Time: 105 Minutes Age Rating: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Time: 125 Minutes Cast:
Charlize Theron as Andy/Andromache of Scythia
KiKi Layne as Nile Freeman
Matthias Schoenaerts as Booker/Sebastian Le Livre
Marwan Kenzari as Joe/Yusuf Al-Kaysani
Luca Marinelli as Nicky/Nicolò di Genova
Chiwetel Ejiofor as James Copley
Harry Melling as Steven Merrick
Veronica Ngo as Quynh Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
A group of mercenaries, all centuries-old immortals with the ability to heal themselves, discover someone is onto their secret, and they must fight to protect their freedom.
I had heard about The Old Guard for some time. All I knew about it was that it was a Netflix action movie based on a comic book and starred Charlize Theron in the lead role. I wasn’t in any rush to get around to watching it, I wasn’t really expecting much going into it. It turned out to be better than I thought it would be, despite some of its issues, I thought it was quite entertaining and generally well made.
There was a little more to the story of The Old Guard than I thought there would be. I just thought it would be an action movie about immortals. While there was that, there was an interesting mythology and lore that was given, especially with the characters. There is however a lot of exposition explaining the characters’ pasts, especially with the use of flashbacks. Some of the flashbacks were quite effective, others were a little cheesy. The plot itself is quite predictable and nothing special, which is disappointing given the potential the setup and premise has. I guess what made it feel somewhat fresh was how they handled the relationships between the main group. Nonetheless, some of the characters get more attention and depth than others, and it does feel like the plot could’ve been a lot better. There are for sure some cliches, from recycled plot points to familiar dialogue. The pacing was also slower, and that was good and bad at the same time. While I appreciate the movie not rushing into just being a typical action movie and focussing on some character moments, there were parts where it does slow down just a little too much. There wasn’t as much action as I thought there would be, and I do think that it worked towards the film’s benefit. The ending was setting up a sequel, and I’m on board with that and hope that it happens.
The cast really do well on their parts. Charlize Theron is in the lead role and plays her part greatly, her performance alone makes the movie worth watching. Additionally, Theron is no stranger to action and performs very well in those scenes. KiKi Layne is also great in one of the lead roles as a newcomer to this world of immortals. The rest of the immortals played by Matthias Schoenaerts, Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli are also quite good. Chiwetel Ejiofor isn’t given much to do, but he also played his part very well. Harry Melling also plays up his hammy cliché villain pretty well, even if he really didn’t have much to work with.
I haven’t seen any work from Gina Prince-Bythewood, but she directed The Old Guard pretty well. The action is one of the highlights of the movie, it’s choreographed well, brutal, and very well shot. If there’s anything that takes away from them, it’s that the bad soundtrack was pretty bad. The movie is filled with pop songs which really didn’t fit the movie, and many of them play during the action scenes. The songs themselves weren’t necessarily bad, it’s just that they really didn’t work well with the action scenes they were placed in, and they were more than a little distracting.
The Old Guard was a bit of a surprise, I don’t consider it to be great by any means and there were parts with the script which could’ve been much better, but it was entertaining for what it was. It was directed well, featured some solid action scenes, and the cast perform well. If you like action movies then I’d say that this is one to check out for sure. I’m definitely interested in follow up movies, hopefully they’d reach the potential that the first movie didn’t.
Time: 393 Minutes
Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon
Isla Johnston as young Beth
Bill Camp as Mr. Shaibel
Moses Ingram as Jolene
Christiane Seidel as Helen Deardorff
Rebecca Root as Miss Lonsdale
Chloe Pirrie as Alice Harmon
Akemnji Ndifornyen as Mr. Fergusson
Marielle Heller as Mrs. Alma Wheatley
Harry Melling as Harry Beltik
Patrick Kennedy as Allston Wheatley
Jacob Fortune-Lloyd as Townes
Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Benny Watts
Marcin Dorociński as Vasily Borgov Director: Scott Frank
Set during the Cold War era, orphaned chess prodigy Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) struggles with addiction in a quest to become the greatest chess player in the world.
I was quite interested in The Queen’s Gambit. The main reason was Anya Taylor-Joy being cast in the lead role, she’s one of the best up and coming actors working today, and I’m always interested in whatever projects she takes on. Additionally, a mini series about chess sounded quite interesting. I had high hopes for The Queen’s Gambit and it turned out way better than I thought it would. It is an excellent miniseries, well made on every level, and with another great lead performance from Anya Taylor-Joy.
