MEN (2022) + THE NIGHT HOUSE (2021) – FILM REVIEWS

MEN (2022) + THE NIGHT HOUSE (2021) –

Two fascinating genre films I saw this month had virtually the same narrative set-up within the horror genre. Both have lead characters who lost their partner to violent suicide, prior to being propelled into a journey of psychological trauma, mystery and devastating enigmatic danger.

Also, both the arthouse horror of Men (2022) and psychological horror of The Night House (2021) are intelligent offerings within the genre, eschewing easy solutions while exploring themes relating to grief, domestic violence and toxic masculinity. Moreover, while both films are expertly made there are many frustrations to be had while watching them. Nonetheless, both deserve praise for challenging the audience and genre conventions while telling their twisted tales.

Here are my reviews with the usual marks out of eleven.

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***


Jessie Buckley as Harper Marlowe in Men, directed by Alex Garland. Photo: Kevin Baker. Copyright: Men Film Rights LLC. All Rights Reserved.

MEN (2022)

Written and directed by Alex Garland

Main cast: Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, Gayle Rankin, Paapa Essiedu

Would you “Adam and Eve it?” – after delving into ideas relating to men playing god with artificial intelligence in both the brilliant Ex Machina (2015) and genius of Devs (2020), Alex Garland returns with this surreal horror where men are very much cast as the devil in the garden of England. It’s a disturbing experience. So, be warned if you are faint of heart. Moreover, there are no simple answers as Garland births a succession of thought-provoking themes which occasionally baffled, and at times frustrated the hell out of me.

The always superb Jessie Buckley portrays Harper Marlowe who, after a tragic but visually shocking incident involving her husband, seeks solace in the countryside to process her trauma and grief. There she encounters a series of male figures, all portrayed by Rory Kinnear, who all exert negative thoughts, words, looks, and energy toward her. Is this all a dream or a fractured reality? Is Harper going mad? Do we care? Further, Garland drip feeds in flashbacks to Harper’s toxic relationship with her husband in several hard-hitting scenes. How this is connected with the many faces of Kinnear’s characters I could not quite work out. Well, other than the theme that all men are bastards, with little in the way of nuance to the contrary.

Alex Garland is an incredible writer and director and I have enjoyed most of his work. However, while Men (2022) has an incredible dénouement with body horror scenes Cronenberg would be proud of, I never really felt scared throughout. Moreover, despite Buckley’s absorbing performance I ultimately felt disconnected from her story as many ideas and moments, such as the scene in the tunnel lacked a real punchline. Similar to Ben Wheatley’s In the Earth (2021) – with the sparse cast and seemingly shot during lockdown, Men (2022) has some fantastic ideas and fascinating themes relating to grief and gender politics. Unfortunately, they didn’t all gel to create a satisfying whole. But maybe I am the one to blame. I am a man after all.

Mark: 6.5 out of 11



THE NIGHT HOUSE (2021)

Directed by David Bruckner

Written by: Ben Collins & Luke Piotrowski

Main cast: Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Vondie Curtis Hall, Evan Jonigkeit

Like Jessie Buckley, Rebecca Hall is always never less than brilliant and here she gives a complex rendering of a character, Beth, reeling from her husband’s violent suicide and secrets from the past which literally come back to haunt her. Alas, Beth is a shell of a person who drinks constantly but pretends everything is okay. She has strange dreams or waking nightmares which propel her to investigate further why her beloved husband shot himself. While I empathised fully with Beth’s mourning, I found the edge and antagonism, Hall, under Bruckner’s direction is given undermined the fear factor for me. Some slight vulnerability may have raised the heart rate even higher during the expertly crafted plot.

Nonetheless, when Beth really digs into the past and begins to find mysterious and hidden places in the woods, plus evidence of her husband’s potential infidelities, the film really grips you. Is the figure that plagues her real or a psychosomatic vision of grief. But Beth is determined to find out what her husband was up to with a variety of women. When it is revealed it is a exquisitely delivered twist. It’s really tough to come up with something original in the horror genre, but the revelation was extremely horrifying and ingenious.

Bruckner gives the film a terrifically creepy atmosphere as the lakeside property is enveloped with shadows, fleeting figures, light and reflection colluding to trap Beth in the haunted space. Indeed, the finale in the woods, house and on the boat create palpable and clinging dread. But then it ends and deflation occurs as questions and loose ends remain unanswered. The script also suffers from back story overload. I mean major events which occur before the film starts have a strong bearing on the narrative as a whole and should have been shown in flashback. Overall though, The Night House (2021) is well worth a watch due to the clever plotting, creepy locations and powerful suspense throughout.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: EVERYTHING, EVERYWHERE, ALL AT ONCE (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: EVERYTHING, EVERYWHERE, ALL AT ONCE (2022)

Directed by: Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert

Written by: Dan Kwan & Daniel Scheinert

Produced by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo, Mike Larocca, Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert, Jonathan Wang, Michelle Yeoh, etc.

