Category Archives: History

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.

Small Axe: Mangrove (2020) Review

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Mangrove

Time: 126 Minutes
Cast:
Letitia Wright as Altheia Jones-LeCointe
Malachi Kirby as Darcus Howe
Shaun Parkes as Frank Crichlow
Rochenda Sandall as Barbara Beese
Alex Jennings as Judge Edward Clarke
Jack Lowden as Ian Macdonald
Director: Steve McQueen

Mangrove tells this true story of The Mangrove Nine, who clashed with London police in 1970. The trial that followed was the first judicial acknowledgment of behavior motivated by racial hatred within the Metropolitan Police.

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I heard a lot about Small Axe. It is an anthology of 5 movies focussing on different stories about the lives of West Indian immigrants in London from the 60s to the 80s. This anthology has been very well received very well by a lot of people. In addition to that, director Steve McQueen, whose past work consists of Widows, 12 Years a Slave, Shame and Hunger, helms all 5 movies. So natural, I was interested in watching them. The first movie in Small Axe is Mangrove, and after watching it, I want to check out what McQueen did with the other movies in the anthology because it was great.

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The movie is about a group of nine Black British protesters accused of inciting riot after demonstrating against police brutality and race-driven hatred committed by the Metropolitan police in the restaurant named Mangrove. The first half of the movie shows the build up, and the second half ends up being a courtroom drama. It is a smaller scale yet compelling story of a community together fighting for their human rights, and the bond established just from one neighbourhood restaurant. Steve McQueen wastes no time in showing how messy the 1970 trial was in a very thought provoking and cohesive manner, and we’ve come to expect that from him at this point. McQueen is such a talent and gives a great examination of the themes and subject matters he covers in all of his movies. It really sheds light on a true story about harassment by police and further illustrates that the struggle for justice in these matters is a global issue. It’s a very powerful movie, the raw power and emotion, as well as the rage inducing storyline that is portrayed throughout is fantastic and compelling to watch, and quickly draws you into this daunting time period. Mangrove is a testament to how relevant matters of racial prejudice, systemic disenfranchisement and institutional bullying and brutality really are, even today. The movie is over 2 hours long, and while I was invested throughout, I did feel like the script could’ve been a bit tighter, mainly with the first half. It does take a while to get to the trial, as we are introduced the people and the Mangrove itself. The buildup was a bit slow to me and probably could’ve been shortened a bit, but it’s an undeniably important section of the story that needed to be here.

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The cast are all great, with all the performances working in the film’s favour. Letitia Wright plays British Black Panther leader Altheia Jones-LeCointe, and gives arguably her best performance to date. Among the other best performances of the film for me were from Shaun Parkes (who plays the owner of the Mangrove, and Darcus Howe, who particularly gets to shine in the courtroom scenes.

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Steve McQueen once again has done some great work here. The cinematography, set pieces, production design, editing and the direction of actors are all on point here. I will say that it is way less flashy and is fairly subdued compared to Steve McQueen’s past work especially as it was more of a character study, but there’s some great shots and camerawork nonetheless.

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Mangrove is a well crafted and passionate historical drama. The cast are great and shine with their performances and Steve McQueen’s work as writer and director are strong, telling a true life story of people trying to fight for their rights. Definitely watch Mangrove as soon whenever you can, it was great and I’m looking forward to seeing what the other entries in the Small Axe anthology are like.

Judas and the Black Messiah (2021) Review

JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH

Judas and the Black Messiah

Time: 126 Minutes
Cast:
Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton
Lakeith Stanfield as William “Bill” O’Neal
Jesse Plemons as Roy Mitchell
Dominique Fishback as Deborah Johnson
Ashton Sanders as Jimmy Palmer
Martin Sheen as J. Edgar Hoover
Darrell Britt-Gibson as Bobby Rush
Lil Rel Howery as Wayne
Algee Smith as Jake Winters
Director: Shaka King

Offered a plea deal by the FBI, William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) infiltrates the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party to gather intelligence on Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya).

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I heard about Judas and the Black Messiah for a while, I already liked the actors involved, but it was the trailer that made it stand out for me. It then quickly became one of my most anticipated movies and it especially came up in awards conversations, particularly with the performances. It was pushed back to the next year but was released early enough so that it could make it to the current upcoming awards season. Judas and the Black Messiah definitely lived up to the acclaim and expectations.