The Queen’s Gambit consists of 7 Episodes ranging from 45 minutes to just over an hour in length. That’s pretty short as far as shows go, but it was the perfect length for this story. None of the episodes or moments in those episodes felt like they were filler. A lot happens in each episode too, even the episodes that aren’t an hour long. The first episode doesn’t feature Anya Taylor-Joy as lead character Beth Harmon outside of the opening scene, as it’s mainly Beth at age 9 when she’s at an orphanage and learns about chess. While that episode is pretty much just her at the orphanage, it is nonetheless a very important episode with plenty of things that it sets up for the rest of the show to continue on with. I’ll say that if you watched the first episode and weren’t as engaged as you would’ve liked to have been, the second episode is definitely where things advance a lot more, as it moves beyond the orphanage. I won’t give too much story details beyond that, but I’ll say that it’s very engrossing watching the lead character, the places she goes and everything she goes through. You’re really engrossed into what’s happening over the course of the story, the characters are well realised, and Beth’s story is quite compelling. The Queen’s Gambit is actually based off a fictional novel, but if I didn’t know that going in, I would’ve thought that it was a biopic, that’s how well made the show was. When it comes to chess, you don’t need to be an expert on chess in order to love the show. The Queen’s Gambit doesn’t even try to really explain the whole game to the audience, and that works. You can still follow along with what’s happening with no problems. Additionally, I’ve heard that a lot of chess experts has said that the portrayal of chess in the show is very accurate, so take that how you will.
The acting is great by everyone. Anya Taylor-Joy gives one of, if not her best performance yet as Beth Harmon. She really portrays this complex character very well, it’s such a nuanced performance that conveys so much with very little. She definitely makes it convincing that she’s a genius level chess player, who is going through lots of issues throughout the show. Also, Isla Johnston deserves some praise as the younger version of Beth (mainly in the first episode). The supporting cast are all great too. Marielle Heller plays Beth’s step-mother, and that relationship between the two was one of the biggest surprises, as it went in a different direction from what I expected from it. I know of Heller as the director of The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Can You Ever Forgive Me and It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, but she’s shown here that she’s great at acting too and shares great chemistry with Taylor-Joy. Other performances such as Bill Camp as the janitor who teaches Beth chess, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Harry Melling and Jacob Fortune-Lloyd as other chess players also add a lot to the show.
Scott Frank directed all the episodes of the show, and he did a fantastic job with them. It’s an incredibly well shot show, the cinematography is great, and so is the production and costume designs. The costumes that Anya wears in the second half of the show particularly stand out. It really does well at placing the show in the time periods of the 50s and 60s. Chess is a big part of the show as you can tell, and that aspect is portrayed very well. Even the visuals of chess on the ceiling that Beth occasionally imagines in her head could’ve come across as a bit cheesy but actually ends up working. The editing is excellent too, not only working to make the chess matches thrilling and suspenseful, but also keeping the flow of an episode going. Everything that’s in each of the episodes actually has a reason to be there, while not feeling way too trimmed down. One of the aspects that really stood out to me early from even the first episode was the score from Carlos Rafael Rivera, which was really great and fitted the show perfectly.
The Queen’s Gambit is an enthralling show with a great and entertaining story, and is incredibly well made. Acting across the board was also all solid but it’s Anya Taylor-Joy who stands out, giving another fantastic and compelling lead performance. This show was one of the biggest surprises from 2020, definitely worth checking out as soon as you can.
Time: 138 Minutes Cast:
Tom Holland as Arvin Eugene Russell Bill Skarsgård as Willard Russell
Robert Pattinson as Reverend Preston Teagardin
Riley Keough as Sandy Henderson
Jason Clarke as Carl Henderson
Sebastian Stan as Sheriff Lee Bodecker
Eliza Scanlen as Lenora Laferty
Haley Bennett as Charlotte Russell
Mia Wasikowska as Helen Hatton Laferty
Harry Melling as Roy Laferty Director: Antonio Campos
A young man (Tom Holland) is devoted to protecting his loved ones in a town full of corruption and sinister characters.
