Tag Archives: 2021

Lamb (2021) Review

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Lamb

Time: 106 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence, offensive language, sex scenes & nudity
Cast:
Noomi Rapace as María
Hilmir Snær Guðnason as Ingvar
Björn Hlynur Haraldsson as Pétur
Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson as Man on Television
Director: Valdimar Jóhannsson

In rural Iceland, a childless couple discover a strange and unnatural newborn in their sheep barn. They decide to raise her as their own, but sinister forces are determined to return the creature to the wilderness that birthed her.

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I had been hearing about Lamb for a while, it was the new upcoming A24 horror film, this time focusing on a half human and half lamb baby. I didn’t look at the trailer beforehand, but I knew the central concept and went in just knowing that. Having watched it, I can say that at the very least it’s an interesting mix of ideas and elements even if it doesn’t do much with them.

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I’ll say right now that it’s probably best to go into Lamb not knowing much beforehand outside of the central concept. I also recommend not watching the trailer, it reveals about half the movie and misleads about the type of movie it’s going to be. It is also worth noting that while it has some horror elements, it is less of a horror movie and more of a foreboding and unsettling folktale. Much of the movie is focusing on the main couple raising this lamb-baby. It’s certainly a slow movie as it very steadily builds over time. I am fine with slow storytelling, and it does serve to build up the eerie atmosphere of the film. However, there is a bit of an over reliance on it. The most notable part of the film is the concept, and you certainly get that here. Surprisingly there are some fun family scenes with the half human and half sheep Ada, and I enjoyed those scenes. It also got much more interesting whenever it got odder. The film is so committed to being serious despite its absurdity, and I can’t tell whether its deliberate or not. Despite the cool premise, it really is squandered. It doesn’t go far beyond its initial intriguing idea. In fact, in a way it feels like a short concept film extended to feature length. Not much actually happens in this movie and it doesn’t build up to much. A weird inclusion of the movie were title cards letting the audience know of the different chapters, but this structure was ultimately pointless and doesn’t really add to much. There are some themes at play, including parenthood, loos, nature vs nurture, etc. Despite the amount of topics and themes around the film and concept however, there really wasn’t much to interpret in this allegorical film.

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There are some subdued yet solid performances from the cast, including Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guðnason. The cast are small, but they do their parts well, especially Rapace.

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Valdimar Jóhannsson is the director and his work on the film is great, definitely the strongest part of the film. He does very well at building up this dark and cold atmosphere over time, helped by the ambient sounds and mostly absent music. The cinematography is amazing and takes advantage of its location with the fog and the mountains in the background. The score is minimalistic but effective when it’s there.

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I admire Lamb more than I liked it. It certainly has a lot going for it, it’s great on a technical level with gorgeous cinematography, the performances are good, it has quite a strong atmosphere, and I appreciate its very weird premise. However the main issue for me is that it doesn’t really amount to much by the end, feeling more like a concept film than a fully realised idea. If the premise sounds intriguing to you and if you like some of A24’s horror movies (even if Lamb isn’t exactly horror), then I think it’s worth checking out.  

Prisoners of the Ghostland (2021) Review

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Prisoners of the Ghostland

Time: 103 Minutes
Cast:
Nicolas Cage as Hero
Sofia Boutella as Bernice
Bill Moseley as The Governor
Director: Sion Sono

In the treacherous frontier city of Samurai Town, a ruthless bank robber gets sprung from jail by a wealthy warlord whose adopted granddaughter has gone missing. He offers the prisoner his freedom in exchange for retrieving the runaway. Strapped into a leather suit that will self-destruct in five days, the bandit sets off on a journey to find the young woman — and his own path to redemption.

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I was actually quite excited for Prisoners of the Ghostland. One of the biggest selling points (which was used to market the movie) is that lead actor Nicolas Cage said that it might be the wildest movie he’s ever made, which is saying a lot considering his reputation for being in wild movies and/or being wild in some of his movies. So that combined the simple yet over the top premise, I was looking forward to it. The actual film didn’t quite deliver as I hoped it would.

