Category Archives: History

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

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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.

The King’s Speech (2010) Review

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The King's Speech

Time: 119 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] contains offensive language
Cast:
Colin Firth as King George VI
Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue
Helena Bonham Carter as Queen Elizabeth
Guy Pearce as King Edward VIII
Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill
Derek Jacobi as Cosmo Gordon Lang
Jennifer Ehle as Myrtle Logue
Michael Gambon as King George V
Director: Tom Hooper

King George VI (Colin Firth) tries to overcome his stammering problem with the help of speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) and makes himself worthy enough to lead his country through World War II.

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Despite being an Oscar winning film, The King’s Speech has been given quite the bad rap, ironically it’s because of that. It earned many of the Oscars, including Best Picture, over so many other movies like The Social Network, Inception and Black Swan. Many weren’t happy that this was the movie that won over those films. While I understand many of these reactions, The King’s Speech on its own is pretty good.

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To keep it simple and straightforward, I’ll treat this movie outside of the fact that it won Best Picture, or mention The Social Network, Inception or Black Swan for the duration of this review, which is something that reviews of this movie nowadays can’t stop doing. The King’s Speech is a historical biopic, and the summary of the movie looked pretty boring at first, but thankfully it has a pretty good script. Now part the story is more than likely fictionalised and isn’t completely true, but that’s pretty typical of movies like this, and I don’t think that the inaccuracies would be particularly egregious. This movie is more focussed on George’s speech impediment and him trying to work through it with his speech therapist, rather than the royal family and his role in it, and that is actually to its own benefit. It does have its particularly ‘Oscar moments’, mainly towards the last act, but didn’t take away too much from the rest of the movie. The story plays out pretty much exactly how you’d expect it to, but it had enough going on and enough energy to keep me reasonably interested for the duration of the runtime.

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The acting in this movie is amongst the best part of the movie, if not the main reason to see it. Colin Firth is really great as King George VI, and it’s not just a baity or showy performance like it could’ve been. Firth’s stutter could’ve easily been a gimmick or have been a caricature of people with stammers, but he and the film pulls it off perfectly, and he makes it feel genuine. As good as the rest of the cast and movie is, it wouldn’t work nearly as well without Colin Firth’s outstanding performance at the centre of it. Geoffrey Rush is also good as the speech therapist that George sees to help with his stutter. Firth and Rush are great together on screen, and their interactions are ultimately the driving force of the movie. Other supporting actors like Helena Bonham Carter and Guy Pearce also play their roles as well.

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Tom Hooper directed this reasonably well, and on a technical level is pretty solid. It’s well shot, the score by Alexandre Desplat is pretty good, and the production and costume designs reflect the time period and location appropriately. However it’s very clear that this wasn’t going to be the highlight of the movie, and so I didn’t pay it that much attention.

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I wouldn’t say that The King’s Speech is great, but it is a pretty good movie for what it is. It is definitely better than how it sounds at first, but not enough to make it that memorable. However it’s a solid enough movie, with some great acting, particularly a career best performance from Colin Firth. I do think that it is worth watching, just make sure to not going into it seeing it as a Best Picture winner or anything like that.

Kundun (1997) Review

Time: 134 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1]
Cast:
Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong as the Dalai Lama (Adult)
Gyurme Tethong as the Dalai Lama (Age 12)
Tulku Jamyang Kunga Tenzin as the Dalai Lama (Age 5)
Tenzin Yeshi Paichang as the Dalai Lama (Age 2)
Director: Martin Scorsese

In 1937, a two-and-a-half year old boy from a simple family in Tibet was recognized as the 14th reincarnation of the Buddha of Compassion, and destined to become the spiritual and political leader of his people. Director Martin Scorsese brings to the screen the true story of the Dalai Lama. Told through the eyes of His Holiness, “Kundun” brings to life the account of the Dalai Lama’s early life, from childhood through the Chinese invasion of Tibet and his journey into exile.

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Kundun was the remaining Martin Scorsese movie that I hadn’t seen yet (with the exception of The Irishman), and I didn’t really know what to expect from it. All I knew about the movie was that it was about the Dalai Lama and that it caused Scorsese and some other people who worked on the movie to get banned from China. When it comes to his filmography, Kundun isn’t really brought up often, and it’s a shame because it should be talked about more, it’s really good.

As someone who doesn’t know anything about the Dalai Lama, I found the movie to be quite interesting throughout. It’s also worth noting is that screenwriter Melissa Mathison wrote this movie with her interviews with the real Dalai Lama becoming the basis of the script. So if you’re wondering about accuracy, there you go. I will admit that I wasn’t totally on board with the movie from the beginning, but it got better after the first half an hour or so and I was reasonably invested throughout. It’s a long movie at 2 hours and 15 minutes, and while you do feel that length, after the early section of the movie I didn’t find it to drag often. Someone described this movie as being made of episodes, not a plot, and that’s an apt description. It’s a little loose with the plot and is basically telling about the Dalai Lama’s real life without much of a structure, but it’s not a problem if you’re invested or interested in what’s going on.

None of the cast here are professional or known actors, but they definitely played their roles well. They all fit in very well into their roles with no one really seeming out of place (though some of the much younger actors struggle a little but you can look past them). The only thing that’s a little distracting is that everyone here mainly speaks English and I wasn’t really expecting that, nonetheless you get used to it after a while.