Cast: Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Jenny Slate, Harry Shum Jr., James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis, etc.

Cinematography: Larkin Seiple

Editor: Paul Rogers

*** CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS ***



Wow, where does one start when reviewing Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s highly entertaining and genre-colliding film, Everything, Everywhere, All at Once (2022)? Well, let’s start inward and work outwards. Thus, overall, it is one of the most exhilarating cinema releases of the year. Michelle Yeoh gives a spectacular series of performances as middle-aged wife, mother, business person, actor, chef, martial artist, sign-flipper, lesbian pianist, planet saviour, and rock named simultaneously Evelyn Wang, Evelyn Wang, Evelyn Wang, Evelyn Wang and yet more Evelyn Wang’s. Yes, if you didn’t know this is another multiverse narrative, but arguably the best and most fun of the lot.

Spinning a plot that could be pitched as Crouching Matrix, Hidden Beauty the relentless Everything, Everywhere, All at Once (2022) has a seriously insane story and series of crazy, funny set-pieces throughout, with the filmmakers throwing drama, science-fiction, kung-fu, horror, comedy, rites-of-passage, romance, surrealism, and kitchen sink genres at the page and screen in a riotous visual and aural feast. I mean what other films deliver a talking raccoon, giant dildo fight and homage to Stanley Kubrick into the creative mixer. And that’s just for starters. I could say more but don’t want to spoil all the spectacular surprises on show. Safe to say, I won’t look at a bagel the same after watching this devastating cinematic smorgasbord. Word of warning the tone of this film smash cuts all over the place, and while I could find fault with this, the sheer pace, imagination and diversity of the concepts did not just win me over, but smashed me into submission.



But what the hell is the story, Paul? Oh yes, there is a narrative core and spine with which to hang the madness on. I said I was going outwards didn’t I? So, Michelle Yeoh, Evelyn, is married to Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) and their relationship is slowly cooling like campfire embers. The family business is in financial strife and as the launderette struggles, Evelyn finds herself being audited by the I.R.S. Adding to these woes are stressful relationships with her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu) and elderly father, Gong Gong (James Hong), thus Evelyn’s mid-life is not so much in crisis as about to explode. She needs a miracle. An escape. A means with which to resolve and work through her issues. But this reality bites. Hard. Thankfully, this isn’t real life. It is cinema. And there are alternatives universes. Many alternative Evelyn’s in fact. But is this Evelyn the chosen one? So a journey of identity and discovery begins. Will Evelyn save herself? Will Evelyn save the world(s)? And does it even matter?

I would probably need to watch Everything, Everywhere, All at Once (2022) again to see if the myriad of plot concepts actually make sense. My instinct was that the writers were in control and deliberately out of control with their material. Throwing punchlines, taking risks, improvising and not so much pushing but burning many, many envelopes. Yet, they have found a rock in Michelle Yeoh to build their multi-stranded narratives and themes around. She superbly anchors the film allowing the filmmakers to simultaneously explore the meaning of life, identity and existence in two-hours-or-so of exhilarating cinemas. Yeoh deserves award nominations galore for the energy, strength and emotion shown within the many lives of Evelyn Wang. It was also terrific too to see Ke Huy Quan return to a prominent movie role. He is so likeable and funny. Please never retire again!

Lastly, kudos to Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert for delivering one of the most extraordinary films about ordinary people of the year. They potentially could have shaved some minutes of the runtime for pace. Because, by the time yet another smashing fight scene had finished I was almost too exhausted to feel at one with the final act familial reconciliation. But, Kwan and Scheinert succeed with Everything, Everywhere, All at Once (2022) because as well as a machine-gun splattering of hilarious ideas and gags combined with some pretty lofty themes, this film ultimately has a hell of a heart. More than one; a multiverse of hearts in fact. All beating as one.

Mark: 9 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2022)

Directed by Sam Raimi

Written by Michael Waldron – Based on the Marvel Comics

Produced by Kevin Feige

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, Michael Stuhlbarg, Rachel McAdams, etc.

Cinematography John Mathieson

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



I have to admit, and fully conceding my opinion counts for zero, that Disney’s Marvel and Star Wars bandwagons have reached a zenith of saturation. Too much of a good thing is definitely not a good thing. The Disney cinema and streaming products released over the last year or so, since the Avengers hit their endgame has been, just obscene. So much so I now have a powerful fatigue when it comes to watching said releases. They may be of excellent quality, but I’m not really sure I give a damn, darling.