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The premise is straightforward, a bank robber played by Nicolas Cage has bombs attached to him and he’s given a certain amount of time to rescue a woman before the bombs go off. I liked how the film started, and it showed some promise. It is a mash up of genres, with it being a western, samurai and post apocalyptic film, and it’s certainly impressive for that. However I had a sinking feeling as it approached the end of the first act, as its many issues reared their heads. The script is poorly written, and not always in the campy B-movie way. Despite the premise and the over the top nature, Prisoners of the Ghostland is surprisingly dull. It meanders a bit too much in the first half and I had mostly tuned out at the halfway point. Not much actually happens in the movie, and in the scenes where nothing was happening, I struggled to find out what the point of them were. It seemed like it was trying to build lore in these scenes, but even from that perspective the execution was lackluster.  On that comment from Cage, its definitely not one of the wildest movies he’s made but it is on the Weider side. However, it feels somewhat low effort and more like its weird for the sake of being weird, and it comes across rather hollow. It only picks up again when it enters into the climactic final battle in the third act. If the movie was just the climax it would’ve been a highly enjoyable throwback to over the top B-movies. However it is stretched to an entire movie length, and even at 100 minutes long it is tedious to watch.

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Nicolas Cage is in this movie and as expected this movie is definitely trying to play to his skills of being over the top. However to put it bluntly, if I was to make a list of the top 10 over the top Nicolas Cage movies/performances, Prisoners of the Ghostland wouldn’t come close to making it. He’s certainly over the top and lets loose in some moments. Otherwise he seems strangely restrained, probably because there’s not much of a character for him to play here, it’s just like he’s a parody of action leads. He makes the movie easier to sit through, but he somehow feels out of place with the rest of the movie. Sofia Boutella is the only actor in the movie who isn’t over the top, she’s playing the woman who Cage is trying to rescue. She’s decent in her part but she was very underused and not given much to do here. Every other actor is over the top and ‘weird’ but there’s not much of a character for them to play.

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Part of the hype for Prisoners of the Ghostland was the director Sion Sono, I haven’t seen any of his movies but I heard that he’s quite unique and ‘crazy’ as a filmmaker. With this film there’s certainly a lot of flare to his direction. The cinematography is fantastic, the practical sets are impressive, and the action isn’t anything special but is nicely stylised and fun to watch.

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I was rather disappointed in Prisoners of the Ghostland. Despite the premise, its just rather dull to sit through, especially the middle hour of the film. It does have some strengths, Nicolas Cage was enjoyable to watch despite being underutilised, I liked the mash up of different genres, and a lot of the technical aspects are impressive. At the very least, it has me interested to check out Sion Sono’s other work, but by itself, Prisoners of the Ghostland is just fine at best.

King Richard (2021) Review

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King Richard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The King’s Man (2021) Review

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The King's Man

Time: 131 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence, sexual references & offensive language
Cast:
Ralph Fiennes as Orlando, Duke of Oxford
Gemma Arterton as Pollyanna “Polly” Wilkins
Rhys Ifans as Grigori Rasputin
Matthew Goode as Captain Morton
Tom Hollander as King George, Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsar Nicholas
Harris Dickinson as Conrad Oxford
Daniel Brühl as Erik Jan Hanussen
Djimon Hounsou as Shola
Charles Dance as Herbert Kitchener
Director: Matthew Vaughn

One man must race against time to stop history’s worst tyrants and criminal masterminds as they get together to plot a war that could wipe out millions of people and destroy humanity.

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The King’s Man was the upcoming prequel to the Kingsman movies which had been repeatedly pushed back. I really like Kingsman: The Secret Service, it was a lot of fun. The sequel titled The Golden Circle was not quite as good as the first movie, but I still enjoyed it. However, a prequel might’ve been what the franchise needed, with a very different setting and completely different characters. However with every delay of the movie, I felt less confident in it. It’s finally arrived and thankfully I actually ended up enjoying it, but its not without some issues and questionable decisions.

