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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.

Iron Fist Season 2 (2018) TV Review

Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence
Cast:
Finn Jones as Danny Rand/Iron Fist
Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing
Tom Pelphrey as Ward Meachum
Jessica Stroup as Joy Meachum
Sacha Dhawan as Davos
Simone Missick as Misty Knight
Alice Eve as Mary Walker
Created By: Raven Metzner

Danny Rand (Finn Jones), the Immortal Iron Fist, has left behind the day-to-day oversight of Rand Enterprises, throwing himself into his mission to defend New York City. But when an old friend returns with twisted intentions, it threatens the fragile peace Danny maintains within his community, and within himself.

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Note: Features spoilers for Iron Fist Season 1

Iron Fist Season 1 was quite a misfire when it released, with it being widely known as the worst season of the Netflix Marvel shows. I myself didn’t hate the season, going through it all the way and found it to be okay with some good elements but it was really flawed and it had a ton of issues. Still, it managed to get a second season. However with this second season things were looking up this time, with the showrunner changing from Scott Buck to Raven Metzner, which was a really wise move. I’m glad to say that Iron Fist Season 2 is a massive improvement over the first season. It still doesn’t reach levels of some the other shows’ seasons like any of the seasons of Daredevil but on its own its still pretty good, and it’s a shame that we won’t be getting a third season, especially with the way that things end this season.

Netflix Marvel Shows (even the better ones) do tend to have the problem of having the season drawn out for too long at 13 episodes (with the exception of The Defenders which had around 8 episodes and was too short). Netflix this time decided to focus up the season by making it 10 episodes long, and it really works. It doesn’t really drag (except for maybe some of the earlier episodes) but it doesn’t feel like anything’s rushed either. Compared to some of the other shows like Daredevil, there isn’t really anything quite deep or thematic with what’s going on in the story. So in comparison it just feels like we’re watching a story play out, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does separate it from some of the better seasons from Marvel Netflix. However it gets really good towards the last episodes of the season, as it takes some surprising twists and turns. You really feel the lack of showrunner Scott Buck this season and that’s a good thing, the writing is much better in comparison. Iron Fist Season 2 ends on a pretty jarring and exciting cliffhanger, which would no doubt lead into a very interesting and different next season. Unfortunately we won’t find out what that’s all about because of the show’s cancellation, which is a colossal disappointment, more so than Luke Cage because that show seemed ended by wrapping up its last season. Here it introduces a whole new plotline that intended to explore.

With every season appearance, Finn Jones as Danny Rand improves as a character. In The Defenders, Rand wasn’t the overly serious “I am the Iron Fist, sworn enemy of The Hand” and annoying guy from the first season and he was more likable. He improved even further in his one episode appearance in Luke Cage Season 2 and he improved even more here in the second season of Iron Fist. With that said, it still does feel like the supporting characters do shine more than him. Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing also once again is really good and is one of the best parts of the whole show. Tom Pelphrey as Ward Meachum in the first season started off being really unlikable but towards the end of the season became one of the best parts about that season, having a really interesting story arc throughout. He’s great here as well, Ward once again goes through a troubled arc but this time we are rooting for him instead of wondering why people keep putting him on screen and he’s more entertaining to watch. Joy Meachum played by Jessica Stroup is also in an interesting position, with her being at odds with Danny and Ward (which was implied at the end of the first season) and her teaming up with Davos (Sacha Dhawan). It was interesting to see where she was at and how she changes over the course of the season. A returning character that’s not from Iron Fist is Simone Missick as Misty Knight, who is from Luke Cage. She’s not just a cameo or anything, she plays a rather large part in the story. Maybe the show could’ve swapped her out for any other cop character but I’m glad that it was her that popped up instead, she does add to the season quite a bit. Especially as it’s someone from a far more grounded world coming into a world with glowing fists of power and all that, its nice to see someone who’s in a slightly more grounded world come play a part in this story. I do also feel like they brought her into this season to tease the possibility of a Misty Knight/Colleen Wing team up and I’m on board with that, I’d like to see that happen.