The Devil All the Time was one of my most anticipated movies of 2020. First of all it has one of the biggest casts of the year, with it including Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgard, Robert Pattinson, Jason Clarke, and Riley Keough, so naturally that had my curiosity. On top of that though, the prospect of a psychological thriller with a large group of characters sounded quite appealing and very much my kind of film. Having seen it, I can see why some people are mixed on it, it’s not for everyone, but I’m glad to say that I really liked the movie and it really worked for me.
You could describe The Devil All the Time as like The Place Beyond the Pines as written by Cormac McCarthy or The Coen Brothers. It spans a number of decades and generations, and features a large number of characters with intertwining storylines. It can feel like it’s not driving towards something for most of the movie, it’s very much a character driven story. For me though it works, I found the story and characters compelling, and I was invested with what was happening. As mentioned earlier it is not for everyone. It is a very grim and bleak movie, a lot of graphic, violent and gruesome acts happen, there are some pretty dark themes and subject matter touched on throughout, and almost all of the main characters are pretty far from what you’d call ‘a good person’ to say the least. So it’s likely to turn a lot of people off. The movie is also just under 2 hours and 20 minutes long, it does feel quite long and it is slowly paced for sure. You could make the argument that some parts could’ve been trimmed. At the same time there are some plotlines that could’ve done with some fleshing out, particularly those of Jason Clarke, Riley Keough and Sebastian Stan. Maybe a mini series might’ve been able to flesh out all the aspects of the story while not feeling too drawn out, but I’m fine with how it is as a movie. One point of contention will be with the narration by Donald Ray Pollock, the author of the book the movie was based on. It will work for some, and others will hate it, I have very mixed feelings on it. It really did add something to the tone of the movie, making it feel like a gothic folk tale, and it also added some context to the characters and the story that it sometimes needed. So I wouldn’t say that it should’ve been completely removed or anything. However, it really needed to be cut back a ton. There’s many moments that would’ve been more effective if they didn’t have narration, it just explains way too much, including what some characters are doing and why they are doing it, and it just takes me out of the movie. This may be a nitpick but there are a few characters who are around from the 40s through to the 60s, and don’t look like they aged a day, and it can be a bit distracting.
The cast are of course the standouts from the movie, and everyone is great on their part. Riley Keough and Jason Clarke play a serial killer couple, Sebastian Stan plays a corrupt sheriff, and Harry Melling plays a fanatical preacher, the later of whom was one of the biggest surprises of the movie, delivering a truly memorable performance. Although their characters aren’t given much to do, Eliza Scanlen, Haley Bennett, Mia Wasikowska do well on their parts, and Scanlen particularly gave an effective performance. Even amongst an ensemble of great performances, there were three actors that stood out. First of all is Tom Holland, as the main character of the story (despite appearing for the first time like 40 minutes into the movie) Arvin Russell. This was quite a different role for him, a much darker and emotional role for him, and he was actually great on his part. While I like him in the movies I’ve seen of his, I’d say that this is so far the best performance of his career thus far. I hope Holland branches out to more indie movies like this, because he’s definitely got a lot of range. Bill Skarsgard is also great as Arvin’s father, he really leaves a strong impression despite being in the movie for only like 30 minutes. He gives an intense and emotional performance, and possibly the best work I’ve seen from him thus far. Robert Pattinson is also a scene stealer as a sleezy, deranged and sinister reverend. He’s not even in the movie a ton but he makes the most of his screentime. His performance could’ve so easily failed, it is definitely over the top. However it actually really works, and he really did well at portraying the most hateable character in the film, and considering the lineup of characters in this story that is saying a lot. A particular scene between him and Holland is one of the best scenes of the year.
This is the first movie I watched from Antonio Campos, and from this I can tell that he’s a great director, and I do want to watch his other movies. It’s very well put together. The cinematography is great and really sells the environment and time period effectively. The 35mm and the grain really also really fit the movie and tone. You really get the gothic rural feeling throughout. The use of music was pretty great, both the song choices and the score, and really worked particularly well in some certain scenes. The violence and brutality is really effective and impactful, it feels very realistic, and there are some moments and particularly some imagery that really stick with you.
The Devil All the Time has some issues with some of the executions of its ideas and with its writing, but on the whole I think it’s great. I was invested throughout, it’s very well directed, and it features some fantastic acting, particularly from Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgard and Robert Pattinson. It’s not for everyone, the aimless story might drag for some, and the grim tone might turn some people off. With that said I think that it might be worth watching for the ensemble of great performances alone.