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The King’s Man takes place a century earlier prior to the first two movies, and while I do like this new film, I still don’t think it needed to exist. It didn’t really add anything to the Kingsman lore. I will say that it doesn’t heavily rely on the viewers having watched the first two movies. You might miss some of the appeal if you haven’t watched the first movie at least though. The pacing was very inconsistent. The first third of the runtime introduces everything, so it takes a while to get going. Even then, for much of the runtime, it feels like a film made up of events and sections rather than a continuous story. It isn’t clear where everything leads to, and there’s little to no flow to it. For what its worth though, the third act is consistently fun. I found myself only a little invested in the plot. From a writing and story perspective, The King’s Man seemed to lack the energy that the other two movies did, and part of that is the setting. Also, the characters weren’t that interesting. Rasputin was fun to watch, I also liked Ralph Fiennes and even his character’s son to a degree, their relationship is given enough attention that I was willing to care about it. However, I only liked some of the other characters because of the actors, nothing about the characters with how they’re written. Even the villains outside of Rasputin aren’t as entertaining, it’s a cliched conspiracy made up of select people around the world. Its certainly different to the Bond-esque villains of the last two movies but the execution here is rather average. Obviously with this being a Kingsman movie, it is not historically accurate, but there are some moments where it does attempt at a level of accuracy to WW1, which is beyond strange. It’s like Matthew Vaughn wanted a bonkers Kingsman movie set during WW1 but he felt obliged to be somewhat accurate. I can’t tell if that’s better or worse, because tying the two together make some of the darker scenes (and those based on true events) come across as tone deaf.

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One notable problem with the movie is that the tone is just all over the place and messy. The King’s Man definitely has its light-hearted, silly and fun moments, like with Rasputin and some of the action scenes. However, a lot of the situations are on the more on the serious side of the coin. That’s largely because Matthew Vaughn anchored the setting to World War 1. There’s real people involved in the plot with Rasputin and King George, and we even see Archduke Franz Ferdinand assassinated in this. There’s plenty of scenes featuring a lot serious political and military talk, which was quite misguided to me. There’s even also long sequences focusing on grimy war battlefields. By focusing on the horrors of war and being somewhat accurate to the setting, it damages the movie in some ways. The thing is that Vaughn actually does some of the handle the serious stuff quite well, the battle scenes are surprisingly well done and given the right amount of weight. The problem is that they don’t fit into this movie all that well. I am one of the people who enjoys The Golden Circle, even though I know of its faults very well. Honestly though, at least the over-the-top nature makes more sense compared to the serious take here. Making it too serious might’ve been misguided, but the worst part of all is how The King’s Man jumps between the two, the tones don’t work together. Rhys Ifans hamming it up as Rasputin really contrasts with the serious tone and the large battle scenes that feel like Matthew Vaughn is trying to make his own 1917. I will say that it is worth sticking around for the mid credits scene, because its one of, if not the most, insane credits scenes I’ve ever seen. Its honestly quite perplexing that it exists, you really just have to see it for yourself.

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There is a good cast involved, though not all of them are used to their fullest potential. Ralph Fiennes is one of the best parts of the movie and he absolutely delivers in the lead role. He more than proves himself a great action star, much like Colin Firth did in the first two movies. He adds so much to his character, probably even more than he needed to. He’s fun in the action and comedy scenes, but he also brings the emotion. Harris Dickinson plays his son, he does a good job and I like the relationship that the two have. Gemma Arteton and Djimon Hounsou are decent in their parts, even if their characters aren’t that memorable or great. Tom Hollander also plays Tsar Nicholas, Kaiser Wilhelm and King George, and is very entertaining in those parts. The most marketed villain of the movie is that of Rasputin, played by a wonderfully scene chewing Rhys Ifans. One could say that he might be doing too much, but I love how much he goes for it. It’s just a shame that we don’t get to see him as much I would’ve liked, and he is nothing more than a notable henchman. He certainly had better screen presence than the other villains, who are just surface level caricatures. The villains are a convoluted and conspiracy consisting of a group of people led by a shadowy leader called The Shephard. His goal is for the entire world to go to war. While the villain is over the top to a degree, he’s not at the level of Samuel L. Jackson or Julianne Moore from the previous movies. He is a moustache twirling madman that shouts a lot, but is still rather bland and cliched. I know that Julianne Moore’s villain in the last movie wasn’t exactly the best, but The Shephard is worse if only because of how much the film tries to hide his identity for the sake of the twist. As a result it doesn’t let you connect with the character in any way, and giving him a face and more dialogue would’ve helped the story and the character. They rely on the ultimate reveal at the end, it doesn’t even pay off and it isn’t surprising.