A new addition to the Iron Fist cast is Alice Eve as Mary Walker, who’s a welcome addition to the show. This is a minor spoiler (but it’s revealed reasonably early on and it’s an aspect with her character in the comics) but she has double personalities, and it was interesting seeing that come into play with the story, and Eve does a great and convincing job with both personalities. The season ends with her seeming with her character about to be explored in a further season, and I hope somehow in another show they could do that. The last season was pretty uneven with its villains, with there being like 3 of them. This time there is one clear main villain with Sacha Dhawan as Davos, who was introduced towards the latter part of Season 1. Davos is a really solid villain and a big upgrade over Harold Meachum in the previous season (the only reason Harold wasn’t completely bad was because actor David Wenham managed to give a solid enough performance). Davos has some ties to Danny and physically they are at the same level, and you can also see why Davos does the things he does, he’s not just doing it to be evil or anything. At the halfway point however, he stops really progressing as a character and stops being interesting. He doesn’t downgrade from that point but he just sort of stays the same until the end of the season. However he still feels like a real threat throughout and was effective enough.

The overall feel and direction is similar to the first season’s but overall it is a bit better. The action has also massively improved over the previous season. Most of the action problems in the first season was surrounding Finn Jones not given enough prep time for fight choreography. In the first season, he would pretty much get 15 minutes to learn the choreography before they actually started to film, leading to the fight scenes he’s involved in requiring a jarringly amount of cuts. Both in The Defenders and here he’s much better since he’s actually allowed a lot more prep time. There are some really good fight scenes here and great uses of the Iron Fist as well.

Iron Fist Season 2 is pretty good and much better than the first season. The tighter season runtime of 10 episodes helped keep the story moving at a efficient pace, the characters are all quite good, the writing has improved, the action is solid and its just quite entertaining overall. It’s not one of the best seasons of the Netflix Marvel shows and it can leave you annoyed at the end since you know the exciting cliffhanger it ends on probably won’t get addressed. But all around I had a good time with this season. If you really didn’t like the first season, don’t let that hold you back from watching the second season, give it a chance, it’s a considerable improvement. It’s not great and definitely isn’t among the best of the Netflix Marvel shows, but it is pretty solid and worth a watch.

Iron Fist Season 1 (2017) TV Review

Age Rating: 860949[1] Violence
Cast:
Finn Jones as Danny Rand/Iron Fist
Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing
Tom Pelphrey as Ward Meachum
Jessica Stroup as Joy Meachum
Ramón Rodríguez as Bakuto
Sacha Dhawan as Davos
Rosario Dawson as Claire Temple
David Wenham as Harold Meachum
Created by: Scott Buck

When Danny Rand (Finn Jones) was 10-years old, he survived a mysterious plane crash that claimed the lives of his extremely wealthy parents. Rescued by warrior monks, Danny grew up in the of city of K’un-Lun, where he endured harsh conditions, but also trained to be a fierce warrior. Years later, Danny returns home to New York, where he wants to reconnect with his past and take his rightful place at his family’s company, which is being run by his father’s former business partner (David Wenham). Danny hopes to restore his family legacy by defeating the people who threaten it.

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Most of the Netflix Marvel shows had received great reception, with the two seasons of Daredevil, as well as the first seasons of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. The exception is Season 1 of Iron Fist, which has been almost universally panned. Having finally seeing it, I have to say that this first season has a lot of issues but it is a decent show overall. The acting from most of the talented cast is good, the show is reasonably entertaining and interesting enough, and I wanted to see where the plot would go. But writing-wise it does have a lot of issues, doesn’t quite live up to its potential and the action scenes are most of the time just mediocre. However they aren’t enough to make this season bad or even mediocre, just very flawed.

I’ll just get this out of the way, if you like the other shows in the Defenders’ series, or you are interested in watching the recently released The Defenders show, watch Iron Fist season 1, even if you end up disliking it, you will need to plow through it. Some of what Iron Fist has will come to play in The Defenders, so it is a good idea to watch it. The show does have a lot of writing issues, probably too many to list in one review, so I’ll just mention a few. The show is slow, particularly at the beginning. If you’ve seen Luke Cage season 1, you know that they sometimes had some filler episodes. Iron Fist kind of does that as well, it extends plotlines longer than it needed to be. The first 3 to 4 episodes are Danny Rand trying to prove that he really is Danny Rand and not an imposter, this takes way too long. After the first few episodes, the show really picked up.