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Judas and the Black Messiah is written incredibly well and is captivating from beginning to end. It’s tightly scripted and compelling, with a strong energy and an intense atmosphere throughout. One of the standout aspects that makes the movie work so well is that it doesn’t feel like a typical biopic, probably because it isn’t. In some ways it feels more like a historical drama/thriller about one person infiltrating a group, and that helps it work even better if anything. The film at its core is about Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton, as well as FBI informant William O’Neal who infiltrates the Black Panther Party. Both storylines get roughly the same amount of screentime and are presented with equal weight, representing an important perspective of a significant time period. The movie is tough to watch at times, it’s a hauntingly tragic powerhouse of a drama that is riveting, even if (and especially if) you know how it ends. One of the biggest surprises of the movie is that it doesn’t shy away from painting the police and the FBI as the bad guys, and it also unapologetic with showing Hampton’s leftist views, both of which you wouldn’t think that a big budget awards movie would do. As you can probably tell from the subject matter, the movie is timely, meaningful and impactful to today’s society. It’s a smart and uncompromising tragedy about fear and power that’s likely to keep you on edge and hooked throughout.

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The acting from everyone in this movie is great. Daniel Kaluuya stars as Fred Hampton, and he didn’t just play him, he truly becomes him. His performance is magnetic and commands a lot of attention every time he’s on screen. He’s not portraying Hampton as a martyr or a hero, but a real person who is fighting for his rights. He inhabits the role perfectly, exuding the same emotions one would expect from him. He’s sensational here, every single line delivery has passion, and those big speeches are where he particularly shines. It’s likely because of Kaluuya’s standout performance that some might forget Lakeith Stanfield’s layered performance as informant William O’Neal, which might be his best work to date. We see much of the film through his eyes, showing us what he went through. Surprisingly, the film never truly demonises his character, bringing sympathy to the role of someone who sold out his own people. You can feel the turmoil within him as he questions whether he’s doing the right thing, as well as the paranoia and shame that eats away at him throughout. It does feel like his role is a bit underwritten, but the performance does a lot to make up for that. The supporting cast in Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, and Ashton Sanders also deliver some great work too.

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Shaka King’s direction is great, he has a very sleek and unique style of filmmaking. From the cinematography, to the production design, the costumes and the score, everything was perfectly constructed. It’s particularly shot beautifully, and the way the ‘action’ scenes were filmed were interesting. King’s makes the film feel very grounded and really helped add to the intense atmosphere in the film.

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Judas and the Black Messiah is a bold and fantastic film that deserves all the praise and accolades. It’s directed incredibly well, it’s written masterfully, and the performances are extraordinary, especially from Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield. Watch it as soon as you get the chance to.

Hamilton (2020) Review

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Hamilton

Time: 160 Minutes
Cast:
Daveed Diggs as Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson
Renée Elise Goldsberry as Angelica Schuyler
Jonathan Groff as King George III
Christopher Jackson as George Washington
Jasmine Cephas Jones as Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds
Lin-Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton
Leslie Odom Jr. as Aaron Burr
Okieriete Onaodowan as Hercules Mulligan and James Madison
Anthony Ramos as John Laurens and Philip Hamilton
Phillipa Soo as Eliza Hamilton
Director: Thomas Kail

The original Broadway production of the award-winning musical that tells the story of Alexander Hamilton (Lin-Manuel Miranda), first secretary of the treasury, blending hip-hop, jazz, R&B and Broadway styles, filmed from the Richard Rogers Theater in New York.

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I heard about the acclaimed musical Hamilton for some time. Outside of one song however, I really didn’t know much about it, aside from it being about the founding fathers and Lin-Manuel Miranda being the person who created it. With one of the showings being put on Disney+ however, I knew I should probably watch it and see for myself if it worked for me. I’m glad to say that it very much did work for me, and I had a great time with it.

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Reviewing Hamilton is a bit weird, I’m essentially reviewing a musical, and it’s not even a film adaptation. However, I’ll try my best. I’m not an American History expert, according to some people the musical is accurate in terms of what happens, but I won’t judge it on that level. Though I think the casting and the fact that it is a Broadway musical should automatically give an indication that this probably shouldn’t be taken as being 100% accurate, and shouldn’t be the prime source of education about the founding fathers of America. It is 2 hours and 40 minutes long and it is a long running story, a lot of things happen over the course of the musical, it even has some actors playing more than one character. As overwhelming as it was going into it blind, especially as someone who didn’t really know what to expect, I was pretty invested throughout. It’s entertaining, it’s funny, and it becomes surprisingly emotional at points. By the end I was quite satisfied with what I had watched.