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Matthew Vaughn’s stylised direction is present once again, very much to the film’s benefit. His trademark brand of over-the-top hyper action is on full display here, and its where the film is at its best. It has great choreography, its very well shot, full of energy, and they are well depicted. Its not as great as some of the action from the first movie or even the second, but I did like them. The war moments are intense and well crafted, there are actually a lot of scenes that work as a serious war drama, and deliver on hard hitting emotion.

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I enjoyed The King’s Man, I liked the performance of Ralph Fiennes and Rhys Ifans, and the action was very entertaining. However it is definitely a mess, especially with the writing and tone. Honestly I can’t tell whether this or The Golden Circle is better, I certainly feel more inclined to rewatch the latter. Matthew Vaughn would be well advised to not make a sequel to this movie and just stick to making Kingsman movies set in the present day. On top of already playing with real life material from WW1 in this movie and shouldn’t be pushing it further (that credit scene is rather daunting), its just not the right setting for this franchise.

The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021) Review

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The Tragedy of Macbeth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Look Up (2021) Review

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Don't Look Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House of Gucci (2021) Review

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House of Gucci

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hawkeye (2021) TV Review

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HawkeyeCast:
Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye
Hailee Steinfeld as Kate Bishop
Tony Dalton as Jack Duquesne
Fra Fee as Kazimierz “Kazi” Kazimierczak
Brian d’Arcy James as Derek Bishop
Aleks Paunovic as Ivan
Piotr Adamczyk as Tomas
Linda Cardellini as Laura Barton
Simon Callow as Armand Duquesne III
Vera Farmiga as Eleanor Bishop
Alaqua Cox as Maya Lopez
Zahn McClarnon as William Lopez
Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova
Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk/Kingpin
Creator: Jonathan Igla

Clint Barton and Kate Bishop shoot a few arrows and try to avoid becoming the target themselves.

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Hawkeye is the latest series of the MCU put on Disney+. It looked fun and deliberately Christmas themed as it was ending just before Christmas Day. It did have many flaws but I’m prepared to say that I liked it.

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Right out of the gate I quite liked this refreshing approach for an MCU series. It felt very small scale and grounded, and its essentially a heartfelt buddy comedy between its two lead characters. The plot is definitely predictable, but I think that’s fine for this sort of show. There are even disposable and low level threat villains called the Tracksuit Mafia which are definitely meant to be absurd and lower threat, and I think that it fitted the lower stakes of the show. The humour is mostly funny and I really liked the quieter moments between characters, which were usually the best moments oof the show. There are definitely some dramatic elements, the main part being with Clint’s PTSD, him potentially missing Christmas with his family, and especially feeling the lasting effects of being Ronin after The Snap before Endgame starts. I do like that they address all that, although I feel like it is a little out of place in this show tonally, and Clint does get off pretty lightly considering he pretty much went on a global killing spree as a vigilante. Around halfway through or two thirds through the show I was enjoying it as a light show that didn’t need to do much. However over time it just brings in too much characters and storylines that almost could’ve fitted in other shows. By the time it brings in Yelena and introduces the show’s “mystery man”, it just feels too much. Speaking of the mystery man, literally every live action MCU tv show had some reveal of a villainous character near the end, and Loki so far has been the only one which has pulled it off. Ultimately, I feel the show might’ve benefited being without him. Not to mention that the reveal is left way too late without any development, and he almost feels like a last minute and tact on addition. Somehow Loki is also the only Disney+ show that got the length of the season right. Wandavision was a bit too long while The Falcon and the Winter Soldier wasn’t not long enough, and Hawkeye is on the ‘not long enough’ side of it. 6 episodes should be long enough for a light hearted show like this. However it introduces so many notable plotlines and characters (which they don’t really need) that it doesn’t have enough time to resolve their stories in a satisfying way. It felt like at least 2 episodes were cut from this thing. As for credit scenes, there is one for the finale, but its really not worth checking out.

