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Mank (2020) Review

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Mank

Time: 131 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Offensive language & suicide references
Cast:
Gary Oldman as Herman J. Mankiewicz
Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies
Lily Collins as Rita Alexander
Arliss Howard as Louis B. Mayer
Tom Pelphrey as Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Sam Troughton as John Houseman
Ferdinand Kingsley as Irving Thalberg
Tuppence Middleton as Sara Mankiewicz
Tom Burke as Orson Welles
Joseph Cross as Charles Lederer
Jamie McShane as Shelly Metcalf
Toby Leonard Moore as David O. Selznick
Monika Gossmann as Fräulein Frieda
Charles Dance as William Randolph Hearst
Director: David Fincher

1930s Hollywood is re-evaluated through the eyes of scathing wit and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) as he races to finish “Citizen Kane.”

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Mank was one of my most anticipated movies of 2020. I really didn’t quite know what to expect from it; the summary didn’t really sound interesting as it was a movie about the writing of Citizen Kane (which I only got around to watching for the first times this year). The reason I was really interested in Mank was because it was David Fincher’s latest movie, and his first movie in 6 years since his previous movie with Gone Girl. Even then I’m not sure why he chose to do this out of everything, nonetheless I was interested. Having seen it, I can say that it’s quite different from anything he’s done before. It’s an incredibly well made and technically perfect film, and I was quite invested throughout.

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The script from Fincher’s father Jack Fincher is fantastic, and really works well. If you haven’t seen Citizen Kane, it might be worth checking it out now before watching Mank, honestly I think it’s a good movie that’s worth watching anyways. I will say at the very least, it would help to watch or read some brief summary about what Citizen Kane is about, just to give some level of context and to somewhat understand the references and connections. However, it’s not essential for enjoying Mank. Before I move onto what the movie is really about, I should mention the concerns from many that this script was written following a widely disputed article called Raising Kane claiming that Citizen Kane director Orson Welles didn’t deserve screenwriting credit. For those who really care deeply about these things, there’s a scene or two of Orson Welles towards the end of Mank at the end which might annoy you but that’s it. From what I can tell, the script was polished so that the anti-Welles aspect was toned down significantly. At its core, the movie is more about the protagonist’s life. Instead of showing the actual struggle of writing Citizen Kane, Mank chose to show the personal circumstances and political landscape that Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz was living in, and how those elements greatly influenced the film. The movie really started out mainly about the screenwriting, so when stuff like a governor election was constantly being mentioned, you didn’t know to begin with that it was a big part at first. This movie is really about Hollywood in the 30s and 40s, and while some might slap it with the label of being yet another love letter to Hollywood (i.e. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), Mank is not quite that. The movie really takes on the flaws of Hollywood and the old studio system, and evaluates their relevance in today’s society just as they were just under a century ago. It’s also refreshingly cynical, and what’s shown in this movie does really remain relevant to this day. Politics actually plays quite a large part in this movie. 30s Hollywood was heavily conservative, and while Mankiewicz was very much a staunch leftist socialist, he’s forced to support political ideologies that he’s fundamentally against to remain in the good graces of the heads of the studios that he’s working at. I thought that was very interesting to watch.

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Again, Fincher doesn’t show the impact of Citizen Kane, rather the political climate surrounding the time of its creation and release, and how huge an impact film has on people’s attitudes and even beliefs. I’m not going to say there’s an angle of viewing a movie that will guarantee you to love it, but it’s worth going in expecting a movie about 30s and 40s Hollywood and politics at the time more than a movie about the writing  Citizen Kane (or if you haven’t watched CK, the writing of a really old movie that’s apparently one of the greatest movies ever made). While among Fincher’s filmography I might not rewatch it all that much, I get the feeling that I would like and appreciate it a lot more if I rewatched it, now that I know what the movie is really about. As for the script itself, this is one of the best scripts that Fincher has worked with. I was constantly invested throughout the runtime. The scenes are written with a good flow (helped by the editing of course). It’s also surprisingly comedic, this is probably Fincher’s funniest movie next to Fight Club. Mank has a lot of dialogue and exposition, and fortunately the dialogue itself is greatly written and witty, the whole script in fact was quite witty. The actual structure of the whole movie mimics Citizen Kane’s, jumping all over the place between present day and numerous flashbacks. While some would find it to be rather messy, I was on board with this unconventional storytelling. If there’s a clear cut issue I had with the movie, I do have a minor issue with the ending. It’s not bad perse but it’s rather anti-climactic, especially with what came just beforehand. Another issue other was again with the portrayal of Orson Welles, who felt more like an abstraction and less of a person. Though I know certain people will take greater issue with it than I. As it was. he worked for the movie, even though it’s clear to even me that some parts didn’t happen like it was portrayed in the movie. I can see people calling the movie boring, and I don’t really blame them. I was never not invested in what was happening, but with the first act I was not really sure where this story was going. Once I knew what the movie was really about, that’s when I got fully on board with it.