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The whole cast of actors do very well in their part in both acting and when it came to singing. The creator of the musical, Lin-Manuel Miranda plays the lead of Alexander Hamilton and does well on his part. I knew about Miranda from other things, with Mary Poppins Returns and His Dark Materials, but I think he did a good job here. I will say that his singing wasn’t the best, especially when compared to the others in the cast, but more than makes it up for his acting, especially in the latter half of the film. There were a few actors who really stood out, Daveed Diggs and Leslie Odom were particularly outstanding in their parts of Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Jonathan Groff was only in a few scenes but was fantastic as King George III, a hilarious and entertaining performance that was very memorable in his onscreen moments.

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A big part of the movie is the music, and I thought it was really good. It is one of those musicals where every line is singing, but they pulled it off. A musical about the founding fathers doesn’t sound particularly like it’s prime music material. However the songs are pretty great (there are so many of them too), well written, and there was a lot of genres mixed in including rap, hip hop, jazz and Broadway, and it made the music and overall musical stand out and very entertaining. I’ve only watched the movie/musical once, but with every song on this from this first viewing, I found all of them to be very solid. Production values are top notch too, the choreography was great, and I can imagine it would’ve been a blast watching it in the theatre. In terms of the filming for the movie on Disney+, the direction from Thomas Kail was handled well, and really captured the show as best as possible.

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I really had no idea if I would like Hamilton going in, but I found it enjoyable, entertaining, and I was engaged from beginning to end. For those who haven’t seen it yet, I think it’s worth seeing it for yourselves, and by experiencing it first on the Disney+ version, you won’t have to pay money to buy tickets to watch it in person. I will say that I’m not sure how I’d feel about it on a rewatch, this is just from the one viewing and it was a lot to take in as it was. However, I think it’s really good and I’m glad I saw it.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020) Review

The Trial of the Chicago 7

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Time: 130 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Strong coarse language
Cast:
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Deale
Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman
Daniel Flaherty as John Froines
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Richard Schultz
Michael Keaton as Ramsey Clark
Frank Langella as Judge Julius Hoffman
John Carroll Lynch as David Dellinger
Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden
Noah Robbins as Lee Weiner
Mark Rylance as William Kunstler
Alex Sharp as Rennie Davis
Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin
Director: Aaron Sorkin

The story of 7 people on trial stemming from various charges surrounding the uprising at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois.

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The Trial of the Chicago 7 was one of my most anticipated movies of 2020. The cast alone had my interest, with the likes of Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Eddie Redmayne and more involved. Then there’s the writer and director Aaron Sorkin, who’s the writer behind fantastic scripts for The Social Network and Steve Jobs. Not only that, but the event it’s based on has a lot of potential for a great movie, with it being quite significant and infamous. This film had been in development for quite some time, Sorkin wrote the script in 2007 and it had been passed around to other directors before finally he decided to direct it himself. The Trial of the Chicago 7 ended up being a really great movie and I loved watching it from beginning to end.

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One of the strongest parts of the film no surprise is Aaron Sorkin’s script. It has all the things you’d expect from his writing, snappy and captivating dialogue, a fast pace, and memorable moments. I was actively captivated throughout, Sorkin does very well at locking you in with what’s happening from beginning to end. Much of the movie is a courtroom drama, and this certainly ranks among the best courtroom dramas from recent years. There are some very strong parallels to current events with regard to protests, police brutality and the like (even when the story takes place in the late 60s), and there are many impactful moments. You can get quite frustrated with some of what happens during the trial, and this really showed the movie’s effectiveness. Some people have complained about Sorkin’s ‘Sorkinisms’ in this movie, with some of the dialogue choices and especially with how he chose to represent certain events on screen, and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t get some of the criticisms. There are definitely moments that didn’t happen like that in real life. The ending especially is such a feel good ending that might actually be too much for some people, it’s one of those scenes from biopics where you don’t even need to read up on the real life events to tell that it never happened. I would’ve liked to have seen a darker and more accurate representation of events for sure. Then again this is Sorkin, and we’ve come to expect this from him.