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Jeremy Renner reprises his role of Hawkeye/Clint Barton and for what its worth, this is his best appearance as the character, mainly because of the attention and material given to him. He’s very witty and more fun to watch, while still giving an emotional performance especially as he shows regret over the events from Avengers: Endgame. One of the notable additions from this show is the co-lead in Hailee Steinfeld as Kate Bishop and she’s a great addition. She’s really energetic, charming, likable yet vulnerable in the role and stole all the scenes she was in. I’m looking forward to seeing her in more MCU projects. The dynamic between Kate and Clint are the heart of the show and they share believable chemistry.

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Alaqua Cox is a secondary antagonist of sorts as Maya Lopez/Echo, the deaf commander of the Tracksuit Mafia who is really good in her part. Definitely noteworthy is the fact that she’ll be getting her own show. She definitely has a good amount of build-up at the beginning but by the end of the show, her character doesn’t have much to do.  Just as well this isn’t the last time we’ll be seeing her but her ending in this show just felt rushed. It doesn’t help that there is a good amount of her arc which could’ve been handled in her own show with more attention, but it was shoved into the finale here. After her introduction in Black Widow, Florence Pugh returns as Yelena Belova as she is hunting Clint Barton. She is funny and entertaining yet ruthless and she is one of the highlights of the show. She particularly shares great chemistry with Steinfeld in their scenes together. With that being said, her whole revenge arc could’ve been done in another show or movie, in Hawkeye it felt rather stuffed and shoved in. Thankfully Pugh’s performance made up for it. Now about this show’s ‘mystery man’ villain, skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to see it. However the character is Vincent D’Onofrio reprising his role as Wilson Fisk/Kingpin after playing him in Netflix’s Daredevil, and I was happy to see him again. Now as expected he’s a bit different here compared to Daredevil, not nearly as dark or menacing. However my main issues stem from his very inclusion just feeling pointless. If the point was to establish that Kingpin is in the MCU, they could’ve had him appear as a cameo rather than the supposed person behind everything. While I’m sure we’ll see him again despite his final scene, he did feel kind of wasted here.

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On the whole the show was directed quite well. The cinematography was pretty good, its all well shot, and the visual effects and other technical aspects were on point. The action doesn’t rank among the best of the MCU by any means and it ranges between middling to actually exciting, but I had fun with it, they particularly do a lot with arrows. The song choices and score were great too. The show does very well at having a Christmas feel and atmosphere to it.

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Hawkeye is by far the worst live action MCU show but I still had fun with it. I think Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye definitely benefited from this show, Hailee Steinfeld shines as Kate Bishop and it’s a nice light hearted low stakes story. The problem is that it keeps bringing in new characters and plotlines that this short light hearted show can’t maintain them all, and leaves them quite unresolved. So by the finale it just feels disappointing. That aside, I do think that the show is decent and worth checking out.

The Matrix Resurrections (2021) Review

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The Matrix Resurrections

Time: 148 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence & offensive language
Cast:
Keanu Reeves as Thomas Anderson/Neo
Carrie-Anne Moss as Tiffany/Trinity
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Morpheus
Jessica Henwick as Bugs
Jonathan Groff as Smith
Neil Patrick Harris as The Analyst
Priyanka Chopra Jonas as Sati
Jada Pinkett Smith as Niobe
Director: Lana Wachowski

To find out if his reality is a physical or mental construct, Mr. Anderson, aka Neo, will have to choose to follow the white rabbit once more. If he’s learned anything, it’s that choice, while an illusion, is still the only way out of — or into — the Matrix. Neo already knows what he has to do, but what he doesn’t yet know is that the Matrix is stronger, more secure and far more dangerous than ever before.

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I really didn’t know what to expect from The Matrix Resurrections. I had previously watched the original trilogy some time ago, but I only just liked those movies and I wasn’t such a huge fan of them (even when it comes to the original). Then I watched the trailers for Resurrections and my interest shot up immediately, compelling me to revisit the original trilogy right before the new film. In my more recent rewatches of the trilogy I found that I was liking it a lot more, especially the sequels despite how divisive they were. So I was looking forward to the latest instalment, and I’m happy to say that Resurrections delivered in what I was hoping.

