Tag Archives: Steve McQueen

Small Axe: Lovers Rock (2020) Review

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Lovers Rock

Time: 70 Minutes
Cast:
Micheal Ward as Franklyn Cooper
Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn as Martha Trenton
Kedar Williams-Stirling as Clifton
Director: Steve McQueen

A single evening at a house party in 1980s West London sets the scene, developing intertwined relationships against a background of violence, romance and music.

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After watching Mangrove, I was interested in checking out the rest of the movies in director Steve McQueen’s film anthology Small Axe. While each of the films don’t tie into each other, I decided to watch the next movie which was released, that being Lovers Rock. I had heard some high praise for the movie, being called one of the best of the anthology. The best thing I can say about Lovers Rock is that it’s distinctly different from Mangrove, making the entry special within the anthology. It’s a reasonably decent movie and I’m glad that I watched it, however I just couldn’t get into it as much as other people did.

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The plot of Lovers Rock depicts the events of one night at a 1980s West London house party. Everything happens at this party from chaos, budding relationships, music, and everything in between. It really is such a different movie from what Steve McQueen has made, and I’m not just talking about Mangrove. It’s comparatively lighthearted for the most part and isn’t as intense. Unlike Mangrove, it focuses less on the plot and characters, instead mainly focusing on the atmosphere and setting. The movie is fairly plotless, and you spend most of the time among the small community and watch their little dramas, relationships and traumas that happen over this one night. Lovers Rock is what many people call a hangout or vibe movie, and unfortunately I’ve found that hangout movies aren’t really my thing, and this film is not really an exception. I do wish there was a little more happening character wise, the characters don’t have much depth outside of a few basic traits. Generally, I found the narrative to be quite confusing and didn’t know what was happening, especially during the party, which is most of the movie. One could say that this could potentially be done to get the vibe or headspace of being at a party, but I’m not sure I should be feeling exactly this confused. The actual party, which takes up the majority of the movie, gets repetitive and overstays its welcome. I liked the atmosphere but after a while I got over it and started wishing for more from the actual movie. But for many, the atmosphere might be enough. I do understand that I might be in a minority of people. Again, I’m not really big on ‘hangout’ or vibe movies generally. Nonetheless, I still think that it’s a good entry in this anthology and does feel like it actually fits in it. Like with Mangrove and other McQueen movies there are some strong themes on display. The topics of racial discrimination and sexual harassment are highlighted multiple times in the film. Lovers Rock has a lighter tone from Mangrove, but still feels real and honest, and the characters are still surrounded by dark forces outside and you are aware of them. The movie clocks in at about 70 minutes, and while I’m definitely not going to say I was invested throughout, that was an okay length for the type of movie it is.

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I don’t have a huge amount to say about the acting, but everyone played their parts well, the standouts being Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn, Micheal Ward and Daniel Francis-Swaby. While I don’t think the characterisation was great, I have no issue with the acting at all.

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Steve McQueen directs this movie, and his work here is the best part of Lovers Rock. The stylistic elements are on point here. Much of the movie is just the house party and there is some great filmmaking and editing on display. Mangrove was shot well, but visually wasn’t anything special. Lovers Rock on the other hand is gorgeously shot and top notch from beginning to end. The camerawork has a naturalistic feel to it which further emphasises the free-flowing nature of the party. The soundtrack is great, with classic R&B, jazz, blues, reggae and rock, and overall is very catchy and captivating. I’ve not really been to parties so I can’t say this for sure, but I imagine that it captures the energy of a night out.

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Lovers Rock is atmospheric, visually stunning, and excellently directed by Steve McQueen. However, this plotless hangout/vibe movie didn’t quite work for me. I wasn’t really that invested, and I couldn’t really connect with it despite its strengths. With that said, it’s still a great addition to the Small Axe anthology. This movie will work for some people more than others. As it is, I liked the movie and I do think that it’s worth watching for sure.

Small Axe: Mangrove (2020) Review

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Mangrove

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 Years a Slave (2013) Review

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12 Years a Slave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Widows (2018) Review

Time: 129 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence, offensive language & sex scenes
Cast:
Viola Davis as Veronica Rawlings
Michelle Rodriguez as Linda Perelli
Elizabeth Debicki as Alice Gunner
Cynthia Erivo as Belle
Colin Farrell as Jack Mulligan
Brian Tyree Henry as Jamal Manning
Daniel Kaluuya as Jatemme Manning
Jacki Weaver as Agnieska
Carrie Coon as Amanda Nunn
Robert Duvall as Tom Mulligan
Liam Neeson as Harry Rawlings
Director: Steve McQueen

A police shootout leaves four thieves dead during an explosive armed robbery attempt in Chicago. Their widows – Veronica (Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Belle (Cynthia Erivo) — have nothing in common except a debt left behind by their spouses’ criminal activities. Hoping to forge a future on their own terms, Veronica joins forces with the other three women to pull off a heist that her husband was planning.

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I have been waiting for Widows for a long time, it’s my most anticipated film of 2018. So many things were going for it, not only is Steve McQueen (Shame and 12 Years a Shame) directing, not only is Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl and Sharp Objects) writing the script, but it also has the biggest cast of the year: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Daniel Kaluuya, Robert Duvall, Liam Neeson and more make up the talented cast. I was looking forward to seeing McQueen, Flynn and the cast tackling essentially a heist movie, there is so much potential that the combination of talent had. Thankfully it absolutely delivered and unsurprisingly ended up being one of the best films of the year.

Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen together wrote Widows and it’s a really great script overall. First thing that should be noted is that although it is a ‘heist movie’, it’s not like Heat where you get see a number of heists. The actual heist doesn’t occur until the third act and when it happens it’s actually not that long. Much of Widows consists of the 4 main characters trying to figure out how they are going to pull off the heist, while also following their personal lives following the aftermath of their dead husbands’ failed heist. Widows could’ve easily just been that, and with Flynn and McQueen working on it, and it could’ve been really good. However they go above and beyond that, making it more than just a genre movie. Knowing McQueen especially, I knew that it would be more than just a simple heist movie, and I was right (though it still is his most accessible film by far). There is a lot more going on, for example during the course of the movie, there’s an election going on and the events of the heist could very well affect things that are happening with regard to that. Widows also really takes its time following its characters and their individual plotlines, it really isn’t a fast paced thriller like the trailers have made it out to be. On top of that there’s a lot of thematic elements to the movie that I think most people won’t be expecting going in. As this is Gillian Flynn, there are going to be some twists and they all worked really well. I think there might’ve been some I could figure out but none of them were like glaringly obvious or anything. I think something that some people may take issue with is that there are some things towards the end of the movie that aren’t resolved completely. It’s not like a cliffhanger ending or anything but it doesn’t go into detail with how some plotlines are resolved, some plotlines’ endings are a little ambiguous. That can go for some of the characters as well, for example with Colin Farrell, there is sort of an end to his story but there isn’t quite as much as you’d like. Maybe with some of the characters if we got a little more than what we had it would’ve been better but it was enough. In terms of other problems, the only scene that was out of place was one with Michelle Rodriguez when she goes to try to get information out of someone, and every single person who has seen the movie knows exactly which scene I’m referring to. I’m not really sure what the point of that scene was but it’s a little random. Doesn’t break the movie or anything but it stands out as being a little odd. The movie takes place over 1 month but it feels like it takes place over 2 weeks at most, not really a big issue it’s just something I noticed. On the whole the movie runs for 2 hours and 10 minutes long and aside from that one scene, I was completely on board with everything.

One of the highlights of the movie was the immensely talented cast and no matter how small of a role their had, every single actor was at the top of their game delivering great performances, not a single performance felt miscast or weak. Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Erivo are the main leads who are trying to pull off the heist. Viola Davis is really the lead of this movie and as usual she crushes it in her role, though it’s come to be expected of the powerhouse Davis. She commands a lot of presence and is really the leader of the group but at the same time she still feels very vulnerable, both the film and Viola balance it out well. I’ve really known Michelle Rodriguez just from the Fast and Furious movies but in her role in Widows (a very different kind of heist film) she really shows off a lot of talent, she was really great here. I’d actually like to see Rodriguez in more dramatic work now. Elizabeth Debicki has proved herself as a great actress in things like The Night Manager and The Great Gatsby, but she really gives an impressive performance here. Her character has a lot to deal with, having received abuse from both her husband and her mother, and she played the role very well. Cynthia Erivo made a strong impact in this year’s Bad Times at the El Royale and she’s also great here as not a widow, but someone who comes in to join the group. Something that I liked is how all 4 of them don’t feel like they are at all capable of pulling it off. They’ve never done any heists themselves and so they have to learn to get things done. They also don’t necessarily get along, they are coming together to pull a heist because they have no choice, so it’s interesting watching them work together despite all this.

The rest of the cast are all great as well, no matter how large or small of a role they are in. Colin Farrell and Brian Tyree Henry are great as opposing politicians who are both campaigning for alderman of a prescient (the latter of whom is applying pressure to the widows to get 2 million dollars). Robert Duvall also plays his small role as Farrell’s father quite well. Liam Neeson is also great in a small but significant role as Davis’s husband who was among the criminals who died during the heist and while he’s not in a ton of the movie, he gave his best performance in a while, probably since 2012’s The Grey, he does so much with very little. Out of the supporting cast however, it’s Daniel Kaluuya who’s the standout, playing Brian Tyree Henry’s brother and enforcer. He doesn’t have a ton of scenes but he really makes an impact whenever he’s on screen. He just exudes this uncomfortable vibe in every scene he’s in, and you’re not sure of what he’ll do next, very intimidating. With his Black Mirror appearance, Sicario, Get Out, Black Panther and now Widows, Kaluuya has shown himself to be one of the most exciting actors working today, displaying a very large range. Well deserving of a lot of praise, especially for his performance here. Some actors are pretty much cameos here, like Jon Bernthal, Jacki Weaver and Carrie Coon but they were good in their roles nonetheless.

Steve McQueen’s direction is nothing short of fantastic. This film feels incredibly real, the heist scenes aren’t blown out of proportion and feel very gritty. Some of the directing choices made by McQueen particularly stood out as being fantastic, 2 immediately come to mind. The first one was circling around Kaluuya’s character in one of his intimidating scenes. The second one is in a scene where Colin Farrell and his campaign manager get into a car following a rally and instead of cutting inside, the camera stays on the exterior of the limo as it travels from a derelict urban neighbourhood to a gentrified suburb (where Farrell lives) while the two of them are having a conversation. It was just incredibly visual storytelling. Hans Zimmer’s score is of course great and while you don’t hear a ton of it in the movie, often it really amps up the tension when it’s present.

Widows is fantastic and one of the best films of the year. Everyone in this star studded cast plays their role excellently (with Davis, Debicki and Kaluuya being standouts) and Steve McQueen and Gillian Flynn made what could’ve been a simple heist movie into something much more and is just all around great from start to finish. Not enough people are seeing it and I implore you to go out and see Widows in the cinema, it deserves it and you deserve it.