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There’s a massive ensemble cast for this movie, and everyone is great on their parts. I’ll start with my favourites from the film. Sacha Baron Cohen and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II were the scene-stealers for me. Yahya particularly had such a screen presence and does so much in his screentime, I just wish we got more scenes of him because he was truly fantastic. Another standout performance was from Mark Rylance, who is also great as the lawyer defending the Chicago 7. Eddie Redmayne plays really the lead of the movie, he’s the character who goes through the most development over the course of the movie. It’s certainly a different performance from him, but it’s a surprisingly effective performance, and particularly plays off Cohen very well. The rest of the Chicago 7 were acted well by actors like John Caroll Lynch and Jeremy Strong. Other performances were also great, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the federal prosecutor, Michael Keaton as an attorney general in an important role later in the story, as well as Frank Langella as the judge.

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As many people will say, Aaron Sorkin the writer is way better than Aaron Sorkin the director. I did like his first film Molly’s Game, but it showed that he still had a way to go as a filmmaker. His work on Trial of the Chicago 7 is definitely a step above his first movie. The strongest part of the movie on a technical level is the editing, which really works in favour of the script. This is particularly the case in the opening 10 minutes which efficiently sets up and explains so many things that happened prior to the event that sparked the trial. Additionally in the script there are many flashforward and flashback scenes, and while it could’ve been disorientating, Sorkin really pulled it off and made it effective. With all that being said, whenever Sorkin’s scripts are made into movies by top tier directors like David Fincher and Danny Boyle, they brought the scripts to another level to create fantastic films. If Trial of the Chicago 7 was given to someone of that caliber, it probably would’ve been even better. Still, I would say the direction was good. The score by Daniel Pemberton is also good, not amongst his all time best work, but it worked really well for this movie.

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The Trial of the Chicago 7 is currently one of my favourite movies of the year. It felt like an inspiring courtroom thriller made in the 90s, and I mean that in the best way possible. The timely, entertaining and engaging story, the fantastic script and outstanding acting alone makes it really worth watching.

Greyhound (2020) Review

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Greyhound

Time: 91 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] War themes and occasional coarse language
Cast:
Tom Hanks as Commander Ernest Krause
Stephen Graham as Lieutenant Commander Charlie Cole
Rob Morgan as George Cleveland
Elisabeth Shue as Evelyn Frechette
Director:
Aaron Schneider

U.S. Navy Cmdr. Ernest Krause (Tom Hanks) is assigned to lead an Allied convoy across the Atlantic during World War II. His convoy, however, is pursued by German U-boats. Although this is Krause’s first wartime mission, he finds himself embroiled in what would come to be known as the longest, largest and most complex naval battle in history: The Battle of the Atlantic.

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I heard about Greyhound for a little while, I knew of it as a World War 2 movie starring Tom Hanks that was sold to Apple to be released on its streaming service Apple TV. While I was willing to watch it at some point, I didn’t have a great interest in it, really wasn’t expecting much from it. The movie itself is nothing special and a little generic, but overall it was okay.

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Strangely enough, Tom Hanks actually wrote the screenplay of the movie, adapting a historical book called The Good Shephard. Unfortunately, I have to say that the writing is a bit of a mixed bag. First and foremost, there’s really nothing to say about most of the characters, so the moments when some side characters die don’t have any impact at all. The only character that gets any development is Tom Hanks, and even then in his case there’s not much we actually learn about his character. There’s a scene early on with one scene with Elisabeth Shue, which tries to establish some form of characterisation for him, however considering the rest of the movie wasn’t very interested in characterisation, that scene really feels lazy and tact on. I’m not going to act like I dislike movies not having character development, especially when it comes to war movies. I love Dunkirk and I like 1917, and both are war movies with little to no character depth or development. However, those movies still got me somewhat invested in what the characters were doing, even if they were just surviving. With Greyhound however, you don’t really get invested in what is happening at all, it is hard to care about what’s going on beyond them being the main characters, and this is based on a true story mind you. The runtime certainly shows that it is more interested in the spectacle over characters at 90 minutes. Despite that short runtime, it feels much longer than that.