This is one of Martin Scorsese’s most different movie, and he did well at changing his filmmaking style, his work here is excellent and underappreciated. The production design, costumes and everything in that area was just right for the movie. Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing here is among her best work, and that’s really saying a lot. Roger Deakins’s cinematography as usual is fantastic, this is such a gorgeous looking movie, with the entire film looking like a painting. In the opening credits I recognised Philip Glass’s name for his work on the Candyman score, and that score is amongst the most distinct horror themes I’ve heard. So I knew that he’d deliver something spectacular with Kundun’s score and he definitely does. It’s really large and epic, and really complements the cinematography perfectly. These 4 aspects work perfectly towards the finale in such a tremendous way, probably the highlight moment of the film, and that’s saying a lot.

Kundun is probably one of Scorsese’s lesser known movies, but it should be seen just like the rest of them. The actors play their parts well and it’s an interesting story for sure, but it’s even worth seeing just for the technical masterclass that’s on display, with Scorsese, Schoonmaker, Deakins and Glass really creating something special. Definitely a movie worth checking out.

First Man (2018) Review

Time: 141 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Offensive language
Cast:
Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong
Claire Foy as Janet Shearon
Corey Stoll as Buzz Aldrin
Pablo Schreiber as Jim Lovell
Jason Clarke as Ed White
Kyle Chandler as Deke Slayton
Christopher Abbott as David Scott
Patrick Fugit as Elliot See
Director: Damien Chazelle

A Biopic on the life of the legendary American Astronaut Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) from 1961-1969, on his journey to becoming the first human to walk the moon. Exploring the sacrifices and costs on the Nation and Neil himself, during one of the most dangerous missions in the history of space travel.

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First Man was one of my most anticipated films of 2018. Not only is it about Neil Armstrong landing on the moon and starring such actors as Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler and Corey Stoll, but it also is directed by Damien Chazelle. I’ve loved Chazelle’s last two films (Whiplash and La La Land), and he really showed a lot of talent with them. So naturally I was excited for First Man. While it wasn’t entirely what I was expecting, First Man was really great and one of my favourite films of the year.

There’s something that people need to know going in, this is about the titular first man, but it’s not all about Neil Armstrong landing on the moon, that aspect happens much later in the movie. For the most part, this movie is more about Armstrong than it is about the whole final moon landing. A lot of the movie is focussing on him testing and training to be on the moon. It also features his family life with his wife and children, and how what he does affects them as well. The reason why I mention all of this is because I think a lot of people might be going into First Man with a certain expectation (and it’s not unreasonable, the first thing you think about a Neil Armstrong is about him landing on the moon), and that could take away from their enjoyment or disappoint them a bit. I didn’t have a problem with the fact that this is what the movie is about. The movie can feel stretched out at times, and it wasn’t me being impatient waiting for the final moon landing part, it does legitimately feel long (and this is me when I’m already having an idea of what kind of movie this is) and the issue isn’t so much the length. The pacing can be a little uneven, sometimes perfectly paced in some parts, other times being a tad too slow. It’s not annoyingly slow at any point, but it does take away from the experience. The last act with the actual moon bit however, I’m pretty sure everyone will like regardless of what they think of the rest of the movie. First Man is 2 hours and 20 minutes long and you can really feel its length at times, however as I said the length wasn’t so much the problem, it was more the pacing that was the problem.

Ryan Gosling gives one of his best performances as Neil Armstrong. He does do his very familiar silent acting that movies like Drive and Blade Runner 2049 have made him known for, yet it really works for him in the role of Armstrong. He also has some notable emotional scenes that Gosling does great, and even when in some scenes where he appears stoic, you can tell at times that there are more emotions there under the surface. He’s not the only performance that really shines in this movie, Claire Foy is also a standout, playing Janet, Armstrong’s wife. She has quite a number of great scenes and was all around fantastic. Both of them really were at the top of their game. The rest of the supporting cast is also great. Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll and a bunch of others all serve their roles well and added to the movie.

It’s no surprise that Damien Chazelle’s direction is fantastic, but it is especially great when you consider how different First Man is to his previous movies, he’s really shown himself to be a talented and capable director in any genre. Some of the highlight scenes of the movie are the space/cockpits/testing scenes, all immersive and absolutely captivating and thrilling . I think First Man has some of the best scenes set in space. When it comes to these scenes, you really feel like you’re right there with the characters. The camera movements, the sounds, everything just works incredibly well. And yes, the segment where they are actually on the moon are worth the price of admission with the largest screen available alone. Also making it even better is the score by Justin Hurwitz. It goes from having moments of wonder to absolute thrilling and tense and then to some truly emotional stuff. Really I’d strongly recommend seeing First Man on the biggest screen you can find, it’ll increase your overall experience with the movie.

First Man isn’t Damien Chazelle’s best film (I still rate both Whiplash and La La Land higher) but it’s still a great movie on its own. The excellent direction mixed with the great performances results in a really good movie that although slow, is well worth seeing as soon as possible (and on the biggest screen available). With Whiplash, La La Land and now First Man, Chazelle has proven himself to have a long and exciting career ahead of him.