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Something you’ll see in every review for The Matrix Resurrections is the word ‘meta’, and the film is definitely very meta. I won’t go into detail as to the specifics of the plot, its worth checking out for yourself. However a noticeable part of it is very much is a commentary on IP culture and the commodification and exploitation of IP, as well as criticising blockbusters (mainly reboots). While some might consider the self-aware aspects annoying, I actually loved them, and it’s a very bold addition. In a way you could make a comparison between Resurrections and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. In a sense, some of the meta aspects are dropped once it leaves its first act and becomes more of a continuation of the Matrix story, though honestly the meta aspects could’ve felt tired when pushed longer so it was probably for the best. The second act is admittedly on the slower side and not quite as strong as the first or third acts, but I was nonetheless engaged with what was happening. Then it moves into its third act which I found incredibly gratifying and satisfying to watch.

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Something that I admire about the Wachowskis is that they are making the movies that they want to make and not really catering to the audience, which is most evident in their sequels with Reloaded, Revolutions, and now Resurrections. This is something that’s established from the meta first act, and Resurrections is essentially the creators reclaiming their franchise nearly 20 years later. While there is some nostalgia including references and returning characters, its still very much a personal movie with lots to say, and is very heartfelt and sincere. This is the most emotionally charged of the four films by far, from the emotional core of the story with Neo and Trinity, to just the feeling behind the whole film. As typical of it being a Matrix movies, there are a lot of themes at play. Along with the commentary and deconstruction of IP cinema, it still maintains the metaphors and themes of the original trilogy including systems and identity. Themes aside, Resurrections still does find a way to build upon the lore and continue the story in a way that I was satisfied with. While it certainly establishes some things which could be built upon in future films, I’m actually very comfortable with Resurrections being the conclusion of the whole series.

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I really liked the acting in the movie, everyone was really good in their part. Keanu Reeves in this movie isn’t only his best performance in a Matrix movie, but one of his best performances in general. He’s good throughout but he’s particularly great in the first act. Carrie-Anne Moss also returns as Trinity, and she was also great. She’s not in the movie as much as you’d expect, especially when it’s a movie about her and Neo, but she’s really good in her screentime. My biggest criticism of the first Matrix movie is that the central romance came out of nowhere at the end and wasn’t convincing. The sequels fixed this and made it believable, and Resurrections is no exception. While you don’t see Trinity as much as you would like, their connection is nonetheless a vital part of the movie and the essential emotional core. This movie very much builds off their established connection into something more, and for what its worth, Reeves and Moss have the best chemistry here out of the four movies, and they feel very believable.  The new additions to the cast were great too, mainly Jessica Henwick as Bugs and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Morpheus, or rather a new Morpheus. Addressing the elephant in the room, there is an explanation as to while the real Morpheus as played by Laurence Fishburne isn’t here. I like how Yahya doesn’t try to replicate Fishburne and is very much doing his own thing. Neil Patrick Harris was probably the biggest surprise in the movie. He plays Keanu’s psychologist known as The Analyst, but he has a far greater role in the movie, and proved to be a very different kind of antagonist compared to Smith. Speaking of Smith, that role this time is played by Jonathan Groff. While it definitely is disappointing not seeing Hugo Weaving reprise his role, Groff’s version is nonetheless interesting to watch, especially with how different he is. He doesn’t try to replicate Weaving and that really was for the best, and he’s wonderfully chewing up the scenery. There are also some welcome return actors and characters like Jada Pinkett Smith and Lambert Wilson in their roles.

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Lana Wachowski, one half of the Wachowski sisters, returns to direct the next Matrix movie. I thought her work here was great. It’s certainly feels very different stylistically to The Matrix which some might take issue with. But I feel like its less like she lost her Matrix touch and more like her filmmaking style has evolved since 18 years ago, and I appreciate how it feels very different rather than trying to recapture the original trilogy’s style. The cinematography is great, it certainly feels very different than the first three movies with the colour pallet and style, but I loved it, especially with the use of colour. The visual effects are fantastic too, and it’s quite something seeing a Matrix movie in the 2020s with modern technology. Watching is on the big screen was an incredible experience. The biggest complaint that some people will have is about the action, and the action is one of the most known parts of the movies. To be blunt, aside from one or two sequences, the action in Resurrections doesn’t rank amongst the best action of the franchise, there’s not much like the Freeway Chase in Reloaded or the final battle between Neo and Smith in Revolutions. There’s also not that many action scenes in the film. With that being said, I do like the action, and there are some moments in the third act which really stand out. In saying that, the action definitely isn’t a focus point compared to the previous three movies. Lana Wachowski is clearly more interested in the themes, plot and character and I respect that. The score from Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer is great, very reminiscent of Don Davis’s score from the original trilogy, with the same feel and atmosphere. It really elevates the action scenes particularly.

