure that we are engaged and never lose the plot. It really lets the audience feel like they’re putting together the pieces along with Woodward and Bernstein. The constant stream of information can occasionally be a little much, but the fact that it is quite accurate to true events and you can understand most of it is impressive. It is a procedural for sure, but probably one of the best procedural films ever. It does feel authentic in both the discoveries made as well as the journalistic process, and I like the amount of detail in what is said and what is shown on screen. For example, you get to see the way that Woodward and Bernstein play out how they try to get certain pieces of information, and how they interact with the people they are questioning; very well done and fascinating to watch. Every scene truly means something and has a reason for being there, despite the long runtime. A lot of the movie is dialogue and its great, especially with the deliveries from the cast. It keeps your attention for the entire runtime and each conversation is right to the point. The film is also surprisingly thrilling to watch at times, despite it being a movie about journalism. If there’s a criticism I have with the movie, it’s that the ending is a little too abrupt, that’s it though.

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The acting from everyone is also great, but it’s the two leads who drive the story and stand out the most. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman are incredible and invested in their roles of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and share great chemistry together. You get completely wrapped up in their motivations and they feel very natural in their parts, never overselling it. The supporting cast including Jack Warden, Jason Robards and Hal Holbrook also do work well in their parts.

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The movie is directed by Alan J. Pakula, and his work here is great, covering this story as effectively as possible with lots of visual and audio details in every scene. The cinematography conveys the scope and size of the story, with everything from landscape shots to shots of a simple phone call looking really good. The editing is quite efficient and gets you wrapped up in the story even with all the details being thrown at you. Pakula’s direction also does well as helping you feel the paranoia that the main characters feel as the story continues.

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All the President’s Men is an astonishingly well made film, efficiently directed, greatly performed by its cast, and with a fantastic script which makes what could’ve been a boring and dull movie, into an engaging and intriguing experience. Even though most of us already know what happens at the end, it was still compelling to watch this whole story play out. For sure one of the best movies about journalism.