Time: 133 Minutes Age Rating: Cast: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Tim Blake Nelson as Buster Scruggs
Willie Watson as The Kid
David Krumholtz as Frenchman in Saloon
E. E. Bell as Saloon Piano Player
Tom Proctor as Cantina Bad Man
Clancy Brown as Çurly Joe
James Franco as Cowboy
Stephen Root as Teller
Ralph Ineson as The Man in Black
Jesse Luken as Drover
Liam Neeson as Impresario
Harry Melling as Artist (Harrison)
All Gold Canyon
Tom Waits as Prospector
Sam Dillon as Young Man
The Gal Who Got Rattled
Zoe Kazan as Alice Longabaugh
Bill Heck as Billy Knapp
Grainger Hines as Mr. Arthur
Jackamoe Buzzell as Boarder #3
Jefferson Mays as Gilbert Longabaugh
Ethan Dubin as Matt
The Mortal Remains
Tyne Daly as Lady (Mrs. Betjeman)
Brendan Gleeson as Irishman (Clarence)
Jonjo O’Neill as Englishman (Thigpen)
Saul Rubinek as Frenchman (René)
Chelcie Ross as Trapper Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
An anthology film comprised of six stories, each dealing with a different aspect of life in the Old West.
The Coen Brothers have done some good movies in the past but I can never tell how much I’ll like their movies. Hail Caesar wasn’t particularly liked loved a lot of people but I really liked it, whereas their beloved movies Fargo and Inside Llewyn Davis I liked but didn’t love, not to mention I didn’t like their comedy ‘classic’ Raising Arizona at all. This isn’t the first Western movie that they have done, with No Country for Old Men and True Grit showing that they are great with the genre, but it is the first anthology movie that they’ve done. It’s such a weird idea for them and I really didn’t know what to expect. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a odd mix of western stories written and directed by The Coen Brothers that range from okay to actually pretty good. I’m glad I watched it but it’s far from the filmmaking duo’s best.
Now the movie is split into 6 different chapters and it’s just impossible for me to talk about the movie on a whole without talking about them individually. Therefore, I’ll separate my review by the individual chapters. The first chapter is The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. It’s about Buster Scruggs (Tim Blake Nelson), a cheerful outlaw and singer who comes across other outlaws and hilarity and chaos insures. So much of this chapter is cartoonish and over the top, I was entertained by it but I was expecting much more. Really the highlight of this chapter was the titular character of Buster Scruggs played by Tim Blake Nelson. He’s so over the top and full of energy that it’s fun to watch him, he’s almost like a cartoon character put into live action. While all of the chapters were directed well, this was particularly well directed and put together. Though it was fun, by the end it just comes across as a fun skit written and directed by The Coen Brothers rather than them actually making part of a movie. I’m not exactly sure why they decided to name the whole movie after this chapter, it’s way shorter than I thought it would be and was just sort of funny and that’s it. While I had fun with this chapter, it did make me nervous about the rest of the movie, and whether it would be just fun western skits for the entirety of the movie. Know that despite what I said, I actually had a lot of fun with it and it’s really good. I just wish that it was longer and had more of a purpose.
The second chapter is titled Near Algodones and stars James Franco as a cowboy who tries to perform a robbery. The best thing I can say about it indicates at least that each chapter of this movie will have a different tone and story, it’s not cartoonishly goofy as Buster Scruggs and is a little more serious, yet it has some effective dark comedy and James Franco is also good in a role that we don’t usually see him in. Again though, it feels so incredibly short, around the length of Buster Scruggs and probably even shorter. The whole movie is 2 hours and 10 minutes long yet they couldn’t seem to make each of them at least 20 minutes long. The found footage anthology movie V/H/S seemed to have longer segments. However, it’s not just that it’s short, while Buster Scruggs can get by with it being a goofy comedic skit, Near Algodones is a more serious story, and so doesn’t have that to fall back on. While it wasn’t bad by any means, there wasn’t really anything particularly interesting or even that entertaining about this chapter, outside of some slightly humorous moments. Having watched this segment, I had even more worries about how the overall movie would be.