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The Matrix Resurrections is one of the most ambitious and creative blockbusters I’ve seen in a while. It’s meta and nostalgic while having enough changes to feel fresh for the franchise. Its entertaining, subversive, bold but also personal and heartfelt, with an enthralling story and is excellently directed. Resurrections is already proving itself to be an incredibly divisive movie. If you aren’t such a fan of the Matrix sequels you might not be into it. But for what its worth, as someone who loves the Matrix sequels, I loved this film and its one of my all-time favourite movies from 2021.

The Night House (2021) Review

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The Night House

Time: 110 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence, sexual references & offensive language
Cast:
Rebecca Hall as Beth
Sarah Goldberg as Claire
Vondie Curtis-Hall as Mel
Evan Jonigkeit as Owen
Stacy Martin as Madelyne
Director: David Bruckner

Reeling from the unexpected death of her husband, Beth (Rebecca Hall) is left alone in the lakeside home he built for her. She tries as best she can to keep together-but then the dreams come. Disturbing visions of a presence in the house call to her, beckoning with a ghostly allure. But the harsh light of day washes away any proof of a haunting. Against the advice of her friends, she begins digging into his belongings, yearning for answers.

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I didn’t go into The Night House expecting a lot. I just heard it was a horror movie starring Rebecca Hall that’s meant to be good. So I went into it fairly blind. However it was one of the biggest surprises of the year, especially for horror.

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The Night House is a psychological horror focusing on a widow who is going through a journey uncovering his life and who he was. Horror movies that explore grief and trauma isn’t anything new, in fact it’s becoming more prominent and overdone these days. However for what it’s worth, The Night House breathes new life into this very specific horror subgenre and is one of the better examples of that in recent memory. There’s a lot of genuinely scary ideas as it plays on the fear and acceptance of death. When the film eventually introduces supernatural elements, it fits in well with the rest of the plot and doesn’t feel out of place. Despite how it leans much stronger into horror in the third act, I really like how subtle and less flashy the horror is in the first two acts. The scares are there, but its not to the point where it’s too jarring or takes you out of the film. Helping the movie is the eerie atmosphere, there’s always something intensely uneasy that lingers throughout the runtime of the film. It is definitely a slow burn of a horror movie, but I appreciate how it took it’s time to build up its atmosphere and tell its story. In terms of faults, I did have some issues with the ending. While I liked the direction it went in and the overall idea, the ending itself was a little too abrupt.

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One of the highlights of the film is Rebecca Hall in the lead role, who gives one of her best performances yet. We spend most of the film with her alone for the most part, and she conveys so much even when she has very little support. This is her show, embodying her character’s feelings of loss and emotions when she makes some discoveries about her dead husband. The performance definitely helps the film work as well as it does. There are some decent supporting performances from the likes of Sarah Goldberg and Stacy Martin, but again this is Hall’s film.

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Another strong aspect of the film is David Bruckner’s direction. Some years ago he made The Ritual, another horror movie which I thought was good. However his work on The Night House is superb and another level. I love the visuals, the cinematography was striking and made great uses of optical illusions, architecture and symmetry. The sound design is also effective, and it has a fitting score from Ben Lovett which added to the atmosphere. The film delivers in creating an eerie and creepy atmosphere filled with tension. There are definitely jump scares, especially in the third act, but they don’t feel cheap and don’t break the atmosphere its been building up.

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The Night House was one of the biggest surprises of the year, especially for horror. The take on trauma and grief felt fresh, the direction is superb with a tense atmosphere, and Rebecca Hall’s performance was phenomenal. It is well worth checking out.