While I am yet to see Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) or Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021), I did have the misfortune to slog through the stodgy and nonsensical Eternals (2021) on Disney+. Having said that I did enjoy the meta-textual invention of Wandavision (2021). Aside from the conventional ending it tried to do something different with the character of Wanda Maximoff, dealing powerfully with the theme of grief in an imaginative and thoughtful way.

But it would take a hell of a hook to drag me to the cinema again to watch a Marvel film. I’m happy squeezing the value out of my Disney+ subscription thank you very much. But, what was this? Sam Raimi has directed Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)? One of my favourite directors entered the Marvel creative team. A bona fide horror and fantasy auteur returned to the superhero genre he inhabited so tremendously in his millennial Spiderman trilogy. Okay Disney – you’ve pulled me back in. I’m tired of your high quality entertainment but here’s my cinema cash.


Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff in Marvel Studios’ DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) is a big, dumb, fast-paced, scary, fantastic, mystical, surprising and funny chunk of visually stunning fantasy cinema. After unluckily being denied the Oscar for his subtle, yet brilliant performance in The Power of the Dog (2021), Benedict Cumberbatch is on superb hand-waving, cape-throwing, shape-shifting, death-defying, hair-flicking, multiverse-jumping, father-figuring form as Dr Stephen Strange. His hypnotic character finds himself haunted by weird dreams. But are they dreams? Are they instead visions of other worlds? Other lives. Other deaths.

Enter Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez a dimension jumping teenager who, as a “human” plot device, drags Strange into devilish conflict with another powerful magician from the Avengers team. Namely, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen). Wanda is still struggling with her losses before and during the crazy events that occurred in the small town of Westview. Anyway, multiverse films are like buses it would seem. You wait ages and three or more come along at the same time. Indeed, with the time-travel narrative arguably becoming exhausted or rested, multiverse plots provide the writers the ability to introduce and reinvent characters and rules of the world within the Marvel canon.

So you’ve got to see the middle act of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022), where America and Doctor crash into an alternative-Earth that contains some startlingly fun casting and unexpected character reveals. Add to that the dark arts delivered by Wanda’s continued obsession with getting America’s dimension-jumping powers light up and darken the screen. This allows Raimi to splatter the walls with a dazzling array of colour amidst the spellbinding set-pieces.

The end battle isn’t half bad either with Strange confronting Maximoff’s sorcery via a deathly conduit and ghoulish switching of identity. While I would have preferred Wanda not to have been cast as the nemesis, Olsen gives a fine performance of some depth amidst the mercurial madness. Overall though, this is Raimi’s film. He pulls out all the stops and magic tricks from his cinematic repertoire making Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) more his film than just another generic release in whatever-phase-of-Disney’s plot to take over the universe this may be.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: WINGS OF DESIRE (1987)

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: WINGS OF DESIRE (1987)

Directed by: Wim Wenders

Written by: Wim Wenders, Peter Handke, Richard Reitinger

Produced by: Wim Wenders, Anatole Dauman

Cast: Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Otto Sander, Curt Bois, Peter Falk, Nick Cave, etc.

Cinematography: Henri Alekan

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



I hadn’t seen Wim Wenders cinematic masterpiece, Wings of Desire (1987), for many years. Probably thirty-three years. I’m glad I waited so long because I think I am mature enough now to appreciate the poetry of the filmmaking style and the soulful gravity of the characters and themes on display.

I am of the belief that cinema is a collaborative craft in general. Yet, on fleeting occasions a film will be released that transcends the craft of the medium and become art. Wings of Desire (1987) is such a film. Moreover, while I am not a religious person watching Wings of Desire (1987) is as close to experiencing a spiritual filmic happening as I could have. It truly is a thing of transcendent beauty concerned as it is with the afterlife, the soul, humanity, angels, life, love, death and rebirth.

Angels walk amongst the living in a Berlin separated by the wall. Voices reveal their inner most thoughts as said Angels listen, watch, witness and gather human experience, thoughts and emotions. The Angels led by Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander) inhabit Berlin aiming to assemble, preserve and testify reality. In a stunningly beautiful opening sequence the gliding camerawork, chiming harps, poetic voiceovers and sublime photography introduces both a majestic world and compelling characterisations. The monochrome film sets a moody glow illuminating and beautifying the urban locales. If you didn’t know, the black & white sequences were shot through a filter made from a stocking that belonged to cinematographer Henri Alekan’s grandmother.



Wim Wenders directs Wings of Desire (1987) with an assured confidence throughout. Every stylistic and formal choice is driven by the characters’ hearts and an imaginative vision of both reality and the afterlife. It is incredible that Wenders and his production team did not have a traditional script when filming began. Thus, the poetic feel of the film derives from a series of experimental concepts and improvisatory creative choices. Having said that, there is a strong narrative spine amidst the seemingly loose narrative and episodic bones. The anchor amidst these hypnotic vignettes is Damiel’s journey of falling in love, ceasing to be immortal and becoming human.