The third chapter is titled Meal Ticket, starring Liam Neeson as an travelling impresario with an armless and legless artist played by Harry Melling. Again, significantly different tone and type of story and it was such a weird choice of story to make in the western setting, especially in contrast to the previous two stories. However, it’s from this point that things started to look up for the overall movie. It didn’t really have any comedy whatsoever, thankfully though it is done much better than Near Algodones. It’s about as long as the Buster Scruggs segment yet we actually get to learn more about the characters and their situations. Both Neeson and Melling are also great in their roles and their subtle performances made the chapter even better. This story isn’t what you’d typically think of when it comes to western stories but it really works for this movie. It’s a lot more atmospheric and darker from the others, also with a rather bleak ending which fits right along with The Coen Brothers’ other dark endings, all around Meal Ticket was pretty decent.
The fourth chapter is titled All Gold Canyon and is about Tom Waits as a prospector who arrives in a mountain valley and decides to dig for gold, again, very different kind of story compared to the others. Something that’s immediately different is the setting. The first two segments were very desert-western based, and the third mostly took place at towns in night. The fourth chapter however takes place in a beautiful and green field, making it by far the most visually stunning of all the segments. It’s longer than the previous segments and is the easiest to watch of all the segments. It’s really just Tom Waits in the story in terms of characters, and he carries it very well. Overall one of the better chapters of the movie.
The fifth chapter is titled The Gal Who Got Rattled, which is about a woman (Zoe Kazan) and her brother (Jefferson Mays), who are traveling in a wagon train towards Oregon. Now I heard from some people how the movie falls apart from this segment as well as the 6th chapter. It doesn’t feel like a typical Coen Brothers’ movie, both in concept and in terms of writing and dialogue. It is also the longest of the 6 segments, and is more drawn out with a slower pace, which feels really jarring compared to the prior segments which moved rather fast. I will say that it does feel like the most well rounded of the stories. Most of the other chapters feel like either brief snapshots of what the stories as full complete movies could be, or random skits. The Gal Who Got Rattled on the other hand actually works as a short film on its own, with characters effectively fleshed out. You could probably even see the segment turned into a full length movie. The actors all did a great job with their performances particularly Zoe Kazan, Bill Heck and Grainger Hines. Although it’s very out of place compared to the other chapters, The Gal Who Got Rattled is at the very least one of the better segments.
The sixth chapter is titled The Mortal Remains, and is about five people who ride in a stagecoach together to Fort Morgan. It feels like such a weird story to end the movie. Admittedly while I was on board with every chapter leading up to this, when it got to this one I sort of switched off. After the 30+ minute long segment of The Gal Who Got Rattled which was on such a large scale, it felt like an alright place for the movie to stop. However it was immediately followed by 5 people just talking, and through a lot of it, I just didn’t care what was going on, at least before the halfway point. That’s not to say that there aren’t some good moments to it though, after the halfway point it does pick up quite a bit, also Jonjo O’Neil, Brendan Gleeson, Saul Rubinek, Tyne Daly and Chelcie Ross were quite good in their roles. However it still is one of the weaker of the stories.
To summarise: whether you like The Ballad of Buster Scruggs or not, there’s no arguing that it really feels like a Coen Brothers movie… well there are at least plenty of glimpses of it. A lot of the direction and writing, especially the dialogue and dark comedy feels quite a bit like The Coen Brothers’ work. I can see some of these segments working as entire full length stories. Since they titled the movie after the first chapter, I couldn’t see why they didn’t just make the whole movie about that. And if The Coen Brothers’ were committed to doing a bunch of short stories, it might’ve been better if they just made it a mini series, 6 episodes with each episode ranging from 40 minutes to an hour. They don’t really have any connections to each other whatsoever, and each of the stories don’t really seem to serve any point except to every time come to the conclusion that it was rough living in the Wild West. That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of good things to this movie. It is visually stunning throughout all the segments and are directed well, and the actors do great jobs, particularly Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan and Bill Heck.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a bit of a mixed bag, while all the chapters are well directed and acted, much of the segments are way too short and aren’t interesting enough and as mentioned above aren’t as great as you’d hope given who worked on them. If you’re a fan of The Coen Brothers, I’d say definitely check it out, it’s on Netflix and will just be 2 hours and 10 minutes of your time. As for the rest of you, I’m not entirely sure I can recommend it. Despite my thoughts on some of the segments and the overall movie, I will praise the Coen Brothers for at least trying something different. It is one of their weakest movies though.