The plotlines at times were hit or miss. Whenever the show focusses on The Hand (who are prominent villains in Iron Fist who return from The Defenders), I was interested in what was going on. There is a plotline about a family called the Meachums, who basically have control of Danny Rand’s company when he arrives back to New York. Most of this plotline is fine but it feels that too much time is spent with them. I really didn’t like at all the Rand corporation plotline, it was full of pointless board meetings that I really didn’t care about. Flaws aside with these plotlines, I was interested in seeing where the plot was going, and there were some moments that I really wasn’t expecting. A lot of the ideas that Iron Fist were solid enough but the show didn’t execute them particularly well. Some of the dialogue is off and occasionally silly, and some things happen in the show which are just plain random and silly. There is a particular example which involves ice cream, I’m not going to spoil what happens but you’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it. Overall the writing is one of the most disappointing parts of the show. There are some intriguing parts to it but overall it is far from being at the level of Daredevil, Jessica Jones or Luke Cage.

Finn Jones is Danny Rand, who is unfortunately one of the weakest characters of the show. I can’t tell whether it’s the acting or the writing that’s the main issue, but I do know that the writing for him is severely flawed. Overall the biggest problem with Danny is that he is so inconsistent. One moment he is so determined not to kill people and the next moment he is out for revenge and planning to kill people. The other 3 Defenders, Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, all have flaws but that made their characters feels more real and worked in their favour. The problem with Danny is that it feels like he was written by many writers and they couldn’t pin down exactly what character he is. He is completely messily and by the end of the season I didn’t feel like I had a clear idea of who he was. The writing definitely doesn’t do Jones favours. I think he’s better when he’s playing just Danny Rand and he’s at his worst when Danny is trying to act like the Iron Fist. When Danny is being super serious and trying to act zen like, it comes across as being so forced and its just sort of laughable. At times he comes across as a whiny kid trying to act serious and its just sort of embarrassing. Also looking back at this season, I couldn’t really pick up on a clear character arc for Danny. To his credit, Finn Jones is doing everything he can to act in this role and does project a semblance of likability to Danny, however he can only do so much as the writing really lets him down. It’s just sad that one of the worst characters of Iron Fist is its titular character.

The supporting cast/characters fare much better than Danny Rand. One of the best characters of the show is Colleen Wing, played by Jessica Henwick. She was very likable, believable (especially in the action scenes) and she has an interesting background (no spoilers). Colleen honestly was one of the best parts of the show. While Finn Jones’s Danny Rand has a lot of issue, he and Henwick share some great chemistry. Rosario Dawson is effortlessly likable as Claire Temple, who once again pops over to this show from Daredevil like she did with Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. Some of the other supporting characters are the Meachums, Ward and Joy (siblings) played by Tom Pelphrey and Jessica Stroup respectively, they share very believable chemistry. Ward in particular is great, he started out as an absolutely insufferable character but he has a great arc and by the end he’s one of the best characters of the show.

This season has a few villains, and the handling of the villains was quite hit or miss. If there is a main villain, it’s Harold Meachum, played by David Wenham. While the character himself is fine, he doesn’t work as a villain for the Iron Fist. Most of the time he’s not a direct threat, more of an anti hero than an actual villain. So he is rather average when you consider him as a villain. He’s also not given enough depth. Unlike Fisk, Kilgrave or Cottonmouth in Daredevil, Jessica Jones or Luke Cage respectively, Harold isn’t given some sort of reason for the things he does. Its ironic that so much attention is focussed on the Meachums, yet I don’t really feel like I know much about Harold. With that said, the character himself is fine, if severely underwritten and underdeveloped, and David Wenham fully embraced this role and gave a good and entertaining performance, better than the role deserved.

One of the biggest criticisms of the show is the fight scenes and while it isn’t really good, I have seen worse action scenes in mediocre-bad action movies. The stuntwork is not very remarkable, it is slow at times and even sort of boring. Also, it does one of those editing things where they constantly cut during fight scenes to hide bad stuntwork. The show does have its decent action moments but for the most part the action scenes weren’t that good and were one of the weaker parts of the show. Its disappointing because out of all The Defenders, you’d expect and Iron Fist show to be so great with its fighting, especially with Danny Rand. Danny should feel like a strong fighter character but the series don’t really do that good of a job in conveying that through his action sequences. Also at times the visual effects are a little weird at times, such as the flashbacks. Otherwise the direction of the episodes was overall fine I guess.

Iron Fist Season 1 was better than I thought it would be. I can kind of see why some people took issues with this season, there is definitely a lot of problems, the 3 main issues being the writing, Danny Rand and the action scenes. However I think it has received way too much criticism than it deserves. The show was interesting enough and had enough good performances and plot points to keep me intrigued enough to finish the show. With the showrunner of season 1 being replaced for season 2, perhaps Iron Fist’s next solo season will be much better. But as for season 1, it is so far the worst season of the Marvel Netflix shows.