As Damiel experiences the pain of existing outside human life, Bruno Ganz’s performance is heartbreakingly moving. Damiel also finds love too for Solveig Dammartin’s circus artist. His romantic longing and empathy for her and humanity overall is unforgettable. I mean this celestial and immortal being desires the opportunity to feel, taste and love. There is also humour amidst the pathos too, with a supporting story that follows the actor, Peter Falk, working on a film in Berlin. His brilliant scenes provide a quirky counterpoint to Damiel’s celestial crisis and fledgling romance. Indeed, Peter Falk called his role in Wings of Desire (1987) “the craziest thing I was ever offered”. When Wenders told him his part had not been developed yet, Falk responded, “I’ve worked that way with John Cassavetes. I prefer working without a script.”

Wings of Desire (1987) is deservedly acclaimed as one of the best films ever made. I couldn’t agree more, such is its cinematic power and beauty. It combines both visual, aural and literary styles almost to perfection. Thematically it is just as impressive. While it is a universal story about life, death, love and sacrifice, the fact it is set in Berlin adds an incredible gravitas. The politics and separation caused by the Cold War course through the veins of the film like ice. Nevertheless, Wim Wenders and his creative team wholly reject the gloom of oppression, choosing hope, life and love over said deathly wall.*

Mark: 10 out of 11


(*Note: Interestingly, filming the actual Berlin Wall was prohibited, so a replica of the wall twice had to be built close to the original. The first fake wall warped in the rain because the contractor cheated the producers and built it from wood.)

CINEMA REVIEW: THE NORTHMAN (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: THE NORTHMAN (2022)

Directed by  Robert Eggers

Written by: Sjón Eggers & Robert Eggers

Based on: The Legend of Amleth by Saxo Grammaticus

Produced by: Mark Huffam, Lars Knudsen, Robert Eggers, Alexander Skarsgård, Arnon Milchan

Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Björk, Willem Dafoe, etc.

Cinematography    Jarin Blaschke

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Robert Eggers is a formidable cinematic talent. His dark visions of folklore and historical fable are steeped in impressive research and a striking attention to detail within his work. Artistically and thematically speaking, Eggers is a major talent, however, one could argue his narratives deny clarity preferring hazy ambiguity. His debut film The Witch (2015) is an arthouse classic, but I just did not connect with the characters, despite the filthy realistic strangeness. His follow-up, The Lighthouse (2019), is a claustrophobic, black-hearted and dirty descent into a watery hell. Both are bravura low-budget films which created two distinct periods. In both films you can almost feel the plague and scurvy in your mouth, presented as they are with such earthy authenticity.

Thus, unsurprisingly, Robert Eggers latest film is NOT a romantic comedy. The Northman (2022) is another obsessively researched and realised historical drama. But because of the reported $70 million budget, his vision of Vikings and blood and revenge and muscle and familial treason and murder screams epic, more epic and even more EPIC! Eggers script and story is inspired by the historical myth, The Legend of Amleth, a narrative which in turn is said to have influenced none other than the quite well known play, Hamlet. Here Eggers has a solid structure for the thunderous battles and mystical manifestations on show. Our hero, Amleth (Alexander Skarsgård), finds his father, the King (Ethan Hawke) murdered by his uncle (Claes Bang), while he is a boy. Fleeing his village he grows into a scary, ripped and roaring Viking warrior who has never even seen a carbohydrate. A hunger for bread and a desire for revenge on his uncle propels the story powerfully. Intense Amleth must locate his kidnapped mother (Nicole Kidman) and smash the man who did his family wrong.



Eggers is a brilliant film director. In Alexander Skarsgård he also has a battering ram of a physical specimen leading the charge from deathly pillage to bloody battle to fiery hand-to-combat with impressive purpose and power. Amidst the vengeance-fuelled fight sequences and Amleth’s confrontations with the seers and magicians of the land, his journey also encompasses love and marriage to Olga of the Birch Forest, a Slavic sorceress (Anya Taylor-Joy). While Skarsgård’s character is more muscle than charisma, Taylor-Joy breathes ethereal and sensual life into the middle act. Their collaboration battling against enforced slavery gives us something to root for above the familiar revenge plot. Having said that, Amleth is not the easiest of characters to warm to. Despite Eggers genius and Skarsgård’s brutalism I wondered if I really cared about his quest.

I would argue that this story was done far more successfully from an emotional perspective by Ridley Scott’s awesome Roman epic, Gladiator (2000). Russell Crowe was just phenomenal as Maximus and his performance was one of magnetic emotion and charismatic depth. That film had amazing action married to integral character development. However, there is a violent momentum to The Northman (2022), with Amleth’s quest charging like a juggernaut toward the jugular of his foes. Eggers’ image and colour system of Viking costumes, iconography, weaponry, plus human, godly and ungodly beings provide the depth when the characterisation feels thin. And wow, does he know how to stage a battle. Bones crunch, teeth crack, blood bursts and weapons sever, scorch and devastate. As the fire burns in Amleth’s heart and across the landscape, The Northman (2022) rages from the cinema screen with dominant visual ascendancy.