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The performances were all great, and everyone played their parts very well. Gary Oldman gives quite possibly his career best performance as Herman J. Mankiewicz. As “Mank” he really does embody the protagonist well, as an alcoholic screenwriter, who can be frustrating at times but at the same time entertaining to watch and likable. Oldman really brings a lot of life to Mank and really makes him work. Amanda Seyfried is another standout, also giving possibly her best performance yet, she’s such an onscreen presence and stands out in every scene she’s in. Oldman and Seyfried particularly share excellent chemistry with each other. Lily Collins is also good, also playing off Oldman very well in her scenes. Charles Dance and Arliss Howard are other highlights in the supporting cast, and other actors like Tuppence Middleton, Tom Pelphrey and Tom Burke (the latter of whom does an excellent Orson Welles impression) also play their respective parts well.

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This is a David Fincher film, so you know it’s going to be fantastically directed, with a lot of attention to detail. Black and white aside, you wouldn’t know that Fincher directed this aside from the fact that it is perfect on a technical level. The cinematography is beautiful, with striking lighting, and seemed to imitate the lighting of Citizen Kane. There’s a moment where an empty bottle falls from an intoxicated Mank’s hand, filmed similarly to the opening of Citizen Kane with the dropping the snow globe. It really does fit the time period perfectly. The production and costume designs are great and accurate to the era. The sound design is worth mentioning too, as it’s imitating the sound of early theatres. There’s even cue marks or changeover cue (also known as cigarette burns) in the top right hand corner of the screen at points, which indicate that a reel needed to be changed back in the old days of film. Really everything is done to try to recreate the time period. The only thing missing is that it’s filmed on digital and the aspect ratio is different from back then, and making digital feel like film is quite impressive in itself. The editing is top notch too, as you’d expect from Fincher. Every time there’s a scene and time period change, words will be typed across the screen typed like a typewriter typing on a page, and it’s a simple yet effective technique. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have been scoring David Fincher’s movies from The Social Network onwards, and they also did the score for Mank. This is quite a different type of score for them, apparently they were using instruments only available from the 30s and the music is very much jazz inspired. It fits the movie perfectly and really adds to the atmosphere.

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Mank is not going to appeal to a lot of people, and I can’t tell for sure whether you’ll like it or not. However I found it to be an incredible movie. The script was great and surprisingly dense, David Fincher’s direction is again outstanding, and the performances are all stellar, with Oldman and Seyfried being the highlights. I’m not sure I’d say that it’s one of Fincher’s best films as of yet, but that’s only because there are many other outstanding movies from him which I’d place before it. I still feel comfortable calling it one of the best films of 2020 for sure.

Alien 3: Assembly Cut (1992) Review

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Alien 3

Time: 145 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] contains violence and offensive language
Cast:
Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley
Charles S. Dutton as Leonard Dillon
Charles Dance as Jonathan Clemens
Director: David Fincher

After her last encounter, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) crash-lands on Fiorina Fury 161, a maximum security prison. When a series of strange and deadly events occur shortly after her arrival, Ripley realizes that she brought along an unwelcome visitor.