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Tom Hanks is front and centre throughout as the Commander Officer of the Navy Destroyer (called Greyhound). His performance is good, pretty much what you would expect from him at this point, and he was the standout from the movie. As I said previously, the character doesn’t have anything to him. Its completely in Hanks’s solid performance, he has a commanding presence which fits the role well enough, and he portrays well the stress that someone in his position would go through. Everyone else is just fine, no one is bad, but no one is better than serviceable, again though it’s not like they had much to work with.

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Directed by Aaron Schneider, I assumed going in that this would be Greyhound’s strong point, especially with the action, but unfortunately like with the writing it is rather flawed. It seems most of the attention and money has been spent on the large action scenes, however even those are flawed. The action can be pretty good at times, but most of the time it’s unfortunately rather bland. It does try to be tense, but there are some faults in the direction, along with the lack of an engaging story, that kind of takes away from that. The CGI ranged from looking decent to looking a little fake. The colour pallet is rather grey, dark and dull, not that darker colour pallets can’t work (especially if they are trying to go for that grimy war feel), but here it feels rather bland. The editing is pretty standard, and the score is pretty generic. Something that was weird was the use of subtitling random things on screen. It’s not just the text at the beginning giving context going on, literally every time a new ship is introduced to the movie, text will appear above it. I have no idea why they did that. To its credit, the movie does at least aim to be authentic, and doesn’t try to be a typical over the top war movie blockbuster, and as previously mentioned some of the action works. The production value is also good, there was clearly a lot of attention into making the inside of the ship look authentic.

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Greyhound is a mixed bag of a movie. It is rather bland, its script lacks character depth, and it’s not particularly interesting. Even the action which is clearly its focus is at, that aspect is just decent at best, and most of the time it’s just mildly entertaining and generic. The movie is not bad by any means, it does have some good elements to it, Tom Hanks does lead with a good performance, and some moments of the action work. It’s a forgettable 90-minute World War 2 movie, however if you think you’d be interested in it (even just for Tom Hanks), I’d say that it’s worth a look.

12 Years a Slave (2013) Review

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12 Years a Slave

Time: 134 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Graphic violence & sexual violence
Cast:
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup/Platt
Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps
Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey
Sarah Paulson as Mary Epps
Paul Dano as John Tibeats
Benedict Cumberbatch as William Ford
Alfre Woodard as Mistress Harriet Shaw
Brad Pitt as Samuel Bass
Director: Steve McQueen

In 1841, African American Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free man, is kidnapped and forced into slavert, under the name ‘Platt’ for 12 years. He faces the hardships of being a slave under the hands of a few different slave owners. Through faith, will power, and courage, Northup must survive and endure those 12 years a slave.

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I had seen 12 Years a Slave many years ago for the first time, and it was quite impactful experience. Having rewatched some other Best Picture winning movies recently, I decided I should give this one a watch again, even though I knew it wouldn’t exactly be a pleasant viewing. 12 Years a Slave still holds up 7 years kater and is just as devastating as when I first watched it, a fantastic and harrowing movie that deserves all the acclaim it’s been receiving.

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Considering the subject matter, one could be forgiven for thinking that the movie might take a manipulative approach, especially considering most of the other movies about slavery, and all the awards that this movie won. However, that aspect was handled right, and I’ll get into some of those aspects a little later. This is first and foremost Solomon Northup’s real life story, and follows him throughout his years of being a slave. The story is handled as honest as possible, and never sensationalises any of it. Now from the title, you know that lead character doesn’t remain a slave for more than 12 years, but the experience isn’t any less harrowing. There are some incredibly impactful and emotional moments that are earned and never feel forced, but genuine.

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This cast is large and talented, and all of them perform excellently in their parts. Chiwetel Ejiofor is incredible in the lead role of Solomon Northup, conveying so much emotion and pain without having to say much, or even anything. This film is continuously following him from beginning to end, this is his movie, and he carries it all powerfully. The rest of the cast are supporting players in Solomon’s story, but they all play their parts well. There are two standouts among that supporting cast, the first is Michael Fassbender, giving one of his best performances as a slave owner. Fassbender really performs excellently, with his character representing pretty much the worst of humanity, he has such a captivating screen presence. The other standout is Lupita Nyong’o, who gives an incredibly emotional performance in her part. The rest of the cast are great and make the most of their scenes, with the likes of Sarah Paulson, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfre Woodard, Brad Pitt. Michael Kenenth Williams, and Paul Giamatti.