Mark: 8 out of 11


HAIL BRITISH CINEMA! REVIEWS OF: AFTER LOVE (2020), BOILING POINT (2021), CALIBRE (2018), COUNTY LINES (2019) & ROSE PLAYS JULIE (2019)

HAIL BRITISH CINEMA!

Tired of watching big-budget homogeneous Hollywood product dominated by superheroes, sequels, remakes, prequels and remakes of prequels to sequels? I kind of am. Not that I don’t love a genre blockbuster when it’s done well. However, from time to time it’s good to diversify and watch films with more depth.

BFI Player has some terrific new and classic releases from all over the world. So, of late I have concentrated on watching some of the newer releases made by British filmmakers. My homeland has always been rich in talented people both in front and behind the camera. This has meant an incredible array of actors, filmmaking artists and technicians being poached by Hollywood. This is not just an artistic decision but an economic one. There just isn’t the money here to make big budget films, however, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some cinematic gold coming out of Britain.

While there have been some very successful film studios in the past, the British film industry has the air of an independently driven environment now. Film Four, the BFI, Aardman, BBC films, Heyday, Baby Cow, Salon Pictures, Marv Films and Number 9 films are all production companies which inhabit the industry. However, it is difficult competing with the gigantic corporate film companies, especially those that dominate distribution at the cinemas.

Yet, here are several brilliant British films I have watched on BFI Player, Netflix and Amazon lately. They are low-budget, mostly independently produced and highly recommended. Check them out as they certainly offer a divergent and absorbing change from the standard generic product at the multiplexes. With marks out of the usual eleven.

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



AFTER LOVE (2020) – BFI PLAYER

Written and directed by: Aleem Khan

Main cast: Joanna Scanlan, Natalie Richard, Talid Arliss etc.

Joanna Scanlan is mesmerising as a Western woman, Mary Hussain, who converted to Islam when she married her childhood sweetheart. In the present, her husband dies suddenly and she discovers he had a secret history. Dealing with both grief and shock at this news, this beautifully acted and directed character study is quietly devastating and moving. Covering themes relating to family, religion, love and fidelity After Love (2020), deservedly won best film at the British Independent film awards. Scanlan, more synonymous with comedic roles, is outstanding and Aleem Khan is a filmmaker who is definitely going places.

Mark: 9 out of 11


BOILING POINT (2021)

Written by: Philip Barandini, James Cummings

Directed by: Philip Barandini

Main cast: Stephen Graham, Vinette Robinson, Ray Panthaki etc.

I’m not a big fan of one-take films generally as it is kind of an unnecessary gimmick, yet this fantastic restaurant-set drama makes full dramatic use of the technique. Stephen Graham is the Head Chef at a Dalston eatery and has to navigate a stressful shift with environmental health, marital, staffing, customer, financial and culinary issues all mounting up around him. There’s even a food critic in the venue. It is brilliantly acted and directed and extremely tense throughout. Graham is always a cracking watch, but Vinette Robinson, as his over-worked deputy, really brings the soup to a boil, serving up a tasty performance amidst the fine ensemble.

Mark: 9 out of 11


CALIBRE (2019) – NETFLIX

Written and directed by: Matt Palmer

Main cast: Jack Lowden, Martin McCann, Tony Curran etc.

This nerve-wracking thriller takes two former boarding-school friends, Vaughn and Marcus, portrayed by Lowden and McCann, on a shooting trip to the Highlands of Scotland and throws them into the pits of despair when tragedy strikes. Taut is not the word when a fateful shooting incident occurs, as a series of bad decisions places their fractious relationship at the mercy of the angry locals. Further conflict derives as Vaughn’s attempts to mature are countered by the reckless Marcus’ aggressive behaviour. Meanwhile, the film also pointedly comments on the corporate invasion of Scottish nature. Overall, Calibre (2019), had me on the edge-of-my-seat, not wasting a moment to raise the pulse. Finally, Lowden is superb, giving a nuanced performance in an impressively directed feature film debut.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11


COUNTY LINES (2019) – BFI PLAYER

Written and directed by: Henry Blake

Main cast: Conrad Khan, Ashley Madekwe, Harris Dickinson etc.