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Despite the success and acclaim of the previous movies in the series, Alien 3 was a very divisive film upon its release in the early 90s. When I first saw the movie many years ago (around the same time I watched the other Alien movies for the first time), I actually liked it. However it did have its issues, mainly with studio interference, director David Fincher (who has gone on to do make better things) has since disowned this movie. There was an assembly cut put together, which included extended footage, deleted scenes, new digital effects and different key elements. I legitimately think that this version of Alien 3 is great, or at least close to being great.

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Again, the version of Alien 3 I’ll be reviewing is the Assembly Cut, which is widely known as the superior version of the film. It was years since I saw the movie for the first time (which I assume was the theatrical version), so I can’t comment too much on the differences between the two versions. However watching this movie now, I can’t imagine what it would’ve been like without 30 minutes of extra footage. One difference I know for certain was that for the creation of the main xenomorph, the theatrical version has it birthed from a dog, in this version its from an ox. One of the biggest criticisms was early in the movie was the fact that all the characters who survived the previous movie aside from Ripley die at the beginning (not really a spoiler it’s very early on). While I didn’t like that decision for the longest time, now I’ve sort of warmed to that idea now. Killing these characters at the beginning was a bold choice. After the action film that was James Cameron’s Aliens, Alien 3 firmly establishes itself as being a very different movie, a much bleaker and nihilistic movie, and this alienated some fans. Despite this, I think that the tonal departure from its predecessor works to Fincher’s benefit. This film is also closer in tone to the original Alien, being much more of a horror film than an action film. The movie is also set in a more confined location, reasonably large but still closed in and claustrophobic, and while the characters aren’t in space, there aren’t any weapons to fight back with (though the reason behind this does feel a little bit forced). It’s very much its own movie. With all that being said, Alien 3 is one of the most infamous cases of studio interference. The assembly cut puts together the movie as best as possible, and while watching it now I liked what I saw, there was a feeling at points that it was a little rushed. The ending was satisfying, and would’ve been a good place to end the series (and then they made Alien Resurrection for some reason).

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Sigourney Weaver is great as usual as Ellen Ripley, still having that strong on screen presence, I actually think that this is her best performance as the character. Alien 3 really shows the PTSD that Ripley has from the experience of the previous two movies and how those events took a toll on her. The rest of the cast are good, with two standouts being Charles Dance and Charles S. Dutton. Both of them have some quite solidly written characters, elevated by the great performances. Unfortunately the rest of the supporting characters don’t have much to them, though not a whole lot worse than the supporting characters of the previous two movies.

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The direction of the movie by David Fincher was great, and his direction took the film to another level. One of the film’s biggest strengths is the setting, taking place on a prison. Fincher does well at making this location feel remote and dystopian. Despite it being a somewhat large environment, it still feels claustrophobic. The production design was particularly great, with a lot of attention to detail. The cinematography is great and makes the film look so visually appealing, with dark shadows, strong aesthetics, and really adds to that claustrophobic. In the third act, the POV shots from the Xenomorph’s perspective also really worked. One of the more noticeable problems with the movie was that the CGI on the Xenomorph is very much a mixed bag. The actual design on the new alien is great and is something that hadn’t been shown in the previous two movies. Also, whenever the xenomorph is on screen with practical effects, it looks fantastic. However, in some points it will just cut to a very fake looking Xenomorph doing stuff, and the effects even in the Assembly Cut haven’t aged well. The chase scenes are pretty repetitive, though I guess that a whole lot of those moments were inevitable with the movie being a more open environment than the original Alien, and lacking the weapons in Aliens. The score by Elliot Goldenthal is also great, and fits the movie very well.

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Alien 3 is definitely a flawed film but it’s by no means a bad film, in fact I think it’s really good. The new take for an Alien film is interesting, it’s greatly directed, I like the places that the story is taken, and the performances are great, especially from Weaver, Dance and Dutton. I’d recommend checking out this version of the film. It isn’t as strong as the first two movies, Alien still remains the best film in the series but Alien 3 is at least close to being at the level of Aliens.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) Review