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Good writing and acting aside, what 12 Years a Slave would live or die on is the direction. This film needed to be handled by the right person, or it could easily fail. Director Steve McQueen was very much the right person for this movie, and knew how to handle this very sensitive subject. The cinematography from Sean Bobbitt was stunning. Not only that, but McQueen’s use of the camera is effective, forcing the audience watch everything that happens on screen, and not allowing them a chance to look away. When it came to the violence and the aspects of slavery, it was handled in probably best way possible. It’s undeniably brutal and doesn’t shy away from that, and you feel every blow. At the same time, it doesn’t sensationalise or fetishize it, if anything it is uncomfortably casual, and was fitting for the movie. A perfect example of this is a standout moment that takes place a third of the way through, without revealing the context or what the scene is, it’s a few minutes long, full of unbroken shots, and it’s incredibly painful and quiet. Hans Zimmer’s score is great as to be expected, and fitted perfectly with the film.

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12 Years a Slave remains an outstanding and moving film, powerfully acted, excellently directed, and is all around masterful. It is incredibly hard to watch (and indeed the rewatch was just as painful as the first watch was) but is a monumental film and quite frankly essential viewing.

Polytechnique (2009) Review

Time: 77 Minutes
Cast:
Maxim Gaudette as The Killer
Sébastien Huberdeau as Jean-François
Karine Vanasse as Valérie
Évelyne Brochu as Stéphanie
Johanne-Marie Tremblay as Jean-François’ mother
Pierre-Yves Cardinal as Éric
Director: Denis Villeneuve

A dramatization of the Montreal Massacre of 1989 where several female engineering students were murdered by an unstable misogynist.

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Polytechnique was one of the remaining Denis Villeneuve movies that I’ve been meaning to catch up on. Villeneuve in recent years has shown himself as one of the best directors working today, so I’ve been making sure that I would catch up on all of his movies (with this film, Incendies, Maelstrom and August 32nd on Earth being the remaining movies that I hadn’t watched yet) and now I’ve finally got around to Polytechnique. All I knew about this film going in outside of the director was that it was a dramatization of a real life shooting. It definitely lived up to all the hype, and was a really great (albeit difficult to watch) movie that worked very well for what it was supposed to be.

It’s really impressive what Denis Villeneuve was able to put into this movie with the runtime being less than an hour and 20 minutes. The first act quickly establishes the prevalent characters and the location before the shooting start. This movie is seen through the eyes of two students before, during and after the shooting, and it does really well to keep your attention throughout the entirety. It really does its best to respect the story, and it doesn’t try to give too much context about the events or try to comment on it, they just let is speak for itself. Even the killer himself is established briefly at the beginning, with a monologue from him about what’s driving him to commit these actions and that’s it. From there it’s one very impactful and effectively devastating experience of a film as it unflinchingly forces you to watch this tragic event, without it ever feeling gratuitous.

There’s not a lot of actors to talk about but really everyone played their parts well. The main characters of the film however are the killer played by Maxim Gaudette, as well as Sébastien Huberdeau and Karine Vanasse as the two students that the film focusses on over the course of the events. The three of them were really great and feel really authentic and real in their roles, doing so much with very little.

This is Denis Villeneuve’s third movie and at least at this point he’s really honed his skills and from this movie is a very talented filmmaker. Having watched Villeneuve’s prior movies, I’d say that it’s Polytechnique where he has really found himself with his direction and style. The film throughout is shot in black and white, it felt very appropriate and was much more effective. The cinematography itself was really great. Polytechnique has a very eerie feel throughout, probably because of how painfully realistic it all feels. Even before the shooting starts, the movie effectively places you right there and you really feel a lot of tension as it all builds up to the shooting. And when the shooting actually happens, it hits really hard.

Polytechnique is not an easy movie to watch, given how disturbing and upsetting the subject matter was). However, it is a really great and important movie, especially considering the political climate today. It was directed and acted incredibly well, and considering the seriousness of the subject matter (as well as the fact that it was based on real events), Denis Villeneuve and crew really handled this movie the best it could possibly be. It may not rank among Villeneuve’s best films considering the high calibre of his recent work and it’s not one I want to watch again, but it’s nonetheless a great film and really worth seeing.