If you didn’t know ‘County Lines’ is the practice of trafficking drugs into rural areas and small towns, away from bigger cities. Traffickers often recruit vulnerable children, including those who have been excluded from school, as drug dealers. Part-thriller and part-cautionary tale, Henry Blake’s gritty and impactful film draws on his own experiences working in a pupil referral unit. Lead character, teenager Tyler (Conrad Khan), is groomed and drawn into a murky world of drugs, only to learn some harsh life lessons. Ashley Madekwe gives a fighting performance as the mother who fears her son is lost to the mean streets of London and Harris Dickinson’s charismatic dealer.

Mark: 8 out of 11


ROSE PLAYS JULIE (2019) – BFI PLAYER

Written and directed by: Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor

Main cast: Ann Skelly, Orla Brady, Aiden Gillen etc.

Similar in style and tone to Lynn Ramsay’s intense You Were Never Really Here (2018), this poetic thriller takes a generic revenge narrative and delivers an eerie experience through haunting performances, direction, editing and musical composition. While the story moves at a glacial pace it retains power and purpose, as Ann Skelly portrays adoptee, Rose/Julie, a veterinarian student searching for her biological parents. Her detective work unearths devastating secrets which then precipitate twisted turns into thematically dark territory. Skelly gives a subtle but intelligent performance, while Orla Brady and Aiden Gillen also give emotional depth to their respective roles. Ultimately, despite the film delivering certain plot points too enigmatically, one cannot fail to be moved by Rose’s shocking journey of discovery.

Mark: 8 out of 11


Lest we forget. . .

SAINT MAUD (2019) – AMAZON PRIME

Written and directed by: Rose Glass

Main cast: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle etc.

The film is more than just a calling card for the extremely talented director, Rose Glass. Her grasp of the material is superb and the cinematography and shot composition support her dark vision brilliantly. The film may disappoint those who prefer conventional supernatural films, as it is more arthouse than classic horror. Moreover, it has much in common with searing character studies by Paul Schrader, such as Taxi Driver (1976), and the more recent, First Reformed (2017). Indeed, Maud’s voiceover permeates like a prayer to an empty sky bleeding into the powerful imagery to compelling effect. The true horror of Saint Maud (2019) is not in jump scares or one-dimensional monsters, but rather the slow descent into hell by a character who strives to be a saviour. Tragically though, Maud is a self-appointed Angel, whose mental fragility disintegrates under the weight of holy desire and biblical fervour.

Mark: 9 out of 11


APPLE TV FILM REVIEW: CODA (2021)

APPLE TV FILM REVIEW: CODA (2021)

Directed by: Sian Heder

Screenplay by: Sian Heder

Based on: La Famille Bélier by Victoria Bedos, Thomas Bidegain, Stanislas Carré de Malberg & Éric Lartigau

Produced by: Fabrice Gianfermi, Philippe Rousselet, Jerôme Seydoux & Patrick Wachsberger

Cast: Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez, Troy Kotsur, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Daniel Durant, Marlee Matlin, etc.

Cinematography: Paula Huidobro

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Simultaneously a feelgood film and tear-jerking emotional rollercoaster, CODA (2021) combines many familiar aspects from cinema including: Children of a Lesser God (1986), Billy Elliot (2000), Dirty Dancing (1987), and the more recent and arguably superior drama, Sound of Metal (2019). In fact, while it may seem progressive representing a family of deaf adults, the Rossi’s, and their hearing daughter, Ruby (Emilia Jones), the film feels like a Save-the-Cat-screenplay-template-box-ticker hitting wholly familiar beats and a well-trodden genre path. Coda (2021) is also a remake of a successful French-Belgian film, La Famille Bélier (2014). Having said all that, I loved Coda (2021). It is a terrifically entertaining, moving, funny and heart-warming story which, unsurprisingly won the Academy Award for best film.

Set in Massachusetts amidst the milieu of a working class deaf family, the Rossi’s, who run a struggling fishing boat and have to overcome the ignorance and prejudices of the hearing folk. Hitting the high notes at the heart of the story is Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones). She is a brilliant character to root for; so human, enthusiastic and authentic. Ruby wants to sing but her family, father Frank (Troy Kotsur), mother Jackie (Marlee Martin), rely heavily on her to assist with business and family matters. Her proud brother Leo (Daniel Durant) desires the chance to take more responsibility and this makes him envious of the attention Ruby gets. Throughout, Coda (2021) spans many genres bringing family conflict, Ruby’s singing dream, young romance, everyday tribulations of a deaf family, as well as the plight of a fishing community into the mix. The fantastic screenplay balances all these elements superbly well.



Ruby’s emotional rites-of-passage arc anchors us through so many memorable scenes, proving pivotal as she ultimately finds her voice and independence. Emilia Jones gives a mature performance full of range and heart. Ruby’s embarrassment, shame, fear, anger, passion, guilt, humour, happiness and guts are all exposed on her journey as she fights against the tide of her own self doubt and commitment to family. Her family are well characterised too with Frank and Jackie providing humour, sympathy and pride as the parents who just don’t want Ruby to leave them. Troy Kostur deservedly won a best actor in a supporting role Oscar. Lastly, famous Mexican actor, Eugenio Derbez as Bernardo Villalobos, gives us a fresh take on the staple role of musical mentor.