Time: 131 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Kyle Chandler as Dr. Mark Russell
Vera Farmiga as Dr. Emma Russell
Millie Bobby Brown as Madison Russell
Bradley Whitford as Dr. Rick Stanton
Sally Hawkins as Dr. Vivienne Graham
Charles Dance as Colonel Alan Jonah
Thomas Middleditch as Dr. Sam Coleman
Aisha Hinds as Colonel Diane Foster
O’Shea Jackson Jr. as Jackson Barnes
David Strathairn as Admiral William Stenz
Ken Watanabe as Dr. Ishirō Serizawa
Zhang Ziyi as Dr. Ilene Chen and Dr. Ling Chen
Director: Michael Dougherty

Members of the crypto-zoological agency Monarch face off against a battery of god-sized monsters, including the mighty Godzilla, who collides with Mothra, Rodan, and his ultimate nemesis, the three-headed King Ghidorah. When these ancient super-species-thought to be mere myths-rise again, they all vie for supremacy, leaving humanity’s very existence hanging in the balance.

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Godzilla: King of the Monsters was one of my most anticipated movies of 2019. I liked the first Godzilla, even with some of its minor problems it wasn’t enough to take away from the overall experience, and I don’t think it’s appreciated as much as it should be. With the trailers showing off it having more monsters and some stunning visuals, I was looking forward to it. I have heard that some reviews from people have been fairly mixed, however I personally really liked it.

King of the Monsters is the sequel to the first Godzilla in 2014, however both films are completely different from each other. One of the criticisms of that first movie was the focus on the human characters, and that it spent too much time with them. I’m aware that when it comes to monster movies human beings aren’t really the highlight, and unless they are all played by Bryan Cranston, will generally feel like standard characters. However, I still think that humans should have a part in the story. The humans still have a presence in the movie, and while it’s not the strongest part of the movie, I still liked their storyline. On another note, I like how Monarch as an organisation plays a big part in the movie. They’re like SHIELD from Marvel except its involved with large monsters. The tone is not as dark as the first movie, it is more campier, contains more humour and is about what you would expect from a typical blockbuster. Some people hated that Godzilla didn’t have much screentime in the 2014 movie. With King of the Monsters however, Godzilla gets more screentime, and especially the newer monsters. I am not familiar with the Godzilla series but it seemed to have double downed with the classic monsters, so I think people who are long time fans of Godzilla will appreciate all that. Storywise the movie is alright, it falls into many of the typical blockbuster tropes but you’ve come to expect that at this point. It’s also worth staying around to watch the credits, as well as the post credits scene, as they hint in the potential next direction for the series.

As I said earlier, the human characters aren’t anything special, but the cast all do a good job in their roles. Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown are the leads, and while they aren’t delivering the best performances of their careers or anything, they do more than commendable jobs here. Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins and David Strathairn are the only returning characters from the first Godzilla and all play their parts well. Watanabe has been a highlight in this series and he also has some great moments in this movie. Charles Dance’s character is a bit underdeveloped and doesn’t have a lot to him outside of being a minor human villain, still Dance plays him well.

I’m not familiar with director Michael Dougherty’s work outside of Krampus, but his work on Godzilla was good. This is a visually stunning movie, much more colourful than the 2014 film. The visual effects and CGI are phenomenal, it really is worth seeing on the big screen. Like in the previous movie, the monsters are showcased really well. You see a bunch of them, on top of Godzilla, other monsters like Mothra, Dhidorah and others are shown well, very powerful and threatening. The third act is one of the most enthralling third acts in a blockbuster in recent years that I’ve seen, everything is on an even larger scale. If you thought the destruction in the first movie was big, you aren’t prepared for what King of the Monsters does has in store for you. I’ll just say that I’m not sure how they’ll top this with Godzilla vs Kong, it’s practically impossible. The score by Bear McCreary is also great and was perfect for the movie.

It seems like people will be split on King of the Monsters. If you loved the serious and bleak take on Godzilla with the 2014 movie, you might be missing a lot of what you loved in that. However, if that movie you found didn’t have enough Godzilla and monsters content, King of the Monsters seems like it’s right up your alley. Personally, I feel like both movies exceeded well at the types of movies they were going for. Again, I’m not sure how they’ll be able to pull off Godzilla vs Kong at this point but I’m still there for it.