Unashamedly melodramatic and occasionally cloying, Coda (2021), is a big-hearted familial comedy-drama which while predictable, contains many powerful messages. Following your dream, respecting those around you and loving your family are important missives especially in a world where political and military leaders remain hell-bent on war. Further, while I am not well versed in the world of the deaf community I felt that the representations here were sensitively managed and well-rounded. Sian Heder, as both writer and director, has adapted this story with care, humour and song. Ruby’s voice soars from her lungs, mouth and hands via the expressive sign language, culminating in a joyous experience that must be seen, heard and most importantly felt.

Mark: 9 out of 11


CINEMA REVIEW: THE BATMAN (2022)

CINEMA REVIEW: THE BATMAN (2022)

Directed by: Matt Reeves

Written by: Matt Reeves, Peter Craig

Based on: Characters from DC

Produced by: Dylan Clark, Matt Reeves

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell, etc.

Cinematography: Greig Fraser

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



Three hours of darkness, shadows, fireworks, distorted sound and vision, dull emo-bluster, explosions, fist-to-fist combat, choppy chases, limp dialogue, sparse suspense, blaring sirens, mumbling delivery and humdrum sexual chemistry combine to an incredibly stylish yet boring experience. It may be the biggest box office hit of the year, but The Batman (2022) was interminable filmic disappointment for me. Bruce Wayne/The Batman is a miserable cipher here for the action on show. He is also arguably one of the worst detectives I have witnessed on the screen. Yet, be aware it is NOT the filmmaker’s fault. It is mine. I am a bad cinemagoer.

I am as jaded, and world weary as Robert Pattinson’s noir gumshoe in a costume on screen. Except I have earned it. I have lived through dead-end jobs, despair and disappointment. This film starts by asking us to follow Bruce Wayne’s Caped Crusader into the mean streets of Gotham to battle nefarious gangsters and a crazed, riddle-driven terrorist. But why do we care about him? Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale breathed vibrancy and commitment into the DC comic hero. His trilogy, though not faultless, made us root for the rich kid scared of flying rats. Going on a journey of discovery and finding himself an identity in the process, Bale’s Batman was a three-dimensional hero. Matt Reeves eschews all that with The Batman (2022), presenting familiar characters searching for some semblance of plot and characterisation in the dark.



The story is a breadcrumb plot as Pattinson’s suited vermin plods through scene after scene trying to work out who is killing the corrupt officials of Gotham City. There are fireworks and expertly designed action sequences although many of them are difficult to see amidst the cinematographic murk. Moreover, there isn’t really any empathetic characters here. I love a good cinematic anti-hero, but that requires personality and energy. This Batman has neither of those. Although the screen work of Jeffrey Wright, Paul Dano, John Turturro, Colin Farrell, Andy Serkis and Zoe Kravitz does breathe light and heat into the dull script. Farrell is The Penguin but essentially an Al Capone substitute. His excellent caricature gets buried and almost lost in obsidian and prosthetics.

But as I say, I am to blame. I am a bad superhero cinema person. I am saturated and fatigued by comic book film adaptations and TV shows from Marvel to DC to Vertigo and Image and Icon (yes I know this is Marvel too). I mean the best I can say is The Batman (2022) blasts away the rot that Affleck and Snyder implanted into the Batman franchise. Although that isn’t saying much. Because an obscene $200 million dollars was spent on this hollow vision of a wealthy emo-brat in a dark suit kicking the crap out of shadows. But remember this is my fault. I am old. I am cynical. I applaud Matt Reeves and his talented production team for delivering an impressive visual feast. It’s just a shame that in the bloated running time (15 minutes of that being end credits), they didn’t write any characters worth spending three hours with.

Mark: 7 out of 11


APPLE TV FILM REVIEW: THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH (2021)

APPLE TV FILM REVIEW: THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH (2021)

Directed by Joel Coen

Screenplay by Joel Coen (Based on Macbeth by William Shakespeare)

Produced by: Joel Coen, Frances McDormand, Robert Graf

Cast: Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Bertie Carvel, Alex Hassell, Corey Hawkins, Harry Melling, Brendan Gleeson etc.

Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnel

*** SPOILERS ALERT ***



The Coen Brothers – Ethan and Joel Coen – are, as a filmmaking duo, one of the most original, imaginative, daring, and brilliant artists of my generation. I have watched all of their films many times at the cinema and at home, having completely connected with their distinct style and cinematic voice from their very first film, Blood Simple (1984) to their most recent release anthology Western The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018). As they’ve developed as filmmakers my admiration has grown exponentially over the years. They have worked within the studio system while maintaining their cinematic individuality and independent spirit.

Thus, it was a surprise when it was announced that Ethan Coen was taking a break from filmmaking, leaving his brother to venture out solo. Joel’s first production as a singular director is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s famous Scottish play, The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021). With Denzel Washington cast in the lead and Frances McDormand portraying Lady Macbeth, Joel Coen certainly brought major talent to this prestige Apple production. Yet, given how familiar the play is to the world and the number of film, stage, radio and TV adaptations there have been, could the sole Coen breathe fresh life into this ancient tome?



If you haven’t seen or read Macbeth it is a tragedy first believed to have been performed in 1606. It deals with Macbeth’s journey from heroic warrior to murderous King to paranoiac and haunted mad person. Shakespeare’s themes are so absorbing in relation to the nature of ambition, fate and how a greedy lust for power will destroy a man’s soul and future. The play’s language is pure bewitching poetry and the gothic spirit which pervades the story clutches and squeezes at one’s organs tightly. Macbeth’s fate is sealed as soon as he believes the three witches prophecy on the battlefield. He is damned by his own hubris as well as his wife’s subtle manipulations. But how well does Joel Coen and his stellar cast capture such themes and character intricacies?

Firstly, the look of The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021) is astounding. Shot in brooding monochrome, shadows loom ominously creeping closer via Bruno Delbonnel’s striking cinematography. Moreover, the large sets dwarf the players given them a trapped feel. As though the walls are closing in on their souls as each fateful decision is made. The cast are uniformly superb too. Indeed, Coen makes a fascinating decision regarding the witches, having them portrayed in tremendously twisted fashion by one actor, Kathryn Hunter. Washington and McDormand are of course excellent. However, having such iconic actors in the leads did cause some disconnect with their respective characters. Plus, and I realise it is sacrilege to say this, but I always felt that Macbeth and his wife’s fall into insanity seemed to come too quickly in the latter acts. Lady Macbeth’s suicide in this adaptation felt particularly rushed.

My main tragedy of The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021) is that I did not enjoy it as much as many of the critics have. It is an incredibly wondrous film to look at. The sound also crackles and pops with howling wind, squawking birds, metal swords clashing and THAT sensational dialogue being delivered with majestic power by the cast. Yet somehow, despite the prodigious talent and excellent work presented by all I did not quite gel with it. I think it is probably my over-familiarity with the narrative, plus it was a very respectful adaptation. I would have liked to have seen more gore and action, rather than the restrained vision Joel Coen so expertly delivers here. Nonetheless, it remains another impressive addition to his amazing filmic curriculum vitae.

Mark: 8 out of 11


EMERGING FILMMAKER’S NIGHT @ THE GARDEN CINEMA!

EMERGING FILMMAKER’S NIGHT @ THE GARDEN CINEMA

As an emerging filmmaker for the last twenty years (and counting), I am always looking out for fresh presentations and potential collaboration in regard to film production. Most of all I love watching quality short films. Thus, I was thrilled to attend the ‘Best of EFN’ Screening and Networking Event on Friday 11th March 2022. Find out more about them here:

Website: https://www.efnfestival.org

Twitter: @EFNFilmFest



The event took place at The Garden Cinema in Covent Garden – a new fully independent art-house cinema in the heart of London. If you ever want a break from the standard multiplexes, then check out this stylish art-deco delight.

Their website is here: https://www.thegardencinema.co.uk/



Not only was it an incredible venue, but the night had an selection of some the best short films around. The line-up offered fine drinks, decent networking, a quality audience, a fun raffle, plus the finest shorts screened over the many great Emerging Film and Festival Nights.

SHORT FILM LINE UP

Films of Fury – Dir: Mila Araoz Ellis (2020) 12’57

The Sappho Project: fragment 147 Dir: Sari Katharyn (2021) 7’40

Moth Dir: Wai Ying Tiffany Tong (2020) 3′

Staying (Aros Mae) Dir: Zillah Bowes (2020) 19’23

Friends Online Dir: Samantha White (2019) 5’21

Vincent before Noon Dir: Guillaume Mainguet (2019) 17’

Crashing Waves Dir: Emma Gilbertson (2018) 3’39

Stationary Dir: Louis Chan (2019) 12’38

Single Dir: Ashley Eakin (2020) 14’09

All Stretched Out Dir: Alastair Train (2019) 3’33


EFN International Short Film Festival

Emerging Filmmakers Night (EFN) is a quarterly International Short Film Festival that showcases work by emerging talent.

EFN is a BIFA (British Independent Film Awards) Qualifying Short Film Festival

W.https://www.efnfestival.org

E.info@efnfestival.org


Thoughts on Cinema, TV and Life!